Craig Rice

Pseudonym of Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig; other pseudsonyms include Daphne Sanders, George Sanders, Gypsy Rose Lee, Michael Venning
(1908-1957)

Life Can Be Horrible.

That’s the name of a screwball short story CRAIG RICE once wrote.

It might as well have been her epitath.

In its January 28, 1946 issue, Time Magazine selected writer Craig Rice for a cover feature on the mystery genre — the first time a mystery writer was to grace the cover. It was one of the rare allocades this now almost forgotten writer received for her amazing body of work while she was still alive.

The fact is, 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.”

It’s fair comment to compare her to such writers, because her world was a very different one than the one that her fellow travelers on the hard-boiled side of the street, such as Chandler and Hammett, created. Possibly the only one on the hard-boiled side who came close to her was Jonathan Latimer, who had more than a few surreal touches of his own. 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) and The 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 wrote for film, as well, 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  true crime for Saturday Home Magazine and other periodicals, as well as ghosting 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. The latter boasts a sly dedication  “To Craig Rice, without whom this book would not be possible.  G. S.”)

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 much of Rice’s work is frequently out of print, known mostly only to deep-cut mystery fans, 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.

* * * * *

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 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, and just kept on writing and being published right until the end.

One marriage was to Beat writer Larry Lipton, and another to a lunatic she met in the loony 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.

UNDER OATH

  • “(Home, Sweet Homicide) shouldn’t work… The combination of banter, midcentury youth slang, and authorial amusement about the different ways that children and adults comprehend and wrestle with the world ought to be too twee and saccharine to bear. It’s a testament to Craig Rice’s delicacy of touch and wry humor that, instead, this cotton candy-light confection is as cozy and fun a mystery as you’ll find. It’s as delightful an escape from today’s troubles as it would have been for the war-weary population who read it when it was first published in 1944.”
    — Levi Stahl

