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||Bill S(anborn) Ballinger (1912-1980) - also wrote as Frederic Freyer, B.X. Sanborn|
American thriller writer, who specialized from the early 1950's in a multi-level kind of narration or divided narration, and mixed identities. Ballinger's best known books include The Wife of the Red-Haired Man (1957) and The Tooth and the Naíl (1955). The latter was plagiarized by Finnish mystery writer Mauri Sariola in 1969, writing under the pseudonym Esko Laukko. Sariola paid 5,400 Finnish marks (about $1,000 nowadays, then very much more) to Ballinger, who promised to give the money to the Finnish Writers' Association. Ballinger's books have been reprinted in some thirty countries, and translated into over thirteen languages. Besides his thirty some odd novels, Ballinger wrote over 150 scripts for television and the movies.
"I consider myself, primarily, a storyteller. To me the story is the thing." (Ballinger in St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers, ed. by Jay P. Pederson, 1996)
Bill Sanborn Ballinger was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, the son of William M. Ballinger and Ella Satia; she died in 1918. Ballinger was educated at the University of Wisconsin, receiving his B.A. in 1934. From 1934 he worked in advertising, and as a radio and television writer. In 1936 he married Geraldine Taylor - they divorced in 1946. After extensive travels in Europe and the Middle East, Ballinger moved to southern California, to take advantage of the television 'boom' of the 1950s as a scriptwriter. In 1949, he married Laura Dunham; she died in 1962, and two years later he married Lucille Rambeau.
In 1960, Ballinger received the Edgar Allan Poe Award from Mystery Writers of America for his TV work, and he was the guest of honor at the Boucheron World Mystery Convention II conference in 1971 in Los Angeles. Between the years 1977 and 1979, Ballinger served as an associate professor of writing at the California State University, Nortridge. He served also as a member of the board of directors of Health and Welfare Plan and Pension Plan, and in 1978-79 President of Federal Credit Union. Ballinger died on March 23, 1980. His works of non-fiction include Lost City of Stone: The Story of Nan Madol, the "Atlantis" of the Pacific (1978) and The California Story: Credit Union's First Fifty Years (1979)
In the beginning of his career, Ballinger published
hard-boiled detective fiction. The Body in the Bed (1948), his first novel,
introduced the private eye Barr Breed from Chicago, a typical tough
hero of the post-war fiction. However, Breed's office is not a dump, but
takes up a third of a floor and has and has panelled walls. The story
was more or less a variation of the Maltese Falcon. Breed's
second and last adventure, The Body
(1949), takes him to a nightclub, where a chorus girl
is knifed. "Although the novel relies on stereotypical characters and
devices, the author's descriptions of clothing, food, business, and
locales convey a sense of 1940s Chicago and the plot and dialogue touch
on issues of gender roles and sexual conventions." (The Chicago of Fiction: A Resource Guide by James A. Kaser, 2011, p. 24)
While living in Chicago, Ballinger began to work on his first success. a nonseries book, Portrait in Smoke
Danny April, the first-person narrator, is the new owner of a minuscule
collection agency. Fixated on her picture, he attempts to trace a girl
named Krassy Almauniski from her
origins in Chicago's slums. Ballinger depicts also Krassy's rise to
fame and riches by changing her identity. Finally Danny finds Krassy,
falls in love with her, but she frames him guilty of murder. Curiously,
the sections of Kitty's backstory, are labelled Part II, while the
present-time investigations make the Part I. The book
was filmed in England under the title Wicked As They Come,
(1956), directed by Ken Hughes and starring Arlene Dahl and
Philip Carey. "Hughes does a fine job helming this intriguing tale, and
Dahl surprises by giving one of her best performances." (The Encyclopedia of Best Films: A Century of All the Finest Movies, Volume 4, V-Z by Jay Robert Nash, 2019, p. 3054)
Ballinger soon abandoned the conventional detective formula,
and concentrated on creating more innovative thrillers. More than
characterization and other aspects of writring, Ballinger enjoyed
plotting. The Wife of
the Red-Haired Woman alternated between first-person and
third-person narration. Moreover, it portrays a situation, in which the
second husband is murdered by the first. At the end of the beautifully
plotted story Ballinger reveals the racial background of the
first-person narrator, the detective pursuing a murderer; he is black.
