Louis Untermeyer was born in New YorkCity on 1st October, 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 was the literary editor of the Marxist journal, The Masses. The assistant editor of the journal, Floyd Dell, later recalled: "The Masses' literary editor, Louis Untermeyer, who had written about poetry for the Friday Review, was a friend already; we were interested in the same things, and lunched together frequently to discuss the universe."
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. Under this act it was an offence to publish material that undermined the war effort. One of the journals main writers, Randolph Bourne, commented: "I feel very much secluded from the world, very much out of touch with my times. The magazines I write for die violent deaths, and all my thoughts are unprintable." 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. He also produced a series of anthologies, notably Modern American Poetry (1919), Modern British Poetry (1920), This Singing World (1923) and Selected Poems and Parodies (1935).
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 and Iowa State College. In 1939 he published his autobiography From Another World.
Arthur Miller knew him during this period: "Louis Untermeyer, then in his sixties, was a poet and anthologist, a distinguished-looking old New York type with a large aristocratic nose and a passion for conversation, especially about writers and to become a poet... All this with wisecracking and banter, at which Louis was a lovable master, what with his instant recall of every joke and pun he had ever heard."
Untermeyer was an entertaining talker and in 1950 became a panelist on the television programme, 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 sacked from the television show and was blacklisted. Like many left-wing artists during this period, Untermeyer became a victim of McCarthyism.
In his autobiography, Timebends - A Life (1987), Arthur Miller, explained how Untermeyer responded to this victimization: "Louis went back to his apartment. Normally we ran into each other in the street once or twice a week or kept in touch every month or so, but I no longer saw him in the neighborhood or heard from him. Louis didn't leave his apartment for almost a year and a half. An overwhelming and paralyzing fear had risen him. More than a political fear, it was really that he had witnessed the tenuousness of human connection and it had left him in terror. He had always loved a lot and been loved, especially on the TV program where his quips were vastly appreciated, and suddenly, he had been thrown into the street, abolished."
Louis Untermeyer died on 18th December, 1977.