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America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

[ Edited ]

Who is Craig Rice? 

 

 

Until I read Jeffrey Marks' book, WHO WAS THAT LADY?, I didn't know either. After reading his book, I read every book of hers I could find. She's definitely worth a featured spot as an American Mystery Classic!

 

Who Was That Lady?  

 

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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

To kick off this week's main feature, I've asked Jeff Marks to tell us about Craig Rice in his own words. Jeff has visited us before when he blogged about Agatha Christie:

 

http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Mystery/JEFFREY-MARKS-blogs-about-his-Travels-with-Agatha-Chr...

 

His website is here: http://www.jeffreymarks.com/

 

Jeff is working on a biography of Ellery Queen, so I'll be asking him back when we feature that American Mystery Classic duo of authors. He's also putting the finishing touches on an Erle Stanley Gardner biography!

 

 

Meet Tuppence (aka Penny) who is the newest addition to the family. She's named after Tuppence Beresford, a character in the Tommy and Tuppence stories by Agatha Christie. She gets into almost as much trouble as her namesake.....

 

Author Jeffrey Marks

 

Author Jeffrey Marks

 

Jeffrey Marks is a long-time mystery fan and freelancer.  After numerous mystery author profiles, he chose to chronicle the short but full life of mystery writer Craig Rice.
 
That biography (Who Was That Lady?) encouraged him to write mystery fiction. The Ambush of My Name was the first mystery novel by Marks to be published although he has several mystery short story anthologies on the market. His works include a second Grant novel (A Good Soldier), Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s/1950s, and Criminal Appetites, an anthology of cooking related mysteries. His latest work is a biography of mystery author and critic Anthony Boucher entitled Anthony Boucher. It has been nominated for an Agatha and fittingly, an Anthony.
 
His work has won a number of awards including the Barnes and Noble Prize and he was nominated for a Maxwell award (DWAA), an Edgar (MWA), three Agathas (Malice Domestic), two Macavity awards, and three Anthony awards (Bouchercon). Today, he writes from his home in Cincinnati, which he shares with his dog.

Visit Jeffrey's blog at jeffreymarks.com

Thank you Jeffrey for answering a few questions for us!  To start, please tell us about your latest project. 
 
My latest project, which was published in 2008, was a biography of mystery critic and writer Anthony Boucher. The book was entitled Anthony Boucher, which makes it easy to remember. The world mystery conference was named after this man, but so many authors and fans didn’t know much about him. I’ll be going to Bouchercon this fall, where ironically enough, I’m nominated for an Anthony.
 
Have you received any awards for your work?
 
I’ve been nominated for 12 different awards for my works, including the Edgar, the Agatha, the Macavity, the Anthony, and the Maxwell. I’ve won once. I’m currently nominated for an Anthony for Anthony Boucher. I’m glad to say that I’ve won something now. My friends were beginning to call me the Susan Lucci of mystery.
 
Do you also do speaking engagements, or seminars?
 
I do a number of seminars and speaking engagements. I’ve done quite a few across the US and others in Mexico and Canada. I like being able to meet readers and other writers Writing can be a very lonely profession at times with hours in front of the computer, communing with people who are in your imagination or died many years ago. So actually talking to people about books and writing can be a lot of fun.
 
Most of the ones I’ve done lately have to do with my book, Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel. I do marketing workshops to help authors find new ways to promote their work without spending thousands of dollars to do so. I have two coming up this fall, one in Columbus Ohio, and the other in Indianapolis, Indiana.
 
What kind of other works (books, scripts, poems etc.) have you had published? 
 
I started in short stories. I won an award for my short story work, which led me to edit three mystery short stories anthologies (Canine Crimes, Canine Christmas, and Magnolias and Mayhem). As a result of the third anthology, I took the main character from the story and wrote a novel with him as the protagonist. I had two books published in that series. So I’ve done several other forms in addition to the biographies I’ve written.
 
What will your next project be?
 
My next project will be a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner, the man who wrote the Perry Mason series. This is a much bigger project as he wrote over 500 short stories and 100 novels. Trying to track down all of his works is taking more time than reading all of Boucher’s writings combined.
 
I’m about 100 pages into the book at the moment and I expect it to be over 500 pages in total. I would like to try to finish that up next year.
 
What type of work is the most rewarding or satisfying for you?
 
I love research. Digging into the past is fascinating for me and it can be addicting. Sometimes I’ll want to keep researching and not bother to write the book, even if I go astray from what I’m supposed to be looking up.
 
Sometimes to handle this, I’ll hire a research assistant to help with that task. This can keep me on the path of writing, while someone else is accumulating the raw material that will go into the book. It can be a huge time-saver, as I’ll lose days in the stacks.
 
What can you recommend for writers who are just getting started and are trying to make a name for themselves?
 
I would definitely suggest sitting down and writing first. So many people who attend my conferences on marketing and promotion will want to ask about agents and contracts and booksignings , when they haven’t put a word to paper. We have to remember the correct order in which to do things. Writing a good book comes first, and then selling it and going on tour come later.
 
How did you get started as a writer?
 
