Authors


FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   For no reason I can put my finger on, I recently felt an urge to reread some of Dashiell Hammett’s shorter work. Again for no particular reason, my starting point was not a Continental Op story but “The Assistant Murderer,” which was first published in Black Mask for February 1926 and is most easily accessed today in Hammett’s Crime Stories & Other Writings (Library of America, 2001).

   In his only published exploit, spectacularly ugly Baltimore PI Alec Rush is retained by a young banker to find out why someone is shadowing a gal he’s sweet on but was forced to fire. Soon Rush discovers that the shadow has been paid by two different women to kill the gal in question.

   From there the plot gets more convoluted by the minute. The journal I kept in my salad days tells me that I first read this novelette early in 1965, not long after my 22nd birthday and during my first year in law school. Back then I loved it. Half a century later I still like it but perhaps with a bit less enthusiasm.

   What I found most interesting today is not so much the plot or characterizations or style but the legal aspects. Which, like those of another Hammett story I discussed in an earlier column, leave something to be desired.

   To explain where Hammett went off the tracks requires me to spoil some of the plot, but I’ll try to minimize the spoliation by translating the situation into a sort of law examination question. A, who died long before the story begins, left an estate of roughly $2,000,000, a princely sum back in the early 20th century and not to be sneezed at even today.

   He had two sons, B and C. His will created a trust excluding B, whose lifestyle he disapproved of, and naming C as sole income beneficiary. The will specified that C was free to share the income with B to whatever extent he chose, which he would have been free to do anyway.

   Typically for a Hammett character, C had chosen to keep the entire income for himself. B dies, a widower survived by a daughter whom we’ll call D. Under A’s will, on C’s death the corpus of the trust is to be divided among A’s grandchildren. Since C is unmarried and childless, this means that on his death everything will go to D. As chance would have it, D is married to a sort of Iago figure who manipulates her into killing Uncle C.

   The husband’s scheme doesn’t require that his wife D be tagged for the murder but whether she is or isn’t leaves him cold. “If they hanged her,” he tells Rush at the climax, “the two million would come to me. If she got a long term in prison, I’d have the handling of the money at least.”

   Wrong, Dash! If D were to be convicted of C’s murder, the old common-law maxim that you can’t profit by your own crime would come into play, and the A trust fund would wind up by intestate succession in the hands of various remote relatives of whose identity Hammett tells us nothing. In the absence of such relatives, the fund would probably end up in the coffers of the state of Maryland by a process known as escheat.

   But suppose D were only suspected of the murder. Suppose she were never tried for it, or were tried and acquitted, or were convicted but had her conviction overturned on appeal? Could those remote relatives or the state of Maryland sue to divest her of the inheritance in civil court, where her guilt would have to be proved by a mere preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt as in a criminal trial?

   You may well ask! I used to throw out that kind of question to my class when I was teaching Decedents’ Estates and Trusts, but this column is already sinking under the weight of legalese and I won’t deal with that issue unless someone asks me to.

***

   Another aspect of “The Assistant Murderer” that intrigued me was: How many turns of phrase in this almost 90-year-old story need to be explained to readers today? At one point a lowlife tells Alec Rush that “A certain party comes to me with a knock-down from a party that knows me.”

   The Library of America editors explain that a knock-down is slang for an introduction. But a few pages further on, Rush says: “I can see just enough to get myself tangled up if I don’t watch Harvey.” There is no character named Harvey in the story. Did the Library of America people feel that the meaning of this phrase would be clear to readers?

   It certainly wasn’t to me. But googling the two words along with Hammett’s name led me to A Dashiell Hammett Companion (Greenwood Press, 2000) by Robert L. Gale, who calls it “an inexplicable reference.” I concur. And in caps!

***

   Let’s migrate from one end of the crime spectrum to the other. I scrutinized every line of James E. Keirans’ John Dickson Carr Companion before it was published but somehow I missed the absence of one Carr adaptation that Keirans missed too. Among the flood of TV PI shows that followed in the wake of Peter Gunn was Markham (1959-60), a 30-minute series starring suave Ray Milland as lawyer-turned-private-investigator Roy Markham.

