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||Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) - in full Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace|
British novelist, playwright, and journalist who produced popular detective and suspense stories and was in his time "the king" of the modern thriller. Wallace's literary output – 175 books, 24 plays, and countless articles and review sketches – have undermined his reputation as a fresh and original writer. Moreover, the author was a wholehearted supporter of Victorian and early Edwardian values and mores, which are now considered in some respects politically incorrect. In England in the 1920s Wallace was said to be the second biggest seller after the Bible.
"This little autobiography is in itself a tribute to the system under which we live. There cannot be much wrong with the society which made possible the rise of J.H. Thomas or Edgar Wallace, that gave 'Jamie' Brown the status of a king in Scotland and put Robertson at the War Office as Chief of the Imperial General Staff." (from Wallace's introduction to his autobiography, People; Edgar Wallace: The Biography of a Phenomenon, 1926)
Edgar Wallace was born in Greenwich in 1875 – in the same year as
the creator of the Tarzan novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs. He was brought
up as an adopted child in the family of Clara and George Freeman, a
porter. His parents were actors, Polly Richards, born Mary Jane Blair,
and Richard Horatio
Edgar Marriott, who used the false name of Walter Wallace on the birth
records. It is possible that Polly invented the name to give her child
a (fictitious) father. The Freemans, who received a payment of 5
shillings a week for the child's upkeep, had already brought up ten
children of their own. Eventually they adopted their foster child when
it turned out, that Polly could no longer afford to pay his keep.
At the age of 12, the young Wallace left school and took menial jobs before enlisting at the age of 18 in the Army. From 1893 to 1896 he served in the Royal West Kent Regiment. Later he wrote in Double Dan (1924) "He was strictly brought up by parents who compelled him to read books on Sunday that were entirely devoted to orphans and good organ-grinders and little girls who quoted extensively from precious books, and died surrounded by weeping negroes. In such literature the villains of the piece were young scoundrels who surreptitiously threw away their crusts and only ate crumb part of bread; desperadoes who kicked dogs, and threw large flies into spiders' webs, and watched the spider at his fell work with glee."
In 1896 Wallace was sent to South Africa, where he was in the Medical Staff Corps. During this period he met the Reverend William Shaw Caldecott and Mrs. Marion Caldecott, who was a writer and willing to help Wallace in his literary aspirations. Wallace began to contribute to various journals, and wrote war poems, later collected in The Mission That Failed (1898) and other volumes.
After his discharge in 1899, Wallace became a correspondent for Reuters and the London Daily Mail. His reports about Horatio Herbert Kitchnerer infuriated the influential British fieldmarshal and Wallace was banned as a war correspondent until World War I. In 1901 he married Ivy Caldecott; they divorced in 1918. Before returning to London, Wallace served in 1902 as the editor of the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg.
During the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) Wallace was sent by the Daily Mail to Vigo to examine a conflict in which the Russians opened fire on a British fishing fleet in the belief that it was the Japanese Navy. On his journeys he learned about the activities of Russian and English spies operating around the coasts of Spain and Portugal. Later Wallace returned to world of secret agents in his stories, although he mostly concentrated on crime and detective books. His most famous spy story, 'Code No. 2' first appeared in the Stand Magazine of April 1916, then in various collections and anthologies.
Wallace's first novel, The Four Just Men (1905), was printed by his own Tallis Press. It told a story about a group of rich, intelligent and ruthless conspirators who take the law into their own hands. Although the book was a huge success, Wallace lost money on it because of an unlucky publicity gimmick. The Council of Justice (1908), The Just Men of Cordova (1917) and The Three Just Men (1925) were sequels to The Four Just Men.
It was not until the publication of Sanders of the River (1911), about an African representative of Great Britain Foreign Office, when his fame as a writer was established. Wallace then wrote several additional stories using his African experiences as background. His attitudes reflect uncritically popular opinions of the time, which could be simply characterized under the title "imperialist ideology". In the stories about Bosambo, a devious tribal king, Mr. Commissioner Sanders loses often the battle of wits, although Bosambo in one scene tells that he has always wanted to be a chief under the British rule. However, he manages to steal Sanders's binoculars. Sanders's method to keep up peace is straightforward: he uses whip and he has a reputation for hanging rebellious chiefs. The Sanders of the River stories ran from 1909 until well into the 1920s.
Wallace worked in the 1900s and 1910s in several journals, among them Daily Mail (1903-1907), Standard (1910), The Week-End Racing Supplment (1910-12), Evening News (1910-1912), The Story Journal (1913), Town Topics (1913-16). He was later a racing columnist for The Star (1927-32) and Daily Mail (1930-32). During World War I Wallace was a special interrogator for the War Office. In 1921 he married his secretary and second wife, Violet King, who was twenty-three years younger than himself, and with whom he had one daughter.
