My Book Notes: “Murder at the Automat” (1937) a short story by Cornell Woolrich


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Included in Nightwebs (Orion Books, 2002) Paperback Edition. 362 pages. ISBN: 9780752851709. “Murder at the Automat” was originally published in Dime Detective Magazine. August 1937 (Volume 25. No.1) and later included in Nightwebs, a collection of short stories, published by Harper & Row Limited, 1971.

50422895662-dime-detective-v025-n01-1937-08-cover-600x858Description: “Murder at the Automat” is a short story that falls into the category of “impossible crime”. A man is murdered at an automat by a pre-wrapped poisoned bologna sandwich. The others at his table didn’t do it. The sandwich packers didn’t do it. No one could have done it. At least, that’s how it seems. (Based on The Pulp Journals)

My Take: A delightful short story very well crafted, that I have quite enjoyed and that have encouraged me to read the rest of the stories included in this collection. Another nice example of Woolrich’s ability to set up a story in the manner of a classic Golden Age mystery. Stay tuned.

“Murder at the Automat” can be found in several short stories collections, and it has been reviewed, among others, by Jim Noy at The invisible Event.

About the Author: Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich was born in New York City on 4 December 1903; his parents separated when he was young. He lived for a time in Mexico with his father before returning to New York to live with his mother, Claire Attalie Woolrich. He attended Columbia University but left in 1926 without graduating when his first novel, Cover Charge, was published. Cover Charge was one of six Jazz Age novels inspired by the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Woolrich is best known for penning the short story, “It had to Be Murder” in 1942 under the Irish name, loosely-based on H. G. Wells’ short story “Through a Window”. Alfred Hitchcock made it into a 1954 film renamed Rear Window and starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. In 1990, ownership of the copyright in Woolrich’s original story “It Had to Be Murder” and its use for Rear Window was litigated before the United States Supreme Court in Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207.

He went on to be the father of American “noir fiction”, with his numerous short stories published in the pulp fiction magazines of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s; as well as his legendary “black” series of novels, many of which have been turned into major motion pictures. Getting a Hollywood contract in the late 1920’s he worked as screenwriter. Woolrich was homosexual and was very sexually active in his youth. In 1930, while working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, Woolrich married Violet Virginia Blackton (1910 – 65), daughter of silent film producer J. Stuart Blackton. They separated after three months, and the marriage was annulled in 1933.

Woolrich returned to New York where he and his mother moved into the Hotel Marseilles (Broadway and West 103rd Street). He lived there until her death on 6 October 1957, which prompted his move to the Hotel Franconia (20 West 72nd Street). He soon turned to pulp and detective fiction, often published under his pseudonyms: William Irish, George Hopley and Cornell Woolrich. Hopley-Woolrich throughout his writing career published 27 novels and 16 short story collections resulting in over 40 films and TV theatre episodes based on his stories. In later years, he socialized on occasion in Manhattan bars with Mystery Writers of America colleagues and younger fans such as writer Ron Goulart, but alcoholism and an amputated leg (caused by an infection from a too-tight shoe which went untreated) left him a recluse.

François Truffaut filmed Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black and Waltz Into Darkness in 1968 and 1969, respectively, the latter as Mississippi Mermaid. He did not attend the premiere of Truffaut’s film of his novel The Bride Wore Black in 1968, even though it was held in New York City. Cornell Woolrich died on September 25, 1968 in New York City. He died weighing 89 pounds. He is interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.He bequeathed his estate of about $850,000 to Columbia University, to endow scholarships in his mother’s memory for writing students. Most of Woolrich’s books are out of print, and new editions were slow to come out because of estate issues. However, new collections of his short stories were issued in the early 1990s. As of 3 February 2020, the Faded Page has seven titles available as e-books in the public domain in Canada; these may be still under copyright elsewhere. In 2020, 2021 and 2022, Otto Penzler’s “American Mystery Classics” series released new editions of Waltz into Darkness (1947), The Bride Wore Black (1940) and Deadline at Dawn (1944).

His biographer, Francis Nevins Jr., rated Woolrich the fourth best crime writer of his day, behind only Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler. A check of film titles reveals that more film noir screenplays were adapted from works by Woolrich than any other crime novelist, and many of his stories were adapted during the 1940s for Suspense and other dramatic radio programs. (Sources: The Passing Tramp; Wikipedia, and others).

A complete bibliography can be found here.

Recommended Reading: Francis M. Nevins’ Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die is an enormous, in depth biography and critical study on Woolrich and his work. It is a very detailed look at Woolrich’s world. Nevins also edited the best of all Woolrich collections, Nightwebs, which contains important essays and bibliographies as well. It also contains Woolrich’s autobiographical story, “The Penny-a-Worder” (1958), which is a gentle self portrait of a pulp writer. A large amount of material on Woolrich, much of it by Nevins, is at Mystery*File. (Source: Mike Grost at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection)

Cornell Woolrich page at Gadetection

A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection

“Who Was Cornell Woolrich?” by Richard Dooling

Pulp Kafka: The Nightmares of Cornell Woolrich BY Jake Hinkson

The Cornell Woolrich Revival by Steve Powell

Cornell Woolrich, the Dark Prince of Noir

“Asesinato en el restaurante automático”, relato breve de Cornell Woolrich

“Asesinato en el restaurante automático” se publicó originalmente en Dime Detective Magazine, Agosto de 1937 (Volumen 25. No.1) y luego fué incluida en Las garras de la noche, una colección de relatos, publicados por Harper & Row Limited, 1971.

cornell-woolrich-asesinato-en-el-restaurante-automatico

Descripción: “Asesinato en el restaurante automático” es un relato breve que pertenece a la categoría de “crimen imposible”. Un hombre es asesinado en un restaurante autómatico con un sándwich de mortadela envenenado previamente envuelto. Los otros en su mesa no lo hicieron. Los envasadores de sándwiches no lo hicieron. Nadie podía haberlo hecho. Al menos, eso es lo que parece. (Basado en The Pulp Journals)

Mi opinión: Una delicia de cuento muy bien elaborado, que he disfrutado bastante y que me ha animado a leer el resto de los relatos incluidos en esta colección. Otro buen ejemplo de la habilidad de Woolrich para montar una historia a la manera de los misterios clásicos de la Edad de Oro. Manténganse al tanto.

