A One-Two Punch: The Author Duo Of Wade Miller

by Ed Lynskey

Robert Allison Bob Wade (1920-present) and H. Bill Miller (1920-61) penned their novels using the joint pseudonym of Wade Miller. Their writing tandem followed the highly successful Ellery Queen team of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, who produced top-notch mystery fiction from 1929 to 1958.

Other bylines for Wade Miller such as Will Daemer, Dale Wilmer, and Whit Masterson were also pressed into service. Between the years 1946 to Mr. Miller’s premature death on August 21, 1961 from a sudden heart attack, they produced some thirty-three books. Counting two made-for-TV movies, nine titles were filmed in all. This includes Orson Welles’ noir classic TOUCH OF EVIL, which was adapted from their novel, Badge of Evil.

Murder ChargeThe two future authors first met while 12-year-olds taking violin lessons. Friends for life, they attended San Diego State and together edited the campus newspaper and literary magazine. After leaving in their senior year in 1942, they enlisted in the Air Force and after the war resumed their joint ventures. Fawcett Gold Medal published the brunt of their creative output. In addition, they wrote novelettes, short stories, and television plays, including for ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.

The back cover copy to Evil Come, Evil Go which included a photograph of the team also lent some insights about their collaborations:

The first question asked them is always: ‘How do you work together?’ Their usual answer is: ‘Wade writes the nouns and Miller the verbs.’ Actually, their method is similar to building a house, each man contributing his particular talents and skills. After discussing an idea at length, they outline extensively. Then Wade rushes through a first draft, Miller rewriting close behind, and they revise the result aloud, which amounts to a third draft. But the real secret to the success of this method is that, after thirty years, Wade and Miller think so much alike they have never had a major argument regarding their work.

Among the Wade Miller early entries was the PI Max Thursday series generally held as one of the best from the post-war era. Something of an alcoholic and loner, the PI Max Thursday character was also flawed and complex enough to escape the private detective cliché. Thursday’s life and career, moreover, evolved in interesting twists and turns throughout the series. Mr. Wade mentioned in a March 1984 interview that he had worked on a manuscript to revive PI Max Thursday, but it has never been published.

After 1961, Mr. Wade went on alone to publish hardcover noir and such police procedurals as 711 -- Officer Needs Help and Play Like You're Dead under the Whit Masterson pen-name with Dodd, Mead. By the close of the 1970s, he had abandoned his solo efforts. His last published novel was The Slow Gallows in 1979. All totaled, Mr. Wade had a hand in writing forty-six novels, a prodigious yet high quality output.

Calamity FairIn the ensuing years, Mr. Wade wrote for television and the cinema. His clients included Walt Disney and the San Diego Zoo. The Private Eye Writers of America’s 1988 Lifetime Achievement Award recognized Mr. Wade for his contributions to the genre. The award presentation was made at the San Diego Boucheron conference. A generation earlier in 1956, the Wade Miller tandem had been awarded the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award. The Wade Miller team was also nominated for Best Short Story in 1956 (Invitation to an Accident in the July 1955 EQMM).

More recently, Mr. Wade was given the 1998 City of San Diego Local Author Achievement Award. Still an active octogenarian, he writes a monthly mystery wrap-up column called Spadework for the San Diego Union Tribune. From this vantage point, he can survey past and present crime writing. He has praised such crime authors diverse as Martha Lawrence, Robert Crais, Rochelle Krich, Sue Grafton, Donald Westlake, Marianne Wesson, and Janet Evanovich.

While researching Wade Miller on a google search, most of the hits refer to the Houston Astro’s right-hand pitching ace with the same name. For some perspective, this Wade Miller was born in 1976 about the same time Mr. Wade was winding down his novelist career. Indeed, the author tandem Wade Miller has all but passed from the current literary scene. That is a shame, too. As Bill Crider posed in his Gold Medal column from Mystery*File #40, today’s crime authors don’t write books like they used to in the 1950s.

Wade Miller has attracted some recent notice. In 1993 HarperPerennial reissued four PI Max Thursday titles: Calamity Fair, Murder Charge, Shoot to Kill, and Uneasy Street. Their works have been translated into as many as sixteen foreign languages including Swedish, Japanese, French, German, Italian, and Finnish. Modern practitioners in the crime writing genre such as Bill Crider and James Reasoner find much to admire about the Wade Miller oeuvre.

For me, it’s always a style thing. The Wade Miller titles typified the top-notch Gold Medal books. Their novels, clocking in at around 160 pages, show lean prose, tight plots, and controlled voice. Kiss Her Goodbye was a stand-alone title issued not by Gold Medal, but Lion Library out of New York City. Lion House was a paperback house also publishing the likes of noir-meister Jim Thompson and Mississippi novelist Ben Ames Williams.

