Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968)
Cornell Woolrich was born in 1903. He began writing fiction at Columbia University in
the late 1920's. His early works are not yet noir (the genre had not yet really
emerged) but rather were in the F. Scott
Fitzgerald / Romantic Egoist tradition. When the Depression caused him to
markets, he turned to the pulp magazines to survive, changing his style to one of dark,
brooding suspense. During the 1930's and 40's Woolrich was, along with Raymond Chandler, James
M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett, one of the creators
of the roman noir genre. Sadly, Woolrich died an
alcoholic recluse in 1969.
Woolrich's work was adapted into numerous motion pictures,
the best being Robert Siodmak's Phantom Lady (1944) and
Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954).
Woolrich's writing is wonderfully descriptive. His stories are suspenseful and
surprising. I Married a Dead Man (written under the name "William Irish" and
recently re-released as part of Penguin's Crime Fiction series) is a great place to start
reading Woolrich. Here's an excerpt from the beginning:
The girl was standing still in front of the door. Perfectly still. The way you stand when
you've been standing for a long time; so long you've forgotten about moving, have grown
used to not moving. Her finger was to the push button, but it wasn't pushing any more. No
pressure was being exerted; no sound came from the battery behind the door-frame. It was as
though she had been holding it that way so long, she had forgotten to take that, too, away.
Michael Grost, on his Mystery and
Detection Home Page recommends Francis M. Nevins' First You Dream, Then
You Die as "an enormous, in depth biography and critical study on Woolrich and his
work. It is a very detailed look at Woolrich's world." Grost also notes that Nevins edited
the best of all Woolrich collections, Nightwebs, which contains important essays and
bibliographies, as well as Woolrich's autobiographical story, The Penny-a-Worder
(1958), which is a gentle self portrait of a pulp writer.
She was about nineteen. A dreary, hopeless nineteen, not a bright shiny one. Her features
were small and well turned, but there was something too pinched about her
face, too wan
about her coloring, too thin about her cheeks. Beauty was there, implicit, ready to
reclaim her face if it was given the chance, but something had beaten it back, was keeping
it hovering at a distance, unable to alight in its intended realization.
Cornell Woolrich's Early period
The Black series of novels.
- 1926-Cover Charge.
- 1927-Children of the Ritz. Sold to Hollywood as a movie.
- 1929-Times Square
- 1930-A Young Man's Heart
- 1931-The Time of Her Life
- 1932-Manhattan Love Song
Writing as "William Irish"
- 1940-The Bride Wore Black (original title Beware the Lady)
- 1941-The Black Curtain
- 1942-The Black Alibi
- 1943-The Black Angel
- 1944-The Black Path of Fear
- 1948-Rendezvous in Black
- 1987-Into the Night- An unfinished manuscript finished by Lawrence Block.
Writing as "George Hopley"
- 1942-Phantom Lady
- 1944-Deadline at Dawn
- 1947-Waltz into Darkness
- 1948-I Married a Dead Man
See also the Woolrich page at Cornell Woolrich,
Father of Noir Fiction.
- 1945-Night has a Thousand Eyes
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