“I wasn’t that good you know. What I was was a guy who could write a little publishing in magazines surrounded by people who couldn’t write at all. So I looked pretty good. But I never thought I was that good at all. All that I thought was that I tried to tell the truth.”
Cornell Woolrich first perceived his personal truth in Mexico City at the age of eight when his maternal grandfather took him to see a traveling French company perform Madame Butterfly. He became aware of color, drama, tragedy and that someday, like Cio-Cio-San, he would have to die. His life and his writing were filled by the sense of doom that engulfed his young mind. “I had that trapped feeling,” he wrote in his autobiography, “like some sort of a poor insect that you’ve put inside a downturned glass, and it tries to climb up the sides, and it can’t, and it can’t, and it can’t.” This keen sense of futility permeated Woolrich’s life and stories. It was his special gift to be able to portray those individuals who lived on the edge of disaster and who were agonizingly aware that they did so.
He did so. Steve Fisher used Woolrich as model for the brutal homicide detective in his 1941 novel I Wake Up Screaming. “He had red hair and thin white skin and red eyebrows and blue eyes. He looked sick. He looked like a corpse. His clothes didn’t fit him. . . . He was possessed with a macabre humor. His voice was nasal. You’d think he was crying.”
The stories gathered here and arranged chronologically by the editors—“Kiss of the Cobra,” “Dark Melody of Madness” (also known as “Papa Benjamin” and “Music from the Dark”), “Speak to Me of Death,” “I’m Dangerous Tonight,” “Guns, Gentlemen” (also known as “The Lamp of Memory” and “Twice-Trod Path”), “Jane Brown’s Body,” “The Moon of Montezuma,” and “Somebody’s Clothes—Somebody’s Life,” (also known as “Somebody Else’s Life”)—refute Woolrich’s self-assessment. He was that good.
About the Author
Cornell Woolrich (190368) was a commercially successful novelist, screenplay writer, and fantasy fiction writer. Many of his tales were transposed to radio, television, and film versions, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black and Waltz Into Darkness.