Edgar Wallace
Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (April 1, 1875 – February 10, 1932) was an English crime writer, journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and numerous articles in newspapers and journals.

Over 160 films have been made of his novels. In the 1920s, one of Wallace's publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. He is most famous today as the co-creator of King Kong
King Kong (1933 film)
King Kong is a Pre-Code 1933 fantasy monster adventure film co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and written by Ruth Rose and James Ashmore Creelman after a story by Cooper and Edgar Wallace. The film tells of a gigantic island-dwelling apeman creature called Kong who dies in...

, writing the early screenplay and story for the movie, as well as a short story "King Kong" (1933) credited to him and Draycott Dell. He was known for the J. G. Reeder detective stories
The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder
The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder is a short story compilation by the British crime writer Edgar Wallace published in 1925. The story has been adapted on film, television and radio.The stories are about Mr J. G...

, The Four Just Men
The Four Just Men (book)
The Four Just Men is a detective thriller published in 1905 by the British writer Edgar Wallace. The eponymous "Just Men" appear in several sequels.-Publication:...

, The Ringer, and for creating the Green Archer character during his lifetime.

Parents and birth

Edgar Wallace was born at 7 Ashburnham Grove, Greenwich (London), on April 1, 1875. His biological parents were actors Richard Horatio Edgar (who never knew of his existence) and Mary Jane "Polly" Richards, née Blair. Born Mary Jane Blair in 1843, Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

, to an Irish Catholic
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 family, Mary's family had been in show business for some years, and she grew up to be a theatrical "Jane of All Trades" - stagehand, usherette, bit-part actress. Though pretty and talented, Mary was not a great success. During 1867 she ended her theatrical career and married. Also born in Liverpool during 1838, Captain Joseph Richards of the Merchant Navy was likewise from an Irish Catholic family - his father John Richards was also a Merchant Navy Captain, and his mother Catherine Richards came from a mariner family.

Mary soon became pregnant - but during January 1868, when she was eight months pregnant, Joseph Richards died at sea aged 30 years, from a sudden illness. By the time his posthumous daughter Josephine Catherine Richards was born a few weeks later, during the spring of 1868, Mary was destitute. Assuming the stage name "Polly" Richards, Mary began theatre work again to support herself and her daughter. In 1872, Polly met and joined the "Marriott" family theatre troupe, becoming part of the "family" due to the great affection that developed between her and the "Marriott" women - the troupe was managed by Mrs. Alice Edgar (who continued to use the stage name Alice Marriott), her husband Richard Edgar and their three adult children, Grace Edgar, Adeline Edgar and Richard Horatio Edgar. Intelligent, shrewd and dominating, Alice's great worry was her only son. Usually playing the "romantic lead" due to his tall, dark, handsome looks and physique, Richard had a charming personality, but was indolent. Alice wanted to marry him to a sensible young woman and produce grandchildren.

Seeing a way to demonstrate her gratitude for the warmth and kindness bestowed upon her and her little daughter, Polly actively sought to locate a suitable bride for the languid Richard. In 1873, she met a suitable young woman in Dundee named Jennifer Taylor, and hastened to introduce her to the Edgar family. Jenny was a willing nominee and after intense match-making by Polly, Alice, Grace and Adeline, Richard was encouraged accordingly and he and Jenny were betrothed during the spring of 1874. In July 1874, the "Marriott" troupe experienced its greatest commercial success ever and so a "come one come all" back-stage party was held at which everyone drank "not wisely but too well". As a result of this extreme intoxication, Richard Horatio Edgar and Polly ended up having a "Boris Becker
Boris Becker
Boris Franz Becker is a former World No. 1 professional tennis player from Germany. He is a six-time Grand Slam singles champion, an Olympic gold medalist, and the youngest-ever winner of the men's singles title at Wimbledon at the age of 17...

 broom cupboard" style sexual encounter, which everyone was too drunk fortunately to notice.

The following morning Polly was deeply ashamed, but Richard Horatio Edgar was apparently so inebriated he did not even remember the incident. A few weeks later in August 1874, Polly realised she was pregnant. Since she had been celibate since the death of her husband Joseph in 1868, Richard had to be the father. She was horrified, realising that when the truth was revealed it would destroy the troupe. In response, Polly invented a fictitious obligation in Greenwich
Greenwich is a district of south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich.Greenwich is best known for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time...

 that would last at least half a year, and obtained a room in a boarding house where she lived by her meagre savings through until Edgar's birth on April 1, 1875.

During her confinement she had asked her midwife to locate a couple to entrust with her child's upbringing. The midwife introduced Polly to her close friend, Mrs Freeman, a mother of ten children, whose husband George Freeman was a Billingsgate
Billingsgate is a small ward in the south-east of the City of London, lying on the north bank of the River Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge...

 fishmonger. On April 9, 1875, Polly took Edgar to the Freeman family and made arrangements to visit as often as she was able.

Childhood and early career

Known as Richard Horatio Edgar Freeman, Polly's young son had a happy childhood, forming a close bond with 20-year-old Clara Freeman who became like a second mother to him. His foster-father George Freeman was an honourable and kind man and determined to ensure Richard received a good education. From 1875-8, Polly visited as often as she was able.

By 1878, Polly was faced with a serious dilemma. After their marriage, Richard and Jenny had relocated to Scotland, where their children were born, including Edgar's paternal half-brother, George Marriott Edgar (1880–1951), who was renowned under his stage name of Marriott Edgar
Marriott Edgar
Marriott Edgar , born George Marriot Edgar in Kirkcudbright, Scotland, was a poet, scriptwriter and comedian best known for writing many of the monologues performed by Stanley Holloway, particularly the 'Albert' series....

 as a poet, comedian, and scriptwriter for Stanley Holloway
Stanley Holloway
Stanley Augustus Holloway, OBE was an English stage and film actor, comedian, singer, poet and monologist. He was famous for his comic and character roles on stage and screen, especially that of Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady...

, for whom he wrote the famous Holloway Monologues, including The Lion and Albert.

But the Marriott troupe was slowly dispersing, as Grace and Adeline married and Alice Marriott's health necessitated retirement. Polly took up new employment with the Hamilton troupe but now in her late 30s was increasingly limited as to the roles and backstage work she could do, forcing a commensurate decrease of earnings. In short, she could no longer afford even the small sum she had been paying the Freemans to care for young Richard.

Arriving with the news and a distraught offer to place Richard in a workhouse, Polly found the Freemans fiercely opposed to any such action, doting on the boy. Polly left abruptly, overwhelmed by emotion; she never visited again. Her actions led to tragic consequences for her and Edgar decades later.

Richard had inherited his father's swarthy handsomeness and was extroverted; however, his usual response to any problem seems to have been to withdraw from it, either literally, mentally, or emotionally. By his early teens, he had held down numerous jobs and was an ardent if not very good racehorse follower. In 1894, he had rashly become engaged to a local Deptford
Deptford is a district of south London, England, located on the south bank of the River Thames. It is named after a ford of the River Ravensbourne, and from the mid 16th century to the late 19th was home to Deptford Dockyard, the first of the Royal Navy Dockyards.Deptford and the docks are...

 girl, Edith Anstree. He sought to escape, without facing the problem properly, but not wishing to hurt her feelings.

In 1885, when she was sixteen, Josephine Catherine Richards had become engaged to William Henry Donovan, and Polly felt honour-bound to inform her of the half-brother living in Deptford.

Considering the "Marriott" family's welfare, Josephine agreed the secret must not be revealed and apparently felt it too dangerous to arrange a meeting between her and Richard. She married Donovan during 1886 and had their only child, named Alice Grace Adeline Donovan in honour of her foster-grandmother and aunts, in 1887. Like her father, Joseph Richards, Josephine died young of a sudden illness in 1894 at the age of 25 years.

Unaware that the half-sister he did not know existed had just died, Richard enlisted in the Infantry preparatory to leaving for South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

. Richard found Army life unappealing. Soldiering was hard on his feet and ears, and, indeed, by the time he died, he was well-known for never partaking in any physical exercise (which probably contributed to his early death). He wangled a transfer to the Royal Army Medical Corps
Royal Army Medical Corps
The Royal Army Medical Corps is a specialist corps in the British Army which provides medical services to all British Army personnel and their families in war and in peace...