I’ve always written as long as I can remember. Before I could write, I drew little picture books in tablets of paper. So storytelling is in my blood. I have several great storytellers in my family, so being able to tell events in a way that keeps people interested is something I’ve always known.
 
Like I said, I’ve never been able to pinpoint how I got started. I won a prize for a poem in 3rd grade, so maybe then I knew I had a talent?
 
What does a typical work day look like for you?
 
I teach full-time, so that takes up a great deal of time. My writing schedule is either very early in the morning, late at night, the weekends and breaks. Because of the schedule I have, writing every day can be a luxury. So I take those 15 minute intervals to get as much done as I can.
 
Have you ever had a mentor, or someone who sparked your passion for writing?
 
Definitely my grandmother was sparked my passion for writing; she worked at a newspaper for about 15 years. She let me know that writing could be a career if you wanted it to be. Also I had a few teachers along the way who took the time to encourage me.
 
Finally, a most important question: what was the last song you sang out loud when you were by yourself?  :smileyhappy:
 
Embarrassingly, Absolutely Fabulous by the Pet Shop Boys

Thank you Jeffrey! We wish you ongoing success with your biographies!

 


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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

To give you more background, here are Jeff's books - and he'll have more books out soon!

 

Canine Christmas 

Anthony Boucher 

Canine Crimes 

Atomic Renaissance 

Scent Of Murder 

Techno-Noir 

Derby Rotten Scoundrels 

Murder, Mystery and Malone 

Criminal Appetites 

A Good Soldier 

Ambush of My Name 

Intent to Sell 

Magnolias and Mayhem 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Was That Lady?               

 

Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: Queen of the Screwball Mystery

 

Overview

 

What goes up must come down, and Craig Rice’s meteoric rise to the top of the mystery writing heap by 1946 was rivaled only by her rapid descent into semi-obscurity. Her face once graced the cover of Time magazine, but today her books are found in second hand stores. 

The mystery surrounding Rice was almost as puzzling as her books. Where was she born? What was her given name? What novels and short stories did she publish? Who did she marry and how many times? How many children did she have? Where did the penname of Craig Rice emanate from? How did she die? In the forty years since her death, the answers to these questions were buried under piles of confusion, lies, and exaggeration. In the 20th century how could these basic questions of a person’s life be so vague? 

Jeffrey Marks began a quest to learn the answers. His research took the better part of a decade. He traced Rice’s oeuvre back to original manuscripts to determine authorship. He tracked down relative, friends, and other writers to learn answers on Craig’s name, her heritage, and her descent from superstardom into drinking, mental illness, and trouble with the law.

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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

CRAIG RICE 

 

by Jeffrey Marks

 

Though she passed away before I was born, I often look at Craig Rice as more of a friend than a ghost. That’s what happens when you spend years writing about an author you’ve loved since your teens. Her fiction has made me laugh – and well, laugh again.

 

I first had the idea of writing a biography of Craig Rice in a bar, which now seems incredibly appropriate. The woman who could make a country laugh with her humor and the drinking antics of her trio of motley drinkers, John J. Malone and Jake and Helene Justus, suffered from alcoholism as well. The number of empty bottles of rye and whiskey far outnumber the corpses in a typical book.

 

That’s not to say that her output ended there. She wrote another series about drifters Bingo and Handsome who end up finding crime wherever they go. She wrote another series under the name of Michael Venning and yet another under the name Daphne Sanders. The Sanders title, To Catch a Thief, is so hard to find that it is often mistaken for the Hitchcock film of the same name.

 

It had taken me several years to learn what made the woman behind these mysteries so outrageous. My initial research indicated that no one knew her birth name (Georgiana Craig), how many husbands she’d married (4) or how many children she’d had (3). I had to marvel at the fact that she had managed to navigate the 20th century, the age of information, without leaving behind sufficient footprints to answer the most basic of biographical information. In fact, most every short bio I found of Rice contained conflicting information.

 

Rice’s career had peaked in 1946 when Time magazine chose her for a cover story over all other mystery writers; she was the first woman mystery writer to receive that honor. Rice had repaid their decisions with an odd combinations of truth and fiction. She was falsely rumored to have written Gypsy Rose Lee’s mysteries and accurately rumored to have written George Sander’s mystery. Sanders had dedicated the mystery to Rice “without whom this book could not have been written. (I chose to dedicate my biography to Rice using the same text.) The magazine had only learned the truth at the last minute and had scrambled to correct the piece. For the rest of her life, Time enjoyed pointing out her foibles and flaws in their magazine.

 

After reaching the pinnacle, Rice had plummeted into obscurity. The woman who had published three and four books a year published only one Malone novel in the following 10 years. She married twice more, lived in rooming houses in New York, and ended up in a sanitarium. After publishing two Malone novels in 1957, Rice died in a mysterious accident. Evan Hunter, writing as Ed McBain, completed her final unfinished novel, using only his imagination as Rice had left no notes to the plot or characters. Her works lived on, amusing generations of readers who lost track of the author behind the smile. Readers began to think of Craig as a man and the apocryphal stories began. By the time I started my research, the truth had been long obscured.

