Author, filmmaker, and conservationalist James Oliver Curwood was a Michigan native in the late 1800s whose stories gained popularity all over the world. When he died in 1927, he was said to be the highest-paid per-word author in the world, with much of his passion for writing about nature coming from a close encounter with a grizzly bear.
We talked to filmmaker and historian Mitchell Speers, who explores Curwood's life and works in an upcoming documentary, God's Country: The James Oliver Curwood Story.
Speers recounts Curwood's early life, saying he grew up in a family of modest income in Owosso. In order to help the family, he worked labor jobs growing up. He would often daydream and write stories in his imagination.
Curwood's first tales of adventure, written when he was just a boy, were published in local newspapers. He went on to author 33 books, and 21 were adapted into films.
Speers says that while Curwood lived in Owosso, he was able to maintain a large impact on early Hollywood; he owned three studios at various times. He also composed many "scenarios," or early screenplays for silent films.
According to Speers, much of Curwood's life was shaped during one of his many hunting expeditions, after he came face-to-face with a grizzly bear deep in the back woods of British Columbia.
Curwood became a devoted and lifelong conservationist.
Curwood Castle, built as a writing studio, still stands in Owosso and is now devoted to presenting the history of Curwood, his experiences, and his impact on American culture.