FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE - Mystery Commentary by Mike Nevins
Those who know anything at all about Cornell Woolrich know that he also wrote under the names William Irish and George Hopley. What is little known even to Woolrich aficionados is that he also used at least three other bylines. The earliest fiction he ever published under a pseudonym was “Insult” (Serenade, March 1934), which appeared as by “Ted Brooks,” probably because “Between the Acts” appeared in the same issue of the same love pulp under his own name. We know that “Insult” is by Woolrich only because he told Bill Thailing when they met back in the 1950s, and Bill told me when we met in the 1970s, a few years after Woolrich died.
As Paul Herman and Steve Lewis document elsewhere, Woolrich submitted at least six of his pulp suspense tales under pseudonyms – one as by Tex Brooks, the others as Chick Walsh. Why he chose to do so remains a mystery. All six of the stories are narrated in first person, but so are a number of other Woolrich suspensers that he apparently submitted under his own byline. My best guess is that, turning out so many pulp thrillers at white heat as he was in the second half of the Thirties, he wanted to establish additional bylines so that he could have more than one tale in the same issue of, say, Dime Detective. As we know, the editors of these magazines disagreed and published under Woolrich’s own name all the stories he had submitted as Tex Brooks or Chick Walsh.
To be more precise, they published everything as by Woolrich except one story, undiscovered till recently, which appeared in print as by Tex Brooks, namely “The World’s Champion Murder”(Black Book Detective Magazine, April 1937). Any readers of this tale who also bought the April 1937 issue of Street & Smith’s newly launched magazine Pocket Detective must have scratched their heads in confusion when they found a different version of the same killing-in-the-ring plot in “Death in Round Three,” published in the latter pulp under Woolrich’s own name! How this snafu came about I have no idea. Bill Thailing discovered the Black Book story and copied it for me shortly before his death in 2003.
Of all the radio dramas based on Woolrich novels and stories during that medium’s golden age, the finest was “The Black Curtain” (SUSPENSE, CBS, December 2, 1943), which starred Cary Grant and was based on Woolrich’s 1941 novel of the same name. The script, whose author wasn’t mentioned on the air, was both so different from the novel and so true to its noir spirit that I’ve long suspected it was written by Woolrich himself. Recently my suspicions were confirmed by radio historian William Nadel, who told me that in Columbia’s files the scripter is listed as George Cory. No one by that name is known to have worked in radio. Since George was one of Woolrich’s middle names and Cory is so similar to Cornell, I’m convinced that another pseudonym of that haunted man has been found.
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