Nash, Ogden 1902–1971
Nash, Ogden 1902–1971
(Frediric Ogden Nash)
Born August 19, 1902, in Rye, NY; died of heart failure, May 19, 1971, in Baltimore, MD; buried in Little River Cemetery, North Hampton, NH; son of Edmund Strudwick and Mattie Nash; married Frances Rider Leonard, June 6, 1931; children: Linell Chenault, Isabel Jackson. Education: Attended Harvard University, 1920-21.
Poet, author; began writing light verse about 1925. Taught one year at St. George's School, Providence, RI; was a bond salesman on Wall Street, briefly in the mid-1920s; worked in the copy department of Barron Collier, writing streetcar ads; worked in the editorial and publicity departments of Doubleday, Doran Co., 1925; member of New Yorker editorial staff, 1932; became full-time writer. Gave frequent lectures and readings; appeared on radio shows, including "Information, Please!," and the Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee hours, and on television panel shows, including "Masquerade Party."
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Sarah Josepha Hale Award, 1964.
(With Joseph Alger) Cricket of Carador, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1925.
(With Christopher Morley, Cleon Throckmorton, and others) Born in a Beer Garden; or, She Troupes to Conquer, Rudge, 1930.
Free Wheeling (also see below), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1931.
Hard Lines, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1931, enlarged edition with selections from Free Wheeling published as Hard Lines, and Others, Duckworth, 1932.
(Editor) P.G. Wodehouse, Nothing but Wodehouse, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1932.
Happy Days, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1933.
Four Prominent So and So's (music by Robert Armbruster), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1934.
The Primrose Path, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1935.
The Bad Parents' Garden of Verse, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1936.
The Firefly (screenplay; adapted from Otto A. Harbach's play), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), 1937.
(With Jane Murfin) The Shining Hair (screenplay), MGM, 1938.
I'm a Stranger Here Myself, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1938, Bridgewater Pub. Co., 2000.
The Face Is Familiar: The Selected Verse of Ogden Nash, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1940, revised edition, Dent (London, England), 1954.
(With George Oppenheimer and Edmund L. Hartmann) The Feminine Touch (screenplay), MGM, 1941.
Good Intentions, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1942, revised edition, Dent (London, England), 1956.
(Author of book with S.J. Perelman, and of lyrics) One Touch of Venus (musical; music by Kurt Weill; first produced on Broadway, 1943), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1944.
The Ogden Nash Pocket Book, Blakiston, 1944.
Many Long Years Ago, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1945.
The Selected Verse of Ogden Nash, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1946.
Ogden Nash's Musical Zoo (music by Vernon Duke), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1947.
Versus, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1949.
Family Reunion, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1950.
Parents Keep Out: Elderly Poems for Youngerly Readers, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1951, enlarged edition, Dent (London, England), 1962.
The Private Dining Room, and Other New Verses, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1953.
(Editor) The Moon Is Shining Bright as Day: An Anthology of Good-humored Verse, Lippincott, 1953.
The Pocket Book of Ogden Nash, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1954.
You Can't Get There from Here, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1957.
The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus (keepsake edition), Cooper & Beatty Ltd. (London, England), 1957.
The Christmas That Almost Wasn't, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1957.
(Editor) I Couldn't Help Laughing: Stories Selected and Introduced by Ogden Nash, Lippincott (New York, NY), 1957.
Verses from 1929 On, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1959 (published in England as Collected Verse from 1929 On, Dent [London, England], 1961).
Custard the Dragon, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1959, reprinted with illustrations by Lynn Munsinger, 1995.
Beastly Poetry, Hallmark Editions, 1960.
A Boy Is a Boy: The Fun of Being a Boy, Watts (New York, NY), 1960.
Scrooge Rides Again, Hart, 1960.
(Editor) Everybody Ought to Know: Verses Selected and Introduced by Ogden Nash, Lippincott (New York, NY), 1961.
Custard the Dragon and the Wicked Knight, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1961, 1996.
The New Nutcracker Suite, and Other Innocent Verses, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1962.
Girls Are Silly, Watts (New York, NY), 1962.
Everyone but Thee and Me, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1962.
A Boy and His Room, Watts (New York, NY), 1963.
The Adventures of Isabel, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1963.
The Untold Adventures of Santa Claus, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1964.
An Ogden Nash Bonanza (five-volume omnibus), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1964.