The plot of The Tooth and the Nail revolves around false money
and faking a murder. The protagonist is a magician, Luis Montana alias
Lewis Mountain, who is pursuing his wife's murderer, Ballard Temple
Humphries. Behind the crime there is a plan to counterfeit money. The
alternating narrative tells about a murder trial, in which the identity
of the accused is kept hidden from the reader. At the end, the reader
learns that the avenger has faked a murder, by leaving in Humphries's
cellar, in the central oven, signs of an apparent crime - a tooth and a nail along other items. Thus
Lewis has successfully framed his opponent and gets his revenge. In
Germany, the title of the book was rendered in 1957 as Die grosse
Illusion (the grand illusion), missing much of the irony of the
whole story – "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for
Also in the courtroom thriller with lesbian undertones, Not I, Said the Vixen (1965), Ballinger used multi-leveled narration. Cyrus March is a LA lawyer, who falls in love with his seductive client, accused of shooting another woman. The text on the front cover of Fawcett Gold Medal Book says, that "Even on the witness stand, the one thing she dared not deny was her own overwhelming sensuality".
In the 1960s, Ballinger participated in the spy boom producing a new series characters, CIA operative Joaquin Hawks, a James Bond-like secret agent, who operated mainly in Southeast Asia. He is featured in a series mostly "Spy" in the title. Hawks made his entrance in the novel The Chinese Mask (1965). Ballinger depicts carefully everyday life in China, Hawks sees dreams of his ancestors, and plays a Chinese circus performer. The resourceful, strong and handsome Hawks is half Spanish and half Nez Percé Indian, a linguist and smooth killer. Hawks continued his adventures in four other books, up until The Spy in the Java Sea (1966). Interestingly, one of the minor themes of The Spy in the Jungle (1965) is religious - not ideological - tolerance. Hawks shows some knowledge of the Swedish philosopher and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg and Islam, and in Hanoi a Buddhist monk gives him a lecture on myths.
Ballinger's later novels include The 49 Days of Death (1969), a suspense story of reincarnation based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Corsican (1974), published in the wake of Mario Puzo's Godfather (1969) and the resulting films, told about the growth of a Union Corse 'family' in Corsica and Marseilles, covering the three-decade span between 1943 and 1973. Bryce Patch, the chief of security at a large electronic company, was the hero of Heist Me Higher (1969).
Detective Rick McAllister: "Money's nice, but it doesn't make the world go round."
In the 1950s, Ballinger made his breakthrough as a script
He wrote for The Mice (with Joseph Stefano), Alfred
Hitchcock Presents (1955-61), I, Spy, Cannon, M.
Squad, Ironside, and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer,
and The Outer Limits (1963-64) -
more than 150 television scripts in total. One of his adaptations from
1961 was James O. Causey's 'Deathmate,' published in 1957 in the
popular magazine Manhunt. Ballinger wrote the teleplay to Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
I, Spy, starring
Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, was the first weekly network television
drama to present an African American as a star. Part of the success of
the series was that the stars adlibbed much of their dialogue. The
first episode was set in Hong Kong, but a critic for The New York
Times noted that "the setting was the real star." Ballinger's
television plays included The Hero, Road Hog, Dry
Run, The Day of the Bullet, Escape to Sonoita (with
James A. Howard), and Deathmate.
Christian Nyby's action film Operation
(1965), starring the young Burt Reynolds, Ballinger
scripted with the producer and writer Peer J. Oppenheimer. The events
were set in Saigon. Additional footage was shot in Thailand. It was one
of the early movies dealing with the politics
and spies of Vietnam war. Reynolds described Operation CIA as the worst film
he ever made. "If it played on a plane, people would be killed trying to
jump out." ('Two Tales in Tandem' by Nicholas Litchfield, in Portrait in Smoke/The Longest Second by Bill S. Ballinger, p.7)
(1963), directed by
Burt Topper, was shot on location in Boston; the film was
inspired by The Boston Strangler. Some critics disapproved the
exploitation of the real-life tragedies. Ballinger wrote the script,
but he used to talk about it with the director. "He was a pretty bright
guy," said Topper. "I forget how many weeks he had to do it, but he did
it quite quickly." (Earth vs. the Sci-Fi Filmmakers: 20 Interviews by Tom Weaver, 2005, p. 369)
Victor Buono played a hospital laboratory technician Leo Kroll, who
creates frenzy in Boston when he murders nurses who help his mother
(Ellen Corby). When Leo tells her about the last murder, she suffers a
fatal heart attack. Finally Leo's fetish for dolls betrays him to the
police, and he kills himself by jumping through a window.
For further reading: 'Two Tales in Tandem' by Nicholas Litchfield, in Portrait in Smoke/The Longest Second by Bill S. Ballinger (2018); 'Ballinger, Bill S' by John M. Muste in Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers, ed. by John M. Reilly (1985); Private Eyes: One Hundred and One Knights by Robert A. Baker, Michael T. Nietzel (1985); Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, ed. by Chris Steinbrunner and Otto Penzler (1976)