Marilyn Durham

1930 -



Twentieth-Century Western Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit), 1991.


American Libraries, January, 1973.

Best Sellers, September 15, 1973.

Christian Science Monitor, August 22, 1973, p. 13.

Life, December 8, 1972.

New Republic, September 16, 1972.

New York Times Book Review, July 30, 1972.

Publishers Weekly, July 31, 1972.

Time, August 7, 1972.

Vogue, October 1, 1972.

Woman's Day, October, 1972.

Writer's Digest, March, 1973.

SOURCE: Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2001. (

Born in Evansville, Indiana on September 8, 1930, Marilyn Durham was the daughter of Russell and Stacy Birdsall Wall. She married Kilburn Durham in 1950 after attending Evansville College (now the University of Evansville). Her novel, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing was made into a film by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer starring Burt Reynolds and Sarah Miles.

Source: Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 2000

The Writer's Almanac

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: September 8, 1999

It's the birthday in 1930, Evansville, Indiana, of writer MARILYN DURHAM, author of The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, (1972); the story set in the Wyoming Territory of the 1880s; about John Grobart, a train robber who years earlier married a young Shoshone girl named Cat Dancing.

Marilyn Durham was a housewife who read constantly. One night she announced to her husband that she could write a better book than some of those she had been spending time on, and wrote The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, a best-seller that became a major movie.


Marilyn Durham's novel The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing tells of John Wesley Grobart, an ex- soldier and ex-convict bent on robbing a train. On his way to the robbery, he kidnaps Catherine Crocker, a would-be passenger who is running away from an unhappy marriage. The novel follows the unlikely pair on their adventures in the Wyoming Territory of the 1880s. Grobart, known as Jay, is driven through the wilderness by a quest to resolve his past. As a young man he had married a young Shoshone girl named Cat Dancing; they had two children. Cat was assaulted and murdered, and Jay spent ten years in jail for killing the Indians he believed to be her murderers. His children have been living with the tribe of their mother, and now Jay wants them back.

The quest is hampered by relentless pursuit from Catherine's husband and a railway agent named Harvey Lapchance. During a headlong flight through rugged terrain, hiding from their pursuers and struggling for sustenance, Catherine and Jay discover romance. It is here, according to some critics, that the novel transcends the typical western.

"Durham focused on her characters," writes Vicki Piekarski in Twentieth-Century Western Writers, "adeptly exploring their inner workings and psychological subtleties." A New Republic reviewer agrees that Durham provides "a depth of emotion and psychological insight that is unusual. . . . The insight into Catherine is particularly impressive." As Piekarski describes it, "Catherine is essentially a 20th- century heroine espousing contemporary views about women in a 19th-century setting." Martha Duffy comments in Time that the novel "is basically pure feminine fantasy, but the treatment is so fresh and untroubled that the book is one of the most effective entertainments of recent months." Martin Levin writes in the New York Times Book Review: "If anything can be considered hot-weather literature, this is it. Mrs. Durham has staged a beautifully executed escape into the legendary past."

Dutch Uncle is also set during the late nineteenth century. The Dutch uncle is Jake Hollander, described by Piekarski as "an aging gunslinger turned professional gambler." He finds himself in the small mining town of Arredondo, New Mexico, where the isolated miners have spent their savings to import mail-order brides. Through a sequence of unforseeable events, Hollander becomes the town marshal, the defender of a wagonload of hopeful brides, and the foster parent of two Mexican orphans who are "perhaps Durham's finest creations," according to Piekarski. Hollander is drawn gradually into the life of the community and reluctantly into a relationship with a local spinster.

Dutch Uncle has been popular with its critics. J. F. Smith comments in the Christian Science Monitor, "This is that rare thing in any age: a thoroughly enjoyable, totally absorbing book. . . . [It] manages to be spine-chilling and heart-warming at the same time." In Best Sellers, P. J. Earl praises the novel for its "wit, pathos, violence, high comedy, suspense, and romance."

Pierkarski suggests that Durham's novels are not so much typical westerns as they are "basically main-stream novels, concerned with the dynamics of human relationships, which happen to be set in the west." She recommends them as "well-plotted stories with plenty of action and suspense as well as delightful characters."

Source: Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 2000


Fiction award, Society of Midland Authors, 1973, for The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.


Novelist and homemaker.



The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, Harcourt (New York City), 1972.

Dutch Uncle, Harcourt, 1973.

Flambard's Confession, Harcourt, 1982.


The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing was filmed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1973 and starred Burt Reynolds and Sarah Miles.

SOURCE: Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 2001. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2001. (