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  • Writer's pictureLocal History Collection

Christopher Morley: A Brief Biography

Though Christopher Morley's name is well-recognized in the Roslyn area due to the Nassau County park on Searingtown Road which is named after him, few know the extent of his connection to Roslyn and of his impact in the 1920s, 30s and 40s on the New York literary scene.

Born in Haverford, Pennsylvania, Christopher Darlington Morley (1890-1957) was the eldest of three sons of Frank and Lillian Bird Morley. At the time of his birth, his father was a professor of mathematics at Haverford College. His mother was a poet and musician. Morley spent the first 10 years of his life in Haverford and then returned there in 1906, to attend college. He graduated in 1910 and was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to study at New College, Oxford, graduating in 1913. In later years, his brothers, Frank and Felix, would also become Rhodes Scholars.

Morley began writing at a young age. While attending Haverford College he wrote for the school newspaper and in 1912 while at Oxford, he published his first book, a collection of poems, entitled, The Eighth Sin. Upon returning to the U.S. in 1913, he initially worked for Doubleday in Garden City, and then in 1917 went to Philadelphia to become editor of the Ladies Home Journal, and later a columnist for the Philadelphia Ledger. While in Philadelphia he had more than five books published, including the novels Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop. Both of these works concern books and bookstores, two of Morley’s lifelong passions.

In 1920 Morley and his wife, Helen Booth Fairchild, returned to New York and settled on Long Island, where he would remain until his death. They purchased a house in Roslyn Estates, which Morley named “Green Escape.” Here, at 38 The Birches (demolished in 2011) they raised their four children. Seeking a quiet place to write, in 1934 Morley built a one-room studio on his property and named it “The Knothole.” Upon his death in 1957, Morley was buried in Roslyn Cemetery. Shortly afterwards, a group of friends and admirers formed the Christopher Morley Knothole Association to keep his memory alive and to save his writing studio, which contained a unique “dymaxion” bathroom designed by R. Buckminster Fuller. The Association was successful in purchasing “The Knothole” and in having it moved into the newly named Christopher Morley Park, where it still stands.

Known as a man of letters, Morley was a prolific writer. In addition to publishing more than fifty books in his lifetime, he wrote and edited a column for the New York Evening Post newspaper, was one of the founders and a contributing editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, and was one of the original judges for the Book-of-the-Month Club. He later edited two editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. A diverse talent, he wrote plays, novels, poetry and essays. His 1939 novel, Kitty Foyle, was made into a Hollywood film starring Ginger Rogers, who won an Academy Award for her performance. Morley also promoted the work of others, including Walt Whitman, Joseph Conrad and Arthur Conan Doyle. He was so taken with Sherlock Holmes that in 1934 he became the founder of the still extant group, The Baker Street Irregulars.

Morley also incorporated his life in Roslyn and Long Island into many of his works. Roslyn was referred to as Salamis and Roslyn Estates as Wending Ways. Traveling to Manhattan from Roslyn, he often wrote about being a commuter on the Long Island Railroad. In 1940 he participated in local theatre productions of his work at the Millpond Playhouse, which were performed in the War Memorial Building on East Broadway. This building became the home of the Bryant Library in 1952. Photographs and memorabilia regarding Morley and the Millpond Playhouse, as well as copies of his books, are held in the Library’s Local History Collection.

This post was adapted from a 2015 library newsletter article by former archivist Myrna Sloam.


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