Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search results

Scott, W. B. (Walter Bernard), 1906-1980

 Person

Dates

  • Existence: 1906-1980

Walter Bernard Scott was born November 29, 1906 at Macon, Georgia. He spent his early years in Georgia, California, and New York City, and attended high school first in New York and then in Easton, Pennsylvania. In 1924, he entered Lafayette College there, graduating in 1929 magna cum laude with honors in English and a Bachelor of Arts degree. The following year he studied and taught at New York University on a teaching fellowship. Scott spent much of 1930-1931 abroad, mostly in Paris, returning in the fall of 1931 to begin graduate work at Princeton University. In 1933 he received his Master’s Degree and in 1934 his Ph.D.

For the next five years, Scott taught in Princeton’s English Department. He married Elizabeth Franklin in June 1936. They had no children. In the spring of 1939, he accepted a position at Northwestern University’s School of Speech as Assistant Professor of Dramatic Literature. “I had become more interested in drama,” he later said, “so I was very happy at the possibility of a job like this, with a chance to specialize.”

Ten years later, in 1949, Northwestern promoted Scott to Associate Professor, and then to Professor in 1963. In 1956-1960, Scott held a Fulbright professorship at the universities of Toulouse and Nancy in France. He became professor emeritus at Northwestern in 1976.

Beyond his work as a teacher and critic, Scott was best known for his literary parodies, many of which were compiled and published by Ardis in 1978 under the title Chicago Letter & Other Parodies, and reissued by Northwestern University Press in 1985 as Parodies, Etcetera & So Forth. Chicago Letter did not receive wide distribution, but Jonathan Brent did give it a glowing review in Chicago Magazine. “The many masterpieces in this unique, well-edited collection of W.B. Scott’s little-known parodies will arouse, tickle, and exasperate those at all familiar with the pretensions and sanctities of ‘high’ art and scholarship,” he wrote. Vladimir Nabokov told The New York Times that Scott’s parody of his work was “a masterpiece. It was so full of plums, that I read it three times. It’s absolutely splendid.”

Prof. Richard Ellmann, a close friend of Scott’s and a pre-eminent Yeats scholar, wrote “W.B. Scott has been known for years to a coterie as one of the wittiest men in America. But his works were buried in other men’s anthologies and in magazines and in privately circulated commentary.” Prof. Gerald Graff, who edited Scott’s published parodies, noted that

Only a fraction of Walter Scott’s best satiric writing had been written for publication…. Walter ran a one-man office industry which produced an unending delightful, not infrequently outrageous, stream of letters, parodies, travesties, faked official notices, faked photographs, and other items falling under no known classification. Many of these creations were wildly (at times obscenely) illustrated with cut-outs from newspapers and magazines or drawings from Walter’s own hand, for Walter had the gift of translating his writer’s sense of the whimsical into line drawings… The products of the Scott workshop went out almost daily to Northwestern colleagues, administrators, and students lucky enough to be on Walter’s mailing-list.

His circle, which included colleagues such as Ellmann, Harrison Hayford, George Cohen, Lyndon Shanley, Wallace Douglas, Carl Condit, and Ruth Marcus, met every Saturday for long lunches at Michelini’s Restaurant in Evanston. He also kept up prodigious correspondence with old friends who had scattered across the world. Regular letters and clippings went off to, among others, David and Ellie DuVivier in Europe. His letters included, besides the frequent parodies and humorously annotated clippings, musings on literature and politics, and reports on life in Evanston.

Scott died of a heart attack on March 13, 1980, at the age of 73. A memorial service was held on March 21 at Alice Millar Chapel. Roy V. Wood, dean of the School of Speech, said that Scott “embodied, in so many ways, the true values of liberal education and scholarship.” He quoted Scott as having said, “At my best moments – rare enough for all of us, God knows – I am a pretty good teacher, as many students I respect have told me. I am neither a showman nor a charlatan. I do not think the business of education is to entertain students, or to make them feel good, … if inadvertently in the course of being instructed they should feel good, so much the better.” Lyndon Shanley, a retired English professor, added that an interviewer had once asked Scott if he enjoyed teaching. “Well,” Scott replied, “it’s better than working.”

Elizabeth Franklin Scott (1906-2002) biographical sketch:

Since this collection contains material relating to Elizabeth Franklin Scott (1906-2002), it seems appropriate to include a concise overview of her life. Elizabeth E. Franklin was born on April 18, 1906 in Dalton, Pennsylvania to Jesse and Emma Lewis. Franklin. She attended the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, receiving a Bachelors of Arts degree and completing some graduate level work. She married Walter B. Scott in 1936 while he was on the faculty at Princeton University. After coming to Evanston when her husband was appointed to the Northwestern faculty in 1939, Elizabeth Scott spent many years as Executive Director of Unity Preschool. The curriculum at the school included a focus on educating children through the use of music and song. She also worked with foreign students attending local universities, including Northwestern, tutoring them in English. Elizabeth Scott died December 1, 2002 at the age of 96.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Walter Bernard Scott (1906-1980) Papers

 Collection
Identifier: 20/29
Abstract Teacher, critic, and parodist Walter B. Scott taught Dramatic Literature in Northwestern's School of Speech (now the School of Communication) from 1939-1976. His Papers document his life, teaching career, and writings. A highlight of the collection is Scott's engagement with a vibrant group of colleagues.