 

The book that earned Rice a place in the traditional mystery hall of fame is Home Sweet Homicide, the fictional account of Rice’s life with her three children, if they had discovered a dead body while mom tried to support them writing mysteries. Ironically, while the book was considered one of her best, it did not contain the trademark booze that filled her other stories. The book was made into a film and has in recent years been reprinted by Rue Morgue Press.

 

Home Sweet Homicide  

 

 

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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

This is from the Thrilling Detective website:

 

Craig Rice
(pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig; other pseuds. include Daphne Sanders, George Sanders, Gypsy Rose Lee, Michael Venning, 1908-1957)

 

"Life Can Be Horrible" is the name of a screwball short story Craig Rice once wrote.

It could have also been her epitath.

 

In its January 28, 1946 issue, Time Magazine selected writer Craig Rice for a cover feature on the mystery genre. it was one a the rare allocades this now almost forgotten writer received for her amazing body of work.

 

The fact is, Craig rice was, as a recent (and long-overdue) biography put it, "The Queen the Screwball Mystery." But even that's damning her with faint praise. What she really was was is "The Queen of the Surrealistic Crime Story." Almost everything that happens in one of her witty, whacky novels is completely off the wall.

 

To Rice, reality was truly just a concept; a weird and wonderful playground where her imagination could romp around unfettered.

 

Rice twistied and distorted characters, plots, settings and events like a rubber pretzel, yet somehow she always managed to come back to this world, content at having challenged her reader's perceptions of reality. Chopped up bodies vie with elaborately detailed descriptions of womens' dresses for the readers attention, and every glass of alcohol is duly noted. And yet, in their own weird, surreal way, everything does follow its own peculiar logic.

 

The Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection Home Page compares Rice to such surrealistic filmmakers as "Buster Keaton, Chuck Jones and other silent film and animated cartoon makers (who) developed an enormously creative tradition of surrealistic comedy," and to fellow mystery writers such as Jacques Futrelle and Ellery Queen (supposedly Rice' favorite mystery writer) who also "emphasized constantly surprising twists of plot, characters and events that startled readers by their sheer strangeness."

 

And it's fair comment to compare her to such writers, because her world was a very different one than the one that her contemporaries on the hard-boiled side of the street, such as Chandler andHammett, created. Possibly the only one on the hard-boiled side who came close to her wasJonathan Latimer, who had more than a few surreal touches of his own, particularly in his Bill Crane novels. And like Latimer's private eye hero Bill Crane, Rice's own series characters, ne'er-do-well bibulous attorney John J. Malone and his pals, Jake and Helene Justus, two endearingly inept Watsons, consumed a staggering amount of alcohol. All the better to deal with surreality of things, I guess.

 

But Malone and his buddies proved to be a popular diversion. They drank their way through a whole slew of novels and short stories, not to mention later film, radio and television appearances. Some of the stories were collected in The Name Is Malone (1958). She also wrote several short stories with Stuart Palmer, teaming up Malone with his detective, Hildegarde Withers. these were collected in People vs. Withers and Malone (1963).

 

But Rice wrote more than just the Malone series. She wrote several stand-alone novels, and a a trilogy featuring traveling photographers, the fast-talking Bingo Riggs and his partner, Handsome Kusak. The books in that series are The Sunday Pigeon Murders (1942), The Thursday Turkey Murders (1943) andThe April Robin Murders (1958). The last book was, in fact, left uncompleted at the time of her death, and Ed McBain completed it.

 

She wrote the standalone To Catch a Thief (1943), which some consider her finest work. It is, of course, long out of print. She wrote three other non series books under her own name, including the magnificent Home Sweet Homicide (1944) which was also made into a film. She also published three books under the pseudonym Michael Venning, featuring gray little New York City lawyer Melville Fairr.

 

Rice also wrote for film, adding several of her bizarre, surreal touches to The Falcon's Brother(1942), with her future collaborator Stuart Palmer, and The Falcon in Danger (1943). The first, in particular, with the early death of its hero and his apparent resurrection and ultimate replacement by his brother, reeks of one of Rice's favourite themes, that of doppelgangers and the dead who don't seem to stay dead.

 

Rice also found time to write several highly-acclaimed true crime articles, and to ghost a couple of books, two for stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and one for George Sanders, the actor who had played the original Falcon in The Falcon's Brother.

 

With all these projects she was involved in, it's easy to see why it was said that she was, for a while, almost as popular as Agatha Christie with mystery fans, rivalling her in sales.

Which makes it even more of a shame is that today almost none of Rice's work is in print, while her pals in the hard-boiled school seemingly gather more and more acclaim and respect every year. It's a true tragedy, because in her own way, Rice did indeed do something every bit as important and ground-breaking as the boy's club.

 

But if Rice's work wasn't exactly hard-boiled, her life certainly was. Or possibly even noir, given that almost everything about her personal life was in dispute: her birth, her real name, her number of marriages (at least four, maybe as many as seven), number of children, and even the cause of her premature death (from a probably accidental combination of pills and booze), the age of 49 in 1957 (or was it 1959?).

 

What does seem certain is that much of her life was a long, slow slide into alcoholism and even possibly madness, that there were a string of increasingly bad (and often abusive) relationships and estrangement from her children and eventual institutionalization. As one wrote in an author bio once quipped, she "wrote the binge, and lived the hangover."

