Clayton Rawson (1906 - 1971) was an American mystery writer, editor, and amateur magician. His four novels frequently invoke his great knowledge of stage magic and feature as their fictional detective The Great Merlini, a professional magician who runs a shop selling magic supplies. He also wrote four short stories in 1940 about a stage magician named Don Diavolo, who appears as a principal character in one of the novels featuring The Great Merlini. "Don Diavolo is a magician who perfects his tricks in a Greenwich Village basement where he is frequently visited by the harried Inspector Church of Homicide, either to arrest the Don for an impossible crime or to ask him to solve it."
Life and career
Rawson was born in Elyria, Ohio, the son of Clarence D. and Clara (Smith) Rawson. He became a magician when he was 8 years old. He married Catherine Stone in 1929, the same year he graduated from Ohio State University, and they had four children. He moved to Chicago and lived there working as an illustrator.
His first novel, Death from a Top Hat, appeared in 1938.
He was one of the four founding members of the Mystery Writers of America, which presents the annual Edgar Awards in various categories of mystery writing. All of his novels were written before the founding of this group, but in 1949 and 1967 Rawson received Special Edgar Awards for his various contributions to mystery writing and the MWA, including the founding of the organization's first newsletter, "The Third Degree". Rawson is also credited with writing the organization's first slogan: "Crime Does Not Pay -- Enough". Rawson was managing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine between 1963 and his death in 1971.
At least two movies were made based on the Merlini books. One of them, Miracles for Sale (1939), was based on Death from a Top Hat but had no character named Merlini—instead, Robert Young played "The Great Morgan". The movie The Man Who Wouldn't Die (1942), starring Lloyd Nolan, was based on No Coffin for the Corpse, but the Merlini character was replaced by Michael Shayne, a popular fictional private eye at the time, created by the writer Brett Halliday.
A 30-minute pilot for a television series was created in 1951, but no further episodes were made. The Transparent Man, written by Rawson, starred Jerome Thor as The Great Merlini -- who in this incarnation was a stage magician—with Barbara Cook as his assistant Julie and featuring E. G. Marshall as a criminal.
- Death from a Top Hat (1938)
- The Footprints on the Ceiling (1939)
- The Headless Lady (1940)
- No Coffin for the Corpse (1942)
Collections of short stories
- Death Out of Thin Air (1941) (as Stuart Towne)
- Death from Nowhere (1943) (as Stuart Towne)
- Pictures Don't Lie (1950)
- The Great Merlini (1979)
- Scarne on Dice (1945) (with John Scarne)
- Al Baker's Pet Secrets (1951) (with Albert Baker)
- How to Entertain Children with Magic You Can Do (1963), (as The Great Merlini)
- The Golden Book of Magic: Amazing Tricks for Young Magicians (1964) (as The Great Merlini)
- A listing of his works Click on green thumbtack to see an exhaustive list of his books and short stories.
- Clayton Rawson at the Internet Movie Database