Born in India Creek, Texas in 1890, Katherine Anne Porter lost her mother at the age of two.
Raised primarily by her paternal grandmother, Porter became strong and self-reliant at an
early age. Both the loss of her mother and her father’s subsequent neglect had a lasting
effect on Porter—making her incredibly attentive to the harsh realities of the human endeavor.
At age fifteen she married John Henry Koontz, the first of four husbands. Throughout her
entire life she would continue to have passionate affairs marked by dramatic and vicious break-
ups. She spent her early twenties moving from Texas to Chicago and back, working as an
actress, a singer, and, later, a secretary. In 1917, after a battle with tuberculosis, Porter took a
job as a society columnist for the Fort Worth CRITIC. Two years later she moved to Greenwich
Village, where she began to work seriously as a fiction writer.
Supporting herself with journalism and "hack" writing, Porter
published her first story in CENTURY magazine. Though
CENTURY provided her with a good sum for the story,
Porter was rarely to return to popular magazine publishing,
choosing instead the freedom of little magazines. A
perfectionist concerned with controlling every word of her
stories, Porter gained a name for her flawless prose. Often
concerned with the themes of justice, betrayal, and the
unforgiving nature of the human race, Porter's writings
occupied the space where the personal and political meet.
Katherine Anne Porter was known for her penetrating insight; her work dealt with dark
themes such as betrayal, death and the origin of human evil.
Between 1948 and 1958, Porter taught at Stanford University, the
University of Michigan and the University of Texas, where her
unconventional manner of teaching made her popular with
students. In 1962, she published her only novel, Ship of Fools,
which was the best-selling novel in America for that year; its
success finally gave her financial security.
Despite Porter's claim that after the publication of Ship of Fools
she would not win any more prizes in America, in 1966 she was
awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The
Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, and that year was also
appointed to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
She died in Silver Spring, Maryland on September 18, 1980, at the age of 90, and her ashes
were buried next to her mother at Indian Creek Cemetery in Texas. Outliving most of her
contemporaries, the strong-willed Porter left behind an insightful body of work. Her flawless
pen and harsh criticism of not only her times, but of human society, made Porter a major
voice in twentieth century American literature.
SHIP OF FOOLS (1962), was Porter's first and only novel. Dealing
with the lives of a group of various and international travelers,
the book became an instant success. Based partially on a trip to
Germany thirty years earlier, SHIP OF FOOLS, attacked the weakness
of a society that could allow for the Second World War.
The story takes place in the summer of 1931, on board a cruise ship
bound for Bremerhaven, Germany. The passenger list is long and
portentous, and includes a Spanish noblewoman, a drunken German lawyer, an American
divorcee, a pair of Mexican Catholic priests, and a host of others. This ship of fools is a crucible
of intense experience, out of which everyone emerges forever changed. Rich in incident,
passion, and treachery, the novel explores themes of nationalism, cultural and ethnic pride,
and basic human frailty that are as relevant now as they were when the novel first appeared in
Gary F. Taylor - Amazon reviews
Less a plot-driven novel than a closely observed portrait, Porter's famous novel deftly exploits
the author's ability to focus on the telling details of personality--and the result is a sometimes
funny, often touching, and ultimately stinging examination of the insularity, hypocrisies, and
pretensions of shipboard passengers en route from Mexico to Germany on the eve of World
Porter's cast of characters are primarily German, but a handful of Spanish, Mexican, Swiss,
and American characters give the novel an international perspective. Whatever their individual
backgrounds, the characters tend to adopt reactionary postures toward and make
assumptions about their fellow travelers based on both class and nationality; consequently,
they tend to regard each other in a stereotypical light--but even as they fail to understand the
truths behind the stereotypes, Porter highlights their lack of comprehension in a frequently
comic but extremely disconcerting manner, thus demonstrating that her characters are at sea
in more ways than one.
