Walter R. Brooks was born in Rome, New York, on January 9, 1886. His mother, Fanny Stevens Brooks, was the daughter of Samuel Barron Stevens, a banker and two-time mayor of Rome. His father, William Walter Brooks, was the son of Dr. Walter Rollin Brooks, an eminent Baptist clergyman and a member of the faculty of Madison University in Hamilton, NY. The university was then a Baptist theological seminary, though today – re-named – it is Colgate University.
When Walter was four, his father – who worked as a music teacher – died. Eleven years later, his mother died, as well. Walter was sent to the Mohegan Lake Military Academy in Peekskill, NY, for two years (1902-04). In 1904 he went to live with his older sister, Elsie and her husband, Dr. Willliam Perrin, a distinguished homeopathic doctor and professor at the University of Rochester, where Walter was a student from 1904-1906.
In 1906 he went to New York City to study homeopathic medicine at the Homeopathic Medical College and Flower Hospital. He dropped out of medical school at the end of 1908 and returned to Rochester where, on January 22, 1909, he married Anne Shephard. From 1910-1911 Walter worked for the Frank Du Noyer Advertising Agency in Utica. In 1911 Walter’s two maiden aunts, Rhoda and Lucy, died within a month of each other and, apparently, Walter came into a considerable amount of money. At least he later wrote that, for some reason, he “retired” about that time. In 1915 his first work – a sonnet titled “Haunted” – was published in the Century magazine. In 1917 he went to work for the American Red Cross as a publicist. He worked for the Red Cross until 1927, moving, in 1919, to New York City.
The first Freddy book, To and Again, was published in 1927. From 1928-1932 Walter worked as a book review editor and columnist for The Outlook and Independent magazine, where he was one of the first reviewers to discover the work of Dashiell Hammett. From 1932-33 Walter worked for the New Yorker, writing “Talk of the Town” pieces. From 1933-1937 he was a Contributing Editor to Fiction Parade magazine and from 1938-1940 held a similar position with Scribner’s Commentator. From 1940 until the end of his life in 1958, Walter gave up editorial work and devoted full time to Freddy and the writing of his adult short stories.
In 1937 Walter and Anne discovered Roxbury. They were originally attracted to the village by the presence of an art school at the Burro Ranch (Anne was an artist, who specialized in portraits). Within a year or so, Walter had leased property from a nearby farmer and built the cabin on a hill above Roxbury where he and Anne summered until 1948 when they moved to Roxbury year-round, buying the house on Main Street that the Friends of Freddy make a pilgrimage to after conventions. Anne died in 1952 and, two months later, Walter married Dorothy Collins. Walter died on August 17, 1958.
Walter’s first short story for adults, “Harden’s Chance,” appeared in the Forum magazine for December 1915. From then until 1934 he published thirty-three more. Starting in September 1934, he began selling stories to Esquire and hit his stride as a short story writer. Altogether he published more than 180 stories, 25 of which starred Ed, the talking horse.
Walter published one novel for adults, Ernestine Takes Over (Morrow 1935) and a guidebook, New York: An Intimate Guide (Knopf 1931). A second novel, The Romantic Liars, was serialized in Country Gentleman magazine in 1925 but was never published in hardcover.
Talking Animals and Others
Michael Cart’s long-awaited biography of Walter R. Brooks, Talking Animals and Others, is available through Amazon and Overlook. For an autographed copy, please send a check made out to “Friends of Freddy” to Michael Cart, 3250 Forsythia Drive, Columbus, IN 47203. The cost is $30 for the first copy and $18 for additional copies ordered at the same time.