BiographyNew York City, New York, USA
Robert Nathan was from a well known New York family. Among some noted relatives were: activist Maud Nathan and author Annie Nathan Meyer (his aunts), poet Emma Lazarus and Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo (his cousins). His uncle was the founder of Barnard College. Early education was at private schools in the East and Switzerland. In 1912 he entered Harvard University (a classmate was important literary and arts exponent E.E. Cummings). On the side he became an accomplished cellist, a lightweight boxer, and captain of the fencing team as well as an editor of the Harvard Monthly. Read more... in literary pursuits first saw fruit with early short stories and poems. In 1915 he married for the first time during his junior year and later made the decision to drop out of school to take a job in advertising to support his new family. Still in advertising in 1919, Nathan produced his first novel - the semi-autobiographical work "Peter Kindred". The book failed as piece of serious literature, but he left the conventional job and began focusing his time on writing as his life's goal. He also briefly taught journalism at New York University. And his determination paid off. Into the 1920s he began receiving recognition both with the public and the literary community. One of the latter was F. Scott Fitzgerald who at one point picked Nathan as his favorite writer. By the mid-1930s Nathan had managed to produce some dozen novels, among them "The Fiddler in Barley" (1926) and "The Bishop's Wife" (1928). Then Hollywood called in the person of MGM movie mogul Louis B. Mayer who urged a screenwriter's contract on him, and he accepted, coming West. As it turned out he was not attuned to the movie industry pace, but Nathan was still completing novels, and filmdom fairly begged for his work. His "One More Spring" (1933) was the first novel of interest and was filmed with that title One More Spring (1935). By then the unique fabric of his writing was becoming known: facets of romance, mystery, the supernatural set in a fantasy frame - a pervading otherworldliness. The second novel filmed was Wake Up and Dream (1946) (from the novel "The Enchanted Voyage"). A Christmas comedy favorite is The Bishop's Wife (1947) with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. This was remade again as The Preacher's Wife (1996). One of the best examples of his blending of dreamlike elements was his most successful novel "Portrait of Jennie" (1940). The film version of Portrait of Jennie (1948) was produced sparing no expense by David O. Selznick and starred his later wife Jennifer Jones and their friend, the sometimes underrated veteran leading man, Joseph Cotten. The fifth novel made into a film was The Color of Evening (1994). There were also some TV dramas based on his writings - a "Portrait of Jennie" once more included. The writing went on steadily. Nathan's early screen writing efforts are obscure, but his three official pieces came in the 1940s, and the best of them was co-writing The Clock (1945). Directed by young Vincente Minnelli, it starred Minnelli's future wife Judy Garland and was a highly satisfying romantic story of achieving an improbable and urgent goal in one day's time-certainly right up Nathan's alley. Nathan's serious writing occupied most of his time. In addition to movie work he wrote 39 novels, one work of non-fiction, 4 children's stories, and 10 collections of poetry. In later years he was known as "The Dean of Author's", and many prominent writers, including Irving Stone and Irving Wallace sought out his guidance. He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters for fifty years. As his life slowed down (he completed his last novel in 1975), and he retired more from the literary world, he had the good fortune to marry (a happy marriage of fifteen years until his death) an ideal companion to supervise his peace of mind both at homes in Los Angeles and Cape Cod, the English born actress Anna Lee, who had come to Hollywood with her first husband director Robert Stevenson in 1939. Nathans legacy moves on. Another telling of "Portrait of Jennie" is being developed as a musical (2009). Nathan's comedy play "Juliet in Mantua" (the story line -- what if Romeo and Juliet faked their deaths and ran off to live happily ever after in Mantua - or did they?) is being made into a movie (2009). He is noted in some quarters as a master of satiric fantasy-but satiric is perhaps too quick a cut on the inner complexity of what he wanted to put into words. He had said of his writing life: "I have tried -- as far as I could -- to be a comforter in the world...not through what I know, but what I don't -- and cannot -- know. I have tried to suggest the mystery and the magic."