Open main menu

Heinrich Hauer Bellamann (April 28, 1882 – June 16, 1945) was an American author, whose bestselling novel Kings Row exposed the hypocrisy of small-town life in the midwest, addressing many social taboos. Research suggested that Bellamann was working off resentment of his upbringing in Fulton, Missouri, where he had been ostracised for his German extraction and rumoured illegitimacy. The 1942 film version gave Ronald Reagan a star role, regarded as his most memorable performance.

Henry Bellamann
BornHeinrich Hauer Bellamann
(1882-04-28)April 28, 1882
Fulton, Missouri, U.S.
DiedJune 16, 1945(1945-06-16) (aged 63)
New York City, U.S.
OccupationWriter, Music educator
GenreFiction, poetry
Notable worksKings Row
The Gray Man Walks
Katherine McKee Jones (m. 1907–1945)

Bellamann was also a poet and a music professor at Vassar College.

Early life and educationEdit

Bellamann was born in Fulton, Missouri, to parents George Henrik and Caroline (Krahenbuhl) Bellamann. After graduation from Fulton High School in 1899, he attended Westminster College in Fulton for a year before moving to Colorado in 1901 to study piano at the University of Denver.[1] Following graduation in 1904, Bellamann began teaching music at a variety of girls' schools in the American South. Bellamann met his future wife, Katherine McKee Jones, while both were teaching at a girls' academy in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The couple married on September 3, 1907.

For several years between 1908 and 1913 while on school summer breaks, the Bellamanns traveled to Europe so Henry could study organ and piano with Charles-Marie Widor and Isidor Philipp. From 1907 to 1932, when he began to pursue writing full-time, Bellamann held administrative and teaching positions at several educational institutions, including acting director of the Juilliard Musical Foundation, dean of the Curtis Institute of Music, and professor of music at Vassar College.[2]

Writing careerEdit

With the encouragement of his wife, Bellamann increasingly turned his attention to a writing career. His first of three books of poetry, A Music Teacher's Notebook, was published in 1920. It was followed by Cups of Illusion in 1923 and The Upward Pass in 1928. Although his poetry is today little-known, Bellamann was recognized by David Perkins in his 1976 History of Modern Poetry, in which he ranks Bellamann with the serious minor poets who "adopted the mode" of the Imagists.[3] In addition to his books, Bellamann served as editor for the music magazine Overtones and write a weekly literary column, in which he highlighted the works of DuBose Heyward and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Julia Peterkin[4]

Henry Bellamann's first novel, Petenera's Daughter, was published in 1926, followed by Crescendo in 1928, The Richest Woman in Town in 1932, and The Gray Man Walks in 1938. His most famous work was yet to come – and not without some controversy that remains to this day.

Kings Row (1940)Edit

The story of Drake McHugh and his best friend Parris Mitchell coming of age in a sleepy midwest American town of the 1890s was by far Henry Bellamann's most recognized work. Exposing hypocrisy and small-town secrets, the novel deals with themes of mental illness, incest, homosexuality, suicide, gender equality in relationships, and sadistic vengeance.[5] Such themes were still somewhat taboo in early 20th-century American literature, but not unheard of.

In one location, however, the novel and its subsequent movie adaptation proved to be most controversial: Bellamann's hometown of Fulton, Missouri. It was not long before the citizenry of Fulton began to look around and realize Bellamann's fictional town was in fact a reinterpretation of their small city. "Aberdeen College" is seen as a stand-in for Bellamann's real-life time spent at Westminster College, while the best-seller's asylum coincides with Fulton State Hospital. Such prominent citizens as the real-life town doctor are portrayed in Kings Row in a less-than-flattering manner. As one local newspaper editor wrote, Bellamann "clearly intended to besmirch Fulton".[6] The ill feelings toward the book lingered for many years in Fulton, to the point where librarians removed Kings Row from the town library shelves.[7]

This controversy seems to have been borne out by Bellamann himself. While researching the introduction for a re-issue of Kings Row in 1981, Jay Miles Karr, a Westminster College English professor, found in Bellamann's private papers notes for what was referred to as "the Fulton novel." According to Karr, living in Fulton had inflicted a "psychic wound" on the young Bellamann, one he exorcised decades later with his pen. He was often made to feel alienated there because of his German heritage. Furthermore, the family reputation was assaulted by town gossip that George Bellamann might not have been Henry's true biological father.[5] Interviews with his few childhood friends confirmed that Bellamann was regarded as a social outcast in the town.

Having made the best-seller list, Kings Row soon had a movie version in the works. Released in 1942, with some of the more controversial portions of the novel toned down to satisfy the Hays Code, the film starred Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings, and Ronald Reagan as Drake McHugh. Movie critics consider Reagan's performance in the film to be one of his best, and it was one of his favorite roles. In fact, he titled his 1965 autobiography Where's the Rest of Me? after one of his key lines in the movie, where McHugh comments on his amputated legs.

Later work and deathEdit

After the huge success of Kings Row, Bellamann published two more novels, Floods of Spring in 1942 and Victoria Grandolet in 1943. He began a sequel to Kings Row but died of a heart attack in their New York City home in June 1945 before its completion. His wife Katherine, a novelist and poet in her own right, finished the work, Parris Mitchell of Kings Row, publishing it in 1948.[8]

Katherine Bellamann survived her husband by eleven years, dying in 1956. The Bellamanns had no children.


Henry Bellamann received the Légion d'Honneur from the Republic of France and an honorary musical doctorate from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.[9]



  • Petenera's Daughter. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1926.
  • Crescendo. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1928.
  • The Richest Woman in Town. New York: The Century Co., 1932.
  • The Gray Man Walks. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1936.
  • Kings Row. New York: The Sun Dial Press, 1940.
  • Floods of Spring. New York: The Sun Dial Press, 1942.
  • Victoria Grandolet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1943.


  • A Music Teacher's Note Book. New York: The New York Poetry Book Shop, 1920.
  • Cups of Illusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1923.
  • The Upward Pass. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1928.


  1. ^ Dictionary of Missouri Biography by Lawrence O. Christensen, University of Missouri Press, 1999
  2. ^ "Henry Bellamann bio". E-notes online cyclopedia. 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
  3. ^ A History of Modern Poetry, David Perkins, Belknap Press, 1976 (p. 347)
  4. ^ Dictionary of Missouri Biography by Lawrence O. Christensen, University of Missouri Press, 1999
  5. ^ a b Northway, Martin (2011). "Tragic Consequences: Fulton Missouri set the stage for "Kings Row"". NewCity Lit magazine via website. Retrieved July 16, 2012. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  6. ^ Dictionary of Missouri Biography by Lawrence O. Christensen, University of Missouri Press, 1999
  7. ^ Ball, Karen (December 13, 1987). "Fulton has change of heart over Kings Row". Associated Press via Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 17, 2012. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  8. ^ "Henry Bellamann bio". E-notes online cyclopedia. 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
  9. ^ Bellamann, Henry. King's Row. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1942.

External linksEdit