Scott O'Dell was born on May 23, 1898, in Los Angeles, California, when there were no airplanes, no freeways, and only a handful of automobiles. Travel was by foot, by horseback, by horse-drawn trolleys or wagons. Before long, the family moved a short distance south to San Pedro. For a time, they lived on Rattlesnake Island, across the bay from San Pedro, in a house built on stilts. At high tide, the waves washed beneath it. Scott grew up in California, always living near the ocean and always fascinated by the sea. Tall and slim, he became a track star at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. He attended four different colleges: Occidental College in California, the University of Wisconsin, Stanford University, and the University of Rome.
When World War I began, Scott was a teenager. In 1918, at the age of 20, he joined the army. As a private, he started officer's training, but before he was commissioned, World War I ended and he was discharged. When World War II broke out, he was more than 40 years old. He was not drafted, but enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Scott also served in the Coast Guard Auxiliary for the remainder of WWII after completing service with the Air Force. If you look for Scott O'Dell's school records or records of his service in World War I, you will never find them. His father's name was Bennett Mason Scott, and until Scott was an adult, his name was Odell Gabriel Scott. On one of his earliest writings, a typesetter's mistake produced an article written by "Scott O'Dell." Scott liked the new name so much that he had his name changed legally in the 1920s.
Scott's first job was with the Palmer Photoplay Company, where he read and criticize movie scripts written by amateurs. This work led to his first book, Representative Photoplays Analyzed, which was published in 1924, when he was 26 years old. Soon he was working for Paramount Pictures in silent movies. His first job was as a set dresser. His only appearance on screen came in Son of the Sheik, when a close-up of his slender, tapered fingers holding a string of pearls was substituted for the stubby, short-fingered hands of Rudolph Valentino. One of his last movie jobs was with Metro Goldwyn Mayer, when he went to Italy as a camerman on the silent version of Ben Hur. He enjoyed Italy so much that when the Ben Hur company went back to Hollywood, he stayed behind. He spent a year in the city of Florence, in a villa where Galileo had once lived. There he wrote his first novel. It was called Pinfeathers, but it was never published. No one will ever read the book, because Scott burned the manuscript.
For many years, Scott wrote only for adults. By 1934, his first published novel, Woman of Spain, appeared. He sold stories to newspapers and magazines, and worked as a magazine editor. After World War II, he wrote his second novel, Hill of the Hawk, which was published in 1947. At this time he became Book Editor of the Los Angeles Daily News. While Book Editor, he collaborated with an ex-convict to write Man Alone, which was published in 1953. After 1955, when the paper went out of business, he returned to writing. Weaving together descriptions of the land and stories from history, he wrote Country of the Sun: Southern California, An Informal Guide (1957). His third novel, The Sea is Red, appeared in 1958. Scott's last book for adults explored the development of children's artistic skills. Written with Rhoda Kellogg, The Psychology of Children's Art was published in 1967.
In 1960, with the publication of Island of the Blue Dolphins, his life underwent a sea-change. Scott had come across the story of a girl who lived alone for 18 years on San Nicolas Island while researching Country of the Sun. In the life of the Lost Woman of San Nicolas, he saw a way to make a statement about an issue that was important to him."Island of the Blue Dolphins," he wrote, "began in anger, anger at the hunters who invade the mountains where I live and who slaughter everything that creeps or walks or flies."He did not know that he had written a children's book until he showed the manuscript to a friend, Maud Lovelace, the author of the Betsy-Tacy books. She told him that it was a book for children, and a very good one. The 50th Anniversary of Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins was celebrated throughout 2010. In the 50th anniversary edition of Scott's book, you'll find a new introduction by Newbery Medalist, Lois Lowry, and new cover art.
Island of the Blue Dolphins launched Scott on a new career. The book became a best-seller. It won the American Library Association's Newbery Medal, as well as a half-dozen other awards. During the next 29 years, Scott wrote another 25 books for young readers. After his death in 1989, his widow, Elizabeth Hall, completed two additional books that he had left unfinished; you may click here to visit her web site. Elizabeth and Scott moved to Corona del Mar, California, in 1966 then to Del Mar in 1967. That same year ('67) Scott received the Newbery Honor for his novel, The King's Fifth. The following year, in 1968, he again receives a Newbery for his work, The Black Pearl.Elizabeth and Scott moved to Rancho Santa Fe in 1970 and lived there for five years. While in that community, Scott became a director for a local animal shelter. In 1971, Scott received another Newbery for Sing Down the Moon. And in 1972, Scott received the Hans Christian Andersen Award for his body of work.In 1975, Elizabeth and Scott moved across the country to New York State, just north of New York City. They settled there on a beautiful lake surrounded by woods and nature. Scott lived there for the rest of his life.
Scott O'Dell's ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean off La Jolla, California. When the ceremony was completed, the boat turned back toward shore. At that moment, a pod of dolphins burst from the water. Forming an honor guard, they leaped and played, escorting the boat of mourners, and didn't leave until the boat entered San Diego Bay.
Although more than two decades have passed since his death, Scott O'Dell's books are still widely read. A project he began before his death is still encouraging writers to focus on historical themes. In 1984, he established the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, which is given each year to the best historical novel for children. The award carries a prize of $5,000.
In the book Scott O'Dell (Twayne's United States Authors Series), David Russell praises Scott O'Dell for raising the social conscience of young readers. In his books, wrote Russell, Scott introduced such themes as Europeans' reprehensible treatment of minority cultures in the Americas, the corruption of civilization by human greed and lust for power, the importance of an ecological understanding of human existence, and the recognition of gender equality through his portrayal of strong female characters.