- To be distinguished from Irving I. Stone, philanthropist
Irving Stone (born Tennenbaum, July 14, 1903, San Francisco, California – August 26, 1989, Los Angeles) was an American writer, chiefly known for his biographical novels of noted artists, politicians and intellectuals; among the best known are Lust for Life (1934), about the life of Vincent van Gogh, and The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961), about Michelangelo.
Born Irving Tennenbaum, he was seven when his parents divorced. By the time he was a senior in high school, his mother had remarried. He legally changed his last name to "Stone", his stepfather's surname. Stone said his mother instilled a passion for reading in him. From then on, he believed that education was the only way to succeed in life.
In 1923, Stone received his bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley. After receiving his M.A. there, he worked as a Teaching Assistant in English. He met his first wife, Lona Mosk (1905–1965), who was a student at the university. On money provided by her father, Los Angeles businessman Ernest Mosk, the young couple went to Paris.
Irving and Lona returned to the United States in the 1930s from Europe, where he had been researching Van Gogh for six months. In 1930 he received a letter from Dr. Felix Rey - who treated Vincent after he'd cut off his own ear in December 1888, later becoming his friend and subject of a portrait painting by Van Gogh - confirming it was the whole ear that was removed, not just the lobe. In 1931 the Stones resided in New York's Greenwich Village where Irving finished Lust for Life, the biographical novel about Van Gogh that set his career in motion, according to the NY Times obituary of August 28, 1989. According to the Times, Lust for Life (the title suggested by his first wife) was rejected by seventeen publishers over three years before being published in 1934.
Stone took up with his secretary Jean. After he was divorced from Lona, he and Jean married. This later marriage lasted until Stone's death in 1989. Jean Stone died in 2004 aged 93.
During their years together, Jean Stone edited many of his works. The Stones lived primarily in Los Angeles, California. They funded a foundation to support charitable causes they believed in.
When at home, Stone relied upon the research facilities and expertise made available to him by Esther Euler, head research librarian of the University of California at Los Angeles. He dedicated books to her and thanked her in several of his works.
According to his afterword for Lust for Life, Stone relied on Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo. Stone additionally did much of his research "in the field". For example, he spent many years living in Italy while working on The Agony and the Ecstasy, a novel about Michelangelo. The Italian government lauded Stone with several honorary awards during this period for his cultural achievements highlighting Italian history.
Although best known for his novels, Stone also wrote a number of non-fiction books. His biography of Clarence Darrow, Clarence Darrow For the Defense, about the attorney known both for his defense of thrill killers Leopold and Loeb and his defense of John T. Scopes in the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial (the trial of a biology teacher who taught about evolution in Tennessee)—, was published in 1941. His biography Earl Warren, about the California governor and later Chief Justice of the United States, was published in 1948.
In 1956, a film version was made of Lust for Life, based on his 1934 novel, starring Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh.
Stone's 1975 book The Greek Treasure was the basis for the German television production Der geheimnisvolle Schatz von Troja (Hunt for Troy, 2007).
Legacy and honors
- 1956 Spur Award (Nonfiction) for Men to Match My Mountains
- 1960 Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Berkeley, his alma mater.
- 1961 Commonwealth Club of California Book Awards (Fiction, Silver) for The Agony and the Ecstasy