, which was less arduous but more unpleasant, and so transferred again to the Press Corps, where at last he found his metier.

By 1898, he was a war correspondent
War correspondent
A war correspondent is a journalist who covers stories firsthand from a war zone. In the 19th century they were also called Special Correspondents.-Methods:...

 for the Daily Mail
Daily Mail
The Daily Mail is a British daily middle-market tabloid newspaper owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust. First published in 1896 by Lord Northcliffe, it is the United Kingdom's second biggest-selling daily newspaper after The Sun. Its sister paper The Mail on Sunday was launched in 1982...

 in the Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

, having now adopted the byline of "Edgar Wallace" (taken from the author of Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace
Lew Wallace
Lewis "Lew" Wallace was an American lawyer, Union general in the American Civil War, territorial governor and statesman, politician and author...

 -- there was already a Richard Wallace working in the Press Corps). He was also a poet/columnist for various periodicals—a similar sequence to that which P G Wodehouse would experience a couple of years later. During his time at the Mail, he also met the author and poet Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

, whom he greatly admired.

Marriage, initial success, return to UK 1898-1902

With Edith Anstree out of sight and out of mind, he met one of his avid readers, a girl of similar age, Ivy Maude Caldecott, whose father was a Methodist minister, the Reverend William Shaw Caldecott. He forbade any contact between the two. For some years the Reverend had desired to return to England unencumbered by his family, and fondly imagined them unaware of this. His wife Marion Caldecott knew he would eventually seize upon an excuse to desert them, so when Ivy defied her father's wishes and married Edgar Wallace, Marion sided with her daughter. Infuriated, Caldecott did indeed book passage back to England, but was further outraged by the lack of penitently weeping family on the Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

 docks; the realisation they were gladder to get rid of him than he was to go was an unpalatable epiphany. Many years later, Ivy would bear the brunt of his vindictiveness.

In 1900 Edgar moved to a large, comfortable house at 6 Tressillian Crescent, Brockley
Brockley is a district of south London, England, located in the London Borough of Lewisham. It is situated south-east of Charing Cross.It is covered by the London postcode districts SE4 and SE14.-History:...

 S E London, only a mile from the house where he was born in Greenwich. He was to live in the same house for the next 30 years. It is said that he liked the house as the garden had a rear gate which allowed him to make a rapid escape from debt collectors.

In 1900, Ivy had their first child, Eleanor Clare Hellier Wallace, and Edgar met one Harry F. Cohen, a financier. With Cohen's complicity, Edgar came up with an ingenious way of scooping the press-hating General Kitchener
Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener
Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, ADC, PC , was an Irish-born British Field Marshal and proconsul who won fame for his imperial campaigns and later played a central role in the early part of the First World War, although he died halfway...

 in 1902 with the signing of the Treaty ending the Boer War. Impressed, Cohen appointed Edgar editor of the Rand Daily Mail with a £2,000 per annum salary. Edgar had become successful, but it was all about to go horribly wrong.
Superstitiously, Edgar viewed any "economising" as a sign his luck was about to end, and thus had been living in excess of a £2,000 per annum salary since the first day of his employment. Then he and Ivy were devastated when the two-year old Eleanor died of meningitis
Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, known collectively as the meninges. The inflammation may be caused by infection with viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms, and less commonly by certain drugs...

, going from healthy to dead in less than 24 hours. Reeling from the shock, Edgar was as grief-stricken as Ivy, but he was also unemployed and seriously in debt. Eleanor's death caused Ivy to loathe Johannesburg, so Edgar promptly sold their house and put them aboard a liner for England, while keeping Ivy completely unaware of their financial situation. When they arrived, Edgar possessed only 12 shillings.

His one prudence since the mid 1890s had been to "keep in" with his colleagues at the Daily Mail and so he presented himself at their office with the tale of his daughter's death and his wife's fragile health. The newspaper's new proprietor Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, promptly hired Edgar as a sub-editor. Despite the annual wage being only £750, Edgar promptly took Ivy and began living in excess of his means. She was not aware of what was happening and Edgar ignored the letters of his South African creditors.

The Four Just Men; career as thriller writer, 1903-1920

In 1903, Edgar experienced another profound event, when his mother Polly, whom he had never known, came to him. By now 60 years old and terminally ill, it cannot be doubted that Polly hoped for some financial assistance. Alice Marriott and Josephine were long deceased and Polly had been unable to work for some months. She had been aware of her son's illustrious career as a Colonial correspondent since the late 1890s - and like Ivy and everyone around Edgar, did not know that in fact he was impoverished. Still grieving for Eleanor and ignoring his financial situation, Edgar reacted with uncharacteristic harshness, giving Polly a few pounds and turning her away. Stoically accepting this rejection, Polly used the money to travel to Bradford
Bradford lies at the heart of the City of Bradford, a metropolitan borough of West Yorkshire, in Northern England. It is situated in the foothills of the Pennines, west of Leeds, and northwest of Wakefield. Bradford became a municipal borough in 1847, and received its charter as a city in 1897...

, where she collapsed and died in the Bradford Infirmary.

She was only saved from the ignominy of a pauper's grave when her former son-in-law, William Henry Donovan, though long remarried since Josephine's death, learned of it and hastened to pay for her interment. When Ivy, out at the time, returned home and Edgar, already regretting his actions, related what had happened, Ivy chastised him for his harshness and emphasized that he had not given Polly any chance to explain. Usually a generous person, Edgar agreed he had been hasty and, unaware his mother was already dead, decided that as soon as he had some spare time he would find his mother again. But events would thwart him until 1908.

The first distracting event was Ivy's second pregnancy during 1904 - to which she reacted not with joy but with anxiety and stress. Edgar went to Europe as a correspondent during the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War
Russo-Japanese War
The Russo-Japanese War was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea...

. Whilst in the Balkans
The Balkans is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe...

 he met British and Russian spies and was inspired. Returning to England in 1905 he had in his head The Four Just Men, the prototype of modern thriller novels, about four young, handsome, immensely wealthy vigilante
A vigilante is a private individual who legally or illegally punishes an alleged lawbreaker, or participates in a group which metes out extralegal punishment to an alleged lawbreaker....

s (including a European Prince
Prince is a general term for a ruler, monarch or member of a monarch's or former monarch's family, and is a hereditary title in the nobility of some European states. The feminine equivalent is a princess...

) who kill people in the name of Justice. Upon returning, he was able to meet briefly his healthy baby son, Bryan Edgar Wallace, before Ivy left with Bryan for South Africa, where her ill mother Marion Caldecott, mistakenly believing she was terminally ill, had expressed a wistful desire to see her grandson. This meant Ivy was not present to restrain Edgar's enthusiastic excess.

Writing the story of the Four Just Men (FJM) who would kill the Foreign Secretary if he tried to ratify an unjust law, Edgar had to create his own publishing company, Tallis Press, to publish it. Undeterred, he decided to manage a 'guess the murder method' competition in the Daily Mail with a prize of £1,000. Edgar intended to advertise the book on an unprecedented scale, not just in Britain itself but across the Empire. He approached Harmsworth for the loan of the £1,000 and was promptly refused. Edgar wasn't really suited to editorship as he preferred to spend his afternoons at the racecourse or poker table: Harmsworth in turn was irritated by the fact that Edgar was so difficult to find instead of being on the other end of a telephone like the other editors.

Unfazed, Edgar pressed ahead - his alarmed workmates at the Mail prevailed upon him to lower the prize money to £500: a £250 first prize, £200 second prize and £50 third prize, but were unable to restrain him in the privacy of his home. Edgar had advertisements placed on buses, hoardings, flyers, and so forth, running up an incredible bill of £2,000. Though he knew he needed the book to sell sufficient copies to make £2,500 before he saw any profit, Edgar was confidently aware this would be achieved in the first three months of the book going on sale, hopelessly underestimating the expenses.

