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Stuart Palmer (June 21, 1905 – February 4, 1968) was a popular mystery novel author and screenwriter, best known for his character Hildegarde Withers. He also wrote under the names Theodore Orchards and Jay Stewart.
Palmer was born in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He "was descended from some of the earliest English colonists, [and] had held a variety of jobs including seaman, apple picker, taxi-driver and newspaper reporter before turning to fiction."
From 1928 to 1931, Palmer was a frequent contributor (sometimes using the pen name Theodore Orchards) to Ghost Stories magazine, writing short stories, essays, and a serialized novel, The Gargoyle's Throat.
Palmer tried his hand at writing a murder mystery with The Penguin Pool Murder, published in 1931 and filmed the following year by RKO Radio Pictures. Character actress Edna May Oliver starred as Palmer's heroine, Hildegarde Withers, a spinster schoolteacher who was an amateur sleuth – something of an American version of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple although considerably more comic and caustic. "The model for the unusual sleuth had been his high school teacher, a Miss Fern Hakett, he later admitted." The casting of Oliver for the role was a happy coincidence, as Palmer had been influenced by her performance in the Broadway production of Show Boat when creating the character. The film was a hit and Oliver starred in two more Withers films, but she left RKO in 1935. Helen Broderick and ZaSu Pitts played Withers in another three films. A made-for-TV movie, A Very Missing Person was aired in 1972, starring Eve Arden as Withers. "The success of his first novel also inspired Palmer to collect pictures and statues of penguins and he even devised a personal trademark featuring one of these birds."
Palmer wrote fourteen Hildegarde Withers novels, including Murder on the Blackboard (1932), Murder on Wheels (1932), The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1934), Four Lost Ladies (1949), and Cold Poison (1954), set in the thinly disguised Walter Lantz animation studio. The short story collection People vs. Withers and Malone (1963) was a collaboration with Craig Rice, in which Hildegarde Withers was teamed with Rice's hard-drinking lawyer detective J. J. Malone; one of the stories, "Once Upon A Train, or The Loco Motive," was the basis for the movie Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone (1950). Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene (1969) was completed by Fletcher Flora upon Palmer's death and published posthumously. Palmer also featured Withers in dozens of short stories that were published in newspapers and mystery magazines; many of these were collected in The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (1947), The Monkey Murder (1950), and Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles (Crippen & Landru, 2002).
Outside the Hildegarde Withers series, Stuart wrote two novels about newspaperman-turned-PI Howard Rook, Unhappy Hooligan (1956) and Rook Takes Knight (1968). He also wrote a handful of science fiction and fantasy stories, published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Fantastic Universe.
Palmer also had a career as a Hollywood screenwriter. In 1936, he penned his first screenplay and would go on to write several others, most of them B movies. He scripted the first three Bulldog Drummond films for Paramount, and later entries in Columbia's Lone Wolf and RKO's The Falcon series. In 1954, Palmer appeared as a contestant on Groucho Marx's TV show You Bet Your Life.
"The Adventure of the Remarkable Worm" was a humorous Sherlock Holmes pastiche that was published in Ellery Queen's The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1944. In 1950, another pastiche "The Adventure of the Marked Man" was published in Australian Women's Weekly: the pastiche takes the detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson to the seaside town of Penzance in Cornwall, where they investigate the strange warnings given to Allen Pendarvis and a subsequent attempt on his life. "The two pastiches, one serious and one comic, were written while Palmer was marooned at an army post in Oklahoma, where he was serving as an instructor.…."
Stuart Palmer also wrote "The Mystery of David Lang" for Fate Magazine. Somehow, though quoted in hundreds of collections about supposedly true weird and occult mysteries it wasn't until long after Mr. Palmer's death that someone finally realized that the affidavits signed by David Lang's daughter and the local Justice of the Peace both testifying to the truth of the story were in Mr. Palmer's handwriting (including the signatures). David Lang, gentleman farmer, didn't find it too difficult to disappear while walking across his field because he had never existed. Anymore than his daughter or the JP. Ambrose Bierce and the David Lang Hoax.
Palmer served for one year as president of the Mystery Writers of America.
As Theodore Richards
- The Gargoyle's Throat (1930)
As Stuart Palmer
- Ace of Jades (1940)
- The Penguin Pool Murder (1932)
- Murder on Wheels (1932)
- Murder on the Blackboard (1934)
- The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1934). Serialised, Los Angeles Times (1934)
- The Puzzle of the Silver Persian (1935). Serialised, Los Angeles Times (1934)
- The Puzzle of the Red Stallion (1935) aka The Puzzle of the Briar Pipe (1936); Serialised, Chicago Tribune (1935)
- No Flowers by Request (1937) aka Omit Flowers
- The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla (1937)
- The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan (1941)
- The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (1947)
- Miss Withers Regrets (1948)
- Four Lost Ladies (1949)
- Monkey Murder and other Hildegarde Withers Stories (1950)
- The Green Ace (1950) aka At One Fell Swoop (1951)
- Nipped in the Bud (1951) aka Trap for a Redhead
- Cold Poison (1954) aka Exit Laughing (1954)
- Unhappy Hooligan (1956) aka Death in Grease Paint (1956)
- People Versus Withers and Malone (1963) with Craig Rice
- Rook Takes Knight (1968)
- Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene (1969) with Fletcher Flora
- The Adventures of the Marked Man and One Other (1973). A limited edition booklet containing 'The Adventure of the Marked Man' and 'The I.O.U. of Hildegarde Withers', which was first published in The Baker Street Journal in 1948.
- Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles (2002)
As Jay Stewart
- Before It's Too Late (1950)
- Stuart Palmer entry at isfdb.org
- Art Scott (1991). "Palmer, (Charles) Stuart". In Lesley Henderson (ed.). Twentieth-century crime and mystery writers. St. James Press. pp. 827–8. ISBN 978-1-55862-031-5.
- Haining, Peter, ed. The Television Crimebusters Omnibus. London: Orion, 1994, p. 406. ISBN 1-85797-736-X
- ""You Bet Your Life" Episode #5.6 (1954)". IMDb. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- Included in The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- "Introduction" to The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- "The Ambrose Bierce Site". donswaim.com. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- External Links
- "Stuart Palmer & Hildegarde Withers: An Appreciation" by Steven Saylor includes a Stuart Palmer bibliography and filmography
- Michael E. Grost's Stuart Palmer page