Irving Stone was born July 14, 1903, in San Francisco, California, son of Charles Tennenbaum and Pauline Rosenberg Tennenbaum Stone. He legalized the surname of his stepfather. Educated at the University of California at Berkeley, Stone received his B.A. in 1923, taught economics at the University of Southern California from 1923 to 1924, when he was awarded his M.A., and then did postgraduate work at the University of California for two more years. In 1934 Stone married Jean Factor, who was to become his editor and researcher. They had a daughter and a son, Paula and Kenneth.
Although Stone’s Pageant of Youth was published in 1933, he first scored heavily with the “biographical novel” format in 1934, when he dramatically re-created the life of artist Vincent van Gogh. Spirited, colorful, and fact-filled, Lust for Life attracted a wide audience who wanted both livelier biographies and rewarding, factual novels. (The nature of this and Stone’s similar works—fact-based but imaginatively re-created biography—makes it somewhat inadequate to categorize them as either fiction or nonfiction.) Traveling across Holland, Belgium, and France to recapture the life of the shy and awkward but compassionate artist driven to madness by his less feeling peers, Stone developed a special method of characterization by writing as if he were the character himself. The success of Lust for Life was enough to inspire a Hollywood film in 1956 starring Kirk Douglas.
In 1938 Stone won high praise from critics for Sailor on Horseback, which detailed the life of American novelist Jack London. Armed with London’s correspondence, family documents, and autobiographical writings, Stone produced a seamless amalgam, leaving the reader to wonder where London left off and Stone began. Vivid scenes that account for both London’s actions and his dreams caused critics to hail Stone’s portrait as full, skillful, and honest. Preferring to write about artists, authors, and political leaders, Stone moved close to the realm of romantic suspense when he chose Rachel Jackson, the wife of Andrew Jackson, as the center of The President’s Lady....
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