|Name:||Robert W. Service|
|Birth Day:||January 16, 1874|
|Death Date:||Sep 11, 1958 (age 84)|
British-born poet who wrote "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," "The Cremation of Sam McGee," and "The Call of the Wild." His poetry collections include Songs of a Sourdough and Rhymes of a Red Cross Man.
As per our current Database, Robert W. Service died on Sep 11, 1958 (age 84).
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Robert W. Service grew up with nine siblings in Lancashire, England and Glasgow, Scotland. Robert W. Service moved to Canada in his early twenties.
Whitehorse was a frontier town, less than ten years old. Located on the Yukon River at the White Horse Rapids, it had begun in 1897 as a campground for prospectors on their way to Dawson City to join the Klondike Gold Rush. The railroad that Service rode in on, the White Pass and Yukon Route, had reached Whitehorse only in 1900.
In 1899, Service was a store clerk in Cowichan Bay, British Columbia. He mentioned to a customer (Charles H. Gibbons, editor of the Victoria Daily Colonist) that he wrote verses, with the result that six poems by "R.S." on the Boer Wars had appeared in the Colonist by July 1900 – including "The March of the Dead" that would later appear in his first book. (Service's brother, Alick, was a prisoner of the Boers at the time. He had been captured on November 15, 1899, alongside Winston Churchill.)
The Colonist also published Service's "Music in the Bush" on September 18, 1901, and "The Little Old Log Cabin" on March 16, 1902.
In 1903, down on his luck, Service was hired by a Canadian Bank of Commerce branch in Victoria, British Columbia, using his Commercial Bank letter of reference. The bank "watched him, gave him a raise, and sent him to Kamloops in the middle of British Columbia. In Victoria he lived over the bank with a hired piano, and dressed for dinner. In Kamloops, horse country, he played polo. In the fall of 1904, the bank sent him to their Whitehorse branch in Yukon. With the expense money he bought himself a raccoon coat."
Service's book, Songs of a Sourdough, given the more Jack London-ish title, The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses in the United States, was "an immediate success." It went through seven printings even before its official release date. Ultimately, Briggs "sold fifteen impressions in 1907. That same year there was an edition in New York, Philadelphia, and London. The London publisher, T. Fisher Unwin, struck a twenty-third printing in 1910, and thirteen more by 1917." "Service eventually earned in excess of $100,000 for Songs of a Sourdough alone" (equal to about $2.7 million today after inflation).
"In 1908, after working for the bank for three years in Whitehorse, he was sent outside on mandatory paid leave for three months, a standard practice for bank employees serving in the Yukon." According to Enid Mallory, he went to Vancouver and looked up Constance MacLean. Now that he was a successful author, she agreed to become engaged to him.
Following his leave, in 1908 the bank transferred Service to Dawson, where he met veterans of the Gold Rush, now ten years in the past: "they loved to reminisce, and Robert listened carefully and remembered." He used their tales to write a second book of verse, Ballads of a Cheechako, in 1908. "It too was an overwhelming success."
In 1909, when the bank wanted Service to return to Whitehorse as manager, he decided to resign. "After quitting his job, he rented a small two-room cabin on Eighth Avenue in Dawson City from Mrs. Edna Clarke and began his career as a full-time author." He immediately "went to work on his novel.... He went for walks that lasted all night, slept till mid-afternoon, and sometimes didn't come out of the cabin for days. In five months the novel, entitled The Trail of '98, was complete and he took it to a publisher in New York." Service's first novel also "immediately became a best-seller."
From 1909 to 1912, Robert Service lived in a small two-room cabin on Eighth Avenue, which he rented from Edna Clarke in Dawson City. His prosperity allowed him the luxury of a telephone. Service eventually decided he could not return to Dawson, as it would not be as he remembered it. He wrote in his autobiography:
Newly wealthy, Service was able to travel to Paris, the French Riviera, Hollywood, and beyond. He returned to Dawson City in 1912 to write his third book of poetry, Rhymes of a Rolling Stone (1912). During that time he became a freemason, being initiated into Yukon Lodge No. 45 in Dawson.
It is unclear what happened between Service and Constance MacLean as no known letters between them exist after Service's departure for Dawson City. In 1912 she "married Leroy Grant, a surveyor and railroad engineer based in Prince Rupert."
Service left Dawson City for good in 1912. From 1912 to 1913 he was a correspondent for the Toronto Star during the Balkan Wars.
