Saturday 7 April 2018

Robert Ormond Case - Western Author

One of the big 3 authors of Western Story (others being Max Brand and Robert J. Horton), it seemed in the 1920s till the mid 30s that you couldn’t pick up an issue without coming across a story by one of these three. He was a careful researcher, noted for the accuracy of detail in his entertaining stories.

Robert Ormond Case, western author, in front of a painting for his serial, Wings North, that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938
Robert Ormond Case, western author, in front of a illustration for his serial, Wings North, that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938

Robert Ormond Case was born to Henry Ormond Case and Jane Case in Dallas, Texas. Both his parents were Canadians, and he was the fifth of six siblings born in the USA.
FIRST saw the light of day—a hot day, I’m told—in Dallas, Texas, October 8th, 1896. Father was in publishing business there, which went broke in one of the minor depressions (then known simply as panics) of the era. Father and mother being Canadian, the family moved from Texas to Victoria, B. C., —R. O. C. accompanying them, age 18 months.

Attended public schools in Victoria, learned to hunt, fish, swing an ax. Shot a deer with a. 22 rifle at the age of twelve, a major experience. Athletically inclined. At the age of fifteen won third place in the Provincial Junior championships (three competitors in finals).

Around 1910 or 1911 (records don’t match), the Case family returned to the US, this time to a farm near Portland, Oregon. In the meantime, Henry and Jane Case had four more children, bringing the family size to 12 overall. Robert attended Tualatin Academy. Case graduated in 1914 or 1915 in the last class to graduate from the school, which was shut down as public schools started.

During vacations from high school and college worked at every major industry of the Northwest except mining and commercial fishing. The list includes: dairy farm in western Oregon (from which gained data for Hollander series in Country Gentleman); wheat-farming in Eastern Oregon (from which came data for "Golden Hills, ” a wheat-ranch novel published serially); logging camps (data for "Big Timber”), sawmills, railroad construction, bridge-building, river-boat etc. Also numerous trips to Alaska (data for Alaskan serials published in the Saturday Evening Post).

After school, he entered the University of Oregon, located in Eugene, a little over hundred miles south of Portland. In 1917, his sophomore year, the US entered World War 1. Case enlisted.

Joined Coast Artillery three days before war was declared, on theory C. A. C. was going overseas immediately. Went overseas eight months later (January, 1918). Eleven months in England and France. Seventy-two consecutive days at Front with 65th Artillery, including five major engagements. No wounds, no glory, plenty of mud. Entered as buck private. Due to diligence, aptitude in military science, etc., emerged with rank of corporal.

After demobilization in 1919, he returned to the University of Oregon to complete his education and graduated with a B.A. in 1920. During his years at the university he was a member of the Sigma Upsilon honorary fiction society and founder of a campus humor magazine. He was one in a line of writers who attended the University, preceded by Edison Marshall and followed by Ernest Haycox. They briefly offered an award at the University for the best short story from a student.

Oregon authors Ernest Haycox (middle) and Robert Ormond Case (right) playing golf, c. 1928
Oregon authors Ernest Haycox (middle) and Robert Ormond Case (right) playing golf, c. 1928
Photo courtesy this Oregon Encyclopedia article

After graduation, he briefly took up a position with the Portland Morning Oregonian, the largest newspaper in Oregon, staying there three months before becoming financial editor. From there, he joined the Oregon Chamber of Commerce in 1931 as publicity director, while simultaneously being editor of the Oregon Journal of Commerce. The same year, he got married to Lora Evelyn Smith, a classmate at the University of Oregon.

In 1921, he and his sister, Victoria Case, also a graduate of the University of Oregon, founded a Portland suburban weekly newspaper, the Rose City Herald, that ran for a few years. He started writing fiction in 1923.
Prior to his first attempt in the fiction field he was reading a story in a magazine one evening and after finishing it remarked to his wife, "I believe I could write a better story than that." His wife quietly answered, "I believe you could too. Bob; why don't you: " To which he had to reply, "I will!"
Mrs. Case assists her successful husband in his work. Because of trouble with his eyes, Case is obliged to use a dictating machine. Mrs. Case types the stories as they come from the roll and together they read over and revise the original copy. Every line is studied, and weighed, and criticized. His production does not exceed fifteen hundred words a day.

His first sale was to Western Story magazine, and from 1923 to 1935, most of his fiction appeared there. Many of his serials were reprinted as novels in hard cover editions from Chelsea House in the US and the UK.
Robert Ormond Case's first published story, in Western Story Magazine Jan 20, 1923
Robert Ormond Case's first published story, in Western Story Magazine Jan 20, 1923

He aspired to write for the “slick” paper magazines. An excerpt from a couple of letters to an author friend:
I took in $1,200 in December and spent it all in January on a new car, a new addition to the house and a new addition to the family. Am broke again, so am writing 2,000 words per day at 2¢ per for Western (Story Magazine), trying to catch up to myself. When I am ahead of the game once more, will try for the (Saturday Evening) Post again."
I have averaged $406 per month since the first of the year. I do not believe in temperament. I work three hours per day and average less than 1,000 words. Western pays me 2-1/2¢ per word for everything I write. I play golf every afternoon. I weigh 188 pounds. I am lazy. I am trying to salt enough away so that I, too, can write for the big ones and keep from starving between times. I have half dozen books in mind and can't afford to write them. My living expenses are almost $300 per month. I am comfortable. I know I am vegetating. I am oppressed by a feeling of being in a rut every once in a while. Ambition wakes up and begins to prod me. And then I hear from Dick, and his mortgage is actually worrying him! Dick, who writes for the Post!

Both letters were undated.

In 1935, he made his first sale to the Saturday Evening Post, a non-fiction article about the Grand Coulee dam that was under construction at the time. From 1935 to 1937, he wrote much fewer pulp stories, dropping from an average of almost 10 stories a year to 2 in 1936, and 1 in 1937. In 1938, he sold his first serial to the Saturday Evening Post. Wings North was a north-western set in northern Canada and Alaska, featuring a man’s search for a lost gold mine and the murderer of his father.

Cover for Saturday Evening Post issue dated Jan 8, 1938 featuring the fiction debut of Robert Ormond Case with Wings North. Artist: Jack Murray
Cover for Saturday Evening Post issue dated Jan 8, 1938 featuring the fiction debut of Robert Ormond Case with Wings North. Artist: Jack Murray, cover image courtesy the Saturday Evening Post
From then till 1950, he wrote almost exclusively for the Saturday Evening Post and occasionally for Blue Book magazine. In between, he wrote a few non-fiction books with his sister, Victoria and wrote the scripts for a Peabody award winning series on the history of the northwest, Song of the Columbia.
From June 1951, he wrote exclusively for the Saturday Evening Post, selling them six serials between 1951 and 1959. He had shifted his residence to California and taken up scriptwriting work for television serials – one credit for an episode of Maverick, and uncredited work on Lassie. He got remarried in 1954, to Vivian Drummond Ells McMurtrey in Los Angeles.

His last appearance in the pulps was in 1951, with one story in the April 1951 issue of Western Roundup and another in the May 1951 issue of Blue Book. Robert Ormond Case passed away on March 27, 1964 in Oakland, California after a long illness.


  1. Thanks for this excellent piece on one of the best of the WESTERN STORY authors. I really like the photo of Case standing in front of the big illustration from the SATURDAY EVENING POST.