|Robert Jay Arthur, Jr.
Author, Adapter, Director, Producer, Magazine Editor, Screenwriter, Activist
Birthplace: Fort Mills, Corregidor Island, The Philippines
William and Mary College
M.A. in Journalism,
The University of Michigan
The Mysterious Traveler
Adventure into Fear
The Sealed Book
Murder By Experts
The Teller of Tales
'Edgar' for Best Radio Drama for Murder by Experts
'Edgar' for Best Radio Mystery Drama for The Mysterious Traveler.
Robert Arthur, Jr. at 'work' at his typewriter, c. 1940
Early Photo of Robert Arthur, Jr. at Ann Arbor, Michigan, ca. 1929
Robert Arthur, Jr. at 'play' at his radio, c. 1942
The Mysterious Traveler Magazine, from November 1951
The Writers Guild of America--East, sucessor to the Radio Writers Guild of 1942.
|Robert Jay Arthur, Jr. was born November 10, 1909, on Corregidor Island, The Philippines. His father, Lieutenant Robert Arthur, Sr. was stationed in the United States Army Expeditionary Forces with his wife, Sarah Fee Abbey. As an Army brat, Robert, Jr. spent much of his childhood moving from Army base to Army base. He was educated in the public schools of Massachusetts, Michigan, Kansas, and Virginia.
The Valedictorian for his high school graduating class, Arthur had won appointments to both Annapolis and West Point, but declined the appointments, enrolling instead at William and Mary College in 1926. Two years later, he transferred to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.
After a brief stint as editor of one of the Munsey Publications, he returned to the University of Michigan, receiving an M.A. in Journalism in 1932. During 1938 he met and married Susan Smith Cleaveland, a Radio soap opera actress, but by 1940 the couple divorced. He moved Greenwich Village and began writing for pulp magazines. By 1940, he'd published stories in:
- Wonder Stories
- Detective Fiction Weekly
- Illustrated Detective Magazine
- Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine
- Amazing Stories
- The Shadow
- Street & Smith Mystery Reader
- Detective Tales
- Thrilling Detective
- Double Detective
- Startling Stories
- The Phantom Detective
- Argosy Weekly
- Black Mask
In addition, Arthur worked as a writer and editor for pulp western, fact detective, and screen magazines for Dell Publishing, becoming associate editor of Photo-Story, a ground-breaking picture magazine published by Fawcett Publications. He then conceived and edited Pocket Detective Magazine for Street & Smith, the first pocket-sized, all-fiction magazine, which published several of his stories. .
The Mysterious Traveler also aired as Adventure Into Fear and 26 of its scripts aired as The Sealed Book. From 1948 to 1951 Arthur and Kogan produced Dark Destiny, an early, well-received, television thriller series.
In 1940 he met the woman who would become his second wife, Joan Vaczek, in a class on The Short Story while attending Columbia University. Joan Vaczek was the daughter of a Hungarian diplomat and a budding science-fiction writer in her own right. During the same year that he met his future writing partner, David Kogan, with whom he eventually wrote and produced his first radio show, Dark Destiny (1942). Soon after that the team wrote and produced The Mysterious Traveler (1943), which aired over the Mutual Broadcasting System and eventually won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Mystery Radio Show of the Year for 1952 by The Mystery Writers of America. He'd also won the 'Edgar' for Best Radio Drama for 1950 for Murder By Experts.
Robert Arthur and Joan Vaczek eventually married in December 1946, moved to Connecticut and then New York, where they had two children, Robert Andrew Arthur and Elizabeth Ann Arthur.
1953 brought the end of his relationship with The Mutual Broadcasting System. He and his partner, David Kogan were both active members of The Radio Writers' Guild. The House Commitee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) had 'determined' that The Radio Writers' Guild was a 'Communist front group'.
History has shown that this was simply another of the numerous, shameful union-busting attempts by the HUAC. Their basic aim was to link a growing collective bargaining movement with Communism, so as to benefit the Radio, Television and Film industries by keeping their employees from forming collective-bargaining units--or unions. The Supreme Court of the United States, in 1937, had ruled the 1935 National Labor Relations Act to be constitutional, but when ultra-conservatives came to power during the Cold War years, they determined to find other ways to undermine the collective bargaining provisions of the Act.
The HUAC's naked fear-mongering tactics succeeded for several of the most shameful years in American history. The Committee's sham hearings were eventually brought down by the very industries they were attempting to benefit--Radio and Television.
