Elser, Frank Ball (1885–1935)

By: Douglas Martin Dawson

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Frank Elser, newspaperman, novelist, playwright, son of Elizabeth (Loving) and Maximilian Elser, was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on September 9, 1885. His parents were pioneer residents of the town, his mother a descendant of novelist Henry Fielding. Elser attended Mercersburg Academy, Pennsylvania, and graduated in 1902. He attended Cornell for two years and returned to Fort Worth in 1904 to write for the Fort Worth Telegram (see FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM). There followed stints with newspapers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and work as a publicist for some traveling circus acts. Elser began his New York journalistic career in 1906 as telegraph editor with the Evening Sun and moved to the Associated Press in 1908 as city editor. He served as correspondent with AP in London, where he covered the British in Belgium and the sinking of the Lusitania (1915). With the New York Times, he accompanied Gen. John J. Pershing on his punitive expedition against Francisco (Pancho) Villa in 1916 and was night city editor in 1916–17. Elser also contributed to Century, Colliers, and the Saturday Evening Post. He wrote one well-received novel, The Keen Desire (1926), based on his early newspaper experience in Fort Worth, Little Rock, and New York. In theater, he adapted Liam O'Flaherty's novel Mr. Gilhooley for the Broadway stage in 1930. Low Bridge (1933) and The Farmer Takes a Wife (1934) were both adaptations of Rome Haul, Walter D. Edmonds's account of life on the Erie Canal around 1850 and the coming of the railroads. The Farmer Takes a Wife, coauthored by Marc Connelly and starring Henry Fonda, enjoyed a successful run and earned critical acclaim.

Elser was a member of the Authors' League, the Dramatists' Guild, and Zeta Psi Fraternity. He married Rebecca Elsbry Mix in 1910. They had one son, Robert Fielding, born in 1911. Elser was at work on "a folk drama of Texas and Oklahoma in the Nineties, `a play about my own people,'" when he died, on January 31, 1935, at St. George, Grenada. He is buried in Cranford, New Jersey, where the Elsers lived for many years.

Goldie Capers Smith, The Creative Arts in Texas: A Handbook of Biography (Nashville: Cokesbury, 1926). New York Times, November 11, 1934, January 6, February 2, 1935.
  • Journalism
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Publications, Journals, and Magazines
  • Journals and Publications
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction
  • Screenwriters
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Douglas Martin Dawson, “Elser, Frank Ball,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/elser-frank-ball.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

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