Marriage Lines: Notes of a Student Husband, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1964 (published in England as Notes of a Student Husband, Dent [London, England], 1964).
The Animal Garden, Evans (New York, NY), 1965.
The Mysterious Ouphe, Spadea Press, 1965.
Santa Go Home: A Case History for Parents, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1967.
The Cruise of the Aardvark, M. Evans (New York, NY), 1967.
There's Always Another Windmill, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1968.
Funniest Verses of Ogden Nash: Light Lyrics by One of America's Favorite Humorists, selected by Dorothy Price, Hallmark Editions, 1968.
(With Edward Lear) The Scroobious Pip, Harper (New York, NY), 1968.
(With others) New Comic Limericks: Laughable Poems, compiled by Ivanette Dennis, Roger Schlesinger, 1969.
Bed Riddance: A Posy for the Indisposed, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1970.
The Old Dog Barks Backwards, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1972.
I Wouldn't Have Missed It: Selected Poems of Ogden Nash, selected by Linnel Smith and Isabel Eberstadt, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1972.
Custard and Company, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.
A Penny Saved Is Impossible, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.
Ogden Nash's Zoo, edited by Roy Finamore, Stewart, Tabori (New York, NY), 1986.
Ogden Nash's Food, Stewart, Tabori (New York, NY), 1989.
Loving Letters from Ogden Nash: A Family Album, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.
Candy Is Dandy: The Best of Ogden Nash, selected by Smith and Eberstadt, Deutsch (London, England), 1994.
Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash: 650 Rhymes, Verses, Lyrics, and Poems, Black Dog Leventhal, 1995.
Under Water with Ogden Nash, illustrated by Katie Lee, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
(Lyrics) Erika M. Foin, Under the Lime: Bassoon Quartet (printed music), Jeanné (Minneapolis, MN), 1998.
(Lyrics) Timothy Hoekman, The Nash Menagerie: Seven Poems of Ogden Nash: For Countertenor (or Mezzo-soprano) and Piano (printed music), Recital Publications (Huntsville, TX), 1999.
David Stuart, The Life and Rhymes of Ogden Nash, Distributed by National Book Network (Lanham, MD), 2000.
(Lyrics) Kurt Weill, Speak Low (printed music), Bridgewater Pub. Co., 2000.
(Lyrics) Vernon Duke, Everything and More (printed music), Kay Duke Music (Beverly Hills, CA), 2002.
(Lyrics) Vernon Duke, Flying Dutchman (printed music), Kay Duke Music (Beverly Hills, CA), 2002.
(Lyrics) Vernon Duke, I Think You're Pretty Too (printed music), Kay Duke Music (Beverly Hills, CA), 2002.
(Lyrics) Vernon Duke, The Seven Spiritual Ages of Mrs. Mamaduke Moore: 1956-57 (printed music), Kay Duke Music (Beverly Hills, CA), 2002.
(Lyrics) Vernon Duke, Two in Bermuda (printed music), Kay Duke Music (Beverly Hills, CA), 2002.
(Lyrics) Vernon Duke, You Know Far Too Much about Me (printed music), Kay Duke Music (Beverly Hills, CA), 2002.
Linell Nash, editor, The Best of Ogden Nash, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2007.
The Adventures of Isabel, illustrated by Bridget Starr Taylor, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (Naperville, IL), 2008.
Also author of lyrics for Off-Broadway production The Littlest Revue and for television show Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf. Wrote new verses to Saint-Saens's "Carnival of the Animals," narrated by Noel Coward, for Columbia; author of verses set to Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" and Dukas's "Sorcerer's Apprentice." Contributor of verse to periodicals, including New Yorker, Life, Saturday Evening Post, Holiday, Saturday Review, Harper's, Atlantic, Vogue, McCall's, and New Republic.
Weston Woods adapted Custard the Dragon as a Filmstrip with cassette in 1962 and as a film in 1964.
Ogden Nash was among America's most popular and most frequently quoted contemporary poets, drawing large and receptive audiences to his lectures and readings. Known for such lines as "Candy / Is dandy, / But liquor / Is quicker" and "If called by a panther / Don't anther," Nash was "secure in his possession of all the best and worst rhymes outside of the rhyming dictionaries," according to P.M. Jack. He called himself a "worsifier," and his "worses" bear the mark of a unique style—whimsical, offbeat, yet sophisticated—which he called "my individual method for concealing my illiteracy." He freely admitted to having "intentionally maltreated and man-handled every known rule of grammar, prosody, and spelling," yet the result, suggests Albin Krebs in a New York Times obituary, on closer examination reveals "a carefully thought-out metrical scheme and a kind of relentless logic." "I like the style because it gives me a mask," Nash told an interviewer for Holiday, a "front behind which I can hide. I can't go straight to the point about anything emotionally valid; that's one of my faults, I get ponderous. By backing off I can make the point without belaboring it."