To its shame, The Mutual Broadcasting System and its radio station WOR, caving under pressure from their affiliates and corporate sponsors, abruptly canceled The Mysterious Traveler and Robert Arthur's career as a Radio Writer effectively ended. The Mysterious Traveler had consistently been rated among the top sixteen most popular Radio programs of the era. Robert Arthur, Jr. had written and produced over five hundred radio scripts for his two shows as well as for Dark Destiny, The Sealed Book, The Shadow, and Nick Carter, Master Detective.
After 1952, Arthur worked as a co-producer for ABC's radio show Mystery Time as well as continuing to write and publish pulp fiction. In 1959, he moved to Hollywood where he worked in television, writing scripts for The Twilight Zone. He also worked as a story editor and script writer for Alfred Hitchcock's long-running Alfred Hitchcock Presents for television. Robert Arthur, Jr. is also credited with writing most of Hitchcock's droll prologues for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents programs.
He moved back to New Jersey in 1962, where he lived with his father's aunt, Margaret Fisher Arthur, until his death in 1969 at the age of 59.
Among pulp fiction fans and Golden Age Radio fans alike, Robert Arthur's stories and scripts remain some of the most rivetting, compelling fiction from the Golden Age. He and his partner, David Kogan, continue to acquire new fans with every passing generation through the enduring magic of Golden Age Radio.
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.
Education: Tri-State College of Engineering, Angola, Indiana, U.S.A.
1946 Michael Shayne, Private Detective
1947 The New Adventures Of Michael Shayne
1949 Murder By Experts
David Dresser as Brett Halliday circa 1944
Two-fisted Mike Shayne, Davis Dresser's most famous detective protagonist, downed a bottle of Martell cognac a day, according to his author. Shayne was reportedly simply emulating his successful author's real-life drinking habits.
Mike Shayne paperback illustration
Illustrators of the caliber of Joe McGinnis graced the covers of many of the Michael Shayne paperbacks of the 40s, 50s and 60s
Brett Halliday's Mike Shayne novella, In A Deadly Vein for Dell, circa 1943
Dresser's publishing house was named after his pet terrier Torquil.
Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine from 1984
|From the June 17th 1951 edition of the Springfield Sunday Republican:
Conway, June 16--This town, and particularly the vicinity of Reed's Bridge, should enjoy complete immunity from crime, for the areasis now under the capable protection of Michael Shayne, red-headed, two-fisted, cognac-drinking private detective, who has solved hundreds of criminal dilemmas since he was first introduced to an enthusiastic detective mystery reading public by the distinguished crime author, Brett Halliday, some 10 years ago.
Will Live in Town
Michael Shayne took up permanent residence in the quiet suburbs of Conway on May 17 when the Davis Dressers--better known to some 10,000,000 detective thriller fans as Brett Halliday and Helen McCloy--brought him along when they established residence in a 200-year-old former mill-house which overlooks a tumbling mountain stream on the outskirts of the sleepy little town.
The Dressers are convinced that they have found a perfect permanent home. Its seclusion will give them the opportunity to work out the intricate counterpoint of mystery plots with little interruption by an inquisitive outside world. It will give them the first home they have really been able to call their own since they were married at Islip, Long Island, in 1946.
The Dressers' new home will also provide a permanent hearthstone for their three-year-old daughter Chloe who is as delighted as any small fairy with her new romping grounds. So much so that she never fails to say "good morning, Mr. River" to the merry mountain stream which capers along beside the house before she does anything else when she awakes in the morning.
Diminutive Chloe certainly has a distinguished mother and father. Her daddy has authored some 75 novels under a dozen different pseudonyms. Her mother is considered one of the outstanding mystery writers in her field and has penned a dozen highly successful novels since she wrote her first best-seller "Dawns of Death," published in 1938. Mrs. Dresser--Helen McCloy--produces one book and one novelette each year. Mr. Dresser--Brett Halliday--turns out a much heavier volume of work in order to keep up with the demands of millions of fans all virtually interested in the adventures and future of red-headed Shayne, the enduring hero of his mystery tales.
Shayne enthusiasts will be interested to know that the fast-moving provate eye is not entirely a figment of Mr. Dresser's imagination. The author actually met the original Michael Shayne several years ago in a Tampico bar where he and a group of sailor companions became embroiled in a waterfront brawl. The then as yet unrecognized budding author was slugged on the head with a gun butt and lay helpless under a table when a very real Michael Shayne came to his rescue. As Dresser tells it:
"Suddenly there was a crash; a big red-headed Irishman who had been sitting alone watching the battle between frequent drinks of tequila chased down with ice-water, unexpectedly leaped from his chair and joined in the battle. Half a dozen men fell before his accurate fists before he reached me and heaved me bodily through the door. He remained inside, fighting alone."