Kiss Her GoodbyeKiss Her Goodbye appeared in 1956, three years before the authors’ most colorfully titled novel, Kitten with a Whip. This novel became a movie in 1964, a drive-in theater fare starring Ann-Margret and John Forsythe. Wade Miller later wrote the screenplay for KISS HER GOODBYE, a homonymous movie slated to star Charlton Heston, Robert Taylor (the antagonist), and Barbara Lang, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike starlet. When that deal fell through, it was made into a largely forgettable film in 1959 starring Andrew Prine, Steven Hill (the DA in the original LAW AND ORDER TV series), and Sharon Farrell. The movie, however, treats the female lead as only a precocious, adult-looking girl.

The novel, however, concerns a young, beautiful, but also mentally challenged young lady named Emily Darnell. This premise leaves open many possibilities for cheap exploitation: men having their way with a full-figured desirable woman having the mind of a twelve-year-old. The lusty blurb topping the front cover almost suggests this: Caress her trembling form, hold her close -- and forget not the evil this woman can do. The lurid cover art illustrates a curvaceous blonde with the reddest pouty lips, her flimsy white sundress ripped from one shoulder down to the upper hemisphere of her breasts.

Intrigued, I recently plunked down the three dollars for a paperback that in 1956 cost 35 cents. Thankfully, the book is a far, far cry from how the still bright crimson wrapper portrays it. The opening sentences, terse and spare and vivid, are the narrative hook:

Where the earth is unmasked it is called desert. It is the naked face of the earth and it is strangely expressionless.

The two people in the car had driven all day through the searing heat. The man’s name was Ed Darnell, the girl’s name was Emily. It was nearly sundown but the heat was still fierce and the sky still vast and bright. Under a sky that size, not even the earth seemed very important.

Reading about this desert landscape echoes the prose style of W.R. Burnett, Bill Pronzini, and to nail down the point, Tony Hillerman. We are sucked into the setting from the sheer force of its description, beginning with the first two lines’ stark imagery.

Ed Darnell and his sister Emily have fled Bakersfield, California for a new chance with hopefully better odds in Barstow. They make it as far as Jimmock and beset by an automobile breakdown are forced to rent a cabin from an older man named Tubbs. Tubbs looks out his office window at Emily:

Emily stood before a jasmine bush, her lithe figure outlined in the glow of the headlights. The white radiance pierced the gossamer of her frock here and there, intimating the turn of her thigh, the upsweep of her breasts.

Of course, therein lies the rub. Nobody believes Ed’s glib explanation that Emily is his half-witted sister and must be protected. While Ed hunts for gainful employment, Emily lounges around the cabin, unsuspectingly attracting all sorts of men trouble. Among her ardent admirers is a married alcoholic lout named Cory Sheridan. Ed, meantime, fixes his romantic interests on a local business lady, Marge.

Cory Sheridan through a sly contrivance transparent to all except Emily lures her to his mansion when his wife is out of town. The seduction scene is brief. Later, Cory is discovered murdered and suspicion falls on the hapless Emily. Again, Ed is forced to go to incredible lengths to rescue her. Without giving away the novel’s ending, all this conflict plays out in a sensitive while unsentimental manner. Ed remains a sympathetic protagonist.

The KillerAll the hallmarks making for effective hardboiled writing are present here. Dialogue is laconic; action verbs are visceral; monologues are streamlined. The writing style is unadorned and plain but the prose is not parched and parsed to the point of becoming soulless or tedious. I don’t grow tired of reading it. By contrast, most paper blockbusters in every supermarket throughout America bore me to tears.

One aspect I find appealing about a Gold Medal book is the assemblage of 1950's lore and pop culture. You can almost see and smell and hear the insides of old movie theaters, cars, and rented cabins. Take rented cabins, for instance. Today I drive by the cinderblock ruins to such a refuge. I wonder, Who lodged there? Now I know. Ordinary but desperate folks like Ed and Emily Darnell. With highway expansion slated in a few years, these ruins will be bulldozed into oblivion. Another Gold Medal book rich in its 1950s details is John D. MacDonald’s Dead Low Tide (1953). Both books evoke nostalgia but the kinetic plot of each tale leaves little time for savoring it.

Wade Miller wrote and published about the same time as such hard-boiled writers as Mickey Spillane. The Wade Miller novels, however, are stronger on story line and characterization. Perhaps their one-two punch approach to the writing process resulted in creating novels more accomplished in these aspects.

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Copyright © 2004 Ed Lynskey

ED LYNSKEY's crime short fiction has appeared in such online venues as HandHeldCrime, Plots With Guns, Judas, The 3rd Degree, Hardluck Stories, The Murder Hole and others. Ed Lynskey has two novels making the usual rounds: The Dirt-Brown Derby and Pelham Fell Here. A third, The Blue Cheer, will be published by PointBlank Press in 2005.
Contact Ed

INFORMAL CHECKLIST by Steve Lewis

Wade Miller titles

Deadly Weapon, Farrar (hc) 1946

Guilty Bystander, Farrar, 1947 (PI Max Thursday)

Pop Goes the Queen, Farrar, 1947
(aka Murder--Queen High, Graphic (pb), 1949).