NOVELS

All written as by Craig Rice, unless otherwise noted

GHOST-WRITTEN NOVELS

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

SHORT STORIES

  • “His Heart Could Break” (March 1943, EQMM; aka “Hanged Him in the Mornin’”; John J. Malone)
  • “Dead Men’s Shoes” (July 1943, Baffling Detective Mysteries; aka “The Bad Luck Murders”; John J. Malone)
  • “The Wynekoop Case” (1945, The Saint’s Choice)
  • “Good-Bye, Good-Bye!” (June 1946, EQMM; John J. Malone)
  • “Corpse Between the Covers” (July/August 1946, Movie Mystery Magazine)
  • “Home Sweet Homicide” September/October 1946, Movie Mystery Magazine)
    Novelization of the film based on Craig Rice’s novel.
  • “Reel Crime” (December 1946/January 1947, Movie Mystery Magazine)
    Not a short story but a photo puzzle, with text by Rice.
  • “Once Upon a Train” (October 1950, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers & John J. Malone)
  • “Cherchez la Frame” (June 1951, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers & John J. Malone)
  • “Good-bye Forever” (December 1951, EQMM; John J. Malone)
  • “Malone Is Dead—Long Live Malone” (November 1952, Detective Story Magazine)
  • “And the Birds Still Sing” (December 1952, EQMM; John J. Malone
  • “Case of the Vanishing Blonde” (December 1952, Dime Detective; with Mark Hope)
  • “And the Birds Still Sing” (December 1952, EQMM; John J. Malone)
  • “Dog Bites Man” (January 1953, Popular Detective)
  • “The Tears of Evil” (March 1953, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “Death in the Moonlight” (March 1953, Popular Detective; Melville Fairr)
  • “Don’t Go Near” (May 1953, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “Quiet Day in the County Jail” (July 1953, Manhunt)
  • “The Dead Mr. Duck” (August 1953, Verdict; aka “The Man Who Swallowed a Horse”; John J. Malone)
  • “The End of Fear” (August 1953, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “Life Can Be Horrible” (September 1953, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “The Last Man Alive” (September 1953, The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine)
  • “Motive” (September 1953, Verdict; aka “Smoke Rings”; John J. Malone)
  • “The Bells Are Ringing” (November 1953, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “Murder Marches On!” (December 1953, Manhunt; also as “The Dead Undertaker”; John J. Malone)
  • “The Murder of Mr. Malone” (1953; John J. Malone)
  • “…And Be Merry” (January 1954, Manhunt)
  • “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” (February 1954, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “The Little Knife That Wasn’t There” (May 1954, Malcolm’s; aka “Malone and the Missing Weapon”; John J. Malone)
  • “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (June 1954, Nero Wolfe Mystery Magazine; John J. Malone)
  • “No Vacancies” (June 1954, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “Autopsy and Eva” (August 1954, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers and John J. Malone)
  • “Murder in the Family” (November 1954, The Saint Detective Magazine; John J. Malone)
  • “Flowers to the Fair” (December 25, 1954, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “Rift in the Loot” (April 1955, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers and John J. Malone)
  • “Beyond the Shadow of a Dream” (February 1955, EQMM; John J. Malone)
  • “Mrs. Schultz Is Dead” (March 1955, The Saint Detective Magazine)
  • “No Motive for Murder” (July 1955, The Saint Detective Magazine; John J. Malone)
    Expanded as Knocked for a Loop, Simon & Schuster, 1957.
  • “Shot in the Dark” (August 1955, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “The Murdered Magdalen” (October 1955, Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine)
  • “The House of Missing Girls” (November 1955, Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine)
  • “The Headless Hatbox” (1955, Double-Action Detective Stories #3; John J. Malone)
  • “The Air-Tight Alibi” (February 1956, Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine)
  • “The Frightened Millionaire” (April 1956, The Saint Detective Magazine; John J. Malone)
  • “Dead Men Spend No Cash” (August 1956, Suspect Detective Stories; John J. Malone)
  • “The Quiet Life” (September 1956, Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine; John J. Malone)
  • “No, Not Like Yesterday” (November 1956, The Saint Detective Magazine; John J. Malone)
  • “The Deadly Deceiver” (November 1956, The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine)
  • “The Understanding Wife” (November 1956, Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine)
  • “He Never Went Home” (March 1957, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “Sixty Cents’ Worth of Murder” (July 1957, Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine)
  • “Say It With Flowers” (September 1957, Manhunt; also 1997, American Pulp; John J. Malone)
  • “Cheese It, the Corpse” (November 1957, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “One More Clue” (April 1958, Manhunt; John J. Malone)
  • “The Well-Liked Victim” (July 1958, Bestseller Mystery Magazine)
  • “The Very Groovy Corpse” (November 1958, The Saint Mystery Magazine; John J. Malone)
  • “The Tears of Evil” (1958, The Name Is Malone; John J. Malone)
  • “The Murder of Mr. Malone” (1958, The Name Is Malone; John J. Malone)
  • “Life Can Be Horrible” (1958, The Name Is Malone; John J. Malone)
  • “He Never Went Home” (1958, The Name Is Malone; John J. Malone)
  • “The End of Fear” (1958; The Name Is Malone; John J. Malone)
  • “They’re Trying to Kill Me” (February 1959, The Saint Mystery Magazine; John J. Malone)
  • “Wry Highball” (March 1959, EQMM; John 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 Magazine; John 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” (June 1960, AHMM; John J. Malone)
  • “Hardsell” (1960, Ed McBain’s Mystery Book #1; John J. Malone)
    Ghost-written by Lawrence Block?
  • “Withers and Malone, Crime-Busters” (November 1963, EQMM; with Stuart Palmer, featuring Hildegarde Withers and John J. Malone)
  • “Alias; Trouble” (July 1965, Manhunt)
  • “The Anniversary Murder” (February/March 1966, Manhunt)
  • “A Weakness for Women” (August/September 1966, Manhunt)

NON-FICTION

  • “Lady’s Day at the Morgue” (1952, Forty-Five Murderers)
  • “Breaking Point” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “The Campfire Corpse”(1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “Death in a Pick-Up Truck” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “Do Not Disturb” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “Frankie and Johnnie, M.D.” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “House for Rent ” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “Identity Unknown” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “No Motive” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “No One Answers” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “One Last Ride” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “The Perfect Couple” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “Small Footprints (ts) Detective Files #103)
  • “The TV Kille” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “The Woman-Hater” (1956, Detective Files #103)
  • “The Fall of ‘The House of Deuteronomy'” (April 1961,  The Saint Mystery Magazine (UK); aka “Death in the Hills”)
  • “The Case of the Common Cold” (March 1964, The Saint Mystery Magazine)

COLLECTIONS

FILMS

  • LADY OF BURLESQUE | Buy this DVD | Buy this video
    (1943, United Artists)
    91 minutes, black & white
    Based on the novel The G-String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee
    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 | Buy it on DVD
    (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) | Buy it on DVD
    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)
    Based on characters created by Craig Rice
    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)
    Based on characters created by Craig RiceDirector: 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 | Kindle it!
    It seems Jeffreys a little obsessed with Ms. Rice.

RELATED LINKS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
* For years it was widely assumed that Rice pretty much ghostwrote The G-String Murders, although recent evidence — in the form of manuscripts and Lee’s own correspondence — point to Lee actually writing most of the novel herself, albeit under the guidance of Rice and others. This is all detailed in Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee (2009) by Noralee Frankel.

Talk to me...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s