Nash rose to prominence in 1931 with Hard Lines, his first book of poetry. In a contemporary New York Herald Tribune Books review, Lisle Bell marveled at Nash's inventive and imaginative verse: "Here the English language is not only flexible; it is double-jointed, ambidextrous, telescopic, kaleidoscopic, and slightly demented." Four years later, Nash again won acclaim with The Primrose Path. The publication of I'm a Stranger Here Myself prompted New York Herald Tribune Books critic Thomas Sugrue to characterize Nash as "a modern counterpart of the eighteenth century essayist," a shrewd and devastatingly accurate satirist of his fellow citizens, particularly the pretentious and suburban variety. For his sharp wit, Nash is also compared to Dorothy Parker, P.G. Wodehouse, G.K. Chesterton, and Mark Twain. Peter Munro Jack wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "Mr. Nash has as many rhymes as we have follies, as many aspects of meter as we have absurdities of demeanor."
Good Intentions, published in 1942, received mixed assessment and marks a transition in Nash's poetry. Noting the poet's more mature, detached philosophical voice in this volume, Sugrue wrote in New York Herald Tribune Books that Good Intentions "shows no advance or mutation in technique, but it reflects a more mellow personality, a less subjective approach to life, and a deadlier, deeper wit." His next volume, Versus, is a reiteration of his characteristic style with similar results. David McCord observed in the New York Herald Tribune Weekly Review: "Even in the poorest of his verses—and they are not too many … the surprising idea, the enchanting line, the unbelievable rhyme may still reward the hunter. Which only goes to prove again that Mr. Nash is well outside all the categories."
Nash was a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, a magazine largely devoted to the publication of serious literature and for which he also served as an editor. Yet Nash's light verse never received serious critical attention, though his adroit manipulation of language and verse schemes is highly regarded and often imitated. Reviewing 1950's Family Reunion, Irwin Edman wrote in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review: "There may be deeper American poets—though this book is very wise—but surely there cannot be more completely beguiling ones." While commending Nash's unpredictable and amusing poetic turns, Richard L. Schoenwald criticized the poet's persistent topicality and undemanding audience. In a Commonweal review of You Can't Get There from Here, Schoenwald remarked that "Nash accepts America; America reciprocates…. They never see more than the surface because there is nothing to see. Nash never cuts into the depths." However, Reed Whitmore credited Nash with deflating the "lofty" pretensions of modern American poetry and sustaining public interest in the form. Whitmore wrote in New Republic: "What [Nash] did he did well, and in so doing he … kept American verse more open and various in its aims and interests than it otherwise would have been."
Nash also produced verse for children, some of which has been republished along with illustrations. Custard the Dragon and Custard the Dragon and the Wicked Knight feature Custard, a shy dragon accused of cowardice by a young girl named Belinda and her circle of animal friends. In both stories Nash employs his usual nonsensical verse to describe how Custard unexpectedly rises to the occasion to vanquish a feared antagonist—first a pirate, then an evil knight. Illustrated versions of these classic stories appeared in the 1990s and were well received.
Loving Letters from Ogden Nash: A Family Album, edited by the Poet's eldest daughter and published in 1990, contains Nash's affectionate letters to his wife and family between 1928 and his death in 1971. Though offering little insight into his artistic life, according to Washington Post Book World contributor Jonathan Yardley, Nash's private letters "give us an uncommonly kind and decent man, hard-working and loyal and conscientious, touched by but scarcely vain about such fame as he enjoyed during an era when millions of Americans still read and enjoyed light verse." Upon of the publication of Nash's correspondence, Richard Kostelanetz summarized his achievement in American Book Review: "The major poets are those who realize significance in language, whose vision of the possibilities of poetry is distinctive, whose use of language has sufficient character or signature to make every poem they write recognizable as theirs. By these criteria, it seems to me, Ogden Nash ranks among the top dozen major American poets of the twentieth century; it is no small measure of his success that he wrote lines that will be remembered for as long as English is heard."