It was many years later before Mr. Dresser saw the competent fighting man again. On this second occasion, broke and jobless, he had wandered into a New Orleans Rampart St. bar to seek shelter from the cold. The first person he laid yes on in the room was the same burly character who had probably saved his life in hte Tampico brawl of many years before. The setting was almost exactly the same. The only difference being that the rangy Irishman was drinking cognac instead of tequila.
Dresser introduced himself to his former benefactor who immediately recalled the T ampico incident and insisted on staking the youth to a good meal and a night's lodging. It was then that Dresser discover that Connor Michael Shawn was the Irishmen's proper name.
It was a name he never forgot. Shortened to "Michael Shayne" it became the symbol of diamond-in-the-rough gallantry and efficiency to millions of Mr. Dresser's readers. It is also a familiar name to followers of the Michael Shayne movie series and plans are afoot for its presentation to television audiences.
Choice of Pen Name
Dresser selected the pen name of Brett Halliday as the result of his first mystery novel published by Stokes in 1936. The hero of that first novel was called "Matt Halliday", a name which the publisher considered to be too mundane. But it had particular appeal for Mr. Dresser and he chose it as a pseudonym when the first Michael Shayne mystery appeared on the mystery market. He substituted the name "Brett" for "Mark", however, in tribute to Brett Stokes, son of the publishing executive, wom he considered to be his best friend. Brett Stokes has since passed away but Mr. Dresser says he will never forget the comradship and encouragement proffered by the personable young man.
Writing is hard work. A glance at the struggles of Dresser will prove the point. Born in Chicago, he moved to Texas when he was six where he led a comparatively uneventful youth until he falsified his age to join the Rrmy at the age of 14. He was accepted and assigned to the 5th U.S. Cavalry, where he became an expert horseman--an interest which he carries on to this day--until his military career was cut short when the War Department became aware of his tender years.
But he had managed to put in 15 months of service and considered the knowledge of horsemanship he had acquired well worth the fabricating of what he terms "a white lie" concerning his age.
Upon his discharge from the Army, Mr. Dresser knocked around for a bit before resuming his schooling. He finally decided that civil engineerng offered the most potentialities to a young man with ambition and entered the Tri-State College of Engineering in Angola, Indiana.
The field had definite appeal to him and he eventually turned his formal education into practical advantage on engineering jobs in various sections of the country. In fact, he owned his own engineerng firm at the ripe old age of 22, but shortly thereafter was wiped out of business by the complicated problems of overhead and the circumstance that job assignments were exceedingly hard to come by during depression days.
Mr. Dresser wrote his first novel under rather strange circumstances in California in 1927. Lack of job opportunities forced him to take anything that came along and he was then employed as a part-time dishwasher in a restaurant. Often on the verge of starvation, things were at their very blackest when he came across the announcement of a first novel contest calling for entries by unpublished authors. Contest rules called for manuscripts of 60,000 words or more and the deadline was less than 30 days away.
"That's for me", Mr. Dresser thought. So he chucked his job and settled down to work in a furnished room. He completed the novel in time to enter it but it didn't win a prize.
Decided to Be Author
"The experience taught me that I could actually put words together," Mr. Dresser said. "Right then and there I decided that I wanted to be an author."
Since that time Mr. Dresser has turned out 75 novels, writing as many as eight complete books in one year. Twenty of these were westerns and the others with the exception of the Michael Shayne series, were written mostly for the drugstore bookshelf trade. Some of the pseudonyms he used include Anthony Scott, Elliot Storm, Peter Shelley, Jerome Shard, Kathryn Culver and Sylvia Carson.
Mr. Dresser is living proof that the old saying "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is pretty good advise. The first Michael Shayne novel went to 22 different publishers before it was finally accepted. It was faborably reviewed but its immediate successor, "The Private Practice of Michael Shayne", was the one that really rang the bell. It established both its hero and its author as top-notchers in the highly competitive field of detective fiction.
Mrs. Dresser is as well known as her famous husband. She has 12 popular mystery novels to her credit and as many novelettes published in leading periodicals. And small wonder? Her father, William Conrad McCloy, was managing editor of the New York Evening Sun in the days when its columns were avidly ready by an appreciative public during a golden age of journalism. The first reporter Mr. McCloy ever hired was a man named Richard Harding Davis.
