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Rex Stout
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American writer
Was Writer Novelist Screenwriter Radio personality Science fiction writer
From United States of America
Type Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature
Gender male
Birth 1 December 1886, Noblesville, USA
Death 27 October 1975, Danbury, USA (aged 88 years)
Star sign Sagittarius
University of Kansas
Edgar Award  
Detective fiction
The details (from wikipedia)


Rex Todhunter Stout (/stt/; December 1, 1886 – October 27, 1975) was an American writer noted for his detective fiction. His best-known characters are the detective Nero Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin, who were featured in 33 novels and 39 novellas between 1934 and 1975.

In 1959, Stout received the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award. The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon XXXI, the world's largest mystery convention, and Rex Stout was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century.

In addition to writing fiction, Stout was a prominent public intellectual for decades. Stout was active in the early years of the American Civil Liberties Union and a founder of the Vanguard Press. He served as head of the Writers' War Board during World War II, became a radio celebrity through his numerous broadcasts, and was later active in promoting world federalism. He was the long-time president of the Authors Guild, during which he sought to benefit authors by lobbying for reform of the domestic and international copyright laws, and served a term as president of the Mystery Writers of America.


Early life

Stout was born in Noblesville, Indiana, in 1886, but shortly afterwards his Quaker parents John Wallace Stout and Lucetta Elizabeth Todhunter Stout moved their family (nine children in all) to Kansas.

His father was a teacher who encouraged his son to read, and Rex had read the entire Bible twice by the time he was four years old. He was the state spelling bee champion at age 13. Stout attended Topeka High School, Kansas, and the University of Kansas, Lawrence. His sister, Ruth Stout, also authored several books on no-work gardening and some social commentaries.

He served in the U.S. Navy from 1906 to 1908 (including service as a yeoman on Theodore Roosevelt's presidential yacht) and then spent about the next four years working at a series of jobs in six states, including cigar-store clerk.

In 1910–11, Stout sold three short poems to the literary magazine The Smart Set. Between 1912 and 1918, he published about 40 works of fiction in various magazines, ranging from literary publications such as Smith's Magazine and Lippincott's Monthly Magazine to pulp magazines like the All-Story Weekly.

Not his writing, but his invention of a school banking system in about 1916 gave him enough money to travel in Europe extensively. About 400 U.S. schools adopted his system for keeping track of the money that school children saved in accounts at school, and he was paid royalties.

In 1916, Stout married Fay Kennedy of Topeka, Kansas. They divorced in February 1932 and, in December 1932, Stout married Pola Weinbach Hoffmann, a designer who had studied with Josef Hoffmann in Vienna.


Rex Stout began his literary career in the 1910s writing for magazines, particularly pulp magazines, writing more than 40 stories that appeared between 1912 and 1918. Stout's early stories appeared most frequently in All-Story Magazine and its affiliates, but he was also published in Smith's Magazine, Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, Short Stories, The Smart Set, Young's Magazine, and Golfers' Magazine. The early stories spanned genres including romance, adventure, science fiction/fantasy, and detective fiction, including two serialized murder mystery novellas that prefigured elements of the Wolfe stories.

In 1916, Stout tired of writing a story whenever he needed money. He decided to stop writing until he had made enough money to support himself through other means, so that he would be able to write when and as he pleased. He wrote no fiction for more than a decade, until the late 1920s, when he had saved substantial money through his school banking system. Ironically, just as Stout was starting to write fiction again, he lost most of the money that he had made as a businessman in the Depression of 1929.

In 1929, Stout wrote his first published book How Like a God, an unusual psychological story written in the second person and published by the Vanguard Press, which he had helped to found. During this phase of his writing career, Stout also published a pioneering political thriller The President Vanishes (1934), which was originally published anonymously.

