Ruth Woodman

Black and white photo of Woodman in her office
Photo of Woodman in her office

Courtesy of Henry Golas

Quick Facts
Show creator & writer for Death Valley Days, TV and radio show creator and writer in 1950s with a wildly successful program, a rarity in Hollywood
Place of Birth:
Date of Birth:
November 26, 1894
Date of Death:
April 1970

Born Ruth Cornwall in England in 1894. She graduated from Vassar College in 1916 and started working at the St. Nicholas Magazine. She then spent the winter of 1921-22 in Turkey working on a survey of post WWI Constantinople. She took careful notes of everything she did and saw in Turkey, as well as on her travels to Egypt, India, and China. 

After publishing her first article about Turkey in the New York Times Magazine Section, H.K. McCann advertising agency offered her copywriting position. She wrote magazine and newspaper copy for five years and then in 1928 began writing for radio.

Ruth Woodman’s career in radio took off after writing for DuPont’s Cavalcade of America and Bob Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. She was selected to write for Death Valley Days true stories of the West. As Pacific Coast Borax Co sponsored the show and wanted an authentic show, Woodman ventured into Death Valley every summer to meet locals, hear legends, and to conduct research. She did this for fourteen years, often traveling with her husband and two children until the radio program ended in 1945. She lived most of the year in Rye, New York but the desert became a regular fixture of her life. 

In 1952, Pacific Coast Borax Co. asked Woodman to adapt her popular radio series for television. She developed the concept and wrote the screenplays for the TV series — writing them alone for five years, before allowing other writers onto the series to assist, though she was always the final editor on the story. By the end of Death Valley Days, Woodman was an expert on Death Valley history and had even been commissioned to write the book on Pacific Coast Borax Co. history.  

Escaping Hollywood for the last decade of her life, Woodman spent a year in Europe and spent time with her family. Woodman passed away in April 1970 at the age of 75. She was a pioneer in radio and television for women, writing over 700 scripts for Death Valley Days and bringing the history of Death Valley into the homes of millions. 

Death Valley National Park

Last updated: March 8, 2023