Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"King Kong" Author Edgar Wallace Dies in Beverly Hills Home 1932

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (April 1, 1875 – February 10, 1932) was an English writer.

Born into poverty as an illegitimate London child, Wallace left school at 12. He joined the army at 21 and was a war correspondent during the Second Boer War for Reuters and the Daily Mail. Struggling with debt, he left South Africa, returned to London and began writing thrillers to raise income, publishing books including The Four Just Men (1905). Drawing on time as a reporter in the Congo, covering the Belgian atrocities, Wallace serialised short stories in magazines, later publishing collections such as Sanders of the River (1911). He signed with Hodder and Stoughton in 1921 and became an internationally recognized author.

After a disastrous bid to stand as Liberal MP for Blackpool in the 1931 general election, Wallace moved to Hollywood, where he worked as a script writer for RKO studios. He died suddenly from undiagnosed diabetes, during the initial drafting of King Kong (1933).

A prolific writer, one of Wallace's publishers claimed that a quarter of all books then read in England were written by him. As well as journalism, Wallace wrote screen plays, poetry, historical non-fiction, 18 stage plays, 957 short stories and over 170 novels, 12 in 1929 alone. More than 160 films have been made of Wallace's work. He is remembered for the creation of King Kong, as a writer of 'the colonial imagination', for the J. G. Reeder detective stories, and the Green Archer. He sold over 50 million copies of his combined works in various editions and The Economist describes him as "one of the most prolific thriller writers of [the 20th] century," although few of his books are still in print in the UK.[1][2]

Life and work

Parents and birth

Wallace was born at 7 Ashburnham Grove, Greenwich, to actors Richard Horatio Edgar and Mary Jane "Polly" Richards, née Blair. [3][4]

Wallace's mother was born in 1843, in Liverpool, to an Irish Catholic family. Mary's family had been in show business and she worked in the theatre as a stagehand, usherette and bit-part actress until she married in 1867. Captain Joseph Richards was also born in Liverpool in 1838, also from an Irish Catholic family. He and his father John Richards were both Merchant Navy captains, and his mother Catherine Richards came from a mariner family. When Mary was eight months pregnant, in January 1868, her husband, Joseph Richards died at sea. After the birth, destitute, Mary took to the stage, assuming the stage name "Polly" Richards. In 1872, Polly met and joined the Marriott family theatre troupe, managed by Mrs. Alice Edgar, her husband Richard Edgar and their three adult children, Grace Edgar, Adeline Edgar and Richard Horatio Edgar. Richard Horatio Edgar and Polly ended up having a "broom cupboard" style sexual encounter during an after-show party. Discovering she was pregnant, Polly invented a fictitious obligation in Greenwich that would last at least half a year, and obtained a room in a boarding house where she lived until her son's birth on April 1, 1875.[5] During her confinement she had asked her midwife to find a couple to foster the child. The midwife introduced Polly to her close friend, Mrs Freeman, a mother of ten children, whose husband George Freeman was a Billingsgate fishmonger. On April 9, 1875, Polly took Edgar to the semi-literate Freeman family and made arrangements to visit often.

Childhood and early career

Wallace, then 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 a second mother to him. By 1878, Polly could no longer afford the small sum she had been paying the Freemans to care for her son and instead of placing the boy in the workhouse, the Freemans adopted him.[3] Polly never visited him again as a child. His foster-father George Freeman was determined to ensure Richard received a good education and for some time Wallace attended St. Alfege with St. Peter’s, a boarding school in Peckham,[4] however he played truant and then left full-time education at the age of 12.[3]

By his early teens, Wallace had held down numerous jobs such as newspaper-seller at Ludgate Circus near Fleet Street, milk-delivery boy, rubber factory worker, shoe shop assistant and ship’s cook. A plaque at Ludgate Circus commemorates Wallace's first encounter with the newspaper business.[3][4] He was dismissed from his job on the milk run for stealing money.[5] In 1894, he became engaged to a local Deptford girl, Edith Anstree, but broke the engagement, enlisting in the Infantry.

Wallace registered in the army under the adopted the name Edgar Wallace, taken from the author of Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace.[3][4][5] At the time the medical records register him as having a 33-inch chest and being stunted from his childhood spent in the slums.[5] He was posted in South Africa with the West Kent Regiment, in 1896.[4] He disliked army life but managed to arrange a transfer to the Royal Army Medical Corps, which was less arduous but more unpleasant, and so transferred again to the Press Corps, which he found suited him better.[5]


Wallace began publishing songs and poetry, much inspired by Rudyard Kipling, whom he met in Cape Town in 1898. Wallace's first book of ballads, The Mission that Failed! was published that same year. In 1899, he bought his way out of the forces and turned to writing full-time.[3] Remaining in Africa, he became a war correspondent, first for Reuters and then the Daily Mail (1900) and other periodicals during the Boer War.

