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Nero Wolfe

Nero Wolfe is a fictional detective, created by the American mystery writer Rex Stout, who made his debut in 1934. Wolfe's confidential assistant Archie Goodwin recorded the cases of the detective genius in 33 novels and 39 short stories from the 1930s to the 1970s, with most of them set in New York City. The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon 2000, the world's largest mystery convention, and Rex Stout was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century.

Title character

The Nero Wolfe stories take place contemporaneously with their writing and depict a changing landscape and society. The principal characters in the corpus do not age. Although it is not directly stated in the stories, Nero Wolfe's age is 56, according to Rex Stout.

"Those stories have ignored time for thirty-nine years," Stout told his authorized biographer John McAleer. "Any reader who can't or won't do the same should skip them. I didn't age the characters because I didn't want to. That would have made it cumbersome and would seem to have centered attention on the characters rather than the stories.

Wolfe is frequently described by Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the stories, as weighing "a seventh of a ton" (about 286 pounds or 130 kg). At the time of the first book, 1934, this was intended to indicate unusual obesity, especially through the use of the word "ton" as the unit of measure. Although capable of normal movement, Wolfe tries to adhere to a policy of never leaving his house for business reasons and seldom for any reason at all.

Origins

With one notable exception, the corpus implies or states that Nero Wolfe was born in Montenegro. In the first chapter of Over My Dead Body (1939), Wolfe tells an FBI agent that he was born in the United States — a declaration at odds with all other references. Stout revealed the reason for the discrepancy in a letter obtained by his authorized biographer, John McAleer: "In the original draft of Over My Dead Body Nero was a Montenegrin by birth, and it all fitted previous hints as to his background; but violent protests from The American Magazine, supported by Farrar & Rinehart, caused his cradle to be transported five thousand miles.

"I got the idea of making Wolfe a Montenegrin from Louis Adamic," Stout told McAleer. Everything Stout knew about Montenegrins he learned from Adamic's book The Native's Return (1934), or from Adamic himself, McAleer reported.

"Adamic describes the Montenegrin male as tall, commanding, dignified, courteous, hospitable," McAleer wrote. "He is reluctant to work, accustomed to isolation from women. He places women in a subordinate role. He is a romantic idealist, apt to go in for dashing effects to express his spirited nature. He is strong in family loyalties, has great pride, is impatient of restraint. Love of freedom is his outstanding trait. He is stubborn, fearless, unsubduable, capable of great self-denial to uphold his ideals. He is fatalistic toward death. In short, Rex had found for Wolfe a nationality that fitted him to perfection.

Wolfe is reticent about his youth, but apparently he was athletic, fit, and adventurous. Before World War I, he spied for the Austrian government, but had a change of heart when the war began. He then joined the Serbian-Montenegrin army and fought against the Austrians and Germans. After a time in Europe and North Africa, he came to the United States.

In 1956, John D. Clark put forth a theory in the Baker Street Journal that Wolfe was the offspring of an affair between Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler (a character from "A Scandal in Bohemia"). Clark suggested that the two had had an affair in Montenegro in 1892, and that Nero Wolfe was the result. The idea was later co-opted by William S. Baring-Gould, but there is no evidence that Rex Stout had any such connection in mind. Certainly there is no mention of it in any of the stories (although a painting of Sherlock Holmes does hang over Archie Goodwin's desk in Nero Wolfe's office). Some commentators, noting both physical and psychological resemblances, suggest Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes as a more likely father for Wolfe. There is also a curious coincidence: in the names "Sherlock Holmes" and "Nero Wolfe," the same vowels appear in the same order. In 1957 Ellery Queen called this "The Great O-E Theory" and suggested that it derives from the father of mysteries, Edgar Allan Poe.

Some Wold Newton theorists have suggested the French thief Arsène Lupin as the father of Nero Wolfe, citing that in one of his stories Lupin has an affair with the queen of a Balkan principality which may be Montenegro by another name, and that Lupin resembles the French word for wolf, loup.

The Brownstone

Nero Wolfe, who has expensive tastes, lives in a luxurious and comfortable New York City brownstone on West 35th Street. The brownstone has three floors, plus a large basement with living quarters, a rooftop greenhouse also with living quarters, and a small elevator, used almost exclusively by Wolfe. Other unique features include a timer-activated window-opening device that regulates the temperature in Wolfe's bedroom, an alarm system that sounds in Archie's room if someone approaches Wolfe's bedroom door, and climate-controlled plant rooms on the top floor. A well-known amateur orchid grower, Wolfe has 10,000 plants in the brownstone's greenhouse and employs three live-in staff to see to his needs.

In the course of the books, ten different street addresses on West 35th Street are given:

"Curiously, the 900 block of West 35th Street would be in the Hudson River," wrote Randy Cohen, who created a map of the literary stars' homes for The New York Times in 2005. "It's a non-address, the real estate equivalent of those 555 telephone numbers used in movies." Cohen settled on 922 West 35th Street — the address printed on Archie's business card in The Silent Speaker — as Nero Wolfe's address.

Writing as Archie Goodwin in his 1983 book, The Brownstone House of Nero Wolfe, Ken Darby suggests that "the actual location was on East 22nd Street in the Gramercy Park District. ... Wolfe merely moved us, fictionally, from one place to the other in order to preserve his particular brand of privacy. As far as I can discover, there never were brownstone houses on West 35th Street.