Mrs. Dresser inherits literary talent from her mother's side of the family, too. Her mother was Helen Worrell Clarkson, who wrote a daily column for the Sun for over 20 years, in a time when women journalists were rare.
Was Art Critic
When Mrs. Dresser was attending lectures at the Sorbonne, Paris, she was art critic for "International Studio", a fabulous slick publication which was an art oracle of its day. She served, at the same time, as art correspondent for the New York Times.
The Dressers write independently. They never interfere with each other's style of ideas, beyond a detached discussion stage with the result that neither's ideas influence the writings of the other. The system has resulted in individual recognition of their talent for fresh, independent style.
Mr. Dresser likes to pound out copy in the early hours of morning but, like Mrs. Dresser, he usually writes when and if he feels in the mood. Interruptions and noise bother Mr. Dresser not a whit, but Mrs. Dresser is the exact opposite. She must have complete quiet to be at her literary best. Writing comes fairly easily to her. She sold her first literary venture to the Boston Transcript at the age of 14 and vividly remembers the thrill she received when she was paid the sum of $5 for the article which was entitled "The New Literary Form."
Many Other Interests
Outside of hatching a maze of mystery and detective plots for Michael Shayne and Mrs. Dresser's variety of key characters, the Dressers maintain a host of other outside interests. They are both members of hte board of directors of "The Mystery Writers of America", and Mrs. Dresser last year completed a term as the only woman president the organization has ever elected.
In addition, the two authors are currently editing an anthology entitled "Great Tales of Murder" which will be published by Random House this fall. The task is a volunteer one, inasmuch as all proceeds will go to "The Mystery Writers of America" fund which offers valuable services to struggling authors. All story material has been contributed, too, and will include tales by such masters of suspense as John Dickson Carr and Hugh Pentecost.
The Dressers are happily settled in their Conway home. It is a charming old residence which contains many rare antiques which have been in Mrs. Dresser's family since pre-Revolutionary War days. The beauty of the old mill-house is further enhanced by outstanding examples of art which adorn the walls of the spacious living rooms. Original illustrations by Howard Pyle, John Bennett, Stephen Ferris and other notables lend an aura of natural good taste to the well-appointed homestead.
"Good Neighbor Policy"
Residents of Conway have already established a "good neighbor policy" in their attitude toward the Dresser family. They understand that the hard-working author couple has settled there to enjoy the peace and seclusion that only a New England town can offer. They have warmly welcomed the Dressers as permanent guests of the community who can be sure that they may work and live without undue interference from a curious outside world.
As small Chloe Dresser says, "daddy has Mike Shayne, Mother has her books and I've got Mr. River." Which all adds up to good writing and happy living.
BRIAN F. KING
From the Long Beach Independent-Telegram of September 29, 1960:
Author Too Busy to Write Mike Shayne TV Episodes
By JACK GAVER
NEW YORK (UPI)--You may wonder why many a big-name author sells an outstanding property to television but doesn't do what seems logical by going along to write the scripts from material that he knows better than anyone else.
In the case of Brett Halliday, the reason is simple.
"They didn't ask me." he explained.
Halliday is the creator of a tough-fibred private eye named Michael Shayne who has been a best-selling hero of 38 full-length mystery novels since 1939. A one-hour weekly filmed series with his name for title makes its bow at 10 p.m. Friday on the NBC
"ACTUALLY, of course," Halliday pointed out, "it would be impossible for one person to turn out a 60-minute script each week. You simply have to bring in outside writers.
"I did write the pilot film used to sell the series to sponsors, and I have been working closely with Four Star Productions in Hollywood most of this year getting the series ready."
Although Halliday's episode will be used in the series, it will not be the first one on the air.
"Of course," Halliday "I own part of the program, and I am the story supervisor. That means that stories screened by Four Star and deemed by them to be usable are sent along to me in my Connecticut home for approval.
"I would like to write an occasional script for the show, and maybe I will, but I'm committed to turning out three Shayne novels a year, I run a book-publishing company, and I put out the Michael Shayne mystery magazine once a month. That doesn't leave much lime for television writing."
THE AUTHOR pointed out, however, that the first season's product of some 30 episodes will be almost pure Halliday in that the great majority of them will be adaptations of his books and various shorter pieces about Shayne. Often TV will buy a property or name and proceed to pay little attention to source material beyond using the title.
"I gather that there will be more violence in the TV shows than in the books." the author continued. "I don't particularly care for that, especially a lot of gun play. But I suppose it is necessary to meet the competition.
