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Ellis Amburn Papers

Identifier: MS 12

Scope and Contents

The papers document Ellis Amburn’s career in the publishing industry and as a biographer. The papers are arranged into two series, titled Subject Files and Writings. Series I includes correspondence, press clippings, photographs, and promotional materials related to Amburn’s career. Series II is comprised of manuscripts of Amburn’s published works. Although a majority of the materials in the collection focus on Amburn’s career and his biographical works, there is a small amount of personal correspondence, photographs, and biographical information within the papers that provide limited information about Amburn’s personal history.


  • Creation: 1916-2005 (inclusive), 1973-2000 (bulk)


Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has not been transferred to Texas Christian University. Collection is open for research. Researchers must obtain permission from donor before reproducing material in the collection.

Biographical Note

Ellis Edward Amburn was born on August 2, 1933 in Jermyn, Texas. Amburn, raised in Fort Worth, Texas, attended Poly High School and graduated from Texas Christian University in 1954 with a B.A. degree in Journalism and English. While at TCU, Amburn served as editor of the student newspaper, The Skiff, from 1953-54. He credited his time at The Skiff for his move from Fort Worth to the media hub of New York City. When editing The Skiff, Amburn attracted national attention when he attacked Senator Joseph McCarthy, leader of the extreme movement to expose suspected Communists in the federal government, in his editorial column, “Campus Potpourri”. The day after he graduated from TCU, Newsweek magazine, which took note of his editorial, flew Amburn up to their offices in Times Square, New York, to work as a reporter. By the early sixties, Amburn had made the transition from reporter to publishing editor at several well-known publishing houses. Over the next four decades, Amburn oversaw many bestsellers at some of New York’s famous publishing houses, and by the early nineties he had become a notable biographer.

During his time at Newsweek from 1954 to 1957, Amburn did graduate work in English at Columbia University with a specialty in 19th century American literature. After serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960, Amburn worked as a literary agent for one year. His experience as a literary agent allowed him to begin a career in the book publishing industry. In September 1960, he began as a first reader at G.P. Putnam’s Sons in New York for Lois Dwight Cole, the editor who discovered Gone With the Wind. The following spring, Amburn was promoted to assistant editor at Coward-McCann, a Putnam subsidiary. During his time at Coward-McCann, Amburn rose to the office of executive editor, vice president, and secretary of the board of directors. In addition, he edited such works as the 1962 edition of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and author Jack Kerouac’s later works. Moreover, he befriended and was editor for Paul Gallico, whose novel, The Poseidon Adventure, ushered in the disaster genre.

In 1971, Amburn resigned from Coward to become editor-in-chief of Delacorte Press. He served in this capacity at Delacorte Press for seven-and-a-half years. In 1978, Amburn moved to the publishing house of William Morrow where he served as Senior Editor and oversaw the production of many bestsellers. In 1980, Amburn returned to G.P. Putnam’s Sons publishing house where he attained the role of editorial director. During this time, Amburn was editor for such well-known authors as Belva Plain, Dame Muriel Spark, Joshua Logan, John le Carré, and James Jones.

In addition to his career as an editor, Amburn worked as a ghostwriter for Priscilla Presley, Kim Novak, Peggy Lee, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Shelley Winters whose autobiography, Shelley: Also Known as Shirley, was number one on the New York Times bestseller list in 1980. In 1990, he produced his first biography on singer, and fellow Texan, Roy Orbison, titled Dark Star: The Roy Orbison Story. This biography led to further works which included Pearl: The Obsessions and Passions of Janis Joplin in 1993, Buddy Holly: The Real Story in 1995, Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac in 1997, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World: The Obsessions, Passions, and Courage of Elizabeth Taylor in 2000, The Sexiest Man Alive: A Biography of Warren Beatty in 2002, and, under the pseudonym Edward Douglas, Jack: The Great Seducer, a biography of Jack Nicholson, in 2004. His books have been published in England and, in translation, throughout the world.

In 2007, the TCU Shieffer School of Journalism inducted Amburn into its Hall of Excellence “for consistently maintaining and demonstrating the highest standards of professionalism in the field of communication.”


5.00 Linear feet

Language of Materials



Arranged in two series: I. Subject Files, 1916-2005. II. Writings, 1992-2002.


Gift of Ellis Amburn in honor of his mother, Mrs. Belma Amburn, 1983, 2001, and 2005.

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Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, Mary Couts Burnett Library Repository

TCU Box 298400
2800 S. University Drive
Fort Worth, Texas 76129-0001
Fort Worth Texas 76129
(817) 257-4566
(817) 257-7282 (Fax)