Sobre el autor: Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich nació en la ciudad de Nueva York el 4 de diciembre de 1903; sus padres se separaron cuando él era joven. Vivió un tiempo en México con su padre antes de regresar a Nueva York para vivir con su madre, Claire Attalie Woolrich. Asistió a la Universidad de Columbia, pero se fue en 1926 sin graduarse cuando se publicó su primera novela, Cover Charge. Cover Charge fue una de las seis novelas de la era del jazz inspiradas en los trabajos de F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Woolrich es más conocido por escribir el relato “It had to be Murder” en 1942 bajo el nombre de Irish, basado libremente en el cuento de H. G. Wells “Through a Window”. Alfred Hitchcock lo convirtió en una película de 1954 rebautizada como Ventana Indiscreta y protagonizada por James Stewart y Grace Kelly. En 1990, la propiedad de los derechos de autor de la historia original de Woolrich “It Had to Be Murder” y su uso para Ventana Indiscreta estuvo en litigio ante la Corte Suprema de los Estados Unidos en Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207.

Pasó a ser el padre de la ficción “noir” estadounidense, con sus numerosos relatos publicados en las revistas pulp de las décadas de 1930, 40 y 50; así como su legendaria serie de novelas “negras”, muchas de las cuales se han convertido en importantes películas. Consiguiendo un contrato en Hollywood a finales de la década de 1920, trabajó como guionista. Woolrich era homosexual y muy activo sexualmente en su juventud. En 1930, mientras trabajaba como guionista en Los Ángeles, Woolrich se casó con Violet Virginia Blackton (1910-1965), hija del productor de cine mudo J. Stuart Blackton. Se separaron después de tres meses y el matrimonio fue anulado en 1933.

Woolrich regresó a Nueva York, donde él y su madre se mudaron al Hotel Marseilles (Broadway y West 103rd Street). Vivió allí hasta la muerte de ella el 6 de octubre de 1957, lo que provocó su traslado al Hotel Franconia (20 West 72nd Street). Pronto se dedicó a la novela policíaca y pulp, a menudo publicada bajo sus seudónimos: William Irish, George Hopley y Cornell Woolrich. Hopley-Woolrich a lo largo de su carrera como escritor publicó 27 novelas y 16 colecciones de relatos que dieron como resultado más de 40 películas y programas de televisión basados ​​en sus historias. En años posteriores, socializó de vez en cuando en bares de Manhattan con colegas del Mystery Writers of America y aficionados más jóvenes como el escritor Ron Goulart, pero el alcoholismo y una pierna amputada (causada por una infección de un zapato demasiado apretado que no se trató) lo dejó recluído.

François Truffaut filmó The Bride Wore Black y Waltz Into Darkness de Woolrich en 1968 y 1969, respectivamente, esta última como La sirena del Mississippi. No asistió al estreno de la película de Truffaut de su novela The Bride Wore Black en 1968, a pesar de que se llevó a cabo en la ciudad de Nueva York. Cornell Woolrich murió el 25 de septiembre de 1968 en la ciudad de Nueva York. Murió pesando 89 libras. Está enterrado en el cementerio Ferncliff en Hartsdale, Nueva York. Legó su patrimonio de aproximadamente USD 850,000 a la Universidad de Columbia, para otorgar becas en memoria de su madre para alumnos que quieran dedicarse a escribir. La mayoría de los libros de Woolrich están agotados y las nuevas ediciones tardaron en salir por cuestiones de propiedad intelectual. Sin embargo, a principios de la década de 1990 se publicaron nuevas colecciones de sus cuentos. Desde el 3 de febrero de 2020, Faded Page tiene siete títulos disponibles en formato electrónico de dominio público en Canadá; estos pueden estar todavía bajo derechos de autor en otros países. En 2020, 2021 y 2022, la serie “American Mystery Classics” de Otto Penzler lanzó nuevas ediciones de Waltz into Darkness (1947), The Bride Wore Black (1940) y Deadline at Dawn (1944).

Su biógrafo, Francis Nevins Jr., calificó a Woolrich como el cuarto mejor escritor policíaco de su época, solo por detrás de Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner y Raymond Chandler. Una revisión de los títulos de las películas revela que se adaptaron más guiones de cine negro a partir de obras de Woolrich que de cualquier otro novelista policiaco, y muchas de sus historias se adaptaron durante la década de 1940 para Suspense y otros programas dramáticos de radio. (Fuentes: The Passing Tramp; Wikipedia y otros).

Una bibliografía completa se puede encontrar aquí.

7 thoughts on “My Book Notes: “Murder at the Automat” (1937) a short story by Cornell Woolrich”

  1. “Francis Nevins Jr., rated Woolrich the fourth best crime writer of his day, behind only Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler.” I would say Nevins made a fair assessment of Woolrich’s place in the Pantheon of American Mystery Writers in the first half of the 20th Century. I’m still finding excellent stories by Erle Stanley Gardner outside the Perry Mason series. He certainly deserves his position. I prefer Woolrich’s stories to his novels.

  2. Great review! Your blog is dangerous though: each time I come and read your new post, I add a book to my already Tower-of-Babel-like TBR!

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