In 1901, while in South Africa, Wallace married Ivy Maude Caldecott (1880?–1926),[3] although her father, a Wesleyan missionary, Reverend William Shaw Caldecott, was strongly opposed to the marriage. The couple's first child, Eleanor Clare Hellier Wallace died suddenly from meningitis in 1903 and they returned to London soon after, deep in debt.[3][6] Wallace worked for the Mail in London and began writing detective stories in a bid to earn quick money. A son, Bryan, was born in 1904 followed by a daughter, Patricia in 1908.[3] In 1903, Wallace met his birth mother Polly, whom he had never known. Terminally ill, 60 years old, and living in poverty, she came to ask for money and was turned away. Polly died in the Bradford Infirmary later that year.[7]

Plaque in Fleet Street, London, 
commemorating Edgar Wallace who worked there 
for the Daily Mail before finding fame as an author.

Unable to find any backer for his first book, Wallace set up his own publishing company, Tallis Press, which issued the thriller The Four Just Men (1905). Despite promotion in the Mail and good sales, the project was financially mismanaged and Wallace had to be bailed out by the Mail's proprietor Alfred Harmsworth, who was anxious that the farrago would reflect badly on his newspaper.[3] Problems were compounded when inaccuracies in Wallace's reporting led to libel cases being brought against the Mail. Wallace was dismissed in 1907, the first reporter ever to be fired from the paper, and he found no other paper would employ him, given his reputation. The family lived continuously in a state of near-bankruptcy, Ivy having to sell her jewellery for food. [3][8]

During 1907 Edgar travelled to the Congo Free State, to report on atrocities committed against the Congolese under King Leopold II of Belgium and the Belgian rubber companies, in which up to 15 million Congolese were killed.[3] Isabel Thorne of the Weekly Tale-Teller penny magazine, invited Wallace to serialise stories inspired by his experiences. These were published as his first collection Sanders of the River (1911), a best seller, in 1935 adapted into a film with the same name, starring Paul Robeson. Wallace went on to publish 11 more similar collections (102 stories). They were tales of exotic adventure and local tribal rites, set on an African river, mostly without love interest as this held no appeal for Wallace. His first 28 books and their film rights he sold outright, with no royalties, for quick money.[3][8] Critic David Pringle noted in 1987 "The Sanders Books are not frequently reprinted nowadays, perhaps because of their overt racism."[9]

The period from 1908 to 1932 were the most prolific of Wallace's life. Initially he wrote mainly in order to satisfy creditors in the UK and South Africa. The success of his books began to rehabilitate his reputation as a journalist and he began reporting from horse racing circles. He wrote for the Week-End and the Evening News, becoming an editor for Week-End Racing Supplement and started his own racing papers Bibury's and R. E. Walton's Weekly, buying many racehorses of his own. He lost many thousands gambling and despite his success spent large sums on an extravagant lifestyle he could not afford. During 1916, Ivy had her last child, Michael Blair Wallace by Edgar and filed for divorce in 1918.[3][8]


Ivy moved to Tunbridge Wells with the children and Wallace drew closer to his secretary Ethel Violet King (1896–1933), daughter of banker Frederick King. They married in 1921 and Penelope Wallace was born to them in 1923. Wallace began to take his fiction writing career more seriously and signed with publishers Hodder and Stoughton in 1921, organising his contracts, instead of selling rights to his work piecemeal in order to raise funds. This allowed him advances, royalties and full scale promotional campaigns for his books, which he had never before had. They aggressively advertised him as a celebrity writer, ‘King of Thrillers,’ known for this trademark trilby, cigarette holder and yellow Rolls Royce. He was said to be able to write a 70 000 word novel in three days and plough through three novels at once and indeed the publishers agreed to publish everything he wrote as fast as he could write it. In 1928 it was estimated that one in four books being read in the UK had come from Wallace's pen. He wrote across many genres including science fiction, screen plays, a non-fiction ten-volume history of the First World War. All told, he wrote over 170 novels, 18 stage plays and 957 short stories, his works translated into 28 languages.[3][5][8][10][11] The critic Wheeler W. Dixon suggests that Wallace became somewhat of a public joke for this prodigious output. [12]

Wallace served as chairman of the Press Club, which continues to present an annual 'Edgar Wallace Award' for excellence in writing. [3] Following the great success of his novel The Ringer, Wallace was appointed chairman of the British Lion Film Corporation in return for giving British Lion first option on all his output. [13] Wallace's contract gave him an annual salary, 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. By 1929, Wallace's earnings were almost £50,000 per annum, (equivalent to about £2 million in current terms). He also invented at this time the 'Luncheon Club,' bringing together his two greatest loves of journalism and horse-racing.