 

She was born in 1908 in to an artist and a Chicago socialite who travelled frequently. Little Georgia followed in their wake, moving from place to place, rarely settling down, and never living for more than three years with her parents at a time. Indeed, supposedly her happiest times were spent being watched over by her father's sister, Mrs. Elton Rice. It was from her, of course, that Rice drew her pen name.

 

Rice was a hard worker. She wrote for the papers, radio, and kept her hand in publicity work, publishing her first book, 8 Faces at 3, in 1939

 

One marriage was to Beat writer Larry Lipton, and another to a lunatic she met in the booby bin. At a funeral, her own daughter had to be pointed out to Rice, who didn't recognize her because she "hadn't visited her family in so long." maybe domesticity wasn't for her.

 

In Home. Sweet Homicide, a single mom mystery writer is hard at work trying to wrap up her latest novel while her three children are ripping up the neighbourhood trying to solve a murder of their own.

 

In 2001, Jeffrey Marks published what seems to be the first substantial biography of Rice, at last lifting the veil on the life of a fascinating but very troubled woman whose life was a far cry from the delightfully wacky works she's best remembered for.


 


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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

More from the Thrilling Detective website:

 

NOVELS

  • All novels by Craig Rice, unless otherwise noted
  • 8 Faces at 3 (1939; AKA "Death at Three" and "Murder Stops the Clock"; John J. Malone)
  • The Corpse Steps Out (1940; John J. Malone)
  • The Wrong Murder (1940; John J. Malone)
  • The Right Murder (1941; John J. Malone)
  • Trial by Fury (1941; John J. Malone)
  • Telefair (1942; AKA Yesterday's Murder)
  • The Big Midget Murders (1942; John J. Malone)
  • The Sunday Pigeon Murders (1942; Bingo Riggs and Handsome Kusak)
  • The Man Who Slept All Day (1942; as by Michael Venning; Melville Fairr)
  • Murder Through the Looking Glass (1943; as by Michael Venning; Melville Fairr)
  • Having a Wonderful Crime (Simon, 1943; John J. Malone)
  • The Thursday Turkey Murders (1943; Bingo Riggs and Handsome Kusak)
  • To Catch a Thief (1943; as by Daphne Sanders)
  • Home Sweet Homicide (1944)
  • Jethro Hammer (1944; as by Michael Venning; Melville Fairr)
  • The Lucky Stiff (1945; John J. Malone)
  • The Fourth Postman (1948; John J. Malone)
  • Innocent Bystander (1949)
  • Mrs. Schultz is Dead (1955)
  • My Kingdom for a Hearse (1956; John J. Malone)
  • Knocked for a Loop (1957; AKA "The Double Frame"; John J. Malone)
  • The April Robin Murders (1959; completed by Ed McBain; Bingo Riggs and Handsome Kusak)
  • But the Doctor Died (1967; John J. Malone)
    .
  • Also:
  • The Pickled Poodles (1960; written by Larry M. Harris
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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

GHOST-WRITTEN NOVELS

  • The G-String Murders (1941; by Gypsy Rose Lee; aka "The Strip-Tease Murders" and "Lady of Burlesque"; Gypsy Rose Lee)
  • Mother Finds a Body (1942; by Gypsy Rose Lee; Gypsy Rose Lee)
  • Crime on My Hands (1944; by George Sanders, actually ghost written by Craig Rice & Cleve Cartmill)

SHORT STORIES

  • "The Bad Luck Murders" July 1943, Baffling Detective Mysteries; aka "Dead Men's Shoes"; John J. Malone)
  • "His Heart Could Break" (March 1943, EQMMJohn J. Malone)
  • "Good-Bye, Good-Bye!" (June 1946, EQMMJohn J. Malone)
  • "Once Upon a Train" (October 1950, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers and John J. Malone)
  • "Cherchez la Frame" (June 1951, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers and John J. Malone)
  • "Good-Bye Forever" (December 1951, EQMMJohn J. Malone)
  • "Case of the Vanishing Blonde" (December 1952, Dime Detective; with Mark Hope)
  • "And the Birds Still Sing" (December 1952, EQMMJohn J. Malone)
  • "The Last Man Alive" (1953)
  • "The Murder of Mr. Malone" (1953)
  • "The Little Knife That Wasn't There" (1954)
  • "Autopsy and Eva" (August 1954, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers and John J. Malone)
  • "Rift in the Loot" (April 1955, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers andJohn J. Malone)
  • "The Frightened Millionaire" (1956)
  • "Say It With Flowers" (September 1957, Manhunt; also 1997, American Pulp)
  • "The Tears of Evil" (1958, The Name Is MaloneJohn J. Malone)
  • "The Murder of Mr. Malone" (1958, The Name Is MaloneJohn J. Malone)
  • "Life Can Be Horrible" (1958, The Name Is MaloneJohn J. Malone)
  • "He Never Went Home" (1958, The Name Is MaloneJohn J. Malone)
  • "The End of Fear" (1958; The Name Is MaloneJohn J. Malone)
  • "Withers and Malone, Brain-Stormers" (March 1959, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers and John J. Malone)
  • "They're Trying to Kill Me" (February 1959, The Saint Mystery MagazineJohn J. Malone)
  • "People vs. Withers and Malone" (1963, People vs. Withers and Malone; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers and John J. Malone)
  • "The Butler Who Didn't Do It" (1960; also Alfred Hitchcock Presents: 16 Skeletons From My ClosetJohn J. Malone)
  • "Hardsell" (A Month of MysteryJohn J. Malone)
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COLLECTIONS

