James Oliver Curwood

James Oliver "Jim" Curwood (June 12, 1878 – August 13, 1927) was an American action-adventure writer and conservationist. His books were often based on adventures set in the Yukon or Alaska and ranked among the top-ten best sellers in the United States in the early 1920s, according to Publishers Weekly. At least eighteen motion pictures have been based on or directly inspired by his novels and short stories; one was produced in three versions from 1919 to 1953. At the time of his death, Curwood was the highest paid (per word) author in the world.[1]

He built Curwood Castle as his residence in his hometown of Owosso, Michigan, and used one turret as his writing studio. The mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is now operated as a museum. The city commemorates him with an annual Curwood Festival.

Biography and career

Curwood was born in Owosso, Michigan, the youngest of four children.[2] Attending local schools, Curwood left high school before graduation. He passed the entrance exam to the University of Michigan and was allowed to enroll in the English department, where he studied journalism.

After two years, Curwood quit college to become a reporter, moving to Detroit for work. In 1900, he sold his first story, while working for the Detroit News-Tribune. By 1909 he had saved enough money to travel to the Canadian northwest, a trip that inspired his wilderness adventure stories. Because his novels sold well, Curwood could afford to return to Owosso and live there. He traveled to the Yukon and Alaska for several months each year for more inspiration. He wrote more than thirty adventure books.

By 1922, Curwood had become very wealthy from the success of his writing. He fulfilled a childhood fantasy by building Curwood Castle in Owosso. Constructed in the style of an 18th-century French chateau, the estate overlooked the Shiawassee River. In one of the homes' two large turrets, Curwood set up his writing studio. He also owned a camp in a remote area in Baraga County, Michigan, near the Huron Mountains, as well as a cabin in Roscommon, Michigan.

Curwood was an avid hunter in his youth; however, as he grew older, he became an advocate of environmentalism. He was appointed to the Michigan Conservation Commission in 1927.[3] The change in his attitude toward wildlife is expressed in a quote from The Grizzly King: "The greatest thrill is not to kill but to let live."

In 1927, while on a fishing trip in Florida, Curwood was bitten on the thigh by what was believed to have been a spider, and he had an immediate allergic reaction. Health problems related to the bite escalated over the next few months as an infection developed. He died in Owosso at the age of 49, and was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery there in a family plot.

Literary and film legacy

Curwood's adventure writing followed in the tradition of Jack London. Curwood set many of his works in the wilds of the Great Northwest and often used animals as lead characters (Kazan; Baree, Son of Kazan, The Grizzly King, and Nomads of the North). Many of Curwood's adventure novels also feature romance as primary or secondary plot consideration. This approach gave his work broad commercial appeal; his novels ranked on several best-seller lists in the early 1920s. His most successful work was his 1920 novel, The River's End. The book sold more than 100,000 copies and was the fourth best-selling title of the year in the United States, according to Publishers Weekly.

Curwood's short stories and other pieces were published in various literary and popular magazines throughout his career. His bibliography includes more than 200 such articles, short stories, and serializations. His work was also published in Canada and the United Kingdom. Some of his books were translated into French, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish and Polish, and published in those respective countries.

Curwood's final novel, Green Timber, was nearly finished at the time of his death. It was completed by Dorothea A. Bryant and published in 1930.


At least eighteen movies have been based on or inspired by Curwood's novels and short stories. Curwood's story "Wapi the Walrus" was adapted for film three times. The first was as Back to God's Country (1919), starring Nell Shipman as a brave and adventurous woman in the wilds of the North.[4] Another version by the same title was released in 1927, and again by this title in 1953.[5]

A young John Wayne and Noah Beery Jr. starred in the 1934 film The Trail Beyond, based on Curwood's novel The Wolf Hunters. Filmmakers produced a film series featuring Kirby Grant as Mountie Corporal Rod Webb, assisted by his dog Chinook; they made a total of ten films.

In the late 20th century, French director Jean-Jacques Annaud adapted Curwood's 1916 novel The Grizzly King as the film The Bear (1988). The film's success prompted a revival of interest in Curwood's books.

Legacy and honors

  • His writing studio, Curwood Castle, which he commissioned in a French chateau style, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is preserved and operated as a historic house museum.
  • The city of Owosso holds an annual Curwood Festival during the first full weekend in June, to commemorate him and celebrate the city's heritage.
  • A mountain in L'Anse Township, Michigan was named as Mount Curwood in his honor.
  • The L'Anse Township Park was renamed as Curwood Park.