   Most of the scripts for the 59 episodes of this series were originals but a few were based on published short stories by well-known writers — including Ed Lacy and Henry Slesar — and one was adapted from a Carr radio drama. In “The Phantom Archer” (March 31, 1960) an English nobleman calls on Markham to help fight a ghostly archer who is roaming the halls of a historic manor.

   Carr’s radio play of the same name was first heard on the CBS series Suspense (March 9, 1943) and the script was published in EQMM for June 1948 and collected in The Door to Doom and Other Detections (1980). Who directed and scripted this Markham episode remain unknown but the cast included Murray Matheson and Eunice Gayson. There are eleven references to “The Phantom Archer” in the index to Keirans’ book but there should have been a twelfth.

MY FAVORITE PRIVATE EYE WRITERS
by Barry Gardner


   Of all the subcategories of crime fiction, I suppose that hard-boiled private detective stories are my favorites, and I’m sure I read more of them than of any other. [As of the present day, June 1992] who’s the absolute best at writing them now? Gawd, I dunno. I do know that there are a lot of people writing them now, as the lists below will attest.

   Just for the fun of it (all listmakers will understand) and my own edification, I thought I’d list those who currently write primarily in that area that I read regularly, and who almost always furnish me with a book at I enjoy, and often one that I like a great deal. What I ended up with were three groups of 10 each, ranked as groups, but listed alphabetically and unranked within each group. And the winners were:

       Group 1:

Lawrence Block
Michael Collins
Loren Estleman
Stephen Greenleaf
Jeremiah Healy
Arthur Lyons
Marcia Muller
Bill Pronzini
Les Roberts
Jonathan Valin

       Group 2:

Linda Barnes
Earl Emerson
Linda Grant
Sue Grafton
Rob Kantner
Michael Z. Lewin
John Lutz
Robert J. Randisi
William J. Reynolds
William G. Tapply

       Group 3:

Marvin Albert
Peter Corris
Wayne Dundee
Timothy Hallinan
Paul Kemprecos
Jerry Kennealy
Edward Mathis
James E. Martin
Sara Paretsky
David M. Pierce

   That my list is so large implies one of two things (I’m sure you’ll be able to guess which interpretation I prefer): either there are a hell of a lot of decent PI writers around today or I’m sadly deficient in discrimination. Also interesting is that 5 of the 30 are female, which I’d venture to say is higher than the distaff percentage of all PI writers. Does anyone have an idea of the actual breakdown?

   Notable by his absence is Robert B. Parker, whom I like very much at his best, but who has been too uneven in output, and is just too, too bad when he’s bad. There must be at least a dozen others that I read fairly regularly, and heaven knows how many more that I’ve tried and discarded, or haven’t read yet. I hadn’t realized how many there were. Amazing.

   I’d really be interested in hearing your opinions — who you‘d move up or down, who you’d put on or leave off, and/or any other thought that strikes you forcefully but non-lethally.

   As long as I’m boiling ’em hard, a few more opinions:

      The 5 most influential:

Dashiell Hammett
Raymond Chandler
Ross Macdonald
Mickey Spillane
Robert B. Parker

   The above, to me, were no-brainers. Note that no comment on quality is intended, merely influence. It is impossible to read a book in the genre today without hearing distinct echoes of at least one of them, and often of several in the same book. I see very little of Hammett, really, but without him there wouldn’t have been Chandler, so–

      The 5 best no longer writing :

Dashiell Hammett
Raymond Chandler
Ross Macdonald
Thomas B. Dewey
William Campbell Gault

   I‘m reasonably comfortable with the first four, but there were several contenders for #5. I gave it to Gault because I felt he was more consistent over a large body of work. Browne, Brown, and Spicer were others I considered.

      The 5 best newcomers (last 5 or 6 years):

Timothy Hallinan
Linda Grant
Wayne Dundee
Paul Kemprecos
James E. Martin

      5 I’d like to see write some more:

Jack Lynch (Bragg)
Max Byrd (Mike Haller)
Joe Gores (DKA)
Timothy Harris (Thomas Kyd)
Doug Hornig (Loren Swift)

   I know some of them have gone on to bigger and better things, but I particularly miss Gores, and thought Harris had real potential as a PI writer. I liked Lynch’s books more than most people did, and though Byrd and Hornig better than average.

