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Ade, George, 1866-1944



  • Existence: February 9, 1866 - May 16, 1944

Biographical Information

George Ade was born February 9, 1866 in Kentland, Indiana to John and Adaline [Bush] Ade. John Ade served as the first County Recorder of newly formed Newton County, which was organized in 1860. He was also a teller at the Discount and Deposit Bank of Kentland, where he became a partner in 1875. Adaline was a homemaker and cared for the couple's seven children: Anna, William, Alice, Joseph, Emma, George, and Ella. George Ade enjoyed a carefree childhood in the small rural community surrounded by family and friends. He was an average student; the high point came his senior year of high school when his essay, "A Basket of Potatoes," was published in the local newspaper. In 1881, John Ade was faced with a problem when his son graduated from high school; he realized that George had neither the aptitude nor the inclination for farm work. In Newton County, there were few opportunities outside of farming for a young man; college was considered a waste of time and money. One of George's high school teachers urged John to apply for one of the county scholarships that were being offered by the state to boost attendance at the state colleges.

Much to the amusement of John's neighbors, George's application [which was the only one submitted in Newton County that year] was accepted by Purdue University in West Lafayette. Adaline felt that her son was too young to be that far from home, so George spent an extra year in Kentland High School taking preparatory classes. In the fall of 1883, at the age of seventeen, George Ade boarded a train for West Lafayette and entered Purdue University. Purdue University had been founded by John Purdue only fourteen years earlier and Ade would later comment that when he arrived the "plaster was still wet in the corners." The student body consisted of two hundred students; Ade's incoming freshman class had thirty students, out of which only eight would graduate. He chose Science for his major because it had the least mandatory math requirements of any major offered by the college.

Ade joined the Sigma Chi fraternity, which had won a Supreme Court case allowing fraternities on campus earlier that year. Ade's affiliation with Sigma Chi would continue throughout his life; he served as Grand Consul in 1909, headed the Delta Delta Chapter House Building Association in 1912 and matched dollar-for-dollar all contributions raised to finance a new fraternity house. He also hosted the annual Sigma Chi Dinner at his estate.

Ade's first two years at college went smoothly; he was an adept but not brilliant student. However, during his last two years his grades began to drop and Ade would later joke that he was "at the top of my class ... alphabetically." He received an academic alert in 1886 for his poor grades in Physics and Zoology. Ade's drop in academic performance can be attributed in part to his newly discovered love for the theater and also his growing reputation as the easy-going host of many college parties and outings. Incoming freshman, John T. McCutcheon, had heard of Ade's reputation and was eager to meet the tall, quiet junior. Ade brought McCutcheon into Sigma Chi and they soon developed a close friendship that would last a lifetime. Another freshman caught Ade's attention, Lillian Howard. Ade courted the fair-haired Lafayette girl for four years until she broke his heart by marrying a Baptist minister from Minnesota. Ade often claimed that he was a lifelong bachelor because "another man married my girl."

Although Ade graduated in 1887, his affiliation with Purdue did not end. He became one of the largest donors in the University's history, personally donating funds for the construction of the Memorial Gymnasium and the Memorial Union Building. He was a tireless fundraiser for various university projects and programs and a staunch supporter of Purdue's athletic teams. George Ade served on the Purdue Board of Trustees from 1909 to 1916 and was an active member of the Purdue Alumni Association his entire life.

Ade's writing career did not begin until after he graduated from Purdue. He briefly thought about becoming a lawyer and studied law for about seven weeks before he quit and joined the Lafayette newspaper, The Morning News, as a reporter. However, the News soon went out of business and Ade found work with another Lafayette newspaper, The Call. Ade soon developed a friendly newspaper rivalry with the Courier's star reporter, George Barr McCutcheon. George Barr, John McCutcheon's older brother, was also a Purdue alumnus, and would later gain fame as the author of many books including Graustark and Brewster's Millions. The two reporters enjoyed a playful rivalry; in order to amuse each other on slow days, they often inserted quotes from their favorite play characters into local news stories. Ade eventually left the Call in search of higher pay and went to work in a patent medicine business where he was in charge of promoting several products, among them a smoking cure called No-Tobac. The first instruction in Ade's promotional pamphlet was to quit using tobacco immediately.