Author Stout was playfully erratic about details in the stories. Besides the varying street address, there were minor discrepancies from time to time. Inspector Cramer's first name, rarely invoked, was originally Fergus, and later modified to Lionel. Wolfe's attorney, Nathaniel Parker, was also known as Henry Parker and Henry Barber. An assistant district attorney was either Mandel or Mandelbaum. The same surnames are assigned to supporting characters in different stories: Jarrett, Jaret, Jarrell, Dykes, Annis, Avery, Bowen, Yerkes, Whipple, and others.

Food

Along with reading, enjoyment of good food is the keystone of Wolfe's mostly leisured existence. He is both a gourmand and a gourmet, dining on generous helpings of Fritz's cuisine three times a day. Shad roe is a particular favorite, prepared in a number of different ways. Archie, who heartily enjoys his food but lacks Wolfe's palate, laments at one point that "Every spring I get so fed up with shad roe that I wish to heaven fish would figure out some other way. Whales have." Shad roe is frequently the first course, followed by another Wolfe favorite, roasted or braised duck. Archie also complains that there is never corned beef or rye bread on Wolfe's table, and he sometimes ducks out to eat a corned beef sandwich at a nearby diner. But in "Black Orchids" a young woman gives Wolfe a cooking lesson in the preparation of corned beef hash. Another contradiction: in Plot It Yourself Archie goes to a diner to eat "fried chicken like my Aunt Margie used to make it back in Ohio," since Fritz does not fry chicken. But in The Golden Spiders Fritz prepares fried chicken for Wolfe, Archie, Saul, Orrie, and Fred.

Wolfe displays an oenophile's knowledge of wine and brandy, but it is only implied that he drinks either. In And Be a Villain, he issues a dinner invitation and regrets doing so on short notice: "There will not be time to chambrer a claret properly, but we can have the chill off." Continuing the invitation, Wolfe says of a certain brandy, "I hope this won't shock you, but the way to do it is to sip it with bites of Fritz's apple pie.

On weekdays, Fritz serves Wolfe's breakfast in Wolfe's bedroom. Archie eats his separately in the kitchen, although if Wolfe has morning instructions for Archie, Wolfe will ask Fritz to send Archie upstairs first. For lunch and dinner, regularly scheduled mealtimes are part of Wolfe's daily routine. In an early story, Wolfe tells a guest that luncheon is served daily at 1:00 p.m. and dinner at 8:00, although later stories suggest that lunchtime may have been changed to 1:15 or 1:30, at least on Fridays. Lunch and dinner are served in the dining room. If Archie is in a rush due to pressing business or a social engagement, however, he will eat separately in the kitchen because Wolfe cannot bear to see a meal rushed. Wolfe also has a rule, sometimes bent but never overtly broken, that business is never discussed at the table.

Wolfe views much of life through the prism of food and dining, going so far as to say at one point that Voltaire "... wasn't a man at all, since he had no palate and a dried-up stomach. He knows enough about fine cuisine to lecture on American cooking to Les Quinze Maîtres (a group of the 15 finest chefs in the world) in Too Many Cooks and to dine with the Ten for Aristology (a group of epicures) in "Poison à la Carte." Wolfe does not, however, enjoy visiting restaurants (with the occasional exception of Rusterman's, owned for a time by Wolfe's best friend, Marco Vukcic); in The Red Box (1937), Wolfe states that "I know nothing of restaurants; short of compulsion, I would not eat in one were Vatel himself the chef.

It appears that Wolfe knows his way around the kitchen; in Too Many Cooks, he tells Jerome Berin, "I spend quite a little time in the kitchen myself. In The Doorbell Rang, he offers to cook Yorkshire Buck for the 'teers, and in "Immune to Murder", the State Department asks him to prepare trout Montbarry for a visiting dignitary. In The Black Mountain, Wolfe and Archie stay briefly in an unoccupied house in Italy on their way to Montenegro; Wolfe prepares a pasta dish using Romano cheese that, from "his memory of local custom," he finds in a hole in the ground. (The early story "Bitter End" suggests the contrary view that Wolfe was unable to prepare his own meals, as in that story Fritz's illness with the flu causes a household crisis and forces Wolfe to resort to canned liver pâté for his lunch.)

Wolfe's meals generally include an appetizer, a hearty main course, a salad served after the entrée (with the salad dressing mixed at tableside and used immediately), and a dessert course with coffee.

Orchids

Known for rigidly maintaining his personal schedule, Nero Wolfe is most inflexible when it comes to his routine in the rooftop plant rooms.

"Wolfe spends four hours a day with his orchids. Clients must accommodate themselves to this schedule," wrote Rex Stout's biographer John J. McAleer. "Rex does not use the orchid schedule to gloss over gummy plotting. Like the disciplines the sonneteer is bound by, the schedule is part of the framework he is committed to work within. The orchids and the orchid rooms sometimes are focal points in the stories. They are never irrelevant. In forty years Wolfe has scarcely ever shortened an orchid schedule.

"A dilly it was, this greenhouse," wrote Dr. John H. Vandermeulen in the February 1985 issue of the American Orchid Society Bulletin.