Wallace was the first British crime novelist to use policemen as his protagonists, rather than amateur sleuths as most other writers of the time did. Most of his novels are independent stand-alone stories; he seldom used series heroes, and when he did he avoided a strict story order, so that continuity was not required from book to book. On June 6, 1923, Edgar Wallace became the first British radio sports reporter, when he made a report on the Epsom Derby for the British Broadcasting Company, the newly founded predecessor of the BBC.

Wallace's ex-wife Ivy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1923 and though the tumour was successfully removed, it returned terminally by 1925 and she died in 1926.

Wallace wrote a controversial article in the mid-1920s entitled "The Canker In Our Midst" about paedophilia and the show business world. Describing how some show business people unwittingly leave their children vulnerable to predators, it linked paedophilia with homosexuality and outraged many of his colleagues, publishing associates and business friends including theatre mogul Gerald du Maurier. Biographer Margaret Lane describes it as an "intolerant, blustering, kick-the-blighters-down-the-stairs" type of essay, even by the standards of the day.[14]

Politics, emigration to the U.S., and screenwriting

Wallace became active in the Liberal Party and contested Blackpool in the 1931 general election as one of a handful of Independent Liberals, who rejected the National Government, and the official Liberal support for it, and strongly supported free trade.[3] He also bought the Sunday News and edited it for six months, writing a theatre column, before it closed.[15] In the event, he lost the election by over 33,000 votes. He went to America, burdened by debt, in November 1931. Around the same time, he wrote the screenplay for the first sound film adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932) produced by Gainsborough Pictures.

Moving to Hollywood, he began working as a "script doctor" for RKO.[3] His later play, The Green Pack had also opened to excellent reviews, boosting his status even further. Wallace wanted to get his own work on Hollywood celluloid, adapting books such as The Four Just Men and Mr J G Reeder. In Hollywood he met Stanley Holloway's scriptwriter, his own half-brother Marriott Edgar. Wallace's play On the Spot, written about gangster Al Capone, would prove to be the writer's greatest theatrical success. It is described as "arguably, in construction, dialogue, action, plot and resolution, still one of the finest and purest of 20th-century melodramas." (The Independent, 2000).[16] It launched the career of Charles Laughton who played the lead Capone character Tony Perelli.[16]

Death and aftermath

In December 1931, Wallace was assigned work on the RKO "gorilla picture" (King Kong, 1933) for producer Merian C. Cooper. By late January, however, he was beginning to suffer sudden, severe headaches and was diagnosed with diabetes. His condition deteriorated within days. Violet booked passage on a liner out of Southampton, but received word that Edgar had slipped into a coma and died of the condition, combined with double pneumonia, on February 10, 1932 in North Maple Drive, Beverly Hills.[3] 

716 North Maple Drive

My new address is 716, North Maple Drive, Beverly Hills. For Heaven's sake don't say Hollywood when you mean Beverly Hills. It's not done, and such a pained expression comes over the Beverly Hillers when you refer to it as Hollywood. 

-- Thursday morning, 10th December, 1931.

I met a very rising young film actor, whose name I can't for the moment remember. I also bumped into Richard Dix the other day. I am simply surrounded by stars at Maple Drive, including Mr. Gleeson—you remember "Is Zat So?"—who lives just opposite, and a big director who fives next door to me.

-- Thursday evening, 10th December, 1931.

YOU can have no idea how beautiful North Maple Drive, and, I suppose, every other drive, looks to-night. Every house that has an illuminated tree has put it on. We have gone absolutely mad on decoration, and in the big holly wreath that hangs on the door we have entwined coloured lights which are now illuminated. Over the big stone fireplace behind me a second wreath has been hung, one presumes by Robert—a much better idea than hanging it in the window. 

-- Thursday morning, 24 December, 1931.

This is the last day of my old contract, and the new one begins to-morrow. It doesn't seem eight weeks since I've been here, and ten weeks since I left England. Life is so settled here that it is almost difficult to believe that I can have any other existence outside of 716, North Maple Drive. I have most carefully avoided engagements next week, but I have a feeling that one or two may come along. Norma Shearer threatened to ask me to dinner, and somebody else. 

-- Thursday, 28th January, 1932.


