- To be distinguished from Irving I. Stone, philanthropist
Irving Stone (born Tennenbaum, July 14, 1903, San Francisco, California – August 26, 1989, Los Angeles) was an American writer, chiefly known for his biographical novels of noted artists, politicians and intellectuals; among the best known are Lust for Life (1934), about the life of Vincent van Gogh, and The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961), about Michelangelo.
Born Irving Tennenbaum, he was seven when his parents divorced. By the time he was a senior in high school, his mother had remarried. He legally changed his last name to "Stone", his stepfather's surname. Stone said his mother 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. After receiving his M.A. there, he worked as a Teaching Assistant in English. He met his first wife, Lona Mosk (1905–1965), who was a student at the university. On money provided by her father, Los Angeles businessman, Ernest Mosk, the young couple went to Paris.
Irving and Lona returned to the United States 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 about Van Gogh that set his career in motion, according to the NY Times obituary of August 28, 1989. According to the Times, 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. After he was divorced from Lona, he and Jean married. This later marriage lasted until Stone's death in 1989.
During their years together, Jean Stone edited many of his works. The Stones lived primarily in Los Angeles, California. They 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. He dedicated books to her and thanked her in several of his works.
According to his afterword for Lust for Life, Stone relied on 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, a novel about Michelangelo. The Italian government lauded Stone with several honorary awards during this period for his cultural achievements highlighting Italian history.
Although best known for his novels, Stone also wrote a number of non-fiction books. One was a biography of Clarence Darrow. In his book They Also Ran, about the losers in presidential campaigns, Stone criticizes William Jennings Bryan as an egocentric who never admitted being wrong. Stone argues that because Bryan led a privileged life, he could not feel the suffering of the common man. He asserts that Bryan only acted as a champion of common men in order to get their votes. Stone claims that none of Bryan's ideas were original, and that he did not have the brains to be an effective president. He calls Bryan one of the nation's worst Secretaries of State. He believes that, as President, Bryan would have supported many blue laws. In Stone's opinion, Bryan had one of the least disciplined minds of the 19th century, and McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft all made better Presidents than Bryan would have been.
Stone's 1975 book The Greek Treasure was the basis for the German television production Der geheimnisvolle Schatz von Troja (Hunt for Troy, 2007).
Legacy and honors
- 1960, he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Berkeley, his alma mater.
- Lust for Life (1934) – Historical novel based on the life of Vincent van Gogh
- Sailor on Horseback (1938) – A biography of Jack London
- Immortal Wife (1944) – Historical novel based on the life of Jessie Benton Frémont
- Adversary in the House (1947) – Historical novel based on the life of Eugene V. Debs and his wife Kate, who opposed socialism
- The Passionate Journey (1949) – Historical novel based on the life of American artist John Noble
- The President's Lady (1950) – Historical novel based on the life of American president Andrew Jackson and his marriage to Rachel Donelson Jackson
- Love is Eternal (1954) – Historical novel based on the marriage of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd
- The Agony and the Ecstasy – (1961) – Historical novel based on the life of Michelangelo
- Those Who Love (1965) – Historical novel based on the life of John Adams and Abigail Adams
- The Passions of the Mind (1971) – Historical novel based on the life of Sigmund Freud
- The Greek Treasure (1975) – based on the discovery of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann
- The Origin (1980) – Historical novel based on the life of Charles Darwin
- Depths of Glory (1985) – Historical novel based on the life of Camille Pissarro
- Clarence Darrow For the Defense (1941) – biography of Clarence Darrow
- They Also Ran (1944, updated 1966) – analysis of candidates who were defeated for U.S. President
- Earl Warren (1948) – biography of Earl Warren
- Men to Match My Mountains (1956) – Account of the opening of the American Old West, 1840–1900
- Verbal account (1963) by Lona Mosk Packer to son James Packer
- "Meet Our Alumni: Irving Stone", University of California at Berkeley
- 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)