Richard Pike Bissell

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c. 1953
Richard Bissell, early 1950s

Richard Pike Bissell (Dubuque, Iowa, June 27, 1913 – May 4, 1977) was an American author of short stories and novels. His third book, and second novel, 7½ Cents, was adapted into the Broadway musical The Pajama Game. This won him (along with co-author George Abbott) the 1955 Tony Award for Best Musical. He wrote a book about the experience called Say, Darling, which chronicled the ins and outs of a broadway musical production and featured characters based on those (such as Harold Prince) he worked with; this book was also turned into a musical, also called Say, Darling, in 1958.


Bissell was born and died in Dubuque, Iowa. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and graduated from Harvard University.

He wrote a memoir of his experiences at Harvard, You Can Always Tell a Harvard Man (McGraw Hill, 1965). He worked on a freighter on the American Export Business Lines and riverboats, served as vice president at a Dubuque clothing manufacturer which had been bought by his great-grandfather (who worked his way from the bottom to the top of the company in a true Horatio Alger kind of story). He also lived for several years and raised his children in Rowayton, Connecticut.

Bissell wrote works about his experiences on the river that had some critics comparing him to Mark Twain, and 7½ Cents was based on his experiences in the garment industry. Bissell wrote 7½ Cents while he was the vice-president of his family's pajama factory located in Dubuque, Iowa. [1]


  • A Stretch on the River (1950)
  • The Monongahela (1952)
  • 7½ Cents (1953)
  • High Water (1954)
  • Say, Darling (1959)
  • Good Bye, Ava (1960)
  • You Can Always Tell a Harvard Man (1962)
  • Still Circling Moose Jaw (1965)
  • How Many Miles to Galena? (1968)
  • Julia Harrington, Winnebago, Iowa (1969)
  • My Life on the Mississippi, or Why I Am Not Mark Twain (1973)
  • New Light on 1776 and All That (1975)


In 2008 Elmore Leonard cited Richard Bissell as a major influence in formation of his style because he felt Bissell could be naturally funny:

Once I realized he (Ernest Hemingway) doesn't have much of a sense of humor, at least he doesn't show it in his books then I had to find someone else. And there was a writer by the name of Richard Bissell and Bissell wrote 7½ Cents which became The Pajama Game and wrote books set on the Mississippi river where he was a pilot, a towboat pilot I don't know for how long. Then he wrote about five books and he had such a natural style. There was humor on his towboat guys' talk, but it was never forced. He wasn't trying to be funny. That was the main point. I thought that's the way to do it. That's the way.[2]


  1. ^ [1] Iowa City Biography
  2. ^ [2] Elmore Leonard Interview from the 2008 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference in Montgomery College

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