FILMS

  • LADY OF BURLESQUE...Buy this DVD...Buy this video
    (1943, United Artists)
    91 minutes, black & white
    Based on the novel written by Gypsy Rose Lee (actually ghostwritten by Craig Rice)
    Screenplay by James Gunn
    Directed by William A. Wellman
    Starring Barbara Stanwyck as DIXIE DAISY
    .
  • HAVING A WONDERFUL CRIME 
    (1945, RKO)
    90 minutes
    Based on the novel by Craig Rice
    Written by Howard J. Green, Stewart Sterling, Parke Levy
    Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
    Starring Pat O'Brien as JOHN J. MALONE
    Also starring 
    George Murphy as Jake Justus
    and Carole Landis as Helene Justus
    .
  • HOME SWEET HOMICIDE
    (1946, 20th Century-Fox))
    90 minutes, black & white
    Based on the novel by Craig Rice
    Screenplay by F. Hugh Hubert
    Directed by Lloyd Bacon
    Produced by Louis D. Dighton
    Starring Peggy Ann Garner, Randolph Scott, Lynn Bari, Dean Stockwell, Connie Marshall, James Gleason, Anabel Shaw, Barbara Whiting, Shepperd Strudwick, Stanley Logan, Olin Howlin, Pat Flaherty
    .
  • TENTH AVENUE ANGEL
    (1948, MGM)
    74 minutes, black & white
    Based on the story by Angna Enters and the radio sketch 'Miracle at Midnight" by Craig Rice
    Screenplay by Eleanore Griffin and Harry Ruskin
    Directed by Roy Rowland
    Produced by Ralph Wheelwrigh
    Starring Margaret O'Brien, Angela Lansbury, George Murphy, Phyllis Thaxter, Warner Anderson, Rhys Williams, Barry Nelson, Connie Gilchrist, Tom Trout , Richard Tyler
    .
  • THE LUCKY STIFF
    (1949)
    Based on the novel by Craig Rice
    Directed by Lewis R. Foster
    Produced by Jack Benny
    Starring Brian Donlevy as JOHN J. MALONE
    .
  • MRS. O'MALLEY AND MR. MALONE
    (1950, MGM)
    Based on the story "Once Upon A Train" (aka "The Loco Motive") by Stuart Palmer and Craig Rice
    Screenplay by William Bowers
    Directed by Norman Taurog 
    Starring James Whitmore as JOHN J. MALONE
    .
  • UNDERWORLD STORY .Buy this video
    (1950, United Artists)
    91 minutes, black & white
    Based on a story by Craig Rice
    Adapted by Cyrus Endfield
    Directed by 
    Cy Endfield
    Produced by Hal E. Chester .
    Associate producer: Bernard W. Burton
    Executive producer: Jack Dietz
     Starring: Dan Duryea, Herbert Marshall, Howard Da Silva, Gale Storm, Michael O'Shea, Mary Anderson, Gar Moore, Melville Cooper, Frieda Inescort, Art Baker , Harry Shannon, Alan Hale Jr., Stephen Dunne
    Effective little crime flick, with Duryea as a shifty reporter.

SCREENPLAYS BY RICE

  • THE FALCON'S BROTHER
    (1942, RKO)
    Based on characters created by Michael Arlen
    Screenplay by Craig Rice and Stuart Palmer
    Directed by Stanley Logan
    Starring
     George Sanders as GAY LAWRENCE, THE FALCON
    and Tom Conway as TOM LAWRENCE
    .
  • THE FALCON IN DANGER
    (1943, RKO)
    Based on characters created by Michael Arlen
    Screenplay by Craig Rice and Fred Niblo Jr.
    Directed by William Clemens
    Starring
     Tom Conway as TOM LAWRENCE, THE FALCON

RADIO

  • THE AMAZING MR. MALONE (AKA Murder And Mr. Malone)
    (1948, ABC; 1951, NBC)
    Writers: Craig Rice, Gene Wang
    Director: Bill Rousseau
    Producer: Bernard L. Schubert
    Starring Eugene Raymond as JOHN J. MALONE
    (also played by Frank Lovejoy and George Petrie)

TELEVISION

  • THE AMAZING MR. MALONE
    (1951-52, ABC)
    Director: Edgar Peterson
    Producer: Edward Peterson
    Starring Lee Tracy as JOHN J. MALONE

REFERENCE

  • "Craig Rice and Time Magazine," (Spring 1994, The Armchair Detective; article by Jeffrey Marks)
  • "Craig Rice and Hollywood," (Mystery Scene, #45; article by Jeffrey Marks)
  • "Collecting Craig Rice," (November 1996, Firsts: The Book Collectors Magazine; article by Jeffrey Marks, a companion piece to Steven Saylor's "Collecting Stuart Palmer")
  • "Leave Them Laughing," (1997, Deadly Women; article by Jeffrey Marks)
  • Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of Screwball Mystery (2001; by Jeffrey Marks)...Buy this book

RELATED LINKS

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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

Rue Morgue Press

 

Craig Rice

“Murder is not mirthful and there is nothing comic about a corpse,” Craig Rice wrote in a 1946 essay, “Murder Makes Merry,” for Howard Haycraft’s The Art of the Mystery Story. Yet Rice herself was able to make murder mirthful, perhaps because she made it abundantly clear that it was all in good fun. “She never forgot,” said critic J. Randolph Cox, “that the primary purpose of the detective story was entertainment.”