Enthusiastic, but without any substantial managerial skill, Edgar had also made a far more serious error. He ran the FJM serial competition in the Daily Mail but failed to include any limitation clause in the competition rules restricting payment of the prize money to one winner only from each of the three categories. Only after the competition had closed and the correct solution printed as part of the final chapter denouement did Edgar learn that he was legally obligated to pay every person who answered correctly the full prize amount in that category; if 6 people got the 1st Prize answer right, he would have to pay not £250 but 6x£250, or £1500, if 3 people got the 2nd Prize it would be £600 and so on.

Additionally, though his advertising gimmick had worked as the FJM novel was a bestseller, Edgar discovered that instead of his woefully over-optimistic three months, FJM would have to continue selling consistently with no margin of error for two full years to recoup the £2,500 he had mistakenly believed he needed to break even. Horror was added to shock when the number of entrants correctly guessing the right answer continued to inexorably rise. Edgar's response was to simply ignore the situation, but circumstances were ominous. Newspaper companies were expected to be standards of truth and accountability: any that even mistakenly published articles that were found to be incorrect, inaccurate or misleading could lose money seriously.

As 1906 began and continued without any list of prize winners being printed, more and more suspicions were being voiced about the honesty of the competition. In addition, for a working-class Edwardian family, £250 was a fortune and since those who were winners knew it (courtesy of the published solution) they had been waiting impatiently for the prize cheque to hit the doormat. Friction already existed between the autocratic Harmsworth and his elusive editor, and Harmsworth, having refused the initial £1,000 loan was furious at having now to loan Edgar over £5,000 to protect the newspaper's reputation because Edgar couldn't pay.

Harmsworth's irritation simmered as instead of appropriate gratitude and contrition, Edgar recovered his ebullience and confidence, and also seemed not to be in any hurry to repay the loan. During 1907 Edgar travelled to the Congo Free State
Congo Free State
The Congo Free State was a large area in Central Africa which was privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Its origins lay in Leopold's attracting scientific, and humanitarian backing for a non-governmental organization, the Association internationale africaine...

, to report on how the native Congolese were being horribly abused by representatives of King Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free...

. In the same year Ivy was again pregnant, but Bryan was two - the age Eleanor had died - making her anxious and stressed again. Meanwhile, there were during 1906-1907 two libel suits in the courts against the Daily Mail, involving Edgar. The first and most serious concerned the Lever Brothers
Lever Brothers
Lever Brothers was a British manufacturer founded in 1885 by William Hesketh Lever and his brother, James Darcy Lever . The brothers had invested in and promoted a new soap making process invented by chemist William Hough Watson, it was a huge success...

, against whom Harmsworth had led a crusade when he learned they intended to raise soap prices. But upon the brothers publicly apologising and abandoning the idea, Harmsworth continued to gloat and approve scurrilously libellous articles, provoking the brothers into a libel suit.

Part of the case concerned an article in which Edgar had grossly inflated the figures by quoting an "unnamed washerwoman" he'd invented, as he was hopeless with money and had no idea of fiscal prudence. To Harmsworth's dismay, the Lever Brothers were awarded damages of £50,000 (the equivalent of approximately £3.6 million today). At the same time, a Navy Lieutenant named St. George-Collard began another suit after Wallace repeated an incorrect claim that he had been disciplined for brutality towards enlisted seamen before, and won £5,000.

Though the £50,000 was entirely his own fault, Harmsworth was enraged to be £60,000 out of pocket for three incidents all involving Wallace, and so upon the latter's return from the Congo, dismissed him. Unlike in 1902, in 1908 there was no way to hide the calamity from Ivy, emotionally vulnerable from giving birth to the couple's third child Patricia Marion Caldecott Wallace, and soon they had to move to a virtual slum. Ivy and Edgar had never been truly compatible with each other in personality anyway, and 1908 marked the start of the slow disintegration of their marriage.

But again, Edgar found opportunity in the shape of Mrs Isabel Thorne, who edited a minor magazine; she initially approached him about "romance" serials but he admitted he was not good at such - his teenage handsomeness and early marriage to Ivy meant he had little experience of romance. Then he began to relate his adventures in Africa, and Mrs Thorne realised that his rather ingenious and imaginative tales were his metier. She hired him to write a serial for her magazine, and so began during 1909 the Sanders of the River
Sanders of the River
Sanders of the River is a 1935 film directed by Zoltán Korda, based on the stories of Edgar Wallace. It was later spoofed in the 1938 Will Hay film Old Bones of the River, which also featured the characters of Commissioner Sanders, Captain Hamilton and Bosambo seen in this film, but played by...

 stories which were serialized for years and which he eventually compiled into novels. The movie of the same name is remembered today mostly because it co-starred Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson
Paul Leroy Robeson was an American concert singer , recording artist, actor, athlete, scholar who was an advocate for the Civil Rights Movement in the first half of the twentieth century...

 as a tribal chief.

At the time there was nothing strange about a series of stories portraying as a positive and likeable protagonist the governor of an (unnamed) British colony in West Africa, who relies upon gun boats cruising along a major African river to enforce British rule and who - while not gratuitously cruel - does not shrink from using brute force on occasion. More recently these stories have been charged with exhibiting racist and pro-imperialist attitudes.David Pringle
David Pringle
David Pringle is a Scottish science fiction editor.Pringle served as the editor of Foundation, an academic journal, from 1980 through 1986, during which time he became one of the prime movers of the collective which founded Interzone in 1982...

 noted in 1987 "The Sanders Books are not frequently reprinted
nowadays, perhaps because of their overt racism". Certainly, they take for granted the justness of colonialism and European rule in Africa - in which they but reflect the mindset of their era and are little different from attitudes of such contemporary writers as H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was an English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing text books and rules for war games...

, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne
Jules Verne
Jules Gabriel Verne was a French author who pioneered the science fiction genre. He is best known for his novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea , A Journey to the Center of the Earth , and Around the World in Eighty Days...

 and numerous others.

As shown in the listing of Wallace's output featured below, the two ten year periods from 1908–1918 and 1922–1932 were the most prolific of his life, but for different reasons. In the first period, he wrote mainly in order to satisfy creditors. Edgar sold the rights to his novels very quickly - FJM for £75, its sequel for £80, and so forth - merely for an income and to provide token amounts to his creditors, many of which were from South Africa. Also in 1908, he recalled his determination to find his mother, not knowing of her death. Instead, he located his niece, A. Grace Donovan, who by then was in her 21st year of life and, after losing her mother at seven years of age, eager to meet maternal relatives.

Through Grace, Edgar learned of his father and mother, his maternal half-sister and the paternal semi-siblings of whom he would only ever meet one, Edgar Marriott. He also learned of Polly Richards' sacrifices to ensure the emotional well-being of the Marriott family. Edgar Wallace could not cope with emotional trauma, and his conscience excoriated him as he recalled his treatment of his mother, who had then left and promptly died. Though he and Grace Donovan remained lifelong friends, he never recovered from his guilt feeling. As his personal stress increased, his writing output also increased: he produced some of his most famous work during the 1908-1918 period.

Edgar was one of those people who did best with the least time to "think" and this was an asset for his writing, though it must be admitted that most of what he wrote was adequate rather than excellent. As time went on, he and Ivy became more and more separated: though too honourable to indulge in a physical betrayal of his wife, he began what today psychologists would term an "emotional" (very possibly non-sexual) affair with another woman. Edgar's meeting of minds and minor flirtation with Mrs Edith Cockle, née Anstree - his first fiancee - soon fizzled out. Spurred by guilt over his actions, Edgar was motivated to "woo" Ivy with sufficient success for her to become unexpectedly pregnant during 1915, though the marriage had been moribund for several years.

However, at this time Edgar hired a new secretary, a timid, quiet 15-year-old girl named Violet King. Whereas Ivy had tolerated Violet's predecessors with relief, she perceived that Violet would be her successor. Ivy knew that as Violet matured from girl to woman she would be more ideally suited to Edgar's temperament than Ivy herself had ever been. Ivy also knew that when Edgar inevitably became adulterous with Violet, he would condemn himself over his betrayal of Ivy.

