Pseudonyms: Curt Cannon; Hunt Collins; Ezra Hannon; Richard Marsten; and Ed McBain. Nationality: American. Born: Salvatore A. Lombino, New York City, 15 October 1926. Education: Evander Childs High School, New York; Cooper Union, New York, 1943-44; Hunter College, New York, B.A. 1950 (Phi Beta Kappa). Military Service: United States Navy, 1944-46. Family: Married 1) Anita Melnick in 1949 (divorced), three sons; 2) Mary Vann Finley in 1973, one step-daughter. Career: In the early 1950s taught in vocational high schools and worked for Scott Meredith Literary Agency, New York. Lives in Norwalk, Connecticut. Awards: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award, 1957, and Grand Master award, 1985. Agent: John Farquharson Ltd., 250 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10107, U.S.A.; or, 162-168 Regent Street, London, W1R 5TB, England.
The Big Fix. N.p., Falcon, 1952; as So Nude, So Dead (as RichardMarsten), New York, Fawcett, 1956.
The Evil Sleep! N.p., Falcon, 1952
Don't Crowd Me. New York, Popular Library, 1953; London, Consul, 1960; as The Paradise Party, London, New English Library, 1968.
Cut Me In (as Hunt Collins). New York, Abelard Schuman, 1954;London, Boardman, 1960; as The Proposition, New York, Pyramid, 1955.
The Blackboard Jungle. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1954;London, Constable, 1955.
Second Ending. New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Constable, 1956; as Quartet in H, New York, Pocket Books, 1957.
Tomorrow's World (as Hunt Collins). New York, Avalon, 1956; asTomorrow and Tomorrow, New York, Pyramid, 1956; as Ed McBain, London, Sphere, 1979.
Strangers When We Meet. New York, Simon and Schuster, andLondon, Constable, 1958.
I'm Cannon—For Hire (as Curt Cannon). New York, Fawcett, 1958;London, Fawcett, 1959.
A Matter of Conviction. New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Constable, 1959; as The Young Savages, New York, Pocket Books, 1966.
Mothers and Daughters. New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Constable, 1961.
Buddwing. New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Constable, 1964.
The Paper Dragon. New York, Delacorte Press, 1966; London, Constable, 1967.
A Horse's Head. New York, Delacorte Press, 1967; London, Constable, 1968.
Last Summer, New York, Doubleday, 1968; London, Constable, 1969.
Sons. New York, Doubleday, 1969; London, Constable, 1970.
Nobody Knew They Were There. New York, Doubleday, and London, Constable, 1972.
Every Little Crook and Nanny. New York, Doubleday, and London, Constable, 1972.
Come Winter. New York, Doubleday, and London, Constable, 1973.
Streets of Gold. New York, Harper, 1974; London, Macmillan, 1975.
Doors (as Ezra Hannon). New York, Stein and Day, 1975; London, Macmillan, 1976
The Chisholms: A Novel of the Journey West. New York, Harper, andLondon, Hamish Hamilton, 1976.
Walk Proud. New York, Bantam, 1979.
Love, Dad. New York, Crown, and London, Joseph, 1981.
Far from the Sea. New York, Atheneum, and London, HamishHamilton, 1983.
Lizzie. New York, Arbor House, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1984.
Criminal Conversation. New York, Warner, 1994.
Privileged Conversation. New York, Warner Books, 1996.
Me and Hitch. London and Boston, Faber and Faber, 1997.
Novels as Richard Marsten
Runaway Black. New York, Fawcett, 1954; London, Red Seal, 1957.
Murder in the Navy. New York, Fawcett, 1955; as Death of a Nurse (as Ed McBain), New York, Pocket Books, 1968; London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1972.
The Spiked Heel. New York, Holt, 1956; London, Constable, 1957.
Vanishing Ladies. New York, Permabooks, 1957; London, Boardman, 1961.
Even the Wicked. New York, Permabooks, 1958; as Ed McBain, London, Severn House, 1979.
Big Man. New York, Pocket Books, 1959; as Ed McBain. London, Penguin, 1978.
Novels as Ed McBain
Cop Hater. New York, Permabooks, 1956; London, Boardman, 1958.
The Mugger. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1956: London, Boardman, 1959.
The Pusher. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1956; London, Boardman, 1959.
The Con Man. New York, Permabooks, 1957; London, Boardman, 1960.
Killer's Choice. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1958; London, Boardman, 1960.
