MacKinlay Kantor

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
MacKinlay Kantor
MacKinlay Kantor (1950).jpg
Kantor in 1950
Born Benjamin McKinlay Kantor
(1904-02-04)February 4, 1904
Webster City, Iowa, U.S.
Died October 11, 1977(1977-10-11) (aged 73)
Sarasota, Florida, U.S.
Nationality American
Notable works Andersonville, Pulitzer Prize
Spouse Florence Irene Layne
Children Tim Kantor, Layne Kantor
Kantor playing the guitar

MacKinlay Kantor (February 4, 1904 – October 11, 1977),[1] born Benjamin McKinlay Kantor, was an American journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He wrote more than 30 novels, several set during the American Civil War, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1956 for his 1955 novel Andersonville, about the Confederate prisoner of war camp. (The novel is often erroneously believed to have been the basis for the stage play and TV movie The Andersonville Trial (1970), as well as for the TV mini-series Andersonville (film) (1995), but neither has any actual connection to Kantor's work.)

Early life and education[edit]

Benjamin McKinlay Kantor was born and grew up in Webster City, Iowa, the second child and only son in his family. He had a sister, Virginia. His mother, Effie (McKinlay) Kantor, worked as the editor of the Webster City Daily News during part of his childhood. His father, John Martin Kantor, was a Jewish, native-born Swede descended from "a long line of rabbis, who posed as a Protestant clergyman."[2] His mother was of English, Irish, Scottish, and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry.[3] (Later MacKinlay Kantor wrote an unpublished novel called Half Jew.)[4] Kantor's father had trouble keeping jobs and abandoned the family before Benjamin was born. His mother returned to live with her children at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Adam McKinlay, in the same city.[5]

As a child, the boy started using his middle name McKinlay as his given name. He changed its spelling, adding an "a", because he thought it sounded more Scottish, and chose to be called "Mack" or MacKinlay. He attended the local schools and made full use of the Kendall Young Library, which he described as his "university". Mack Kantor won a writing contest with his first story "Purple".[5]

Marriage and family[edit]

Kantor married Florence Irene Layne, and they had two children together. Their son Tim Kantor wrote a biography/memoir of his father.[4]


From 1928 to 1934, Kantor wrote numerous stories for pulp fiction magazines, to earn a living and support his family, including crime stories and mysteries. He sold his first pulp stories, “Delivery Not Received” and “A Bad Night for Benny,” to Edwin Baird, editor of Real Detective Tales and Mystery Stories. He also wrote for Detective Fiction Weekly.[4] In 1928, Kantor published his first novel, Diversey, set in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1932, Kantor moved with his family from the Midwest to New Jersey.[4] He was an early resident of Free Acres, a social experimental community developed by Bolton Hall in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.[6] In two years he sold 16 short stories and a serialized novel to Howard Bloomfield, editor of Detective Fiction Weekly. He also acquired a professional agent, Sydney Sanders. Achieving some success by 1934, he began to submit short stories to the "slick magazines" (glossies). His "Rogue's Gallery", published in Collier on August 24, 1935, became his most frequently reprinted story.

It was during this decade that Kantor first wrote about the American Civil War, beginning with his novel Long Remember (1934), set at the Battle of Gettysburg. As a boy and teenager in Iowa, Kantor had spent hours listening to the stories of Civil War veterans, and he was an avid collector of first-hand narratives.

During World War II, Kantor reported from London as a war correspondent for a Los Angeles newspaper. After flying with some bombing missions, he asked for and received training to operate the bomber's turret machine guns, although he was not in service and this was in violation of regulations. Kantor interviewed numerous wounded troops, whose thoughts and ideas inspired a later novel.

When Kantor interviewed U.S. troops, many told him the only goal was to get home alive. He was reminded of the Protestant hymn: "When all my labors and trials are o're / And I am safe on that beautiful shore [Heaven], O that will be / Glory for me!" Kantor returned from the European theater of war on military air transport (MAT). After the war, the producer Samuel Goldwyn commissioned him to write a screenplay about veterans' returning home.[7] Kantor wrote a novel in blank verse, which was published as Glory for Me (1945).[8] After selling the movie rights to his novel, Kantor was disappointed that the film was released under the name The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and details of the story were changed by the screenwriter Robert Sherwood. Kantor was said to have lost his temper with Goldwyn and walked off the Hollywood lot. The first 15 seconds of the movie note that it is "based upon a novel by MacKinlay Kantor" but the novel's name was not told. His basic story had power, as the film was a commercial and critical success, winning seven Academy Awards.