During 1916, Ivy had her last child, named Michael Blair Wallace by Edgar in belated homage to his mother, Polly. Assuring herself that Violet liked and was liked by her children, and aware they would all be at school soon, Ivy showed kindness towards Edgar to the end, gently withdrawing from his life before filing for divorce in 1918 and telling him that he was not to blame. There was also her own personal discomfort as the inescapable reality was that Violet was the same age as Edgar and Ivy's eldest daughter Eleanor, and what she could have been had she lived - that constant reminder of dreams forever lost - upset Ivy more than anything.

Second marriage, tragedy & success, 1918-1929

With Ivy living in Tunbridge Wells and the children at school, Edgar could finally concentrate on his writing and from 1918 drew closer to the intelligent, ever more capable Violet. He married her in 1921. Violet did not have any intention of disrupting her and Edgar's life much and so was shocked and upset to become pregnant, having her only child, Penelope Wallace, in 1923, though Edgar was delighted. This gradually spurred his second ten-year writing boom, this time because of personal confidence, rather than stress. His output is often compared to that of other prolific authors, such as Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...


There is a famous anecdote in which Sir Patrick Hastings, a visitor to his home, actually observed him dictate the novel The Devil Man in the course of a weekend. It became a standing joke that if someone telephoned Edgar and was told he was writing a novel, they would promptly reply, "I'll wait!". There is a tall tale according to which he invented and patented a "plot wheel". Stephen King features this Edgar Wallace Plot Wheel in his short story "Dolan's Cadillac", included in the volume Nightmares and Dreamscapes (1993), and in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000). Michael Crichton also describes a similar device in his non-fiction book Electronic Life(1983) and also provides a BASIC
BASIC is a family of general-purpose, high-level programming languages whose design philosophy emphasizes ease of use - the name is an acronym from Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code....

 program that performs the same function. But Crichton does not refer to Wallace by name, only as a "famous mystery writer."

It is said that Wallace was the first British crime novelist to use policemen as his protagonists, rather than brilliant amateur sleuths as most other writers of the time did. However, his heroes were far from ordinary - they were mostly special investigators of some sort who worked outside the normal police force, such as Mr J G Reeder who worked for the obscure Public Prosecutor's Office (then part of the Crown Prosecution Service
Crown Prosecution Service
The Crown Prosecution Service, or CPS, is a non-ministerial department of the Government of the United Kingdom responsible for public prosecutions of people charged with criminal offences in England and Wales. Its role is similar to that of the longer-established Crown Office in Scotland, and the...

). Most of his novels are independent stand-alone stories; he seldom used series heroes, and when he did there was little point in maintaining their order as there was not any continuity from book to book.

At the beginning of this period of increased output, Edgar experienced one more terrible emotional shock, with the death of Ivy Wallace. Experiencing ill-health, she was diagnosed with breast cancer
Breast cancer
Breast cancer is cancer originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. Cancers originating from ducts are known as ductal carcinomas; those originating from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas...

 in 1923, and wrote a letter to Edgar requesting "a loan for minor surgery" with such successful obfuscation that Edgar did not realise she was seriously ill. Though the tumour's removal was initially successful, it returned terminally by 1925. Aware even in extremis that Edgar was incapable of coping with emotional trauma, Ivy again wrote for a loan and downplayed her condition so well Edgar believed she had a minor chest infection. The frantic summons of a doctor got Bryan to her deathbed so she did not die alone like Polly Richards, but she succumbed to breast cancer during 1926.

It was ironic that only months after Ivy's death, Edgar finally achieved tremendous fame and fortune. Ivy had been his staunchest supporter and loyal helpmate, being a de facto single parent. Even after she divorced him, Ivy kindly never stopped encouraging him - and Violet - to believe in his future success. As well being a prolific novelist, Edgar was also a noted playwright, in fact rather better at dramas than novels. Some of his plays are listed below; but he also kept up his journalistic and columnist work. His route to fame and fortune on an international scale came about by virtue of his play The Gaunt Stranger and a controversial journalistic article he wrote in the mid-1920s named The Canker In Our Midst.

Once alternative lifestyles and sexuality became more accepted, the article led to accusations of homophobia
Homophobia is a term used to refer to a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards lesbian, gay and in some cases bisexual, transgender people and behavior, although these are usually covered under other terms such as biphobia and transphobia. Definitions refer to irrational fear, with the...

, though Edgar had many friends and colleagues in the show business world who were non-heterosexual. The article was actually about paedophilia: Edgar was trying to make the point that the licentious excess traditionally associated with the show business world, partly what had led to it being treated as synonymous with prostitution and immorality in the 19th century, caused some show business people to unwittingly leave their children vulnerable to predators. However, the article was completely tactless, over-simplistic and almost childishly naive besides being hectoring and scolding in presentation.

Amongst those outraged were theatre mogul Gerald du Maurier
Gerald du Maurier
Sir Gerald Hubert Edward Busson du Maurier was an English actor and manager. He was the son of the writer George du Maurier and brother of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. In 1902, he married the actress Muriel Beaumont with whom he had three daughters: Angela du Maurier , Daphne du Maurier and Jeanne...

, father of the more famous author Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier
Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning DBE was a British author and playwright.Many of her works have been adapted into films, including the novels Rebecca and Jamaica Inn and the short stories "The Birds" and "Don't Look Now". The first three were directed by Alfred Hitchcock.Her elder sister was...

 of Jamaica Inn and Rebecca fame. He telephoned Edgar to deliver a rebuke; when he confirmed his identity as du Maurier, Edgar cheerfully asked, "Oh, you got my letter then?" The two increasingly confused men had a cross-purposes conversation which resulted in du Maurier inviting Edgar for a meal, at which he intended to reprimand him. When Edgar arrived, he thought du Maurier had telephoned about the letter he had sent regarding his play, The Gaunt Stranger (which du Maurier interestingly never did receive).

By the meal's end, du Maurier had accurately realized Edgar's enthusiastic if rather childish personality, and saw that in his own blundering way, Edgar had not been malicious but rather trying to help. He also realised that The Gaunt Stranger was going to be a sure-fire hit to the extent he insisted on only one change - that of the title to The Ringer. As always, Edgar turned the play into a novel, and it has been serialised or made into films several times, unfortunately always with an element of rushed mediocrity. But The Ringer was the catalyst that propelled Edgar from being popular in England to fame and fortune in Hollywood.

The chief protagonist was a typical Wallace anti-hero vigilante, one Henry Arthur Milton, aka The Ringer, a legendary assassin who killed for personal vengeance. The drama's main character was Inspector Wembury of Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard
Scotland Yard is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service of London, UK. It derives from the location of the original Metropolitan Police headquarters at 4 Whitehall Place, which had a rear entrance on a street called Great Scotland Yard. The Scotland Yard entrance became...

, who is having a very bad day. It is his first day as the new commander of Deptford Division; his immediate superior, the brutish, inappropriately named Chief Inspector Bliss, is back from America full of ideas like Tommy guns on the streets of London and a British FBI: his fiancee has just taken a job as secretary to a local lawyer Maurice Meister, an outwardly respectable but actually murderous criminal who Wembury knows - but cannot prove - was responsible for his fiancee's impressionable younger brother ending up doing a 4-year jail term for a robbery.

Wembury's day is made miserably complete when the news is received that The Ringer, having been "confirmed" dead in Australia, is back in London and desiring vengeance against Maurice Meister, for Henry Milton left his only sibling, a much younger sister, in Meister's wardship when he left London and after Milton was supposedly confirmed dead her body was found floating in the River Thames. The Ringer was successful with audiences and critics alike and made a great profit for both Edgar and Gerald du Maurier. Shortly before Ivy's death, he had met one Sir Ernest Hodder-Williams, one half of the famous publishing company Hodder-Stoughton Ltd. Recognising Edgar's literary talent, but also his personal flaws, Hodder-Williams quickly signed him to a contract and kept him busy, but introduced Edgar to the concept of royalties. Thanks to Hodder-Williams, Edgar now kept the copyright to his work.

