Top 10 Unbelievable Facts about John Steinbeck


*Originally published on April 2022 and Updated on May 2023

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck by Sonya Noskowiak from Wikimedia Commons

John Steinbeck is one of the most well-known authors of the twentieth century, noted for his astute social criticism and comprehension of ordinary people’s lives. This literary icon, who was born on February 27, 1902, is best known for novels such as Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939), as well as nonfiction and screenplays. 

In American literature, John Steinbeck is a major figure. In “The Grapes of Wrath,” Steinbeck handled the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, telling the story of the Joad family’s difficulties and tribulations, including their journey from Oklahoma to California. Here are 10 unbelievable facts about John Steinbeck

1. His actual family name was not Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck by McFadden Publications from Wikimedia commons

The Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s real surname was “Grossteinbeck,” which his paternal grandpa modified to “Steinbeck” when he first arrived in America from Germany.

2. He had a modest upbringing 

Steinbeck, who grew up with three sisters, had a happy upbringing for the most part. He was quiet yet bright, and he developed an early love for the land, particularly California’s Salinas Valley, which would have a significant influence on his later writing.

According to legend, at the age of 14, Steinbeck decided to become a writer and would shut himself in his room to write poems and stories. In 1919, Steinbeck enrolled at Stanford University, ostensibly to please his parents, but the young writer would prove to have little use for the institution. Steinbeck went back and forth between school and home for the next six years, eventually dropping out without a diploma in 1925.

His mother was a schoolteacher, while his father worked in a variety of occupations, including operating a grain mill in the area. Steinbeck’s family did not achieve full financial security until he enrolled at Stanford University. His working-class heroes in his works are heavily influenced by his humble origins.

3. He suffered a lot of illnesses 

Steinbeck was nearly killed by pleural pneumonia when he was 16 years old. He was saved by a doctor who cut through his rib cage to extract the fluid. He became extremely unwell again a year later and had to have his appendix removed. In adulthood, things were a little better.

From a young age, Steinbeck was beset by illness and accidents. Pleural pneumonia, renal infection, detached retina, fractured knee cup, stroke, and back damage were among his ailments.

4. He had a few other jobs before becoming a writer

Steinbeck attempted to earn a living as a freelance writer after graduating from Stanford. He worked as a construction worker and a newspaper reporter in New York City for a short time before returning to California and taking a position as a caretaker in Lake Tahoe, where he began his literary career.

Steinbeck worked in a variety of professions before becoming a well-known author, both in his home California and in New York, where he relocated in the mid-1920s. 

5. His first novels were not famous

Steinbeck’s earliest works were mostly ignored. Cup of Gold (1929), The Pastures of Heaven (1932), and To a God Unknown (1933) were Steinbeck’s first novels, but none of them were successful. Tortilla Flat (1935), an affectionately recounted narrative about Mexican Americans, was his first big hit.

6. He didn’t like using the typewriters 

He was reported to use as many as 60 pencils in a single day, preferring the pencil to a typewriter or pen. Hemingway preferred graphite to ink, though he did like sharpening pencils while working on a novel to help him think! Rather than using a typewriter, Steinbeck preferred to write by hand. 

7. His books were turned into Hollywood movies 

John Steinbeck tortilla flat

John Steinbeck tortilla flat by MGM from Wikimedia Commons

Two more theater dramas were written by Steinbeck (The Moon Is Down and Burning Bright). Lon Chaney, Jr. played Lennie (he had played the role in the Los Angeles stage production) and Burgess Meredith played George in the 1939 Hollywood film adaptation of Of Mice and Men.

Seventeen of his books have been adapted into films. In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 film Lifeboat, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing.

8. He was accused of being a communist 

Steinbeck visited the Soviet Union in 1947. His journey was one of three he took to that country. Many people accused him of being a communist because of charges that The Grapes of Wrath was a communist work, as well as his excursions to the Soviet Union. In 1940, the year after his work was published, he was placed under FBI observation. His excursions to the Soviet Union led him to write A Russian Journal, a book about his experiences there.

