Tuesday, May 10, 2011

WILLIAM JAMES HURLBUT - 1878 -1957

~ RYLAND FAMILY ~


Family History
William Hurlbut's paternal grandfather was Stephen Augustus Hurlbut, an attorney from South Carolina who arrived in Belvidere, Boone County, Illinois, in 1845.

William’s paternal grandmother, Sophronia Stevens, was the daughter of George Stevens, a New York lumberman for whom Stevens Point, Wisconsin is named. Leaving Almond NY in the late 1830s, George made his way to the Wisconsin river and prepared to go up into the pineries. The point on the river where he offloaded his supplies became known as Stevens landing, later Stevens Point. Upriver he set up his sawmill at Big Bull Falls, which later was called Wausau. The story of his lumbering years is told in Malcolm Rosholt’s “Pioneers of the Pineries.”

George Stevens moved his family from New York to Belvidere by 1847, where he retired. Sophronia Stevens and Stephen A. Hurlbut married in 1847.

Two of his daughters married attorneys. These men knew Abraham Lincoln, who practiced law in the same area. In 1861 Stephen was appointed a Brigadier General by General Grant and saw action in Missouri, Mississippi and Louisana. Later in his career he was appointed minister to Peru.

Stephen and Sophronia had only one child, George Henry Hurlbut, who was born in 1848. George H. graduated from the University of Chicago where he received a degree in Civil Engineering. He was mayor of Belvidere for two three-year terms. He was a businessman and an inventor, as well as a community activist. In 1905 he and his wife moved to New York where both their sons, Stephen A. and William J. had located.

Their oldest son, Dr. Stephen A. Hurlbut, became a Professor of Greek and Latin and taught both in New York city and later at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C.. He also operated St. Alban’s Press in Washington and later in Charleston, S. C.

So it is not unusual to find that William J. Hurlbut, George’s youngest son, made his own name in “lights” – both on Broadway as a playwright and in Hollywood as a screenwriter.

William's Career
Newspaper clippings from Belvidere indicate that as a child, “Will’s” interests were in writing, acting and drawing. In fact, upon graduation from high school he attended art school in both St. Louis and Chicago, intending to be an illustrator. But before graduating, he decided he was ready for New York, where he set up an art studio and sold some magazine illustrations. However, he found himself dissatisfied with what he was producing and what he was selling, so instead he began writing for the theater, with his first play produced in 1908. After 25 years writing for the stage, he was summoned to Hollywood and from that time on he lived in the Los Angeles area where he finished out his career. His two best known movies were "Bride of Frankenstein" and "Imitation of Life."


He built a house up in Whitley Heights near the Hollywood Bowl where he entertained lavishly. The house was demolished to make way for the 101 Freeway. In the late 1930s he had an acquaintance with Meher Baba, a Spiritual Master from India, who was involved with a number of members of the movie colony.

William continued writing through the late 40s. He died on May 4, 1957 and is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

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