Born: January 13, 1901
Died: April 26, 1991
A.B. Guthrie, Jr. moved to Kentucky in 1926 to become a reporter for the Lexington Leader, where he was to spend the next 17 years as city editor, editorial writer, and executive editor. He began writing fiction in the early 1940s, publishing his first novel, Murders at Moon Dance, in 1943. In 1944, he received a year-long Neiman Fellowship at Harvard University that allowed him to design an individual course of study in creative writing.
In 1947, Guthrie published The Big Sky, a sweeping epic novel tracing the 1830 journey of a group of frontiersmen from St. Louis to the Northwest Territory. Lewis Gannett, writing in The New York Herald Tribune, said that the novel “… belongs on the shelf beside the best stories Walter Edmonds and Kenneth Roberts have told of frontier days back East.”
That year, Guthrie became a creative writing professor in the University of Kentucky’s English Department, where he remained until 1952.
During this productive period, Guthrie wrote and published his 1949 novel The Way West, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1950. This was another epic tale of a journey to the Northwest, picking up where The Big Sky ended and telling the story of a group of men, women and children from Independence, Missouri, travelling to Oregon. Actor Gary Cooper initially bought the film rights to The Way West, but never made the movie. He sold his rights for an estimated $40,000 to RKO/Winchester Productions. After some delay involving casting and production issues, Howard Hawks began filming in 1952. Hawks cast Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin, Arthur Hunnicutt, Jim Davis, and Elizabeth Threatt in the main roles. The film was critically acclaimed but did poorly at the box office. Another version of The Way West, directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, was released in 1967 and starred Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, and Richard Widmark.
Director George Stevens hired Guthrie in 1951 to adapt Jack Schaefer’s novel Shane into a movie. Guthrie received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay in 1953. In 1952, Hecht-Lancaster Productions chose him to write a screen adaptation of Felix Holt’s novel The Gabriel Horn, which was given the movie title The Kentuckian. Guthrie’s reputation led 20th Century Fox to buy the rights to his 1957 novel, These Thousand Hills, before it was in final galleys. The film was released in 1958 and starred Richard Fleischer, Richard Egan, and Lee Remick. Guthrie published five more novels in the 1960s and 1970s, but none received the acclaim of his earlier works.
Guthrie’s books depicted an historically accurate, un-romanticized version of the settling of the American West. “I have a sense of morality about it,” Guthrie said. “I want to talk about real people in real times. For every Wyatt Earp or Billy the Kid, there were thousands of people trying to get along.”
His published works consisted of six novels, a book of essays, a children’s book, a book of poems, and five mystery novels.
Guthrie was married to Harriet Larson in 1931 and with her had two children, Alfred B. III, of Choteau, Montana, and Helen Miller of Butte, Montana. After Harriet Guthrie died in the early 1960’s, he married Carol B. Luthin (1969). She survived him, as did two stepchildren, Herbert Luthin, of Clarion, Pennsylvania, and Amy Sakariassen, of Bismarck, North Dakota. Guthrie died in 1991 and is buried on his ranch in Choteau, Montana.
Murders at Moondance. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1943.
The Big Sky. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1947.
The Way West. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1949.
Trouble at Moondance. New York: Popular Library, 1951.
These Thousand Hills. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1956.
Western Story: The Recollections of Charley O’Kieffe, 1844-1898. Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 1960.
The Big It and Other Stories. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1960.
Mountain Medicine. New York: Cardinal Books, 1961.
Blue Hen’s Chick: A Life in Context. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965.
Arfive. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1971.
Wild Pitch. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1973.
Once Upon a Pond. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1973.
The Last Valley. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1975.
The Genuine Article. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1977.
No Second Wind. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1980.
Fair Land, Fair Sky. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1982.
Playing Catch-Up. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1985.
Four Miles from Ear Mountain. Missoula, MT: Kutenai Press, 1987.
Big Sky, Fair Land. Flagstaff AZ: Northland Press, 1988.
A Field Guide to Writing Fiction. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1989.
Images from the Great West. La Canada, CA: Chaco Press, 1990.