Cornell Woolrich

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Cornell Woolrich
Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich

(1903-12-04)December 4, 1903
Died September 25, 1968(1968-09-25) (aged 64)
New York City
Nationality American
Other names William Irish, George Hopley
Alma mater Columbia University
Occupation Writer
Spouse(s) Violet Virginia Blackton (m. 1930–1933)

Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich (December 4, 1903 – September 25, 1968) was an American novelist and short story writer who wrote using the name Cornell Woolrich, and sometimes the pseudonyms William Irish and George Hopley.

His biographer, Francis Nevins Jr., rated Woolrich the fourth best crime writer of his day, behind Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler. A check of film titles reveals that more film noir screenplays were adapted from works by Woolrich than any other crime novelist, and many of his stories were adapted during the 1940s for Suspense and other dramatic radio programs.


Woolrich was born in New York City; his parents separated when he was young. He lived for a time in Mexico with his father before returning to New York to live with his mother, Claire Attalie Woolrich.[1]

He attended Columbia University but left in 1926 without graduating when his first novel, Cover Charge, was published. As Eddie Duggan observes, "Woolrich enrolled at New York's Columbia University in 1921 where he spent a relatively undistinguished year until he was taken ill and was laid up for some weeks. It was during this illness (a Rear-Window-like confinement involving a gangrenous foot, according to one version of the story) that Woolrich started writing, producing Cover Charge, which was published in 1926."[2] Cover Charge was one of his Jazz Age novels inspired by the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. A second short story, Children of the Ritz, won Woolrich the first prize of $10,000 the following year in a competition organised by College Humor and First National Pictures; this led to his working as screenwriter in Hollywood for First National Pictures. While in Hollywood, Woolrich explored his sexuality,[3] apparently engaging in what Frances M. Nevins Jr. describes as "promiscuous and clandestine homosexual activity" and by marrying Violet Virginia Blackton, the 21-year-old daughter of J. Stuart Blackton one of the founders of the Vitagraph studio. Failing in both his attempt at marriage and at establishing a career as a screenwriter (the unconsummated marriage was annulled in 1933; Woolrich garnered no screen credits), Woolrich sought to resume his life as a novelist:

Although Woolrich had published six 'jazz-age' novels, concerned with the party-antics and romances of the beautiful young things on the fringes of American society, between 1926 and 1932, he was unable to establish himself as a serious writer. Perhaps because the 'jazz-age' novel was dead in the water by the 1930s when the depression had begun to take hold, Woolrich was unable to find a publisher for his seventh novel, I Love You, Paris, so he literally threw away the typescript, dumped it in a dustbin, and re-invented himself as a pulp writer.[4]

When he turned to pulp and detective fiction, Woolrich's output was so prolific his work was often published under one of his many pseudonyms.[5] For example, "William Irish" was the byline in Dime Detective Magazine (February 1942) on his 1942 story "It Had to Be Murder", source of the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie Rear Window and itself based on H.G. Wells' short story "Through a Window". François Truffaut filmed Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black and Waltz into Darkness in 1968 and 1969, respectively, the latter as Mississippi Mermaid. Ownership of the copyright in Woolrich's original story "It Had to Be Murder" and its use for Rear Window was litigated before the US Supreme Court in Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207 (1990).

He returned to New York where he and his mother moved into the Hotel Marseilles (Broadway and West 103rd Street). Eddie Duggan observes that "[a]lthough his writing made him wealthy, Woolrich and his mother lived in a series of seedy hotel rooms, including the squalid Hotel Marseilles apartment building in Harlem, among a group of thieves, prostitutes and lowlifes that would not be out of place in Woolrich's dark fictional world".[6] Woolrich lived there until his mother's death on October 6, 1957, which prompted his move to the Hotel Franconia (20 West 72nd Street).[7] In later years, he socialized on occasion in Manhattan bars with Mystery Writers of America colleagues and younger fans such as writer Ron Goulart,[8] but alcoholism and an amputated leg (caused by an infection from a too-tight shoe which went untreated) left him a recluse. As Duggan writes:

[After] Woolrich's mother died in 1957, he [went] into a sharp physical and mental decline. Although he moved from Harlem's decrepit Hotel Marseilles to a more upmarket residence in the Hotel Franconia near Central Park, and later to the Sheraton-Russell on Park Avenue, Woolrich was a virtual recluse. Now in his 60s, with his eyesight failing, lonely, psychologically wracked by guilt over his homosexuality, tortured by his alcoholism, self-doubt, and a diabetic to boot, Woolrich neglected himself to such a degree that he allowed a foot infection to become gangrenous which resulted, early in 1968, in the amputation of a leg.

After the amputation, and a conversion to Catholicism, Woolrich returned to the Sheraton-Russell, confined to a wheelchair. Some of the staff there would take Woolrich down to the lobby so he could look out on the passing traffic, thus making the wizened, wheelchair-bound Woolrich into a kind of darker, self-loathing version of the character played by James Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window.

With the type of closure that is usually only encountered as a literary device, the Woolrich story turns full-circle around the Oedipally charged foot motif, the writing career that apparently began with a period of confinement attributed to a foot infection ends with an amputation, and the deep Freudian resonance that amputation induces.[9]

Woolrich did not attend the premiere of Truffaut's film of his novel The Bride Wore Black in 1968, even though it was held in New York City. He died weighing 89 pounds. He is interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Woolrich bequeathed his estate of about $850,000 to Columbia University to endow scholarships in his mother's memory for writing students.


