OHIO CULTURE: BOOKS
Louis Bromfield (1896-1956) was a farmer who loved to hobnob with famous writers and celebrities. An unusual combination, but he made it work.
Born on a farm in Mansfield, he studied agriculture briefly, but in 1916 studied journalism at Columbia University before joining the French Army in World War I. After the war, he returned to New York. As the Ohio Reading Road Trip puts it,
His work in journalism, advertising, and theater allowed him to make professional contacts by day and social ones at night. He was frequently at celebrity gatherings and was known for his boisterous presence, quick temper, and unabashed opinions.
His first novel, The Green Bay Tree, was published in 1926.* It tells the story of a mansion (“Cypress Hill”) built by a mysterious gentleman beyond the prying eyes of the townspeople. After the man’s death, his family remains separate from the community. Following its publication, Mr. Bromfield joined other American writers of the “Lost Generation” in France by buying a one-acre farm in Senlis, near Paris, where he grew vegetables and 350 varieties of flowers. He successfully published other novels, some of which were adapted for the screen, among the first feature-length sound films.
At the age of 40, he wearied of the political situation in Europe, and decided to return to Lucas, near Mansfield, to buy a farm. He said he “wanted peace and wanted roots for the rest of my life.” He became an advocate for conservation and the self-sufficient farm. While he continued to write fiction, his passion turned to conservation and he began to write nonfiction. In all, he wrote 28 novels, ten other books (mostly about farming), two plays and a number of short stories.
Today, Malabar Farm is still a working farm, and is a major tourist attraction, not least because it was the site of a scandalous marriage between actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in 1945.
* A paperback version was published in 2011.