Sunday, July 10, 2011
RIP: Author Allan W. Eckert Has Died
Allan W. Eckert has died of prostate cancer at age 80. He was diagnosed with cancer many years ago, and back in 2004, he told me that he had beaten it--at least that time--with positive affirmations.
Eckert was a positive thinker and a very prolific and versatile author. His 40+ books ranged from crime novels such as The Scarlet Mansion, to YA novels such as Bluejacket and Incident at Hawk's Hill, and to historical narratives such as The Frontiersman, which was a biography of Simon Kenton.
Besides being a novelist and playwright, Eckert wrote almost all of the scripts for television's Wild Kingdom. Back then, he lived in Everglades, Florida, and he would sometimes go up the coast to lunch with the writer's club in Sarasota on Siesta Key. Members of that group included crime novel authors John D. MacDonald and Charles Willeford, MacKinlay Kantor, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Andersonville, and several others. Eckert told me that he, Peter Matthiessen, and Randy Wayne White were the junior members of the group, and that due to his workload, he could only rarely attend.
Eckert's work won many awards and he was seven times nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I've always thought that he deserved it, even though I questioned some of his historical sources over the years.
I called him at his home in Everglades, Florida, decades ago now, to ask him where he had found "The Journal of William Grills," one of the many sources he cited (and quoted) in The Frontiersmen. He didn't remember, but he was very gracious to this upstart critic from out of nowhere.
I was persistent and engaged many reference librarians across the country, but no one has been able to locate that source. Eckert tried to find it again too, and occasionally he sent me notes, recalling places that he had done his research for that book, suggesting additional places to look. I was then engaged in Native American historical and genealogical research, and Eckert, going through his voluminous papers, sent me some three hundred letters he had received from scholars and readers over time, touching on relevant items. I still have them all, as well as our correspondence.
Allan W. Eckert was a prolific author with a strong work ethic and he never stopped researching and writing. I'm looking forward to his new book, which will be out later this year, and his publisher at the Jesse Stuart Foundation says that there will be yet another one coming later. The grace of the man will live on in his books.
My wife and I send our condolences to Joan, his widow, whom we met several years ago at the Kentucky Book Fair.