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1929 and 1935 they wrote nine Ellery Queen
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 1931 English professor Mark Van Doren, himself a mystery writer, invited "Ellery Queen" to the Columbia University's School of Journalism (The Writers Club of Columbia) for a lecture on the technique of mystery writing. Dannay and Lee declined the invitation, since they didn't want to reveal their identity. Because the books had been presented as the work of one man, the publisher and the dual authors wanted to keep things on that basis, at least temporarily. Barbara Frost, who at that time was working with his publisher, had the inspiration of using a mask. The mask appealed to Dannay and Lee. Still not too thrilled at the prospect of attending the occasion they flipped a coin and Lee lost. He gave the requested lecture wearing a black mask, a gimmick he continued to use for autographing sessions, … .
Above left: Ellery Queen preserves his identity on his first public appearance as an author-lecturer, at the Writer's Club of Columbia. (Nov 1931)
Above right: Frederic Dannay as masked Ellery Queen/Barnaby Ross
Additional lecture dates followed, and pretty soon Lee became fed up with the burden and insisted that Fred swing his share of them. The danger, of course, was that Dannay would make an appearance as "Ellery Queen" before students or readers who had previously heard Lee in that role, so the authors— who are pretty much the same build—decided that whenever one of them kept a lecture date he would wear a black mask as a disguise! They figured there might be some incidental publicity - in the trick - and there was.
In the meantime, because they are essentially prolific writers, Lee and Dannay were turning out a new detective tale series tabbed "Barnaby Ross," In addition to their "Ellery Queen" stories. However, the Ross volumes didn't move any too well (you figure that one out - the authors never could) so Lee and Dannay turned up a new promotional stunt. They would lecture together at a New York Hotel - both wearing masks. Barnaby Ross would challenge Ellery Queen to solve a certain mystery -and how could Ellery miss when he had helped rig up the mystery?
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. The idea went over very well, and they were signed for a 50-week run at most of the important hotels in the East.
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". The dialogue "Who Killed Ellery Queen?" was billed as a battle of wits between "two of America's foremost short story writers". 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 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..."
It was not always fun as Manny once explained: "There were perils in that game— at one lecture, In York, Pa., the temperature rose to 103°, and our glasses steamed up under our masks! Got so bad we couldn't read or even see. Complete fiasco. We had to hide in the men's room of the railroad station with the doors locked until we could get out of town."
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. Adding to the "staged confusion" surrounding the identity of Ellery Queen were the forewords to the first ten books written by 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...
Whilst it seems true that around 1936 many articles confirmed Ellery Queen as being a duo, Ellery was actually "unmasked" much earlier... but only as one half of the duo.
The Film Daily of November 7. 1930 had a this snippet of information in Phil M. Daly's "Along the Rialto": "... and Mannie (sic) Lee of Tiffany has his second novel in work for Stokes..." . No other references were made so the connection to Ellery Queen's French Powder Mystery was fairly safe.
On July 20. 1931 The Film Daily was more explicit when it come to the true identity of Ellery Queen: "THAT Ellery Queen is the pen-name of one of the industry's ad men ...". A reference to Manny as other, less bashful publications in Variety during 1932 and 1933 proved: "Manny Lee a freelance p.a. is writing under the name of Ellery Queen" (Variety, February 23, 1932)
"Ellery Queen, author of 'The Egyptian Cross Mystery,' is behind the mask which his publisher makes him don for publicity purposes Manfred Lee." (Variety, October 4, 1932)
"Ellery Queen, the mystery-story scribbler, still wears that mask in his public appearances around town, though it is—or should be common knowledge he's really Manfred Lee." (Variety, November 8, 1933)
"Queen, built up by his publisher as a mystery figure by the means of a mask over his face at his every appearance in public, is really Manfred Lee." (Variety, September 5, 1933)
"Mr. Brett Stokes, of the Stokes Publishing Company, writes: "I would be interested in finding out where you got the information regarding the identity of Ellery Queen, which has been maintained as a state secret." (Several months ago we stated in this Hearsay Evidence that Ellery Queen, author of "The Egyptian Cross Mystery," etc., was really Manfred Lee. We just want a little credit for our detective work.) Mr. Stokes continues: "I am not at liberty to point out in exactly what respects your identification is incorrect." (Oh well... give us half-credit.)" (Richard Powell in Our Town, Narberth, PA - Dec 23, 1932)
In an article "Why they use pen-names" in The Author and Journalist (1934-11, Vol 19) Mortimer Weisinger revealed that "the famous writer, Ellery Queen, is really Emanuel Lapofski (sic), a musician of note".
In 1933 there was a retorical question which pointed in the right direction:
"By the way, are Barnaby Ross and Ellery Queen the same person?" asks the Retail Bookseller. Barnaby Ross has a new mystery on the Viking fall list, "Drury Lane's Last Case," and Stokes announces for October "The Siamese Twin Mystery" by Ellery Queen. " (Books and bookmen in The New York Sun, Friday, Aug 11 1933)
Once in Hollywood with the Barnaby Ross books behind them there was no further reason to uphold a mystery as the following newspaper article shows: "A further mystery note is the rumor that Mr. Queen was tagged to Hollywood by the ghost of Barnaby Ross, who wrote four or five books and then was politely murdered. "I Just wouldn't know who was Barnaby Ross," says the literary agent of Lee and Dannay."
(Prescott Evening Courier, Jan 29. 1937)
Below: Fred Dannay and a joyful Manfed B. Lee in a "mask free" picture taken before 1938.
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