Thelma Strabel

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Thelma L. Strabel (19 December 1900 – 28 May 1959) was an American novelist who specialized in tales of the American South and sea adventures. She is best known for her novel Reap the Wild Wind, which was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post and became a successful film.

Strabel was born in Crown Point, Indiana on December 19, 1900, the first child of grocer John George Strabel and his wife Nannsie.[1] (For unknown reasons, Strabel later claimed Pennsylvania as her birthplace.)[2] She was the great-granddaughter of Abraham Lincoln's private secretary, General John Hall.[3][4] She grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois,[5][6] but spent much of her youth also in southwestern Pennsylvania, her mother's native district.[7]

Strabel published her first short story in the children's section of a Pittsburgh newspaper.[8] At 16, she worked as a census enumerator for the local census board.[9] She graduated from the University of Illinois and later became a fashion reporter in Paris and an advertising copywriter for the Abraham & Straus department store.[10] While convalescing from an illness in Switzerland, she began to write fiction as a vocation.[11] Among her early works are Smart Woman (1933), Streamline Marriage (1937), For Richer -- Or For Poorer? (1938), and You Can't Escape Forever (1938). She wrote several novels set in exotic locales ranging from Caribbean islands to the jungles of Peru.

Her best known story, Reap the Wild Wind (1940), is a romantic saga of the wreckers in and around Key West, Florida. Producer-director Cecil B. DeMille bought the novel and, with numerous alterations, produced a popular movie version starring Paulette Goddard and John Wayne in 1942.[12] Strabel was so enamored of Key West and its unique history that she built a house there following the sale of the story to The Saturday Evening Post in 1940. The house, located at 400 South Street, was described by Strabel, not without argument, as the southernmost house in the United States. It remained a popular site for visitors to the island until its demolition and replacement by a larger house.[13][14]

Strabel married David P. Godwin, who was the chief of fire control for the U.S. Forest Service, an agency which served as the subject of her short story The Forest Ranger (also filmed in 1942, as The Forest Rangers).[15] Godwin was killed in a plane crash June 13, 1947, and Strabel never remarried.[16][17]

Strabel's later novels and stories include Storm to the South (1944), a romance of Bolivarian Peru, You Were There (a Woman's Home Companion serialized novel, filmed as Undercurrent [1946]), and Caribee (1957), a romantic novel revolving around the Mount Pelée volcanic disaster of 1902.

Strabel died of cancer on May 28, 1959, in Washington DC.[18] She was buried in Charleston, South Carolina.[19]


  1. ^ 1920 United States Federal Census, Urbana (Champaign) Illinois, District 47
  2. ^ Dust jacket of 1942 edition of Reap the Wild Wind, Triangle Books
  3. ^ Charleroi (Pennsylvania) Mail, May 31, 1957
  4. ^ McFarland, Joseph F. 20th Century History Of The City of Washington and Washington County Pennsylvania and Representative Citizens. Richmond-Arnold Publishing Co., Chicago, Illinois, 1910
  5. ^ 1920 United States Federal Census, Urbana (Champaign) Illinois, District 47
  6. ^ Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review, July 8, 1916
  7. ^ Charleroi (Pennsylvania) Mail, May 31, 1957
  8. ^ Charleroi (Pennsylvania) Mail, May 31, 1957
  9. ^ Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review, July 8, 1916
  10. ^ New York Times, May 29, 1959
  11. ^ Dust jacket of 1942 edition of Reap the Wild Wind, Triangle Books
  12. ^ Cecil B. DeMille, foreword to 1942 edition of Reap the Wild Wind, Triangle Books
  13. ^ Key West Art and Historical Society
  14. ^ Keith, June, June Keith's Key West & The Florida Keys, 4th edition, 2005. Palm Island Press
  15. ^ American Film Institute Catalog, Feature Films 1941-1950, The Forest Rangers entry
  16. ^ Tucson Daily Citizen, June 14, 1947
  17. ^ Newport Daily News, May 29, 1959
  18. ^ New York Times, May 29, 1959
  19. ^ Washington Post, May 29, 1959

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