Though she always considered herself a musician, Mary Myrtle Medearis was best known as the author of Big Doc’s Girl, a novel that grew out of an assigned autobiographical short story in a creative writing class. It has the distinction of having stayed in print longer than any other work of fiction by an Arkansas author. Ever tenacious, Medearis enjoyed great success as a writer and historian in spite of her humble beginnings - and partly because of them.
Mary Medearis was born in North Little Rock. As a young girl, her mother, Myrtle Hendricks taught her to play the piano and gave lessons to help support the family. Her father, Dr. Robert Medearis, practiced medicine as a country doctor. Mary, whose maternal grandparents were seasoned vaudeville performers, inherited her family’s love for music.
She decided to enroll in a speech class at Columbia University because New Yorkers had trouble understanding her Arkansas accent. Upon registering, Medearis learned that the speech class was full but that a creative writing class had openings. The registrar told her the writing class would also emphasize oral performance, so she enrolled. When the writing professor assigned an autobiographical short story, Medearis wrote “The Death of a Country Doctor” about the death of her father. Her writing teacher was so impressed with her work that he entered it in a competition sponsored by Story magazine and won. A film producer encouraged her to develop a screenplay, which led to a publishing contract with the J. B. Lippincott Company for a novel-length treatment of the same story. Medearis used her advance to buy a new piano.
Upon its publication, Big Doc’s Girl was praised in the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, and scores of other publications. It soon earned a place on the New York Times Bestseller List, and the Times also named it one of the ten best books published that year.