Collecting Delaware Books

James Warner Bellah 1899-1976

This article appeared in the January 1999 issue and was updated in 2006.

To Update

Delaware native James Warner Bellah did not use our state as a setting in his novels, short stories, and screenplays. But he did write a monumental article about Delaware for the March 1955 (vol. 17 no. 3) issue of Holiday Magazine.

Bellah writes, "Few outsiders have known Delaware (beyond Wilmington) for three centuries past, for like the Eastern Shore of Maryland, it has always lain off the beaten track of north-south travel."

He opens the article, saying, "To understand the Delaware character you will have to know my great-great-uncle [Edward Tatnall Bellah], and that will be difficult, for he was born in 1816 and died in 1899— … He made his own brandy from his own apples grown for that sole purpose. … In his long career as a banker and public servant, he refused ever to take an oath or make a sworn statement. 'Such specious approaches to the truth,' he wrote, 'are the terminal resorts of liars.' "

The lengthy text and large-format photographs tell of the Delaware of the 1950s from chateau country in the north to the beaches of the south. Old New Castle and downtown Dover are described in detail. There is a picture of 83-year-old retired U.S. Senator John G. Townsend standing in a sea of chickens in Selbyville and 78-year-old Irénée du Pont at Granogue. A full-page picture shows 1954 Miss Delaware, Barbara Woodall, at Rehoboth Beach.

The text is rambling but well-written. It dwells at length on the du Pont dominance of the state and gives a several pages to family and company history. On the other hand, Bellah says Kent and Sussex Counties have "a certain Southern flavor" and likens the accent to that of the Georgia hinterlands.

If you try to purchase a copy of this article, get the whole magazine and do not miss the great ad for the 1955 Ford Thunderbird on the inside front cover.

Little biographical information on Bellah is available. In World War I he joined the Canadian Army and served as a pilot overseas in the Royal Air Corps. Just before World War II he enlisted in the U.S. Army, rising from the rank of lieutenant to colonel and serving on several general staffs in Southeast Asia.

Bellah was a successful novelist. He is not much collected in Delaware, because the novels lack Delaware settings. A few of his fiction writings include These Frantic Years 1927, The Gods of Yesterday 1928, The Sons of Cain 1928, Dancing Lady 1932, White Piracy 1933, The Brass Gong Tree 1936, This is the Town 1937, and The Bones of Napolean 1940. His non-fiction Soldiers Battle: Gettysburg appeared in 1962. He wrote a large number of short stories for the better magazines.

He was also a successful Hollywood screenwriter and a favorite of director John Ford. Bellah wrote the screenplay for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 1962 with Willis Goldbeck, based on a story by Dorothy M. Johnson. He also was screenwriter for Thunder of Drums 1961, X-15 1961, and The Sea Chase 1955.

His novels Dancing Lady and The Command were made into a movies. The movie Fort Apache was based on his short story "Massacre" (later issued as a book),and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was based on "War Party." He both wrote the book and was the screenwriter for Seargeant Rutledge. Bellah even appeared in bit parts or as an extra in some movies including The Man Behind the Gun 1952. Many of his movies are available on videocassettes or DVDs.

A complete bibliography for Bellah is difficult to compile. There is confusion between novel titles, short stories, and movie scripts. On several occasions, movie scripts were rewritten as books. Further, his son, James Bellah, was a novelist and wrote Imperial Express which is sometimes attributed to the father. Below is a list of novels gleaned from current (2006) used book dealers' catalogs. Entries marked with "(?)" are titles for which no copy was found for sale. After the first few titles, most books were issued in both hardback and soft cover.


The following comment was received by e-mail in 2008.

While researching James Warner Bellah, I ran across your fine site. Very interesting and please keep up the research--it was helpful. I can add the following: WARD 20 was published in 1946 by Doubleday and it appears 1945 by Appleton. My title-page on my Doubleday edition is a cancel and has been replaced by Doubleday--possibly explaining the on-line entry for an Appleton edition in 1945. Our Doubleday edition says it us a "First Edition" but I doubt it as their is (2) on the last page of text--Appleton's designation for edition (which should appear as (1). Much a do about little here--but interesting for accuracy. Best regards, Malcolm Bell, Bookfellows

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