In 1927, famous because of The Ringer, Edgar secured an extraordinary deal - unprecedented for its time - with a cinematic company, British Lion. He was appointed Chairman of the Board (a nominal job for which he had not to do anything) and in return for giving British Lion first option on all his output, Edgar's contract gave him, incredibly, an annual salary, plus a substantial block of stock in the company, plus a large stipend from everything British Lion produced based on his work, plus 10% of British Lion's overall annual profits! Additionally, British Lion employed his elder son Bryan E. Wallace as a film editor, bringing a second strand of income from the company into the family. Thus, by 1929, Edgar's earnings were almost £50,000 per annum, (equivalent to about £2 million in current terms).

The unfulfilled promise of Hollywood, 1929-1935

Hollywood companies wooed Edgar, and he was eager to venture there and continue his ideas of being a scriptwriter and film director: he had written several screenplays and taken cameo roles in some of his films in the manner of Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood...

. Ivy's death devastated him, but also destroyed his egotistical confidence in his own invulnerability as Ivy had been his junior by a few years. His lifestyle had been appallingly bad for decades, having never partaken in great physical exertion once out of the military. His diet consisted allegedly of over 20 cups of sugary tea and four packets of cigarettes a day, to which he attributed his writing success with the wry comment that such a regime should provide "'sufficient inspiration for anyone'".

There is not any suggestion, however, that Wallace ever resorted to illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin, and he was known to be a virtual teetotaller. Though he didn't know it, he was also suffering from diabetes and this led to ever more sudden mood swings, bouts of melancholia and, mercifully brief, periods of paranoid suspicion about his family. Many of those suspicions concerned Violet, who was entirely blameless. Violet Wallace was an honourable woman, too much so to have an affair, but she was only human. After a while of enduring Edgar's temper tantrums and hysterical accusations and self-pitying moping, she began to stay longer at her office or on the film set: it is hardly surprising she craved laughs and pleasant conversation with youthful, handsome colleagues instead of being harangued by Edgar.

There was also Edgar's children - by 1931 Michael, the youngest, was in his mid-teens and well had his father's measure; Edgar had always excelled at the "fair weather father" type of playing and doling out money and laughs, whilst floundering at the important things a father is - a guide, an instructor, an adviser, confidante and protector. A good father disciplines and teaches his children morals and good conduct, whereas both Edgar's wives were de facto single mothers and his solution to any problem had been to hand out a £5 note or reach for his chequebook.

Only with 7-year-old Penny could Edgar maintain the illusion of omniscience. Indeed, he was estranged for several months from his eldest son Bryan until the latter's stepmother Violet persuaded Bryan to be "the bigger man" his father would never be and reconcile despite Edgar being the one most at fault. Thus the boom-time in Hollywood was just what Edgar needed as an excuse to get away but also validate his self-belief in his silver-screen talent. Hollywood was churning out films rapidly and was desperate for someone who could produce material at great speed yet have it (mostly) make some kind of sense.

Never one to just have one iron in the fire, Edgar used his new wealth and fame to venture into politics in 1931, even as he prepared to travel across the Atlantic Ocean. When he was elected Chairman of the Press Club
Press Club
The Press Club was established in 1882 as a London gentlemen's club. For much of its history, it occupied premises in Wine Office Court, near Fleet Street...

, he had invented the prestigious Luncheon Club event bringing together his two greatest loves - journalism and horse-racing. He became active in the Liberal Party
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 and contested Blackpool
Blackpool (UK Parliament constituency)
Blackpool was a parliamentary constituency centred on the town of Blackpool in Lancashire. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom....

 in the 1931 general election
United Kingdom general election, 1931
The United Kingdom general election on Tuesday 27 October 1931 was the last in the United Kingdom not held on a Thursday. It was also the last election, and the only one under universal suffrage, where one party received an absolute majority of the votes cast.The 1931 general election was the...

 as one of a handful of Independent Liberals who rejected the National Government
UK National Government
In the United Kingdom the term National Government is an abstract concept referring to a coalition of some or all major political parties. In a historical sense it usually refers primarily to the governments of Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain which held office from 1931...

, and the official Liberal support for it, and strongly supported free trade
Free trade
Under a free trade policy, prices emerge from supply and demand, and are the sole determinant of resource allocation. 'Free' trade differs from other forms of trade policy where the allocation of goods and services among trading countries are determined by price strategies that may differ from...

. He also bought the Sunday News, and edited it for six months, writing a theatre column, before it closed.

In the event, he lost the election, presumably due to his reputation for gambling. Not particularly bothered, Edgar cruised to America in November 1931. In Hollywood he began as a script "doctor". One of his first successes was the 1932 film adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of four crime novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. Originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, it is set largely on Dartmoor in Devon in England's West Country and tells the story of an...

. His later play, The Green Pack had also opened to excellent reviews, boosting his status even further.

His ultimate objective was to get his own work on Hollywood celluloid, namely The Four Just Men and Mr J G Reeder. Also he encountered another middle-aged man in Hollywood who was Stanley Holloway
Stanley Holloway
Stanley Augustus Holloway, OBE was an English stage and film actor, comedian, singer, poet and monologist. He was famous for his comic and character roles on stage and screen, especially that of Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady...

's scriptwriter, none other than his own half-brother Marriott Edgar
Marriott Edgar
Marriott Edgar , born George Marriot Edgar in Kirkcudbright, Scotland, was a poet, scriptwriter and comedian best known for writing many of the monologues performed by Stanley Holloway, particularly the 'Albert' series....

. Marriott's most famous Monologue for Holloway was The Lion & Albert, in which he named the eponymous lion Wallace, in what is now generally recognised to be a fraternal in-joke. Marriott would outlive his elder half-brother by 19 years.

In December 1931, Wallace was assigned work on a number of scripts for RKO, including a "gorilla picture" for producer Merian C. Cooper
Merian C. Cooper
Merian Caldwell Cooper was an American aviator, United States Air Force and Polish Air Force officer, adventurer, screenwriter, and film director and producer. His most famous film was the 1933 movie King Kong.-Early life:...

. By late January, however, he was beginning to suffer sudden, severe headaches, and finally summoned a doctor. That physician, amazed that Edgar had lived so long and was in such (relatively) good shape, almost immediately informed the astonished Edgar that he had diabetes and that the doctor could not believe he had not been blind or sight-impaired for years.

Almost as if the diagnosis released the disease's restraint, Edgar's condition deteriorated drastically within days and newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic carried banner headlines declaring, Wallace Gravely Ill. Violet booked passage on a liner out of Southampton, but received word that Edgar had slipped into a coma and died on February 7, 1932 in Beverly Hills. It was journalism and newspapers that had always meant the most to him in terms of his accomplishments; indeed, for all his faults Edgar was a generous man and he spent his money for the benefit of impoverished journalists and many other worthy charities. His coffin aboard the ship to Southampton
Southampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, and is situated south-west of London and north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest...

 was draped with the Union Jack and floral wreaths, as it traversed London the flags on Fleet Street
Fleet Street
Fleet Street is a street in central London, United Kingdom, named after the River Fleet, a stream that now flows underground. It was the home of the British press until the 1980s...

's newspapers flew at half-mast and the bell of St. Bride's tolled in mourning.

Unfortunately, his tendency to cause drama wherever he went was far from ended. Once the funeral was finished and Edgar buried in Fern
Fern, Buckinghamshire
Fern is a hamlet in the parish of Little Marlow, in Buckinghamshire, England.Historically this was a wasteland area of the parish, off the Marlow to Bourne End road. A workhouse was built here in 1781, which was a productive needlework and embroidery manufactory during the Victorian times...

 near Little Marlow
Little Marlow
Little Marlow is a village and civil parish in Buckinghamshire, England.It is on the north bank of the River Thames, about a mile east of Marlow. The toponym "Marlow" is derived from the Old English for "land remaining after the draining of a pool"...

, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

, England, there was an unpleasant surprise for his five main heirs: Violet, Bryan, Patricia, Michael, and Penelope.

