by Marvin Lachman


STEVE FISHER – I Wake Up Screaming. Dodd Mead & Co., hardcover, 1941. Paperback reprints: Handi-Book #27, 1944. Popular Library #129, no date stated [1947-48]. Bestseller Mystery B204, digest-sized, 1957. Bantam Books A2145, 1960. Black Lizard, 1988. Vintage, 1991. Film: 20th Century-Fox, 1941.

   Prior to this book, Fisher had written six mystery novels, under three different names, without any great success. For income he depended primarily upon being one of the best and most prolific pulp writers, one willing to write for almost every type of magazine, including Westerns, love stories, adventure, and war.

   After Screaming became a popular film noir from Twentieth Century Fox, despite the unusual casting of Betty Grable, along with Victor Mature and Laird Cregar, Fisher was able to pursue a career as a successful screen and television writer. He wrote dozens of films, including Lady in the Lake and Dead Reckoning. He also wrote hundreds of television scripts, including shows such as McMillan and Wife and Barnaby Jones.


   Fisher’s book is a Southern California mystery about a promoter suspected of murdering a starlet. Fisher’s friend and fellow mystery writer, Frank Gruber, once said of him, “Steve was never afraid to put his heart on a printed page,” and that is true of I Wake Up Screaming as he makes us identify with a protagonist on the run from a monomaniacal police detective who is determined to pin the murder on him.

   (Mike Nevins has claimed that the detective, named Cornell, was based in part on Woolrich, who had been a fellow pulp writer with whom Fisher and Gruber were acquainted when all lived and struggled in New York.)

   We get plenty of evidence here that Fisher had learned his pulp lessons well and was able to write crisp, fast-moving prose. We also get glimpses of the love affair Fisher had with Hollywood, one which, fortunately for him, the town’s major industry reciprocated.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 4, Fall 1988
         (slightly revised).

Editorial Comment:   This book was revised and updated several times over the years. See this earlier post and the comments that follow for some of the details.