Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Kings of Queen

Blogger Bill Peschel reminds me that today would’ve been the 102nd birthday of Manfred B. Lee. He was one of two cousins from Brooklyn, New York (Frederic Dannay being the other), who--under the joint pseudonym “Ellery Queen”--introduced in 1929 an intellectual young detective novelist and amateur sleuth of that same name, given to assisting his father, Inspector Richard Queen of the New York Police Department, in solving murders. As Wikipedia explains it, “Ellery Queen was created when Dannay and Lee entered a writing contest sponsored by a magazine [McClure’s] for the best first mystery novel. … Inspired by the formula and style of the Philo Vance novels by S.S. Van Dine, their entry won the contest but before it could be published, the magazine was sold and the prize given to another entrant by the new owner. Undeterred, the cousins decided to take the novel to publishers, and The Roman Hat Mystery was published in [the summer of] 1929,” just months before America’s notorious Wall Street Crash.

The Harvard-educated, quite snobbish (in the beginning, anyway), independently wealthy, and pince-nez-wearing Ellery Queen of fiction went on to appear in more than 30 “whodunit” novels, some of the later of those being ghost-written by Theodore Sturgeon and Avram Davidson. Ellery also appeared on radio during the 1930s and ’40s, and on television during the 1950s. However, most people who recall his face from the small screen, probably remember him best in the persona of Jim Hutton, the actor who played him as a personally sloppy but mentally skilled crime-solver in a short-lived but utterly charming 1975-1976 NBC-TV series, Ellery Queen, created by Richard Levinson and William Link (of Columbo fame). David Wayne portrayed Inspector Queen in that series.

In 1961, Lee and Dannay were given the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award for their contributions to mystery storytelling. Although many of the Ellery Queen novels and short stories are now out of print, and Lee died in 1971, with Dannay following him 11 years later, their nom de plume lives on in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, an influential monthly digest of crime and detective tales founded by the cousins in 1941.

READ MORE:Mystery Men--Authors Behind Pseudonym Ellery Queen Have Enduring Influence,” by S.T. Karnick (National Review).

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