Ship of Fools is a 1965 film which tells the overlapping stories of several
passengers aboard an ocean liner during the 1930s. It stars Vivien Leigh,
Simone Signoret, José Ferrer, Lee Marvin, Oskar Werner, Michael Dunn,
Elizabeth Ashley, George Segal, José Greco and Heinz Rühmann.
The movie was adapted by Abby Mann from the novel of the same name by Katherine Anne
Porter. It was directed by Stanley Kramer. It was to be Vivien Leigh's last film.
It won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White and Best
Cinematography, Black-and-White. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Oskar
Werner), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Dunn), Best Actress in a Leading Role
(Simone Signoret), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Best Picture and Best Writing,
Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Vivien Leigh was awarded the French
equivalent of the Oscar for her role.
From www.Wikipedia.com, the free encyclopedia
A vacationing American couple (Elizabeth Ashley and George Segal), and a group of money-
minded flamenco dancers (led by Barbara Luna) are also on board. The story is dark and
disturbing as we slowly become overwhelmed by the lives of the characters, who create a
cross-section of Germany's citizens (and the political climate which helped give rise to the
As a metaphor of pre-war Germany, SHIP OF FOOLS hits the mark superbly. The characters
are totally unaware that as their boat sails closer into Germany, they will ultimately enter a
storm from which many will never return. That inner-storm is most evident in the monstrous
character of Rieber, and Jose Ferrer plays the role with a megalomaniacal fervor which is
frightening to witness.
Playing the emotionally expired Treadwell, Vivien Leigh invests her performance with an
almost Chaplinesque fragility. The scene where she breaks into a frenzied Charleston was a
throwback to her showstopping turn in the Broadway musical "Tovarich"; she's simply
magical to watch in this movie, and although she's billed first in the credits, by no means is
she the "star" of this ensemble piece.
Simone Signoret and Oskar Werner provide the wounded center of the film, with the
thwarted affair between "La Contessa" and the ship's Doctor, plagued with heart trouble.
Michael Dunn is completely charming as Carl, a dwarf who acts as the audience's guide into
the story. Elizabeth Ashley and George Segal are memorable too, playing a couple who clearly
aren't meant to be together, but remain so out of a mutual need and pity. There are so many
great characters to like (and hate) in SHIP OF FOOLS that you'll find your own favourites.
This is a haunting and emotionally-involving drama you'll want to revisit again and again. I
was greatly-impressed by SHIP OF FOOLS.
The Film Ship Of Fools
Haunting character study of pre-war Germany, December 19, 2007
By Byron Kolln "Classic_MovieGuy"
In 1930 her first book, FLOWERING JUDAS was published
by Harcourt Brace. Though a masterly collection of short
stories, it met with only modest sales. It was not until
almost ten years later that she published her second book,
a collection of three short novels, PALE HORSE, PALE
RIDER. She followed this in 1944 with THE LEANING
TOWER AND OTHER STORIES. Concerning herself overtly
with the rise of Nazism, Porter was able to further
investigate the dark side of the average person. It was not,
however, until nearly twenty years later that she was able
to address the topic in greater depth.
When Katherine Anne Porter left her home state of
Texas for New York, she brought with her the hard
edge of a Western pioneer. Passionate and intelligent,
it was this edge more than anything that made her
name as a writer. Despite her self-imposed exile from
her home and Southern background, Porter used this
distance as a means of coming to terms with the
memories she sought to escape.
Based on the book by Katherine Anne Porter, SHIP OF FOOLS
features Vivien Leigh in her final movie role, plus a star-studded
This fascinating drama, set in 1933 on a cruiseliner from Mexico
to Germany, presents a haunting allegory of the impending
On a ship bound for the port of Bremerhaven in Germany, we
meet a colourful selection of passengers. Among them,
disenchanted divorcee Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh); "La
Contessa" (Simone Signoret), a drug-addicted political prisoner;
and anti-semite Herr Rieber (Jose Ferrer).