Looking back on his writing career, Nash once remarked: "The only lines I've ever written which I think have any chance of surviving me were lines written in my unregenerate youth." Contrary to his modest estimate, Nash is widely recognized as having had few peers, especially when it came to exposing human frailties and absurdities. As St. George Tucker Arnold, Jr., claimed in his Dictionary of Literary Biography essay: "During his lifetime, Ogden Nash was the most widely known, appreciated, and imitated American creator of light verse…. [And his] reputation has grown still further in the years since his death." The poet was, in Eliot Fremont-Smith's words, "a master of a kind of civility in exposing silliness that has not been much nurtured in recent decades," retaining the possibility of "a wit expressed through a friendly wink or poke." Although some of his verse was quite serious, Nash characterized the body of his work as "fortunately slightly goofy and cheerfully sour." One critic describes him as a "philosopher, albeit a laughing one," expressing "the vicissitudes and eccentricitudes of domestic life as they affected an apparently gentle, somewhat bewildered man." Nash's death in 1971 inspired numerous tributes patterned after his own work, such as one by poet Morris Bishop, quoted in Time: "Free from flashiness, free from trashiness / Is the essence of ogdenashiness. / Rich, original, rash and rational / Stands the monument ogdenational."
The Best of Ogden Nash, edited by his daughters, includes nearly five hundred and fifty of his best and most beloved works of poetry, divided up into sections such as "Family Matters" and "The Sporting Life." Ray Olson, in a review for Booklist, observed that "some poems are better than others, but most are better than just good, and there are so many."
The Adventures of Isabel, illustrated by Bridget Starr Taylor, is a children's story in poetic form, where the reader is made to understand that the heroine is both spunky and brave, a no-nonsense sort of little girl. For instance, when faced with a bear, quite famously, as Nash's verse explains: "Isabel didn't scream or scurry. /She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up, /Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up." Isabel, of course, was Nash's daughter and the inspiration for the amusing verses. Hazel Rochman, reviewing the work and its accompanying CD for Booklist, remarked that "this book will slide neatly onto poetry shelves and into collections of contemporary fractured fairy tales." Donna Cardon, in a review for School Library Journal, also noted the untraditional style of the story, remarking that "the poem is likely to delight children who are comfortable with books that have a certain level of gruesome humor."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Axford, L.B., An Index to the Poems of Ogden Nash, Scarecrow Press (Lanham, MD), 1972.
Benet, Laura, Famous American Humorists, Dodd (New York, NY), 1959.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 23, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 11: American Humorists, 1800-1950, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.
Newquist, Roy, Conversations, Rand McNally (Skokie, IL), 1967.
American Book Review, June-July, 1991, Richard Kostelanetz, review of Loving Letters from Ogden Nash: A Family Album, p. 25.
Booklist, October 15, 2007, Ray Olson, review of The Best of Ogden Nash, p. 21; June 1, 2008, Hazel Rochman, review of The Adventures of Isabel, p. 82.
Commonweal, August 23, 1957, Richard L. Schoenwald, review of You Can't Get There from Here, p. 525.
Holiday, August, 1967, interview with Ogden Nash.
New Republic, October 21, 1972, Reed Whitmore, p. 31.
New York Herald Tribune Book Review, February 17, 1935, review of The Primrose Path, p. 4; July 14, 1957, review of You Can't Get There from Here; December 10, 1950, Irwin Edman, review of Family Reunion, p. 4.
New York Herald Tribune Books, January 18, 1931, review of Hard Lines, p. 7; June 5, 1938, Thomas Sugrue, review of I'm a Stranger Here Myself, p. 2; December 6, 1942, Thomas Sugrue, review of Good Intentions, p. 2.
New York Herald Weekly Book Review, March 20, 1949, David McCord, review of Versus, p. 4.
New York Times Book Review, June 19, 1938, Peter Munroe Jack, review of I'm a Stranger Here Myself, p. 2; February 11, 1990, review of Loving Letters from Ogden Nash, p. 7.
School Library Journal, June 1, 2008, Donna Cardon, review of The Adventures of Isabel, p. 128.
Washington Post Book World, February 11, 1990, Jonathan Yardley, review of Loving Letters from Ogden Nash, p. 3.
New York Times, May 20, 1971, Albin Krebs.
Publishers Weekly, May 31, 1971.
Time, May 31, 1971, Morris Bishop.
Washington Post, May 21, 1971.