A prolific novelist, poet, screenwriter, and playwright Robert Nathan crafted over fifty volumes of novels, poetry, and plays, most notably the fantasies THE PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1940) and The Bishop’s Wife (1928), both of which were made into Academy Award winning movies. Three other of his books were adapted for film: One More Spring (1933), The Enchanted Voyage (1936), and The Color of Evening (1960).
Born in New York City on January 2, 1894, Nathan attended private schools in the United States and Switzerland and beginning in 1912, Harvard. While at Harvard, he befriended E. E. Cummings, became an accomplished cellist, a lightweight boxer, and captain of the fencing team as well as an editor of the Harvard Monthly. Nathan never graduated, dropping out and taking a job at an advertising firm to support his family. During the 1920s, he produced seven novels including The Bishop’s Wife (1928). In the early thirties, he moved to Los Angeles and began working on movies for Louis B. Mayer.
In 1940 his masterpiece THE PORTRAIT OF JENNIE was published. The classic satirical fantasy relates the story of artist Eben Adams and his romance with a time-displaced ghost Jennie. Beyond the acclaimed 1948 film, which starred Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten, the story was adapted as a half hour radio play for Academy Award Theater (1946) and an hour long episode by Lux Radio Theatre (1949).
So brilliant is Nathan’s execution that one is entirely lost in the tender love story of two immortally designed for each other, one a spirit out of the past seeking to catch up with the present, the other a man rooted in the present and caught in an urgency to accept the gift of the past… ‘Portrait of Jennie’ will perhaps most vividly recall Balderston’s “Berkeley Square,” for, like that, it is a love story that transcends the boundaries of time. It is told with tenderness and with beauty. Its mood lingers in the heart and its planes challenge the mind.– Grace Frank for New York Times
He received ample notice for his writing. F. Scott Fitzgerald cited Nathan as one of his favorite authors. He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters for fifty years. During a six decade career, Nathan wrote thirty-nine novels, one work of non-fiction, four children’s stories, and ten collections of poetry.
After a lengthy illness, Nathan died at 91 in 1985.