In 1889, John T. McCutcheon graduated from Purdue and moved to Chicago where he was hired as an illustrator for the Morning News, which later became the Chicago Record. McCutcheon repeatedly urged Ade to join him and the following year Ade moved to Chicago and began working for the Record as a weather reporter. Ade and McCutcheon shared a small furnished hallway bedroom in a rooming house which earned them the nickname the "hall-bedroom twins." Ade's big break as a reporter came in July of 1890 when the freight steamer Tioga exploded on the Chicago River. Ade was the only reporter in the newsroom at the time and was sent to cover the disaster. His story was well received by the public and he was soon covering large events such as the Sullivan-Corbett fight in 1892 and the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Ade's colorful reporting style earned him a permanent column in the paper and he began to write a series about life in the city, Stories of the Streets and of the Towns. The public found Ade's use of everyday language and street slang innovative and refreshing and the series became an instant success. Ade fleshed out two of the stories, Artie and Pink Marsh, and published them as books, popularizing the series across the country. Ade began experimenting with stories written in fable form using modern day slang. The public loved the fables and by the late 1890s Ade was well known throughout America and had acquired many notable fans, including literary critic William Dean Howells and humorist Mark Twain.

In 1899, Ade quit the Chicago Record and began syndicating his Fables in Slang column in newspapers across the country; the columns were also compiled and published as a book later that year. Broadway took notice of the author and producers begged Ade to write a comic script for the stage. In 1898, Ade had written a one-act farce for the actress May Irwin for $200 which seemed like a fortune Ade at the time. He felt that the skit wasn't very good and for many years routinely apologized to Irwin for taking her money. Irwin kept the play in a trunk for years before dusting it off and using it as filler in one of her shows. The play, Mrs. Peckham's Carouse, became Irwin's biggest hit and she made back her $200 many times over. Ade also had written a comedy, The Night of the Fourth, which had been so thoroughly lambasted by the critics that he never put his name on it and quickly sold all rights to it. Ade's rather questionable theatre debut notwithstanding, he decided to give Broadway another try. In 1901, he wrote The Sultan of Sulu, using the story idea given to him by John McCutcheon, who had heard about the real life Sultan of Jolo on one of his trips aboard. The Sultan of Sulu was produced on Broadway in 1902 and was an instant success. Ade quickly followed it with Peggy from Paris and The County Chairman in 1903, and The Sho-Gun in 1904.

By the early 1900s, Ade had become financially successful and began sending his substantial earnings home to his father's bank to prove to the town that college hadn't been a waste of time after all. Ade trusted his brother William's investment skills and eventually ended up owning 2, 400 acres of productive farmland in the Newton County area. In 1902, one of William's purchases was 417 acres near Brook, Indiana (15 miles north of Kentland). Ade became attached to the grove of trees alongside the Iroquois River and envisioned a summer cottage where he could escape the ever increasing pressures of fame. With the help of a Chicago architect, his ideal cottage grew and eventually expanded into an estate with landscaped gardens, a pool, pool house, garage, greenhouse, barns, outbuildings, and a caretaker's house. In 1910, Ade added a golf course and country club. Ade christened the estate "Hazelden", a paternal family name. Over the years, Hazelden became the site of numerous political rallies, including the kick-off of William H. Taft's presidential campaign in 1908. Hazelden also hosted formal gatherings, actor retreats, golf tournaments, and Ade's famous annual party for local children.

In 1904, when construction on Hazelden was completed, Ade moved in and wrote his next play, The College Widow, in three weeks. In 1904, The College Widow joined The County Chairman and The Sho-Gun on Broadway, making George Ade the first playwright in history to have three plays running simultaneously. The story of the high jinks revolving around the football team of the fictional Wabash College [Ade's pseudonym for Purdue] became his most successful play. The energetic football game in the last act received rave reviews from New York critics while the colorful dialogue peppered with slang delighted playgoers. A few years later, the play went overseas to the Strand Theatre in London, where it only played for a few weeks. The British audience found the American slang confusing even with the explanatory booklet that accompanied the playbill.

In 1905, the stress of fame began to affect Ade's health and he returned to the Midwest, moving permanently into Hazelden. He frequently visited Chicago where John McCutcheon was working as an cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune. That year, the two, along with Edward M. Holloway, founded the Indiana Society of Chicago. At the time the Society was founded, Indiana was second only to New York in published authors. Many of the Indiana authors who were associated with the Society at the time included James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Meredith Nicholson, Kin Hubbard and George Barr McCutcheon. The Society's Hoosiers would gather from all across the country at annual dinners and outings, some of which were held at Hazelden. That year also saw the first of three Ade plays that would bomb, which marked the beginning of the end of Ade's reign on Broadway. Despite the declining popularity of his plays, Ade wrote four more; the last one, The Old Town, was produced on Broadway in 1910.

