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,The Leopard Man

Eddie Muller on Cornell Woolrich

Alfred Hitchcock may be the "Master of Suspense," but in my book he shares the title with Cornell Woolrich. An astoundingly prolific writer, Woolrich (who often used the pen name William Irish) has probably had more stories adapted to film, in more languages, than any other author. The reason is simple: He created tales with inventive spine-tingling premises and predicaments and wrote them in a completely camera-ready style.

In the early 1940s Hollywood studios began buying almost everything Woolrich produced, principally the novels in his "Black" series: The Black Curtain, Black Alibi, Black Angel, The Black Path of Fear--which became Street of Chance (1942), The Leopard Man (1943), Black Angel (1946) and The Chase (1946). In addition, the forties' films noirs Phantom Lady (1944), Deadline at Dawn (1946), Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), and No Man of Her Own (1950) were all based on Woolrich novels. Not to mention a slew of dark Poverty Row potboilers such as The Guilty (1947), I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes (1948) and Fall Guy (1947).

All this success meant virtually nothing to the lonely, reclusive and repressed author, who lived most of his life in a Manhattan hotel suite he shared with his mother. Even as his stories were being adapted all over the globe by some of the world's greatest filmmakers, Woolrich continued to pound out pulp stories for the few remaining mystery magazines in the business, living the life of a reclusive hermit, rarely venturing out into a world he found utterly terrifying.

He and Hitchcock crossed paths, creatively not literally, only twice: Rear Window (1954) was based on Woolrich's short story "It Had to Be Murder, and "Four O'Clock," one of the few episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by the Master himself, was also based on a Woolrich story. While Hitchcock undoubtedly deserves the mantle "Master of Suspense," he also had teams of writers and literally hundreds of creative collaborators helping bring his visions to life. Woolrich had nothing but a Remington portable typewriter and reams of paper from the local stationery store, on which he relentlessly banged out fear-soaked stories of innocent people trapped in life-and-death circumstances. That's all he needed to create some of the darkest and most nerve-wracking stories ever told.

I have chosen to show: The Leopard Man (1943, novel), Deadline at Dawn (1946, novel).

By Eddie Muller

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