Looking for Betty MacDonald

The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I

Paula Becker

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  • $29.95 hardcover (9780295999364) Add to Cart
  • Published: September 2016
  • Subject Listing: Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir; Pacific Northwest / Art and Culture
  • Bibliographic information: 304 pp., 40 bandw illus., 5.5 x 8.5 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Betty Bard MacDonald (1907-1958), the best-selling author of The Egg and I and the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children's books, burst onto the literary scene shortly after the end of World War II. Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, and The Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald's vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald's Ma and Pa Kettle characters.

MacDonald followed up the success of The Egg and I with the creation of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a magical woman who cures children of their bad habits, and with three additional memoirs: The Plague and I (chronicling her time in a tuberculosis sanitarium just outside Seattle), Anybody Can Do Anything (recounting her madcap attempts to find work during the Great Depression), and Onions in the Stew (about her life raising two teenage daughters on Vashon Island).

Author Paula Becker was granted full access to Betty MacDonald's archives, including materials never before seen by any researcher. Looking for Betty MacDonald, a biography of this endearing Northwest storyteller, reveals the story behind the memoirs and the difference between the real Betty MacDonald and her literary persona.

Watch the book trailer:
Paula Becker is a staff historian at She is the coauthor of The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair and Its Legacy and Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Washington's First World Fair.

"A passionate, wise and tender exploration of a surprisingly compelling life. Becker's fascination for her subject is utterly contagious: I found myself late-night Googling Betty, determined to track down everything she ever wrote!"
-Julie Myerson, author of The Stopped Heart: A Novel

"Thank goodness Paula Becker has resurrected the life story of Betty MacDonald, perhaps the only author who has ever made tuberculosis funny. Carefully researched and written with great warmth and spirit, Looking for Betty MacDonald reintroduces readers to a woman who may have been America's wittiest writer in the mid-twentieth century. We tend to think of observational comedy as a modern phenomenon, but it may have begun over 75 years ago on a chicken farm in Washington State."
-Barron H. Lerner, MD, PhD, author of Contagion and Confinement: Controlling Tuberculosis along the Skid Road

"Readers of Betty MacDonald love her for her pluck and clear-eyed wit. Now Paula Becker presents the writer's brief but exuberant life in this timely and heartfelt biography. As she presses her palms to the polished wood floor of Betty's former home, I felt the melting joy and melancholy of the true soulmate."
-George Meyer, writer for The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live

"A huge hit in her day, Betty MacDonald was too funny and too popular (and maybe too female) to be taken seriously. Paula Becker's Looking for Betty MacDonald-part biography, part literary criticism, part memoir-does a cracking job of rehabilitating this sparkling writer's reputation. There are those of us who have been true believers all along, poring over MacDonald's four hilarious and beautifully detailed memoirs of mid-century Northwest domestic life. Becker's book rounds out the picture, weaving the darker strands of the author's life story into a nuanced whole."
-Claire Dederer, author of Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses

Prologue The House and I
1. The Richest Hill on Earth
2. Fate Alters the Plot
3. Child Bride
4. Especially Betty
5. Egged On
6. Smelling Like Sugar Cookies
7. Betty in Hollywoodland
8. Authing
9. The Name's Kettle
10. Family Matters
11. Anybody Can Write Books
12. Goodbye, Goodbye to Everything
Epilogue Looking for Betty MacDonald

The Bard/MacDonald Family
Betty's Houses: Place as Witness
Further Reading
Image Credits
Text Permissions

"Paula Becker's astute, affectionate and often startling Looking for Betty MacDonald is the first biography of this singular American writer. . . . The biography fills in crucial and sometimes shocking gaps in her story, rendering MacDonald's achievements all the more extraordinary. . . . Becker is a historian and writes with a historian's precision, but she has a fan's insight and warmth. The result is a thorough and illuminating biography that, with any luck, will lead a new generation of readers to MacDonald's own remarkable work."
-Jennifer Reese, Washington Post

"The Egg and I, The Plague and I and Anybody Can Do Anything practically cavort off the page. How did [Betty MacDonald] do it? Seattle author Paula Becker has some answers in her compact, finely crafted biography."
-Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times

"A smart and immensely readable portrait, taking readers through MacDonald's life. . . . Becker has combed every interview and profile, and her book veritably glows with MacDonald's recaptured wit. . . . Thanks to Paula Becker's exhaustive research and the compassionate, standard-setting book she's shaped out of it, 21st century readers can meet a much fuller and more fascinating version of that complex, challenging, laughing woman. Readers of her books will still want to thank her, but thanks to Looking for Betty MacDonald, they'll know her much better."
-Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly

"The pages zing with unexpected detail and nuggets of lacerating wit. . . . If you're Looking for Betty MacDonald, you need look no further."
-Barbara McMichael, Kitsap Sun

"I was delighted to explore MacDonald's life and work through Paula Becker's thoughtful, painstakingly researched biography, and even more thrilled to see that University of Washington Press is going to be reprinting three hard-to-find later works by the bestselling author of The Egg and I: Anybody Can Do Anything, The Plague and I, and Onions in the Stew. . . . If you're not a MacDonald enthusiast, you will be soon. . . . We can be grateful that Becker has preserved it for us in words, and has given us valuable insights into her world, her books, her family, and the writer herself."
-Lory Widmer Hess, Emerald City Book Review

"Pick up a copy to find out UW's role in hatching one of the 20th-century's sharpest storytellers. CliffNotes version: Our campus is where she changed her name-from Betsy to the razor-edged Betty-and most important, it's where she gave up her dream of being an illustrator."
-Columns, UWAA

"This volume will send readers away satisfied and eager to reread their favorite MacDonald books. Written in an easygoing style for the general reader, this book will appeal to anyone familiar with MacDonald's books who has found themselves curious about the author."
-Stefanie Hollmichel, Library Journal

"Becker, allowed access to the trove of her subject's correspondence, has done eloquent, measured justice to the 'hungry ghost' of Betty MacDonald. . . . Looking for Betty MacDonald is a riveting account of a quick-fire, ambitious, mercurial intellect; the story of a woman who met the demands of both her sophisticated, struggling family and of her 'interesting times' with a defiant, pawky smile."
-Imogen Russell Williams, Times Literary Supplement

"I was fully entranced by this book. . . . Through Becker's lens, MacDonald becomes something much more than her books and her movies. In fact, it's her presence in this narrative, her kind voice and apparent interest in MacDonald, that allows someone unfamiliar with the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books to also become interested in MacDonald."
-YiShun Lai, Tahoma Literary Review