Born Dorothy Gladys Smith in Lancashire, England, Dodie Smith was raised in Manchester (her memoir is titled A Childhood in Manchester). She was just an infant when her father died, and she grew up fatherless until age 14, when her mother remarried and the family moved to London. There she studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and tried for a career as an actress, but with little success. She finally wound up taking a job as a toy buyer for a furniture store to make ends meet. Giving up dreams of an acting career, she turned to writing plays, and in 1931 her first play, Autumn Crocus, was published (under the pseudonym “C.L. Anthony”). It was a success, and her story — from failed actress to furniture store employee to successful writer — captured the imagination of the public and she was featured in papers all over the country. Although she could now afford to move to a London townhouse, she didn't get caught up in the “literary” scene — she married a man who was a fellow employee at the furniture store.
During World War II she and her husband moved to the United States, mostly because of his stand as a conscientious objector and the social and legal difficulties that entailed. She was still homesick for England, though, as reflected in her first novel, I Capture the Castle (1948). During her stay she formed close friendships with such authors as Christopher Isherwood and John Van Druten, and was aided in her literary endeavors by writer A.J. Cronin.
She is perhaps best known for her novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, a hugely popular childrens book that has been made into a string of very successful animated films by Walt Disney. She died in 1990.