Acclaimed and prolific writer Robert Ruark, who grew up in Southport, achieved worldwide fame and wealth by writing about his memories and experiences of his early years, as well as his time spent in Africa.
Ruark is best known for authoring over 12 books including The Old Man and the Boy as well as writing and directing the movie, Something of Value that starred legendary actors Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier. For more than a decade, Ruark wrote a number of articles for Field and Stream Magazine, LIFE Magazine and countless other newspapers and magazines.
Ruark, who is often referred to as a lesser well-known “Hemingway,” and died at age 49 while living in Europe.
Ruark was born to a grocery store bookkeeper and spent most of his early life in Wilmington, NC. His family was greatly affected by the Great Depression, however, Ruark still managed to go to college at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
After college, Ruark worked for several newspapers, mostly doing editing and copy writing, until he landed a job at The Washington Post as a sports reporter. He was then drafted into the U.S. Navy during WWII.
Once Ruark had returned from the war, he went back to Washington and began writing columns for the Saturday Evening Post. With some mild success, he tried his hand at fiction, his first novel Grenadine Etching was published in 1947.
At the advice of a medical doctor, Ruark was told to take a year off from work, so he fulfilled a lifelong dream to go on safari in Africa. His second book Horn of the Hunter detailing his hunting in great detail was a career spike, leading to a second trip and a documentary entitled Africa Adventure.
In 1953, Ruark began writing a series for Field & Stream Magazine entitled The Old Man and the Boy. The piece, which explored stories from his life—although considered fiction, were eventually compiled into his most famous book yet. The series ran from 1953 to 1961, and captured the interactions of a young boy growing up along the pastoral coastline of North Carolina learning lessons from his grandfather.
It is said that Ruark based the character of the Old Man on both his maternal and paternal grandfathers, and combined many of their experiences and characteristics. The Old Man and the Boy was followed shortly thereafter by a companion book entitled The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older.
Ruark continued to write novels, including Something of Value and Uhuru, however none were as successful as the earlier ones. Ruark eventually left the U.S. for good and moved to London and finally settling in a small town outside Barcelona. Ruark died on a trip to London on July 1st, 1965 from cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholism.
Shortly before his death, he penned an article that appeared in Playboy Magazine entitled “Nothing Works and Nobody Cares.” Ruark, in a similar fashion to Hemmingway, churned out very dark works in the latter days of his career spurred by heavy drinking and depression.
Ruark, is considered a local hero to the town of Southport, NC. He has a historic inn named after him (where his grandparents once lived), a Historical Society dedicated to his legacy, and numerous historical sites along the North Carolina coast.