Charlton Ogburn, Jr.

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Charlton Ogburn, Jr.

Birthdate: (87)
Death: 1998 (87)
Immediate Family:

Son of Charlton Greenwood Ogburn and Dorothy Ogburn

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Charlton Ogburn, Jr.

Charlton Ogburn, Jr. (15 March 1911, Atlanta, Georgia – 19 October 1998, Beaufort, South Carolina) was a journalist and author of memoirs and non-fiction works. He was also a well-known advocate of the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship. He wrote over a dozen books and numerous magazine articles.


Ogburn was the son of lawyer Charlton Greenwood Ogburn and writer Dorothy Ogburn née Stevens. His uncle was the sociologist William Fielding Ogburn. He was raised in Savannah and New York City, graduated from Harvard in 1932 and wrote and worked in publishing. During World War II he joined military intelligence, serving in the East Asian theater, most notably as communications officer for Merrill's Marauders. He left with the rank of captain. He returned to the US to begin a career with the State Department.

From 1946 to 1949, he worked at the Division of South-East Asian Affairs. He went on to work at the Department of State. He held several posts, including Political Advisor to the United States Delegation to the United Nations Security Council's Committee of Good Offices for the Indonesian Dispute.

Ogburn was among the first State Department officials to explicitly oppose the growing U.S. involvement in the First Indochina War, which would later evolve into the Vietnam war. In 1950 he wrote a memo in which he predicted that Ho Chi Minh would not "wilt" under the impact of American aid to the colonial French forces, and that any military victory would simply send Ho's troops "underground until a more propitious occasion presented itself". Ogburn also unsuccessfully opposed American policy of supporting the Vietnamese monarchy of Bảo Đại.

After the success of his story "Merrill's Marauders", a Harper's Magazine cover story in 1957, Harper & Bros. offered an advance for a book and he quit the government to write full-time in 1957.

He was among the first State Department officials to explicitly oppose the growing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war.

Ogburn's papers are archived at Emory College.


The Marauders

For most of Ogburn's life, his best-known work was The Marauders (1959), a first person account of the Burma Campaign in World War II. It was later filmed as Merrill's Marauders (1962).

Versions of the following quotation are frequently mis-attributed to Petronius.

We trained hard ... but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

In fact it is from the magazine article "Merrill's Marauders" (Harper's Magazine, 1957) that earned Ogburn his book contract. In full, it reads thus:

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organising, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganising; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization. 

The Winter Beach

Ogburn won the John Burroughs award in 1967 for The Winter Beach. His account of travels along the largely deserted northeastern shore is considered a classic of nature-writing. Roger Tory Peterson wrote, "In The Winter Beach, literary courage, eloquence and wisdom have, I think, brought about a triumph." (Stewart Udall) "Ogburn has written a most extraordinary book ... he is a very sensitive, reflective writer in the Thoreauvian tradition."

Oxfordian theory

Today Ogburn may be known best for several books and articles on the Shakespeare authorship question, continuing the passion of his parents, who had written several books on the topic including This Star of England: "William Shakes-speare" Man of the Renaissance (Coward-McCann, 1952). Ogburn junior's last and most influential book, The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Man and the Myth (1984), led directly to an appearance on William F. Buckley's "Firing Line", a 1987 Frontline documentary on the authorship question, narrated by Al Austin, and mock trials in America and Britain. More than a thousand people attended the moot court case sponsored by American University in 1987. Three US Supreme Court justices —John Paul Stevens, Harry Blackmun, and William J. Brennan— heard arguments in favor of the orthodox view of Shakespearean authorship and the Oxfordian theory that attributes the works to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604). Although the justices held in favor of the traditional account of authorship, Justice Stevens later wrote an influential article supporting Ogburn's position, "The Shakespeare Canon of Statutory Construction", University of Pennsylvania Law Review (1991).

Ogburn's book reinvigorated the Oxfordian theory; inspired a succession of influential articles in The New Yorker (1988), Atlantic Monthly (1991), and Harper's Magazine (1999); and provoked a nationally broadcast, three-hour teleconference on the topic, Uncovering Shakespeare: An Update, with moderator William F. Buckley, Jr..

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Charlton Ogburn, Jr.'s Timeline

Age 87