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Humanities & Cultural

Harry Allen "H. Allen" Smith


The wry wit of humorist H. Allen Smith delighted readers around the word in the middle of the 20th century.  But he was a youngster barely in his teens when he began to develop his writing skills as a reporter for a Huntington newspaper.

Smith was born in 1907 in McLeansboro, Illinois. His family moved to Huntington shortly after World War I. He left school after 8th grade to take a series of odd jobs, the last of which was a stint as a reporter at the Press, Huntington’s morning daily newspaper, when he was just 15. There, while writing obituaries and news briefs, Smith found his calling. He became editor of a Florida newspaper by age 18 and was married at 19. By 1929 he’d worked his way to New York City, where he wrote for newspapers and radio, and later honed his style a syndicated columnist.

During World War II, Smith became one of the most popular authors in America. It was a time when people desperately needed a laugh, and he delivered. He burst onto the literary scene in 1941 with the autobiographical “Low Man On a Totem Pole,” which included chapters detailing his exploits in Huntington. He followed that success with a string of best-sellers, many of which bore quirky titles, like “Life In a Putty-Knife Factory” and “Lo, the Former Egyptian.”

Wartime sales of Smith’s books boomed and his fame spread along with America’s influence around the world.  He became a mainstay of national radio shows and wrote scripts for Hollywood studios.  One of his more fanciful books, “Rhubarb,” about a cat who inherits a big-league baseball team, was adapted as  a movie.  Subsequent Smith tomes dealt with, among other topics, the art of the practical joke, living in the New York suburbs, poetry, historical figures named Smith, and chili.

In his later years he and his wife Nelle moved to a remote part of Texas, where he continued to pen essays and short stories for many of the popular magazines of the day. The last of Smith’s 37 books was published in 1970, six years before his death.

At the height of his popularity, the one-time Huntington Press cub described himself as nothing more than “a reporter with a humorous slant,” adding -- perhaps with a wink -- that “I am funny only in the sense that the world is funny.”

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