The Green Archer (1923) is one of the most famous novels of Wallace. It is a story about a man who is found murdered after a quarrel with the owner of a ghost-haunted castle. It was filmed at least three times. The critic and awarded mystery writer H.R.F. Keating included The Mind of Mr. J.G. Reeder (1925) among the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published (Crime & Mystery: the 100 Best Books, 1987). Mr Reeder works for the office of the Public Prosecutor, he is "something over fifty, a long-faced gentleman with sandy-grey hair and a slither of side whiskers that mercifully distracted attention from his large outstanding ears." Supernatural themes do not appear very often in Wallace's works. Spiritualism and ghosts are dealt in such short stories as 'Death Watch', filmed in 1933 with Warner Oland, 'The Ghost of John Holling', filmed in 1934, and 'The Ghost of Down Hill', later adapted in the sixties for the Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre series.
"I'm perfectly certain it wasn't a ghost," she said.
Wallace wrote his works at a prodigious pace, among others one of his most popular plays, On the Spot (1931), was finished in four days. The 75,000 word novel The Coat of Arms (1931) was penned in a weekend. His autobiography, People; Edgar Wallace: The Biography of a Phenomenon, came out in 1926. At the highest peak of Wallace's career in the 1920s, one of his numerous publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England was written by him. Most of Wallace's novels were spoken into a dictaphone, typed up by his wife or a secretary, and then corrected. His skill in creating lively dialogue was noted by film makers who used eagerly his texts for films. Wallace also wrote screenplays - among other some dialogue The Hound of Baskervilles (1931), directed by V. Gareth Gundrey.
"There is a tradition in criminal circles that even the humblest of detective officers is a man of wealth and substance, and that his secret hoard was secured by thieving, bribery and blackmail. It is the gossip of the fields, the quarries, the tailor's shop, the laundry and the bakehouse of fifty county prisons and three convict establishments, that all highly placed detectives have by nefarious means laid up for themselves sufficient earthly treasures to make a work a hobby and their official pittance the most inconsiderable portion of their incomes." (from 'The Treasure Hunt', in The Mind of Mr. J.G. Reeder, 1925)
Wallace earned extremely well from his writings, but he lost
fortunes because of his extravagant lifestyle and obsessive betting on
the wrong horses. He enjoyed his success, spent much time in Carlton,
London's most expensive hotel, and was magnificently generous. However,
when Wallace's mother had visited him in 1903, he had rejected her. She
died alone in the city hospital. Later Wallace felt deep remorse for
what he had done. Wallace's literary estate was not profitable until
1934. Hundreds of films have been made from his novels and short
stories, also plays and television series in England (1959).
In Germany the series of Wallace adaptations became the nation's most popular screen entertainment. Rialto studios produced for German audience 32 films from 1959. Among the actors were Klaus Kinski and the dark, beautiful Finnish born actress Anneli Sauli under the name Ann Savo. She played in Die Toten Augen von London (1961) and in Der Hexer (1964), both directed by Alfred Vohrer. Joachim Kramp has written in Hier spricht Edgar Wallace – Die Geschichte der deutschen Kriminalserie von 1959-72 more about the film series. In 1960 Jack Greenwood produced in England a series of short screen adaptations for British and American television use under the title Edgar Wallace Mystery Theater.
Towards the end of his life, Wallace estimated that his work as a playwright was more important than his work as a writer of stories. It was largely the success of the plays– The Calendar (1929), On the Spot, and The Case of the Frighntened Lady (1931) – which led to his being invited to Hollywood to work as a scriptwriter. Just before departing for the United States, he stood as an unsuccessful Liberal candidate in Blackpool. Wallace died on February 10, 1932, en route to Hollywood to work on the screenplay for King Kong. Although Wallace received a screen credit, he did no actual work on the film. The director and producer Merian C. Cooper played down Wallace's contribution, claiming that "Not one single scene, nor line of dialogue in King Kong was contributed by him." Actually, most of the second part and the finale was taken from Wallace's 110-page scenario. Ivy Wallace died fourteen months after her husband's death. King Kong has been filmed three times. John Guillermin's remake from 1976, starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, had a campy approach. The third version (2005), directed by Peter Jackson, was more faithful to the original story.
