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|Frank G(ill) Slaughter (1908-2001) - pseudonym "C.V. Terry"|
American bestseller novelist and physician, whose books sold more than 60 million copies. Slaughter's novels drew on his own experience as a physician and reflected his interest in history and the Biblical world. He often introduced readers to exciting findings in medical research and new inventions in medical technology.
"It was the moment of truth every surgeon faced, a time when rigid control on his part was the patient's sole chance of survival. Knowing he had only seconds to free the pressure on the trachea, Ben continued the relentless lifting motion. For an instant of panic, he was sure the tumor would not emerge. Then, when he was on the edge of surrender, it popped into view, like an orange squeezed from a child's Christmas stocking. At the same moment the patient took a long, gasping swallow of air, then began to breathe evenly again." (from Tomorrow's Miracle, 1962)
Frank G. Slaughter was born in Washington, D.C. When he was about five years old, his family moved onto a 225-ACRE farm, about twelve miles north of Oxford, North Carolina. His father worked as a rural mail carrier, and on the farm they grew tobacco and corn. After graduating from the Oxford High School, he studied at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, being a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Slaughter received his medical degree from John Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, in 1930. He spent four years in surgical training at the Jefferson Hospital, Roanoke, Virginia. Decades later Slaughter said in an interview, that "Stored away deep in my mind even after forty years are still more seeds medical lore, gained during those student days in Baltimore, and from these seeds will come other novels of medicine's heritage from history anf the arts." In 1933, he married Jane Mundy, a former operating room nurse; they had two sons. They moved in 1934 to Florida, where Slaughter worked as a staff surgeon at Herman Kiefer Hospital, Jacksonville, from 1934 to 1943. Later Florida became the scene of many of his novels.
"You've done this – this operation before, Doctor?"
Slaughter became in 1938 a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Two years later he was certified as a Specialist in Surgery by the American Board of Surgery. During World War II, Slaughter served in the United States Medical Corps. In 1944, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. When Slaughter sailed for Manila as chief surgeon aboard the hospital ship Emily H. M. Weder, he shipped two bookbags of reference works to write his sixth book, the Civil War novel In a Dark Garden (1946).
Slaughter had been an omnivorous reader already at an early age. From 1935, he started to try his own hand at writing. He purchased a $60 typewriter and produced a number of short stories, but sold only one during a five-year period. From this sale to the Chicago Daily News he received $12.00. Moreover, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, whom he met while she was a hospital patient, gave him the advice: "Stick to operating." Slaughter's first book, That None Should Die (1941), was a semi-autobiographical tale of a young idealistic doctor, who begins his practice in a small southern community, where his new ideas come in conflict with the medical care system. Slaughter rewrote the manuscript five times before Doubleday accepted it. The final version was made with the help of Thomas B. Costain, a novelist, who worked for Doubleday Books as an editor. Although the novel was an moderate success in the United States, it was a bestseller in the Scandinavian countries, beginning from Denmark, where the it went into print just before the Nazis occupied the country. During the war, Slaughter's royalty statements were scrupulously kept by the underground. By the 1970s, That None Should Die had been translated into 15 languages. "It is a story no layman could have told – that no layman, for that matter, would have been justified in trying to tell," said one reviewer.
After completing four other books, Slaughter devoted himself entirely to writing, usually producing one novel a year. Slaughter wrote at the speed of 1000 words a day and roughly 100,000 words a year. He continued to publish in fast tempo to the late 1980s. Slaughter died on May 17, 2001, in Jacksonville, where he had lived for nearly five decades, mostly in the Riverside area and then in Ortega area. He had been bedridden in later years, but dictated passages for a new novel into a tape recorder. William DuBois (d. 1997), a playwright, novelist and editor, worked with the author on 27 of his books.
Slaughter's highly adulatory Immortal Magyar (1950) was about Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865). He was one of the heroes in solving the mystery of the terrible childbed fever, which killed young mothers. The last half of the book tells of the bitterness of Semmelweis, who eventually suffered a mental breakdown, after his new ideas were rejected. Slaughter did not only publish medical novels but biblical and historical as well. The Road to Bithynia (1951) was about Saint Luke, who is thought to have been a physician, and The Crown and the Cross (1959) told the story of Christ. The Thorn of Arimathea (1959) was about Joseph of Arimathea and Veronica (of the Veil) and the founding of the first Christian church in Britain. Also other writer doctors, such as Lloyd C. Douglas and A. J. Cronin, have showed an interest in religious themes. L.C. Douglas depicted the Crucifixion and its aftermath in The Robe (1942), which was filmed in 1953. Slaughter's portrayal of Jesus is conventional, but he manages to bring color and life into the most famous biblical tale. However, Slaughter never visited biblical lands.
In historical novels, such as Storm Haven (1953), set in Florida in the 1860s, Slaughter focused on adventure. The protagonist of the story is a young doctor, Christopher Clark. He is torn between two women, Valerie, the proud owner of a large estate, and the dark and passionate Elena. This pattern, a hero and two different women, Slaughter often repeated. Marion Hanscom has criticized Slaughter's portrayal of women: "His empathy with people, however, fails to keep pace, especially his women who do not even begin to reflect the very real changes that women have undergone in the last half of the 20th century." (Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, ed. by Aruna Vasudevan, 1994) Some of Slaughter's later novels feature strong female characters. Women in White (1974) introduced Helga Sundberg, a beautiful nurse, who is highly skillful in her profession and who knows what she wants from a man. The book was filmed in 1979 and inspired a TV series. Another independent and strong-willed character was Liz MacGowan in No Greater Love (1985). Slaughter's last book, The Transplant, appeared in 1987. Several of the book were made into films, including Sangaree (1953), directed by Edward Ludwig, The Story of Ruth (1960), by Henry Koster, and Doctors' Wives (1971), by George Schaefer. The Warner Brothers "Florida Western" Distant Drums (1951), directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Gary Cooper, contained some 20 scenes drawn from Slaughter's historical novel Fort Everglades (1951), but the movie rights were purchased after the filming was completed.
For further reading: Popular Culture by David Manning White (1975); The Book Lover's Guide to Florida by Kevin M. McCarthy (1992); Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, ed. by Aruna Vasudevan (1994); World Authors 1900-1950, Volume Four, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996)