THE NEW YORK GAZETTE
ast October 20th,
it was 105 years ago that
Frederic Dannay was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Although he spend most
Detective Gives Clues
Three celebrities observed their fiftieth birthdays recently: Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Ellery Queen. Frederic Dannay, surviving member of the Queen team, reminisces
By "Ellery Queen"
I'm often asked how Manfred Lee and I came up with the name "Ellery Queen" for our detective character.
Above: Frederic Dannay: he's Ellery (photograph Liza Hollander)
"Ellery" was the name of one of my oldest boyhood friends in the small town in upstate New York where I grew up. I had never heard the name before, and I never heard it again till I came finally to the big city and heard of Ellery Sedgwick, the Atlantic Monthly editor, and William Ellery Leonard, the poet. It was such an odd name and I liked it so much that I suggested it and Manny agreed.
The second name was arrived at after many experiments. We tried to get a combination of syllables that had a mnemonic value, that once heard or seen would be remembered.
We were only 23 years old then; it was 1928, and we had no notion that the word "queen" had any other meaning: We've had some embarrassing incidents.
The early mysteries, the first half dozen or so, belonged to what is known as the Golden Age, in which the emphasis was on complexity of plot, subtlety of clues, a stunning surprise solution, and fair play to the reader. It was a battle of wits between author and reader.
Manny and I saw much earlier than most others that the puzzle story was coming to an end, that something new had to be done, and we planned for it. When an author finds a winning formula, he usually sticks with it. Take Erle Stanley Gardner, who is the best-selling author in American history among Americans. And Agatha Christie never really changed. But Manny and I could not have collaborated for 43 years if we had simply found a formula and stuck to it. The fun of it would have been lost.
Ellery was in the beginning a kind of idealization of what Manny and I wanted to be ourselves when we were 23. As time went on and our collaboration became a matter of decades, presumably we grew more mature and interested in more serious aspects of life, including those having to do with social conscience. And, since Ellery remained a reflection of ourselves, he changed too.
It's true that critics tend to harp on our early books, but my guess is that after I'm gone, they may catch up with the later ones and find that, after all, they're the better ones. And on the Eight Day was a quite daring attempt to put the spiritual qualities of religion into the strict framework of the detective story; it was published here in 1964 to a very cool reception. Last year it was published in France as a new book and it won the Grand Prix. Perhaps critics are already catching up.
(From The New York Magazine: The
New York Gazette Feb 12. 1979)