Three Skeleton Key

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"Three Skeleton Key"
Author George G. Toudouze
Country France
Language English
Genre(s) Short story
Published in Esquire
Publication type Magazine
Media type Print
Publication date January 1937

"Three Skeleton Key" is a short story by the French author George C. Toudouze. The January 1937 edition of Esquire marked its first appearance in English. This suspenseful tale and "Leiningen Versus the Ants" were discovered by the magazine's editor Arnold Gingrich.[1]

George G. Toudouze (1877-1972) was born in Paris, France. His father, Cat Toudouze, was a well-known author of the time. The younger Toudouze wrote on such topics as art, architecture, travel and French naval history. Although he penned numerous adventure novels and short stories, he is today remembered for a single work: "Three Skeleton Key". [2]


The plot involves three men tending a lighthouse on an island off the coast of French Guiana. The rock the lighthouse stands on is dubbed 'Three Skeleton Key', named after a tragedy when three escaped convicts became ship-wrecked on the rock and eventually died of hunger and thirst- the only thing left of them were a heap of bones cleaned off by scavenging birds. An abandoned ship, overrun by thousands of ferocious rats, makes landfall. A life-and-death struggle ensues as the men seek to save themselves from the hungry horde.[1]

Among the three are headkeeper, Itchoua (the eldest of the men), Le Gleo, and the narrator (name never given). They survive fending off the rats. However, Le Gleo goes insane from the events and was locked into a French Asylum, Itchoua died of an infection from the rat bites and scratches, and the narrator continues to work in the lighthouse after the rats are cleared.


James Poe adapted the story for radio in a version that aired on Escape in 1949 and returned to the program by popular demand in 1950 and 1953. Each episode featured a different cast.[3]

Vincent Price is the actor most associated with the play, performing it in 1950 for Escape and in 1956 and 1958 for Suspense.[2]

The One Act Audio Theatre revisited "Three Skeleton Key" in 2001. A modern recording of the piece can be found at the organization's web site as well as the script by James Poe.[4]


Vincent Price in the movie Laura in 1944
  1. ^ a b The Greatest Survival Stories Ever Told edited by Lamar Underwood, (Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press, 2001) pp. 61 - 71.
  2. ^ a b One Act Virtual Museum Retrieved: May 20, 2012.
  3. ^ Radio play Retrieved: August 7, 2013.
  4. ^ One Act Audio Theatre Retrieved: May 20, 2012.

External links[edit]

Streaming audio

Short Film