Louis Untermeyer was born in New York on October 1, 1885. After a brief formal education, he left high school without graduating and found work with his father's jewelry manufacturing company.
Untermeyer was very interested in literature and in 1911 he published his first book of poetry, "First Love". He also held left-wing political views and helped run the Marxist journal, "The Masses". Like most people involved with the journal, Untermeyer believed that the First World War had been caused by the imperialist competitive system. Untermeyer and journalists such as John Reed who reported the conflict for "The Masses", argued that the USA should remain neutral.
After the USA entered the First World War the team working on "The Masses" came under government pressure to change its policy. When it refused to do this, the journal lost its mailing privileges. In July, 1917, it was claimed by the authorities that articles in the journal by Floyd Dell and Max Eastman and cartoons by Art Young, Boardman Robinson and H. J. Glintenkamp had violated the Espionage Act. Under this act it was an offence to publish material that undermined the war effort. The legal action that followed forced "The Masses" to cease publication. Untermeyer and his friends went on the publish a very similar journal, "The Liberator".
By 1923, Untermeyer was vice-president in his father's company but he decided to resign and concentrate on writing. Over the next fifty years he wrote, edited or translated over one hundred books. This included several volumes of his own poetry. Untermeyer also lectured on poetry, drama and music. In 1939 he was appointed Poet in Residence at the University of Michigan. He also held the same post at the University of Kansas City and Iowa State College.
Untermeyer was an entertaining talker and in 1950 became a panelist on the television program, "What's My Line?". He continued to be active in campaigning for left-wing causes and as a result, the FBI had been collecting a file of his activities. His name was also mentioned during the House of Un-American Activities Committee investigation into communist subversion. This was brought to the attention of the television industry and in 1951 Untermeyer was fired from "What's My Line?" and was blacklisted. Like many left-wing artists during this period, Untermeyer became a victim of McCarthyism. According to Arthur Miller, Untermeyer was so shocked by this that he did not leave him home for over a year.
In 1956 Untermeyer was awarded a Gold Medal by the Poetry Society of America. He also served as a consultant in English poetry for the Library of Congress from 1961 until 1963. Louis Untermeyer died on 18th December, 1977.
By Albert Fried