Edna Ferber (August 15, 1885 – April 16, 1968) was an American novelist, short story writer and playwright. Her novels were especially popular and included the Pulitzer Prize-winning So Big (1924), Show Boat (1926; made into the celebrated 1927 musical), and Giant (1952; made into the 1956 Hollywood movie).
Ferber was born in 1885 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to a Hungarian-born Jewish storekeeper and his Milwaukee, Wisconsin-born wife, Jacob Charles and Julia (Neumann) Ferber. After living in Chicago, Illinois and Ottumwa, Iowa, at age 12 Ferber and her family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where she graduated from high school and briefly attended Lawrence University. She took newspaper jobs at the Appleton Daily Crescent and the Milwaukee Journal before publishing her first novel. She covered the 1920 Republican and Democratic national conventions for the United Press Association.
Ferber's novels generally featured strong female protagonists, although she fleshed out multiple characters in each book. She usually highlighted at least one strong secondary character who faced discrimination ethnically or for other reasons; through this technique, Ferber demonstrated her belief that people are people and that the not-so-pretty persons have the best character.
Due to her imagination in scene, characterization and plot, several theatrical and film productions have been made based on her works, including Show Boat, Giant, Ice Palace, Saratoga Trunk, Cimarron (which won an Oscar) and the 1960 remake. Three of these works - Show Boat, Saratoga Trunk and Giant - have been developed into musicals.
When composer Jerome Kern proposed turning the very serious Show Boat into a musical, Ferber was shocked, thinking it would be transformed into a typical light entertainment of the 1920s, and it was not until Kern explained that he and Oscar Hammerstein II wanted to create a different type of musical that Ferber granted him the rights. Saratoga, based on Saratoga Trunk, was written at a much later date, after serious plots had become acceptable in stage musicals.
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