Monday, November 07, 2016

A silent film actor's mystery novel.

Silent film actor and author
James W. Morrison
in 1916
. . . suddenly the quiet was broken by the sharp report of a pistol, followed by the piercing sound of a police whistle.
—Woods Morrison, Road End 185
As the Daily Illini wrote on 18 June 1927, Charlie Chan creator Earl Derr Biggers stated, as the bookshelves were overflowing with mystery stories, "how pleasant it would be if all but three or four mystery novelists could be taken out and painlessly drowned. Only I can never decide as to the survivors . . . ."

However, the debut mystery of Woods Morrison, Road End (1927), had caused a rethink by Biggers. ". . . Whether I want to or not, I've got to welcome Woods Morrison. . . . [O]nce he gets going, he deals out thrills with the speed and nonchalance of a river gambler dealing cards" (4).

The first novel of Morrison (1888–1974)—a University of Chicago graduate who acted under the name James W. Morrison (including roles in the silent films Black Beauty, The Little Minister, and Captain Blood) and later taught drama at the Packer Collegiate Institute in New York—focuses on murder, the theft of a pearl necklace, strange wailing, and other mysterious occurrences at an elegant Long Island house, with a down-on-his-luck young man taking on the roles of chauffeur and sleuth. (The ending, however, is rather weak.) The book was serialized in the Philadelphia Inquirer in Feb.–May 1934 (note that some of the pages are faint, and the following are all the parts I could find):

Chapters 1–2 
Chapter 3
Chapters 5–6
Chapters 6–7
Chapters 7–8
Chapters 10–11 
Chapters 12–13
Chapters 14–15
Chapters 16–17

Silent film scholar Anthony Slide paints a sad picture of Morrison later in life crippled by arthritis, living in a small Greenwich Village apartment, and considering his silent film career to be insubstantial (despite Slide's views to the contrary).

The following are other works by Morrison:

April Luck (1932). "The moving story of a sensitive girl whom fate made into a glamorous adventuress"

• "Under Pressure" (Liberty magazine, 17 Dec. 1932)

•  "Alias Miss Williams" (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 8 Oct. 1933)

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