Big Doc's Girl

Published in 1942, Big Doc’s Girl is a novel written by Arkansas native Mary Medearis. The book is said to have stayed in print longer than any other work of fiction by an Arkansan.

Mary Myrtle Medearis was born in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) on May 31, 1915. With financial help from an aunt after her father’s death during the Great Depression, Medearis studied music at the Juilliard School in New York City. She enrolled in a speech class at New York’s Columbia University in 1938, but because the class was full, Medearis enrolled in a creative writing class.

When the class was assigned to compose an autobiographical short story, Medearis wrote “Death of a Country Doctor” about the loss of her father. The teacher entered it in a competition sponsored by Story magazine in 1940. “Death of a Country Doctor” won the contest and was printed in the magazine. New York publisher J. B. Lippincott Company offered Medearis a contract to expand the story into a full-length novel.

Her novel, published as Big Doc’s Girl in 1942, told the story from the viewpoint of the teenage Mary Clayborne, whose father is physician “Big Doc.” Paralleling Medearis’s own life, it reveals how the young protagonist’s dreams of going away to study music to escape rural Arkansas are dashed during hard times. In its opening line, Mary says, “The back country of Arkansas is always the same, no matter which fork of the road you follow.”

The book was well received by a number of major publications such as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times Book Review. It was listed as a New York Times bestseller and included as one of the Times’s best ten best books published that year. Redbook magazine published a condensed version of the novel in September 1942. The book was translated into several languages and was adapted as a full-length play.

In 1957, Big Doc’s Girl was adapted by the New York Theatre Guild for presentation on television’s U.S. Steel Hour. It was broadcast in 1959, with a cast that included acclaimed actor Gene Hackman at the start of his career in the role of the Reverend MacCreighton.

In 1981, when Big Doc’s Girl went out of print by its New York publishing company, Medearis contracted with August House in Little Rock (Pulaski County) for a new edition in 1985. That edition remained in print until 1998 but was revived less than a decade later.

Medearis returned to Arkansas, serving as writer-in-residence for Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia (Clark County) from 1993 to 1996, after which she went to live in Saratoga Springs, New York. She died there on September 16, 2012.

Luminous Films, owned by Arkansan Beth Brickell, acquired the rights to film Big Doc’s Girl.

For additional information:
Big Doc. Luminous Films. (accessed October 20, 2020).

Medearis, Mary. Big Doc’s Girl. Little Rock: August House, 2006.

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


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