Born 26 September 1875, Shakopee, Minnesota; died 7 March 1951, Los Angeles, California
married Richard Walton Tully, 1901; Frederick F. Moore, 1941
The title of Eleanor Gates' most famous novel, The Poor Little Rich Girl (1912), has become a cliché. In the novel, seven-year-old Gwendolyn is at the mercy of her servants, because her businessman father and socialite mother have no time for her. Midway through the novel she falls ill and hallucinates an encounter in which all of her previously unanswered questions are answered, her bullying servants banished, and her parents brought to her side. Although initially cute, the 200-page hallucination is far too long and quickly cloys. Naturally, Gwendolyn's dream comes true.
Ten years later, Gates attempted to cash in on her previous success with The Rich Little Poor Boy (1922). Almost as good as The Poor Little Rich Girl is bad, the novel covers the horrid early life of Johnny Smith/Blake, who had been kidnapped by Tom Barber, a selfish brute, to provide free geriatric care for Tom's father. Johnny is forced to stay in the apartment all day, wears Tom's made-over clothes (woefully too large for him), and is not permitted to attend school. In fact, any rotten thing that could happen to a child (except child molesting) happens to Johnny, but he has a heart of gold, a spine of steel, and a diamond-in-the-rough mind, which is why he's a rich little poor boy. His friends and saviors are his stepsister, a one-eyed cowboy, a priest, and a Boy Scout leader. As it turns out, Johnny's father was a hero, and because he is a hero's son, Johnny has been given a large scholarship by Dale Carnegie. But, a hero himself, Johnny decides to postpone using the scholarship while his "Grampa" (Barber's father) needs him.
We Are Seven (1915) is typical of Gates's plays. Subtitled a three-act whimsical farce, it is built around Diantha Kerr, an independent young woman who is writing a master's thesis in sociology and who is forced by her aunt to accept an escort for her research expeditions. Enter Peter Avery, a practical joker, who, after one glimpse of Diantha, pretends to be deaf and dumb, a prerequisite for the escort job. Diantha begins to fall in love with Peter, but since she is a eugenist and plans to have seven perfect children, she cannot love him and maintain her principles. While acting as escort Peter discovers that Diantha's aunt's secretary is bilking her of money, reveals the crime, and, as a result, reveals himself as a healthy, sound, "ideal" father-to-be of seven children. We Are Seven was dramatized by the author from her short story "Agatha's Escort," contained in The Justice of Gideon (1910).
Gates was a popular novelist and dramatist in the first decades of this century, but her novels and plays can today be characterized as little more than sentimental schlock.
The Biography of a Prairie Girl (1902). Buenas Noches (1906). The Plow-Woman (1906). Cupid: The Cow-Punch (1907). The Justice of Gideon (1910). Swat the Fly (1915). Apron-strings (1917). Phoebe (1919). Piggie (1919). Pa Hardy (1936). Fish-Bait (n.d.).
—CYNTHIA L. WALKER