In the 1930s, Stout turned to writing detective fiction. In 1933–34, he wrote Fer-de-Lance, which introduced Nero Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin. The novel was published by Farrar & Rinehart in October 1934, and in abridged form as "Point of Death" in The American Magazine (November 1934). The characters of Wolfe and Goodwin are considered among Stout's main contributions to detective fiction. Wolfe was described by reviewer Will Cuppy as "that Falstaff of detectives."

In 1937, Stout's novel The Hand in the Glove introduced the character of Theodolinda "Dol" Bonner, a female private detective who would appear in later Wolfe stories and who is an early and significant example of the woman PI as fictional protagonist. He also created two other detective protagonists, Tecumseh Fox and Alphabet Hicks. After 1938, Stout focused his fiction solely on the mystery field, and after 1940, almost exclusively on the Nero Wolfe stories. Stout continued writing the Nero Wolfe series for the rest of his life, publishing at least one adventure per year through 1966 (with the exception of 1943, when he was busy with activities related to World War II). Stout's rate of production declined somewhat after 1966, but he still published four further Nero Wolfe novels prior to his death in 1975, at the age of 88.

During World War II, Stout cut back on his detective writing, joined the Fight for Freedom organization, and wrote propaganda. He hosted three weekly radio shows and coordinated the volunteer services of American writers to help the war effort. After the war, Stout returned to writing Nero Wolfe novels and took up the role of gentleman farmer on his estate at High Meadow in Brewster, north of New York City. He served as president of the Authors Guild and of the Mystery Writers of America, which in 1959 presented Stout with the Grand Master Award – the pinnacle of achievement in the mystery field.

Stout was a longtime friend of British humorist P. G. Wodehouse, writer of the Jeeves novels and short stories. Each was a fan of the other's work, and parallels are evident between their characters and techniques. Wodehouse contributed the foreword to Rex Stout: A Biography, John McAleer's Edgar Award-winning 1977 biography of the author (reissued in 2002 as Rex Stout: A Majesty's Life). Wodehouse also mentions Rex Stout in several of his Jeeves books, as both Bertie and his Aunt Dahlia are fans.

Public activities

In the fall of 1925, Roger Nash Baldwin appointed Rex Stout to the board of the American Civil Liberties Union's powerful National Council on Censorship; Stout served one term. Stout helped start the radical Marxist magazine The New Masses, which succeeded The Masses and The Liberator in 1926. He had been told that the magazine was primarily committed to bringing arts and letters to the masses, but he realized after a few issues "that it was Communist and intended to stay Communist", and he ended his association with it.

Stout was one of the officers and directors of the Vanguard Press, a publishing house established with a grant from the Garland Fund to reprint left-wing classics at an affordable cost and publish new books otherwise deemed "unpublishable" by the commercial press of the day. He served as Vanguard's first president from 1926 to 1928, and continued as vice president until at least 1931. During his tenure, Vanguard issued 150 titles, including seven books by Scott Nearing and three of Stout's own novels—How Like a God (1929), Seed on the Wind (1930), and Golden Remedy (1931).

In 1942, Stout described himself as a "pro-Labor, pro-New Deal, pro-Roosevelt left liberal".

During World War II, he worked with the advocacy group Friends of Democracy, chaired the Writers' War Board (a propaganda organization), and supported the embryonic United Nations. He lobbied for Franklin D. Roosevelt to accept a fourth term as President. He developed an extreme anti-German attitude and wrote the provocative essay "We Shall Hate, or We Shall Fail" which generated a flood of protests after its January 1943 publication in The New York Times. The attitude is expressed by Nero Wolfe in the 1942 novella "Not Quite Dead Enough".

