IN 1945, Betty MacDonald’s first book, The Egg and I, took first America, and then the world, by storm. Writing about her adventures as a young wife on a chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, the book was a breath of fresh air to a world that, in the wake of WWII, sorely needed it. From 1927 to 1931, Betty lived with her first husband near Chimacum, Washington – a newlywed doing her best to adjust to and help operate their small chicken farm.
The Egg and I enjoyed enormous success, selling over 1,000,000 within ten months of it’s original publication. It was adapted for stage, radio and screen, with the movie version starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. The movie version also introduced the world to Ma and Pa Kettle, the eccentric country bumpkins portrayed by the inimitable Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride, who were so popular that a string of spin-off movies was made about their adventures. Betty MacDonald wrote three other memoirs, as well as the still popular Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series for children, and is recognized by many as an important America humorist.
Betty MacDonald was only 50 when cancer cut her life short, and perhaps her untimely death is one of the reason’s she is not better known and appreciated today. However, there is renewed interest in MacDonald’s life and work. Paula Becker is just finishing an upcoming biography of Betty MacDonald, scheduled for publication in the fall of 2016, and there may be a musical in the works! Samantha Hoekstra, in her MA thesis, THE EGG AND US: CONTEXTUALIZATION AND HISTORICIZATION, writes:
Sedaris, who was Time’s 2001 humorist of the year, has published six books that are mainly comprised of autobiographical sketches. Sedaris and MacDonald devote large sections of their works to humorous childhood memories, and the similarities between the Bards and the Sedaris family are striking. Like MacDonald, Sedaris has three sisters and one brother and considered himself the least talented in his family. Their respective older sisters, Mary and Lisa, are strong-willed and outgoing, and both their fathers were engineers. While Sedaris’ mother’s ambivalence about housework is a stark contrast to Sydney Bard’s staggering domestic competence, both are adored figures who smoke cigarettes constantly, employ an almost shockingly pragmatic outlook, and figure prominently as influences on their children. Both MacDonald and Sedaris lost a parent. One of the most significant similarities is that the lack of conventionality in both families is presented as normal and worthy of respect. Even as they make fun of their families’ foibles, the authors convey an undeniable warmth, affection, and acceptance. In a sense, they challenge the very notion of a ‘normal’ American family.”
While her experiences are from the beginning of the last century, and this year is the 70th anniversary of the original publication, this book is as witty as ever.