Entering from the stairs via a vestibule, there were three main rooms — one for cattleyas, laelias, and hybrids; one for odontoglossums, oncidiums, miltonias, and their hybrids; and a tropical room (according to Fer-de-Lance). It must have been quite a sight with the angle-iron staging gleaming in its silver paint and on the concrete benches and shelves 10,000 pots of orchids in glorious, exultant bloom.

"If Wolfe had a favorite orchid, it would be the genus Phalaenopsis," Robert M. Hamilton wrote in his article, "The Orchidology of Nero Wolfe," first printed in The Gazette: Journal of the Wolfe Pack (Volume 1, Spring 1979). "Archie notes them in eleven adventures. … Phalaenopsis Aphrodite is mentioned in seven different adventures by Archie, more than any other species. This may have been Wolfe's favorite. Wolfe personally cuts his most treasured Phalaenopsis Aphrodite for the centerpiece at the dinner for the Ten for Aristology in "Poison a la Carte." In The Father Hunt, after Dorothy Sebor provides the information that solves the case, Wolfe tells Archie, "We'll send her some sprays of Phalaenopsis Aphrodite. They have never been finer."

Wolfe rarely sells his orchids — but he does give them away. Four or five dozen are used to advance the investigation in Murder by the Book, and Wolfe refuses to let Archie bill the client for them. In The Final Deduction, Laelia purpurata and Dendrobium chrysotoxum are sent to Dr. Vollmer and his assistant, who shelter Wolfe and Archie when they have to flee the brownstone to avoid the police.

Eccentricities

Wolfe has pronounced eccentricities, as well as strict rules concerning his way of life, and their occasional violation adds spice to many of the stories:

  • Wolfe does not allow people to use his first name, and restricts his visible reactions: as Archie puts it, "He shook his head, moving it a full half-inch right and left, which was for him a frenzy of negation. He takes a dim view of television but TV sets did find their way into the brownstone in the later stories; Archie notes in Before Midnight, "It was Sunday evening, when he especially enjoyed turning the television off." Wolfe's attitude toward television notwithstanding, the TV set in Fritz's basement quarters proved handy in The Doorbell Rang, when the volume was turned up to foil potential eavesdroppers .
  • The stories insist that Wolfe conducts no business outside the brownstone, but in fact this rule is frequently violated. At times, Wolfe and Archie are on a personal errand when a murder occurs, and legal authorities require that they remain in the vicinity (Too Many Cooks, Some Buried Caesar, "Too Many Detectives" and "Immune to Murder", for example). In other instances, the requirements of the case force Wolfe from his house (In the Best Families, The Second Confession, The Doorbell Rang, Plot It Yourself, The Silent Speaker, Death of a Dude). Although he occasionally ventures by car into the suburbs of New York City, he is loath to travel, and clutches the safety strap continually on the occasions that Archie drives him somewhere. As Archie says in The Doorbell Rang, "(Wolfe) distrusted all machines more complicated than a wheelbarrow.
  • Wolfe maintains a rigid schedule in the brownstone. After breakfast in his bedroom while wearing yellow silk pajamas, he is with Horstmann in the plant rooms from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Lunch is usually at 1:15 p.m. He returns to the plant rooms from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dinner is generally at 7:15 or 7:30 p.m. (although in one book, Wolfe tells a guest that lunch is served at 1 o'clock and dinner at 8). The remaining hours, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and after dinner, are available for business, or for reading if there is no pressing business (by Archie's lights, even if there is). Sunday's schedule is more relaxed.
  • Wolfe drinks copious amounts of beer, starting after returning to his office from the plant rooms at 11 a.m., and not ending until bedtime. He carefully collects the bottle caps in a desk drawer to track his consumption. In the first book, Fer-de-Lance, his daily consumption is said to be six quarts but that he was considering cutting it back to five quarts.
  • Wolfe has stated that "all music is a vestige of barbarism.. And in a conversation over lunch with Saul Panzer, Wolfe denies that music can have any intellectual content.
  • In the course of the stories, Wolfe displays a pronounced, almost pathological, dislike for the company of women. Although some readers interpret this attitude as simple misogyny, various details in the stories, particularly the early ones, suggest it has more to do with an unfortunate encounter in early life with a femme fatale. He dislikes women not so much as what he perceives as their frailties, especially their tendency to hysterics — to which he thinks every woman is prone. However, "Cordially Invited to Meet Death" describes Wolfe's respect for a woman who solves the problem of preparing corned beef — he actually allows her to stand "... closer to him than I had ever seen any woman or girl of any age tolerated, with her hand slipped between his arm and his bulk ..." And Death of a Doxy offers this vignette: "'I decline your invitation, Miss Jackson,' he said, 'but I wish you well. I have the impression that your opinion of our fellow beings and their qualities is somewhat similar to mine.' He got to his feet. He almost never stands for comers or goers, male or female. And he actually repeated it. 'I wish you well, madam.'
  • It is noted early in the first Wolfe novel that there is a gong under Archie's bed that will ring upon any intrusion into or near Wolfe's own bedroom: "Wolfe told me once ... that he really had no cowardice in him, he only had an intense distaste for being touched by anyone ..."
  • In nearly every story, Wolfe solves the mystery by considering the facts brought to him by Archie and others, and the replies to questions he himself asks of suspects. Wolfe ponders with his eyes closed, leaning back in his chair, breathing deeply and steadily, and pushing his lips in and out. Archie says that during these trances Wolfe reacts to nothing that is going on around him. Archie seldom interrupts Wolfe's thought processes, he says, largely because it is the only time that he can be sure that Wolfe is working.