List of his works

  • 1907-
    • "Captain Kidd of the Underground" [6]
  • 1908 –
    • The Courage of Captain Plum
    • The Wolf Hunters
  • 1909 –
    • The Great Lakes
    • The Gold Hunters (continued as The Adventure Hunters). Polish writer Jerzy Marlicz (using the pen name of Halina Borowikowa), published a 1932 novel that "completed" the action of this novel.
  • 1910 – The Danger Trail
  • 1911 –
    • The Honor of the Big Snows
    • Steele of the Royal Mounted
  • 1912 – The Flower of the North
  • 1913 – Isobel: A Romance of the Northern Trail or Icebound Hearts
  • 1914 – Kazan
  • 1915 – God's Country and the Woman
  • 1916 –
  • 1917 – Baree, Son of Kazan
  • 1918 –
  • 1919 –
  • 1920 –
    • Back to God's Country and Other Stories (Featuring the story "Wapi the Walrus", here renamed Back to God's Country, following the release of the adapted 1919 film of the same title)
    • The Valley of Silent Men
  • 1921 –
  • 1922 – The Country Beyond
  • 1923 – The Alaskan
  • 1924 – A Gentleman of Courage
  • 1925 – The Ancient Highway
  • 1926 –
  • 1928 – The Plains of Abraham
    • The Glory of Living
  • 1929 – The Crippled Lady of Peribonka
  • 1930 –
    • Green Timber
    • Son of the Forests
  • 1931 – Falkner of the Inland Seas



