User menu


Wood, Frank (1840-1864)

Editor, Journalist, Playwright, Translator

Born in Auburn, NY, Frank Wood's literary career began around 1858. During this year, he wrote for one of the publications of Frank Leslie. He would become the first editor of Vanity Fair, before going on to be a contributor to the Pfaffian newspaper, The Saturday Press (Winter, Brief Chronicles, 337). It was not until 1863, though, that scholar Mark Lause argues that Wood gained success in the literary world with his play, Leah the Forsook (Lause 59). On the eve of the Civil War, Wood was living in Charleston, South Carolina where he was serving as a correspondent for The New York World. With the start of the war, he moved back North, where he busied himself with a variety of activities, including delivering a lecture on his time in South Carolina titled "Down South in Succession Times." He also edited a Brooklyn daily paper and wrote theater criticisms for the The Illustrated News, among several other stints in the literary world of New York (Winter, Brief Chronicles, 337).

Numerous historical sources place Frank Wood at Pfaff’s. Whitman himself referred to the man as one of the regulars (CW 5:21). In The Great Metropolis; A Mirror of New York (1869) Junius Browne notes that Wood was part of the "fraternity" that met at Pfaff’s who "had late suppers, and were brilliant with talk over beer and pipes for several years... Those were merry and famous nights, and many bright conceits and witticisms were discharged over the festive board" (156-7). Winter remembers Henry Neill and Frank Wood as "young journalists of fine ability," stating that they "were frequently present" at Pfaff’s (Old Friends 65).

Wood’s career testifies to his interest in theater. William Winter notes that Wood wrote theatrical notices for Illustrated News and was a dramatic critic for the Spirit of the Times. A playwright like fellow Pfaff’s frequenter John Brougham, Wood penned a "clever burlesque" Leah the Forsook that attracted Augustin Daly’s attention and began their collaboration (Odell 7:550); Wood then served as Daly’s assistant for Taming a Butterfly. Leah seems to have been the more successful production. Wood also wrote The Statue Bride and the burletta The Marble Maiden, or the Ghost of Cologne, played by Keene’s company on Sept. 25, 1863. (7:550-551,617). Observing that Wood also translated Michelet’s “L’Amour,” William Winter contends that “As a writer, [Wood] was clear, vigorous, often humorous, always manly and truthful. As a man, he met frankness with frankness, and did his duty faithfully, and gained true friends who do not forget him” (Old Friends xxxvii). Moreover, he is remembered among several individuals who "bridged [the gap between] Newspaper Row and the stage" (Lause 60).

Along with other members of the Vanity Fair staff Edward F. Mullen and Charles Dawson Shanly, Wood was the inspiration for a character in Artemus Ward’s Woshy-Boshy; or, The Prestidigitating Squaw of the Snakeheads which began on November 2, 1861 (Seitz 90); perhaps because of this, Wood was also remembered in 1888 as a colorful character and became one of the bohemians “gossiped” about by Rufus B. Wilson in a “reminiscent letter to the Galveston News” (Current Literature 479). Like many of the frequenters of Pfaff’s, Wood died young, at twenty-three years old, without realizing his full potential; in the 1875 obituary for Henry Clapp, editor of the Saturday Press and “king” of Pfaff’s, Wood is described as "the invalid cynic Frank Wood -- too bright, if not too beautiful, to last" (“Obituary” 7). Pfaff’s frequenter and theater critic William Winter includes Wood among the “vanished comrades” Symonds, Wilkins, Neill, and O’Brien whose names are “not to be spoken without a sigh of regret” (Old Friends xxxvii); Winter remarks of Wood and fellow journalist Henry Neill that "both of them died in youth, with their promise unfulfilled" (65). Upon O’Brien’s death, Wood wrote an emotional tribute which was published in the New York Leader on April 12, 1862, and was later anthologized by Winter in his biography about O’Brien. Wood had been selected by O’Brien himself, along with Thomas E. Davis, as the literary executor of the dying writer’s work. Wood died at Haverstraw in Rockland County, New York and was buried at his birthplace in Auburn (Winter, Brief Chronicles, 338).