1932 and 1935 they wrote six more Ellery Queen
novels, four Barnaby Ross-books, eleven short stories and edited four issues of
the short-lived Mystery League Magazine. The pair also used the pseudonym Barnaby
Ross when writing about their second detective creation, Drury Lane. Although now the
connection between the two writers is now common knowledge at the time the identity was
kept secret. Keeping their writing methods
Queen-like mystery American fans
didn't know who was the "Ellery Queen" whose mysteries they read by
the thousands. In 1932 English
professor Mark Van Doren, himself a mystery writer, invited "Ellery
Queen" at the Columbia University's
School of Journalism (The Writers Club of Columbia)
for a lecture on the technique of mystery writing.
They refused, because they didn't want to reveal their
identity. Barbara Frost, who at that time was working with his publisher,
had the inspiration of buying a mask for him. The mask appealed to them.
Still not to thrilled at the occasion they
flipped a coin and Lee lost. He went to give the lecture wearing a black mask, a gimmick
he continued to use e.g. for autographing sessions.
Soon after Dannay also appeared as a
masked Barnaby Ross. W.Colston Leigh, the owner of a lecture bureau had been made aware of
Lee's appearance at the Columbia University and put the two man under contract.
They even enjoyed this mystification by together travelling the country for months giving dialoged speeches at conferences. Here they appeared masked before the audiences and one can only imagine the mystifying impression all this secrecy around their true identity brought about. Several rumors were spread and some of them were started by the cousins themselves: Ellery Queen was none other than the illustrious S.S. Van Dine himself, while Barnaby Ross was Alexander Woolcott.
Above left: Manfred B. Lee as masked "Ellery Queen" as he also appeared on the front cover of an "The American Gun Mystery"...
Above right: GRUB STREET TURNS SLEUTH. Turning from fiction to fact, three writers of mystery stories, known under the "nom de plume" as Ellery Queen, Barnaby Ross and "The Diplomat", applied their wits to the solution of a real unresolved mystery as presented by Captain John Ayer, head of the NYPD's missing persons bureau, during one of the new series programs known as America's Grub Street Speaks, presented each Sunday evening over the WABC-Columbia network.
They went on with these conferences where Lee impersonated "Ellery Queen" and Dannay "Barnaby Ross". Before a attentive audience Barnaby Ross set the outlines for a "case" which was extremely complicated. He then challenged Ellery Queen to solve the mystery. The handkerchief was of course taken up and invariably the solution was found since the sketch was carefully rehearsed. In this way every hiccup during their performance was virtually impossible. It was a piece of first-class vaudeville. It has been told that the cousins were during these performances or even afterwards were interpellated to give their opinion on unsolved mysteries an local mischief which never were solved.
The authors enjoyed these moments as much as the public did, and perhaps Lee liked this events more than Dannay. The following 1933 anecdote not only illustrates the fun Lee/Dannay must have had but also reveals one of their favorite dishes: "...Speaking through a mask is one thing. But eating through one, or under one, is something else again, as both Ellery Queen and Barnaby Ross, noted mystery story men found out Guests at the Authors' Epicure Club at the Duane Hotel, both these gentlemen arrived en mask.
A wag among the other guests thought he would pull a neat trick on them so en route to the luncheon bought 33 other black masks, for the other guests. Unfortunately he was an absent-minded gentleman and by mistake left them in his taxi. So only the two mystery writers sat down to lunch in masks. However, both managed to eat a four-course meal. The trick of this club is to have noted authors write in their favorite dishes and then the club serves a luncheon based on favorite dishes every Wednesday noon. T. S. Stribling's favorite was onion soup, without the bread. Sigmund Spaeth's choice was mushroom Omelet and Helen Grace Carlisle specified fresh pineapple and raspberries for dessert; in hot weather she never eats anything tor dessert but fruit. Ellery Queen likes shrimp cocktails; Barnaby Ross, baked sugar-cured ham..."
Lee and Dannay developed such rapport that they were able to confound and amuse interviewers by completing each other's sentences. Journalist had a field day and they always had something to write about. This psychos of curiosity, for which it was clearly intended, made the selling of the books take on astronomical proportions. Very distinct signs that they must have been 'aces' in advertising. Immediately I must add that the quality of the books in itself should have sufficed to have warranted such an exuberant success. To add to the confusion a foreword was written for the first ten books (sometimes even a afterword) by JJMcC. Some translations didn't even include them! This character also originated from the cousins mind and depicted the two retired Queens residing in a little Italian mountain village... . Again this must have been part of the "staged confusion" surrounding the identity of Ellery Queen. More on JJMcC you'll find elsewhere ...
On October 3, 1936 The New York Post revealed the true identity of both Ross and Queen. The reason being stated is their upcoming Hollywood involvement. A small article which lead to believe that this revelation caused little or no commotion at the time and the effort to generate interest into 'who' wrote the stories was not successful. Not in the way Willard Huntington Wright had succeeded with S.S. Van Dine...
Below: Fred Dannay and a joyful Manfed B. Lee in a "mask free" picture taken before 1938.