Erma Bombeck

March 22, 2012
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Erma Louise Bombeck was an American humorist who achieved great popularity for her newspaper column that described suburban home life from the mid-1960s until the late 1990s. Bombeck also published 15 books in her life. From 1965 to 1996, Bombeck wrote over 4,000 newspaper columns chronicling the ordinary life of a Midwestern suburban housewife with broad, and sometimes eloquent humor. By the 1970s, her columns were read, twice weekly, by thirty million readers of the 900 newspapers of the U.S. and Canada

Erma was born in Bellbrook, Ohio. She grew up in a working-class family in Dayton, Ohio. In 1942, Bombeck entered Parker Vocational High School, where she wrote a serious column, mixing in bits of humor. In 1943, for her first journalistic work, Erma interviewed Shirley Temple, who visited Dayton, and the interview became a newspaper feature.

Bombeck completed high school in 1944. Then, to earn a college scholarship fund, she worked for a year as a typist and stenographer, for the Dayton Herald and several other companies, and did minor journalistic assignments for the Dayton Herald as well. She enrolled in the Roman Catholic University of Dayton. Bombeck lived in her family home and worked at Rike’s Store, a department store, where she wrote humorous material for the company newsletter.

In 1964, Bombeck resumed her writing career for the local Kettering-Oakwood Times, with weekly columns which yielded $3 each.  In 1965, the Dayton Journal Herald requested new humorous columns as well, and Bombeck agreed to write two weekly 450-word columns for $50. After three weeks, the articles went into national syndication through the Newsday Newspaper Syndicate, into 36 major U.S. newspapers, with three weekly columns under the title “At Wit’s End“. Bombeck quickly became a popular humorist nationwide. In 1967, her newspaper columns were compiled and published by Doubleday, under the title of “At Wit’s End.”

Aaron Priest, a Doubleday representative, became Bombeck’s loyal agent. By 1969, 500 U.S. newspapers featured her “At Wit’s End” columns, and she was also writing for Good Housekeeping Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, Redbook, McCall’s, and even Teen magazine. Bombeck and her family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to a lavish hacienda on a hilltop in Paradise Valley. In 1976, McGraw-Hill published Bombeck’s The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank, which became a best-seller. In 1978, Bombeck arranged both a million-dollar contract for her fifth book, If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? and Aunt Erma’s Cope Book (1979).

At the invitation of television producer Bob Shanks, Bombeck participated in ABC’s Good Morning America from 1975 until 1986. She began doing brief commentaries and eventually did both gag segments and important interviews. By 1985, Erma Bombeck’s three weekly columns were being published by 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, and were also being anthologized into a series of best-selling books. Bombeck belonged to the American Academy of Humor Columnists, along with other famous personalities.

Erma Bombeck passed away on April 22, 1996 from complications of a kidney transplant. She is interred at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton.

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