In 1913, Service moved to Paris, remaining there for the next 15 years. He settled in the Latin Quarter, posing as a painter. In June 1913, he married Parisienne Germaine Bourgoin, daughter of a distillery owner, and they purchased a summer home at Lancieux, Côtes-d'Armor, in the Brittany region of France. Thirteen years younger than her husband, Germaine Service survived him by 31 years, dying aged 102 on December 26, 1989 in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
Service was 41 when World War I broke out; he attempted to enlist, but was turned down "due to varicose veins." He briefly covered the war for the Toronto Star (from December 11, 1915, through January 29, 1916), but "was arrested and nearly executed in an outbreak of spy hysteria in Dunkirk." He then "worked as a stretcher bearer and ambulance driver with the Ambulance Corps of the American Red Cross, until his health broke." Convalescing in Paris, he wrote a new book of mainly war poetry, Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, in 1916. The book was dedicated to the memory of Service's "brother, Lieutenant Albert Service, Canadian Infantry, Killed in Action, France, August 1916." Robert Service received three medals for his war service: 1914–15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
In 1926, Archibald MacMechan, Professor of English at Canada's Dalhousie University, pronounced on Service's Yukon books in his Headwaters of Canadian Literature:
Service's first novel, The Trail of '98, was made into a movie by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, directed by Clarence Brown. "Trail of '98 starring Dolores del Río, Ralph Forbes and Karl Dane in 1929 ... was the first talking picture dealing with the Klondike gold rush and was acclaimed at the time by critics for depicting the Klondike as it really was."
In 1930, Service returned to Kilwinning, to erect a memorial to his family in the town cemetery. He also visited the USSR in the 1930s and later wrote a satirical "Ballad of Lenin's Tomb". For this reason his poetry was never translated into Russian in the USSR, and he was never mentioned in Soviet encyclopedias.
Reviewing Service's Rhymes of a Rebel in 1952, Frye remarked that the book "interests me chiefly because ... I have noticed so much verse in exactly the same idiom, and I wonder how far Mr. Service's books may have influenced it. There was a time, fifty years ago," he added," when Robert W.Service represented, with some accuracy, the general level of poetic experience in Canada, as far as the popular reader was concerned.... there has been a prodigious, and, I should think, a permanent, change in public taste."
Service wrote prolifically during his last years, publishing six books of verse from 1949 to 1955. A book he had written in 1956 was published posthumously. In the spring of 1958, not long before Service died, Canadian broadcaster Pierre Berton recorded many hours of autobiographical television interview for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, in Service's Monte Carlo flat. At this occasion, Service recited The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee
During World War II, Service lived in California, "and Hollywood had him join with other celebrities in helping the morale of troops – visiting U.S. Army camps to recite his poems. He was also asked to play himself in the movie The Spoilers (1942), working alongside Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne and Randolph Scott. "He was thrilled to play a scene with Marlene Dietrich." After the war, Service and his wife returned to his home in Brittany, to find it destroyed. They rebuilt, and he lived there until his death in 1958, although he wintered in Monte Carlo on the French Riviera. Service's wife and daughter, Iris, travelled to the Yukon in 1946 "and visited Whitehorse and Dawson City, which by then was becoming a ghost town. Service could not bring himself to go back. He preferred to remember the town as it had been."
Margaret Rutherford recited most of "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" in the 1964 film Murder Most Foul.
In 1968 Canadian-born country singer Hank Snow recorded recitations of eight of Service's longer poems for an album entitled, Tales of the Yukon. The album was released by RCA Victor. Snow and other musicians including Chet Atkins and Chubby Wise provided background music.
After Service left for Europe, the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.) took care of the cabin until 1971, preserving it. In 1971 it was taken over by Parks Canada, which maintains it, including its sod roof, as a tourist attraction.
He was honoured on a Canadian postage stamp in 1976. The Robert Service Way, a main road in Whitehorse, is named after him.
Irish-born actor Tom Byrne created The Robert Service Show, which was presented in the front yard of the cabin, starting in 1978. This was very popular for summer visitors and set the standard for Robert Service recitations. Byrne discontinued the show at the cabin in 1995, moving it to a Front Street storefront. Since 2004 the show has been held at the Westmark Hotel in Dawson City during the summer months. Byrne later retired, and passed away in 2019.
The town of Lancieux, where he used to come every summer, organized several recognitions to the memory of Robert W. Service. One of the streets of Lancieux has been named Robert Service Street. On July 13, 1990, a commemorative tablet was unveiled at the Lancieux Office du Tourisme by the daughter of the poet: Iris Service. An evening of celebration was organized afterward with a dinner attended by many guests from Scotland and the Yukon. A few years later, on May 18, 2002 the school of Lancieux in Brittany took the name of "École Robert W. Service". Charlotte Service-Longépé, the great granddaughter and the granddaughter of the poet, attended the dedication ceremony and made a speech. Since 2000, the towns of Lancieux and Whitehorse are sister cities, due to Robert W. Service's life and work in both places.
In her 2006 biography, Under the Spell of the Yukon, Enid Mallory revealed that Service had fallen in love during this period. He was working as a "farm labourer and store clerk when he first met Constance MacLean at a dance in Duncan B.C., where she was visiting her uncle." MacLean lived in Vancouver, on the mainland, so he courted her by mail. Though he was smitten, "MacLean was looking for a man of education and means to support her" so was not that interested. To please her, he took courses at McGill University's Victoria College, but failed.
Currently, Robert W. Service is 148 years, 8 months and 12 days old. Robert W. Service will celebrate 149th birthday on a Monday 16th of January 2023.
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