Richard Pike Bissell

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c. 1953
Richard Bissell, early 1950s

Richard Pike Bissell (June 27, 1913 in Dubuque, Iowa – 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). He lived for several years and raised his children in Rowayton, Connecticut. A member of The Lambs from 1956.[1]

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.[2]


  • 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.[3]


  1. ^ "The Lambs Club, established 1874".
  2. ^ Biography; accessed January 20, 2018.
  3. ^ Elmore Leonard Interview from the 2008 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference in Montgomery College,; accessed January 20, 2015.

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