   It should be noted that I don’t consider John D. MacDonald, James Lee Burke, or A. E. Maxwell to be private eye writers, though I have seen all categorized as such in one place or another. All would be somewhere on some list if they were, particularly the first two.

   Noted also among the missing is James Crumley, whom I unrepentantly continue to regard as a muddy plotter writing about unappetizing heroes (?), redeemed only by his erratically powerful prose. Another one whose writing I admire but who is nevertheless absent from all lists is Robert Crais. He’s a talented writer, and I’m hopeful he’ll outgrow his macho excesses as exemplified in Stalking the the Angel.

– Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #2, July 1992.


HILARY BAILEY – Hannie Richards. Ballantine, paperback reprint, 1987. Hardcover: Random House, 1986. Originally published in England: Virago, trade paperback, 1985.

   Some editions of this book are subtitled “the Intrepid Adventures of a Restless Wife,” which is a pretty good summary. We’ll get back to this in a minute – bear with me.

   Hilary Bailey, the former wife of SF-Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock, is the author of a number of mostly general fiction novels, often with a historical slant. Among the ones I spotted of possible interest are Frankenstein’s Bride, a sequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Mrs. Rochester, a sequel to Jane Eyre.

   Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV lists two others of criminous interest: The Cry from Street to Street, said to take place in London of 1888, and a short story collection entitled The Strange Adventures of Charlotte Holmes.

   A little bit of Googling on this latter title reveals that Charlotte Holmes is the sister of – you guessed? – Sherlock Holmes, and Mary Watson (Dr. Watson’s wife) assists her on most (all?) of the seven adventures in the book, which I have to see if I can obtain. One review suggested that the stories are connected, and in much the same way (to get back to the one in hand) that several of the chapters in Hannie Richards are.

   And like Charlotte Holmes, Hannie Richards is also very much a liberated woman, although the latter’s adventures are all very much present day, and “liberated” means more (I am assuming) in the present day than it did in Holmes’s time. While married and having young children, that is to say, Hannie thinks nothing of having lovers on the side, while managing her affairs as an international smuggler.

   Framed by brief episodes around the fire in an all-female version of a London men’s club, the Hope Club – a restaurant, comfortable sitting rooms, bedrooms, a bar – Hannie tells her friends three major stories: “The Adventure of the Little Coral Island,” “The Adventure of the Small African Child,” and “The Adventure to Find a Cure for Death.”

   In the first Hannie must rescue a letter that will establish the true ownership of a small Caribbean island, an adventure marred by Hannie’s stated procedure of working out the details as she goes along, which she does marvelously well, saved only by the weakest of out-of-nowhere but hardly unexpected outside forces (known perhaps best in the vernacular as deus ex machina).

   “Small African Child” is far more interesting, as Hannie finds herself venturing into the heart of Africa to find a brilliant African child (named Bob) who is the object of interest to a number of various interests, including that of the entire hierarchy of Catholic Church. Verging into the realm of science fiction or fantasy here, this is a type of story that – and this is the only hint I can give you – should only take place at – no, I can’t tell you. I think I should say only “at a certain time of year.”

   In the final tale, surprised and extremely upset at discovering that her stay-at-home husband has taken on a lover himself, Hannie recklessly heads for South America in a (well-paying) quest to find a plant whose leaves may contain a cure for cancer, and she makes a number of crucial mistakes she perhaps would not have otherwise made, ending up for a short time in gaol and badly served for her troubles.

   A mixed bag, in other words. From a feminist’s point of view, I think there are some conflicting, mixed messages included here – whether intentionally or not, I have not entirely decided.

— July 2004

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         


PAUL DURST – Die, Damn You! Lion #75, paperback original, 1952.

