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Guide to the John B. Sanford/Robert W. Smith Collection
Mss 34  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Related Materials

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: John B. Sanford/Robert W. Smith Collection,
    Date (inclusive): ca. 1982-1991
    Collection Number: Mss 34
    Creator: Sanford, John B., 1904-
    Extent: .4 linear feet (1 box)
    Repository: University of California, Santa Barbara. Library. Department of Special Collections
    Santa Barbara, California 93106-9010
    Physical Location: Del Sur
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access Restrictions


    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Department of Special Collections, UCSB. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Department of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained.

    Preferred Citation

    John B. Sanford/Robert W. Smith Collection. Mss 34. Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Acquisition Information

    Purchase, 1999.


    John B. Sanford, born Julian L. Shapiro in New York in 1904, studied to become a lawyer until his friend, the author Nathanael West, encouraged him to take up writing. In the summer of 1931, they retreated to a cabin in the forests of the Adirondacks, where Shapiro completed his first novel, The Water Wheel. Following its publication in 1933, he adopted the name of the book's protagonist as his pen name, which he then made his legal name in 1940. The critical success of his second novel, The Old Man's Place (1935), led to a script-writing job in Hollywood, where he met his wife, screenwriter Marguerite Roberts. Having already established a successful career for herself, Roberts offered to support Sanford so he could return to writing novels.
    Sanford had produced three more novels when, in 1951, he and his wife were called before the Communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American Activities, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Both Sanford and Roberts refused to testify and were subsequently blacklisted. Overcome by guilt that his left-wing politics had derailed his wife's career, Sanford wrote nothing until Hollywood began accepting screenplays from her again in the 1960s. He soon abandoned fiction, however, and produced his acclaimed A More Goodly Country: A Personal History of America (1975), followed by the autobiographical series Scenes from the Life of an American Jew (1985-1991).
    In 1982, Black Sparrow Press of Santa Barbara reissued Sanford's novel A Man without Shoes, which had failed miserably when first released in 1951. The book came to the attention of freelance book reviewer Robert W. Smith, a former CIA officer who had published numerous books and articles on Asian martial arts, on which he was an acknowledged expert. Smith began a correspondence with Sanford, and within months they had become fast friends. Smith took it upon himself to resuscitate Sanford's literary reputation and wrote glowing reviews of Sanford's books as they came out, even lobbying The New York Times Book Review to be assigned Sanford's The Winters of That Country (1984). Although the Times turned him down, Smith was able to place articles and reviews in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Washington Post.
    Both flattered and grateful for the attention Smith had brought his work, Sanford maintained a cheery correspondence for several years, but their relationship began to change upon the death of Sanford's wife Maggie. Devastated by the loss, Sanford began to withdraw into himself, trying to lose himself in his writing. Then, in the spring of 1991, Smith wrote a review of the final volume of Sanford's autobiography, The Season, It Was Winter, which Sanford felt denigrated his wife's talent as a writer. With two terse notes, Sanford terminated their friendship. Shortly afterward, Robert W. Smith stopped writing book reviews.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection contains material sent by John B. Sanford to Robert W. Smith, including correspondence, typescript drafts of articles/shorter works, and photocopies of reviews of Sanford's books from various newspapers, as well as other materials Smith had collected regarding Sanford.

    Related Materials

    At UCSB:

    The Department of Special Collections also has copies of John Sanford's books, including advance copies, and signed, first editions. These are cataloged individually and can be searched in Pegasus, the UCSB Libraries online catalog.

    At Other Institutions:

    Boston University has the bulk of John Sanford and Marguerite Roberts' papers.