"Quite casually I wander into my plot, poke around with my characters for a while, then amble off, leaving no moral proved and no reader improved."
James Thorne Smith, Jr. (March 27, 1892 – June 21, 1934) was an American writer of humorous supernatural fantasy fiction under the byline Thorne Smith. His contribution to popular culture over the last 75 years has been immense. Thorne's ideas and story lines have been borrowed and utilized in radio, television, motion pictures and literature. His influence has been felt most in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre.
Many of today's older authors, writers and entertainers site Smith as a source of inspiration, and have incorporated his style into their work. Topper, Thorne Smith's most popular creation, spawned a sequel and several movies. With racy illustrations, the Topper novels of comic fantasy fiction sold millions of copies in the 1930's and were equally popular in paperbacks of the 1950's.
Thorne Smith was born in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of a Navy commodore. He attended Dartmouth College but academic life never suited him. He left to join a New York advertising agency. Occasionally the Commodore would take Thorne to sea when duty called, something the young man looked forward to and something that drew father and son closer. During these trips Thorne would be in the company of the Commodore's old Navy buddies and party with the best of them. These father and son trips meant the world to Thorne and established a life long love of the sea. Thorne dedicated Haunts & By-Paths, a book of poetry, to his father: "To The Commodore, God Bless Him!"
In 1917 Smith enlisted in the US Navy. He became editor of a Naval Reservist journal and wrote short stories around a hapless Naval recruit by the name of Biltmore Oswald. These adventures sold more than 70,000 copies.
After a couple of naval years Smith returned to Greenwich Village, New York City. Working as an advertising copy writer to keep the bills paid depressed him greatly — creative writing was his love.
He met his 'Mona Lisa', Celia Sullivan, and married her in 1919 much against her parents' desires. Celia and Thorne Smith had two daughters, Marion and June whom Thorne Smith loved greatly. He wrote and dedicated a book to them, Lazy Bear Lane. In these early years of marriage, the family lived in a dreary apartment in New York City and times were lean. However, Thorne had been working on what started out as a short story based on an observation he had made of a dog tromping through the high grass. All he saw was a tail moving frantically from place to place — a tail without a dog. Happy with the story, he decided to expand it to include a middle-aged, henpecked banker by the name of Cosmo Topper. The novel that emerged from this short story would become Thorne Smith's biggest success; Topper became a meteoric sensation upon its publication in 1926.
When asked about his stories, Thorne Smith replied, 'Like life itself my
stories have no point and get absolutely nowhere'. That's exactly the point.
The sheer nonsense in those stories lift us delightfully and effortlessly above
the mundane bonds of day-to-day life. Thorne Smith left us an enormous
gift when he died at the early age of 42.