thirties the influence of two new media began to
They only published five novels and the three-act stage play Danger, Men Working (base for the movie The Crime Nobody Saw) The latter (Rev. version of Shot in the Dark) coauthored with Lowell Brentano, premiered at Baltimore's Auditorium Theatre on February 6, 1936. The action - sans Ellery Queen manifested on a revolving stage - begins in a Greenwich Village apartment. Their play has to do with three mystery story writers incarcerated in a Twelfth Street house collaborating on a thriller. Unable to agree on a plot, they are overjoyed when a real honest-to-goodness murder occurs in their midst. Instead of notifying headquarters, as all good citizens should they endeavor to solve the mystery themselves before the police arrive. Ellery Queen (the author) attended the rehearsals, the play had Hal K. Dawson in the leading role. The play moved to Philadelphia, where it was disbanded after a few performances. Fortunately someone in Hollywood got interested...
By November 19. 1936 Paramount had purchased Danger, Men Working, mystery story with many comedy situations written by Manfred Lee, Fred Dannay and Lowell Brentano it became The Crime Nobody Saw.
They made it to the West Coast by train as the following anecdote from a 1936 newspaper illustrates: "... The two authors are now at Paramount writing for the movies. On their way out here, they made a train acquaintance, a congenial spirit, and the trio often played cards together. It was as the train was nearing Los Angeles that the big shock came. Dannay and Lee went to tell the acquaintance goodbye and discovered him handcuffed to two men. He was wanted on the coast for bigamy."
On October 12. 1936 The Film Daily announced Ellery Queen's presence in Tinseltown as follows: "A lot of you lads will recall Manny Lee who worked in the publicity dep't. Manny was a swell copy writer and layout man but he had a yen to write detective fiction he collaborated with his cousin and they worked and experimented together nights and week-ends, till finally they developed a detective-murder-mystery technique today they are world-famous under the nom-de-plume of Ellery Queen. They have just gone to Hollywood under a nice writing contract for the Paramount studio. What makes us smile is that Manny used to bemoan the fact to us that none of the majors would buy his original scripts "They've put a label on me," Manny said, "I'm just a good copywriter to them" now ain't that a laugh?
The reason for the rather thin output was the fact that they had been hired by Hollywood as screenwriters at the story departments of three different studios: Columbia, Paramount and M.G.M. Little is known about this less successful period in their careers.
The first assignment they got from Hollywood was to write a screenplay about a horse race. The story was adapted into the short story "Long Shot" (Blue Book, 1939)
The cousins themselves never elaborated much on any of the work they did in Hollywood claiming they didn't remember much. But Hollywood did take notice of the special working relationship. Paramount had fitted out a single office in it's writers' building. "Paramount executives are wondering what to do with Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, who collab under the moniker of Ellery Queen, brought out to the Coast to concentrate on a whodunit. When lads get down to work they almost scrap fistically, as well as verbally, and rouse other writers from their lethargy. Studio execs figuring how soundproof quarters would work." (Variety, Wednesday October 21, 1936)
Larry Darmour has been credited with signing Manfred and Frederic to come to Hollywood to work on the first of the series to be produced for Columbia. This piece of news appears in articles around 1940.
Their highly argumentative methods of working together caused friction with people in the neighboring offices and, while the pay was lucrative, they did not write anything that earned them a screen credit. So after trying their luck on stage and movies another medium would come to their rescue. A medium for the masses about to hit his own "Golden Age": radio.
They were contacted by a young executive at the
Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) who was looking for someone who could write a new sort
of radio-drama: an hour-long detective series. George Zachary offered them 250-350$ a week and an own
radio show, still they felt reluctant to accept. One can only suspect they finally
preferred the vast potential audience it offered. The learned the ropes writing for radio
writing for several radio shows some known some forgotten (even by themselves). Meanwhile
preparations where on the way for the Ellery Queen- radio
1939 they must have spend nearly every minute on the radio series, the hectic task of
delivering an one-hour original drama each week! So it was no surprise that seven weeks
(with two reruns) into 1940 the show was cut to half an hour.
Their most known Hollywood contribution
Shadow of the Thin Man (M.G.M. 1941)
didn't warrant screen credit.
Officially Lee returned from L.A. to New York on
May 18. 1941. Dannay arrived a week earlier. Prime matter on their slate
was a pending deal for the return to the air of their radio series. The
deal appears so likely that the authors came on from the Coast to sit in
on the dickering...
As Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee became
frustrated with the limitations of the formal deductive puzzle,
they tried to break away from tradition and experiment with something else. Why not use
the detective story format in a novel that would explore human motivations and
relationships? Calamity Town
began a new
era, the first in a subseries within the Queen canon: the Wrightsville Stories. Read in
sequence, the novels of the third period show an inevitable change in Ellery Queen
from solver of artificial puzzles to something of a philosopher-detective. Introduced is
the angst that infuses the series - especially the Wrightsville novels - of the same
period. No more are these "problems in deduction," as the earliest works were
defined. Ellery suffers over his cases and their consequences now. He even fails,
When Calamity Town was turned down for
pre-release by a national magazine for no apparent reason they returned to radio
considering it safe to place their bet on several numbers. Theater and movies had proven
unsatisfactory and although it was hard work they had much more impact over their radio
fter only three months
of courtship, Manny Lee married Kaye
a 30s & 40s actress in radio
(EQ radio plays!) on July 4,1942.
They raised eight children. Four boys; Anthony Joseph,
the eldest son, died in 1987 of a heart attack; Manfred B. Lee Jr.; Rand Lee, has
published several horticultural books and some sci-fi stories and Jeffrey Robert, the youngest
son who died in 1990 of AIDS. Four girls: Jacquelin; Patricia
(2 daughters of Manfred -
Betty Miller); Anya
(daughter of Kaye - Alvan Summerfield)
and Christopher Rebecca ("Kit"), the youngest sister.
In April of
1947 as the radio drama moved to Los Angeles, Manny and his family went along.
Lee supervised the show. He not only wrote the script but served as a
quasi-producer, dealing with radio sponsors, advertising agencies and
recalcitrant actors and directors. During the
1947- 48 series Kaye Brinker stepped in to play Nikki Porter. But the series came to an end
and the family returned to the East
Coast making home in suburban Connecticut, first in
Westport later on South Street in Roxbury.