And entertain readers she did. She got serious once in a while, in the novels written as by Michael Venning or in the stand-alone, Telefair, but for the most part she went for the laugh, especially in a dozen or so  novels featuring Chicago criminal lawyer John J. Malone and his sidekicks, Jake and Helene Justus. Starting in 1939 with 8 Faces at 3 and ending with My Kingdom for a Hearse in 1957, published two weeks after her death at the age of 49, Rice’s inebriated trio of sleuths prowled the streets and bars of Chicago, vowing that no blonde—or redhead or brunette—would ever be convicted of murder. Mostly, they hung out in Joe the Angel’s City Hall Bar where they playfully tweaked the nose of homicide cop Daniel von Flanagan (he added the “von” so as not to be deemed just another Irish cop). Such antics eventually earned her the unheard of sum (for a mystery writer) of $46,000 a year by 1945 and in 1946 Time  put her on its cover, the only mystery writer ever to be so honored.

Rice’s comic touch was ideally suited to her era. When FDR took office in 1933, he promised the country that happy days were here again. After more than three years of the Great Depression, people were ready for a belly laugh. They wouldn’t have to wait long. In 1934, the era of the screwball comedy was ushered in by one unforgettable movie and an equally memorable mystery novel.

The movie was Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night. This madcap comedy about a spoiled little runaway rich girl and a hard-bitten reporter was warmly embraced by the movie-going public and earned an unprecedented five major Oscars. The book was Dashiell Hammett’s last novel, The Thin Man. “The generation of the Thirsty Thirties fell on it with huzzahs. It was a book they understood, regardless of being a mystery,” wrote Lee Wright, Craig Rice’s editor at Simon & Schuster. Critic and mystery writer William L. DeAndrea agreed. “It… established what has been called the zany, gin-soaked school of hardboiled mystery, where most of the violent events are played for laughs.”  Ironically, Hammett never published another novel, although he did not die until 1961, and most critics dismissed The Thin Man because it was atypical of his other work and was the basis for a series of commercially successful movies as well as a radio series.

But others followed in his footsteps. While directors such as Capra and Preston Sturges turned the screwball comedy into a movie art form, several mystery writers aped Hammett’s style in print. His first major disciple was Jonathan Latimer, who published five novels, starting in 1935 with Murder in the Madhouse, featuring Bill Crane, a young, handsome, wisecracking private eye who was equally at home swilling gin with lowlifes or sipping martinis in high society. Alcohol was the fuel, according to DeAndrea, that fed the detective muse in Latimer’s books. It was also a key element in many other zany mysteries of the day, including Elizabeth Dean’s 1938 Murder is a Collector’s Item, which features a trio of sleuths with many similarities to Rice’s characters, although Dean pushed her female character—an antiques store clerk—into the central role and relegated her wannabe private-eye boyfriend to escort duties. The booze continued to flow in Elliot Paul’s 1939 debut,The Mysterious Mickey Finn, and Pam and Jerry North were at least as fond of their martinis as their cats in Frances and Richard Lockridge’s sophisticated comedy-mysteries beginning with The Norths Meet Murder in 1940. If Doan, the private-eye antihero of Norbert Davis’ 1943 The Mouse in the Mountain (and two other novels), is ever hesitant to take a drink, it’s only because he fears his sidekick, an enormous Great Dane named Carstairs, would rip his throat out if he did.

Humor, if not booze, also found its way into the traditional cozy mystery of the early to mid-1930s. There had always been elements of humor in books by Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and John Dickson Carr, but nothing like the out-and-out farce to be found in the works of Charlotte Murray Russell, in which an overbearing “full-figured” spinster sleuth browbeats the local police into letting her lend a hand in solving murders. Humor also was the dominant factor in the homespun mysteries of Phoebe Atwood Taylor featuring Asey Mayo, the “Codfish Sherlock.” Among the wackiest mysteries of the period were the first of 21 books by two Australian-born sisters, Constance & Gwenyth Little, who launched their careers with the 1938 shipboard murder comedy, The Grey Mist Murders. The lighthearted Hildegarde Withers mysteries of Stuart Palmer featured an elderly school teacher and her (sort of) cop boyfriend, characters who were as popular with readers as they were with moviegoers.