   I just can’t resist a book with a title like Die, Damn You!, so I’d have bought this in any event, but to my pleasant surprise. it proved to be well worth reading, a noirish, hard-boiled Western, with a moody, idiosyncratic Loner spurred on by vengeance, running into gangsters, goons, femmes fatales, false faces, double-crosses, some very stylish violence (At one point a man sets fire to his own bed to get a rattlesnake off his chest! and a complex storyline the results in lines like:

   “One thing you boys forgot,” Clint said as calmly as he could, “Those papers that were in that safe. I left them with instructions to be opened in case anything happened to me…. Writing all that down was a good way to keep Ring from crossing you up. But when this other business started they could do you as much harm as they could him…. How else could I know all I just told you? And how do you think Miller was so sure of where he stood with Cober? He stole the papers out of Sadie McGowan’s safe. When we caught up with him, his widow gave us the papers. Ring must’ve figured we’d get the papers from Miller. That’s why he sent Lobo….”

   The author even adds a Mask of Dimitrios touch by keeping the bad guy central to the plot but off-stage till the very end. I have no idea who author Paul Durst is — or was — but he writes a lightly enjoyable, fast-moving mystery/western that’s easy to take.

***

Some Bibliographic Notes [Steve]: One online bookseller says: “Paul Durst is the author of thirty-one books under his own name and various pseudonyms.”

   From Crime Fiction IV, the following:

DURST, PAUL (1921-1990); see pseudonyms Peter Bannon & John Chelton.
Backlash (Cassell, 1967, hc) [Michael Carmichael; U.S.]
Badge of Infamy (Cassell, 1968, hc) [Michael Carmichael; Israel]
Die, Damn You! (Lion, 1952, pb) [Texas; Past] Mills, 1955.
The Florentine Table (Scribner, 1980, hc) [London]
Paradiso County (Hale, 1986, hc)

BANNON, PETER; pseudonym of Paul Durst, (1921-1990)
If I Should Die (Jenkins, 1958, hc)
They Want Me Dead (Jenkins, 1958, hc) [Missouri]
Whisper Murder Softly (Jenkins, 1963, hc) [Missouri]

CHELTON, JOHN; pseudonym of Paul Durst, (1921-1990)
My Deadly Angel (Gold Medal #524, 1955, pb) [Florida]

   From bookfinder.com, the following appear to be westerns under his own name:

Ambush at North Platte (John Long, 1957)
Bloody River (Lion, 1953)
Dead Man’s Range (Robert Hale, 2009; previous printing?)
Gun Doctor (Avalon, 1959)
Johnny Nation (Mills & Boon Diamond W Western, 1960)
Kansas Guns (Avalon, 1958)
Kid from Canadian [??] (World’s Work, 1956)
Prairie Reckoning (Gold Medal #619, 1956)

   Plus: A Roomful of Shadows, Dobson, 1975. “… his childhood autobiography – from four to twelve – in the American Middle West during the 1920s and ’30s. This era comes alive through the eyes of a small boy who is ‘half-orphan’, introspective, and full of wonder at the unpredictability of life.”

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Shall we go over my homework assignment for last month? The 1949 live TV version of “Goodbye, New York” was interesting to watch and certainly captured the Woolrich mood of desperation. But the scenes that are the heart and soul of the story, the ones that take place on the street, on the subway platform, on the IRT train, in Penn Station — how could they possibly have been done live? Even with the help of silent film clips that gave the actors time to run from one set to the next, there’s no way this pioneering live teledrama could do justice to Woolrich. What a shame that the story was never adapted for a 30-minute filmed series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents!

***

   “Goodbye, New York” appeared in print at least four times while Woolrich was alive: first in Story Magazine (October 1937), then in The Story Pocket Book, ed. Whit Burnett (Pocket Book #276, paperback, 1944), later in EQMM for March 1953, finally, as “Don’t Wait Up for Me Tonight,” in the Woolrich collection Violence (Dodd Mead, 1958).

   I happen to have all but the first of these, and for some unaccountable reason I decided a few weeks ago to compare the texts of the three versions on my shelves and see what I could see. What I found was what I’ve discovered many times before: all sorts of interesting attempts to update the story as time went by.

