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De Hartog, Jan, 1914-2002 | University of Houston Libraries

Name: De Hartog, Jan, 1914-2002

Historical Note:

Jan de Hartog was born in Haarlem, Netherlands on April 22, 1914. His father, Arnold Hendrik, was a theologian; his mother, Lucretia Meijjes de Hartog, a scholar of medieval mysticism. He attended Amsterdam Naval College, and worked as a sailor, war correspondent and naval inspector before achieving success as an author and playwright.

Although de Hartog published five detective novels under the pseudonym F. R. Eckmar in the 1930's, his first noteworthy work was the novel Holland's Glorie (1940). Published in Dutch 10 days before the outbreak of the Second World War, the work sold over one million copies and was regarded as an essential expression of Dutch identity in wartime. The book made him a public figure in the Netherlands, and he used this platform to speak out against German occupation. In early 1942, de Hartog was forced to go into hiding and eventually fled the Netherlands under threat of arrest. After a lengthy journey across Western Europe, he arrived in England in July, 1943.

De Hartog spent the next decade in England, writing novels and plays in English. In 1946, he married Angela Priestly, daughter of English writer J.B. Priestly. One of his first English language works was the play Skipper Next to God, about a captain carrying European Jews to the United States. It debuted in London in 1945 and was later performed on Broadway. The 1951 comedy The Four Poster brought de Hartog his broadest and most enduring success. After runs in London and American repertory theater, its Broadway run, starring Hume Cronin and Jessica Tandy, earned the 1952 Tony award for Best Play. De Hartog collaborated on a French adaptation with the writer Collette, and the work was later adapted as a musical, I Do I Do!, and a television play. His novels of this period included The Lost Sea (1951), The Little Ark (1951), and A Sailor's Life (1955).

His marriage to Marjorie Mein in 1961 led de Hartog to become a Quaker. The couple lived on a 146-ton houseboat for several years before marrying, and first came to Houston on boat travel. In 1962, Jan assumed a residency in playwriting at the University of Houston, during which time the couple volunteered at Jefferson Davis Hospital. As a volunteer, de Hartog was exposed to the horrible conditions facing patients and staff at Harris County's charity hospital. His work, The Hospital, exposes the conditions and treatment received by patients at Jefferson Davis Hospital (later renamed Ben Taub Hospital). His book received national acclaim, drawing attention to needed changes in the charity hospital system in Houston. In the wake of The Hospital's publication, the de Hartogs became a target of threats and unwanted harassment which ultimately led to the couple leaving Houston in 1964.

The de Hartogs remained active in progressive social causes, using the proceeds from The Hospital book to finance aide programs. Further involvement in peace and social justice efforts lead the couple to become advocates of charity to Korean and Vietnamese war orphans, and in the process they adopted two Korean children. He chronicled these events in the 1969 work, The Children.

De Hartog's long and varied career also included having several works adapted for the screen. His novel, Stella (1951), was adapted for the screen with Sophia Loren and William Holden, as was The Spiral Road (1957), which starred Rock Hudson. His other notable works included novels The Captain (1967), The Commodore (1986), a trilogy fictionalizing the history of the Society of Friends - The Peaceable Kingdom (1972), The Lamb's War (1980) and The Peculiar People (1992) -  The Centurion (1989), and The Outer Buoy (1994).

The de Hartogs returned to Houston in 1993. In 2002, Jan was presented with an Hononary Doctor of Humane Letters at the University of Houston. Jan de Hartog died September 22, 2002.

Note Author: Amelia Abreu

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