Beginning in 1948, Kantor arranged an intensive period of research with the New York City Police Department (NYCPD). He was the only civilian other than reporters allowed to ride with police on their beat. He often rode on night shifts, working with the 23rd Precinct, whose territory ranged from upper Park Avenue to East Harlem, with a wide range of residents and incomes. These experiences informed most of his short crime novels, as well as his major work Signal Thirty-Two, published in 1950 with jacket art by his wife Irene Layne Kantor.[4]

Kantor was noted for his limited use of punctuation within his literary compositions.[9]

During his assignment with the U.S. troops in World War II, Kantor entered the concentration camp of Buchenwald as they liberated it on April 14, 1945. During the next decade, his experience would inform his research for and writing of Andersonville, his novel about the Confederate prisoner of war camp. One of the issues he struggled with in Germany and afterward was how to think of the civilians who lived near Buchenwald. As he struggled to understand, he developed ideas used in his novel, where he portrayed some civilian Southerners sympathetically, in contrast to officers at the camp.[10]

In writing more than 30 novels, Kantor often returned to the theme of the American Civil War. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for his novel Andersonville (1955), about the Confederate prison camp. Kantor wrote two works for young readers set in the Civil War years: Lee and Grant at Appomattox (1950) and Gettysburg (1952).

In addition to journalism and novels, Kantor wrote the screenplay for Gun Crazy (aka Deadly Is the Female) (1950), a noted film noir. It was based on his short story by the same name, published February 3, 1940 in The Saturday Evening Post (a glossy). In 1992, it was revealed that he had allowed his name to be used on a screenplay written by Dalton Trumbo,[4] one of the Hollywood Ten, who had been blacklisted as a result of his refusal to testify before the House Un-American Committee (HUAC) hearings. Kantor passed his payment on to Trumbo to help him survive. Kantor acted in the 1958 film Wind Across the Everglades.

Several of his novels were adapted for films. He established his own publishing house, and published several of his works in the 1930s and 1940s.

In the November 22, 1960, issue of Look magazine, Kantor published a fictional account set as a history text, entitled If the South Had Won the Civil War. This generated such a response that it was published in 1961 as a book. It is one of many alternate histories of that war.

Kantor's last novel was Valley Forge (1975).

Kantor died of a heart attack in 1977, at the age of 73, at his home in Sarasota, Florida.[1]



  • Diversey (1928)
  • El Goes South (1930)
  • The Jaybird (1932)
  • Long Remember (1934)
  • The Voice of Bugle Ann (1935)
  • Arouse and Beware (1936)
  • The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1937)
  • The Noise of Their Wings (1938)
  • Here Lies Holly Springs (1938)
  • Valedictory (Illustrated by Amos Sewell) (1939)
  • Cuba Libre (1940)
  • Gentle Annie (1942)
  • Happy Land (1943)
  • Glory for Me (1945)
  • Midnight Lace (1948)
  • The Good Family (1949)
  • Wicked Water (1949)
  • One Wild Oat (1950)
  • Signal Thirty-Two (1950)
  • Don't Touch Me (1951)
  • Warwhoop: Two Short Novels of the Frontier (1952)
  • The Daughter of Bugle Ann (1953)
  • God and My Country (1954)
  • Andersonville (1955)
  • Frontier: Tales of the American Adventure (1959)
  • The Unseen Witness (1959)
  • Spirit Lake (1961)
  • If the South Had Won the Civil War (1961) (Originally published in Look magazine, November 22, 1960)
  • Beauty Beast (1968)
  • I Love You, Irene (1973)
  • The Children Sing (1974)
  • Valley Forge (1975)


