Today is the birthday of the author of the classic children’s book Goodnight Moon: Margaret Wise Brown (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1910. Brownie, as she was known to her friends, had a revolutionary idea about children’s stories: Kids would rather read about things from their own world than fairy tales and fables.
She was a lovely green-eyed blonde, extravagant and a little eccentric; with her first royalty check, she bought a street vendor’s entire cart full of flowers, and then threw a party at her Upper East Side apartment to show off her purchase. She was a prolific author, writing nearly a hundred picture books under several pen names and sometimes keeping six different publishers busy at once with her projects. She was known to produce a book just so she could buy a plane ticket to Europe.
At one time, she dated Juan Carlos, Prince of Spain, and she had a long-term relationship with Michael Strange, John Barrymore’s ex-wife. When she was 42, she met James Stillman Rockefeller Jr., who was 26, at a party and they hit it off immediately. They had a similar whimsical take on life, and were engaged to be married when she died suddenly; she had had surgery a few weeks before, and was kicking up her leg like a can-can dancer to show her doctor how well she felt. The kick dislodged a blood clot that was in her leg, and the clot traveled to her heart, killing her.
She never had children of her own, but she left the royalties for most of her books to a nine-year-old neighbor boy, Albert Clarke. Her estate was once worth a few hundred dollars, and now amounts to about $5 million — or rather, it would, had Clarke not squandered the inheritance, spending his life in and out of jail, throwing away clothes when they get dirty, and making a succession of bad real estate deals.
She said, “A good picture book can almost be whistled. … All have their own melodies behind the storytelling.”