Narrator

Archie Goodwin is the narrator of all the Nero Wolfe stories and a central character in them. He is occasionally referred to by the New York newspapers as "Nero Wolfe's legman." Like Wolfe, Archie is a licensed private detective and handles all investigation that takes place outside the brownstone. He also takes care of routine tasks such as sorting the mail, taking dictation and answering the phone. At the time of the first novel, Fer-de-Lance, Archie had been working for Wolfe for seven years and had by then been trained by Wolfe in his preferred methods of investigation. Like Wolfe, he has developed an extraordinary memory and can recite verbatim conversations that go on for hours. But perhaps his most useful attribute is his ability to bring reluctant people to Wolfe for interrogation. Archie has his own bedroom one floor above Wolfe's and lives at the brownstone rent-free. On several occasions he makes it a point to note that he owns his bedroom furniture. Except for breakfast (which chef Fritz Brenner generally serves him in the kitchen) Archie takes his meals at Wolfe's table, and has learned much about haute cuisine by listening to Wolfe and Fritz discuss food. While Archie has a cocktail on occasion, his beverage of choice is milk. Archie's initial rough edges become smoother across the decades, much as American norms evolved over the years. In the first Wolfe novel, Archie uses a racially offensive term, for which Wolfe chides him, but by the time that A Right to Die was published in 1964, racial epithets were used only by Stout's criminals, or as evidence of mental defect. Many reviewers and critics regard Archie as the stories' true protagonist. Compared to Wolfe, Goodwin is the man of action, tough and street smart. His narrative style is breezy and vivid. Some commentators saw this as a conscious device by Stout to fuse the hard school of Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade with the urbanity of Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. But there is no doubt that Goodwin was an important addition to the genre of detective fiction. Previously, foils such as Watson or Hastings were employed as confidants and narrators, but none had such a fully-developed personality or was such an integral part of the plot as Archie.

Supporting characters

Household

  • Fritz Brenner — exceptionally talented Swiss cook who prepares and serves all of Wolfe's meals except those that Wolfe occasionally takes at Rusterman's Restaurant. Fritz also acts as the household's majordomo and butler.
  • Theodore Horstmann — orchid expert who assists Wolfe in the plant rooms.

The 'Teers

  • Saul Panzer — top-notch private detective who is frequently hired by Nero Wolfe either to assist Archie Goodwin, or to carry out assignments Wolfe prefers that Archie not know about.
  • Fred Durkin — blue-collar investigator who is often hired for mundane tasks like surveillance.
  • Orrie Cather — handsome, personable detective who thinks he would look just fine sitting at Archie's desk.

Law enforcement officials

Friends

  • Lon Cohen — of the New York Gazette, Archie's pipeline to breaking crime news. Archie frequently asks Lon to run background checks on current or prospective clients. Lon is also one of Archie's poker-playing pals.
  • Lily Rowan — heiress and socialite, often appears as Archie's romantic companion, although both Lily and Archie are fiercely independent and have no intention of getting engaged or settling down. Lily was introduced in Some Buried Caesar, appears in several stories, and assists in a couple of cases.
  • Marko Vukčić — A fellow Montenegrin whom Wolfe has known since childhood, possibly a blood relative (since "vuk" means "wolf"). Marko owns the high-class Rusterman's Restaurant in Manhattan. When Marko is killed in The Black Mountain, Wolfe is executor of Marko's will and runs Rusterman's as a trustee for several years.
  • Lewis Hewitt — well-heeled orchid fancier, and one for whom Wolfe did a favor (as told in "Black Orchids"). During a prolonged absence (as told in the novel) In the Best Families, Wolfe sends his orchids to Hewitt for care while Marko manages Wolfe's business affairs. Wolfe occasionally asks professional favors of Hewitt (as in The Doorbell Rang).
  • Nathaniel Parker — Wolfe's lawyer (or occasionally as a client's lawyer, on Wolfe's recommendation) when only a lawyer will do. The character name evolved from "Henry H. Barber"; in Prisoner's Base (1952) the lawyer's name is Nathaniel Parker, but in The Golden Spiders (1953) it's Henry Parker, and then reverts to Nathaniel Parker for the rest of the series. Parker is an old friend, and shares some of Wolfe's abilities; i.e., Parker converses with Wolfe in French during the story "Immune to Murder."
  • Doctor Vollmer — a medical doctor who is Wolfe's neighbor and friend. Wolfe calls upon Vollmer whenever a dead body is discovered (which happens often). In the novel The Silent Speaker, Vollmer contrives an illness severe enough that Wolfe cannot be bothered by anyone. Vollmer's motivation, aside from friendship, is that Wolfe helped him out with a would-be blackmailer years ago.
  • Carla Lovchen — Wolfe's adopted daughter, who appears in only two stories, Over My Dead Body and The Black Mountain.

