(aka Frederick Dannay & Manfred B. Lee)
What? The sophisticated and suave Man-About-Manhattan private detective and author Ellery Queen was really just a pseudonym for a couple of cousins from Brooklyn?
It's true! The creative genius behind the Ellery Queen novels, stories, radio shows, movies and magazine were simply two rather nondescript cousins from across the East River ... Frederick Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.
The two cousins were inspired to enter a mystery-writing contest in 1928. Using their fondness for the then-popular detective Philo Vance, they came up with an equally intellectual and enigmatic detective and dubbed him Ellery Queen. Dannay provided the plot, created important clues and developed interesting characters while his cousin Lee took on the actual writing of the mystery for the duo. It was a family formula that worked for decades to come.
After winning the mystery contest, their next effort was penning The Roman Hat Mystery. Following the publishing of this Ellery Queen novel, and for decades afterwards, Dannay and Lee churned out mystery after mystery.
Fans just couldn't seem to get enough of the Ellery Queen novels and the unique ‘Challenge to the Reader' feature in each book added an extra element of fun. Near the end of each story, readers were informed that they now had all the clues necessary to solve the case for themselves. The challenge was simple. Discover if you could solve the case from the clues presented and then finish the book to see if you were up to matching wits with EQ who would reveal the solution in the final pages.
Ellery Queen is often portrayed as a snobbish, self-satisfied and, at times, insufferably smug man, particularly in the early years of the series. His mother had been a belle of high society snobbery but his father, the affable Inspector Richard Queen, is a down-to-earth Irish cop. The two Queens, father and son, lived harmoniously in a Manhattan townhouse and often worked together to solve crimes during the first decade of the series.
Inspector Queen pounds the city streets to track down clues while the intellectual Ellery uses his insight and brain power to solve the case. In the 1940's, Ellery is transplanted to Hollywood where he dabbles in screenwriting. By 1948, Dannay and Lee plucked Ellery Queen out of Tinsel Town (perhaps signaling the cousins' own discontent over having their scripts being generally dismissed by film studio execs?). Ellery's next port of call was the mythical New England village of Wrightsville.
Prolific and creative, Dannay and Lee also concocted another unique detective, Drury Lane, and wrote four mysteries under the pseudonym, Barnaby Ross. The premise of the series was that Drury Lane had been forced to retire from his career as a Shakespearean actor when he began to lose his hearing. Lane left the thespian world behind him to become an amateur detective, often aided by a NYC cop, Inspector Thumm.
In an outlandish publicity stunt, the two EQ cousins staged a number of on-stage ‘debates' between their two mythical detectives. One of them would impersonate Ellery Queen and the other would pretend to be Barnaby Ross. To keep the whole gag a secret, Lee and Dannay wore masks during the lively debates. The audience was spellbound as the debating detectives tried to prove who was the world's superior sleuth.
Aside from writing 33 novels and hundreds of short stories, Dannay and Lee translated their Queen mysteries into radio dramas, movies and television shows and the result was, perhaps, the most prolific and successful murder mystery franchise in history.