THERE was a time when my dinner party last night looked like being a frost. The Hustons couldn't come and the Selznicks couldn't come, and Heather, after accepting, rang up to say that she had to be at the studio at ten in the morning and wanted to go to bed early. Apparently they telephoned that she was not required, for about six she phoned saying she would be with us.

I arranged for the party to meet at the house for cocktails, and Marie, who rose nobly to the occasion, had all sorts of little anchovies and celery cheeses and whatnots, and Robert produced two varieties of cocktails, which were approved.

Dr. Ellis Jones and Mrs. Jones came early. They are very nice, simple people, and, curiously enough, they had never been to a Hollywood party, though heaven knows there was nothing exciting about it.

Then I discovered that nobody had called for Genevieve Tobin, and when we got her number we discovered that she was on her way, so that was all right. Lowell Sherman, who is really a most amusing devil, arrived. He said he had been with the polo players for three days.

Heather, looking her usually marvellous self, arrived in my car, which I sent for her. She lives about ten miles away from me. By the way, she brought me an invitation to Ivor Novello's farewell party, at which the Crawfords and Douglas Fairbanks, etc., will be present. It might be fun, and if I can get a good start on my story, I'll go.

Harry Edwards and Evelyn Brent came a little late, and young Jesse Lasky brought Joan. The surprise of the evening was Ricardo Cortez, who turned up. I wasn't sure that he was coming. Robert, in his grand habillé, and Marie in black, looked after them, and, as Marie said, it was a pleasure to wait on them. They certainly were a lovely collection of women.

We got to the club about a quarter to ten, having sent eight small bottles of champagne down in advance, a bottle of whisky, and two bottles of red wine. That is a recognised practice: you send it on in a bag, and the waiters bring it in, having first ostentatiously placed ginger-ale and white rock on the table.

It was a very gay party and quite amusing. I had Mrs. Jones on my left and Betty Brent on my right. At the next table was Fatty Arbuckle; he is a most amusing devil. I was introduced to him by Lowell Sherman. All the evening he was singing quietly to himself, improvising words to the music.

Lily Damita was at another table and came over, and Thelma Todd, and I don't know how many other stars. Sari Maritza came with a party very late, looking lovely. I had a long talk with Evelyn and a long talk with Genevieve Tobin, who I think is a very fine actress.

It was half-past two before anybody made a move to go, and I was home at three, having brought Heather, Genevieve, and young Jesse Lasky, who had left his car outside my house and was picking it up to take Genevieve back to Los Angeles, and from Los Angeles to where he was living at Santa Monica. In other words, he had a thirty-mile drive ahead of him when I left him.

I think Heather had a lovely time. Yours and Penny's photographs were shown round and admired. I was talking to Ellis Jones about Penny's glands. He was pointing out what a marvellous thing it was that Penny did develop appendicitis. He said the pains were probably not caused by the appendix at all, but by the conditions which the glands had set up, and what a great blessing it was that the operation was performed.

He said that there is a doctor in London who is curing rheumatism by injections, and he gave me his name, which I am telegraphing. He said this man has had marvellous cures.

There is going to be another club night at the Embassy—they have them every fortnight—the night you arrive, but I think you'll be too tired for a party, and I am arranging this the following Saturday. I think everybody will want to give you a party; the Hustons and the Brents certainly will. You ought to have a gay time, though not perhaps the most restful time, though you can sleep in this house till one o'clock in the day, it is so quiet.

The Joneses want you to go to Santa Barbara one week-end and stay from Saturday to Monday in one of the little cottages at a club there. They say it is so lovely that you mustn't miss it. But that is probably the Saturday I want to take you to Agua Caliente.

I want Genevieve Tobin to play in this new picture I have written as soon as I can get it passed by the executive and we discuss it at length. She is very enthusiastic, and I think she is the right type. She is pretty, and she can act, which is very important.

-- Sunday, 7th February, 1932.

The flags on Fleet Street's newspaper offices flew at half-mast and the bell of St. Bride's tolled in mourning.[5] He was buried at Little Marlow Cemetery, Fern Lane, Buckinghamshire, not far from his UK country home, Chalklands, in Bourne End.[17]

Despite his later success, Wallace had amassed massive debts, some still remaining from his years in South Africa, many to racing bookies. The large royalties from his greatly popular works allowed the estate to be settled within two years.[3][5] Violet Wallace outlived her husband by only 14 months, dying suddenly in April 1933 at the age of 33 while the estate was still deep in debt.


The Edgar Wallace pub, Essex Street, off Strand, London

Violet Wallace's own will left her share of the Wallace estate to her daughter Penelope, herself an author of mystery and crime novels, who became the chief benefactor and shareholder. Penelope married George Halcrow in 1955 and they went on to run the Wallace estate, managing her father's literary legacy and starting the Edgar Wallace Society in 1969.[5] The work is continued by Penelope's daughter, also named Penelope. The Society has members in 20 countries. The literary body is currently managed by the London agency A.P. Watt.