Although Rice’s Malone books are more scrambled than hardboiled, there’s no question that her 1944 non-series novel, Home Sweet Homicide, is a pure cozy. It’s also clearly one of her best books, awarded cornerstone status in the Haycraft-Queen Definitive Library list, but according to her biographer Jeffrey Marks, it was criticized by Timemagazine and the serial rights were reportedly turned down by many magazines because of the “impish disrespect” the children showed for the police. Partly because of this, it was just as funny, if not funnier, than the Malone books, even if chocolate malts and cokes replaced gin and rye as the beverages of choice for our sleuths, three children ranging in age from ten to fourteen.

Although the story is told from the point of view of the kids, it’s still an adult mystery, just as two other popular books of the period, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) and Sally Benson’s Junior Miss (1941), are adult stories told from a child’s point of view. All three were made into movies starring Peggy Ann Garner, who was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1946 (the year Home Sweet Homicide was filmed). Some of the racier subplots were excised for the movie, rendering it even cozier than the book, and the result was an enormously popular production that’s remembered today with great fondness, especially for the performance of a young Dean Stockwell as ten-year-old Archie. Unfortunately, it was not available on video as this introduction was being written in summer 2002, although it’s a testament to the enduring appeal of the story that a remake is being considered.

If Home Sweet Homicide has been described as “semi-autobiographical,” it’s no doubt because of Rice’s dedication:

While the characters and situations in this work are wholly fictional and imaginative, do not portray and are not intended to portray any actual persons or parties, I would like to dedicate it, with my deepest gratitude, to my children: Nancy, Iris, and David. If I had never known them, I would not have had the idea for the story. If they had not given constant help and occasional collaboration, I never could have written it. And, finally, if they had not granted their permission, it could never have been published at all.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the similarities between Rice’s real family life and that of Marian Carstairs, the overworked and much-loved (by her children) mystery-writer-mother in the book, are mostly superficial. Like Marian, Rice did have three children, but where Marian Carstairs wrote mysteries to keep her family together, Craig Rice used her busy career to dodge active motherhood. She seemed too often more interested in a lifestyle that involved a drink in the hand and a man on the arm than in the day-to-day rearing of children. She was an alcoholic who probably suffered from bipolar disorder and whose ruinous habits contributed to her premature death. The wonder is that she was able to function at all for much of her life, let alone make the contributions she did to the mystery genre.

If Rice can be excused in any way for her absentee motherhood, one must remember that her own parents essentially deserted her when she was an infant. She was born in 1908 to Bosco Craig, a would-be painter, and his wife, Mary, a would-be sculptress, who named the little girl Georgiana. Bosco was in Europe when his daughter was born and Mary soon joined him, leaving her baby behind with Craig’s mother. Living in the same house were Craig’s half-sister, Nan Rice, and her husband Elton, who, though in their forties, gladly agreed to raise the young girl, not being able to conceive a child themselves. The Craigs retrieved their daughter once for a period of three years before again heading for Europe and handing her off to the Rices. When Georgiana was eleven, Mary Craig attempted to take her back once more, only to have her daughter tell her to “go to hell.” The Rices formally adopted her and she became Georgiana Craig Rice. Eventually she dropped the Georgiana but not the attitude.

Given how hurt she was by her mother’s treatment of her, one can only wonder why she essentially abandoned her own offspring. Jeffrey Marks wrote, “No one questioned Rice’s love for her children as frequently expressed in her letters and interviews, but she appeared happier to leave their daily rearing to someone else, so she could devote herself to her husbands and writing. As her mother before her, Rice never seemed to realize the emotional impact of that choice on her or her children. Having been isolated as a child, she thought this was the normal situation.”

Rice left her first two children, Nancy and Iris, with Nan and Elton Rice, in whose home she was but an infrequent visitor. When her son David was born, the elder Rices didn’t think they had the strength or knowledge to raise a boy. Instead, David was passed from foster home to foster home and spent only a few weeks with his sisters during the first ten years of his life. When Elton Rice died in 1941, Craig Rice returned for the funeral. Thirteen-year-old Nancy had to have someone point out her own mother to her.

Rice convinced her widowed stepmother to move to California with the two girls, but it would be another year before Rice joined them. Rice’s husband at the time, literary hanger-on and future Beat poet Lawrence Lipton, convinced her to send for David, and for the first time the entire family was united under one roof. It was during this period that Rice wrote Home Sweet Homicide.

Some of the domestic details are no doubt accurate. Like Marian Carstairs, Rice was at her most productive during that period, turning out up to four books a year. But much of the rest was pure fantasy. Except for one genteel glass of sherry, there’s none of the hallmark booze of a Rice novel in Home Sweet Homicide, whereas Nancy recalls finding liquor bottles stacked up under a window during the time she lived with her mother and Larry Lipton, also a world-class drinker.

One can only wonder if Rice was merely taking the normal liberties of a novelist in turning real life into fiction or if, on some level, she was trying to create on paper the happy family life that had always eluded her. Was Home Sweet Homicide a disguised apology to her own children or, perhaps, a love letter to them from a far from perfect mother? Or was she simply turning out another of her entertaining novels? Whatever her motive, the result is one of the funniest and most endearing mystery novels of all time, a book than can be enjoyed on different levels by young and old alike.

