St. Johns, Adela Rogers
ST. JOHNS, Adela Rogers
Born 20 May 1894, California; died 1988
Daughter of Earl and Harriet Greene Rogers; married William Ivan St. Johns, 1914; second marriage, circa 1930s
The diversity of Adela Rogers St. Johns' reporting may well have been anticipated by her unusually sophisticated childhood. She was the daughter of a renowned criminal lawyer and a displaced Southern Belle—a woman St. Johns has described as having been extremely unhappy and violently cruel. Her parents' tumultuous relationship proved a daily trial, and their marriage, divorce, and remarriage frequently placed her with relatives or at boarding schools in various parts of California. She charts her father's career and his tremendous influence on her in Final Verdict (1962). In 1913, when she was eighteen, he introduced her to William Randolph Hearst, and until 1918 she worked for the Hearst papers in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
During these early years, St. Johns also began writing for Hollywood. In order to work at home when her children were young, she wrote and collaborated on several scripts. She became "Mother Confessor to the Stars" for Photoplay Magazine and later wrote biographies of movie stars for a Hearst series called "Love, Laughter, and Tears" (a title she would use for her memoirs of this period).
St. Johns' journalism began setting precedents in the 1920s when she became the country's first woman sports writer. But it was in the 1930s, while an International News Service reporter, that she created her best stories. Among them is her Depression series on the plight of unemployed women. These articles are largely based on personal experiences. Despite the artificiality of the premise—St. Johns set out to look for a job with only a dime in her pocket—they dramatize the misery of these women and expose the uncharitableness of several charitable institutions.
In 1934 St. Johns covered the volatile Hauptmann trial following the Lindbergh kidnapping. At the 1940 Democratic Convention that nominated Roosevelt for a third term, she scooped "The Voice from the Sewers" story, revealing the man largely responsible for creating a vocal illusion of pro-Roosevelt frenzy in the convention floor. She subsequently spent several years as a Washington correspondent.
St. Johns' fiction shares with her journalism a heavily emotive style (she was known as a "Sob Sister") and topical subject matter and background. She writes about Prohibition and World War II, and sometimes bases her plot on a publicized crime or incident. She can write engagingly, but the predominant concerns of her fiction can be traced to a few fixed themes. One of these themes, that of the "modern woman," is treated with some depth in her autobiography, The Honeycomb (1969), but in her fiction it appears as a much less complex phenomenon. It is often merely a decorative element in stories that are largely examples of women's escape fiction.
Several of her novels are romances set in Hollywood or in "high society." Women protagonists may, in fact, possess the characteristics of modern women—they may be important executives (Field of Honor, 1938) or women who freely engage in affairs (The Single Standard, 1928)—but as one critic put it, they are ultimately unconventional heroines too faithful to the conventions of their type. Characterizations are superficial and limited in depth and originality by the author's moralizing. Nonetheless, St. Johns' novels and more than 200 short stories appealed to a large readership. She published in all the leading fiction and women's magazines of her time. This commercial success was in all likelihood the motivation for her 1956 book, How to Write a Story and Sell It.
Unlike some of the characters in her fiction, the people she describes and the persona she reveals in her autobiographies are vivid, authentic, and moving. Her memoirs ramble sentimentally, but they are candid and provide lively insights into political and cultural history. St. Johns discusses her professional progress as well as such traumas as the death of a child, divorce and custody trials, and her alcoholism; her personal philosophy emerges as the distillation of family values, religious faith, and her self-consciousness as a modern woman. This consciousness, however, has little to do with any overt alliance with feminist issues. In her opinion, a "single standard" for men and women will remain unattainable so long as women are mothers. St. Johns approaches her ideal of modern woman through speculation on the moral integrity women should maintain in the flux of modern society. She sees this ideal most inspiringly realized in such admirable individuals as Eleanor Roosevelt and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
In recent years, St. Johns's writing explored her deepening religious faith and her belief in the afterlife. First Step Up Toward Heaven (1959), is the account of the founder of Forest Lawn Cemetery; Tell No Man (1966) is a novel of a religious conversion, and No Goodbyes: My Search Into Life Beyond Death (1981, 1982), relates her communications with her deceased son.
St. Johns was one of this century's most famous women journalists. In 1970, she was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon, her former newspaper boy in Whittier, California.
A Free Soul (1924). The Skyrocket (1925). The Root of All Evil (1940). Never Again, and Other Stories (1949). Affirmative Prayer in Action (1955). Love, Laughter, and Tears: My Hollywood Story (1978).
Adela St. Johns…on 60 Minutes with Morley Safer (audio recording, 1976). Adela St. Johns Recounts Her Career and Dr. Robert Butler Talks About Longevity: On Over Easy with Hugh Downs (audio recording, 1979). Sum & Substance: P. Tillich and A. R. St. Johns (audiocassette, 1960, 1969, 1980, 1988). Working with Hearst, A Presentation and Discussion: An Oral History Interview (1991).
Collier's (24 Jan. 1924). Foremost Women in Communications (1970). Newsweek (27 June 1936). NYTBR (7 June 1925, 28 Aug. 1927, 3 June 1928, 7 Aug. 1938, 12 June 1949, 10 April 1966).