When World War I began, Hugh Lofting had already switched careers – from civil engineer to author – and was living in Connecticut with his American wife and two small children. As a British citizen, he immediately went to work for the War Office, but then enlisted in the Irish guards.
While serving he France, he wrote letters home to his children, letters that could have been, he explained later, either very dull or very horrible. Instead, he chose to tell his children what was really a very long bedtime story – the adventures of a modest man who learned to talk to animals.
After he was quite seriously wounded by shrapnel, he was invalided out and he and his family took a boat home to America. A fellow passenger, British novelist Cecil Roberts, befriended Lofting, saw some of the letters – still being reread by the children – and referred Lofting to his publisher.
The rest is history – The Adventures of Dr.Dolittle was published in 1920 and in 1923, The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle won the Newbery Medal. Lofting wrote a book a year until 1928 and two more much later. Altogether there are ten books in the series.
More of his biography and lots of pictures are available at the excellent Hugh Lofting website. The first two books are available for download at Project Gutenberg.
Lofting, who was born on this date in 1886, lived in the US most of his adult life and died in Topanga, California, in 1947.
Best wishes also to Holland Taylor, Nina Totenberg and Faye Dunaway – this scene, which shocked us so in 1967, is still pretty unnerving: