About the Author
British novelist, playwright, and journalist who produced popular detective and suspense stories and was in his time "the king" of the modern thriller. Wallace's literary output - 175 books, 24 plays, and countless articles and review sketches - have undermined his reputation as a fresh and original writer. Moreover, the author was a wholehearted supporter of Victorian and early Edwardian values and mores, which are now considered in some respects politically incorrect. In England in the 1920s Wallace was said to be the second biggest seller after the Bible.
Edgar Wallace was born in Greenwich in the same year as Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1875. He was brought up as an adopted child in the family of Dick Freeman, a London fish porter. His parents were actors, Polly Richards and Richard Horatio Edgar Marriott, who used the false name of Walter Wallace on the birth records. Young Wallace left school at the age of 12, and took menial jobs before enlisting at the age of 18 in the Army, serving in the Royal West Kent Regiment from 1893 to 1896.
In 1896 Wallace was sent to South Africa, where he was in the Medical Staff Corps. During this period he met the Reverend William Shaw Caldecott and Mrs. Marion Caldecott, who was a writer and willing to help Wallace in his writing aspirations. Wallace he began to contribute to various journals, and wrote war poems, later collected in The Mission That Failed (1898) and other volumes.
After his discharge in 1899, Wallace became a correspondent for Reuters and the London Daily Mail. His reports about Horatio Herbert Kitchnerer infuriated the influential British fieldmarshal and Wallace was banned as a war correspondent until World War I. In 1901 he married Ivy Caldecott; they were divorced in 1918. Wallace served in 1902 as the editor of the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg before returning to London. During the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) Wallace was sent by the Daily Mail to Vigo to examine a conflict in which the Russians opened fire on a British fishing fleet in the belief that it was the Japanese Navy. During this period he learned about the activities of Russian and English spies operating around the coasts of Spain and Portugal. Later Wallace returned to world of secret agents in his stories, although he mostly concentrated on crime and detective books. His most famous spy story, 'Code No. 2' first appeared in the Stand Magazine of April 1916, then in various collections and anthologies.
Wallace's first novel, The Four Just Men, appeared in 1905, and was published by his own Tallis Press. It told a story about a group who take the law into their own hands. Although the book was a huge success, Wallace lost money on it because of an unlucky publicity gimmick. It was not until the publication of Sanders of the River (1911), about an African representative of Great Britain Foreign Office, when his fame as a writer was established. Wallace then wrote several additional stories using his African experiences as background. His attitudes reflect uncritically popular opinions of the time - later simply named "imperialist ideology". In the stories about Bosambo, a devious tribal king, Mr. Commissioner Sanders loses often the battle of wits, although Bosambo in one scene tells that he has always wanted to be a chief under the British rule. However, he manages to steal Sanders's binoculars. Sanders's method to keep up peace is simple: he uses whip and he has a reputation for hanging rebellious chiefs. The Sanders of the River stories ran from 1909 until well into the 1920s.
Wallace worked in the 1900s and 1910s in several journals, among them Daily Mail (1903-1907), Standard (1910), The Week-End Racing Supplment (1910-12), Evening News (1910-1912), The Story Journal (1913), Town Topics (1913-16). He was later a racing columnist for The Star (1927-32) and Daily Mail (1930-32). During World War I Wallace was a special interrogator for the War Office. In 1921 he married his secretary and second wife, Violet King, who was twenty-three years younger than himself, and with whom he had one daughter.
The Green Archer (1923) is one of the most famous novels of Wallace. It is a story about a man who is found murdered after a quarrel with the owner of a ghost-haunted castle. It was filmed at least three times. The critic and awarded mystery writer H.R.F. Keating included The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder (1925) among the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published (Crime & Mystery: the 100 Best Books, 1987). Mr Reeder works for the office of the Public Prosecutor, he is "something over fifty, a long-faced gentleman with sandy-grey hair and a slither of side whiskers that mercifully distracted attention from his large outstanding ears." Supernatural themes do not appear very often in Wallace's works. Spiritualism and ghosts are dealt in such short stories as 'Death Watch,' filmed in 1933 with Warner Oland, 'The Ghost of John Holling,' filmed in 1934, and 'The Ghost of Down Hill,' later adapted in the sixties for the Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre series.
Wallace wrote his works at a prodigious pace, among others one of his most popular plays, On the Spot (1931), was finished in four days. His autobiography, People; Edgar Wallace: The Biography of a Phenomenon, appeared in 1926. At the highest peak of Wallace's career in the 1920s, one of his numerous publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England was written by him. Most of Wallace's novels were spoken into a dictaphone, typed up by his wife or a secretary, and then corrected. His skill in creating lively dialogue was noted by film makers who used eagerly his texts for films. Wallace also wrote screenplays - among other some dialogue The Hound of Baskervilles (1931), directed by V. Gareth Gundrey.
Wallace earned extremely well from his writings, but he lost fortunes because of his extravagant lifestyle and obsessive betting on the wrong horses. He enjoyed his success, spent much time in Carlton, London's most expensive hotel, and was magnificently generous. Wallace's literary estate was not profitable until 1934. Hundreds of films have been made from his novels and short stories, also plays and television series in England (1959). In Germany the series of Wallace adaptations became the nation's most popular screen entertainment. Rialto studios produced for German audience 32 films from 1959. Among the actors were Klaus Kinski and the dark, beautiful Finnish born actress Anneli Sauli under the name Ann Savo. She was among others in Die Toten Augen von London (1961) and in Der Hexer (1964), both directed by Alfred Vohrer. Joachim Kramp has written in Hier spricht Edgar Wallace - Die Geschichte der deutschen Kriminalserie von 1959-72 more about the film series. In 1960 Jack Greenwood produced in England a series of short screen adaptations for British and American television use under the title Edgar Wallace Mystery Theater.
Towards the end of his life, Wallace estimated that his work as a playwright was more important than his work as a writer of stories. It was largely the success of the plays - The Calendar (1929), On the Spot, and The Case of The Frightened Lady (1931) - which led to his being invited to Hollywood to work as a scriptwriter. Just before departing for the United States, he stood as an unsuccessful Liberal candidate in Blackpool. Wallace died on February 10, 1932, en route to Hollywood to work on the screenplay for King Kong. Although Wallace received screen credit, he did no actual work on the film. Ivy Wallace died fourteen months after her husband's death.
Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.