Thursday, December 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Rex Stout! (1886 - 1975)

The brilliant creator of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin was born today in Noblesville, Indiana. As a young man, Rex Stout served in the Navy aboard President Teddy Roosevelt's yacht. He invented a school banking system which paid him royalties and enabled him to travel. He wrote for the pulps, and in several genres, including science fiction, before he found his niche in the mystery novel.

Prior to WWII, Stout was an avid proponent of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. He was an unabashed liberal and anti-communist who served on various propaganda making organizations during the war.

After the war he moved to an estate in Brewster, New York and served as President of the Author's Guild as well as the Mystery Writers of America which presented him with the Grand Master Award. He was also a member of the original board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

FER DE LANCE, published in 1934, was the first novel featuring the one and only Nero Wolfe, cranky genius, orchid lover, gourmand and reluctant private eye. The 'best detective north of the South Pole,' at least according to his alter-ego, associate, body-guard, bookkeeper and general all around weisenheimer, Archie Goodwin.

Stout went on to write 47 Nero Wolfe novels as well as many short stories featuring his entertaining duo. He also wrote stand-alone novels and created three other crime fighters:

Theodolinda Dol Bonner, a NYC private eye who appeared in her own book as well as occasionally in a Wolfe story, Alphabet Hicks who also appeared in one book, and Tecumseh Fox who appeared in several. For a complete listing of all of Stout's work, please check here. 

To learn much more about Rex Stout, please use this link  to his Wikipedia page. and/or this link to the Wolfe Pack, the Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe veneration society which meets once a month in Manhattan for good food, good drinks and good talk about one of the great writers of the 20th century.

His narrative and dialogue could not be improved, and he passes the supreme test of being rereadable. I don't know how many times I have reread the Nero Wolfe stories, but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn't matter. That's writing.

P.G. Wodehouse

I couldn't agree more.


  1. Great quote from Wodehouse, Yvette. He's right - that's writing. The Wolfe Pack is gathering in NY Friday through Sunday for the annual Black Orchid Weekend, coinciding with today's birthday. Wolfe and Archie and many of the others will be toasted at Saturday's banquet. I'll include you in my toasts!

  2. I didn't know any of that about Rex Stout! He sounds like he was pretty awesome.

  3. Les: Thank you! As I like to say, I'll be at the celebration in spirit. :)

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  5. Lauren: Yes, I agree. He was awesome. His Nero Wolfe books are pretty awesome as well. :)

  6. Every so often I play the game of whom from history to invite to a dinner party. My guests tend to include early American presidents, but as I read your tribute to Rex Stout, it occurred to me that a table of great mystery writers would make for a heck of an evening. Don't you think so?

  7. Oh, for sure, Mark. Mystery writers are often some of the most intelligent people around. Stout was a kind of Renaissance man.

    I've met thriller writer Lee Child and I can honestly say he's one of the smartest men I've ever met.

    I think I'll do a post about what mystery writers to invite for Christmas dinner. :)

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  9. Rex Stout could probably keep a dinner going for three days, just by himself!

    I like Stout's writing and love Nero, Archie and the gang, made even more interesting when I was a teenager because I share the last name with one of the detectives.

    I love the repartee between Nero and Archie. It's brilliant and laugh-out loud funny. A favorite line is "Archie, I am a genius, not a god."

    Another favorite -- which I sprinkle into conversation wherever possible is: "Archie, with your investigation and my 'feel for phenomena,' we'll solve this case."

    When I read about Stout, I was impressed that he wrote anti-fascist propaganda during WWII. And his ACLU role.

    Plenty of lines in the Wolfe books reveal Stout's opinions, including about the Depression.

    I'm a born-again Wolfe fan, having begun reading the books decades ago in high school. And discovered them thanks to this very website.

    Other than The Woman in White review, and movie reviews, the blogs on Wolfe and Archie send me into paroxysms of laughter.

  10. How current read is Stout's _A Family Affair_. Happy birthday to Rex Stout!

  11. Yvette: Thanks for the post. I had not heard of the Wolfe Pack. I wish I was closer to New York.

    John McAleer's biography provides a vivid portrayal of Stout's life.

  12. Great post.
    Stout really came up with strange names for the charater's. Wish I could go to Ny with you.

  13. Thank you Kathy, you are so sweet to keep saying such nice things. Very much appreciated, I assure you.

    You know how much I adore Wolfe and Archie, so I am in complete agreement with you about Stout's creations. There are many MANY bits of wit and wisdom in his books. Some happen to be laugh out loud funny too. :)

    "I am a genius, not a God." is classic.

  14. Bev: His next to last book, since they've found one and published it posthumously. I haven't gotten around to it yet. Saving it for next year.

    A FAMILY AFFAIR is a hard reread though. You'll know why at the end.

  15. Bill: One of these days I'm going to attend. It's just that the timing is awkward for me. But I keep wanting to.

    I've also been meaning to read a good bio of Stout. Thanks for the recommendation.

  16. I wish you could too, Yvonne. We'd have a great time. :)

  17. I wish there were a book of quotes from the Wolfe books. We could walk around spouting lines and eliciting laughter.

    And when we have no time to read a whole book, we could just read some quotes to ourselves -- or even outloud if we find a willing listener.

  18. Maybe it's time to see about putting such a book together, Kathy. :)


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