On this day in 1916, Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) and James and the Giant Peach (1961), is born in South Wales.
Dahl's childhood was filled with tragedy. His father and sister died when Dahl was three, and he was later brutally abused at his boarding school. After high school, he traveled widely, joining an expedition to Newfoundland and later working in Tanzania. In World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force and became a fighter pilot. He flew missions in Libya, Greece, and Syria, and was shot down in the Libyan desert, suffering serious injuries. (He saved a piece of his femur, removed in an operation after the accident, and later used it as a paperweight in his office.)
After he recovered, Dahl was sent to Washington, D.C., as an attachÝ. There, the writer C.S. Forester suggested he write about his war experiences, and 10 days later Dahl had his first publication, in the Saturday Evening Post.
Dahl wrote his first book, The Gremlins, for Walt Disney, in 1943, and the story was later made into a Disney film. He wrote several popular adult books, including Someone Like You (1953) and Kiss Kiss (1959), and began writing stories for his own four children in 1960. James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory became bestsellers. He also wrote the screenplay for Charlie (with a title change-the movie was called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and a James Bond film, You Only Live Twice (1967).
Dahl did most of his writing on the family farm, writing two hours every morning, two hours every afternoon, and tending to the animals in between. He was divorced from his wife, Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal, in 1983, and remarried. He died in 1990 at age 74.