At the time of his death, Edgar had been earning £50,000 a year for over two years, yet incredibly was indebted for more than £140,000 and did not have any cash to his name. His will left Violet three-sevenths of his estate and each child one-seventh each, which in March 1932 was nothing but debt, much of which were still left over from his six years in South Africa, 35 years earlier. Acting with the help of Theodore Goddard
Theodore Goddard
Theodore Goddard was an English law firm based in London. The firm merged with Addleshaw Booth & Co on 1 May 2003 to become Addleshaw Goddard...

 and Sir Patrick Hastings
Patrick Hastings
Sir Patrick Gardiner Hastings KC was a British barrister and politician noted for his long and highly successful career as a barrister and his short stint as Attorney General. He was educated at Charterhouse School until 1896, when his family moved to continental Europe...

, King's Counsel, the inheritors managed to reduce the debt by negotiation with many creditors to receive a smaller lump sum and a deferred payment: a royalty cheque for £26,000 during 1933 also helped. By the beginning of 1934, the estate's debt was reduced to £38,000 thanks to effort by Violet and others.

Just like Ivy Wallace, Violet Wallace also never lived to enjoy the fruits of her labours. Though a quarter-century younger than Edgar, she outlived him by only 14 months, dying suddenly in April 1933 at the age of 33 with the estate still deep in debt. Her own will had left her three-sevenths of Edgar's estate to one heir, Penelope, who became the chief benefactor and shareholder of - again, virtually nothing. Penny Wallace was a distraught 10 year old girl who cared nothing for her financial situation. Her only family were three semi-siblings brought up with endless wealth, now penniless and scrambling to earn a living, plus her 47-year-old cousin A. Grace Donovan and sundry half-uncles and aunts she'd never met. The little girl was deeply devastated. It was March 1934 when the debt was finally cleared (admittedly in only two years and a month) and the four children finally received their first income dividend.

The Beast: The Birth of Kong

Posthumously, Wallace's most famous work would be one he never got the chance to see: Out of the many scripts he'd penned for RKO, Merian C. Cooper's "gorilla picture" would have the most lasting influence, becoming the classic 1933 King Kong
King Kong (1933 film)
King Kong is a Pre-Code 1933 fantasy monster adventure film co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and written by Ruth Rose and James Ashmore Creelman after a story by Cooper and Edgar Wallace. The film tells of a gigantic island-dwelling apeman creature called Kong who dies in...


Wallace had written the initial 110-page draft for King Kong over five weeks, from late December 1931 to January 1932. The movie was initially to be called The Beast, and this was the name of Wallace's treatment. Wallace's own diary described the writing process for this draft: Cooper fed aspects of the story (inspired partly by an aspiration to use as much footage of an abandoned RKO picture with a similar premise, Creation
Creation (1931 film)
Creation is an unfinished 1931 feature film, and a project of stop motion animator Willis O'Brien. It was about modern men encountering dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals on an island. The picture was scrapped by RKO studio head David O. Selznick on the grounds of expense, and Merian C...

, as possible) in story conferences and phone conversations; Wallace then executed Cooper's ideas, the latter approving the developing script on a sequence-by-sequence basis. While working on the project, Cooper also screened various recent films for Wallace to put him in the right mindset, including Tod Browning
Tod Browning
Tod Browning was an American motion picture actor, director and screenwriter.Browning's career spanned the silent and talkie eras...

's Dracula
Dracula (1931 film)
Dracula is a 1931 vampire-horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as the title character. The film was produced by Universal and is based on the stage play of the same name by Hamilton Deane and John L...

 and James Whale
James Whale
James Whale was an English film director, theatre director and actor. He is best remembered for his work in the horror film genre, having directed such classics as Frankenstein , The Old Dark House , The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein...

's Frankenstein
Frankenstein (1931 film)
Frankenstein is a 1931 Pre-Code Horror Monster film from Universal Pictures directed by James Whale and adapted from the play by Peggy Webling which in turn is based on the novel of the same name by Mary Shelley. The film stars Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles and Boris Karloff, and features...

, as well as the fragments of sequences shot by Willis O'Brien
Willis O'Brien
Willis Harold O'Brien was an Irish American pioneering motion picture special effects artist who perfected and specialized in stop-motion animation. He was affectionately known to his family and close friends as "Obie"....

 for Creation that were to be reused in the current script.

Although the draft was incomplete, Wallace only made minor revisions to it, each at Cooper's own request, before his fateful doctor's appointment in late January; when Cooper called Wallace in early February to discuss the script, someone else answered—he was in the hospital. By the 7th, Wallace was dead, and Merian C. Cooper was left without a screenwriter. The fragmentary nature of Wallace's script meant that the main, dialogue-free action of the film—the jungle sequences—would have to be shot first, both as insurance and as a showreel for the board of RKO.

Wallace began his screenplay with Denham and the party at the island, called Vapor or Vapour Island by Wallace because of the volcanic emissions. Ann Darrow is called Shirley Redman or Zena in Wallace's original script. John or Jack Driscoll is referred to as John Lanson or Johnny in the Wallace script. Captain Englehorn appears in Wallace's treatment, where he is much more domineering. Danby G. Denham is a promoter and a P.T. Barnum type showman who is looking for a giant ape to bring back to Madison Square Garden or the Polo Grounds to exhibit as a sideshow. The movie retains the P.T. Barnum theme when Denham, who evolved into Carl Denham in the Rose and Creelman treatment, refers to Kong as "the eighth wonder of the world", clearly mimicking Barnum's antics of hyping acts. By contrast, a documentary filmmaker would not hype his film in this manner. Wallace had created the major characters, their relationships, and their role in the overall plot in his original screenplay.

In Wallace's original screenplay, Kong encounters the landing party when he rescues Shirley from an attempted rape by one of the crewmen. Denham's crew consists of convicts. Shirley is in a tent when one tries to attack and rape her. Kong then appears and rescues Shirley and takes her away. Wallace noted in a notation on the script that Kong is 30 feet tall, thus establishing Kong as a giant ape. John and Denham and the party then go after Shirley. Dinosaurs and pteradactyls attack Kong and the party. Kong takes Shirley to his hideout in the mountains. Jack rescues Shirley. They use gas bombs to knock out Kong. Kong is brought back to New York. Kong is put in chains. Shirley is attacked by big cats let loose on purpose. Kong kills the cats and wisks Shirley away. Kong climbs the Empire State Building where airplanes shoot at him. Merian C. Cooper sent Wallace an internal memo from RKO suggesting that John persuade the police from shooting Kong because of the danger to Shirley: "Please see if you consider it practical to work out theme that John attempts single handed rescue on top of Empire State Building if police will let off shooting for a minute." Kong is finally killed when lightning strikes the flag pole which he is hanging on to. Early publicity stills for the movie have the title as "Kong" and "by Edgar Wallace" and show a lightning storm and flashes of lightning as envisioned by Wallace.

Wallace created the beauty and the beast theme, the overall plot structure and outline, many of the key characters, and many of the key events or episodes in the story. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack were thrilled with the screenplay and were ready to begin based on Wallace's diary notes in My Hollywood Diary (1932). Wallace's untimely death, however, cheated him of the recognition he deserved for creating the story. Wallace's 110 page script was merely the first rough draft, not a final and completed shooting script.

After Wallace's death, Ruth Rose was brought in to work on the evolving script that Wallace had started but was unable to finish or finalize. Ruth happened to be Ernest B. Shoedshack's wife and was able to translate the expectations of the producers into the final script. Rose added the ritual scene on Skull Island to replace Wallace's original idea of Ann Darrow's attempted rape. Rose also added the opening scenes of the movie in which the main characters and plot is introduced. James Ashmore Creelman, who worked on The Most Dangerous Game screenplay, was also brought in to tidy up the script. The jobs of Rose/Creelman was to rework Wallace's original screenplay and sheer scenes that failed to translate as expected.

Regardless of the work of Rose and Creelman, many who have read Wallace's original screenplay have argued that it is superior to the final Rose/Creelman story. In Wallace's version, a small ape peeling a rose prefigured Kong's peeling away Shirley's clothes. Wallace's version included an underwater scene from the attacking Dinosaur's point of view as it approached a capsized boat. Unfortunately, the original Wallace screenplay has not yet been published, making word for word comparison between the two scripts difficult.

The original Wallace screenplay is analyzed and discussed in The Girl in the Hairy Paw (1976), edited by Ronald Gottesman and Harry Geduld, and by Mark Cotta Vaz, in the preface to the Modern Library reissue of King Kong (2005).

