Poor No More (1959)

Written By Dr. Troy L. Kickler

Well-known for his popular magazine columns later reprinted in collection form, including Grenadine Etching (1947) and The Old Man and the Boy (1957), Robert Ruark became even more of a household name after Something of Value (1955) was turned into a popular 1957 movie featuring Rock Hudson, Dana Wynter, and Sidney Poitier. 

Working on his next major project, Ruark hit a few writing blocks and experienced disappointing and time-wasting setbacks. For one, his reliable personal assistant, Alan Ritchie, suffered an illness. Ritchie’s absence contributed to Ruark’s procrastination and slow progress.  Ruark did finish a draft, the overall idea that later became Poor No More.  His agent, Harold Matson, and also his wife, Ginny, criticized the initial effort; it was a good idea for a book, they pointed out, but Ruark needed to develop his characters more.  So, with surprising relief he tossed the approximately 400,000-word manuscript into the fireplace, picked up his prized typewriter, and started anew. 

After many, many drafts, the book was published finally to Ruark’s relief.  Even though Poor No More had an initial run of 100,000 copies and a contract for 450,000 paperback copies, it was never as popular as Something of Value.  Filmmakers never expressed a keen interest in buying the rights, and actor William Holden reportedly remarked that Craig Price, Poor No More’s main character, was an unsympathetic figure. 

Poor No More is a story about Craig Price, a rural North Carolinian who grew up in poverty.  As an adult, Price evolved into a tycoon who had amassed a financial fortune. His lifestyle and persona, at first, is appealing to many, yet in the end, he misleads and uses business partners and girlfriends. Unsurprisingly, his family life is a mess. While Craig Price accumulates more and more wealth and ensures that he is poor no more, his life has no ultimate direction and he has forgotten—if he had ever learned—that it is better to have a good name than great riches. Under accusations of tax evasion charges and under contempt of Congress, his financial world crumbles. He had put away a million dollars in a Swiss account, but he later thought: “How rich he’d be, if he owned anything except the million dollars waiting for him in Switzerland.” With the original cover displaying an image of a candle lit at both ends, Poor No More is a story of self-destruction.  Despite Craig Price’s despicable actions, Ruark believed, readers still considered the book’s main character, deep down, to be a likeable fellow. 

Initial reviews were unkind.  Ruark was criticized for being too verbose. Even so, Ruark seemed to brag that the work was a 400,000-word manuscript, while one critic remarked that it was “words, words and more words.”  He was also criticized for providing too much detail. Ruark had received similar criticism for his violent descriptions in Something of Value. In this case, Ruark’s descriptive style provided vivid imagery for Craig Price’s business underhandedness and his romantic exploits. 

Sample reviews were as follows. “Holt [the publisher] is playing this up as their big book. We reluctantly concede the probability that it will sell—and profoundly regret it.”  Poor sales disappointed Ruark, however. It was a literary portrait that one reviewer hoped “represented anything but a miniscule portion of the nation.” Apparently American readers were not ready, as one reviewer comments, for a “lurid description of the American scene, in business, in the society of New York’s feverish cocktail-night club life . . .”  As Ruark biographer and his former personal assistant, Alan Ritchie, writes: “Most critics dealt harshly with Poor No More, and it was consistently objected to as vulgar, hard, profane, unsavory, and an unnecessary novel.”