Harry Leon Wilson

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Harry Leon Wilson
Born Harry Leon Wilson
(1867-05-01)1 May 1867
Oregon, Illinois, United States
Died 28 June 1939(1939-06-28) (aged 72)
Carmel, California, United States
Occupation Novelist/Dramatist
Years active 1886–1939
Spouse(s) Wilbertine Nesselrode Teters (1898-1900)
Rose O'Neill (1902-1907)
Helen MacGowan Cooke (1912-1927)

Harry Leon Wilson (May 1, 1867 – June 28, 1939) was an American novelist and dramatist best known for his novels Ruggles of Red Gap and Merton of the Movies. His novel Bunker Bean helped popularize the term flapper.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Harry Leon Wilson was born in Oregon, Illinois, the son of Samuel and Adeline (née Kidder).[2] Samuel was a newspaper publisher, and Harry learned to set type at an early age.[3] He began work as a stenographer, after leaving home at sixteen. He worked his way west through Topeka, Omaha, Denver and eventually to California. He was a contributor to the histories of Hubert Howe Bancroft, and became the private secretary to Virgil Bogue.[2]

In December 1886, Wilson's story, The Elusive Dollar Bill was accepted by Puck magazine. He continued to contribute to Puck, and in 1892 became assistant editor. When Henry Cuyler Bunner died in 1896, Wilson replaced him as editor. The publication of The Spenders allowed Wilson to quit Puck in 1902, and devote himself full-time to writing.[3]

I had to live ten years in New York. It was then a simple town, with few street lights north of Forty-second street. Now the place is pretty terrible to me, perhaps the ugliest city in the world. I decided that the only way to get out of New York was to write a successful novel. So I tried with The Spenders and when I got a substantial advance from publishers, I quit my job and beat it for the high hills of Colorado.

—Harry Leon Wilson[4]

Wilson would return to New York, where he met Booth Tarkington in 1904. Tarkington and Wilson would travel together to Europe in 1905. The two would complete the play, The Man from Home in 1906 in Paris. The play was a resounding success and was followed by more collaborations with Tarkington, but none would repeat the success of the first.[2] Wilson was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1908.[5]

When Wilson returned from Europe, he settled in Carmel, California. Except for a few brief periods, he would remain there for the rest of his life. It was during this period that Wilson would write the books for which he is most well known. Bunker Bean was published in 1913. followed by Ruggles of Red Gap two years later. After a brief stint in Hollywood, he wrote Merton of the Movies in 1922.[3] A severe auto accident in 1932 greatly affected his health during his remaining years. Wilson died of a brain hemorrhage on June 28, 1939 in Carmel.[2]


Wilson was married three times. His first wife was Wilbertine Nesselrode Teters Worden,[6] whom he married in 1898. The marriage ended in divorce in 1900. In 1902 he married Rose Cecil O'Neill Latham. O'Neill and Wilson worked together at Puck, and she was the illustrator for four of his books. They divorced in 1907. Wilson married Helen MacGowan Cooke in 1912. They had two children, Harry Leon Wilson, Jr. and Helen Charis Wilson. Cooke and Wilson divorced in 1927.[7]

See also[edit]


  • Zigzag Tales from the East to the West (1894)
  • The Spenders: A Tale of the Third Generation (1902) illustrated by Rose Cecil O'Neill; adapted into the 1923 film The Spenders.
  • The Lions of the Lord, a Tale of the Old West (1903) illustrated by Rose Cecil O'Neill
  • The Seeker (1904) illustrated by Rose Cecil O'Neill
  • The Boss of Little Arcady (1905) illustrated by Rose Cecil O'Neill
  • Ewing's Lady (1907)
  • The Man from Home (1908) co-written with Booth Tarkington; adapted into two films, The Man from Home (1914) and The Man from Home (1922).
  • Cameo Kirby (1908) co-written with Booth Tarkington; adapted into the 1936 film Cameo Kirby.
  • Foreign Exchange (1909) co-written with Booth Tarkington
  • Springtime (1909) co-written with Booth Tarkington; adapted into the 1914 film Springtime.
  • If I Had Money (1909) co-written with Booth Tarkington
  • Your Humble Servant (1910) co-written with Booth Tarkington
  • Bunker Bean (1913) illustrated by Frederic R. Gruger; adapted into three films, His Majesty, Bunker Bean (1918), His Majesty, Bunker Bean (1925) Bunker Bean (1936).
  • Ruggles of Red Gap (1915) illustrated by Frederic R. Gruger; adapted into three films, Ruggles of Red Gap (1923), Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) and Fancy Pants (1950).
  • The Man from Home: A Novel (1915) based on the play
  • Somewhere in Red Gap (1916) illustrated by John R. Neill
  • Life (1919) play
  • The Gibson Upright (1919) co-written with Booth Tarkington
  • Ma Pettengill (1919)
  • The Wrong Twin (1921) illustrated by Frederic R. Gruger
  • Merton of the Movies (1922) adapted into three films, Merton of the Movies (1924), Make Me a Star (1932), and Merton of the Movies (1947)
  • So This Is Golf! 1923)
  • Oh, Doctor! (1923) adapted into the two films, Oh, Doctor! (1925) and Oh, Doctor! (1937).
  • Ma Pettengill Talks (1923)
  • Professor How Could You! (1924)
  • Tweedles (1924) co-written with Booth Tarkington
  • Cousin Jane (1925)
  • Lone Tree (1929)
  • How's Your Health? (1930) co-written with Booth Tarkington
  • Two Black Sheep (1931)
  • When in the Course-- (1940)


  1. ^ "Harry Leon Wilson". The Washington Post (Washington, D. C.). 1 July 1939. p. 8. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Harry Leon Wilson". Dictionary of American Biography, Supplements 1-2: To 1940. American Council of Learned Societies. 1944–1958. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c "Guide to the Harry Leon Wilson Papers, ca. 1879-1939". Berkeley, California: Bancroft Library. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  4. ^ "Harry Leon Wilson, Noted Author, Dies in Sleep :Creator of 'Flapper' Stricken at 72; Ill Several Years". The Washington Post (Washington, D. C.). 30 June 1939. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  5. ^ "American Academy of Arts and Letters - Deceased Members". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  6. ^ "Wilbertine Teters Worden Papers 1859-1949". Columbia University Libraries. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  7. ^ "Harry Leon Wilson". Contemporary Authors Online. Gale Group. 2010. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 

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