   The first of these relates to home entertainment. In the Pocket Book version the female narrator says that figuring out precisely how deeply she and her husband were in debt “had given us something to do in the evening, in place of a radio.” Fred Dannay left this sentence untouched when he reprinted the story in EQMM, but in Violence the last phrase morphs into “in place of TV.”

   The next has to do with the price of a daily newspaper. In the Pocket Books version we read that “the morning paper only came to two cents a day….” In 1953 Fred changed this to “a few cents” a day, and Violence follows his change. Then comes the cost of a man’s suit. The narrator purchases one for her husband, paying for it with a $50 bill he stole from the man he killed, and the salesman in the Pocket Books version “returned with fifteen dollars change….”

   In the era of post-WWII inflation Fred knew that a suit couldn’t be bought in Manhattan for $35 and substituted “with the change…,” which is how the phrase appears in Violence five years later. (Could a suit be bought in 1953 for less than fifty bucks? Dunno.)

   Finally come a couple of alterations connected with the New York subway system. The fare in 1937 was five cents — as we know from the Woolrich classic “Subway,” which first appeared in 1936 as “You Pays Your Nickel” — and the woman puts two such coins in the slot, telling her husband “I’ll leave a nickel in for you….” In EQMM the nickel grows to a dime, and in Violence it becomes a token. Having just returned from New York, I can report that today you can’t enter the system without an electronic fare card, from which a staggering $2.75 is deducted for each ride.

   A bit later in the Pocket Books version we are told that a subway clerk “wasn’t obliged to make change for anything greater than two dollars.” Two-buck bills were still common back then. Fred changed “greater” to “bigger” but kept the dollar amount as it was. In Violence it’s cut to one buck.

   I also discovered two sentences in the Pocket Books version that didn’t survive into later printings. Penn Station is described as “The one place where they [the police] could count on anyone who wanted an out in a hurry showing up to get it.” Why Fred cut this is unclear. Perhaps because Grand Central Station was unaccountably ruled out? The second expurgated line comes after the woman watches her husband carefully deposit some trash in a station wastebasket. “God, neatness at such a time!” she thinks.

   Such are the joys of comparing different versions of the same story. With or without changes, I still think “Goodbye, New York” is one of Woolrich’s finest even though Suspense didn’t do justice to it.

***

   This column began with a TV drama from 1949 so shouldn’t it end with a novel from the same year? Aaron Marc Stein (1906-1985) wrote something like 110 mysteries, under his own name and as George Bagby and Hampton Stone.

   Recently I pulled down Coffin Corner (1949), as by Bagby, which I’m sure I read decades ago but had forgotten almost completely. The body of a legendary athlete who in his diabetic declining years has been working as scout for a pro football team is found at the base of the team’s uptown home stadium, and medical evidence soon convinces Bagby’s series character Inspector Schmidt that he neither jumped nor accidentally fell off the stadium’s parapet but was murdered by a massive overdose of insulin.

   The rest of the book takes place in less than 24 hours and in one setting, a huge apartment atop the stadium which is surrounded by an even larger terrace complete with outdoor swimming pool and other athletic niceties, and the small cast of suspects includes the team owner, his wife, and various players and wannabees.

   The backstory which led to the central murder takes a bit of believing but I found the book highly readable, packed with insights into diabetes and pro football (which more than one character calls a racket) and with those unique sentences, long but not convoluted like Faulkner’s, which are a Stein trademark.

   Aaron wrote for half a century but never really hit it big. Many of his 110 novels were reprinted in paperback or as book club selections but none became movies or radio dramas and, to the best of my knowledge, only one made it to live TV. “Cop Killer,” based on the 1956 Bagby novel of the same name, was seen July 9, 1958 on Kraft Mystery Theatre, a 60-minute version starring the long-forgotten Fred J. Scollay as Schmitty and featuring Paul Hartman and Edward Binns. I remember watching this summer replacement series regularly but can’t recall whether I caught this episode.

   Beginning in 1946 after returning from service as an Army cryptographer, Aaron wrote four or five books a year, usually in a few weeks apiece, and spent much of the rest of his time traveling in odd corners of South America and other parts of the world, many of which show up in the novels published under his own name. In the early 1950s Anthony Boucher described him as the most reliable professional detective novelist in the country.

