|Born||Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin
12 May 1907
|Died||15 April 1993
Windsor, Berkshire, England
|Occupation||Thriller writer, screenwriter|
Leslie Charteris (12 May 1907 – 15 April 1993), born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin, was a British-American author of primarily mystery fiction, as well as a screenwriter. He was best known for his many books chronicling the adventures of Simon Templar, alias "The Saint."
Charteris was born in Singapore to a Chinese father and an English mother. His father was a physician who claimed to be able to trace his lineage back to the emperors of the Shang Dynasty. Charteris became interested in writing at an early age; at one point, he created his own magazine with articles, short stories, poetry, editorials, serials, and even a comic strip. He attended Rossall School in Fleetwood, Lancashire, England.
Once his first book, written during his first year at King's College, Cambridge, was accepted, he left the university and embarked on a new career. Charteris was motivated by a desire to be unconventional and to become financially well off by doing what he liked to do. He continued to write English thriller stories, while he worked at various jobs from shipping out on a freighter to working as a barman in a country inn. He prospected for gold, dived for pearls, worked in a tin mine and on a rubber plantation, toured England with a carnival, and drove a bus. In 1926, he legally changed his last name to Charteris, after Colonel Francis Charteris, although, in the BBC Radio 4 documentary Leslie Charteris – A Saintly Centennial, his daughter stated that he selected his surname from the telephone directory.
Origin of Simon Templar
His third novel, Meet the Tiger (1928), introduced his most famous creation, Simon Templar, and was a popular success. However, in his 1980 introduction to a reprint by Charter Books, Charteris indicated he was dissatisfied with the work, suggesting its only value was as the start of the long-running Saint series. Occasionally he chose to ignore the existence of Meet the Tiger altogether and claim that the Saint series actually began with the second volume, Enter the Saint (1930); an example of this can be found in the introduction Charteris wrote to an early 1960s edition of Enter the Saint published by Fiction Publishing Company (an imprint of Doubleday).
Although he would write a few other books (including a novelisation of his screenplay for the Deanna Durbin mystery-comedy Lady on a Train, and the English translation of Juan Belmonte: Killer of Bulls by Manuel Chaves Nogales) his lifework — at least in the literary world — would consist primarily of Simon Templar Saint adventures, which would be relayed in novel, novella, and short story format over the next 35 years (with other authors ghost writing the stories on Charteris' behalf for another 20 years thereafter; Charteris acted as an editor for these books, approving stories and making revisions when needed).
Move to United States
Charteris relocated to the United States in 1932, where he continued to publish short stories and also became a writer for Paramount Pictures, working on the George Raft film, Midnight Club. Around this time, Charteris also travelled on the Hindenburg on its successful maiden voyage to New Jersey (the disaster did not occur until the airship's second year of operation).
However, Charteris was excluded from permanent residency in the United States because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law which prohibited immigration for persons of "50% or greater" Oriental blood. As a result, Charteris was forced to continually renew his six-month temporary visitor's visa. Eventually, an act of Congress personally granted him and his daughter the right of permanent residence in the United States, with eligibility for naturalisation which he later completed.
In the 1940s, Charteris, besides continuing to write Saint stories, scripted the Sherlock Holmes radio series featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. In 1941, he appeared in a Life Magazine photographic adaptation of a Saint short story, with himself playing the Saint. He also contributed storylines to a long-running comic strip based upon The Saint.
During the 1940s, a number of moderately successful motion pictures were produced based upon The Saint (though only a couple of films were directly based upon Charteris' writings).
Saint on TV
Long-term success eluded Charteris' creation outside the literary arena until the 1962–1969 British-produced television series The Saint went into production with Roger Moore in the Simon Templar role.
Many episodes of the TV series were based upon Charteris' short stories. Later, as original scripts were commissioned, Charteris permitted some of these scripts to be novelised and published as further adventures of the Saint in printed form (these later books, with titles such as The Saint on TV and The Saint and the Fiction Makers, carried Charteris' name as author, but were in fact written by others). Charteris would live to see a second British TV series, Return of the Saint starring Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar, enjoy a well-received, if brief, run, and in the 1980s a series of TV movies produced by an international co-production and starring Simon Dutton kept interest in The Saint alive. There was also an aborted attempt at a 1980s TV series in the United States, which resulted in only a pilot episode being produced and broadcast.
The adventures of The Saint were chronicled in nearly 100 books. Charteris himself stepped away from writing the books after The Saint in the Sun (1963). The next year Vendetta for the Saint was published and while it was credited to Charteris, it was actually written by science fiction writer Harry Harrison. Following Vendetta, as noted above, came a number of books adapting televised episodes; these books were credited to Charteris but were actually by others (although Charteris himself did collaborate on several Saint books in the 1970s). Several Return of the Saint scripts were also adapted, and there were also some original stories thrown into the mix. Charteris appears to have served in an editorial capacity for these later volumes. He also edited (and contributed to) The Saint Mystery Magazine, a digest-sized publication. The final book in the Saint series was Salvage for the Saint, published in 1983. Two additional books were published in 1997, a novelization of the film loosely based on the character, and an original novel published by "The Saint Club" a fan club that Charteris himself founded in the 1930s. Both books were written by Burl Barer, who also wrote the definitive history on Charteris and The Saint.
Personal life and death
Besides being a fiction writer, Charteris also wrote a column on cuisine for an American magazine, as a sideline. He also invented a wordless, pictorial sign language called Paleneo and wrote a book on it. In addition, Charteris was also one of the earliest members of Mensa.
In 1952 he married the Hollywood actress Audrey Long (born 1922); the couple eventually returned to England where Leslie Charteris spent his last years living in Surrey. Leslie Charteris died at Windsor, Berkshire, survived by his wife and a daughter, Patricia.
He was married four times:
- (in 1931) to Pauline Schishkin (1911-1975), daughter of Russian diplomat
- (in 1938) to Barbara Meyer (1907-1950), editor at The American Magazine
- (in 1943) to Elizabeth Bryant Borst (1909-2003), Boston society woman and night club singer
- (in 1952) to Audrey Long (1922-), film actress
For a list of Simon Templar novels, novellas and short story collections by Charteris, see the list at Simon Templar or the table, below.
Non-Saint books by Leslie Charteris include:
- X Esquire (1927)
- The White Rider (1928)
- Daredevil (1929)
- The Bandit (1929) – previously serialised as The Black Cat
- Juan Belmonte, Killer of Bulls (1937); editor and English translator of original work by Manuel Chaves Nogales
- Lady on a Train (1945) – novelisation of Charteris' film story
- Spanish for Fun (1964) – non-fiction
- Paleneo: A Universal Sign Language (1972) – non-fiction
In addition, Charteris authored numerous uncollected short stories and essays.
- Le Saint prend l'affût (1966, film)
- Burl Barer, The Saint: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Film and Television 1928-1992. Jefferson, N.C.: MacFarland, 2003 (originally published in 1992).
- The Detective in Hollywood, Jon Tuska, 1978 ISBN 0-385-12093-1
- Leslie Charteris official site
- The Saintly Bible The Saint site
- Leslie Charteris at the Internet Movie Database