Woolrich's novels written between 1940 and 1948 are considered his principal legacy. During this time, he definitively became an author of novel-length crime fiction which stands apart from his first six works.

Most of Woolrich's books are out of print, and new editions have not come out because of estate issues. However, new collections of his short stories were issued in the early 1990s.

Woolrich died leaving fragments of an unfinished novel, titled The Loser; fragments have been published separately and also collected in Tonight, Somewhere in New York (2005).


Year Title Author Credit Notes
1926 Cover Charge Cornell Woolrich
1927 Children of the Ritz Cornell Woolrich
1929 Times Square Cornell Woolrich
1930 A Young Man's Heart Cornell Woolrich
1931 The Time of Her Life Cornell Woolrich
1932 Manhattan Love Song Cornell Woolrich
1940 The Bride Wore Black Cornell Woolrich
1941 The Black Curtain Cornell Woolrich
1941 Marihuana William Irish
1942 Black Alibi Cornell Woolrich
1942 Phantom Lady William Irish
1943 The Black Angel Cornell Woolrich
1944 The Black Path of Fear Cornell Woolrich
1944 Deadline at Dawn William Irish
1945 Night Has a Thousand Eyes George Hopley
1947 Waltz Into Darkness William Irish
1948 Rendezvous in Black Cornell Woolrich
1948 I Married a Dead Man William Irish
1950 Savage Bride Cornell Woolrich
1950 Fright George Hopley
1951 You'll Never See Me Again Cornell Woolrich
1951 Strangler's Serenade William Irish
1952 Eyes That Watch You William Irish
1952 Bluebeard's Seventh Wife William Irish
1959 Death is My Dancing Partner Cornell Woolrich
1960 The Doom Stone Cornell Woolrich
1987 Into the Night Cornell Woolrich (Posthumous release, manuscript completed by Lawrence Block)

Short story collections

Year Title Author Credit Notes
1943 I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes William Irish
1944 After-Dinner Story William Irish Includes his noted 1941 novella "Marihuana".
1946 If I Should Die Before I Wake William Irish
1946 Borrowed Crime William Irish
1946 The Dancing Detective William Irish
1948 Dead Man Blues William Irish
1949 The Blue Ribbon William Irish
1950 Somebody on the Phone William Irish A.k.a "Deadly Night Call"
1950 Six Nights of Mystery William Irish
1956 Nightmare Cornell Woolrich Includes some previously unpublished stories.
1958 Violence Cornell Woolrich Includes some previously unpublished stories.
1958 Hotel Room Cornell Woolrich
1959 Beyond the Night Cornell Woolrich
1964 The Dark Side of Love Cornell Woolrich
1965 The Ten Faces of Cornell Woolrich Cornell Woolrich
2010 Four Novellas of Fear Cornell Woolrich

Selected films based on Woolrich stories


  1. ^ Corliss, Richard (8 December 2003). "That Old Feeling: Woolrich's World". Time. Archived from the original on 11 August 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2010.
  2. ^ Eddie Duggan (1999) 'Writing in the darkness: the world of Cornell Woolrich' CrimeTime 2.6 pp. 113–126.
  3. ^ Krinsky, Charles (2003). "Woolrich, Cornell". Archived from the original on 2007-08-14. Retrieved 2007-08-20.
  4. ^ Eddie Duggan (1999) 'Writing in the darkness: the world of Cornell Woolrich' CrimeTime 2.6 pp. 113–126
  5. ^ Eddie Duggan (1999) 'Writing in the darkness: the world of Cornell Woolrich' CrimeTime 2.6 pp. 113–126
  6. ^ Eddie Duggan (1999) 'Writing in the darkness: the world of Cornell Woolrich' CrimeTime 2.6 pp. 113–126
  7. ^ Nevins, Francis M. "Introduction," Tonight, Somewhere in New York. Carroll & Graf, 2001.
  8. ^ Goulart, Ron: "The Ghost of Cornell Woolrich" The Twilight Zone Magazine, December 1984, pages 16–17
  9. ^ Eddie Duggan (1999) 'Writing in the darkness: the world of Cornell Woolrich' CrimeTime 2.6 pp. 113–126
  10. ^ "Shabnam Still Gets Fan Mail". Indian Express. Dec 4, 2010. Retrieved May 7, 2013.


  • Nevins, Francis M. Jr. (1988), First You Dream, Then You Die, Mysterious Press.
  • Duggan, E. (1999) 'Writing in the darkness: the world of Cornell Woolrich' CrimeTime 2.6 pp. 113–126.

Further reading

  • Lane, Joel. "Mansions of Fear: The Dark Houses of Cornell Woolrich". Wormwood No 3 (Autumn 2004), 22-32.

External links

  • Cornell Woolrich on IMDb
  • Radio adaptations of Cornell Woolrich's stories on the CBS radio show Suspense
  • Works by or about Cornell Woolrich in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • "Cornell Woolrich and the Tough-Man Tradition of American Crime Fiction" by Christine Photinos (Clues: A Journal of Detection 28.2, 2010)
  • Cornell Woolrich Papers at the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New York, NY

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