Killer's Payoff. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1958; London, Boardman, 1960.
April Robin Murders, with Craig Rice (completed by McBain). NewYork, Random House, 1958; London, Hammond, 1959.
Lady Killer. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1958; London, Boardman, 1961.
Killer's Wedge. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1959; LondonBoardman, 1961.
'Til Death. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1959; London, Boardman, 1961.
King's Ransom. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1959; London, Boardman, 1961.
Give the Boys a Great Big Hand. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1960; London, Boardman, 1962.
The Heckler. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1960; London, Boardman, 1962.
See Them Die. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1960; London, Boardman, 1963.
Lady, Lady, I Did It! New York, Simon and Schuster, 1961; London, Boardman, 1963.
Like Love. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1962; London, HamishHamilton, 1964.
Ten Plus One. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1963; London, Hamish Hamilton, 1964.
Ax. New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1964.
The Sentries. New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, HamishHamilton, 1965.
He Who Hesitates. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, HamishHamilton, 1965.
Doll. New York, Delacorte Press, 1965; London, Hamish Hamilton, 1966.
Eighty Million Eyes. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1966.
Fuzz. New York, Doubleday, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1968.
Shotgun. New York, Doubleday, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1969.
Jigsaw. New York, Doubleday, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1970.
Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here! New York, Doubleday, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1971.
Sadie When She Died. New York, Doubleday, and London, HamishHamilton, 1972.
Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man. New York, Doubleday, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1973.
Hail to the Chief. New York, Random House, and London, HamishHamilton, 1973.
Bread. New York, Random House, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1974.
Where There's Smoke. New York, Random House, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1975.
Blood Relatives. New York, Random House, 1975; London, HamishHamilton, 1976.
Guns. New York, Random House, 1976; London, Hamish Hamilton, 1977.
So Long as You Both Shall Live. New York, Random House, andLondon, Hamish Hamilton, 1976.
Long Time No See. New York, Random House, and London, HamishHamilton, 1977.
Goldilocks. New York, Arbor House, 1977; London, Hamish Hamilton, 1978.
Calypso. New York, Viking Press, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1979.
Ghosts. New York, Viking Press, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1980.
Rumpelstiltskin. New York, Viking Press, and London, HamishHamilton, 1981.
Beauty and the Beast. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1982; New York, Holt Rinehart, 1983.
Ice. New York, Arbor House, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1983
Jack and the Beanstalk. New York, Holt Rinehart, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1984.
Lightning. New York, Arbor House, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1984.
Snow White and Rose Red. New York, Holt Rinehart, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1985.
Eight Black Horses. New York, Arbor House, and London, HamishHamilton, 1985.
Another Part of the City. New York, Mysterious Press, 1985; London, Hamish Hamilton, 1986.
Cinderella. New York, Holt, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1986.
Poison. New York, Arbor House, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1987.
Puss in Boots. New York, Holt, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1987.
Lullaby. New York, Morrow, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1987.
The House That Jack Built. New York, Holt, and London, HamishHamilton, 1988.
Downtown. New York, Morrow, and London, Heinemann, 1989.
Three Blind Mice. New York, Arcade, 1990.
Vespers. New York, Morrow, and London, Heinemann, 1990.
Widows. London, Heinemann, 1991.
Kiss. London, Heinemann, 1992.
Mary, Mary. London, Heinemann, 1992.
Mischief. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1993.
The Last Dance. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1999.
The Jungle Kids. New York, Pocket Books, 1956.
I Like 'em Tough (as Curt Cannon). New York, Fawcett, 1958
The Last Spin and Other Stories. London, Constable, 1960.
The Empty Hours (as Ed McBain). New York, Simon and Schuster, 1962; London, Boardman, 1963.
Happy New Year, Herbie, and Other Stories. New York, Simon andSchuster, 1963; London, Constable, 1965.
The Beheading and Other Stories. London, Constable, 1971.
The Easter Man (a Play) and Six Stories. New York, Doubleday, 1972; as Seven, London, Constable, 1972.
The McBain Brief. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1982; New York, Arbor House, 1983.
McBain's Ladies: The Women of the 87th Precinct. New York, Mysterious Press, and London, Hamish Hamilton, 1988.
McBain's Ladies Too. New York, Mysterious Press, 1989; London, Hamish Hamilton, 1990.
Barking at Butterflies, and Other Stories. Unity, Maine, Five Star, 2000.
Running from Legs and Other Stories. Unity, Maine, Five Star, 2000.