  • Fighting Chance (1913 film) (1913), a Vitagraph film directed by Ralph Ince and starring Anita Stewart, Rosemary Thelby, Ned Finley, Courtenay Foote
  • Fifth Man: The Wanderers Return (1914), a Selig film produced and directed by F. J. Grandon. Starring Bessie Eyton, Charles Clary, Lafayette McKee, Roy Watson, and Charles Wheelock. Based upon a short story by Curwood.
  • The Awakening (1915 film) (1915), Vitagraph. Directed by Ralph Ince, screenplay by Ralph Ince from a script by Curwood.
  • Back to God's Country (1919), starring Nell Shipman. Based on the short story “Wapi, the Walrus".
  • The Alaskan (1924)[7]
  • The Ancient Highway (1925), Paramount film
  • Back to God's Country (1927 film), directed by Irvin Willat and starring Renee Adoree.
  • Back to God's Country (1953 film), starring Rock Hudson and Hugh O'Brian
  • Baree, Son of Kazan (1918), Vitagraph film starring Nell Shipman and Albert Whitman. Remade in 1925, with Anita Stewart starring.
  • Battle of Frenchman's Run (1914), a Vitagraph film directed by Theodore Marsten and starring Dorothy Kelly, George Cooper, Harry Carey, Albert Roccardi, and Charles H. West, based on a screenplay by Theodore Marsten, from a script by Curwood.
  • The Bear (1988 film) by RCA-Columbia, directed by based on the novel published as The Grizzly King (1916).
  • Beautiful Belinda (1915), Selig film directed by E. A. Martin and starring C. C. Holland, Lee Morris, and Lillian Hayward based on a scenario by Curwood.
  • 'Neath Canadian Skies (1946), a Golden Gate Pictures, Inc. film, directed by B. Reeves Eason and produced by William B. David. Starred Russell Hayden, Inez Cooper, Douglas Fowley, and Kermit Maynard, based on a story by Curwood.
  • Betty in the Lion's Den (1913), a Vitagraph film directed by Frederick A. Thomson and starring Clara Kimball Young, Darwin Karr, Josie Sadler, and Etienne Giradot, from a scenario by Curwood.
  • The Broken Silence (1922), a Pine Tree Pictures film, directed by Dell Henderson and starring Zena Keefe, Robert Elliott, and J. Barney Sherry.
  • Call of the Klondike (1950), a Monogram Pictures film, starring Kirby Grant, Anne Gwynne, Lynne Roberts, Tom Neal, Russell Simpson, and Chinook the Wonder Dog. Directed by Frank McDonald from story by Curwood.
  • Call of the Yukon (1938), a Republic Pictures film, directed by B. Reeves Eason, and starring Richard Arlen and Beverly Roberts, from the story "Swift Lightning".
  • A Captain's Courage (1926), a Rayart Pictures film directed by Louis Chaudet, produced by Ben Wilson Productions, and starring Richard Holt, Eddie Earl, Jack Henderson, Al Ferguson, Lafe McKee, and Dorothy Dwan. Likely based on Curwood's The Courage of Captain Plum
  • Caryl of the Mountains (1914), a Hearst-Selig film directed by Thomas Santschi and starring Kathlyn Williams, Thomas Santschi, Harry Lonsdae, and Roy Watson from a scenario by Curwood
  • Caryl of the Mountains (1936), a Reliable film directed by Bernard B. Ray and starring Rin-Tin-Tin, Jr. And Francis Bushman
  • Cats (1915 film) by Selig, directed by Norval MacGregor from a scenario by Curwood
  • Children of Fate(1914), a Nestor filmirected by Wallace Reid and starring Wallace Reid, Dorothy Davenport, Joe King, Phil Dunham, Frank Borzage, and Billy Wolbert. Reissued as Love's Western Flight, from a script by Curwood.
  • Code of the Mounted (1935), an Ambassador Pictures film directed by Sam Newfield and produced by Sam Newfield. Starred Kermit Maynard, Lillian Miles, Robert Warwick, Syd Saylor, Jim Thorpe, Wheeler Oakman, and Eddie Phillips. Adapted from silent the film heels of Fate
  • The Country Beyond (1926), a Fox Film Co. production directed by Irving Cummings. Starred Olive Borden, Ralph Graves, Gertrude Astor, J. Farrell MacDonald, Evelyn Selbie, Fred Kohler, Lawford Davidson, Alfred Fisher, and Lottie Williams. Based on the Curwood's book of the same title.
  • The Country Beyond (1936), a 20th Century Fox Film production directed by Eugene Forde with Paul Kelly and Rochelle Huson. Photoplay derived from Curwood's book with the same title
  • Courage of Marge O'Doone (1918), a Vitagraph film adapted from Curwood's book with the same title.
  • The Coyote (1915 film) by Selig. Directed by Guy Oliver based on Curwood's short story of the same title.
  • Dawn of/on the Great Divide (1942), Monogram Pictures film starring Buck Jones, Raymond Hatton, Rex Bell, Mona Barrie, Harry Woods, and Robert Frazer. Directed by Howard Bretherton from the silent film “Wheels of Fate” and a screenplay by Jess Bowers.
  • The Destroyers (1916 film) by Vitagraph. Directed by Ralph Ince and starring Lucille Lee Stewart. Based on Curwood's short story “Peter God”
  • Diamond Cut Diamond (1913), a Lubin Mfg. Co. film directed by L. B. Carlton starring Isabelle Lamon. Scenario by Curwood
  • Does Advertising Pay (1913), a Vitagraph film directed by Larry Trimble, starring Wally Van, froma scenario by Curwood
  • The Dream Girl: an Ideal Realized (1914), a Selig film directed by Thomas Santschi starring Thomas Santschi, Bessie Eyton, Harry Lonsdale, Edith Johnson, Charles Wheelock, and Lex Wilmouth. Scenario by Curwood.
  • Duty and the Man (1913), a Reliance film directed by Oscar Apfel starring James Ashley, Gertrude Robinson, Charles Elliott, Irving Cummings, and George Siegmann. Likely based Probably based on Philip Steele.
  • The Eugenic Girl (1914), a Selig film directed and produced by Thomas Santschi. Starring Elsie Greeson, Franklyn Hall, Harry McCabe, and Thomas Santschi. Scenario by Curwood
  • Fangs of the Arctic (1953), an Allied Artist Production film released by Monogram Pictures. Starring Kirby Grant and Warren Douglas, directed by Rex Bailey from a story by Curwood
  • Fatal Note: Jealous of His Own Love Letter (1914), a Selig film directed and produced by E. A. Martin. Starring Adele Lane and Edwin Wallock. Scenario by Curwood. Also used as basis for Phantom Patrol in 1936
  • Fathers of Men (1916) starring Robert Edison. Scenario by Curwood
  • The Feudist (1913), a Vitagraph film directed by Wilfred North and starring John Bunny, Sidney Drew, Flora Finch, Lillian Walker, Wallie Van, Kenneth Casey, Josie Sadler, and Paul Kelly. Scenario by Curwood
  • Fiddling Man (1917), starring Jane Grey. Based upon the short story “The Fiddling Man” in Back to God's Country
  • Fighting Texan (1937 film), by Ambassador-Conn. Directed by Charles Abbott and starring Kermit Maynard, Elaine Shepard, Frank LaRue, Bud Buster, Ed Cassidy, Bruce Mitchell, and Murdock McQuarrie, from a story by Curwood.
  • Nikki, Wild Dog of the North (1961), directed by Jack Couffer and Don Haldane. Starring Jean Coutu, Emile Genest, Uriel Luft, Robert Rivard and Jacques Fautex.


  1. Eldridge, p. 2
  2. Eldridge, p. 1
  3. "James Oliver Curwood". Newmarket Press. 2003. Archived from the original on January 4, 2003.
  4. Gittings, Christoper E. (2002). Canadian National Cinema: Ideology, Difference and Representation. New York: Routledge. pp. 21–32. ISBN 0-415-14281-4. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  5. "Back to God's Country (1919): Notes". TCM.com. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  6. (June 1907: Cosmopolitan Magazine)
  7. "James Curwood Films". www.sdl.lib.mi.us.


  • Eldridge, Judith A. James Oliver Curwood: God's Country and the Man. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993.
  • "James Oliver Curwood". Shiawassee County, Michigan History. Retrieved on February 7, 2012.
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