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Leonora Hornblow, 85; Heiress Wrote Novels and a Series of Children's Books

November 09, 2005|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Leonora Hornblow, novelist and co-writer of a series of children's books with her late husband, film producer Arthur Hornblow Jr., has died. She was 85.

Hornblow died at her home in Fearrington Village, N.C., Saturday after a short illness, said her son, Michael Hornblow.

The effervescent stepdaughter and heiress of tobacco magnate Leon Schinasi was known in her socialite youth as "Bubbles" Schinasi.

"I was called 'Bubbles' from the time I was a baby, and it stuck with me," she told the Chicago Tribune in 1991. "I loved my mother, but I am bitter about that name: I hate it."

Hornblow grew up in her native New York City and at 18 met and married Warner Bros. motion picture actor Wayne Morris. The yearlong marriage produced her only son, Michael.

In 1945, she married Hornblow, producer of such films as "Witness for the Prosecution," at the New York home of their mutual friend, publisher Bennett Cerf.

Her husband, 22 years her senior and formerly married to actress Myrna Loy, adopted her son and introduced her to Hollywood, where she became friends with such well-known personalities as Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra.

Hornblow turned her understanding of the Hollywood crowd into her first novel, "Memory and Desire," in 1950. The novel, centered on an affair between a married writer and the former wife of a director, earned positive reviews.

"Mrs. Hornblow is to be congratulated for her portrayal of [protagonists] Gordon and Alma," a Times review of the book stated.

"She gives the reader credit for having a little native intelligence, an amazing trait in an author."

Hornblow, who hobnobbed on the East Coast with socialites such as Babe Paley and Pamela Harriman, turned her sights on New York for her second novel, "The Love Seekers," in 1957. That plot featured, as described by former Times book editor Robert Kirsch, "tormented adultery among New York's sophisticated set."

Kirsch was less kind than other reviewers, saying: "The author does well in describing clothes, rooms and meals but this is hardly enough to sustain attention. The promotional matter calls this a woman's book. I rather think that women will demand more than warmed-over scandal."

A New York Herald-Tribune reviewer, however, praised the author's "unabashed candor which is often startling," and syndicated columnist Hedda Hopper raved: "It's as chic and sophisticated as tomorrow; I read it in one sitting."

Hornblow subsequently shifted her literary focus, editing with her publisher friend "Bennett Cerf's Take Along Treasury," a collection of short stories, and beginning to write children's books. Her first was "Cleopatra of Egypt," published in 1961.

With her husband, who died in 1976, she wrote a series of five children's books about the odd traits of various animals, from "Birds Do the Strangest Things" in 1965 through "Prehistoric Monsters Did the Strangest Things" in 1974.

After her husband's death, Hornblow lived in New York until two years ago, when she moved to North Carolina to be near her son and his family.

She is survived by her son and three step-grandchildren.

Services are pending. The family has asked that any memorial donations be sent to the UNC Hospice, P.O. Box 1077, Pittsboro, N.C. 27312.

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