Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Little Stories for Bedtime: Origin

Burgess lost his job at Phelps Publishing when Good Housekeeping was sold in 1911. Encouraged by his success with Old Mother West Wind, he shopped around a proposal for a daily newspaper bedtime story feature. Here is the account of its genesis in his autobiography:
I chanced to read in a local paper some syndicated stories for little folk. They were pleasantly wholesome entertainment, nothing more. Why not equally entertaining story with an educational value as well? Why not amusing, entertaining short stories of our friendly neighbors in fur and feathers, that would at the same time open for young readers the beautiful wonder world of Mother Nature?(p.111)
It should be noted that in other accounts, Burgess stressed the pedagogical goals of this project. Here he is in an article in Natural History (also included in his autobiograpy)

When I began writing animal stories for children, it was with the sole purpose of teaching the facts about the forms of animal life most familiar to American children. I endeavored to do this by stimulating the imagination, which is the birthright of every child, at the same time holding absolutely to the truth so far as the facts concerning the subject of each story were concerned.
He would pull back from this statement in later years, admitting that entertaining children (and getting paid work) was the real goal initially.

In the fall of 1911 he heard from George Matthews Adam who had just formed a syndicate of national papers called the "Associated Newspapers" that included the Chicago Daily News, Kansas City Star, Philadelphia Bulletin, New York Globe, and Boston Globe. Adams gave Burgess a six month trial period for his bedtime stories, starting in February 1912. Burgess passed the test and his feature began appearing throughout the syndicate in the fall of 1912. (The earliest story I can find in the Boston Globe is November 16, 1912.)

Burgess would write a story six days a week until he retired in 1960--over 15,000 stories in all. This would become his central creative enterprise. Most of his books were assembled from the stories (the story above, for example, would show up in The Adventures of Mister Mocker) and he used them as jumping off points to support other projects (anti-hunting efforts, e.g.).

Anecdotal evidence suggests the stories were in fact used by parents, especially fathers, as the evening bedtime story. Burgess became known as "The Bedtime Story" man, a title he initially embraced (it made him a fortune) but later resented (he preferred "naturalist.")

Next: Little Stories for Bedtime: Commodities and Communities

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