Stuart Palmer

Stuart Palmer

Stuart Palmer (June 21 1905 -February 4, 1968) was a popular mystery novel author and screenwriter, best known for his character, Hildegarde Withers.

Palmer was born in Baraboo, Wisconsin, "was descended from some of the earliest English colonists, (and) had held a variety of jobs including seaman, apple picker, taxi-driver and newspaper reporter before turning to fiction."Haining, Peter, ed. "The Television Crimebusters Omnibus". London: Orion, 1994, p. 406. ISBN 1-85797-736-X] His first novel, "The Penguin Pool Mystery" was published in 1931 and filmed the following year by RKO Radio Pictures as "Penguin Pool Murder." Character actress Edna May Oliver starred as Palmer's heroine, Hildegarde Withers, a spinster schoolteacher who was an amateur sleuth -- something of an American version of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple although considerably more comic and caustic. "The model for the unusual sleuth had been his high school teacher, a Miss Fern Hakett, he later admitted." Oliver's casting was a happy coincidence as Palmer had been influenced by her performance in the Broadway production of "Showboat" when creating the character. The film was a hit and Oliver starred in two more Withers films, but she left RKO in 1935. The series foundered, with Helen Broderick and later ZaSu Pitts in the role for another three films. "The success of his first novel also inspired Palmer to collect pictures and statues of penguins and he even devised a personal trademark featuring one of these birds."

Several of Stuart Palmer's stories were made into motion pictures. In 1936, he penned his first screenplay and would go on to write several others, most of them B movies. Palmer wrote for many B mystery series, scripting the first three "Bulldog Drummond" films for Paramount, and later entries in Columbia's "Lone Wolf" and RKO's "The Falcon" series.

Palmer wrote several Hildegarde Withers mystery novels, including "Murder on the Blackboard" (1932), "Murder on Wheels" (1932), "The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree" (1934), "Four Lost Ladies" (1949), and "Cold Poison" (1954), set in the thinly disguised Walter Lantz animated-cartoon studio. "The People vs. Withers and Malone" (1963) was a collaboration with Craig Rice and featured Rice's hard-drinking lawyer detective J. J. Malone, and "Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene" (1969) was completed by Fletcher Flora upon Palmer's death and published posthumously. Palmer also featured Withers in short stories that were published in mystery magazines; some were anthologized in "The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers" (1947).

"The Adventure of the Remarkable Worm" was a humorous Sherlock Holmes pastiche that was published in Ellery Queen's "The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes" in 1944. In 1960, "The Adventure of the Marked Man" was published by Palmer in "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine." This short pastiche takes the detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson to the seaside village of Penzance, in Cornwall. There, they investigate the strange warnings given to Allen Pendarvis, and the subsequent attempt on his life. [Included in "The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"] "The two pastiches, one serious and one comic, were written while Palmer was marooned at an army post in Oklahoma, where he was serving as an instructor.…." ["Ibid"., "Introduction"]

Palmer also wrote a few detective novels with the lead character of Howie Rook and served one year as President of the Mystery Writers of America.



* "The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", Penguin Books, 1985, ISBN 0-14-007907-6

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