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Guide to the Edward Robb Ellis Papers MSS.068

Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Processed by Tania Friedel and Jessica Shimmin, June 2003

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on January 19, 2022
Description is in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical Note

Edward Robb Ellis was born in 1911 in Kewanee, Illinois. He began writing his diary in 1927 and continued writing until his death in 1998. Determined to be a reporter, Edward Ellis attended the journalism program at the University of Missouri and in 1934 took his first job as a professional reporter for the New Orleans Associated Press office. In this position he covered the events of the Great Depression and the political career of Huey Long. After two years in New Orleans, he moved to Oklahoma City and became a journalist for the Oklahoma City Times covering New Deal offices and programs. As part of this position he reported on the Oklahoma Federal Symphony Orchestry, which was funded by the Works Progress Administration. Through this assignment Eddie met and fell in love with the principal violinist, Leatha Sparlin. They married in 1939 and moved to Peoria, Illinois where he worked for the  Journal-Transcript. The couple then moved to Chicago where Eddie worked for  The Daily News. Their daughter Sandra Gail Ellis was born on December 28, 1942.

Shortly after Sandra's birth, Eddie Ellis became aware that a previous diagnosis of a hernia was incorrect. He anticipated being drafted and consequently sought a commission in the navy. He was unable to receive one due to his low weight. As a result, he joined the navy and reported to training on November 7, 1942. Because diary keeping was prohibited in the armed forced he changed the format of the diary from private entries to letters to his wife and daughter. Ellis detested boot camp, upon finishing he was appointed editor of the navy hospital newspaper called The Bedside Examiner. He used his position to publish editorials promoting enlisted people's rights as well as critiques of war. After basic training he was stationed in Okinawa where he continued to publish a newspaper, this time explicitly to improve the sailors' morale. Four months later the war ended and he returned to the United States. His wife requested a divorce, which he granted the following month and returned to work at  The Daily News in Chicago.

Ellis did not fit in under the new management at the newspaper in Chicago however, and he soon left for New York to work at the World Telegram. Ellis loved New York City deeply and would remain in the City for the rest of his life. There he met and married Ruth Kraus. They had an exceptionally happy marriage. After 15 years at the  World Telegram Ellis quit after a disagreement with a city editor. He used his time unemployed to write several books, often with Ruth's help. He published four  A Diary of the Century,  Epic of New York,  Echoes of Distant Thunder, and  A Nation in Torment.

Ruth died suddently of a heart attack in 1965. Eddie Ellis went on to have several extended romances, one with June Morgan and another with Selma Pezaro. Although Eddie was not a strong presence in his daughter's childhood, he and Sandy became close in her adulthood, writing numerous letters and challenging each other intellectually. He also forged mentoring relationships with other diarists, usually as a result of interviews and through the publication of parts of the diary in A Diary of the Century. His reputation as a diarist led Letts of London to create a diary modeled on his recommendations called "The Ellis Diary".

Edward Robb Ellis died in 1998 of emphysema. Throughout his career as a reporter, Eddie Ellis interviewed numerous political and cultural celebrities including Eleanor Roosevelt, Irving Berlin, Grace Kelley and Herbert Hoover. The diary records his impressions of these famous personalities. Ellis was equally fascinated by the experiences and perceptions of ordinary people. He prided himself on his curiosity and eagerness to learn and considered himself what Shakespeare called "a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles." The diary is a collection of those trifles and Eddie Ellis's attempt, as Pete Hamill writes in the introduction to A Diary of the Century "to freeze time" and reflect on himself and humanity.