During World War I, Ade served for two years as director of war publicity on the Indiana State Council of Defense. Besides using Indiana as the setting in many of his plays and fables, Ade wrote numerous essays promoting his native land.

In 1922, Edward C. Elliott became President of Purdue University. Elliott, known throughout the country as an innovative educator, a recognized authority on education administration, and an avid college football fan soon developed a close friendship with George Ade. During the official welcome dinner honoring President Elliott, the university's largest benefactor, David Ross, formally announced that he and fellow alumnus George Ade had combined forces to purchase and donate the Tilt Farm to Purdue for the site of a new stadium and athletic field. The Ross-Ade Foundation was founded in 1923 to oversee stadium bond issues and assist the university.

By this time Ade had retired from playwriting but continued to write essays, short stories, and fables for various magazines and newspapers. He also ventured into the relatively new field of moving pictures, where he wrote over a hundred silent movie scripts and directed ten films. In 1931 he produced one more book, The Old-Time Saloon. Vehemently opposed to the 18th Amendment (making Prohibition the law across the United States), he wrote the book as a gentle nostalgic reminder of an age when the town saloon was a gathering place for local characters.

George Ade died on May 16, 1944 at the age of 78 from a heart attack.

Found in 8 Collections and/or Records:

George Ade papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSA 4
Scope and Contents The George Ade papers (1878-1947; 29 Cubic ft.) document the personal and professional life of author, humorist, and playwright George Ade. The collection includes original writings, manuscripts, personal correspondece, photographic materials, and artifacts. Notable persons include: John T. McCutcheon, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain, Booth Tarkington, James Whitcomb Riley, W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, Elsie Janis, Theodore Dreiser, "Chick" Evans, Orson Welles, Kin Hubbard, Theodore...
Dates: 1878 - 2007; Majority of material found within 1890 - 1943

Portrait photographs of John and Adaline (Bush) Ade

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 254
Scope and Contents Two oversized black and white portraits of George Ade's parents, John Ade and Adaline (Bush) Ade.
Dates: circa 1890-1905

George Ade papers, addition 01

 Unprocessed — Box: Communal Accessions 6
Identifier: 20150320.2

George Ade postcard

Identifier: 20160714

Purdue University Harlequin Club collection

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSP 173
Scope and Contents The Purdue University Harlequin Club collection contains programs and sheet music from the productions held by the club. Several of the productions are based on books and lyrics written by Purdue alummus and playwright, George Ade. The programs also feature some of the businesses in the area during the early 1900s. There is one button, "Wintergreen for President," from the Harlequin Show, "Of Thee I Sing," undated.
Dates: 1904 - 1951

Charles and Alice Shaw Major papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 82
Scope and Contents The Charles and Alice Shaw Major Papers (1847-1949; 51.25 cubic feet) document the personal and professional life of Charles Major and his wife Alice Major. Charles Major was an author and a member of the Purdue University board of trustees. The papers consist of Charles Major's literary works, materials from various theatrical productions, poetry written by Major, sketches, and materials from Major’s law career. The Majors' personal life is represented by the materials collected by Alice...
Dates: 1847-1949; Majority of material found within 1890-1924; Event: Date acquired: 11/30/1926

Purdue Club of Chicago scrapbook

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSP 216
Scope and Contents The Purdue Club of Chicago scrapbook (1885-1980; .45 cubic feet) documents the early years of the Purdue Club of Chicago. The collection primarily details alumni events and member organizing from 1890-1919. Several high-profile alumni lived in the Chicago area at this time including George Ade, John T. McCutcheon, and William F. Goss, and various materials created by or for them are included in this collection—Ade’s letters are of particular interest. The printed ephemera within the scrapbook...
Dates: 1885 - 1980; Majority of material found within 1890 - 1919

Ross-Ade Stadium records

 Collection — Box: Communal Collections 60, Placement: 01
Identifier: UA 112
Scope and Contents The Ross-Ade Stadium Records contains two information pamphlets about Ross-Ade Stadium and the Ross-Ade Foundation, one from 1924 and one from 1925. They list members of the Ross-Ade Foundation as well as provide information about the recreational field and stadium.
Dates: 1924 - 1925