Film adaptations 1925-1962: The Green Archer, 1925, dir. by Spencer Bennet; The Mark of the Frog, 1928, dir. by Arch Heath; The Terrible People, 1928, dir. by Spencer Bennet; The Terror, 1928, dir. by Roy Del Ruth; The Ringer, dir. by Arthur Maude; Red Aces, 1929, dir. by Edgar Wallace; The Flying Squad, 1929, dir. by Arthur Maude; The Clue of the New Pin, 1929, dir. by Arthur Maude; The Squeaker, 1930, dir. by Edgar Wallace; The Menace, 1932, dir. by Roy William Neill; The Frightened Lady, 1932, dir. by T.Hayes Hunter; King Kong, 1933, dir. by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper; Before Dawn, 1933, dir. by Irving Pichel; Mystery Liner, dir. by William Neill; The Return of the Terror, 1934, dir. by Howard Bretherton; Sanders of the River, 1935, dir. by Zoltan Korda; The Crimson Circle, 1936, dir. by Reginald Denham; The Girl From Scotland Yard, 1937, dir. by Robert Vignola; The Squeaker / Murder on Diamond Row, 1937, dir. by William K. Howard; Mr. Reeder in Room 13, 1938, dir. by Norman Lee; The Mind of Mr. Reeder, 1939, dir. by Jack Raymond; The Missing People, 1939, dir. by Jack Raymond; The Four Just Men / The Secret Four, 1939, dir. by Walter Forde; Dark Eyes of London / The Human Monster, 1939, dir. by Walter Summers; The Green Archer, 1940, dir. by James W. Horne; The Door with Seven Locks / Chamber of Horrors, 1940, dir. by Norman Lee; The Case of the Frightned Lady / The Frightened Lady, 1940, dir. by George King; The Ringer, 1952, dir. by Guy Hamilton; The Clue of the Twisted Candle, 1960, dir. by Allan Davis; The Malpas Mystery, 1960, dir. by Geoffrey Keen; The Man Who Was Nobody, 1961, dir. by Montgomery Tully; Clue of the New Pin, 1961, dir. by Alla Davis; The Fourth Square, 1961, dir. by Allan Davis; Man at the Carlton Tower, 1961, dir. by Robert Tronson; Clue of the Silver Key, 1961, dir. by Gerald Glaister; The Share Out, dir. by Gerald Glaister; Number six, 1962, dir. by Robert Tronson.
Series characters: Among Wallace's characters are J.G. Reeder, T.B. Smith, Superintendent Minter, Sanders of the Rivers, The Sooper, and Sergeant/Inspector Elk. J.G. Reeder is a little, middle-aged man, with 'criminal mind'. "He wore half-way down his nose a pair of steel-rimmed pince-nez, through which nobody had ever seen him look – they were invariably removed when he was reading. A high and flat-crowned bowler hat matched and yet did not match a frock-coat tightly buttoned his sparse chest. His boots were square-toed, his cravat – of the broad chest-protector pattern – was ready-made and buckled into place behind a Gladstonian collar." Reeder sees evil plots everywhere, and most of them seem to be real. Reader has worked at various times for Scotland Yard, Banker's Trust, and the public prosecutor's office. Four British films of the 1920s were based on the novels and short stories about Reeder. The first, Red Aces, was written and directed by Edgar Wallace, the following were Mr. Reeder in Room 13 (1938, dir. by Norman Lee), The Mind of Mr. Reeder (1938, dir. by Jack Raymond), and The Missing People (1939, dir. by Jack Raymond). TV series The Mind of Mr. J.G. Reeder was produced in 1971. - J.G. Reeder books: Room 13 (1924); The Mind of J.G. Reeder (1925); Terror Keep (1927); Red Aces (1929); The Guv'nor and Other Stories (1932). Screenplays: Nurse and Martyr (1915); The Ringer (1928); Valley of the Ghosts (1928); The Forger (1928); Red Aces (1929); The Squeaker (1930); Should a Doctor Tell? (1930); The Hound of the Baskervilles (1931, with V. Gareth Gundrey); The Old Man (1931); King Kong (1933, with others, based on a story by Merian C. Cooper and Wallace). For further information: Edgar Wallace, the Biography of a Phenomenon by Margaret Lane (1964); Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, ed. by Chris Steinbrunner and Otto Penzler (1976); Edgar Wallace by Jack Adrian (1984); Edgar Wallace: A Filmography by Richard Williams (1990); The Edgar Wallace Index by Richard Williams (1996); Tracking King Kong by Erb Cyntihia, Cyntihia Marie Erb (1998); Stranger Than Fiction: The Life of Edgar Wallace, the Man Who Created King Kong by Neil Clark (2015). Edgar Wallace Society was founded in 1969. It promotes interest in the life and work of the author through the Crimson Circle magazine.