9.  He married three times 

John Steinbeck wife

John Steinbeck by Unknown (UPI) from Wikimedia Commons

In his life, Steinbeck married three times. Carol, his first wife, was very active in his early career, providing editorial help, ongoing encouragement, and countless hours of effort to transforming his handwritten ideas into final songs.

Gwyn Conger, his second wife, gave birth to his sons Thom and John. He met Elaine, his third wife, in 1949. Throughout the rest of his life, Steinbeck and Elaine, who were very close, spent the majority of their time in New York and Sag Harbor. He spent his final years traveling and writing, and he was universally considered as one of America’s most beloved novelists.

10. Owned several dogs 

When John Steinbeck embarked on a tour across 37 US states in 1960, he needed some company and possibly some protection. Charley, his 10-year-old blue standard poodle, appeared to be the ideal traveling companion. Rocinante, named after Don Quixote’s horse, was Steinbeck’s mode of transportation.

Throughout his life, Steinbeck had dogs. One of them, Toby, an Irish setter, ate half of the only manuscript of Of Mice And Men. The author was gracious to the mutt in a letter to his agent, explaining, “The poor little fellow may have been acting critically.”

Most authors aren’t like John Steinbeck. He didn’t act as if he were a higher being, making up people and assigning them positions in society as he went along, and he didn’t create his works exclusively with his imagination.

Steinbeck was passionate about the subjects he wrote about, and he aimed to expose numerous deep-seated socioeconomic faults that he saw in the world. He wrote as a witness and was committed to the topics he addressed in his novels.

5 Steinbeck books That Were Turned Into Hollywood movies

11. Of Mice and Men (1939)

10 Unbelievable Facts about John Steinbeck

op unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The movie follows two men named George and Lennie, who have a mental disability, as they struggle to survive in the dustbowl of the 1930s while following their ambition of owning their own ranch rather than constantly working for other people. Lon Chaney, Jr., a seasoned actor and the son of famous silent cinema actor Lon Chaney, played Lennie, and relative Hollywood newbie Burgess Meredith played George. Although Chaney had already made appearances in more than 50 films, Of Mice and Men marked his breakthrough in a significant part. 

12. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

The movie recounts the story of the Protagonist, an Oklahoman family who become migrant labourers and eventually settle in California after losing their farm in the 1930s Great Depression. In search of employment and opportunities for the family, they go to California overland, as is shown in the film.

13. Tortilla Flat

Pilon and his poor, idle friends move in after Danny (John Garfield) receives two homes. One of them, the Pirate (Frank Morgan), is trying to steal money from Pilon, but he discovers that it is being saved to buy a golden candlestick that he plans to burn for Saint. Francis in memory of the Pirate’s deceased dog.

Danny lets his pals move into the other house with him after one of the houses burns down, and out of gratitude, Pilon tries to improve things for his friend.

14. Lifeboat (1944)

10 Unbelievable Facts about John Steinbeck

unknown (20th Century Fox), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The 1944 American drama-thriller film Lifeboat, based on a narrative by John Steinbeck, was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Tallulah Bankhead and William Bendix are the movie’s stars. Mary Anderson, John Hodiak, and Walter Slezak are other cast members. Henry Hull, Heather Angel, Hume Cronyn, and Canada Lee also played supporting roles on the boat. The entire action takes place on a lifeboat that was released from a passenger ship that was sinking after a naval raid during World War Two.

15. The Red Pony (1949)

A little pony is given to a young child named Tom Tiflin (Peter Miles) by his father (Shepperd Strudwick). To raise and teach it so that it may be ridden, Tom seeks the stable assistant Billy Buck (Robert Mitchum) for assistance. The pony escapes from the stable during a storm and after getting wet, develops a fever.

Despite Buck’s best attempts, the pony suffers from strangling and needs a tracheostomy. The pony runs away from the property soon after the treatment. The pony is dead and being eaten by vultures when Tom follows its hoof prints to a gully. Buck is to fault for not managing to save it. In order to give Tom a colt, Buck, feeling guilty, plans to murder his own pregnant mare.