Irving Stone

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To be distinguished from Irving I. Stone, philanthropist

Irving Stone (born Tannenbaum, July 14, 1903, San Francisco, California – August 26, 1989, Los Angeles) was an American writer known for his biographical novels of famous historical personalities, including Lust for Life, a biographical novel about the life of Vincent van Gogh, and The Agony and the Ecstasy, a biographical novel about Michelangelo.


When he was only seven, Stone's parents divorced. By the time he was a senior in high school his mother had remarried. Stone legally changed his last name to that of his stepfather. Stone said that it was his mother who instilled a passion for reading in him. From then on he believed that education was the only way to succeed in life.

In 1923, Stone received his bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, which many years later (1960), granted him an honorary Doctorate of Letters.[1] After receiving his M.A., he was a Teaching Assistant in English, the position in which he met his first wife, Lona Mosk (1905-1965). On money provided by her father, Los Angeles businessman, Ernest Mosk, the young couple went to Paris.

Irving and Lona returned to America in the 1930s from Europe, where he had been researching Van Gogh for six months. In 1931 they resided in New York's Greenwich Village where he finished Lust for Life, the biographical novel which would set his career in motion, according to the NY Times obituary of August 28, 1989. According to the obituary, Lust for Life (the title suggested by his first wife) was rejected by seventeen publishers over three years before being published in 1934. Stone's first marriage ended in New York, As Lona Mosk, later told her son, James Earnest Packer, "I got bored having to sit around all day telling Irving how wonderful he was!" Stone took up with his secretary, Jean (subsequently Jean Stone), and, after the divorce from his first wife, they were married.[2]

This later marriage lasted until Stone's death in 1989, and during their years together, Jean edited many of his works. The Stones lived primarily in Los Angeles, California. During their lifetime, he and his wife funded a foundation to support charitable causes they believed in.

When at home, Stone relied upon the research facilities and expertise made available to him by Esther Euler, head research librarian of the University of California at Los Angeles, to whom he dedicated and thanked, in addition to many others, in several of his works.

Stone's main source for Lust for Life, as noted in the afterword, were Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo. Stone additionally did much of his research "in the field". For example, he spent many years living in Italy while working on The Agony and the Ecstasy. The Italian government lauded Stone with several honorary awards during this period for his cultural achievements highlighting Italian history.

Film adaptations[edit]

Amsterdam, 1956 : Kirk Douglas describes to the press his role as Van Gogh in the movie Lust for Life.

In 1953, a popular film version was made of The President's Lady based on his 1950 novel of the same name, starring Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson and Susan Hayward as Rachel Donelson Jackson.

In 1956, a film version was made of Lust for Life, based on his 1934 novel, starring Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh.

In 1965, a film was made of The Agony and the Ecstasy, starring Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II.

Stone's 1975 book The Greek Treasure was the basis for the German television production Der geheimnisvolle Schatz von Troja (Hunt for Troy) in 2007.



  1. ^
  2. ^ Verbal account (1963) by Lona Mosk Packer to son James Packer
  3. ^ Kate Debs seemed to have been so hostile to Debs's socialist activities – it threatened her sense of middle-class respectability – that novelist Irving Stone was led to call her, in the title of his fictional portrayal of the life of Debs, the Adversary in the House. (Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States, footnote on page 88)

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