Monday, March 1, 2021

Mystery Monday: Meet Philo Vance

Mystery Monday: Philo Vance

“Philo Vance 
Needs a kick in the pance.” 
So wrote comic poet Ogden Nash about the wildly popular fictional detective created by S.S. Van Dine, the pseudonym for Willard Huntington Wright. Wright was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but his parents soon moved to Santa Monica, California where his father purchased a hotel. His brother Stanton Macdonald-Wright was one of the first American abstract artists and co-founded the school of modern art known as Synchromism. 
At the age of 21, Wright secured a job at the Los Angeles Times as literary editor where he gained a reputation for scathing book reviews and irreverent opinions. He was particularly critical about romance and detective fiction. After being fired for “intentionally provoking the paper’s middle-class readership with his interest in unconventional and often sexually explicit fiction,” with help from friend H.L. Mencken, Wright found a job as editor with the New York literary magazine The Smart Set. 
The mid-1920s found Wright bedridden for two years as the result of a nervous breakdown. Ironically, he devoured mystery fiction (after having derided it years earlier) and found it entertaining and intriguing. In fact, after his recovery he would write an essay that explored the history, traditions, and conventions of detective fiction as an art form. 
Having exhausted the market of reading material, he decided to try his hand at writing in the genre. Embarrassed at turning from what he termed “intellectual fiction” to mass market fiction, Wright created the pen name S.S. Van Dine. In the books, Van Dine, referred to as Van acts as narrator much like Sherlock Holmes’s Dr. Watson. 
Described in the first publication, The Benson Murder Case, Philo is “what many would call a
dilettante, but the designation does him an injustice. He was a man of unusual culture and brilliance. An aristocrat by birth and his manner there was an indefinable contempt for inferiority of all kinds.” A cynic, Vance was flippant rather than bitter, interested in human reactions, almost as a scientist. A Renaissance man, he had courses in the history of religions, the Greek classics, biology, civics, political economy, philosophy, anthropology, literature, psychology, and modern and ancient languages. 
The book goes on to describe Vance’s physical features: “He was unusually good-looking, although his mouth was ascetic and cruel...a slightly derisive hauteur in the lift of his eyebrows. His forehead was full and sloping...his cold grey eyes were widely spaced. His nose was straight and slender, and his chin narrow but prominent, with an unusually deep cleft.” 

A dozen Philo Vance novels were published between 1926 and 1939, with nearly all of them made into films with ten different actors taking the lead role. William Powell appeared in four of the movies; the other actors only once or twice. Vance also appeared on radio between 1945 and 1950 with Jose Ferrer, John Emery, and Jackson Beck each taking a series. Interestingly, in 1974, an Italian mini-series came out featuring Giorgio Albertazzi in the lead role. With scripts very close to the novels, the episodes were based on the first three books. 
Wright died April 11, 1939 at the age of 50, leaving behind a novelette that was published posthumously as The Winter Murder Case. Wright’s portrait, painted by his brother, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. 
Are you familiar with Philo Vance? 

Murder at Madison Square Garden:

The dream of a lifetime becomes a nightmare. 
Photojournalist Theodora “Teddy” Schafer’s career has hit the skids thanks to rumors of plagiarism. With any luck, a photo spread with Charles Lindbergh at the America First Rally will salvage her reputation. After an attempted assassination of Lindbergh leaves another man dead, Teddy is left holding the gun. Literally. Can she prove her innocence before the police lock her up for a murder she didn’t commit? 
Private Investigator Ric Bogart wants nothing to do with women after his wife cleaned out their bank account and left him for another man, but he can’t ignore the feeling he’s supposed to help the scrappy, female reporter who is arrested for murder at the America First rally. Can he believe her claims of innocence and find the real killer without letting Teddy steal his heart? 
Purchase Link:

No comments:

Post a Comment