On August 9, 1942, Stout conducted the first of 62 wartime broadcasts of Our Secret Weapon on CBS Radio. The idea for the counterpropaganda series had been that of Sue Taylor White, wife of Paul White, the first director of CBS News. Research was done under White's direction. "Hundreds of Axis propaganda broadcasts, beamed not merely to the Allied countries but to neutrals, were sifted weekly," wrote Stout's biographer John McAleer. "Rex himself, for an average of twenty hours a week, pored over the typewritten yellow sheets of accumulated data ... Then, using a dialogue format – Axis commentators making their assertions, and Rex Stout, the lie detective, offering his refutations – he dictated to his secretary the script of the fifteen-minute broadcast." By November 1942, Berlin Radio was reporting that "Rex Stout himself has cut his own production in detective stories from four to one a year and is devoting the entire balance of his time to writing official war propaganda." Newsweek described Stout as "stripping Axis short-wave propaganda down to the barest nonsensicals … There's no doubt of its success."

During the later part of the war and the post-war period, he also led the Society for the Prevention of World War III which lobbied for a harsh peace for Germany. When the war ended, Stout became active in the United World Federalists.

House Committee on Un-American Activities chairman Martin Dies called him a Communist, and Stout is reputed to have said to him, "I hate Communists as much as you do, Martin, but there's one difference between us. I know what a Communist is and you don't."

Stout was one of many American writers closely watched by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. Hoover considered him an enemy of the bureau and either a Communist or a tool of Communist-dominated groups. Stout's leadership of the Authors League of America during the McCarthy era was particularly irksome to the FBI. About a third of Stout's FBI file is devoted to his 1965 novel The Doorbell Rang.

In later years, Stout alienated some readers with his hawkish stance on the Vietnam War and with the contempt for communism expressed in certain of his works. The latter viewpoint is given voice in the 1952 novella "Home to Roost" (first published as "Nero Wolfe and the Communist Killer") and most notably in the 1949 novel, The Second Confession. In this work, Archie and Wolfe express their dislike for "Commies", while at the same time Wolfe arranges for the firing of a virulently anti-Communist broadcaster, likening him to "Hitler" and "Mussolini."

Reception and influence

Rex Stout in 1973

If he had done nothing more than to create Archie Goodwin, Rex Stout would deserve the gratitude of whatever assessors watch over the prosperity of American literature. For surely Archie is one of the folk heroes in which the modern American temper can see itself transfigured.

Awards and recognition

  • In his seminal 1941 work, Murder for Pleasure, crime fiction historian Howard Haycraft included the first two Nero Wolfe novels, Fer-de-Lance and The League of Frightened Men, in his list of the most influential works of mystery fiction.
  • In 1958, Rex Stout became the 14th president of the Mystery Writers of America.
  • In 1959, Stout received the MWA's prestigious Grand Master Award, which represents the pinnacle of achievement in the mystery field.
  • In January 1969, the Crime Writers Association selected Stout as recipient of its Silver Dagger Award for The Father Hunt, which it named "the best crime novel by a non-British author in 1969."
  • The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated Best Mystery Series of the Century at the Bouchercon XXXI mystery convention, and Rex Stout was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century.
  • In 2014, Rex Stout was selected to the New York State Writers Hall of Fame.

Cultural references

"A number of the paintings of René Magritte (1898–1967), the internationally famous Belgian painter, are named after titles of books by Rex Stout," wrote Harry Torczyner, Magritte's attorney and friend. "He read Hegel, Heidegger and Sartre, as well as Dashiell Hammett, Rex Stout and Georges Simenon," the Times Higher Education Supplement wrote of Magritte. "Some of his best titles were 'found' in this way." Magritte's 1942 painting Les compagnons de la peur ("The Companions of Fear") bears the title given to The League of Frightened Men (1935) when it was published in France by Gallimard (1939). It is one of Magritte's series of "leaf-bird" paintings, created during the Nazi occupation of Brussels. It depicts a stormy, mountainous landscape in which a cluster of plants has metamorphosed into a group of vigilant owls.

Rex Stout Archive

The Rex Stout Archive anchors Boston College's collection of American detective fiction. The collection was donated by the Stout family and includes manuscripts, correspondence, legal papers, personal papers, publishing contracts, photographs, and ephemera. It also includes first editions, international editions, and archived reprints of Stout's books, as well as volumes from Stout's personal library, many of which found their way into Nero Wolfe's office. The comprehensive archive at Burns Library also includes the extensive personal collection of Stout's official biographer John McAleer, and the Rex Stout collection of bibliographer Judson C. Sapp.

