Rex Ellingwood Beach, Class of 1900

Novelist, playwright and Olympic medalist

Rex Ellingwood Beach '90

Rex E. Beach was a well-known novelist, playwright and Olympic water polo player. Born in Michigan and raised in Florida, he attended Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida before moving to Chicago. While attending Kent College of Law, he worked part time in his brother’s law firm and played professional football with the Chicago Athletic Association. While he had planned to become a lawyer when he graduated in 1900, he instead headed for Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. After five years of unsuccessful prospecting, he turned to writing. His first novel, The Spoilers, was based on the true story of corrupt officials stealing gold mines from prospectors in Alaska and became one of the bestselling novels of 1906. 

Beach’s adventure novels were popular throughout the 1900s and he became known to some as the “Victor Hugo of the North.”  Many of his novels were later made into successful films, including The Spoilers, which was remade into movies five times between 1914 and 1955, with Gary Cooper appearing in the 1930 version and John Wayne starring in the 1942 film. In addition to more than thirty novels, Beach wrote a number of plays and dozens of short stories. He eventually settled with his wife in Sebring, Florida, where he went into the farming business and his 1935 novel Wild Pastures was set in the cattle lands surrounding Sebring.

Beach was also an accomplished athlete and was a member of the American water polo team which won the silver medal in the 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games.  He passed away in 1949 at the age of 72.