"In the books Shayne doesn't carry a gun at all. He's a hard-fisted mixer when necessary, but there have been two or three books in a row at times in which he didn't kill anyone. Richard Denning has the role of Shayne, and those whose TV viewing goes way back will find him familiar in the role of sleuth. He was the husband half of the "Mr. and Mrs. North" mystery series, which lasted for several semesters.
"I'M NOT much of a TV fan," Halliday said, "but I guess I'll have to go down to the basement recreation room where my daughter does her viewing and watch this show every Friday night. I saw some of the six completed episodes when I was in Hollywood, but they were not in finished form except for the pilot."
Halliday isn't the only prominent mystery writer in his family. His wife is Helen McCloy whose series of books features a hero named Dr. Willing. The author's real name, by the way, is Davis Dresser.
Davis Dresser was born Chicago, but raised for the most part in West Texas. An accident with a length of barbed wire took the sight of his left eye when he was just a boy. Dresser reportedly ran away from home at the age of 14, enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry [the 5th Cavalry Regiment] at Fort Bliss, and was subsequently stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border following the Rio Grande river for the following year. Upon completing his military service, he reportedly returned to Texas to finish high school.
Davis subsequently toured the Southwest taking adventurous odd-jobs whereever he found them, ranging from muleskinner to short-order cook and everything in between. He apparently attended the Tri-State College of Engineering, gaining a Civil Engineering degree, after which he worked as a surveyor for several years.
Davis Dresser was certainly a colorful character in any case--perhaps not quite the equal of his various western and detective noir genre protagonists, but certainly a character in his own right.
Dresser reportedly began writing in earnest in 1927, learning his craft, accepting the rejection slips as they came, and starting a young family with his first wife, Kathleen Rollins and her two daughters by a previous marriage. Those first eight years of attempting to be a successful writer ultimately paid off in 1935, with the printing of Dresser's first Michael Shayne novel.
Written under the nom de plume, Brett Halliday, Dresser's dashing dark looks, and eye patch in place on the back cover of many of his novels clearly created the aura of mystery that Dresser hoped might be associated with all of his Michael Shayne mysteries.
Dresser's Mike Shayne character was soon translated to the big screen with an initial seven Michael Shayne films starring Lloyd Nolan. Thereafter, followed a Radio version of Michael Shayne over the Don Lee-Mutual West Coast network, starring Wally Maher as Shayne and Cathy Lewis as Phyllis Knight, the Radio version of Brett Halliday's own Phyllis Shayne (Michael Shayne's wife in the earliest paperback novellas).
The Radio arm of the Michael Shayne franchise ran from 1944 through 1953, over a total of four distinct and separate incarnations and five separate actors in the lead role. In between the inauguration and end of the Radio runs, PRC rolled out another five Michael Shayne feature films starring Hugh Beaumont in the lead.
Dresser continued to actually pen some of the Michael Shayne stories and novellas until about 1958, by which time Dresser stopped writing as Brett Halliday altogether, leaving that end of the franchise to a long line of ghost-writers. Indeed, when the 1960 Television series became a viable project, as indicated in the article above, Davis Dresser was happy to invest in the productoin and maintain story supervision, but that's where his interest in the Television incarnation began and ended.
Dresser married the equally successful fiction writer, Helen McCloy [Dresser's second marriage] in 1946. McCloy eventually served as the President of the Mystery Writers of America for two years. By the mid-1960s Davis Dresser became a successful publisher in his own right, semi-retired, first to The Berkshires on the east coast, then to Montecito on the west coast.
Also a highly successful Western author, it's estimated that Davis Dresser was responsible for over 130 originally published works over his fifty-year writing and publishing career.
From the February 7, 1977 Berkshire Eagle:
Brett Halliday, author of
Shayne novels, dies
SANTA BARBARA, Calif.
(UPI) Davis Dresser, who wrote the Michael Shayne detective novels under the name Brett Halliday, has died of cancer at his Montecito home. He was 72. His family announced the death Saturday and said no funeral services would be planned.
Born in Chicago in 1904, Dresser worked as a farmhand, mule skinner, gravedigger, oil tanker deckhand and shortorder cook throughout the South before beginning his writing career in 1930.
His first Shayne novel, there were 50, was written in 1935 and rejected by 22 publishers before it finally was printed. Each novel sold more than a million copies and was translated into eight to 12 languages for distribution abroad.
Dresser also wrote about 60 other novels using 12 different pen names. He later became a publisher.
Dresser leaves his widow, Mary Savage, also a novelist; a son, Halliday, and a daughter, Chloe Johnson.