Jack Woodford

Jack Woodford

Jack Woodford (1894–1971) was a successful pulp novelist and non-fiction author of the 1930s and 1940s. He wrote unique books on writing and getting published. Most famously, Woodford authored "Trial and Error" which caused something of a scandal at the time of publication because of its no-holds-barred insights into the publishing industry.

Born Josiah Pitts Woolfolk, he also wrote under the name Jack Woolfolk. The pen name "Jack Woodford" was derived from the first name of a writer he admired (Jack Lait, a writer for Hearst Publications) and the county where his father was born (Woodford County, Kentucky). Other pen names include Gordon Sayre, Sappho Henderson Britt, and Howard Hogue Kennedy.


Woodford grew up in Chicago when the dominant form of transportation was horse-drawn carriage. He was raised in well-to-do circumstances by his grandmother Annette (of Welsh stock) whom he called "Nettie". Nettie was a practicing member of Christian Science but was unable to bring Jack into the fold. Despite his general hatred of organized religion, Woodford joined the Freemasonry organization and remained a lifelong member.

His father was a doctor who started a private practice in Sioux City, Iowa, eventually moving it to Chicago. He later taught diagnosis at Rush Medical College, before dying at the age of forty-nine, likely from mercury poisoning. Calomel (mercurous chloride) was a popular medicine at the time and one the doctor himself used to excess. Woodford, always physically vibrant, thought of his father as a hypochondriac.

Woodford witnessed the Eastland disaster where the steamer ship rolled over in the Chicago River and killed 845 people. He gave a firsthand account to the Chicago newspaper the "Herald-Examiner" and described the event in Chapter 21 of his autobiography.

Among the many famous contemporaries Woodford befriended, the most notable are H. L. Mencken, writer/satirist James Branch Cabell, novelist Sherwood Anderson, composer George Antheil, and poet Ezra Pound. Woodford wrote a piece that was published in Pound’s early "Exile" magazine. He also accompanied Winston Churchill when the former Prime Minister visited New York City.

Woodford's only child from his marriage, Louella Woolfolk (who wrote under the pen name Louella Woodford) was also a published author who, at the age of 18, wrote a 273-page novel titled "Maid Unafraid" that was published in 1937 by Godwin.

Woodford founded Jack Woodford Press in the 1930s and the company's work was distributed by Citadel in the 1940s. The editors of the company in the 1940s were Allan Wilson and Aaron Moses (“Moe”) Shapiro.

Quotes by Woodford

* “Boy meets girl; girl gets boy into pickle; boy gets pickle into girl.”
* “Characterization is an accident that flows out of action and dialogue.”
* “Few human beings are proof against the implied flattery of rapt attention.”
* “If you wish to write great literature you are very stupid to read my books, because I do not, cannot, and would not write great literature.”
* “One of your first jobs, as you write for money, will be to get rid of your vocabulary.”
* “Editors are the immemorial adversaries of writers, because most editors are editors because they wanted to be writers and failed, and they instinctively hate those who wanted to be writers and succeeded.”
* “I got my favors the hard way. I found out what the dame most wanted, and either gave it to her or pretended I was going to give it to her, and that in all cases got action—always does, always will, for any man.”
* “Money talks. And writes. And publishes. And reviews. But it can't read.”
* “Constantly writer after writer would come to me in Hollywood to invite me into Communist activities and I would laugh at them and point out the utter inconsistency of a man making fifteen hundred dollars a week or more, doing next to nothing, going for a philosophy which would destroy just that and put them back where they were when the golden cornucopia splayed them.”

Quotes about Woodford

*Ray Bradbury, fantasist, prose poet, playwright: "Jack Woodford's "Trial and Error" was the first book on writing I ever read, at the age of fifteen. He said all the right things and said them clearly. I stayed afloat and got my work done because of him."

*Jerry Pournelle, co-author of "Lucifer's Hammer" and "Inferno" and author of "A Step Farther Out": "I strongly suspect that I would not have attempted to write for money if I had not read Jack Woodford's books..."

*Piers Anthony: "I have a strong feeling of affinity for Jack Woodford, an ornery cuss who answered his mail and his critics and told it as it was — as I do now. Actually we are nothing like each other, apart from having attractive daughters, when you go beyond the business of writing — but writing is my life, as it was his. Jack Woodford was writing on writing back when I was born — and he still makes more sense than anyone else. His references may be dated now, but his truths are eternal. You want to be a writer, you fool? If Woodford can't discourage you, he'll tell you how to make good. Start with "Jack Woodford on Writing", which is a collection of excerpts from his books on the subject. After that you will be able to handle any current reference with appropriate cynicism. He did that for me."

*Robert A. Heinlein: "It pleases me enormously to see dear old Jack Woodford (may his bones rest in peace) given his due. I read "Trial and Error" in 1939, started writing and did exactly what he said to do, and it works and I've sold it all. Hooray for Woodford."

*Richard A. Lupoff, author of "Circumpolar!" and "Circumsolar!": "I learned from a book by old-timer Jack Woodford how to interweave plot and subplot in a manner that sustains reader interest and suspense for several hundred pages."

Selected bibliography


* "Trial and Error" (1933)
* "Plotting" (also published as "Plotting - How to Have a Brain Child") (1939)
* "Why write a novel?" (1943, also published as "How to Write and Sell a Novel")
* "Plotting for every kind of writing"
* "How To Write For Money" (1944)
* "Writer's Cramp" (1953)
* "Jack Woodford on Writing" (1979)
* "The Autobiography of Jack Woodford" (1962, published under Jack Woolfolk)
* "My Years with Capone"
* "How to Make Your Friends and Murder Your Enemies" (Published posthumously by Jess E. Stewart in 1981)
* "The Rabelaisian letters of Jack Woodford"
* "The secret confessions of Joseph Stalin: A 3rd-dimensional creative confession of life and destiny"


* "City Limits"
* "Evangelical Cockroach" (short story)
* "Find the Motive"
* "Five Fatal Days"
* "Four Eves"
* "Free Lovers"
* "Gentlemen from Parnassus"
* "God's Lap"
* "Grounds for Divorce"
* "The Hard-Boiled Virgin" (1947)
* "Here is My Body"
* "How Away From Home" (1962)
* "Illegitimate"
* "Illicit"
* "Indecent?"
* "Iris"
* "Lady Killers" (1935, writing as Howard Kennedy)
* "Male and Female"
* "Mirage of Marriage"
* "Person to Person Call"
* "Possessed"
* "Rented Wife"
* "She Liked the Man"
* "Sin and Such"
* "Strangers in Love"
* "Surrender"
* "Tale Incredible: The True Story of Harry Stephen Keeler's Literary Rise" (article)
* "Temptress"
* "Three Gorgeous Hussies"
* "Traded Lives"
* "Unmoral"
* "Vice Versa"
* "White Heat"


* In addition to his native English, Woodford could speak passable French and German.
* In his autobiography (published 1962), Woodford takes a small swipe at Norman Mailer. “…the American reading public…who now pamper writing madmen who run around stabbing people in order to explore ‘life.’ What a generation of idiots we are.” Mailer famously stabbed his wife Adele in 1960.

External links

* [http://jackwoodfordmemorial.com Woodford Memorial Editions]
* [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0940257 IMDB movies based on Woodford's work]
* [http://mysteriousmri.googlepages.com/44kn.pdf Tale Incredible: The True Story of Harry Stephen Keeler‘s Literary Rise] Short article about Harry Stephen Keeler by Woodford published in the October 1934 issue of "10 Story Book".

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