York Author’s Success Builds Dream House
Home of Katharine Haviland-Taylor
I really enjoy it when a York countian from the past that I am researching turns out to be a nice person. Sculptor Charles Rudy was such a person, and so was author Katharine Haviland-Taylor. Their personalities come through in articles written about them and in their personal writings.
It is also gratifying when they reap the benefits of their talents. Charles Rudy bought his farm, with a stone house and a barn that became his studio, with the proceeds from his commission for his huge Noah sculpture on the Bronx, NY post office. Katharine Haviland-Taylor’s similar reward was the West Manchester Township house above. She pasted the photo inside the front cover of a copy of her book, Back Roads. Below the photo, she wrote: “Our personal version of Back Roads. Made possible through the serialization of this book. December, 1939”
See below for my recent York Sunday News column on Katharine Haviland-Taylor.
York Woman Wrote Many Popular Novels and Stories
Yorker Katharine Haviland-Taylor was a prolific writer. She wrote around two dozen novels, and she is credited with around 1,500 short stories, serials, articles, one-act plays and poems.
The daughter of Reverend Arthur Russell Taylor and Emma Haviland, Katharine was born in Mankato, Minnesota in 1891. The family moved to York in 1906 when Reverend Taylor became the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, a post he held until his death in 1918. In an autobiographical quote on the dust jacket of her book Back Roads (1939) she says: “I couldn’t go to school because of defective sight. So my father took up my education under the premise that a clergyman’s daughter never would need to add and that the constant necessary subtraction was too depressing.”
Katharine’s first book, Cecilia of the Pink Roses, was published in 1917. It was soon made into a movie starring Marion Davies. It was the first film William Randolph Hearst backed for Davies, and it helped make her a movie star. Other books quickly followed from the presses of leading publishers, such as Grosset & Dunlap, Doubleday and Lippincott. At the same time, Haviland-Taylor’s short stories for both children and adults appeared in scores of magazines, including St. Nicholas, Child Life, Modern Woman, Life, Argosy and Cosmopolitan. Her books and stories were also highly popular in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Besides foreign language editions, her work appeared in at least three Braille magazines.
One of her short stories, Failure, was the basis for two motion pictures. In 1933 this tale of a country doctor was filmed as One Man’s Journey, starring Lionel Barrymore. It received good reviews. In 1938 it was remade as A Man to Remember with the famed Dalton Trumbo writing the screenplay. The cast was lesser-know this time, but the new film got even better reviews. Time Magazine‘s review said that the movie was low budget and quickly made, so the result even surprised the studio (RKO) when it turned out “unmistakably well above average A picture quality.”
At least two of her books used York as a physical background. The introduction to The 900 Block states that it was “assembled from many houses and shops” on East Market Street. Similarly, the setting for The Boulevard was Elmwood Boulevard, which the author could see from her home at 1409 East Market Street. In the prefaces to both books she was adamant that the characters themselves were pure fiction. She wrote: “The characters are fictitious; my business being the writing of fiction. I bear malice toward no one and I write of my town with affection.”
Besides being able to write so well, Haviland-Taylor was also a talented artist. She modeled in clay and illustrated at least one book for Lippincott with cut silhouettes. Most of all, she loved to read, accumulating a personal library of at least 10,000 books. She addressed her passionate relationship with books in a 1928 letter to students of West York High School by comparing books to railroad tickets to get away. She says “…suppose we have one sort of change and haven’t the other kind, the kind that buys a ticket. What shall we do? Answer: Go to the library, and there you can find a raft–Huck Finn as a pilot; or an aeroplane, with Mr. Lindberg to manage that!” She also reminds the students to “…remember that your mind as well as your body needs exercise and remember how dull the people are who never read. They are the kind of people who say, ‘Don’t we need rain?’ or ‘Haven’t we had a lot of rain?'”
Continuing her interest in youth, Katharine wrote the foreword for The Pioneer literary magazine in 1937. The journal was made up of short essays, poems and even mini book reviews by students of Phineas Davis, Hannah Penn, and Edgar Fans Smith Jr. High Schools. In that foreword she stressed that writing was arduous and lonely and that a writer’s time is not his or her own. She says that: “Breaking in (in any work) is done with GOOD work and not in any other way.” Still, sometimes a person “…feels deeply the need to write, who feels it so deeply that he can’t run away from it. And if you don’t feel it that way, DON’T!” If any of the students did find that they couldn’t escape that need to write, she pointed out that in 50 years they may be able to say they got their start in The Pioneer.
With her father and her only brother gone and her two sisters married, Katharine was very close to her mother, who is said to have helped with manuscripts and proofs. The dedication in Katharine’s last book, Back Roads, reads: “For my silent partner, Emma Louise Haviland-Taylor. We who are comrades understand the gift of my life she gave to me–my love to her.” Sometime in the late 1930s, the two moved across town to “Kohler’s Hill” near the Carlisle Road in the area of present-day West Manchester Mall; Haviland Rd. bears their name. Katharine suffered a serious illness in the fall of 1941, spending some time in York Hospital. She travelled to her winter home in St. Cloud, Florida to try to regain her health, but she passed away there that November.