  • Turkey in the Straw: A Book of American Ballads and Primitive Verse (1935)
  • Author's Choice (stories) (1944)
  • Silent Grow the Guns, and Other Tales of the American Civil War (stories) (1958)
  • It's About Crime (stories) (1960)
  • The Gun-Toter, and Other Stories of the Missouri Hills (stories) (1963)
  • Story Teller (stories and essays) (1967)

Children's and young-adult books[edit]

  • Angleworms on Toast (Illustrated by Kurt Wiese) (1942)
  • Lee and Grant at Appomattox (Illustrated by Donald McKay) (1950)
  • Gettysburg (Illustrated by Donald McKay) (1952)
  • The Work of Saint Francis (Illustrated by Johannes Troyer) (1958)


  • But Look, the Morn: The Story of a Childhood (memoir) (1951)
  • Lobo (1958)
  • Mission with LeMay: My Story, by Curtis LeMay with MacKinlay Kantor (1965)
  • The Day I Met a Lion (memoir/essays) (1968)
  • Missouri Bittersweet (1969)
  • Hamilton County (1970)

[11]===Highly anthologised stories===

  • A Man Who Had No Eyes



Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Andersonville
  • 1976, Kantor-Mollenhoff Plaza in West Twin Park, Webster City, Iowa, was named in honor of him and the author Clark R. Mollenhoff, as part of the city's Bicentennial Celebration[5]
  • 1989, MacKinlay Kantor Drive in Webster City was named in his honor.[5]
  • Original editions of his more than 40 books were donated to the Kendall Young Library in Webster City by his longtime friend Richard Whiteman, who also donated more than $1 million to a library expansion.[5]


  1. ^ a b Kidd, Robin L. (2001). "MacKinlay Kantor". In Greasley, Philip A. Dictionary of Midwestern Literature. Volume One: The Authors. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. pp. 291–292. ISBN 0-253-33609-0. Retrieved June 27, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Review of Tim Kantor, 'My Father's Voice: MacKinlay Kantor Long Remembered' ", in Publishers Weekly, printed on, accessed 17 Oct 2010
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b c d e f John Apostolou, "MacKinlay Kantor", The Armchair Detective, Spring 1997, republished on Mystery File, accessed 17 Oct 2010
  5. ^ a b c d e Nass, Martin E. (October 29, 1999). "MacKinlay Kantor - Pulitzer Prize Winner" (Archived at the website of Martin E. "Ed" Nass). Daily Freeman-Journal, Millennium Edition. Retrieved June 27, 2010. 
  6. ^ Buchan, Perdita. "Utopia, NJ", New Jersey Monthly, February 7, 2008. Accessed February 27, 2011. "Free Acres had some famous residents in those heady early days: actors James Cagney and Jersey City–born Victor Kilian, writers Thorne Smith (Topper) and MacKinlay Kantor (Andersonville), and anarchist Harry Kelly, who helped found the Ferrer Modern School, centerpiece of the anarchist colony at Stelton in present-day Piscataway."
  7. ^ Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorn, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984, p. 119
  8. ^ Levy, Emmanuel (c. 2008). "Best Years of Our Lives, The (1946)" (review). Emmanuel Levy: Cinema 24/7. Retrieved June 27, 2010. 
  9. ^ McCarthy, Cormac (2007). "interview". The Oprah Winfrey Show. Retrieved 2008-11-13. 
  10. ^ Smithpeters, Jeffrey Neal (2005). ""To the Latest Generation": Cold War and Post Cold War U.S. Civil War Novels in Their Social Context" (PhD. Dissertation, Louisiana State University). pp. 14–15. Retrieved June 27, 2010. 
  11. ^ a man who had no eyes

Further reading[edit]

  • Eckley, Wilton. "MacKinlay Kantor." In Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 9: American Novelists, 1910–1945, edited by James J. Martine. Detroit, Gale Research, 1981.
  • Kantor, Tim. My Father’s Voice: MacKinlay Kantor Long Remembered (1988)
  • "MacKinlay Kantor", in Contemporary Authors, Gale Literary Databases, March 1999.
  • Zaidman, Laura. "MacKinlay Kantor", in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 102: American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945, Second Series, ed. Bobby Ellen Kimbel. Detroit, Gale Research, 1991.

External links[edit]