In December, 1932, his story and screenplay for King Kong were "novelized" or transcribed by Delos W. Lovelace, a journalist and author himself who knew Cooper from when they worked on the same newspaper, and appeared in book form under the title King Kong. Lovelace based the transcription largely on the Ruth Rose and James A. Creelman screenplay. This "novelization" of King Kong, attributed to Wallace, Cooper, and Lovelace, was originally published by Grosset and Dunlap. The book was reissued in 2005 by the prestigious Modern Library, a division of Random House, with an Introduction by Greg Bear and a Preface by Mark Cotta Vaz, and by Penguin in the US. In the UK, Victor Gollancz published a hardcover version in 2005. The first paperback edition had been published by Bantam in 1965 in the US and by Corgi in 1966 in the UK. In 1976, Grosset and Dunlap republished the novel in paperback and hardcover editions. There were paperback editions by Tempo and by Futura that year as well. In 2005, Blackstone Audio released a spoken-word version of the book as an audiobook on CD with commentary by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury
Ray Douglas Bradbury is an American fantasy, horror, science fiction, and mystery writer. Best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and for the science fiction stories gathered together as The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man , Bradbury is one of the most celebrated among 20th...

, Harlan Ellison
Harlan Ellison
Harlan Jay Ellison is an American writer. His principal genre is speculative fiction.His published works include over 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, teleplays, essays, a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media...

, and Ray Harryhausen
Ray Harryhausen
Ray Harryhausen is an American film producer and special effects creator...

, among others. Harryhausen stated that he had read the original screenplay by Wallace. There were also German and Czech versions of the novel in 2005.

On October 28, 1933, Cinema Weekly published the short story "King Kong", credited to Edgar Wallace and Draycott Montagu Dell (1888–1940). Dell had known and worked with Wallace when both worked for UK newspapers. This can be called a "story-ization" of the Wallace and Cooper story which relied on the Rose and Creelman screenplay, but which like the Wallace treatment, begins at the island. Both Wallace and Cooper had signed a contract which allowed them to develop the story in a book or short story or serial form. Walter F. Ripperger also wrote a two-part serialization of the Wallace and Cooper story in Mystery magazine titled "King Kong" in the February and March issues in 1933.


In 1959 a mini-revival of his work occurred in Germany and around the Eastern Bloc
Eastern bloc
The term Eastern Bloc or Communist Bloc refers to the former communist states of Eastern and Central Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact...

, and his eldest son Bryan relocated there for some time to edit and direct many of the string of Edgar Wallace B-movies and made-for-tv movies filmed in that country. These later became a staple of late-night television. In 2004 Oliver Kalkofe
Oliver Kalkofe
Oliver Kalkofe is a German satirist, columnist, book author and actor.- Career :Kalkofe grew up in Langenhagen-Engelbostel near Hanover and in Peine...

 produced the movie Der Wixxer, an homage to the popular black and white Wallace movies. It featured a large number of well known comedians.

Both his elder son Bryan Edgar Wallace and his youngest daughter Penelope Wallace were also authors of mystery and crime novels. In 1969, Penelope founded The Edgar Wallace Appreciation Society which she ran until her death in 1997, the work being continued by her daughter, also named Penelope.

African novels

  • Sanders of the River (1911)
  • The People of the River (1911)
  • The River of Stars (1913)
  • Bosambo of the River (1914)
  • Bones (1915)
  • The Keepers of the King's Peace (1917)
  • Lieutenant Bones (1918)
  • Bones in London (1921)
  • Sandi the Kingmaker (1922)
  • Bones of the River (1923)
  • Sanders (1926)
  • Again Sanders (1928)

Four Just Men series

  • The Four Just Men
    The Four Just Men (book)
    The Four Just Men is a detective thriller published in 1905 by the British writer Edgar Wallace. The eponymous "Just Men" appear in several sequels.-Publication:...

  • The Council of Justice (1908)
  • The Just Men of Cordova (1917)
  • The Law of the Four Just Men (US title: Again the Three Just Men) (1921)
  • The Three Just Men (1926)
  • Again the Three Just Men (US title: The Law of the Three Just Men) (1929) aka Again the Three

Mr. J. G. Reeder series

  • Room 13 (1924)
  • The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder
    The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder
    The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder is a short story compilation by the British crime writer Edgar Wallace published in 1925. The story has been adapted on film, television and radio.The stories are about Mr J. G...

     (US title: The Murder Book of Mr. J. G. Reeder) (1925)
  • Terror Keep (1927)
  • Red Aces (1929)
  • The Guv'nor and Other Short Stories
    The Guv'nor and Other Short Stories
    The Guv'nor and Other Short Stories is a short story compilation by the British crime writer Edgar Wallace.These are the final stories about Mr. J. G. Reeder, a police officer with "the mind of a criminal".They include*"The Guv'nor"...

     (US title: Mr. Reeder Returns) (1932)

Detective Sgt. (Insp.) Elk series

  • The Nine Bears or The Other Man or The Cheaters (1910) (revised as Silinski - Master Criminal (1930))
  • The Fellowship of the Frog (1925)
  • The Joker or The Colossus (1926)
  • The Twister (1928)
  • The India-Rubber Men (1929)
  • White Face (1930)

Crime novels and short stories compilations

  • Angel Esquire (1908)
  • The Fourth Plague (1913)
  • Grey Timothy (1913)
  • The Man Who Bought London (1915)
  • The Melody of Death (1915)
  • A Debt Discharged (1916)
  • The Tomb of T'Sin (1916)
  • The Secret House (1917)
  • The Clue of the Twisted Candle (1918)
  • Down under Donovan (1918)
  • The Man Who Knew (1918)
  • The Green Rust (1919)
  • Kate Plus 10 (1919)
  • The Daffodil Mystery (1920)
  • Jack O'Judgment (1920)
  • The Angel of Terror (1922)
  • The Crimson Circle
    The Crimson Circle (novel)
    The Crimson Circle is a 1922 crime novel by the British writer Edgar Wallace. Scotland Yard tackle a secret league of blackmailers known as The Crimson Circle.-Adaptations:The novel has been adapted into films on four occasion....

  • Mr. Justice Maxell (1922)
  • The Valley of Ghosts
    The Valley of Ghosts (novel)
    The Valley of Ghosts is a crime novel by the British writer Edgar Wallace which was first published in 1922.-Film adaptation:In 1928 the novel was adapted into a silent film directed by G.B. Samuelson and starring Miriam Seegar and Ian Hunter. It was one of a number of adaptations of Wallace's...

  • Captains of Souls (1923)
  • The Clue of the New Pin
    The Clue of the New Pin (novel)
    The Clue of the New Pin is a 1923 crime novel by the British writer Edgar Wallace.-Adaptations:The novel has been adapted into film twice:...

  • The Green Archer (1923)
  • The Missing Million (1923)
  • The Dark Eyes Of London (1924)
  • Double Dan (1924)
  • Educated Evans (1924)
  • The Face in the Night (1924)
  • The Sinister Man (1924)
  • The Three Oak Mystery (1924)
  • The Blue Hand (1925)
  • The Daughters of the Night (1925)
  • The Gaunt Stranger (1925) (revised as The Ringer (1926))
  • A King by Night (1925)
  • The Strange Countess (1925)
  • The Avenger (1926)
  • The Black Abbot (1926)
  • The Day of Uniting (1926)
  • The Door with Seven Locks (1926)
  • The Man from Morocco (1926)
  • The Million Dollar Story (1926)
  • More Educated Evans (1926)
  • The Northing Tramp (1926)
  • Penelope of the Polyantha (1926)
  • The Square Emerald (1926)
  • The Terrible People (1926)
  • We Shall See! (1926)
  • The Yellow Snake (1926)
  • The Big Foot
    The Big Foot
    The Big Foot is a 1927 crime novel by Edgar Wallace.This is one of the most significant of his works because of the character Sooper, a detective from Metropolitan Guard. A woman is found dead in a locked room, Big Foot's threats all about... but - apparently - Sooper is more concerned about a...

