Rex Beach was a Florida author and rancher who was born in Michigan on September 1, 1877, and died by his own hand in Sebring, Florida on December 7, 1949. He is buried on the campus of Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.
We include him among Florida authors because he went to college in Florida and lived in the state for many years. His name was known by almost all Americans less than 100 years ago.
Current history doesn't pay much attention to him, and that's a shame. Beach had an eclectic career as a novelist, playwright, Olympic water polo player and successful Florida rancher.
He came from a prominent Michigan family that moved to Florida when Rex was 7 years old. Rex was tall and athletic as a young man, and attended Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida from 1894 to 1896.
He focused on athletics and science. He was the president of the tennis club, and worked on "The Sandspur", the Rollins student newspaper. His writing as a student was the first inkling that he might become one of the best known Florida authors of his time.
Although he didn't graduate from Rollins, in 1927 they awarded him a B.S. along with an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature. He became the first president of the Rollins Alumni Association and served from 1927 to 1940.
After leaving Rollins as a student, he attended Kent College of Law in Chicago and worked part time in his brother's law firm. During this period he dabbled with professional football with the Chicago Athletic Association.
He was planning to become a lawyer when he got caught up in the fever of the Klondike Gold Rush and moved to Alaska in search of his fortune. After a few years as a starving prospector, he decided he might as well become a starving writer.
His very first novel, "The Spoilers", was based on actual incidents involving crooked government officials stealing gold mines from prospectors.
"The Spoilers" became one of the best selling novels of 1906.
When he came back from Alaska in 1907, he married Edith Crater, whom he had met in Nome. While on their honeymoon, he worked on another novel.
Beach was business smart, and kept all the movie rights for most of his books. This was very farsighted because Hollywood was in its infancy.
Rex Beach adventure novels were among the most popular in the country in the early 1900's. Regular people loved his books, but intellectuals and critics did not like his stuff, referring to them as the "he-man school of literature", or "pot boilers".
Beach cried all the way to the bank.
Many of Rex Beach's books were turned into successful films. "The Spoilers" became a stage play, and has been made into movies 5 times between 1914 and 1955.
Rex and Edith finally settled in Sebring, Florida, where Beach went into the farming business. He owned 7,000 acres near Sebring and 5,000 acres near Indiantown. He used scientific methods of raising cattle, and also produced two crops of celery a year on 70 acres between Sebring and Avon Park.
The raising of gladiolus bulbs made him a second fortune to rival the one he made as a famous Florida author.
His 1935 novel "Wild Pastures" is set in the cattle lands around Sebring. This novel further establishes his credentials as a Florida author.
His writing output slowed down during these years in Sebring, and in his later years, he went downhill physically. He had throat cancer and had to use a breathing tube as well as a feeding tube.
He also started losing his eyesight and, suffered severe depression after the death of his wife in 1947.
Rex Beach died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on December 7, 1949, at his home at 2701 Northeast Lakeview Drive in Sebring. He was 71 years old.