Born 13 November 1904, Chicago, Illinois; died 13 June 1987
Daughter of Paul and Julia Cohen Caspary; married I. G.Goldsmith, 1949
Vera Caspary began her career by writing promotional booklets for an advertising agency, operating her own mail order ballet school, and editing trade magazines. She later drew from these experiences as well as from her Chicago background in her writings.
Laura (1943) established Caspary's reputation for suspenseful psychological studies and introduced one of her strongest fictional devices: multiple points of view. A unique treatment of the Pygmalion myth, the novel is especially satisfying in its adroit blending of clue and symbol. Caspary dramatized Laura (with G. Sklar, 1945), and J. Mankiewicz's movie adaptation starred Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, and the musical theme was an instant success that is still heard today.
Stranger Than Truth (1946) employs multiple points of view. As a result, all the narrators are rounded characters despite Caspary's use of stereotypes. The novel is a blend of mystery and romance, and through Noble Barnes, the messiah of self-help psychology, Caspary castigates all simplistic reformers.
Final Portrait (1971) includes serious discussion of painters' ethics as it describes the search for the killer of Henry Leveret. The posthumous use of the victim's own tape-recorded comments contributes to Caspary's most sensational multiple point of view. The book is skillfully wrought, and its opening sentence, "I was refused admittance to my father's funeral," establishes an interest sustained throughout. The Husband (1957) offers a variant of the multiple viewpoint technique by reporting events twice—first as interpreted by Jean McVeigh, a wealthy spinster who marries to assuage loneliness, and then by Stuart Howell, entrepreneur and fraud. The device is largely responsible for the novel's success.
Bedelia (1945; film adaptation, 1947), False Face (1954), and Evvie (1960) are personality studies as well as mysteries. Bedelia focuses on the changes suspicion works in Charlie Horst when he learns that his almost perfect wife may be a murderer. A garish black pearl ring and a blizzard are among Caspary's deftly handled symbols of deceit and growing uneasiness. False Face recounts the delayed maturation of Nina Redfield as she confronts the true personality of her childhood sweetheart, a fascinating combination of "simple faith and criminal blood." The novel makes good use of angel and demon imagery; economical, realistic dialogue provides sound characterization. Evvie examines murder within a triangular love affair and is very successful, especially in its depiction of the friendship between Evvie Ashton and Louise Goodman.
Caspary's nonmysteries, often centering on lonely urban girls, are realistic and moving portraits of young female wage earners. The White Girl (1929), Caspary's first novel, is spare, unemotional, but powerful. Solaria Cox, having decided to pass for white, moves to New York. Her guilt and fear of discovery are dramatized in the blackmail scheme of a black man who turns seemingly innocent invitations to Harlem rent parties into extortion. Solaria's relationships with her friend, Dell Findlay, and with her white fiancé complicate her masquerade.
A Chosen Sparrow (1964), the story of Leni Neumann, survivor of Nazi prison camps, is Caspary's interpretation of the aftereffects of the Holocaust. Taught to repress all memory of the horrors, Leni remains immature, easy prey for her ex-Nazi husband who symbolizes corruption in both wartime and postwar Germany. When Leni flees from him, she learns to know herself, to face her prison camp experiences, and to accept the fact of her survival without guilt. The novel is straightforward and unsensational, and Leni's memories, forced to the surface by her husband, provide powerful flashbacks.
During a 30-year period, Caspary was associated with more than 20 motion pictures. She adapted the story for A Letter to Three Wives which received outstanding critical reviews and appeared on the New York Times list of 10 Best Films of 1949. Other well known Caspary films are Claudia and David (1946), The Blue Gardenia (1953), Les Girls (1957), and Bachelor in Paradise (1961).
Noted for her skill at characterization, her vivid evocation of setting, and her expert manipulation of tension, Caspary was considered a major talent: a sound novelist, playwright, and screenwriter.
Ladies and Gents (1929). Music in the Street (1930). Blind Mice (with W. Lenihan, 1931, film adaptation as Working Girls, 1931). Geraniums in My Window (with W. S. Ornitz, 1934). The Murder in the Stork Club (1946). The Weeping and the Laughter (1950). Thelma (1952). Wedding in Paris (musical with H. May, 1956). The Man Who Loved His Wife (1966). The Rosecrest Cell (1967). Secrets of Grown-Ups (1979).
Klein, K. G., Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Contemporary (1994). McNamara, E., Laura as Novel, Film, and Myth (1992). Warren, A. L., Word Play: The Lives and Work of Four Women Writers in Hollywood's Golden Age (dissertation, 1988).
Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection (1976). St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers (1996).
Bookman (Sept. 1932). NYHTB (4 Sept. 1960). NYTBR (20 Jan. 1929, 18 Jan. 1940). SR (17 Sept. 1932).
—JANE S. BAKERMAN