30 August 2020

Austin Strong

This is a photograph of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny, on Samoa in May 1892.

The woman sitting on the porch in front of them is Fanny’s daughter from her first marriage, at that time Isobel (Belle) Strong.

The eleven-year-old boy at the front, barefoot and wearing his mother’s flowered hat, was Belle’s only child. His name was Austin Strong, which sounds like a fictional hero or a civic slogan, but it really was.

Austin was thus R. L. Stevenson’s step-grandson. The writer, along with other members of the family, took responsibility for the lad’s schooling while they were on Samoa. As a result, his mother later wrote, Austin memorized a lot of poetry, was told that most important British history took place in Scotland, and learned very little math and spelling since his tutors understood it very little themselves.

Eventually Austin Strong went away to boarding school in California and New Zealand. Stevenson died on Samoa in 1894. By then Isobel Strong had divorced her philandering and drinking husband. The family seeped back to the US.

After NAME died, Isobel married her mother’s secretary (and, some speculate, lover). In the 1920s oil was detected on land the couple owned in America, giving them prosperous comfort.

Meanwhile, in 1906 Austin Strong and Isobel’s younger brother Lloyd Osbourne had collaborated on a play titled Little Father of the Wilderness. (Lloyd had written three novels with his stepfather back in the 1890s and continued to publish fiction. Based on the quality of his solo work, many critics think Stevenson must have written all the good parts of those three early books.)

The play by uncle and nephew was a success, and it made Strong interested in the theater. He wrote many more Broadway plays on his own, with the most successful being Seventh Heaven in 1922. That drama of the Parisian demimonde was adapted for the movies in 1927, winning Academy Awards for director, lead actress, and adapted screenplay. Ten years later the studio remade the movie with sound and a young actor named James Stewart in the lead.

Austin Strong settled on another island, Nantucket, where he was known for sharing his graphic and theatrical talents. He died in 1952, one year before his mother.



Silent movie


Longest runs on Broadway for Three Wise Fools and Seventh Heaven.

EVEN the members of the drama jury must feel rancorous about the Pulitzer Prize for "Men in White." For several years now the drama jury has consisted of Walter Prichard Eaton, Clayton Hamilton and Austin Strong.

Although formal announcement of the award was made last night, the fact that Kingsley’s play had been designated was known early last week when a newspaperman divulged the information in his column. At the same time it was learned that the Advisory Board of the School of Journalism had overruled the selection of its jury. The jury had picked for the award “Mary of Scotland,” by Maxwell Anderson, winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize.

The controversy that raged last Spring over the award of the Pulitzer Prize to Sidney Kingsley’s “Men in White” had reverberations yesterday when it became known that the Pulitzer Prize Play Committee of last year has declined to serve in the same capacity this year.

The committee, whose members were Austin Strong, Clayton Hamilton and Walter Prichard Eaton, last year selected Maxwell Anderson’s “Mary of Scotland” for the award. Shortly thereafter, they were overruled by the Advisory Board of the School of Journalism who chose the Kingsley play.

Columbia University officials expressed amazement at the news that the committee had resigned. Mr. Hayden, in the office of Secretary Frank D. Fackenthal, explained that the committee had nothing to resign from. He told a Jewish Daily Bulletin reporter that “the committee is appointed for a year and there is nothing in the nature of a hold-over in the appointments. Therefore they had nothing to resign from, having completed their work last spring when they submitted their report to the Advisory Board of the School of Journalism.”

Belle’s memoir

Osbourne books

Stevenson on writing

Joseph Strong


Kingsley obit, including Dead End and Detective Story and The Patriots

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