Scott O'Dell Biography

Scott O’Dell’s name is a mistake. He was born Odell Gabriel Scott, but while he was working as a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News, an editor mistakenly wrote Scott O’Dell as his byline. The name stuck, and O’Dell legally changed it. After his newspaper days, he began writing books for adults. Beginning in the late 1950s, however, his focus shifted, and he started writing for young adults. He wrote over twenty-six young adult novels, three books for adults, and four nonfiction books. His most famous work is Island of the Blue Dolphins, which won the 1961 Newbery Medal, among other awards. He also wrote the popular The King’s Fifth, The Black Pearl, and Sing Down the Moon.

Facts and Trivia

  • In 1981, O’Dell started the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award—a $5,000 prize for exceptional works of historical fiction.
  • O’Dell attended many different colleges, including Occidental College, the University of Wisconsin, Stanford University, and the University of Rome La Sapienza.
  • He worked briefly as a cameraman and technical director in Hollywood before becoming a writer.
  • Many of O’Dell’s books have been made into films, including Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1964 and The Black Pearl in 1978.
  • The King’s Fifth was adapted into an anime series for television in 1982 and renamed The Mysterious Cities of Gold. It was shown in several different countries.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 688

Scott O’Dell, born Odell Gabriel Scott, is perhaps most famous for his work in children’s literature, especially historical fiction for children, in which his high moral sense and his love of nature and the sea were the foundation by which he would craft a number of important children’s classics, including the noteworthy Island of the Blue Dolphins, considered by many to be his more important work. Born in Los Angeles in 1898, O’Dell was to remain a Californian for much of his life. Interestingly, O’Dell, whose first book would appear in 1924, would only achieve true greatness as an author of children’s literature after his sixtieth birthday.{$S[A]Scott, Odell Gabriel;O’Dell, Scott}

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Scott O’Dell was the son of Bennett Mason and May Elizabeth (Gabriel) Scott. O’Dell’s father worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, eventually leaving this to become a small business owner. O’Dell was later to acknowledge a rather cold relationship with his father, which some critics feel accounted for his love of stories that featured a son without the benefit of a father’s guidance, a theme that was later seen in some of his work.

Much of O’Dell’s boyhood was spent enjoying the rugged outdoor life that was early Southern California’s almost rural setting. O’Dell spent many childhood days exploring with his friends and once was involved in the brutal killing of an animal, the revulsion of which forever remained a catalyst for his deep concern for living things and great respect and appreciation of the natural world.

O’Dell attended Long Beach Polytechnic high school and entered the U.S. Army near the end of World War I. After his discharge he attended Occidental College. He was never an interested scholar, and although he attended this college and later both the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University, he never graduated from any institution.

After beginning to get work as a writer of magazine and newspaper articles, he began a job as a photoplay critic, which would lead to his involvement in Hollywood’s early film industry. Eventually he worked for Paramount Pictures; his position there would lead to the publication of his first book, Representative Photoplays Analyzed, published in 1924. His connections in the film industry fostered friendships and a glittering social life during the late 1920’s and 1930’s with members of the Hollywood elite. During this time he met and married Jane Dorsa Rattenbury, his first wife. O’Dell would later marry Elizabeth Hall, a writer and editor, with whom he would know continued happiness, both personally and professionally.

In 1934 his first published novel appeared. Woman of Spain: A Story of Old California, O’Dell’s first attempt at a novel, was fortunately spotted by Greta Garbo as a potential film script. Garbo persuaded her film studio to purchase the rights to the book for an extravagant sum in the Depression-era United States, enough to finance O’Dell’s lifestyle in the 1930’s as part of the Hollywood social set.

O’Dell added slowly to his collection of novels throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s but only achieved great acclaim when he wrote Island of the Blue Dolphins, based on the real story of an American Indian girl who lived alone on an island off the California coast for eighteen years. It is in this book that O’Dell’s early fascination with nature and the sea, coupled with his later understanding of humankind’s moral obligation to protect it, made for a simple and beautiful tale that appealed to children. Island of the Blue Dolphins won a number of awards, including a John Newbery Medal in 1960.

After his late success with Island of the Blue Dolphins, O’Dell committed himself to a rigorous writing schedule for the rest of his life, which produced more than twenty-eight contributions to children’s literature. After his death, his widow, Elizabeth Hall, always an important ally in his work, took her hand to his unfinished books, Thunder Rolling in the Mountains and Venus Among the Fishes, and completed them for publication in 1992 and 1995, respectively.

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