Uncollected Short Stories
"Ticket to Death," in Best Detective Stories of the Year 1955, edited by David Coxe Cooke. New York, Dutton, 1955.
"Classification: Dead" (as Richard Marsten), in Dames, Danger, and Death, edited by Leo Margulies. New York, Pyramid, 1960.
"Easy Money," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (New York), September 1960.
"Nightshade" (as Ed McBain) in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (New York), August 1970.
"Someone at the Door," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (NewYork), October 1971.
"Sympathy for the Devil," in Seventeen (New York), July 1972.
"Weeping for Dustin," in Seventeen (New York), July 1973.
"The Analyst," in Playboy (Chicago), December 1974.
"Dangerous Affair," in Good Housekeeping (New York), March1975.
"Eighty Million Eyes" (as Ed McBain), in Ellery Queen's Giants of Mystery. New York, Davis, 1976.
"Stepfather," in Ladies' Home Journal (New York), June 1976.
"What Happened to Annie Barnes?," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (New York), June 1976.
The Easter Man (produced Birmingham and London, 1964; as A Race of Hairy Men, produced New York, 1965). Included in The Easter Man (a Play) and Six Stories, 1972.
Strangers When We Meet, 1960; The Birds, 1963; Fuzz, 1972; Walk Proud, 1979.
Appointment at Eleven (Alfred Hitchcock Presents series), 1955-61; The Chisholms series, from his own novel, 1978-79; The Legend of Walks Far Woman, 1982.
Other (for children)
Find the Feathered Serpent. Philadelphia, Winston, 1952.
Rocket to Luna (as Richard Marsten). Philadelphia, Winston, 1952;London, Hutchinson, 1954.
Danger: Dinosaurs! (as Richard Marsten). Philadelphia, Winston, 1953.
The Remarkable Harry. New York and London, Abelard Schuman, 1961.
The Wonderful Button. New York, Abelard Schuman, 1961; London, Abelard Schuman, 1962.
Me and Mr. Stenner. Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1976; London, HamishHamilton, 1977.
Other (as Ed McBain)
Editor, Crime Squad. London, New English Library, 1968.
Editor, Homicide Department. London, New English Library, 1968.
Editor, Downpour. London, New English Library, 1969.
Editor, Ticket to Death. London, New English Library, 1969.*
Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.
Neither Seen the Picture Nor Read the Book: Literary References in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct Series: Homage to Ed McBain/Evan Hunter on His Seventieth Anniversary, October 15, 1996 by Ted Bergman. Grover Park, 1996.
Evan Hunter comments:
(1972) The novels I write under my own name are concerned mostly with identity, or at least they have been until the most recent book. (I cannot now predict what will interest or concern me most in the future.) I change my style with each novel, to fit the tone, the mood, and the narrative voice. I have always considered a strong story to be the foundation of any good novel, and I also apply this rule to the mysteries I write under the Ed McBain pseudonym. Unlike my "serious" novels, however, the style here is unvaried. The series characters are essentially the same throughout (although new detectives appear or old ones disappear from time to time, and each new case involves a new criminal or criminals). The setting is the same (the precinct and the city), and the theme is the same—crime and punishment. (I look upon these mysteries, in fact, as one long novel about crime and punishment, with each separate book in the series serving as a chapter.) I enjoy writing both types of novels, and consider each equally representative of my work.* * *
The vividness and immediacy of the author's prose, coupled with the timeliness of his subject, drew considerable attention to Evan Hunter's novel The Blackboard Jungle. This story of a young teacher confronting the brutal realities of a big city vocational high school was praised for its realism and for opening to fiction an area of public concern that had begun to attract national attention in the United States. Second Ending was an even more aggressively topical novel, tracing the effects of drugs on four young New Yorkers. The central character, a young trumpet player who has been addicted for two years, draws the other characters together, and they are all altered in some way by his descent toward death. Some of the novel's episodes, which were termed "sensational" at the time of publication, now no longer seem so unique, and despite the awkwardness with which portions of the novel are narrated. Hunter's power as a storyteller moved his characters unerringly toward the slough of mutual desperation.
In Strangers When We Meet Hunter elected to describe a more muted kind of action in which a young architect, happily married and the father of two children, drifts into an affair with a suburban neighbor. Hunter showed a keen eye for the minute details that slowly gather round the illicit relationship, creating a highly realistic impression of a young man unable to cope with conflicting loyalties. Nonetheless, his characters finally seem insignificant—certainly not sufficiently strong to carry the philosophical baggage that the author gives them in an improbable conclusion.