Other associates

  • Bill Gore — freelance operative occasionally called in when Wolfe requires additional help in the field.
  • Johnny Keems — freelance operative occasionally called in by Wolfe. He makes his last appearance in the novel Might as Well Be Dead.
  • Theodolinda (Dol) Bonner and Sally Corbett (aka Sally Colt ) — female operatives whom Wolfe employs at need. They also play a major role in the novella Too Many Detectives. Dol Bonner is the principal character in the novel The Hand in the Glove, which is an early example of a woman private detective as the protagonist of a mystery novel. Dol Bonner and her agency operatives appear in a few Wolfe mysteries in places where female operatives are required, such as The Mother Hunt
  • Del Bascom — independent investigator who runs a large conventional detective agency in Manhattan. Wolfe sometimes subcontracts to Bascom when he needs a lot of men for something (as in The Silent Speaker).
  • Herb Aronson and Al Goller — friendly cabbies who make themselves available to Archie for mobile surveillance jobs.

Bibliography

Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books are listed below in order of publication. Years link to year-in-literature articles. Novels can be browsed alphabetically by title at the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout page. Titles of the novella collections are listed alphabetically on the Nero Wolfe short story collections page.

Nero Wolfe novellas by Rex Stout

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novellas are listed below in order of first appearance. Years link to year-in-literature articles:

Other Nero Wolfe works by Rex Stout

  • The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, with the editors of Viking Press (1973) — The cuisine and world of Nero Wolfe are brought to life in 237 recipes and a wealth of pertinent quotes from the corpus, illustrated by vintage New York City photographs by John Muller, Andreas Feininger and others. Many of the recipes would be regarded today as too heavy: for example, the ingredients listed for il pesto include pig liver and butter. Chapters include "Breakfast in the Old Brownstone"; "Luncheon in the Dining Room"; "Warm-Weather Dinners"; "Cold-Weather Dinners"; "Desserts"; "The Perfect Dinner for the Perfect Detective"; "The Relapse"; "Snacks"; "Guests, Male and Female"; "Associates for Dinner"; "Fritz Brenner"; "Dishes Cooked by Others"; "Rusterman's Restaurant"; "Nero Wolfe Cooks"; and "The Kanawha Spa Dinner". Hardcover ISBN 0670505994 / Paperback ISBN 1888952245
  • "Why Nero Wolfe Likes Orchids" , Life (April 19, 1963) — Concluding a feature story titled "The Orchid" that was photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Archie Goodwin "investigates and explains the deep satisfactions of his boss's orchid-fixation." Archie reports that Wolfe's fascination with orchids began when he was given a specimen plant "by the wife of a man he had cleared on a murder rap. He kept it in the office and it petered out. He got mad, built a little shed on the roof and bought 20 plants." A detailed description of the dimensions and activities of the rooftop plant rooms follows. Archie notes that he often hears Wolfe talking to the orchids and gives examples of what he says. The main reason his boss grows orchids, he writes, is for the color:

He says you don't look at color, you feel it, and apparently he thinks that really means something. It doesn't to me, but maybe it does to you and you know exactly how he feels as he opens the door to the plant rooms and walks in on the big show. I have never known a day when less than a hundred plants were in bloom, and sometimes there are a thousand...

  • "The Case of the Spies Who Weren't," Ramparts (January 1966) — Archie Goodwin reports that the previous evening Nero Wolfe and "Rex Stout, my literary agent" filled 27 pages in his notebook with their discussion of Invitation to an Inquest by Walter and Miriam Schneir, a recently published book that they are reviewing for Ramparts magazine. Since their review must be fewer than 3,000 words, Wolfe frowns and orders Archie to "Contract it. Cramp it."

I frowned back. "You cramp it. Or Stout. Let him earn his ten per cent. Dictate it."
Archie loses the argument and condenses their views on the book, which concerns the case against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Nero Wolfe omnibus volumes

Other authors of Nero Wolfe stories

Robert Goldsborough

With the approval of the estate of Rex Stout, journalist Robert Goldsborough wrote seven Nero Wolfe mysteries, published by Bantam Books. Goldsborough's approach was faithful to the Rex Stout works, but he added his own touches, including an updated frame of reference (Archie now uses a personal computer to file Wolfe's germination records; Wolfe's ancient elevator is finally replaced by a more efficient model, etc.). Goldsborough's first effort, Murder in E Minor (1986), was a bestseller, and was hailed as an excellent mystery. Goldsborough averaged one new Wolfe novel annually, often drawing on his own background in advertising, education and journalism for color and detail.

  • 1986: Murder in E Minor — Wolfe comes out of self-imposed retirement to investigate the death of a boyhood friend, who became a famous symphony conductor.
  • 1987: Death on Deadline — Wolfe intervenes when his favorite newspaper is about to be taken over by a muck-raking publisher.
  • 1988: The Bloodied Ivy — Murder on the college campus, mingled with the attractions and pitfalls of having dedicated groupies as graduate students.
  • 1989: The Last Coincidence — The fallout of the alleged date rape of Lily Rowan's niece.
  • 1990: Fade to Black — Dirty work at an advertising agency.
  • 1992: Silver Spire — Behind-the-scenes intrigue at a successful televangelism ministry based in Staten Island.
  • 1994: The Missing Chapter — Last and least of the Goldsborough novels, this is, in retrospect, the author's explicit farewell to Nero Wolfe: the story concerns the murder of a mediocre continuator of a popular detective series. In fairness to Goldsborough, his personal enthusiasm for the series may have been dampened by an outspoken newspaper critic, who had attacked Goldsborough and his "pallid" pastiches. Actually, the series remained popular throughout Goldsborough's tenure, and the novels sold well in both hardcover and paperback editions.

