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The Photos That Inspired The Grapes Of Wrath

Who is that strange man? Where did he come from? Who photographed him?

Those are the questions that arose during my recent post about The Grapes of Wrath covers. I wondered if it might be Henry Fonda from the movie. Though there didn’t seem to be a movie tie-in with that particular cover, the guy kind of looked like Fonda.

Bba said it might be Tommy Lee Jones’ doppleganger. Yes, I see the resemblance. But then MutantSuperModel saved the day by posting this little tidbit of information she pulled from the web:

“Late in 1937, [Horace] Bristol proposed a story about migrant farm workers in Calfornia’s Central Valley—a project that would include accompanying text by novelist John Steinbeck. Though LIFE turned down the story, Bristol and Steinbeck agreed to collaborate on a book-length project, and the two men spent several weekends in labor camps during the winter of 1938. Bristol took hundreds of photographs of the suffering farm workers, only to have Steinbeck withdraw from the partnership to write the story as a novel, which became his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath.”

Well, there you go.

The Grapes of Wrath was originally supposed to be a book of photos. And these were amazing photos. Life Magazine paid Steinbeck and photographer Horace Bristol to follow the Okies for a while. Bristol took the pictures, while Steinbeck wrote the copy.

Not much happened with the photo book, but Steinbeck’s copy eventually became The Grapes of Wrath. Amazing.

Also interesting, these photos were used as reference material in casting for the film version of the movie in 1940. So, that explains why the guy kind of looks like Henry Fonda!

Take the time to look through a few of Horace Bristol’s amazing photos. This is outstanding photojournalism.

And, look, a fancy slideshow!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More about the life and career of Horace Bristol. 

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Matt #

    Love the one with the car beside the tent. Haunting.


    August 21, 2012
  2. What a fascinating insight to the process and development of this novel. Your posts are really giving a lot of depth to the whole experience of Grapes of Wrath.


    August 21, 2012
    • Thanks! That’s the idea of the blog. I learn a lot about each book and try and share as I go.


      August 21, 2012
  3. craft fear #

    “Retarded man with fanatic sister”
    I’d love to hear the story behind that title.


    August 21, 2012
  4. I’m glad my tidbit helped. I loved looking through his photos they were amazing. I was kind of disappointed Steinbeck abandoned it completely.


    August 22, 2012
  5. Carey #

    Fascinating photos and info! I love getting the back story on books and authors I am reading, but don’t always have the time to do so. Thanks for doing this kind of research for us at your blog!


    August 23, 2012
  6. carlagprieto #

    Thanks so much for your fascinating posts and research regarding Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” I can’t tell you how fascinating I’ve found the information you’ve revealed!


    April 15, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  5. Good Morning, Steinbeck « Stories in 5 Minutes
  6. The Grapes of Wrath (1940) | FLICKIPEDIA: There's a Movie for That

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