Fatal Step, Farrar (hc), 1948 (PI Max Thursday)

Uneasy Street, Farrar, 1948 (PI Max Thursday)

Devil on Two Sticks, Farrar, 1949
(aka Killer's Choice, Signet (pb), 1950).

Calamity Fair, Farrar, 1950 (PI Max Thursday)

Murder Charge, Farrar, 1950 (PI Max Thursday)

Devil May Care, Gold Medal (pb) 1950

Stolen Woman, Gold Medal, 1950

The Killer, Gold Medal, 1951

The Tiger’s Wife, Gold Medal, 1951

Shoot to Kill, Farrar (hc), 1951 (PI Max Thursday)

Branded Woman, Gold Medal (pb), 1953

The Big Guy, Gold Medal, 1953

South of the Sun, Gold Medal, 1953

Mad Baxter, Gold Medal, 1955

Kiss Her Goodbye, Lion, 1956

Kitten With a Whip, Gold Medal, 1959

Sinner Takes All, Gold Medal, 1960

Nightmare Cruise, Ace (pb), 1961

The Girl From Midnight, Gold Medal (pb), 1962

Will Daemer title

The Case of the Lonely Lovers, Farrell (digest pb), 1951

Dale Wilmer titles

Memo for Murder, Graphic (pb), 1951

Dead Fall, Myst. House (hc), 1954

Jungle Heat, Pyramid (pb), 1954

Whit Masterson titles

All Through the Night Dodd, Mead (hc), 1955
(aka A Cry in the Night, Bantam (pb), 1956).

Dead, She Was Beautiful Dodd, Mead (hc), 1955

Badge of Evil, Mead, 1956
(aka, A Touch of Evil, Bantam (pb), 1958)

A Shadow in the Wild Dodd, Mead (hc), 1957

The Dark Fantastic, Mead, 1959

A Hammer in His Hand, Mead, 1960

Evil Come, Evil Go, Mead, 1961

The Man on a Nylon String, Mead, 1963

711 -- Officer Needs Help, Mead, 1965
(aka, Warning Shot, Pop. Library (pb), 1967).

Play Like You're Dead Dodd, Mead (hc), 1967

The Last One Kills, Mead, 1969

The Death of Me Yet, Mead, 1970

The Gravy Train, Mead, 1971
(aka, The Great Train Robbery, Pinnacle (pb), 1976).

Why She Cries, I Do Not Know Dodd, Mead (hc), 1972

The Undertaker Wind, Mead, 1973

The Man with Two Clocks, Mead, 1974

Hunter of the Blood, Mead, 1977

The Slow Gallows, Mead, 1979

NOTE: Evil Come, Evil Go was the last collaborative effort of the two authors, and The Man on the Nylon String was the beginning of Robert Wade's solo efforts.

Robert Wade titles

The Stroke of Seven, Morrow (hc), 1965

Knave of Eagles, Random House (hc), 1969

Movie Adaptations

Guilty Bystander (1950) adapted from Guilty Bystander.
Starring Zachary Scott and Faye Emerson.

A Cry in the Night (1956) adapted from All Through the Night.
Starring Edmond O’Brien and Natalie Wood.

Touch of Evil (1958) adapted from Badge of Evil
Starring Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh

Kiss Her Goodbye (1959) adapted from Kiss Her Goodbye
Starring Andrew Prine, Steven Hill, and Sharon Farrell

The Yellow Canary (1963) adapted from Evil Come, Evil Go
Starring Pat Boone and Barbara Eden. Script by Rod Serling

Kitten with a Whip (1964) from Kitten with a Whip.
Starring Ann-Margret and John Forsythe. Screenwriter & director: Douglas Heyes.

Warning Shot (1967) adapted from 711-- Officer Needs Help
Starring David Jansen and Ed Beagley

Television Screenplays [This section is almost assuredly incomplete.]

South of the Sun. March 3, 1955. CBS Climax series.
Starring Jeffrey Hunter and Margaret O'Brien.

The Woman in His Life. 1958. NBC The Investigator series.
Starring Jeff Pryor and Lloyd Pryor.

Invitation to an Accident. 1959. CBS Alfred Hitchcock Presents series.
Starring Gary Merrill.

The Manhunter. Adapted from the novel The Killer. 1968.
Ron Roth Productions at Universal TV. Directed by Don Taylor. Starring Sandra Dee and Roy Thinnes.

The Death of Me Yet. Adapted from the Whit Masterson novel of the same name. 1971.
Aaron Spelling Productions. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey. Starring Doug McClure and Darren McGavin.

The above article, including checklist, first appeared in Mystery*File, Feb '04

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