John Lescroart

While not mentioning Nero Wolfe by name, John Lescroart suggests in two books that the main character, Auguste Lupa (the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler), later becomes Nero Wolfe.

  • 1986: Son of Holmes
  • 1987: Rasputin's Revenge

Books about Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe

  • Anderson, David R., Rex Stout (1984, Frederick Ungar; Hardcover ISBN 080442005X / Paperback ISBN 0804460094). Study of the Nero Wolfe series.
  • Baring-Gould, William S., Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street (1969, Viking Press; ISBN 0140061940). Fanciful biography. Reviewed in Time, March 21, 1969 ("The American Holmes" ).
  • Bourne, Michael, Corsage: A Bouquet of Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe (1977, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers; Hardcover ISBN 0918736005 / Paperback ISBN 0918736013). Posthumous collection produced in a numbered limited edition of 276 hardcovers and 1,500 softcovers. Shortly before his death Rex Stout authorized the editor to include the first Nero Wolfe novella, "Bitter End" (1940), which had not been republished in his own novella collections.Corsage also includes an interview Bourne conducted with Stout (July 18, 1973; also available on audiocassette tape), and concludes with the first and only book publication of "Why Nero Wolfe Likes Orchids," an article by Rex Stout that first appeared in Life (April 19, 1963).
  • Darby, Ken, The Brownstone House of Nero Wolfe (1983, Little, Brown and Company; ISBN 0316172804). Biography of the brownstone "as told by Archie Goodwin." Includes detailed floor plans.
  • Gotwald, Rev. Frederick G., The Nero Wolfe Handbook (1985; revised 1992, 2000). Self-published anthology of essays edited by a longtime member of The Wolfe Pack.
  • Kaye, Marvin, The Archie Goodwin Files (2005, Wildside Press; ISBN 1557424845). Selected articles from The Wolfe Pack publication The Gazette, edited by a charter member.
  • Kaye, Marvin, The Nero Wolfe Files (2005, Wildside Press; ISBN 0809544946). Selected articles from The Wolfe Pack publication The Gazette, edited by a charter member.
  • McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography (1977, Little, Brown and Company; ISBN 0316553409). Foreword by P.G. Wodehouse. Winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical Work in 1978. Reissued as Rex Stout: A Majesty's Life (2002, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers; Hardcover ISBN 0918736439 / Paperback ISBN 0918736447).
  • McAleer, John, Royal Decree: Conversations with Rex Stout (1983, Pontes Press, Ashton, MD). Published in a numbered limited edition of 1,000 copies.
  • McBride, O.E., Stout Fellow: A Guide Through Nero Wolfe's World (2003, iUniverse; Hardcover ISBN 0595657168 / Paperback ISBN 0595278612). Pseudonymous self-published homage.
  • Ruaud, A.F., Les Nombreuses vies de Nero Wolfe (2008, Moutons électriques (France); ISBN 9782915793512). Biography of the character, essays and biblio-filmographies.
  • Mitgang, Herbert, Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America's Greatest Authors (1988, Donald I. Fine, Inc.; ISBN 1556110774). Chapter 10 is titled "Seeing Red: Rex Stout."
  • Symons, Julian, Great Detectives: Seven Original Investigations (1981, Abrams; ISBN 0810909782). Illustrated by Tom Adams. "We quiz Archie Goodwin in his den and gain a clue to the ultimate fate of Nero Wolfe" in a chapter titled "In Which Archie Goodwin Remembers."
  • Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, Garland Publishing; ISBN 0824094794). Associate editors John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer. Definitive publication history.
  • Van Dover, J. Kenneth, At Wolfe's Door: The Nero Wolfe Novels of Rex Stout (1991, Borgo Press, Milford Series; second edition 2003, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers; Hardcover ISBN 091873651X / Paperback ISBN 0918736528). Bibliography, reviews and essays.

Adaptations

Cinema

After the publication of Fer-de-Lance in 1934, several Hollywood studios were interested in the movie rights. In one of many conversations with his authorized biographer, Rex Stout told John McAleer that he himself had wanted Charles Laughton to play Nero Wolfe:

I met Laughton only once, at a party. Of all the actors I have seen, I think he would have come closest to doing Nero Wolfe perfectly. A motion picture producer (I forget who) asked him to do a series of Nero Wolfe movies, and he had said he would agree to do one but would not commit himself to a series.

In 1974 McAleer interviewed Laughton's widow, Elsa Lanchester. "I seem to remember Charles being very interested in the character of Nero Wolfe," she told him. "I always regretted I did not get to play Dora Chapin.

"When Columbia pictures bought the screen rights to Fer-de-Lance for $7,500 and secured the option to buy further stories in the series, it was thought the role would go to Walter Connolly. Instead Edward Arnold got it," McAleer reported in Rex Stout: A Biography. "Columbia's idea was to keep Arnold busy with low-cost Wolfe films between features. Two films presently were made by Columbia, Meet Nero Wolfe (Fer-de-Lance) and The League of Frightened Men. Connolly did portray Wolfe in the latter film, after Arnold decided he did not want to become identified in the public mind with one part. Lionel Stander portrayed Archie Goodwin. Stander was a capable actor but, as Archie, Rex thought he had been miscast.

