Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.
The popularity of most children’s book authors may come and go with each generation.
Just a few years ago, though, when Random House released a hardback reproduction of the original 1941 edition of “The Black Stallion” by the late Walter Farley, it found no shortage of eager fans.
That hardcover edition continues to sell, with new and returning readers posting enthusiastic reviews on bookselling websites such as Amazon.com.
Today an exhibit about Farley, who lived in Venice for decades, continues to be a drawing card at the Venice Public Library — which he and his wife Rosemary helped get built more than 47 years ago.
County library system director Sarabeth Kalajian worked at the Venice library and remembers Farley well.
“He was a frequent visitor to the library and would come and hang out with the kids,” Kalajian said. “He was definitely fun-loving, always inquisitive, always doing research… Young readers today still really love his stories. They are adventures that take you to far-off places. Some have an element of mystery. The relationship of a youngster and a horse is an appealing theme.”
“The books are wonderful,” Nancy Pike, a former head of the Venice library who helped create the Farley exhibit there. “The message they give of ‘follow your dream’ is a universal message that never grows old.”
Who was Walter Farley?
Growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., and New York City, Farley — the son of an assistant hotel manager — never owned a horse but had opportunities to visit the stables of his uncle, a professional horse trainer.
While still attending high school in Brooklyn, he started work on what would become his first and most popular novel. Millions became enchanted by “The Black Stallion,” the story of a boy and a horse that survive a shipwreck.
In 1941, Random House published the book while Farley was still an undergraduate at Columbia University.
After service in World War II, Farley pursued a successful career as a children’s book author — writing sequels to “The Black Stallion” and many other books.
Shortly after the war, he and his wife started splitting time between their beach home in Venice and their farm in Pennsylvania.
He died at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in October 1989 after suffering a heart attack, just a few months after the Venice Public Library unveiled an exhibit about him and shortly before the publication of his final book, “The Young Black Stallion.”
Rosemary Farley, 94, died March 6 at her Venice home.
The Hollywood versions
Farley rejected offers from Disney and others to make a movie of “The Black Stallion” because the producers wanted to alter the story.
He eventually agreed to let Francis Ford Coppola produce the popular 1979 film of the same title, which critic Pauline Kael wrote “may be the greatest children’s movie ever made.”
The TV show inspired by the book and movie, “The Adventures of the Black Stallion,” lasted 78 episodes and still sells on DVD.
In his own words
Farley, in a 1980 interview with the Herald-Tribune: “When I look back on it, writing has been the perfect career for me. As I’ve said before, I’m a professional observer and I like to put my observations on paper. I suppose if I hadn’t become a writer I would have found a career related to my interest in horses.”
A ‘Literary Landmark’
When the Venice Public Library unveiled an exhibit about Farley in its children’s wing in 1989, it called the glass-enclosed showcase the “Walter Farley Literary Landmark.”
Today, the exhibit still contains Farley’s typewriter, saddle and many personal letters and photos.
His son, Tim Farley, maintains an active website about his father’s legacy, TheBlackStallion.com, and, in his memory, oversees the Horse Tales Literacy Project, which encourages children to read.