Tom & Enid Schantz
August 2002

 

Acknowledgment

Much of the information on Rice’s relationship with her family is taken from Jeffrey Marks’ biography Who Was That Lady? (Delphi Books, 2001), recommended to anyone who would like to learn more about a very funny and talented writer.

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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

Here's a slightly extended video:

 

 

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becke_davis
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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

If any of you subscribe to the New York Times, there are lots of articles about Craig Rice in their archives. Here are the headlines:

 

 
Craig Ricemystery writer, was found dead in her apartment tonight. Miss Rice, author of about twenty-five novels, was 49 years old. Many of her stories had ...

Rice's Turn

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becke_davis
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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

I've got a question for Jeff:

 

You did so much research for your book on Craig Rice, I've been wondering if there were things you left out for various reasons. 

 

Is there anything you cut that you later wished you'd left in the book?

 

Have you discovered anything since the book was published that you'd like to add in future editions? (Or that you'd like to tell us about...?)

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maxcat
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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

I have never heard of Craig Rice before all the facts about her life were given here on this forum. I also didn't know she was a woman. I thought Craig Rice was a man. I haven't seen her books even in used book stores. So I can only go by what you have listed here, Becke. She sounds like a remarkable woman though.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep - Robert Frost
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eadieburke
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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

Over the weekend, I read:

 

Who Was That Lady?  

 

and one of her books called THE LUCKY STIFF.

 

I really enjoyed Jeffrey's biography. She definitely was quite a person. I really felt sorry for her because she was a victim of the times. There is a lot more known about bipolar, alcoholism and domestic abuse today. If she lived today, her life could have been alot better and possibly she would have lived longer than 49 years. 

 

She was a very talented writer and I really enjoyed THE LUCKY STIFF. She was also very humorous and told lies and stretched the truth a bit, but that was part of her disease. You couldn't help but like her as was obvious by her ability to pull people into her stories and lies. She was very entertaining and that's what people liked about her! 

 

I am definitely looking forward to reading more of her books and also some of Jeffrey's other biographies!

 

 

Eadie - A day out-of-doors, someone I loved to talk with, a good book and some simple food and music -- that would be rest. - Eleanor Roosevelt
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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE


maxcat wrote:

I have never heard of Craig Rice before all the facts about her life were given here on this forum. I also didn't know she was a woman. I thought Craig Rice was a man. I haven't seen her books even in used book stores. So I can only go by what you have listed here, Becke. She sounds like a remarkable woman though.


I think it's interesting that she wrote under a man's name. Obviously, there were plenty of successful female authors around (Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, Ngaio Marsh, etc.) but their stories were sedate compared to hers. Maybe she thought they'd get a better reception if people thought they were reading a book by a man. It sounds like people back then figured out she was a female pretty quickly, though.

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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE


eadieburke wrote:

Over the weekend, I read:

 

Who Was That Lady?  

 

and one of her books called THE LUCKY STIFF.

 

I really enjoyed Jeffrey's biography. She definitely was quite a person. I really felt sorry for her because she was a victim of the times. There is a lot more known about bipolar, alcoholism and domestic abuse today. If she lived today, her life could have been alot better and possibly she would have lived longer than 49 years. 

 

She was a very talented writer and I really enjoyed THE LUCKY STIFF. She was also very humorous and told lies and stretched the truth a bit, but that was part of her disease. You couldn't help but like her as was obvious by her ability to pull people into her stories and lies. She was very entertaining and that's what people liked about her! 

 

I am definitely looking forward to reading more of her books and also some of Jeffrey's other biographies!

 

 


It's sad and shocking so little is known about her today. If it wasn't for Jeff's book, I'd never have heard of her - and I've been reading mysteries from that era all my life. Honestly, I'm surprised my parents didn't have copies of her books.

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eadieburke
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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

[ Edited ]

becke_davis wrote:

eadieburke wrote:

Over the weekend, I read:

 

Who Was That Lady?  

 

and one of her books called THE LUCKY STIFF.

 

I really enjoyed Jeffrey's biography. She definitely was quite a person. I really felt sorry for her because she was a victim of the times. There is a lot more known about bipolar, alcoholism and domestic abuse today. If she lived today, her life could have been alot better and possibly she would have lived longer than 49 years. 

 

She was a very talented writer and I really enjoyed THE LUCKY STIFF. She was also very humorous and told lies and stretched the truth a bit, but that was part of her disease. You couldn't help but like her as was obvious by her ability to pull people into her stories and lies. She was very entertaining and that's what people liked about her! 

 

I am definitely looking forward to reading more of her books and also some of Jeffrey's other biographies!

 

 


It's sad and shocking so little is known about her today. If it wasn't for Jeff's book, I'd never have heard of her - and I've been reading mysteries from that era all my life. Honestly, I'm surprised my parents didn't have copies of her books.


Maybe people liked her so much that they held onto her books or she was so controversial people stopped buying them. That is such a mystery that your parents didn't have any of her books!

Eadie - A day out-of-doors, someone I loved to talk with, a good book and some simple food and music -- that would be rest. - Eleanor Roosevelt
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GS2991
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Re: America Mystery Classics: CRAIG RICE

I've not heard of her."Who was that lady?" Sounds like a fiting title then.
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