A Matter of Conviction was a return to the mode of social protest that Hunter had developed so successfully in his two earlier novels. A polemic against the forces in society that make young men into killers, it was too contrived to offer more than passing interest. Mothers and Daughters, which chronicles the youth and maturity of four middle-class women—their dreams and their loves—is a more substantial work, despite its occasional melodrama.
Much of Hunter's fiction is over-written: striving for a realistic thickness, it bogs down in minutiae, and while the author writes with a high and consistent degree of professionalism, his vision rarely penetrates beneath the elaborate surfaces that his prose projects. Last Summer is a major exception to this adroit verbosity. It is told with an unforgettable simplicity and directness, which nonetheless conveys the author's own highly sophisticated point of view. During a summer holiday two teenage boys and a girl explore an Atlantic island, tell each other the "truth," and dominate a shy young girl. Their experiences end in violence, which vividly symbolizes the moral degeneracy of their society.
Few contemporary writers can match the versatility and consummate professionalism of Evan Hunter. His work includes a highly successful series of detective novels published under the pseudonym of Ed McBain; a science-fiction novel for children; a comic cops-and-robbers novel, A Horse's Head, written with great inventiveness and wit; and a spirited children's book in verse, illustrated by his own sons. Sons tells the story of three generations of a Wisconsin family, powerfully challenging some of the basic presumptions of the American Dream; The Paper Dragon is a densely plotted intriguing story of a five-day plagiarism trial; and Buddwing plunges its amnesiac hero into the heart of a Washington Square riot, a hold-up, and a crap game. Nobody Knew They Were There takes a futuristic look at the innate forces of violence that assail man's attempt to achieve world peace.
In Privileged Conversation, Hunter somewhat sketchily tells the tale of a New York stalker who invades the furtive affair of a married psychiatrist and a woman he has met in Central Park. The Last Dance marks the 50th novel of the 87th Precinct in Isola, his (that is, McBain's) fictional New York. Throughout a varied and highly prolific career, Hunter has produced a body of work distinguished for its sound craftsmanship, although only one of his novels, Last Summer, clearly demonstrates the art which such craft should sustain.
(b. 15 October 1926 in New York City; d. 6 July 2005 in Weston, Connecticut), best-selling novelist who wrote fiction and film scripts under his own name and, as Ed McBain, created the internationally acclaimed Eighty-seventh Precinct detective series that elevated the “police procedural” into an art form and helped transform both mystery writing and television crime drama in the second half of the twentieth century.
Hunter was born Salvatore Albert Lombino in a poor East Harlem neighborhood, the only child of Charles Lombino, a postal worker, and Mary Coppola Lombino. He attended New York public schools, graduating from Evander Childs High School in the Bronx in 1943. Hoping to become an artist, he studied at the Art Students League in Manhattan and at Cooper Union (1943–1944) but concluded that his classmates had superior talent and turned instead to writing while serving in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific (1944–1946). All the fiction he submitted to the pulp magazines then in vogue was rejected in the next two years, and none was accepted during his time at Hunter College in New York (1946–1950), where he earned a BA in English and membership in Phi Beta Kappa.
By the time he graduated from college, Lombino had papered the walls of his bathroom with rejection slips. Undeterred, he continued to write at night while working a series of daytime jobs, including substitute teaching in a New York City vocational high school and reading manuscripts at the Scott Meredith literary agency. Lombino coined the pseudonym “Evan Hunter” after an editor told him that his stories were being rejected because of his Italian name. When several Hunter stories were accepted for publication, he legally changed his name in 1952. Hunter began writing full-time in 1953. His big payday and national recognition came in 1954 with The Blackboard Jungle, a controversial novel of juvenile delinquency loosely based on his experience as a teacher. The book met with good reviews and strong sales and in 1955 was turned into a popular film, starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier. Hunter’s title entered the language as a synonym for tough urban schools, the movie’s theme music awakened teenagers across the country to rock and roll, and the book and movie together marked the real beginning of Hunter’s prolific writing career. That career produced 127 books, totaling some 110 million copies worldwide, as well as movie and television scripts, three stage plays, six children’s books, and two memoirs—all of them made possible by the rigorous discipline Hunter brought to his work.
