Noted author Theodore Dreiser lived in Glendale twice during his writing career. The first time, around 1919, he began sketching out the beginnings of his famous book “An American Tragedy.” Dreiser and his then-girlfriend, Helen Richardson, moved here from Hollywood.
“We were taken with Glendale’s homelike quality and nearness to Hollywood,” she wrote in her 1951 book, “My life with Theodore Dreiser.”
The couple bought a white cottage with green shutters and awnings for $4,500 near Pioneer Drive and Columbus Avenue. They purchased bedroom furniture, but had no other furniture, so Dreiser sat and wrote in a small breakfast nook in a corner of the kitchen. There, she continued, he worked on several projects including what eventually became “An American Tragedy.”
Dreiser had already authored his first novel by the time he moved to Glendale. That book was based on his experiences while writing for the Chicago Daily Globe. Grieved by the distressing scenes he found in that city’s morgues, police stations and hospitals, he wrote “Sister Carrie,” according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 29, 1945.
When it was published in 1900, “Sister Carrie” received negative reviews and it was not widely sold until 1912. By then, Dreiser was living in New York City where he met Richardson, a budding actress. Together, they moved to Hollywood, then to Glendale. There, in the kitchen nook described above, Dreiser began working on a book based on sensational crime.
Dreiser reveled in his solitude, Richardson later wrote. “He was not inclined to welcome any intrusion. When friends came to Los Angeles, he would meet them downtown.” To relax, the writer began gardening, turning a vacant lot next door into a huge bed of zinnias and chatting with neighbors about the vivid flowers, according to a Glendale News-Press article, Nov. 11, 1951.
But his writing didn’t flourish. Frustrated with what he had written so far, he put the house up for sale and, along with Richardson, returned to New York to focus on “An American Tragedy,” published in 1925 to commercial and critical success.
Dreiser remained in New York for several years, then returned to California in 1938 with Richardson, whom he married in 1944. They moved to Glendale for a second time.
“Teddie was inclined toward Glendale where we had begun our life together 18 years before,” his wife wrote. “When we found a small apartment in an attractive court on Lorraine Avenue, very near our first little house, we took it.” They lived there for a year before returning to Hollywood.
One of his last social outings was to the wedding of George Smith, son of his research assistant, Lorna Smith, of Glendale. The wedding was in the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale and the reception at the Byron Smith home on Glenoaks Boulevard.
Just days later, George Smith served as an honorary pallbearer at a burial service for Dreiser when the writer’s friend of many years, John H. Lawson, lauded him in the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.
Honorary pallbearer Charles Chaplin read a Dreiser poem at the service.
Readers Write: Theodore Dreiser was a very private person, according to notes left by Barbara Boyd, founder of the Special Collections Room. She wrote “I have been through every book we have on them and it is stated several times that they would never give out their address here or permit directory listings. Even his publishers had to use a post office box in Los Angeles and met with him in that city.”
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