More than one critic has suggested that Sydney Greenstreet would have made the ideal Nero Wolfe, with the young Cary Grant as Archie.

Meet Nero Wolfe

Columbia Pictures adapted the first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance, for the screen in 1936. Meet Nero Wolfe was directed by Herbert Biberman, and featured a cast led by Edward Arnold as Nero Wolfe, and Lionel Stander as Archie Goodwin. A young Rita Hayworth (then Rita Cansino) portrays Maria Maringola, who sets the story in motion when she asks for Wolfe's help in finding her missing brother, Carlo.

"Meet Nero Wolfe is an above average minor A picture, a solid mystery, and unfailingly entertaining," reported Scarlet Street magazine in 2002 when it revisted the film. "No, at bottom, it's not Rex Stout's Nero and Archie, but it's a well-developed mystery (thanks to Stout's plot) with compensations all its own — and an interesting piece of Wolfeana.

The League of Frightened Men

In 1937, Columbia Pictures released The League of Frightened Men, its adaptation of the second Nero Wolfe novel. Lionel Stander reprised his role as Archie Goodwin, and Walter Connolly took over the role of Nero Wolfe.

"He drinks beer in the novel but hot chocolate in the picture. That's the best explanation of what's wrong with the film," wrote Variety (June 16, 1937).

After The League of Frightened Men, Rex Stout declined to authorize any more Hollywood adaptations. "Do you think there's any chance of Hollywood ever making a good Nero Wolfe movie?" biographer John McAleer asked the author. Stout replied, "I don't know. I suppose so.

Radio

The Adventures of Nero Wolfe (ABC)

1943–1944, 30 minutes

Three actors portrayed Nero Wolfe over the course of the radio series The Adventures of Nero Wolfe. J.B. Williams starred in its first incarnation (April 7–June 30, 1943) on the New England Network. Santos Ortega assumed the role when the suspense drama moved to ABC (July 5–September 27, 1943; January 21–July 14, 1944). Luis Van Rooten succeeded Ortega in 1944, Nero Wolfe's last year on ABC. The final episode, "The Last Laugh Murder Case," aired July 14, 1944.

"Differences between (ABC producer) Hi Brown and Edwin Fadiman, who represented Rex's radio, screen and television interests, as Nero Wolfe Attractions, Inc., prevented its later resumption on ABC," John McAleer reported in Rex Stout: A Biography. "This fact Brown regretted. 'Nero Wolfe,' Brown says, 'is one of the strongest and most successful detective characters in all of fiction.'

The Amazing Nero Wolfe (MBS)

1946, 30 minutes

"The series next surfaced early in 1946, on Sundays, on the Mutual Network," wrote Stout biographer John McAleer, "with Francis X. Bushman, one-time movie idol, as Wolfe, and Elliott Lewis as Archie. ... The scripts once again were network originals. The humor verged on slapstick.

The Amazing Nero Wolfe concluded December 15, 1946, with "The Case of the Shakespeare Folio.

The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (NBC)

1951, 30 minutes

The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe began October 20, 1950, with "Stamped for Murder." Sydney Greenstreet starred as Nero Wolfe.

"Rex thought Greenstreet a splendid choice for the role and Greenstreet did, in fact, fill every reasonable expectation," wrote Stout biographer John McAleer. A succession of Archies included Gerald Mohr, Herb Ellis, Larry Dobkin, Wally Maher and Harry Bartell. The series ended April 27, 1951, with "The Case of Room 304."

McAleer reports that after hearing five minutes of one of Greenstreet's shows, Stout said he could take no more. "He liked Greenstreet. The script he found impossible.

Nero Wolfe (CBC)

1982, 60 minutes

In 1982, Canadian actor, producer, writer and cultural pioneer Mavor Moore (1919–2006) starred as Nero Wolfe in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's 13-episode radio series Nero Wolfe (a.k.a. Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe). Don Francks portrayed Archie Goodwin, and Cec Linder played Inspector Cramer. Toronto actor-producer Ron Hartmann spent two years adapting, directing and producing the CBC radio drama. "Ron and I are ardent Nero Wolfe fans, and we're out to convert the listener," Moore told the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Television

Omnibus, "The Fine Art of Murder" (ABC)

Rex Stout appeared in the December 9, 1956, episode of Omnibus, a cultural anthology series that epitomized the golden age of television. Hosted by Alistair Cooke, "The Fine Art of Murder" was a 40-minute segment described by Time magazine as "a homicide as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe [and] Rex Stout would variously present it." The author is credited as appearing along with Gene Reynolds (as Archie Goodwin), Robert Echols, James Daly, Jack Sydow and Dennis Hoey. Written by Sidney Carroll and directed by Paul Bogart, "The Fine Art of Murder" is in the collection of the Library of Congress (VBE 2397-2398) and screened in its Mary Pickford Theater February 15, 2000.