Insisting that writing was fun and using as many as six pen names (among them, Richard Marsten, Hunt Collins, and Curt Cannon), Hunter wrote up to ten hours a day, Monday through Friday, until just weeks before his death. As Evan Hunter, he wrote popular “literary” novels and screenplays that focused on social issues and his characters’ psychological states. Among his best sellers were Strangers When We Meet (1958), a novel of marital discord, and Buddwing (1964), the story of an amnesiac; both books were made into movies. The Chisholms: A Novel of the Journey West (1976) became a television miniseries (1980). The last of his twenty-five novels was The Moment She Was Gone (2002). His best-known movie script was The Birds—an adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier story—written for Alfred Hitchcock (1963).
Writing as Ed McBain—the most famous of his six pseudonyms and, in the eyes of many readers, his literary legacy—Hunter revolutionized the police procedural novel and secured for McBain an international audience and critical acclaim that rapidly eclipsed his own. He created the pseudonym McBain in 1955 at the request of an editor seeking to challenge Erle Stanley Gardner, whose fictional lawyer, Perry Mason, had dominated the mystery/crime market since 1933. Within a decade McBain’s books set new standards for detective fiction that, in time, carried over to other writers and to television series like Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.
Beginning with Cop Hater (1956), the first of fifty-five police procedurals in a series that ended with Fiddler (2005), McBain abandoned the conventional format of crime fiction established by Edgar Allan Poe in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841). In this convention a lone detective, using mental gymnastics, methodically and logically interpreted the wispiest of clues to solve a murder that baffled ordinary police. Determined to portray the realities of crime-solving, McBain eschewed solitary detectives like Poe’s M. Dupin or brilliant amateurs like Sherlock Holmes or Ellery Queen for a detective squad in the Eighty-seventh Precinct in the fictional city of Isola (a surrogate for Manhattan). Led by Lieutenant Steve Carella, the squad’s ensemble approach to crime solving provided a realistic portrayal of modern police practices that McBain continuously researched and updated by haunting station houses, riding in squad cars, and interviewing police officers on and off the job.
What McBain learned he delivered in a street-smart, rapid-fire language often tinged with dark humor. He developed multiple and overlapping story lines and early on introduced the device of having a character in one book reappear in another. He paid special attention to operational routine and forensic matters, adding details that gave his stories veracity and weight. The freshness he sustained throughout the long life of the Eighty-seventh Precinct series was especially remarkable. The secret, he once wrote, was that a good writer was like a jazz pianist: “He could improvise in all 12 keys.” Equally noteworthy was the clear difference in content, voice, and writing style between McBain and Hunter made visible in their only joint venture, Candyland: A Novel in Two Parts (2002), in which Hunter wrote the first part and McBain the second.
Hunter married Anita Melnick, a college classmate, on 17 October 1949; they had three sons and were divorced in 1973. He wed Mary Vann Finley, a high school English teacher and later a novelist, on 2 June 1973; they divorced in 1996. Hunter married Dragica Dimitrijevic, a drama coach, on 9 September 1997. In the last two decades of his life, he survived three heart attacks, a triple bypass, and an arterial aneurysm. His response to all of this was gradually to reduce his writing day to six hours, though he continued to turn out forty pages of manuscript a week. A two-pack-a-day smoker, he died of throat cancer at his home in Weston, Connecticut, after a three-year struggle that included the removal of his larynx in 2002. His cremated remains are in the possession of his widow.
As a literary novelist, Evan Hunter never had the unqualified success or critical respect he hoped for, but as Ed McBain, he won fame and wealth, the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America (1986), and the Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain—the first American to be so honored (1998). In reinventing the modern police procedural, Hunter writing as McBain set the standard for all other crime story writers of his generation.
Hunter’s papers are on loan to the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. His published memoirs are Me and Hitch (1997), recounting his association with Alfred Hitchcock, and Let’s Talk: A Story of Cancer and Love (2005), completed just before his death. Hunter’s autobiographical pieces for the New York Times Book Review include “The Bad Cop in Everyone” (30 Dec. 1993) and “She Was Blond. She Was in Trouble. And She Paid 3 Cents a Word” (29 Mar. 1999). Among the many published interviews with Hunter are Clyde Haberman, “So Why Shouldn’t a Crime Writer Have Several aka’s?,” New York Times (30 July 1997); Ronald Kovach, “Urban Legend,” The Writer (Mar. 2002); and an unsigned column, “Let’s Talk: Almost Lost for Words,” Sunday Telegraph (Sydney, Australia) (22 Sept. 2005). See also George N. Dove, The Police Procedural (1982) and The Boys from Grover Avenue: Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Novels (1985). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 7 July 2005).