  • The Brigand (1927)
  • The Feathered Serpent (1927)
  • Flat 2 (1927)
  • The Forger (1927)
  • Good Evans (1927)
  • The Hand of Power (1927)
  • The Man Who Was Nobody (1927)
  • The Mixer (1927)
  • Number Six (1927)
  • The Squeaker (1927)
  • The Traitor's Gate (1927)
  • The Double (1928)
  • Elegant Edward (1928)
  • The Flying Squad (1928)
  • The Gunner (1928)
  • The Orator (1928)
  • The Thief in the Night (1928)
  • Again the Ringer (1929)
  • The Big Four (1929)
  • The Black (1929)
  • The Cat-Burglar (1929)
  • Circumstantial Evidence (1929)
  • Fighting Snub Reilly (1929)
  • For Information Received (1929)
  • Forty-Eight Short Stories (1929)
  • Four Square Jane (1929)
  • The Ghost of Down Hill (1929)
  • The Golden Hades (1929)
  • The Green Ribbon (1929)
  • The Terror (1930)
  • The Calendar
    The Calendar (novel)
    The Calendar is a 1930 British thriller novel by Edgar Wallace. A racehorse owner agrees to throw a race and has to deal with the consequences of his decision.-Adaptations:...

  • The Hand of Power (1930)
  • The Thief in the Night (1930)
  • The Clue of the Silver Key or The Silver Key (1930)
  • The Lady of Ascot (1930)
  • The Devil Man (1931)
  • The Man at the Carlton (1931)
  • The Coat of Arms or The Arranways Mystery (1931)
  • On the Spot: Violence and Murder in Chicago (1931)
  • The Ringer Returns or Again the Ringer (1931)
  • Sergeant Sir Peter or Sergeant Dunn, C.I.D. (1932)
  • When the Gangs Came to London (1932)
  • The Steward (1932)
  • The Frightened Lady (1933)
  • The Green Pack (1933)
  • The Last Adventure (1934)
  • The Woman from fhe East (1934)
  • The Mouthpiece (1935)
  • Smoky Cell (1935)
  • The Table (1936)
  • Sanctuary Island (1936)
  • The Undisclosed Client (1963)
  • The Death Room (1986)
  • The Road to London (1986)
  • The Sooper and Others (1984)
  • Winning Colours: The Selected Racing Writings of Edgar Wallace (1991)

Other novels

  • The Mission That Failed (1898)
  • War and Other Poems (1900)
  • Writ in Barracks (1900)
  • Unofficial Despatches (1901)
  • Smithy (1905)
  • Captain Tatham of Tatham Island (1909)
  • Smithy Abroad (1909)
  • The Duke in the Suburbs (1909)
  • Private Selby (1912)
  • The Admirable Carfew (1914)
  • Smithy and the Hun (1915)
  • Tam Of The Scouts (1918)
  • Those Folk of Bulboro (1918)
  • The Adventure of Heine (1917)
  • The Fighting Scouts (1919)
  • The Book of all Power (1921)
  • Flying Fifty-five (1922)
  • The Books of Bart (1923)
  • Chick (1923)
  • Barbara on Her Own (1926)
  • This England (1927)

Fact books

  • Famous Scottish Regiments (1914)
  • Field Marshal Sir John French (1914)
  • Heroes All: Gallant Deeds of the War (1914)
  • The Standard History of the War (1914)
  • Kitchener's Army and the Territorial Forces: The Full Story of a Great Achievement (1915)
  • 1925 - The Story of a Fatal Place (1915)
  • Vol. 2-4. War of the Nations (1915)
  • Vol. 5-7. War of the Nations (1916)
  • Vol. 8-9. War of the Nations (1917)
  • Tam of the Scouts (1918)
  • People (1926)


  • King Kong
    King Kong
    King Kong is a fictional character, a giant movie monster resembling a gorilla, that has appeared in several movies since 1933. These include the groundbreaking 1933 movie, the film remakes of 1976 and 2005, as well as various sequels of the first two films...

     (1932, first draft of original screenplay, 110 pages) While the script was not used in its entirety, much of it was retained for the final screenplay. Portions of the original Wallace screenplay were published in 1976. While the screenplay is preserved, it remains unpublished. Instead, the Delos Lovelace transcription remains the official book-length treatment of the story.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles
    The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932 film)
    The Hound of the Baskervilles is a 1932 British mystery film directed by Gareth Gundrey and starring John Stuart, Robert Rendel and Frederick Lloyd. It is based on the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is called in to investigate a suspicious death on...

     (1932, British film)
  • The Squeaker (1930, British film)
  • Prince Gabby (1929, British film)
  • Mark of the Frog
    Mark of the Frog
    Mark of the Frog is a 1928 drama film serial directed by Arch Heath. The film is now considered to be lost.-Cast:* Donald Reed* Margaret Morris* George Harcourt* Gus De Weil* Frank Lackteen* Charles Anthony Hughes * Frank B...

     (1928, American film)
  • The Valley of Ghosts (1928, British film)

Short stories

  • "King Kong", with Draycott M. Dell, (1933), October 28, 1933 Cinema Weekly

Stories collected in Forty Eight Short-Stories (George Newnes Limited ca. 1930)
  • In Thrall
  • White Stockings
  • The Compleat Criminal
  • "Nig-Nog"
  • On The Witney Road
  • Jimmy's Brother
  • The Pick-Up
  • The Stretelli Case
  • Mother o' Mine
  • The Looker and the Leaper
  • The Prison-Breakers
  • The Man Who Never Lost
  • The Clue of Monday's Settling
  • Sentimental Simpson
  • The Christmas Cup
  • Code No. 2
  • Fighting Snub Reilly
  • The Mediaeval Mind
  • A Romance in Brown
  • The Know-How
  • Chubb of the "Slipper"
  • Indian Magic
  • The King's Brahm
  • Establishing Charles Bullivant
  • The Cat Burglar
  • Discovering Rex
  • The Greek Poropulus
  • The Little Green Man
  • Christmas Eve at the China Dog
  • Via Madeira
  • The Governor of Chi-Foo
  • The Man in the Golf Hut
  • A Tryst with Ghosts
  • Kid Glove Harry
  • The Christmas Princess
  • The Undisclosed Client
  • Circumstantial Evidence
  • The Treasure of the Kalahari
  • The Man who Killed Himself
  • The Weakling
  • Findings and Keepings
  • The Child of Chance
  • Jake's Brother Bill
  • Bulfox Asleep
  • The Perfect Gentleman
  • The Dear Liar
  • The Jewel Box
  • Red Beard

Stories collected in The Lone House Mystery and Other Stories (COLLINS SONS & CO., 1929)
  • The Lone House Mystery
  • The Sooper Speaking
  • Clues
  • Romance in It

Stories collected in The Man Who Married His Cook (White Lion, 1976)
  • The Man Who Married His Cook
  • The Adventure of George
  • Blue Suit
  • The Business Woman
  • Mr Sigee's Relations
  • The Girl from Ether
  • Declared to Win
  • Fate and Mr. Hoke
  • The Society of Bright Young People
  • The Cross of the Thief
  • Thieves make Thieves

Stories collected in The Death Room (William Kimber, 1986)
  • The Devil Light
  • The Poisoners
  • Lord Exenham Creates a Sensation
  • Before Witnesses
  • The Limp of the Clan Chen
  • Hailey's Comet
  • The Cowboy and Lord Dorrington
  • The Death Room
  • One Night in Somerset
  • The Slip
  • The Black Grippe
  • The Barford Snake
  • The Day the World Stopped
  • The Forest of Happy Thoughts;
  • While the Passengers Slept


  • The Ringer (1929)
  • On the Spot (1930)
  • The Squeaker (1930)

Movie Director
  • The Squeaker (1930)
  • Red Aces (1929)


On the aesthetic use of native African characters in his tales:
  • "I do not regard the native as my brother or my sister, nor even as my first cousin: nor as a poor relation. I do not love the native--nor do I hate him. To me he is just a part of the scenery, a picturesque object with uses."

On Intellectualism:
  • "The intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex".
  • "What is a highbrow? He is a man who has found something more interesting than women."

External links

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