15 January 2020

Today in Mystery History: January 15


by Robert Lopresti

This is the fourth installment in my occasional march through the history of our field.  Make sure you have your comfortable shoes on.

January 15, 1924.  Dennis Lynds was born on this date.    He wrote under the name Michael Collins, and won the Edgar award for his first novel, Act of Fear.  It featured one-armed private eye named Dan Fortune, who is often described as a transitional figure between the Hammett/Chandler school of private eyes and the Parker/Muller/Paretsky clan.  Besides almost twenty other books, Fortune starred in "Scream All The Way," a story in the August 1969 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I know that because it is the earliest story I can be certain I read in that magazine.  The tale and its illustration have stayed in my mind.

Under the name William Arden, Lynds also wrote fourteen books in The Three Investigators series, which I always enjoyed much more than the Hardy Boys.

January 15, 1924.  And speaking of Dashiell Hammett, he celebrated the birth of Dennis Lynds by publishing "The Man Who Killed Dan Odams" in Black Mask Magazine.  It's a suspenseful tale of a murderer in Montana who escapes from jail and runs into an innocent woman...

January 15, 1945.  On this date the Alfred Knopf publishing house started the Black Widow Thrillers, series.  It was perhaps the first attempt to canonize mystery fiction, creating a set of standard issue reprints of classic novels.  The first to arrive were Hammett's Maltese Falcon, Chandler's Big Sleep, and Ambler's Coffin for Dimitros.    Hey, Hammett is in three entries in a row.  Is that a trend?

January 15, 1948.  Sorry, no Hammett.  On this date Columbia Pictures released I Love Trouble, a noir movie written by Roy Huggins and starring Franchot Tone and Janet Blair.  If it is memorable today it is probably because Tone played a character named Stuart Bailey. You may remember that name from the classic TV show 77 Sunset Strip.  The movie and TV show were both based on Huggins' books/stories about that private eye.

January 15, 1965.  On this date  a certain famous person rang a certain famous doorbell...

January 15, 1973.  This was the year ABC gave up on trying to find a talk show host who could compete with Johnny Carson.  They chose instead to fill their late night slot with ABC's Wide World of Entertainment.  On this night they introduced one segment of it, a  series of 90-minute movies called Wide World of Mystery. 

I learned about this in a very entertaining article by Michael Mallory in the latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine. (You do subscribe, don't you?  If not, why ever not?)  The first night's movie was called "An Echo of Theresa," but I want to tell you about a movie that appeared in the series later.  With Mike's permission, I repeat part of his description here:

While many of the stories bordered on the bizarre, none were stranger than "The Werewolf of Woodstock," which aired January 24, 1975.  Set in 1969 (obviously) it concerns a bitter, alcoholic farmer who loathes the younger generation, particularly those who attended Woodstock, which was staged near his property and left the place trashed.  During a freak electrical storm he takes a direct hit from a lightning bolt; instead of killing him... it turns him into a werewolf!  In his new bestial form he goes on a rampage against anyone he deems a "hippie," chiefly the members of a garage band who come to the site to record their own album (so they can claim it was "recorded at Woodstock").

If this makes you desperate to see the movie (produced by Dick Clark!) there are excerpts available here and here.  Perhaps that is as much as a human being can stand.  The series ended in 1976, and personally I don't miss it a bit.


January 15, 1981.  I remember exactly where I was that evening: watching the premiere of a great cop show on TV.  Remember Hill Street Blues?  It received 98 Emmy nominations.  Hell, even its theme song was a hit.

January 15, 1993.  This day saw the publication of Generous Death, Nancy Pickard's first novel.  (Well, her first published one.  She wrote one before this but, as she said, it "just sat there like a dead trout.")  Since then she has won multiple awards including the Shamus, Macavity, Anthony, and Agatha

January 15, 2008.  This date witnessed the Broadway premiere of Alfred Hitchcock's Thirty-nine Steps, a hilarious version of the great movie based on John Buchan's novel which essentially invented the genre in which the hero is being chased both by the cops and the bad guys.  The play is performed by one man playing the hero, a woman who takes most of the female parts, and two other actors who take on the rest of the roles, including a swamp and a forest.  I recommend it.



10 comments:

janice law said...

Great historical reminders but sorry you omitted some of the fine women writers of the earlier period like Margaret Millar and Patricia Highsmith whose work also turn up on screen.

John Floyd said...

Great moments indeed. And I agree--Hill Street Blues was one of the best TV shows ever made. Watched every episode.

Eve Fisher said...

Ah, I remember Hill Street Blues well. Loved it.
BTW, another famous event on this date was in 1947: "The mutilated corpse of the "Black Dahlia", a 22-year-old woman whose murder is one of the most famous unsolved crimes in the U.S., was found in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles." (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Don Coffin said...

I read some of the Dan Fortune books back when, but have no particular memory of them...maybe I should look them up?

And I saw the dramatized version of The 39 Steps, as performed by a small theater company in Chicago. Fast-paced, funny, and, remarkably enough, fairly true to Hitchcock's version of the book.

Robert Lopresti said...

Janice, neither of those fine writers was born on January 15.

Robert Lopresti said...

Don, I jut read a biography of John Buchan, who wrote the novel THE THIRTY-NINE-STEPS. Apparently he said the movie was better than the book, which probably tells you more about him than the relatively quality of the two work.

Steve Liskow said...

Fun post, Rob.

I'd have to agree with Buchan's comment on Hitchcock's film versus his book. The book is pretty forgettable. On the other hand, the film...

My wife performed in a version of the new 39 Steps a few years ago. Hilarious, and a fine production all around.

Yes, yes, yes to Hill Street Blues. I think Robert Crais was one of the main minds behind that series. And Eve, thanks for the reminder about the Black Dahlia.

O'Neil De Noux said...

Uhhh. Interesting information.

Leigh Lundin said...

I don't care what Raymond says, you can't have too much Hammett.

Informative post, Rob. I enjoyed it.

Jeff Baker said...

We're busy watching the man who played the Werewolf of Woodstock (Tige Andrews) nightly in "Mod Squad." Love the Datebook, Rob!