Mydans, Shelley (1915—)

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Mydans, Shelley (1915—)

American journalist and writer. Born Shelley Smith on May 20, 1915, in Palo Alto, California; daughter of Everett Smith (a professor of journalism); married Carl Mydans (a photojournalist), in June 1938.

Worked as journalist for Life magazine (1939—); was correspondent in Manila, Europe and Far East; was a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II; wrote novel Open City about experiences; wrote historical novels.

Selected writings:

The Open City (1945); Thomas: A Novel of the Life, Passion, and Miracles of Becket (1965); (with Carl Mydans) The Violent Peace: A Report on Wars in the Postwar World (1968); The Vermilion Bridge (1980).

Born Shelley Smith in Palo Alto, California, in 1915, Shelley Mydans was the daughter of journalism professor Everett W. Smith. Her pursuit of journalism as a career took Mydans first to New York, where she worked as a writer-researcher for the nascent Life magazine. Carl Mydans, a photojournalist also working for Life, walked into her office one day in 1937; he "sat down in a wastebasket and started talking to Margaret Bassett , whose desk was two over from mine," Shelley told interviewer Larry Smith. "He sat there in the wastebasket, talking to Margaret, and his voice had all kinds of excitement in it." They married in 1938. By 1939, Life made the couple a reporter-photographer team and sent them on assignment to Europe and Asia; both covered Douglas MacArthur's buildup in the Philippines during World War II. In 1942, the Mydans were taken prisoner by the invading Japanese and incarcerated for 12 months in Santo Tomas in Manila and 8 months in Shanghai, an experience that informed Shelley's novel Open City, published in 1945.

Twenty years later, she published Thomas: A Novel of the Life, Passion, and Miracles of Becket, an ambitious and well-reviewed historical novel about the 12th-century English saint. Mydans collaborated with her now-famous husband on The Violent Peace: A Report on Wars in the Postwar World, drawing on their research in China, Korea and Japan. The New York Times Book Review described its contents as "some of the best war journalism of our time." In 1980, Mydans published another historical novel, TheVermilion Bridge, set in 8th-century Japan. The New York Times praised her approach for combining "the thoroughness of a historian … [with] the sensitivity of a novelist."


Smith, Larry. "A Picture to Remember," in Parade. May 25, 1997, p. 5.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York