Jim Tully—novelist, memoirist, journalist, boxer, hobo—was born on June 3, 1886 in St. Marys, Ohio. He wrote fourteen books, many of them about the dark realities of poverty and the gritty underbelly of American life. Tully knew this world firsthand.
Jim Tully was the son of Irish immigrants. His father was an alcoholic ditch digger in rural Ohio. Tully lost his mother when he was six, and his father, unable to properly care for him, sent Tully to St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Cincinnati, where he spent the next six years. He later worked on a farm but was mistreated, so he went on the road like so many young men did in those days when they felt their options in life were limited. Tully spent a number of years wandering America as a “road kid,” scrounging an education from the public library–like Jack London–then moved to Kent, Ohio, where he pursued a number of jobs, ranging from boxer and tree surgeon to newspaperman and chain maker. He made his way out to Hollywood, becoming an entertainment journalist and making friends with some of Hollywood’s notables and enemies of others. Meanwhile he began writing a remarkable series of books about the meaner sides of American life, including Shanty Irish, Beggars of Life, Circus Parade, and Shadows of Men.
Tully’s work earned both praise and severe criticism. His portraits of raw existence on the fringes of society aroused censors. Novelist and playwright Rupert Hughes called Tully “the father of hard-boiled American writing.” Well known throughout the Twenties and Thirties, Tully faded into a long obscurity after World War II which has finally begun to lift. Kent State University Press has reissued many of Tully’s books, and the press also published an excellent biography of Tully by Paul Bauer and Mark Dawidziak–Jim Tully: American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler.
Jim Tully died on June 22, 1947, just several weeks after his sixty-first birthday.