Allan L. Damon
Born Salvatore Albert Lombino, October 15, 1926, in New York, NY; died of cancer, July 6, 2005, in Weston, CT. Author. Evan Hunter wrote more than 50 crime-fiction novels under the pen name Ed McBain, scoring numerous bestsellers as well as a place in American letters as the creator of a new literary form. "WithoutMcBain, there would probably be no Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, or Law & Order, " asserted Adam B. Vary in Entertainment Weekly, who also claimed that in the mid-1950s the writer "essentially invented the American police procedural with a single pulp paperback."
Hunter was born Salvatore Lombino in 1926 in the New York City kitchen of his Italian-immigrant parents. The metropolis would later serve as the model for his fictional city of Isola that featured so prominently in his detective stories. He began writing while serving in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946. "I was on a destroyer in the peacetime Pacific, and there wasn't much else to do," the Washington Post 's Adam Bernstein quoted him as saying. Those early efforts all met with rejection from publishers, but Hunter did score some success writing science-fiction tales for pulp magazines after he earned a degree from Hunter College in 1950. Believing that mainstream publishers dismissed his work because of his Italian-heritage name, he changed it to Evan Hunter in 1952.
Newly married and with a growing family, Hunter struggled to make ends meet while writing on the side. He worked as a pianist, vocational-education teacher, lobster salesperson, and for a literary agency. The last job opened some doors in the book business for him, but his stint as a teacher served as the basis for his first genuine success, a 1954 novel called The Blackboard Jungle. The story of an idealistic educator and a classroom full of streetwise urban teens, the book sold five million copies and was made into an equally successful movie starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier.
Hunter's foray into crime fiction came not long afterward, when he was recruited by an editor looking for an author to write a series in the style of Erle Stanley Gardner's profitable "Perry Mason" mysteries. The first Ed McBain book was Cop Hater, published in 1956, and Hunter gave the story not just one but several heroes in the form of an entire police precinct in a city called Isola. New York Times crime-fiction reviewer Marilyn Stasio called the novel "a radical break from a form long dependent on the educated, aristocratic detective who works alone and takes his time puzzling out a case."
Cop Hater became the first title in Hunter's long-running "87th Precinct" series, which featured recurring characters such as Detective Steve Carella and his deaf-mute wife, Teddy. As the landscape of urban America changed, so did Hunter's McBain stories, reflecting an increasingly grim and violent Isola. Other trademarks of the series were, noted Stasio, "multiple story lines; swift, cinematic exposition; brutal action scenes and searing images of ghetto violence; methodical teamwork; authentic forensic procedures; and tough, cynical yet sympathetic police officers speaking dialogue so real that it could have been soaked up in a Queens diner between squad shifts."
The McBain stories were adapted for television in a short-lived NBC series, 87th Precinct, that ran in the early 1960s, but the formula of making an entire squad of cops the central focus was more successfully deployed in later small-screen dramas, beginning with Hill Street Blues in the 1980s. Hunter also worked as a screenwriter, most notably for Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 shocker The Birds, while other works of his inspired filmmakers such as esteemed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, who translated his 1959 novel King's Ransom into the film High and Low. One of the novels he wrote outside the crime-fiction genre, a 1958 suburban melodrama titled Strangers When We Meet, was made into the 1960 film of the same title, which starred Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak.
Hunter regularly put in ten hours a day at his desk, seven days a week, until he was slowed by a heart attack in the 1980s. Later titles of his included the 1997 memoir Hitch and Me, recounting his collaboration with Hitchcock, and Let's Talk, which chronicled his bout with cancer of the larynx. The 87th Precinct stories as Ed McBain, however, remained a publishing tour de force, with the final one, Fiddlers, published two months after his death. Over the course of a five-decade career, Hunter sold an estimated 100 million books, and earned several honors, including the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement from the Mystery Writers of America. He died of cancer at age 78 at his Weston, Connecticut, home on July 6, 2005. Hunter is survived by his third wife, Dragica Dimitrijevic-Hunter; sons Mark, Richard, and Ted, from his first marriage to Anita Melnick; and stepdaughter Amanda Finley. Sources: Entertainment Weekly, July 22, 2005, p. 13; Independent (London, England), July 8, 2005, p. 66; New York Times, July 7, 2005, p. B10; Washington Post, July 7, 2005, p. B6.