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The Curved

The Official Harold Lamb Site




Who better to tell of his life than Harold Lamb himself? Most of the following is taken from the dust jacket of Kirdy: The Road Out of the World, when Lamb was in his forties, although portions date from another autobiographical essay later in his life.

I was born--New York-1892--with damaged eyes, ears, and speech and grew up so. For some twenty years it was an ordeal to meet people, and I am still uncomfortable in cities or crowds, although by now the damages of childhood have nearly righted themselves. "To build him up" I was sent from the gymnasium in winter to the open country at other times; but all my free hours were spent in my grandfather's library.

School was torment and college--Columbia--worse. The hours that really counted were spent in the library of Columbia. There I dug into something gorgeous and new, chronicles of people in Asia. I wrote all the time--set up my stories in the attic at school and printed them on a hand press and then carried on with the Columbian literary magazine.

In 1914 my father broke down and I found a job as a make-up man on a motor trade weekly, then tried to do financial statistics for the New York Times and write stories at the same time. The stories were gleaned from the oriental digging, and Adventure printed them. An understanding editor, Arthur Sullivan Hoffman, allowed me to write anything I wanted.

I wandered more than a bit, turned up at Plattsburg, 1919, and in the Seventh New York, later the 107 Infantry, in May 1917 as a private, but did not see any fighting. In June of that year I marriedRuth Barbour, and I have wondered since then why men write books about unhappy marriages. We have a son and a daughter. We went out to the Pacific Coast soon after our marriage, accompanied by my father. Two years of that time were spent at Fort Bragg, in the forest along the Northern California coast.

I have had to gather together my own collection to work with--the medieval travelers, Persian and Russian chronicles, histories of elder China. I spend months in going through the scenes of a book in imagination until all details are clear. Then I try to put it all down in words. I shirk revising, which is an ordeal. When study oppresses I go straight to the Northern lumber camps or the decks of a schooner. My relaxations are chess, tennis, and gardening. I am six feet one inch in height, weigh 160 pounds, and have prematurely gray hair.

Life is good, after all, when a man can go where he wants to, and write about what he likes best and know that other men find pleasure in his work.

Lamb built a career with his writing from an early age. He got his start in the pulps, quickly moving to the prestigious Adventure, his primary fiction outlet for nineteen years. In 1927 he wrote a biography of Genghis Khan, and following on its success turned more and more to the writing of non-fiction, penning numerous biographies and histories until his death in 1962.

During the 1930s and 1940s he published many short romantic pieces in Collier's. By the 1950s he was often writing factual pieces on the Middle East for the Saturday Evening Post, though he also authored some short fiction for them. Later in his career he tried his hand at screenwriting, the most notable of the movies in which he had a hand being El Cid, starring Charlton Heston. Many Lamb pieces were made into movies, among them: The Crusades, 1935, The Plainsmen, 1936, The Golden Horde, 1951, and The Buccaneer, 1958. He was also one of the principal screenwriters involved with the cult movie-that-never-was, War Eagles.

Lamb spoke many languages--French, Latin, ancient Persian, some Arabic, a smattering of Turkish, and a bit of Manchu-Tartar and medieval Ukranian. (An additional source lists him as fluent in Chinese without mentioning which dialect.) He traveled throughout Asia, visiting most of the places he wrote about, and during World War II was on covert assignment overseas for the U.S. government. He had numerous friends both at home and abroad, and despite his retiring nature was sometimes seen in the limelight with famous figures of his day. He was particularly well-regarded in the Middle-East, and was said to have been personal friends with the Shah of Iran. He and his wife had two children, Frederick and Cary.




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