Oppenheimer, Evelyn (1907–1998)

By: James Karney

Type: Biography

Published: June 16, 2021

Updated: July 14, 2021


Evelyn Oppenheimer, author, book agent, and editor, is best-known for her six-decades career as a book reviewer and lecturer in Dallas beginning in the 1930s. Her weekly radio program, Book Talk, was broadcast on Dallas radio stations from 1948 to 1998. Born in Dallas on October 20, 1907, Oppenheimer was the sole surviving child of Louis and Gertrude (Baum) Oppenheimer, both children of German Jewish immigrants. Her father owned Texas Butcher Supply, the first butcher supply company in Texas, which afforded the family a comfortable lifestyle. She attended Dallas public schools and in 1925 graduated with honors from Forest Avenue High School, where she was a state and regional award-winning debater and a literary editor. She attended the University of Chicago from 1925 to 1929 after being denied admission to Columbia University due to her Jewish heritage. Majoring in literature, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a Ph.B. from Chicago in 1929.

While at Chicago she began writing book reviews for local newspapers and remained in the city until late 1931. When she returned to Dallas, she began her oral book reviewing career in early 1932 with presentations at Temple Emanu-El and Sanger’s department store. Throughout the 1930s she wrote reviews for the Dallas Herald newspaper and made book presentations (she later called them lectures) to women’s clubs and at downtown Dallas department stores. As her reputation grew, by the end of the decade she was making regular lecture trips to Houston, Beaumont, San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Lubbock, Amarillo, and other Texas cities. Oppenheimer began to appear on Dallas radio stations in the 1940s. With a desire to reach a wider audience beyond newspaper reviews and in-person lectures, in 1948 she began a regular book review and news program that would air for fifty years. The program was initially sponsored by the Dallas drugstore Skillerns and later by department stores with book departments and independent book stores in Dallas. The program, later known as Book Talk, aired on Dallas radio stations KRLD, WFAA, KXIL, and, from 1973 until May 1998, WRR. The format of the show included a book review by Oppenheimer, announcements of upcoming book releases, authors visiting Dallas in the coming week, and other literary events. During the 1950s and 1960s she also featured an occasional author interview. Radio stations in Houston, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles also broadcast the program.

With connections to the publishing industry, Oppenheimer became a literary agent beginning in the 1940s. Her clientele increased to include Stanley Marcus, Frank X. Tolbert, artist Peter Hurd, and others, including some Texas and Southwest authors who felt ignored or distrustful of New York-based agents and publishers. Oppenheimer authored nine books, including an autobiography, A Book Lover in Texas (1994), and two books on presenting oral book reviews. She edited two other books, including a collection of Frank X. Tolbert’s newspaper columns, Tolbert of Texas: The Man and His Work (1986). Oppenheimer was elected to membership in the Texas Institute of Letters in 1977 and was honored for her lifetime contributions by the Book Publishers of Texas in 1987. From the late 1950s through the 1970s she taught college and adult education classes on book reviewing at the University of Texas; Texas Tech University; Southern Methodist University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Wisconsin–Extension.

Oppenheimer worked on her then bi-monthly radio program until the spring before her death in Dallas on September 3, 1998. She was interred at Temple Emanu-El Cemetery in Dallas in a family plot with her parents and a sister who died during infancy. The majority of her professional papers, a collection of 800 first edition books, and recordings of her radio program from 1971 to 1995 are held by the Bridwell Library’s Special Collections Department at Southern Methodist University. Other papers of Oppenheimer’s are housed at the University of North Texas and the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University.

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Dallas Morning News, June 19, 1995; September 4, 1998. Evelyn Oppenheimer, A Book Lover in Texas (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1995). Evelyn Oppenheimer Papers, Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

Categories:

  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Radio and Television
  • Peoples
  • Jews
  • Women
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Authors and Writers
  • Literature

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century

Places:

  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

James Karney, “Oppenheimer, Evelyn,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 24, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/oppenheimer-evelyn.

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June 16, 2021
July 14, 2021

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