ON ELLERY QUEEN
This page is dedicated to the memory of Rand's father, Manfred Bennington Lee, and his cousin, Frederick Dannay, who together created the legendary sleuth, Ellery Queen.
THE LEE SIDE OF QUEEN
Some Remarks by Patricia Caldwell & Rand Lee (Presented by Ms. Sarah Caldwell at the 2005 100th Anniversary Birthday Celebration of Manfred B. Lee/Frederic Dannay)
We both regret exceedingly that circumstances forbid us being with you all in body today, and wish to thank all concerned for conceiving and executing this tribute to our father and cousin and their collaboration. How we wish we could have been there to enjoy it with you.
Probity constrains us to confess that our father, Manfred Lee, would probably have hated it. He loathed parties, because they meant he had to wear a coat and tie, and he hated dressing up. Remember the beginning of the Queen novel The Origin of Evil, where Ellery is described as lounging around his rented Hollywood apartment in the altogether? Whatever input Fred Dannay might have had to this scene, it perfectly captures our father’s sartorial preferences. Watching baseball games on television in his underwear was Dad’s idea of a summer well spent.
And how he loved to read. He suffered from insomnia for many years, and 3 A.M. would often find him sitting downstairs in his Roxbury, Connecticut kitchen, nose buried in a book. Words soothed and fed him. He had a passion for etymology; he would have loved the current spate of books on word origins. When he wrote, he tried hard to find just the right word for what he was trying to say; and his dream was that someday the mystery genre overall would come to be taken as seriously by the erudite as any fine literature.
From Inspector Queen’s Own Case, 1956: “It was beautiful sand, clean as a laundered tablecloth, and he had the uneasy feeling that he should not be making tracks in it.”
From The Murderer Is A Fox, 1945: “It occurred to him as he ran that the housebreaker could not have been inside for very long. Some sound made by the grass-treading feet had half-jarred him out of sleep, perhaps as the prowler stole past the area just below the porch; in those few moments of semi-wakefulness, his eyes bewitched by sleep, Ellery had dreamed a dream of Jessica Fox. But it had been the solid prowler he had been stealing across the lawns, not the figment of his dream.”
From A Fine and Private Place, 1971: “Virginia Whyte Importuna went directly to her husband and took her place by his side. Ellery noticed with sharp interest that she did not grope for his hand, or brush against him, or allow any part of her body to come in contact with his. She simply stood near, erect and attentive, like a soldier summoned into the commanding officer’s presence, an invisible gulf between them. Apparently she did not want for herself, or feel the need to give him, a physical reassurance. Or was it something else?”
Was he an elitist snob? He would have been shocked to have been thought so. For him, English was as flexible, nuanced, and beautiful as the most accomplished of Eastern houris, and he wanted everyone to love her as much as he did. Knowing that, for most Queen fans, the novels’ plots are the main attraction, never stopped him from working hard to make each book’s writing sing, even — perhaps especially — the ghostwritten ones, which he went over line by line. Sometimes he failed; sometimes he succeeded. But he never stopped trying.
You wonderful people, assembled here, are the collective memory of Queen. Because of your devoted efforts, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine still survives, and thrives, after more than half a century. Because of you, Ellery Queen novels are, little by little, beginning to return to print in the U.S.A. We thank you for helping to keep our father’s words alive into this new century.
Manfred B. Lee and Frederick Dannay ----->
To check out an old Coronet feature story on Manfred B. Lee and Frederick Dannay, in PDF format, click here.