Nero Wolfe (Paramount Television)

Nero Wolfe (1977)
Disappointed with the Nero Wolfe movies of the 1930s and unimpressed with television, Rex Stout vetoed Nero Wolfe film and TV projects in America until his death in 1975. In 1977, Paramount Television filmed Nero Wolfe, an adaptation of Stout's novel The Doorbell Rang. Thayer David and Tom Mason starred as Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin; Anne Baxter costarred as Mrs. Rachel Bruner. Written and directed by Frank D. Gilroy, the made-for-TV movie was produced as a pilot for a possible upcoming series — but the film had still had not aired at the time of Thayer David's death in July 1978. Nero Wolfe was finally broadcast December 18, 1979, as an ABC-TV late show.
Nero Wolfe (1981)
Paramount Television remounted Nero Wolfe as a weekly one-hour series that ran on NBC TV from January through August 1981. The project was recast with William Conrad stepping into the role of Nero Wolfe and Lee Horsley portraying Archie Goodwin. Although it was titled "Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe," the production departed considerably from the originals. All 14 episodes were set in contemporary New York City.

A Nero Wolfe Mystery (A&E Network)

In March 2000, Maury Chaykin (as Nero Wolfe) and Timothy Hutton (as Archie Goodwin) starred in The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery, a Jaffe/Braunstein Films co-production with the A&E Network. High ratings led to the original series, A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001–2002).

Hutton had a strong creative hand in the A&E series, serving as an executive producer and directing four telefilms. A Nero Wolfe Mystery adapted the plots and dialogue of the Stout originals closely; unlike previous Wolfe adaptations, the series did not update the stories to contemporary times. The episodes were colorful period pieces, set in a somewhat vague past, the 1940s to the early 1960s. The production values were exceptional and critics responded favorably.

Other members of the principal cast are Colin Fox (Fritz Brenner), Conrad Dunn (Saul Panzer), Fulvio Cecere (Fred Durkin), Trent McMullen (Orrie Cather), Saul Rubinek (Lon Cohen), Bill Smitrovich (Inspector Cramer) and R.D. Reid (Sergeant Purley Stebbins).

BookFinder.com — a web-search service that reports the most-sought out-of-print titles — documents that the production of A Nero Wolfe Mystery coincides with Rex Stout's becoming a top-selling author some 30 years after his death. In March 2003, the top four most-wanted mysteries listed by BookFinder.com were all Nero Wolfe novels: Where There's a Will (1940), The Rubber Band (1936), The Red Box (1937) and The League of Frightened Men (1935). The Red Box was the most-searched mystery title in August 2003, and the novel remained as number two on the list in 2004. In 2006, Too Many Women (1947) was fifth on BookFinder.com's list of most-sought out-of-print thrillers, whodunits, classics and modern mystery titles. In 2007, The Black Mountain was in the number five position.

Most of the Nero Wolfe stories adapted for A Nero Wolfe Mystery are available through Bantam's Rex Stout Library, a series of paperbacks featuring new introductions by today's best writers and never-before published Rex Stout memorabilia. Some Bantam volumes, like Prisoner's Base, are emblazoned with the words, "as seen on TV." The Audio Partners Publishing Corporation promotes its bestselling line of Rex Stout audiobooks , unabridged on CD and audiocassette, "as seen on A&E TV."

A Nero Wolfe Mystery is available on DVD as two sets (The Golden Spiders bundled with the second season), and as a single eight-disc thinpack set. ISBN 076708893X

International TV productions

Germany
A German TV adaption of Too Many CooksZu viele Köche (1961) — starred Heinz Klevenow as Nero Wolfe, and Joachim Fuchsberger as Archie Goodwin. After he protested that his story was used without permission, Rex Stout received a $3,500 settlement.
Italy
"The name Nero Wolfe has magic in Italy," wrote Rex Stout's biographer John McAleer. In 1968, the Italian television network RAI paid Stout $80,000 for the rights to produce 12 Nero Wolfe stories. "He agreed only because he would never see them," McAleer wrote.

In February 1969, Italian television began broadcasting a first group of weekly Nero Wolfe programs . These, in order of appearance were Veleno in sartoria / Poison at the Tailor Shop (The Red Box), Circuito chiuso / Closed Circuit (If Death Ever Slept), Per la fama di Cecare / For Caesar's Fame (Some Buried Caesar), and Il Pesce più grosso / The Too-Big Fish (The Doorbell Rang). The second series — In the Best Families, Too Many Cooks, "Murder is Corny," Where There's a Will, The Rubber Band, "Counterfeit for Murder," Gambit, and The Final Deduction — followed several weeks later.

The successful series of black-and-white telemovies stars Tino Buazzelli (Nero Wolfe), Paolo Ferrari (Archie Goodwin), Pupo De Luca (Fritz Brenner), Renzo Palmer (Inspector Cramer), Roberto Pistone (Saul Panzer), Mario Righetti (Orrie Cather) and Gianfranco Varetto (Fred Durkin). The whole series is available on DVD in 2007.

Russia
A series of Russian Nero Wolfe TV movies was made in 2001–2002. One of the adaptations, Poka ya ne umer ("Before I Die") , was written by Vladimir Valutsky, screenwriter for a Russian Sherlock Holmes television series in the 1980s. Nero Wolfe is played by Donatas Banionis, and Archie Goodwin by Sergei Zhigunov.

References

External links

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