   I’ve been partial to his books since my teens and continue to revisit them now and then in geezerhood. I came to know him well in the Seventies, when both of us served on a University of California library board and he autographed many of his books for me. After his death I was invited, whenever I visited New York, to stay in the co-op on Park Avenue and 88th Street which he’d shared with his sister and her husband, and thanks to that invitation I enjoyed the unique experience of reading some of his late novels in the room where he wrote them. I still remember him fondly.

EILEEN DEWHURST – There Was a Little Girl. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1986. First published in the UK by Collins, hardcover, 1984.

   Eileen Dewhurst is an author new to me, so I started looking up what I could find out about her and her mystery fiction. First of all, she was born in 1929 and is apparently still living. One source says: “Eileen Dewhurst was born in Liverpool, read English at Oxford, and has earned her living in a variety of ways, including journalism. When she is not writing she enjoys solving cryptic crossword puzzles and drawing and painting cats.”

   I have found 25 mysteries that she has written. A few never appeared in this country, and there is a curious footnote to her book The Innocence of Guilt (Piatkus, 1991). Apparently Doubleday printed up copies in this country, but then they changed their minds and never sent them out for sale. Curious, but considering the whims of publishers, this is not particularly surprising.

   Some but not all of her book belong to various series. The case in hand is solved by Detective Inspector Neil Carter; he appeared in four others, three before this one, and one afterward. Inspector Tim Le Page appears in three books, all coming after this one. Phyllida Moon, an actress who moonlights as a private eye, appears in nine books. Helen Johnson, described in one source as the wife of a high member of British Intelligence, appears in two earlier mysteries, while someone named Humphrey Barnes crosses over into one Neil Carter book plus one of those that Phyllida Moon is in. The Neil Carter books may also overlap some of the Phyllida Moon books. Sorting all this out is beginning to sound lke a chore for another day.

   Enough background, perhaps. There are a couple of interesting aspects to There Was a Little Girl, and the first is the little girl herself, a 15-year-old schoolgirl whom we first see being sent off by train to London by her aunt for the weekend, and next as a murder victim – a prostitute Inspector Carter had previously chatted up in a bar for a short time and whom she telephoned for help just before her death, he arriving too late.

   Somehow, or is it my imagination, do the British do the messy sex-related mysteries better and/or more often than American authors do? Not the US hard-boiled version, but the “malice domestic” variety. If so, here’s another one.

   Another aspect is the marital status of Inspector Carter himself, which changes in Chapter 3 from single to married, and Dewhurst portrays the day, the ceremony, and the reception to perfection. A dreamlike panic.

   More. The wedding night. This has to be a first. Neil is hesitant to ask, but his new wife Cathy eagerly accepts. Instead of their regularly scheduled honeymoon location, off they go instead to Bellfield, the small town in the New Forest where the girl was from, where they do some incognito and continuing investigating on their own (department sanctioned), Neil not convinced that the man they have arrested for the murder is actually guilty.

   Query: Is this the first murder investigation conducted by a newly married couple on their honeymoon? And mind you, Cathy takes an active role in the case, an unofficial colleague as it were, allowing certain doors to open more easily than if Neil were on his own. In the process they find themselves embarrassed in how easily they are accepted by those who are (truthfully) suspects in the case.

   The author is very observant when it comes to human nature, and although this is not at all like one of Miss Marple’s detective puzzles, at least in terms of situation, I was reminded of Christie’s works more than once. Christie often made complex plotting look easy, however, and Dewhurst is just a little awkward at it, about which more I cannot say, but if you were to read this book and then go back and read one of the earlier chapters again, you will know what I mean

— July 2004

FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   Thanks to being on the road – -among other places, in New York where I’ll attend the MWA annual dinner and find out if I’m going to be the proud recipient of a third Edgar — I need to hold this down to a mini-column. It’s an ancient tradition that when a professor has to miss a class or two, one leaves a homework assignment for the students. You’ll find mine in the next item.

