Novel Exposes Fulton

9 years 3 months 2 weeks ago June 13, 2007 Jun 13, 2007 Wednesday, June 13 2007 Wednesday, June 13, 2007 5:35:57 PM CDT in News

"It's kind of a wonder that people even debated and debated and debated about whether it was about Fulton or not because it was so obvious, Jay Karr, King's Row Publisher, said.

In the spring of 1940, Henry Bellamann, a former Fulton resident, released his novel "King's Row," a scandalous book that aired all the dirty laundry of the town in which he grew up.

"All the ordinary people read it as quick as they could, and they passed it around, and they made lists of all the people in the book and equated them with people in the town," Karr said.

While the names are different, the characters are the same.

"When I found Bellamann's papers, I found a note that said North and South of 7th Street and then a list of names. The characters and the names of the real people they're represented," Karr said.

Some of the characters in the book were obvious depictions of Fulton residents, and their stories weren't always flattering.

These unwilling subjects tried to suppress the book even threatening a lawsuit against Bellamann.

"The only success they really had was they got the librarian at the city library to refuse to circulate the book," Karr said.

The other detail that pegged Fulton as "King's Row" was the lay-out of the town in the book.

"The street plan fits Fulton very well," Karr explained.

Despite some local disdain, "King's Row" became a best-seller spawning a box-office hit starring Ronald Reagan.

"What's in here is a suit worn by Ronald Reagan in the movie King's Row," Nancy Lewis, Director Fulton Chamber of Commerce, said. "And this was purchased by a group of people in the community, and they felt it needed to be in this community because King's Row is set in Fulton."

Karr believes Reagan is the reason people still read the book.

"People see the movie on TV all the time somewhere," Karr said.

While the movie was still seen, the book went out of print in the 60's, and was not reprinted until 1981.

"I got the rights to the book, and I published it. For people around here mostly. I didn't think there would be any national interest, but there turned out to be," Karr said.

He did this after presenting his research on King's Row and Bellamann in 1979 at Westminster College.

"It was so popular, there was standing room only," Karr said.

Interested perhaps in the town's connection, or more simply, more truthfully, interested in the scandal the book stirred up.

Karr said, "I found out that people around here were distinctly interested in the story still."

In the essence of "King's Row," Karr has followed Bellamann's lead of writing about his hometown.

Karr just published his novel "Leaving the Homefront" about a paratrooper who goes off to fight in World War II.

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