Rod McKuen Biography

Early Life

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Rod Marvin McKuen was born during the Depression, in a Salvation Army Hospital in California. He attended school for less than four years, mostly in one-room rural schoolhouses throughout Nevada, California, Washington, and Oregon. During his childhood, he repeatedly ran away from his mother and abusive stepfather but was always caught. At age eleven, he set off on a cross-country journey—walking, hitchhiking, and hopping trains—in an attempt to escape his past. From 1953 to 1955, he served with the U.S. Army first in Japan and then in Korea, where he wrote scripts on psychological warfare and was military assistant to the Korean Civil Assistance Command. He published And Autumn Came, a volume of poems, in 1954 through a vanity press. After his discharge from the service, he sang at folk clubs and worked briefly in films in Hollywood. In 1961, he had a minor hit with “Mister Oliver Twist,” a rock song. In performing this song on a multistop tour of bowling alleys, McKuen would reduce his voice to the gravely sound by which later fans would know him.