***

   What an amazing age we live in! I never thought anything could be added to the checklist of adaptations of Cornell Woolrich stories from the golden age of live TV drama that appeared almost thirty years ago in my FIRST YOU DREAM, THEN YOU DIE. Now I’ve just stumbled upon a Woolrich-based teledrama that I had never heard of before.

   Not just a reference to it but the episode itself, and one whose origin was a Woolrich tale I had never known was adapted for TV. It’s available on DVD (SUSPENSE: THE LOST EPISODES, COLLECTION 3) and on YouTube to boot.

   “Goodbye, New York” was based on the first-rate Woolrich story of the same name (Story Magazine, October 1937). A Web write-up of the DVD describes it as evoking a mood of “grim…noir-esque despair,” which certainly makes it sound faithful to its source. Meg Mundy starred in the 30-minute drama, which featured Gage Clarke, Philip Coolidge and an unbilled Ray Walston.

   Like 90-odd other SUSPENSE episodes, it was directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), who later helmed dozens of filmed episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. (Stevens died in his late sixties after being robbed and beaten by unknown assailants.) As shown on YouTube the episode doesn’t include an air date, but according to other Web sources it was the pilot for the series, broadcast on January 6, 1949, which apparently means that it’s the earliest TV version of any Woolrich tale.

   YouTube claims that Woolrich’s story was also the basis for the 1952 Hollywood feature BEWARE, MY LOVELY, starring Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino, but this is flat-out wrong; the literary source for that picture was Mel Dinelli’s “The Man” which, funnily enough, also first appeared in Story Magazine (May-June 1945).

   Here’s your homework assignment: When you’ve finished reading this column, watch the YouTube video and see if you agree that perhaps the earliest contribution to TV noir has been unearthed.

   If you have it handy you might want to read the Woolrich story too. It closes with lines that come as close as anything to capturing his world in a few words. “Two doomed things, running away. From nothingness, into nothingness….Turn back we dare not, stand still they wouldn’t let us, and to go forward was our destruction at our own hands.”

***

   There’s just space for a couple of bits of information that I promised to include this month, dealing with adaptations of John Dickson Carr for 60-minute broadcasts during the golden age of live teledrama. The first of these was seen on the CBS anthology series STUDIO ONE the night of January 7, 1952. “The Devil in Velvet” was directed by Paul Nickell from a teleplay by Sumner Locke Elliott based on Carr’s 1951 historical thriller of the same name. The stars were Whit Bissell, Phyllis Kirk and Joan Wetmore.

   Apparently there were no more hour-long Carr adaptations until more than six years later when another CBS anthology series presented a version of by far the best known and most popular Carr radio play, “Cabin B-13″ (CLIMAX!, June 26, 1958). Shortly after a newlywed couple board a luxury liner for their honeymoon cruise, the man vanishes along with the fortune his wife gave him as a wedding present.

   She reports his disappearance to the captain and is told that there’s no record of either herself or her husband as passengers and that what she claims to have been their cabin doesn’t exist. Heading the cast were Barry Sullivan (Dr. Edwards), Kim Hunter (Ann Brewster), Alex Nicol (Robert Brewster), Hurd Hatfield (Morini) and Sebastian Cabot (Capt. Wilkins). The original Carr radio play is easily available both in audio and script form.

***

   Apparently the last hour-long live Carr adaptation on American TV was aired on NBC’s DOW HOUR OF GREAT MYSTERIES, a short-lived series that aired once a month for seven months during the last year of the Eisenhower administration, by which time live TV drama was pretty much dead.

   Second of the seven episodes was “The Burning Court” (April 24, 1960). The adaptation of Carr’s classic 1937 novel of the same name was by Audrey and William Roos, who were well known for collaborating on whodunits as Kelley Roos. Paul Nickell once again directed. The cast boasted four top names: Barbara Bel Geddes (Marie Stevens), Robert Lansing (Edward Stevens), George C. Scott (Gordon Cross), and Anne Seymour (Mrs. Henderson).

   I can’t remember a thing about this show, probably because I was watching MAVERICK or something that night.

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