ELLIS, WILLIAM “BILL” DONOHUE (23 Sep. 1918 – 6 Sep. 2000) wrote dozens of historical books, movie and radio scripts, and award-winning volumes of historical fiction that brought company histories, Cleveland, and Ohio's past to life in an informative and entertaining manner. 

Born in 1918 in Concord, Massachusetts, Ellis began writing at the age of 12, at the urging of an elementary-school teacher who early on discerned his talent. Ellis attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he was editor of the campus magazine, The Cardinal, and ran track. The mile and cross-country were his specialties. 

Drafted ten days after graduation, Ellis was assigned to the 77th Infantry Division. He commanded Easy (E) Company of the 307th Infantry Regiment in nine amphibious landings on Guam and the Philippines in WORLD WAR II. Evacuated from the Ormoc Corridor on Leyte for machine gun wounds, he spent a year in army hospitals, which gave him time for freelance writing.

Ellis began delving into Ohio’s history during a 1946 visit to his wife’s family in suburban LAKEWOOD when he showed a sample of his writing to FRANK SIEDEL, President of Storycraft. Siedel hired him and assigned him to help write the scripts for a radio and TV series called “The Ohio Story.” The series continued on radio and TV stations throughout the state for 14 years. 

Ellis’s research for “The Ohio Story” was used as the foundation for a trilogy of novels: The Bounty Lands (1952: World Pub.), Jonathan Blair: Bounty Lands Lawyer (1954: World Pub.), and The Brooks Legend (1958: Crowell). Each book reflected the reality of life on the frontier when Ohio was considered "the West," and the hardships of daily existence far outweighed the pleasures. Each novel appeared on best-seller lists, and the trilogy earned Ellis a Pulitzer Prize nomination. 

William Donohue Ellis
Courtesy of Sarah Ellis Jackson
William "Bill" Donohue Ellis


His book, The Cuyahoga (1966: Holt, Rivers of America Series), is the definitive account of the river and its historical importance to Cleveland and northeastern Ohio. Other notable books include Life on the Great Lakes: A Wheelsman’s Story (editor, 1991: Wayne State Univ. Press), Land of the Inland Seas: The Historic and Beautiful Great Lakes Country (1974: American West Pub.), and The Ordinance of 1787: The Nation Begins (1987 Landfall Press). The recurring theme in many of his books and articles is the same one he encountered during the war – survival.

In 1952, Ellis founded Editorial, Inc. which specialized in writing commissioned histories of corporations and institutions and scripts for SPONSORED FILMS. Some of his film scripts were produced by Cleveland-based CINECRAFT PRODUCTIONS. Some of the films have been digitized and can be watched on the Hagley Library research site including:

American Roulette (1972). Grinding Wheel Institute
Heritage: The Story of Tomorrow’s Navy (1975). US Navy
Projection ’70 Education and Communication. SOHIO
The C5A Galaxy - World’s Largest Aircraft (1968). US Airforce
Tools That Shaped America (1962). Grinding Wheel Institute
Where’s Joe? (1972) United Steelworkers of America and a coordinating committee of US Steel Companies

Ellis wrote or oversaw the completion of dozens of corporate scripts, articles, and books, including Fabulous Dustpan: the Story of Hoover (1955, World Pub. Co.); On the Oil Lands (1983, Citi Service Oil and Gas Corporation) a history of Cities Service Oil and Gas Corp., The Hawken Book, a history of the Hawken School in Cleveland; and With a Name Like… (1987, J. M. Smucker Co.), a history of the J. M. SMUCKER COMPANY. He also wrote articles for the Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Nation’s Business, and others.

Ellis married Dorothy Ann “Dotty” Naiden (10 Jul.1918- 15 Sep. 2002) in 1942. They had two children, William Naiden Ellis and Sarah Ellis Jackson, and five grandchildren: William McCreery Ellis, Timothy Paul Ellis, Nicholas James Ellis, Kristine Ellis Jackson, and Donald Lawrence Jackson.

Bill and Dotty are buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA. 


Jim Culley


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