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O. Henry

O. Henry was an American writer of The Gift of the Magi, The Ransom of Red Chief, and The Last Leaf fame. His work was notable for his use of startling twist endings that popularized the term "O. Henry Ending" to symbolize stories with a surprise conclusion.

Biographical fast facts

Full or original name at birth: William Sidney Porter*

Date, time and place of birth: September 11, 1862, at approximately 9 p.m., Worth Place plantation, Guilford County, near Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S.A.

Date, time, place and cause of death: June 5, 1910, at 7:06 a.m., New York Polyclinic Hospital, New York City, New York, U.S.A. (Diabetes / Cirrhosis of the liver)

Marriage #1
Spouse: Athol Estes (m. July 5, 1887 - July 25, 1897) (her death)
Wedding took place in the front parlor of Reverend Richmond Smoot's home on West 6th, Austin, Texas.

Marriage #2
Spouse: Sara Lindsay Coleman (m. November 27, 1907 - June 5, 1910) (his death)

Son: Anson Porter (b. and d. 1888, a few hours after his birth)
Daughter: Margaret Worth Porter (b. September 30, 1889 - d. 1927) (daughter)

Father: Algernon Sidney Porter (a physician) (b. August 22, 1825 - d. September 30, 1888, at 1:40 a.m.)
Mother: Mary Jane Virginia (Swaim) Porter (b. February 12, 1833 - d. September 26, 1865, at 7:30 p.m.)

Burial site: Riverside Cemetery, 53 Birch Street, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A.

Error correction or clarification

* His middle name was originally spelled Sidney, but he later changed it to Sydney. Contrary to many reports, he was not born William Sydney Porter.

Source information: The majority of the above times of birth and death were gleaned from the Porter family Bible.

Biography - Selected writing credits

When William Sidney Porter was three, his mother died of tuberculosis, and the Porter family moved to the home of his paternal grandmother, Ruth Porter. William's grandmother and unmarried aunt, Evelina Maria Porter, would now be responsible for raising the children. William was an avid reader, and developed a lifelong love of books. Following his schooling, he began working as a bookkeeper and pharmacist's assistant at his uncle's drugstore, W.C. Porter and Company Drug Store. By 1881, he'd become a licensed pharmacist. During this period, he became known locally for the cartoons and sketches he would produce of the townspeople, while working at the store. After relocating to Texas in 1882, he held various jobs, including ranch hand, pharmacist, draftsman, journalist, and a teller in an Austin bank.

He began writing in the late 1880s, while continuing his freelance illustrating and cartooning. In 1887, he married Athol Estes. The following year she would give birth to a son, but he lived just a few hours. Their daughter Margaret was born September 30th, 1889. In 1894, he began publishing a humorous weekly called The Rolling Stone. He was working as a teller at the First National Bank of Austin during the day, and producing sketches, satire, and stories for his publication by night. As bills began mounting at The Rolling Stone, evidence shows he began altering the books at the bank so he could "borrow" funds to cover the debts. He did it with the intent of repaying the money in the future, but an audit revealed the shortages before he could reimburse the stolen money. He resigned his position with the bank in 1894 after he was accused of embezzling funds. The Rolling Stone ceased publication the next year, and he went to work for the Houston Daily Post (1895-1896).

He was arrested on charges of embezzlement in 1896. While released on bond, he skipped town, escaping to New Orleans, and then Honduras. The next year, when he learned his wife was dying, he returned to face the charges. His wife Athol died July 25th, 1897, at 6 p.m., of tuberculosis.

Porter was found guilty of embezzlement of funds from the bank and sentenced to five years in jail. He was imprisoned at the Ohio State Penitentiary beginning April 25th, 1898. He used much of his free time in jail to write, and saw several of his stories published while behind bars. He was released from prison July 24th, 1901, for good behavior, after serving a little more than three years of his five year sentence.

By early 1902, Porter was living in New York City. Over the next few years, he would turn out literally hundreds of short stories and gain fame as one of America's favorite short story writers. He would marry again in 1907 to his childhood sweetheart, Sara Lindsay Coleman. He wrote prodigiously for several years, but his output declined as his life was increasingly marred by ill health, debts, and alcoholism. Despite O. Henry's fame and enormous success as a writer, he died a poor man.

The author's pseudonym, O. Henry, allegedly originated from his habit of calling "Oh, Henry" to the family cat. Other sources report the inspiration for his pen name came from one of the prison guards who was named Orrin Henry.

In addition to his more famous works, such as, The Gift of the Magi, The Last Leaf, The Furnished Room, The Ransom of Red Chief, and A Municipal Report, his writing credits include, The Miracle of Lava Canyon (1897), Georgia's Ruling (1900), Cabbages and Kings (1904), The Four Million (1906), The Trimmed Lamp (1907), The Voice of the City (1907), Heart of the West (1907), Roads of Destiny (1909), Options (1909), Strictly Business (1910), Whirligigs (1910), Let Me Feel Your Pulse (1910), and Rolling Stones (published posthumously in 1912).

Many of his stories have been adapted into motion pictures, television series and TV-movies. The Cisco Kid was one of the most famous characters he created in The Caballero's Way from Heart of the West, his book of Western short stories. The Cisco Kid that O. Henry created, and the one that appeared years later in films and television, were significantly different characters.

Half a century after his death, new generations would become familiar with O. Henry-type endings thanks to Rod Serling's award-winning The Twilight Zone, and its use of surprise twist endings.

To memorialize his place in American literature, in 1918, the Society of Arts and Sciences established the O. Henry Award. It has gone on to become one of the most prestigious short story awards in America.

Visit these works by O. Henry
The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes
After Twenty Years
Aristocracy Versus Hash
The Assessor of Success
At Arms with Morpheus
The Badge of Policeman O'Roon
The Buyer from Cactus City
By Courier
The Caballero's Way
The Cactus
The Caliph and the Cad
A Chaparral Christmas Gift
The City of Dreadful Night
The Cop and the Anthem
The Count and the Wedding Guest
The Dog and the Playlet
The Dream
The Duplicity of Hargraves
The Enchanted Kiss
Fickle Fortune, or How Gladys Hustled
A Fog in Santone
The Furnished Room
The Gift of the Magi
Hearts and Hands
The Lady Higher Up
The Last Leaf
A Lickpenny Lover
A Little Talk About Mobs
The Lost Blend

Makes the Whole World Kin
Man About Town
The Marionettes
Memoirs of a Yellow Dog
A Municipal Report
New York by Camp Fire Light
A Newspaper Story
October and June
The Pride of the Cities
The Prisoner of Zembla
The Ransom of Red Chief
A Retrieved Reformation
The Robe of Peace
The Romance of a Busy Broker
Round The Circle
A Snapshot at the President
The Sparrows in Madison Square
Squaring the Circle
A Strange Story
Tracked to Doom
Transients in Arcadia
Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen
Ulysses and the Dogman
An Unfinished Christmas Story
The Voice of the City
Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking
Witches' Loaves

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