Irvin S. Cobb

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Irvin S. Cobb
Irvin S. Cobb cph.3a42965.jpg
Born Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb
(1876-06-23)June 23, 1876
Paducah, Kentucky
Died March 11, 1944(1944-03-11) (aged 67)
New York City, New York
Spouse Laura Spencer Baker
Children Elisabeth Cobb (b. 1902)

Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb (June 23, 1876 – March 11, 1944) was an American author, humorist, and columnist who lived in New York and authored more than 60 books and 300 short stories.


Cobb was the second of four children born to Kentucky natives in Paducah, Kentucky. His grandfather, Reuben Saunders, M.D., is credited with discovering in 1873 that hypodermic use of morphine-atropine halted cholera. Cobb was raised in Paducah, where the events and people of his childhood became the basis for much of his later works.[citation needed] Later in life, he would acquire the nickname "Duke of Paducah."[1]

Cobb was educated in public and private elementary schools, and then entered William A. Cade's Academy intending to pursue a law career. When Cobb was 16, his father became an alcoholic, following the death of his grandfather. Forced to quit school and find work, he began his writing career.

Writing career[edit]

He started in journalism on the Paducah Daily News at age seventeen, and became the nation's youngest managing news editor at nineteen. He later worked at the Louisville Evening Post for a year and a half.

His anecdotal memoir-cum-autobiography, "Exit Laughing," published in 1941, includes a firsthand account of the assassination of Kentucky Governor William Goebel in 1900 and the trials of the killers. He wrote numerous series in periodicals, and also collaborated on dramatic productions.

After moving to New York in 1904, Cobb was hired by the Evening Sun. The publication sent him to Portsmouth, New Hampshire to cover the Russian-Japanese peace conference. His dispatches from the negotiations, focusing on the personalities involved (including President Theodore Roosevelt), were published across the country under the title "Making Peace at Portsmouth." They earned him a job offer from Joseph Pulitzer's New York World that made him the highest-paid staff reporter in the United States.[2]

Cobb joined the staff of the Saturday Evening Post in 1911, and covered World War I for the magazine. At the same time, he wrote a book about his experiences, published in 1915, titled Paths of Glory. After a second visit to France to cover The Great War, Cobb brought the Harlem Hellfighters, most notably, Croix de Guerre recipients Henry Lincoln Johnson and Needham Roberts, to national attention. His article "Young Black Joe," published on August 24, 1918 in the Saturday Evening Post and later republished in Cobb's book "The Glory of the Coming,"[3] highlighted the discipline and courage displayed by black American soldiers fighting in Europe during World War I. The three-page article and half-page photograph reached a national audience of over two million readers, and was widely reprinted in the black press. [4]


Several of Cobb's stories were made into silent films. He also wrote the screen titles for other films, including the Jackie Coogan vehicle Peck's Bad Boy (1921). With the advent of sound, more of his stories were adapted for the screen, including The Woman Accused (1933), starring a young Cary Grant.

John Ford twice made films based on Cobb's Judge Priest stories: Judge Priest (1934), featuring Will Rogers in the title role, and The Sun Shines Bright (1953), based on the short stories "The Sun Shines Bright", "The Mob from Massac", and "The Lord Provides".

Cobb also had an acting career, appearing in 10 films between 1932 and 1938. He won starring roles in such movies as Pepper, Everybody's Old Man (1936), and Hawaii Calls (1938). He was also host of the 7th Academy Awards in 1935.[5]

In 1919, he was recruited by former U.S. Navy officer and lawyer Capt. W.H. Slayton to become chairman of the Authors and Artists Committee of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA). The Association based their opposition on the misuse of national government power over U.S. citizens. As chairman, Cobb helped magnify the message through the media and artist networks. This included statements to the press blaming Prohibition for increased crime, alcoholism, and disrespect for the law. “If Prohibition is a noble experiment,” he said in one, “then the San Francisco fire and the Galveston flood should be listed among the noble experiments of our national history.”[6] At the same time he published Red Likker, an anti-Prohibition novel. Following the repeal of Prohibition, the Frankfort distilleries recruited him to compile a recipe book[7] to remind consumers who were out of practice how to mix a good drink.

The cartoon The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos caricatures Cobb as "Irvin S. Frog".

Personal life[edit]

Cobb has been described as having a round shape, bushy eyebrows, full lips, and a triple chin, with a cigar always hanging from his mouth.[2]

His wife was the former Laura Spencer Baker of Savannah, Georgia.

