Saturday, December 29, 2012

Robert Ruark: outdoorsman, hunter, writer

Hunter Harry Selby with Robert Ruark
It is the birthday of journalist and outdoorsman Robert Ruark (1915), who is best remembered for his  bestseller, The Old Man and the Boy (1957), a collection of essays about hunting, fishing, and camping with his grandfather in the wilds of North Carolina. Ruark originally wrote them as a series under the same title published in Field & Stream magazine in the 1950s.

Ruark also is remembered for his adventures on safari in Africa with famed big-game hunter Harry Selby. Ruark wrote several books based on his experiences in Africa. The most well known was Something of Value (1955), about the Mau-Mau uprisings in Kenya as natives rebelled against British colonial rule. It was adapted as a 1957 film Something of Value, starring Rock Hudson, Dana Wynter, and Sidney Poitier. Ruark also wrote a sequel, Uhuru (1962).

Ruark grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, and studied journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He worked for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, served in the U.S. Merchant Marine, and worked for small newspapers in North Carolina. In 1936, he worked as a copy boy for The Washington Daily News and soon became its top sports writer. He served as an ensign in the U.S. Navy during World War II and saw duty in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as well as the Pacific.

After the war, he returned to Washington and became a syndicated columnist. His provocative columns poking fun at such diverse targets as scheming women, Southern cooking, army generals, psychiatrists, and the state of Texas, made him a household name throughout the country. His columns were collected in two books, I Didn't Know It Was Loaded (1948) and One for the Road (1949). After his success as a columnist, he turned to writing fiction. His first novel, Grenadine Etching (1947), skewered historical romances. Its sequel is Grenadine's Spawn (1952). Ruark also wrote articles for Esquire, Colliers, and Saturday Evening Post.

Ruark became interested in big-game hunting after reading about Ernest Hemingway's adventures in Africa. On his first safari, he hunted with Kidogo, a tracker about whom Hemingway had written. Ruark wrote Horn of the Hunter (1953) based on that safari. Later, he and hunter Harry Selby produced a documentary called Africa Adventure (1962), based on another safari. Magazine articles Ruark wrote were collected in a book Robert Ruark's Africa (1991). The Honey Badger (1965) and Use Enough Gun: On Hunting Big Game (1966) were published after his death.

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