Wallace's eldest son Bryan (1904–1971) was also an author of mystery and crime novels. In 1934 Bryan married Margaret Lane (1907–94), a British writer. Lane published Edgar Wallace's biography in 1938.

The Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine was a monthly digest-size fiction magazine specializing in crime and detective fiction. It published 35 issues from 1964–1967. Each issue contains original works of short crime or mystery fiction as well as reprints by authors like Wallace, Chekhov, Steinbeck, and Agatha Christie.

More than 160 films have been made based on Wallace's work.[1][13] Wallace also has a pub named after him in Essex Street, off Strand in London. Writing


Wallace narrated his words onto wax cylinders (the dictaphones of the day) and his secretaries typed up the text. This may be why he was able to work at such high speed and why his stories have narrative drive. Many of Wallace's critically successful books were dictated like this over two or three days, locked away with cartons of cigarettes and endless pots of sweet tea, often working pretty much uninterrupted in 72 hours. Most of his novels were serialized in segments but written in this way. The serialized stories that were instead written piecemeal have a distinctly different narrative energy, not sweeping up the reader on the story wave.[18]

Wallace rarely edited his own work after it was dictated and typed up, but sent it straight to the publishers, intensely disliking the revision of his work with other editors. The company would do only cursory checks for factual errors before printing.[18]

Wallace faced widespread accusations that he used ghost writers to churn out books, though there is no evidence of this, and his prolificness became something of a joke, the subject of cartoons and sketches. His 'three day books,' reeled off to keep the loan sharks from the door, were unlikely to garner great critical praise and Wallace claimed not to find literary value in his own works.[19]

Themes and critique

Wallace characters such as District Commissioner Sanders can be taken to represent the values of colonial white supremacy in Africa, and now viewed as deeply racist and paternalistic. His writing has been attacked for its conception of Africans as stupid children who need a firm hand.[20] Sanders, for example, pledges to bring 'civilization' to "half a million cannibal folk."[5] George Orwell called Wallace a "bully worshiper" and "proto-fascist," though many critics conceived Wallace more as a populist writer who pandered to the market of the time.[5]

Selling over 50 million copies of his works, including 170 novels, Wallace was very much a populist writer, and was dismissed as such. Q. D. Leavis, Arnold Bennett and Dorothy L Sayers led the attack on Wallace, suggesting he offered no social critique or subversive agenda at all and distracting the reading public from better things.[21] Trotsky, reading a Wallace novel whilst recuperating on his sickbed in 1935, found it to be "mediocre, contemptible and crude... [with no] shade of perception, talent or imagination."[22] Critics Steinbrunner and Penzler stated that Wallace's writing is "slapdash and cliché-ridden, [with] characterization that is two dimensional and situations [that] are frequently trite, relying on intuition, coincidence, and much pointless, confusing movement to convey a sense of action. The heroes and villains are clearly labelled, and stock characters, humorous servants, baffled policemen, breathless heroines, could be interchanged from one book to another."[23] The Oxford Companion to the Theatre asserts, however, that "In all his works [Wallace] showed unusual precision of detail, narrative skill, and inside knowledge of police methods and criminal psychology, the fruits of his apprenticeship as a crime reporter."[24]

Although Wallace had a favored method of dictation he did not use plot formulae, unlike many other thriller writers. The critic Dixon maintains that Wallace covered a wide variety of perspectives and characterizations, exploring themes such as feminist self-determination (Barbara on her Own 1926, Four-Square Jane 1929, The Girl from Scotland Yard 1926), upsetting peerage hierarchies (Chick, 1923), science fiction (The Day of Uniting, 1926), schizophrenia (The Man who Knew, 1919) and autobiography (People,' 1926).[18]

Science Fiction

Edgar Wallace enjoyed writing science fiction but found little financial success in the genre despite several efforts. His constant need for income always brought him back to the more mundane styles of fiction that sold more easily.[25] Planetoid 127, first published in 1924 but reprinted as late 2011,[26] is a short story about an Earth scientist who communicates via wireless with his counterpart on a duplicate Earth orbiting unseen because it is on the opposite side of the Sun. The idea of a mirror Earth or mirror Universe later became a standard subgenre within science fiction. The story also bears similarities to Rudyard Kipling's hard science fiction story Wireless. Wallace's other science fiction works include The Green Rust, a story of bio-terrorists who threaten to release an agent that will destroy the world's corn crops, 1925, which accurately predicted that a short peace would be followed by a German attack on England, and The Black Grippe, about a disease that renders everyone in the world blind. His last work of science fiction and the only one widely remembered today is the screenplay for King Kong.