His daughter, Elizabeth Cobb[8] (born 1902), was an author in her own right. She published the novel She Was a Lady and the nonfiction My Wayward Parent (1945), a book about her father. Her first husband was Frank Michler Chapman, Jr., son of the ornithologist Frank Michler Chapman.

Cobb's granddaughter was Buff Cobb, a TV personality of the early 1950s, and second wife of journalist Mike Wallace.[8]

Cobb was honored in 1915 with the march "The War Correspondent" by G.E. Holmes, published by the John Church Company.

Irvin S. Cobb wearing a coonskin cap and smoking a cigar.
Illustration by Tony Sarg for "The Glory of the States: Kentucky" by Irvin S. Cobb, published in The American Magazine in May 1916.

When Cobb died in New York City in 1944, his body was sent to Paducah for cremation. His ashes were placed under a dogwood tree. The granite boulder marking his remains is inscribed "Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb 1876-1944 Back Home".

Cobb wrote a letter detailing his desired funeral arrangements. The document reads in part: "Above all I want no long faces and no show of grief at the burying ground. Kindly observe the final wishes of the undersigned and avoid reading the so-called Christian burial service which, in view of the language employed in it, I regard as one of the most cruel and paganish things inherited by our forebears from our remote pagan ancestors. In deference to the faith of our dear mother who was through her lifetime a loyal though never bigoted communicant of that congregation, perhaps the current pastor of the First Presbyterian Church would consent to read the Twenty-third Psalm, which was her favorite passage in the Scriptures and is mine since it contains no charnel words, no morbid mouthings about corruption and decay and, being mercifully without creed or dogma, carries no threat of eternal hell-fire for those parties we do not like, no direct promise of a heaven which, if one may judge by the people who are surest of going there, must be a powerfully dull place, populated to a considerable and uncomfortable degree by prigs, time-servers and unpleasantly aggressive individuals. Hell may have a worse climate but undoubtedly the company is sprightlier. The Catholics, with their genius for stage-management, handle this detail better. The officiating clergyman speaks in Latin and the parishioners, being unacquainted with that language are impressed by the majesty of the rolling, sonorous periods without being shocked by tressing allusions and harrowing references."[citation needed]


Cobb is best remembered for his humorous stories of Kentucky local color and is part of the American literary regionalism school. These stories were first collected in the book Old Judge Priest (1915), whose title character was based on a prominent West Kentucky judge named William Pitman Bishop. Joel Harris wrote of these tales, "Cobb created a South peopled with honorable citizens, charming eccentrics, and loyal, subservient blacks, but at their best the Judge Priest stories are dramatic and compelling, using a wealth of precisely rendered detail to evoke a powerful mood."[2] Among his other books are the humorous Speaking of Operations (1916) and anti-prohibition ode to bourbon Red Likker (1929).

Cobb also wrote short stories in a horror vein, such as "Fishhead" (1911) and "The Unbroken Chain" (1923). "Fishhead" has been cited as an inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth, while "The Unbroken Chain" was a model for Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls".[9] The former was described by Lovecraft as "banefully effective in its portrayal of unnatural affinities between a hybrid idiot and the strange fish of an isolated lake" in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature.[10]


