Cornell Woolrich

(December 4, 1903 - September 25, 1968)

Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich was an American author. His parents separated when he was young, and he lived for a time in Latin America with his father before moving back to New York to spend most of the rest of his life with his mother. He attended Columbia University (where one of his classmates was Jacques Barzun), but left before graduating to write professionally.

In addition to Cornell Woolrich, he also published under the pseudonyms of George Hopley and William Irish. Many of Woolrich’s stories were adapted for radio, television, and motion pictures. On radio his stories were heard on Escape, Hour of Mystery, Molle Mystery Theatre, Lux Radio Theatre, and Suspense; and a half dozen were telecast on the TV version of Suspense during 1949-1951.

His principal biographer (First You Dream, Then You Die), Francis Nevins, Jr., called Woolrich “the greatest writer of suspense fiction that ever lived.” In 1948 the Mystery Writers of America gave Woolrich the Edgar Allan Poe award for lifetime achievement. Although he wrote mostly suspense and crime stories, several of his stories can be considered science fiction or fantasy. The best collection of his genre work was in the 1981 collection The Fantastic Stories of Cornell Woolrich. (Contents: “Kiss of the Cobra,” “Dark Melody of Madness,” “Speak to Me of Death,” “I’m Dangerous Tonight,” “Guns, Gentlemen,” “Jane Brown’s Body,” “The Moon of Montezuma,” and “Somebody’s Clothes, Somebody’s Life”).

“Jane Brown’s Body” (All-American Fiction, 1938), is probably the purest SF story of the group. The plot concerns a mad scientist who has perfected a process for reviving the dead.

His SF/F/H stories were a reflection of his worldview and not really all that different from his crime and mystery stories. For Woolrich all of life seemed fantastic.

His autobiography, Blues of a Lifetime, was published by Popular Press, in 1991.

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