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||Stanley (Bernard) Ellin (1916-1986)|
American mystery writer, one of the modern masters of the genre. Ellin won three Edgar Allan Poe Awards and the Mystery Writers of America's prestigious Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement. Despite his critical acclaim as a novelist, Ellin is best-known for his short stories, beginning with the 'The Specialty of the House' (1948). The story about a New York restaurant with a special treat for gourmets, was an immediate sensation. It was later dramatized on the television series 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' as many other Ellin's tales. Often Ellin's short stories deal with ethical problems, as in the 'Question'. The narrator is an executioner or 'electrocutioner,' as he likes to be called, and takes a pride in what he is doing for the state.
--"Well, you ought to make up your mind one way or the other,' I told him. 'I'd hate to think you were like every other hypocrite around who says it's all right to condemn a man to the electric chair and all wrong to pull the switch.'
Ellin was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up
and lived most of his life. Stanley was the only child of Louis Ellin
and Rose Mandel Ellin. In his childhood his father read him
Beatrix Potter's tale Peter Rabbit on
his demand over and over again. On the family bookshelves he discovered
the works of Mark Twain, Kipling, Poe, Stevenson, and Maupassant. After
studies at Brooklyn College, Ellin received his B.A. in 1936. Next year
he married Jeanne Michael, an editor; they had one daughter.
To support his family, Ellin abandoned his literary ambitions for a period and worked as a dairy farmer, "pusher" for a newspaper distributor, teacher, and steelworker. From 1944 to 1945 he served in the United States Army. In 1946, encouraged by his wife, Ellin became a full-time writer. 'The Specialty of the House' won the Best First Story Award in the Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine contest of 1948. In the story Laffler, a gourmet, goes with his assistant for a dinner at a exclusive restaurant. The kitchen is what Laffler wants to see – which is a great mistake.
Ellin received Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1954 from the Mystery
Writers of America for the short story 'The House Party', a suburban
story with an element of fantasy. Two years later he was awarded for
the short story 'The Blessington Method', a comment on the social
rights of the elderly, and in 1958 for novel The Eight Circle,
which was an attempt at a long, serious novel about a modern private
detective, a man-about-Manhattan, who drives a Cadillac. The title was
derived from Dante's Inferno, in which a circle of dark-colored
stone is divided into ten individual pockets of punishment. Dante sees
there barrators, sowers of discord, counterfeiters, misusers of public
funds, and simoniac popes. When Kirk enters the eight circle, there is
a surprise waiting for him and his client. However, Ellin left the
protagonist, Murray Kirk, and concentrated on short stories.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Ellin's exploration of macho self-hatred and violence, won in 1975 Le Grand Prix de Littérature Policière. H.R.F. Keating selected it in 1987 for his list of the one hundred best crime novels. The murder mystery revolves round the hero's sexual background. "Ellin uses all the words, the words that are likely to offend and are generally labelled 'dirty', but held in place as they are in the web of the whole they are no longer 'dirty'. They are no longer words used for their titillating or shocking effect, as in so many cheaper crime novels, and cheaper novels of all sorts." (Keating in Crime & Mystery: the 100 Best Books, 1987)
Ellin made his debut as a novelist with Dreadful Summit
(1948). It dealt with father-son relationship, when a sixteen-year-old
boy obtains a gun and sets out to avenge his father's beating and
humiliation. The action is squeezed into twenty-four hours. Following
the tradition of John O'Hara, many of Ellin's stories have a surprise
ending or a twist in the plot, which have made them attractive to film
makers. Clive Donner's film Nothing but the Best (1964) was
based on Ellin's black comedy 'The Best of Everything' (Ellery
Queen's Mystery Magazine,
November 1952). Alan Bates is an ambitious clerk, Jimmy Brewster, who
marries his boss's daughter (Ann Horton), and kills his former helper
(Denholm Elliot) on his way to the top.
In Joseph Losey's film Big Night, made from Ellin's Dreadful Summit (1951), the author served as a front for two blacklisted writers, Hugo Butler and Ring Lardner Jr. Losey barely finished this film noir melodrama before he left Hollywood. The third wave of Hollywood HUAC hearings had began in 1951, and Losey had been named by two people. His lawyer invited him to testify secretly. "I simply said 'I'll have to think it over', and in three days I was on my way to Europe." (Joseph Losey by Colin Gardner, 2004) Sunburn (1979), starring Farah Fawcett, was very loosely based on the novel The Bind (1970). Again the hero appears to be a sharp, cold-blooded investigator, but has also his soft, knightly side.
crime genre was for Ellin an inexhaustible source of themes and like
Roald Dahl, he aimed at perfection in all his works. In the
'Introduction' for The Specialty of the House and Other Stories: The Complete
Mystery Tales 1948-1978 (1979) Ellin said: ". . .
I tend to judge the merits of any piece by the degree to which it meets
the expectations I have for it while it is yet barely conceived. Where
expectations are met by the finished work I rejoice. Where expectations
are not met I am downcast and hard to live with." Mystery Stories
hailed by Julian Symons as "the finest collection of stories in the
crime form published in the past half century." It included such works
as 'The Cat's Paw,' 'Broker's Special,' and 'The Moment of Decision,'
in which a dispute between neighbors leads to a fatal decision.
In Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series (1955-1965) one of the episodes from 1956, 'Help Wanted', was adapted from Ellin's original story. During the years also 'The Specialty of the House', 'The Blessington Method' and 'The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby', about an antique dealer, who do not want to sell his precious items, were seen in the series. Broadcast first on CBS, the programmes opened with a line drawing of Hitchcock's profile, accompanied by the theme tune, Charles Gounod's Funeral March of the Marionette. Hitchcock's introductions were written by Jimmy Allardice. 'The Moment of Decision' was adapted to s sixty-minute television show on The U.S. Steel Hour (1961). Fred Astaire, famous for his singing and dancing roles, was the host and played the narrator of the story, the brother-in-law of Hugh Lozier, "the exception to the rule that people who are completely sure of themselves cannot be likable."
Ellin's Edgar-winning short story 'The Blessington Method' gave the title for the second book. After his third collection, Kindly Dig Your Grave (1975), Ellin published in 1979 his complete mystery tales 1948-1978. Ellin's last story was 'Unacceptable Procedures' (1985), which questioned the morals of economic development. Ellin died of a heart attack on July 31, 1986 in Brooklyn. Ellin was a member of Mystery Writers of America and its past president. His works were a long time out of print, until Foul Play Press reprinted two of his novels in 1996.
The Luxemburg Run
(1977) told of identity changes of David Shaw, a young American man in
Europe. In Stronghold (1975)
Ellin explored his own religious background and portrayed a family of
nonviolent Quakers at the mercy of single-minded, murderous criminals.
The story is narrated from the point of view of Marcus Hayworth, a
leading member of a Quaker community in upstate New York, and the
psychotic James Flood, the town's troublemaker in his youth. Ellin and
his wife Jeanne were active members of Brooklyn
Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of. Friends (Quakers). In an
interview Ellis said that he based many of the characters of the novel
on people in Brooklyn Meeting. "But surprisingly enough, no one ever
John Milano, Ellin's third PI character was introduced in Star Light, Star Bright (1979), in
which Milano tried to prevent the murder of a renowned mystic guru, who
begins to receive threatening letters. The second John Milano book, The Dark Fantastic
(1983), was rejected by Random House because of its insufficient
political correctness in dealing with racial problems and attitudes in
New York. For most of the readers it was clear, that the author did not
share the racist, hate-filled opinions of his character, Professor
Charles Witter Kirwan, who plans to blow up his one of his own
apartment buildings. Kirwan and Milano alternately narrate the story.
House of Cards (1963) was a a Hitchcockian psychological thriller with international intrigue. "Ellin is not just a chessboard plotter, he is a plotter on the move, one of the greatest scenery-shifters since Helen MacInnes – an almost cinematic director of rhythms," wrote Melvin Maddosks in his review in Life (10 February, 1967). The film version of the book, starring George Peppard and Inger Stevens, was made in 1969. George Peppard played Reno Davis, a former American prizefighter, who lives in France. He has been trying to become a writer but takes a job as tutor of young Paul de Villemont, son of an aristocratic family. In the barred de Villemont mansion Reno becomes involved with Paul's beautiful, neurotic mother, Anne de Villemont (Inger Stevens). A fascist group with connections to the family plans a coup d'état, and pursues Anne and Reno throughout Europe. Orson Welles, in one of his most forgettable roles, was a menacing conspirator, named Leschenhaut.
For further reading: 'Stanley Ellin,' in Conversations with Writers II, ed. by Stanley Ellin and John Baker (1978); Private Eyes: One Hundred And One Knights: A Survey Of American Detective Fiction 1922-1984 by Robert A Baker Michael T Nietzel (1985); Twentieth Century Mystery and Crime Writers, ed. by John M.Reilly (1985); 1001 Midnights by Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller (1986); Crime & Mystery: the 100 Best Books by H.R.F. Keating (1987); St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers, ed. by Jay P. Pederson (1996); Encyclopedia Mysteriosa by William L. DeAndrea (1997); American Mystery and Detective Writers, edited by George Parker Anderson (2005) - Novellisuomennoksia: 'Oma pieni paratiisi' (A Corner of Paradise) teoksessa Seitsemän kuolemansyntiä (toim. Kari Lindgren, 1985), 'Talon erikoinen' (The Specialty of the House) valikoimassa Top Crime: Jännityksen valiot (1984), 'Palkanmaksu' (The Payoff) sarjassa Maailman parhaat jännärit 5/1971, 'Herra Applebyn seitsemäs vaimo' (The Orderly World of Mr Appleby) valikoimassa Jännityskertomuksia läheltä ja kaukaa (toim. Pauli Kopperi, 1963), Kiusallinen kysymys', Ellery Queenin jännityslukemisto 4/1963, 'Järjestelmällinen Hra Kessler', Ellery Queenin jännistyslukemisto 2/1962.