King 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.

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, 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's Dracula and James Whale's Frankenstein, as well as the fragments of sequences shot by Willis O'Brien 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 pterodactyls 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, Harlan Ellison, and Ray Harryhausen, 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 28 October 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.

West Germany

In 1959 a revival of Wallace's work occurred in West Germany, 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 produced the movie Der Wixxer, an homage to the popular black and white Wallace movies. It featured a large number of well known comedians. In 2007 Kalkofe produced a sequel Neues vom Wixxer.

There are more of Wallace's books still in print in Germany than elsewhere and his work has consistently remained popular.[1]

Literary works

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 (1905) 
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)

Mr. J. G. Reeder series

Room 13 (1924) 
The Mind of Mr. J. G. Reeder (US title: The Murder Book of Mr. J. G. Reeder) (1925) 
Terror Keep (1927) 
Red Aces (1929)[27] 
The Crook in Crimson (1929) 
The Guv'nor and Other Short Stories (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) 

Educated Evans series

Educated Evans (1924) 
More Educated Evans (1926) 
Good Evans (1927)

Smithy series

Smithy (1905) 
Smithy Abroad (1909) 
Smithy and The Hun (1915) 
Nobby or Smithy's Friend Nobby (1916) 

Crime novels

Angel Esquire (1908) 
The Fourth Plague or Red Hand (1913) 
Grey Timothy or Pallard the Punter (1913) 
The Man Who Bought London (1915) 
The Melody of Death (1915) 
A Debt Discharged (1916) 
The Tomb of Ts'in (1916) 
The Secret House (1917) 
The Clue of the Twisted Candle (1918) 
Down under Donovan (1918) 
The Man Who Knew (1918) 
The Strange Lapses of Larry Loman (1918) (short novelette) 
The Green Rust (1919) 
Kate Plus Ten (1919) 
The Daffodil Mystery or The Daffodil Murder (1920) 
Jack O'Judgment (1920) 
The Angel of Terror or The Destroying Angel (1922) 
The Crimson Circle (1922) 
Mr. Justice Maxell or Take-A-Chance Anderson( 1922) 
The Valley of Ghosts (1922) 
Captains of Souls (1923) 
The Clue of the New Pin (1923) 
The Green Archer (1923) 
The Missing Million (1923) 
The Dark Eyes of London or The Croakers (1924) 
Double Dan (US title: Diana of Kara-Kara) (1924) 
The Face in the Night or The Diamond Men or The Ragged Princess (1924) 
The Sinister Man (1924) 
The Three Oak Mystery (1924) 
The Blue Hand or Beyond Recall (1925) 
The Daughters of the Night (1925) 
The Gaunt Stranger or Police Work (1925) revised as The Ringer (1926) 
A King by Night (1925) 
The Strange Countess (1925) 
The Avenger or The Hairy Arm (1926) 
The Black Abbot (1926) 
The Day of Uniting (1926) 
The Door with Seven Locks (1926) 
The Man from Morocco or Souls In Shadows or The Black (US Title) (1926) 
The Million Dollar Story (1926) 
The Northing Tramp or The Tramp (1926) 
Penelope of the Polyantha (1926) 
The Square Emerald or The Woman (1926) 
The Terrible People or The Gallows' Hand (1926) 
We Shall See! (US title: The Gaol-Breakers) (1926) 
The Yellow Snake or The Black Tenth (1926) 
Big Foot (1927) 
The Feathered Serpent or Inspector Wade or Inspector Wade and the Feathered Serpent (1927) 
Flat 2 (1927) 
The Forger or The Counterfeiter (1927) 
Terror Keep (1927) 
The Hand of Power or The Proud Sons of Ragusa (1927) 
The Man Who Was Nobody (1927) 
Number Six (1927) 
The Squeaker or The Sign of the Leopard (US title: The Squealer) (1927) 
The Traitor's Gate (1927) 
The Double (1928) 
The Flying Squad (1928) 
The Gunner (US title: Gunman's Bluff) (1928) 
Four Square Jane or The Fourth Square (1929) 
The Golden Hades or Stamped In Gold or The Sinister Yellow Sign (1929) 
The Green Ribbon (1929) 
The Calendar (1930) 
The Clue of the Silver Key or The Silver Key (1930) 
The Lady of Ascot (1930) 
The Devil Man or Sinister Street or Silver Steel or The Life and Death of Charles Peace (1931) 
The Man at the Carlton or The Mystery of Mary Grier (1931) 
The Coat of Arms or The Arranways Mystery (1931) 
On the Spot: Violence and Murder in Chicago (1931) 
When the Gangs Came to London or Scotland Yard's Yankee Dick or The Gangsters Come To London (1932) 
The Frightened Lady or The Case of the Frightened Lady or Criminal At Large (1933) 
The Green Pack (1933)[28] 
The Man Who Changed His Name (1935)[28] 
The Mouthpiece (1935)[28] 
Smoky Cell (1935)[28] 
The Table (1936)[28] 
Sanctuary Island (1936)[28] 
The Road to London (1986) 