A Little Town Called Montignies St. Christophe – 1907 story
Funabashi - 1907 musical comedy
Mr. Busybody - 1908 musical comedy
Talks with the Fat Chauffeur – 1909 collection
The Escape of Mr. Trimm – 1910 story
The Exit of Anse Dugmore – 1911 story
Cobb's Anatomy – 1912 book
Words and Music – 1912 story
Back Home: Being the Narrative of Judge Priest and His People – 1912 collection
The Escape of Mr. Trimm: His Plight and Other Plights – 1913 collection
Cobb's Bill of Fare – 1913 book
Fishhead – 1913 story
Roughing It Deluxe – 1914 book
Europe Revised – 1914 book
Irvin Cobb at his Best – 1915 collection
Back Home - 1912, produced as a comedy, 1915
Paths of Glory: Impressions of War Written at and Near the Front (expanded as The Red Glutton) – 1915 book
Speaking of Operations – 1915 book
Old Judge Priest – 1916 collection
Fibble, D.D. – 1916 collection
Local Color – 1916 collection
Speaking of Prussians – 1917 book
The Lost Tribes of the Irish in the South – 1917 booklet
Those Times and These – 1917 collection
The Great Auk – 1917 story
The Thunders of Silence – 1918 book
Boys Will be Boys – 1918 story
The Glory of the Coming: What Mine Eyes Have Seen of Americans in Action in This Year of Grace and Allied Endeavor – 1919 book
Eating in Two or Three Languages – 1919 book
The Life of the Party – 1919 book
The Works of Irvin S. Cobb (14 volumes) – 1912-20 collections
From Place to Place – 1920 collection
Oh, Well, You Know How Women Are! – published in one volume with Isn't That Just Like a Man! by Mary Roberts Rinehart – 1920 book
The Abandoned Farmers – 1920 collection
A Plea for Old Cap Collier – 1921 book
Darkness – 1921 story
One Third Off – 1921 book
Sundry Accounts – 1922 collection
J. Poindexter, Colored – 1922 book
Myself to Date – 1923 book (Stickfuls: Compositions of a Newspaper Minion)
A Laugh a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: His Favorite Stories as Told by Irvin S. Cobb – 1923 collection
The Snake Doctor – 1923 story
Snake Doctor and Other Stories – 1923 collection
Goin' on Fourteen: Being Cross-sections Out of a Year in the Life of an Average Boy – 1924 book
Indiana: Cobb's America Guyed Books – 1924 book
Kansas: Cobb's America Guyed Books – 1924 book
Kentucky: Cobb's America Guyed Books – 1924 book
Maine: Cobb's America Guyed Books – 1924 book
New York: Cobb's America Guyed Books – 1924 book
The Chocolate Hyena – 1924 story
North Carolina: Cobb's America Guyed Books – 1924 book
Alias Ben Alibi – 1925 book
A Bull Called Emily – 1925 story
One Block From Fifth Avenue – 1925 story
Many Laughs for Many Days: Another Year's Supply of His Favorite Stories as Told by Irvin S. Cobb – 1925 collection
“Here Comes the Bride –,” and So Forth – 1925 book
On an Island That Cost $24.00 – 1926 book
Prose and Cons – 1926 book
Some United States: A Series of Stops in Various Part of This Nation with One Excursion Across the Line – 1926 book
All Aboard: A Saga of the Romantic River – 1927 book
Ladies and Gentlemen – 1927 book
Chivalry Peak – 1927 book
This Man's World – 1929 story
Red Likker – 1929 book
This Man's World – 1929 collection
At the Feet of the Enemy – 1929 story
Both Sides of the Street – 1930 collection
To Be Taken Before Sailing – 1930 book
The Belled Buzzard – 1930 story
Three Wise Men on the East Side – 1930 story
Incredible Truth – 1931 collection
Down Yonder with Judge Priest and Irvin S. Cobb – 1932 collection
A Colonel of Kentucky – 1932 story
Murder Day by Day – 1933 book
One Way to Stop a Panic – 1933 book
“Who's Who” Plus “Here's How!” – 1934 book
Faith, Hope, and Charity – 1934 story
Faith, Hope, and Charity – 1934 collection
Irvin S. Cobb's Own Recipe Book – 1936 book
Judge Priest Turns Detective – 1936 book
Azam: The Story of An Arabian Colt and His Friends – 1937 children's book
Four Useful Pups – 1940 children's book
Favorite Humorous Stories of Irvin S. Cobb – 1940 collection
Exit Laughing – 1941 book
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah – 1941 book
Roll Call – 1942 collection
Cobb's Cavalcade – 1944 collection
The Governors of Kentucky – 1947 book
Piano Jim and the Impotent Pumpkin Vine – 1950 book[11] [12]


  1. ^ History of Paducah, City of Paducah, n.d. Accessed 2013-08-19.
  2. ^ a b c Kelly Foster (30 September 1997). "Irvin S. Cobb". KYLit. Eastern Kentucky University. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  3. ^ Cobb, Irvin. "The Glory of the Coming". Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  4. ^ Nelson, Peter. A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighters' Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home. New York: Basic Civitas, 2009. ISBN 0-465-00317-6.
  5. ^ "Biography: Irvin S. Cobb". Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  6. ^ "Who the Heck Was Irvin S. Cobb?" by Jack Sullivan, Bottles and Extras, Summer 2006
  7. ^ Irvin S. Cobb's Own Recipe Book Frankfort Distilleries, 1934
  8. ^ a b Hevesi, Dennis. "Buff Cobb, Actress and TV Host, Dies at 82", The New York Times, July 21, 2010
  9. ^ The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature. New York, New York: Hippocampus Press. 2000. p. 99. ISBN 0-9673215-0-6. 
  10. ^ The Weird Tradition in America, Supernatural Horror in Literature
  11. ^ Chatterton, Wayne. Irvin S. Cobb. Twayne, Boston. 1986. Print.
  12. ^ Lawson, Anita. Irvin S. Cobb. Popular, Madison, WI. 1984. Print.


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