Guy Owen was a gifted novelist, poet and editor, as well as a beloved teacher of creative writing at NC State. One of his novels, Journey for Joedel, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and several of his students went on to become published novelists and poets.
Another of Owen’s novels, The Ballad of the Flim-Flam Man, was made into a movie starring George C. Scott. The movie was called The Flim-Flam Man. And on this day in 1967, the movie made its Southern premiere at the Cardinal Theater in Raleigh.
A bit of Hollywood had come to NC State, as Scott portrayed a confidence man named Mordecai Jones who worked in a mythical Cape Fear County based on Owen’s memories of his native Bladen County in eastern North Carolina.
But Owen, who died in 1981, had said that his favorite among his own books was Journey for Joedel, a novel that told the story of his grandfather and a brother who died of cancer, according to a story in The News & Observer. The article quoted Owen as saying he wanted to “wrench himself” out of the mold of The Ballad of the Flim-Flam Man. “I’m beginning to feel boxed in by that,” Owen said.
Upon Owen’s death, then-Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. called him one of North Carolina’s “most beloved and successful writers.”
“Few … could match his warm humor and stylistic grace; none could match his special touch for the people and land he wrote about and loved,” Hunt said. “He will be sorely missed, but he has left a special part of himself and our state to us.”
Owen joined the faculty at NC State in 1962, and students frequently voted for him as one of the university’s outstanding teachers. In 1979, Owen was named an Alumni Distinguished Professor and a writer-in-residence at NC State.