Other novels

Captain Tatham of Tatham Island or Eve's Island or The Island of Galloping Gold (1909) 
The Duke in the Suburbs (1909) 
Private Selby (1912) 
"1925" – The Story of a Fatal Peace (1915) 
Those Folk of Bulboro (1918) 
The Book of all Power (1921) 
Flying Fifty-five (1922) 
The Books of Bart (1923) 
Barbara on Her Own (1926) 

Poetry collections

The Mission That Failed (1898) 
War and Other Poems (1900) 
Writ In Barracks (1900)


Unofficial Despatches of the Anglo-Boer War (1901) 
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) 
Vol. 2–4. War of the Nations (1915) 
Vol. 5–7. War of the Nations (1916) 
Vol. 8–9. War of the Nations (1917) 
Famous Men and Battles of the British Empire (1917) 
Tam of the Scouts (1918) 
The Real Shell-Man: The Story of Chetwynd of Chilwell (1919) 
People or Edgar Wallace by Himself(1926) 
The Trial of Patrick Herbert Mahon (1928) 
My Hollywood Diary (1932)


An African Millionaire (1904) 
The Forest of Happy Dreams (1910) 
Dolly Cutting Herself (1911) 
The Manager's Dream (1914) 
M'Lady (1921) 
Double Dan (1926) 
The Mystery of room 45 (1926) 
A Perfect Gentleman (1927) 
The Terror (1927) 
Traitors Gate (1927) 
The Lad (1928) 
The Man Who Changed His Name (1928) 
The Squeaker (1928)[27] 
The Calendar (1929) 
Persons Unknown (1929) 
The Ringer (1929) 
The Mouthpiece (1930) 
On the Spot (1930) 
Smoky Cell (1930) 
The Squeaker (1930) 
To Oblige A Lady (1930) 
The Case of the Frightened Lady (1931) 
The Old Man (1931) 
The Green Pack (1932) 
The Table (1932)


King Kong (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. The complete original screenplay was published in 2013 in Ray Harryhausen - The Master of the Majicks, Vol. 1 by Archive Editions in Los Angeles. The Delos Lovelace transcription remains the official book-length treatment of the story. 
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932, British film) 
The Squeaker (1930, British film) 
Prince Gabby (1929, British film) 
Mark of the Frog (1928, American film) 
The Valley of Ghosts (1928, British film) 

Short story collections

P.C.Lee (1909) Police Constable Lee 24 short stories. 
The Admirable Carfew (1914) 
The Adventures of Heine (1917) 
Tam O' the Scouts (1918) 
The Fighting Scouts (1919) 
Chick (1923) 
The Black Avons (1925) 
The Brigand (1927) 
The Mixer (1927) 
This England (1927) 
The Orator (1928) 
The Thief in the Night (1928) 
Elegant Edward (1928) 
The Lone House Mystery and Other Stories (Collins and son, 1929) 
The Governor of Chi-Foo (1929) 
Again the Ringer The Ringer Returns (US Title) (1929) 
The Big Four or Crooks of Society (1929) 
The Black or Blackmailers I Have Foiled (1929) 
The Cat-Burglar (1929) 
Circumstantial Evidence (1929) 
Fighting Snub Reilly (1929) 
For Information Received (1929) 
Forty-Eight Short Stories (1929) 
Planetoid 127 and The Sweizer Pump (1929) 
The Ghost of Down Hill and The Queen of Sheba's Belt (1929) 
The Iron Grip (1929) 
The Lady of Little Hell (1929) 
The Little Green Man (1929) 
The Prison-Breakers (1929) 
The Reporter (1929) 
Killer Kay (1930) 
Mrs William Jones and Bill (1930) 
Forty Eight Short-Stories (George Newnes Limited ca. 1930) 
The Stretelli Case and Other Mystery Stories (1930) 
The Terror (1930) 
The Lady Called Nita (1930) 
Sergeant Sir Peter or Sergeant Dunn, C.I.D. (1932) 
The Scotland Yard Book of Edgar Wallace (1932) 
The Steward (1932) 
Nig-Nog and other humorous stories (1934) 
The Last Adventure (1934) 
The Woman From the East (1934) – co-written with Robert George Curtis 
The Edgar Wallace Reader of Mystery and Adventure (1943) 
The Undisclosed Client (1963) 
The Man Who Married His Cook (White Lion, 1976) 
The Death Room: Strange and Startling Stories (1986) 
The Sooper and Others (1984) 
Stories collected in the Death Room (William Kimber, 1986) 
Winning Colours: The Selected Racing Writings of Edgar Wallace (1991)


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

Further reading

Neil Clark Stranger than Fiction: The Life of Edgar Wallace, the Man Who Created King Kong, (The History Press, October 2014 (UK), February 2015 (US)) ISBN 978-0752498829 
J. R. Cox ‘Edgar Wallace’, in British mystery writers, 1860–1919, ed. B. Benstock and T. F. Staley, (1988) 
Robert Curtis Edgar Wallace Each Way by (John Long, 1932) 
The Transparency of Spectacle: Meditations on the Moving Image Wheeler W. Dixon, SUNY Press, 1998 ISBN 9780791437810 
Mike Hankin Ray Harryhausen - Master of the Majicks, Volume 1: Beginnings and Endings (Archive Editions, LLC, 2013). Contains the complete first draft of the Kong screenplay by Edgar Wallace. 
Amnon Kabatchnik "Edgar Wallace" in Blood on the Stage, 1925–1950: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection (Scarecrow Press, 2010) pp. 7–16 ISBN 9780810869639 
Margaret Lane Edgar Wallace, The Biography of a Phenomenon (William Heinemann, October 1938). Revised and reprinted in 1965. An abridged version was issued in Reader's Digest, Vol. 34, No. 205, May 1939. 
W. O. G. Lofts and D. Adley The British bibliography of Edgar Wallace (1969) 
J. E. Nolan Edgar Wallace in Films in Review, 18 (1967), 71–85 
E. Wallace People: a short autobiography (1926) 
E. Wallace My Hollywood diary (1932) 
Ethel V. Wallace Edgar Wallace by His Wife by (Hutchinson, 1932)


1. "More at home abroad" The Economist 21 August 1997 
2. Dixon (1998) p. 73 
3. Dictionary of National Biography profile online edition, January 2011 
4. ""Past Masters: Edgar Wallace", Shot.". 
5. Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives, John Sutherland, Yale University Press, 2012, p.122 ISBN 9780300182439 
6. Teri Duerr. ""Edgar Wallace: The Man Who Wrote Too Much?" Mystery Scene Summer Issue #130.". 
7. Edgar Wallace: The Biography of a Phenomenon (1938) Margaret Lane, W. Heinemann, Limited, p169 University of Michigan 
8. "Father of King Kong", Daily Mail 24 September 2005 
9. Pringle, David. Imaginary People :A Who’s Who of Modern Fictional Characters. London, Grafton Books, 1987. ISBN 0-246-12968-9 (p.401). 
10. ""Edgar Wallace profile", Crime Time magazine". 
11. Dixon (1998) p. 79 
12. The Transparency of Spectacle: Meditations on the Moving Image Wheeler W. Dixon, SUNY Press, 1998 ISBN 9780791437810 p. 72 
13. Fowler, Christopher (23 October 2011). "Invisible Ink: No 99 - Edgar Wallace". The Independent. 
14. Dixon (1998) p. 85 
15. "The Press: Odds and Ends: Aug. 31, 1931", TIME Magazine 
16. "Obituary: Jenia Reissar" The Independent 27 October 27by 2000 | Adrian, Jack 
17. "Edgar Wallace, The King of Thrillers". Archaeology in Marlow. 
18. Dixon (1998) pp. 74–81 
19. Dixon (1998) pp. 74–79 
20. The Popular Press Companion to Popular Literature, Victor E. Neuburg, Popular Press, 1983, p196 ISBN 9780879722333 
21. Dixon (1998) pp. 73–79 
22. Dixon (1998) p. 87 
23. Blood on the Stage, 1925–1950: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection", "Edgar Wallace", (2010) by Amnon Kabatchnik, Scarecrow Press, p15 ISBN 9780810869639 
24. Phyllis Hartnoll (ed) The Oxford Companion to the Theatre, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983 [1985], p.876 
25. Moskowitz, Sam (November 1962). "Introduction, Planetoid 127". Fantastic Stories of Imagination 11: 76. 
26. "Wallace, Edgar". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 
27. also directed movie 
28. novelised from Wallace's play by Robert George Curtis

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