Select radio credits

Date Network Length Series Detail
March 28, 1939 NBC 30 min. Information Please Cast: Clifton Fadiman (host), John Kieran, Franklin P. Adams, Rex Stout, Moss Hart
August 29, 1939 NBC 30 min. Information Please Cast: Clifton Fadiman (host), John Kieran, Franklin P. Adams, Rex Stout, Wilfred J. Funk
September 26, 1939 NBC 30 min. Information Please Cast: Clifton Fadiman (host), John Kieran, Franklin P. Adams, Rex Stout, Carl Van Doren
September 27, 1940 Democratic Women's Day Radio address from a dinner sponsored by the Women's National Democratic Club
Speakers: Eleanor Roosevelt, Thornton Wilder, Robert Sherwood, Edna Ferber, Rex Stout, Alice Duer Miller, Dr. Frank Kingdon, Katharine Hepburn, Marc Connelly, Elmer Rice, Frank Sullivan, Henry Curren
April 17, 1941 NBC 15 min. Speaking of Liberty Stories of memorable events in the lives of America's founders
First of an estimated 29 weekly broadcasts continuing through December 11, 1941, produced in cooperation with the Council for Democracy
Guests include Louis Adamic, Herbert Agar, Pearl S. Buck, Erskine Caldwell, Carl Carmer, Stuart Chase, Frank Craven, Carl Crow, Ève Curie, Max Eastman, Edward Ellsberg, Clifton Fadiman, Louis Fischer, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Frank Gervasi, Florence Jaffray Harriman, Fannie Hurst, Margaret Leech, Walter Millis, Bertrand Russell, John R. Tunis, Carl Van Doren, Pierre van Paassen, Thornton Wilder, Alexander Woollcott, Lin Yutang
Cast: Rex Stout (host), Milton Cross and others (announcers)
April 18, 1941 NBC 30 min. Information Please Cast: Clifton Fadiman (host), John Kieran, Franklin P. Adams, Rex Stout, Henry H. Curran (chief magistrate of Manhattan)
September 26, 1941 NBC 30 min. Speaking of Books Discussion of Jan Valtin's Out of the Night, from the 51st annual conference of the New York Library Association
Cast: Irita Van Doren, Lewis Gannett, Rex Stout, Jan Valtin
January 1942 CBS 30 min. Invitation to Learning Discussion of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Cast: Mark Van Doren (moderator), Rex Stout, Jacques Barzun, Elmer Davis
April 5, 1942 Blue 15 min. Behind the Mike Stout is interviewed by host Graham McNamee
April 8, 1942 WMCA 15 min. The Voice of Freedom Broadcasting anonymously, Stout inaugurates this weekly commentary series presented by Freedom House
"Program packs plenty of punch … handled expertly by 'Mister X'" (Billboard)
August 9, 1942 CBS 15 min. Our Secret Weapon Counterpropaganda series in which "lie detective" Stout rebuts the most entertaining Axis shortwave lies of the week
First of 62 weekly broadcasts continuing through October 8, 1943, produced by Paul White for CBS and Freedom House
Cast: Rex Stout, Paul Luther, Guy Repp, Ted Osborne, John Dietz (director)
January 23, 1943 CBS 30 min. The People's Platform "Is Germany Incurable?"
Writers' War Board panel discussion marking the tenth anniversary of Adolf Hitler's rise to power
Cast: Rex Stout, Alexander Woollcott, Marcia Davenport, Hunter College president George Shuster, Brooklyn College president Harry Gideonse
Woollcott is stricken midway through the broadcast and dies a few hours later
March 30, 1943 Mutual 30 min. This Is Our Enemy Series produced by Frank Telford for the United States Office of War Information
"Axis Propaganda Methods"
Stout introduces dramatizations that show how the enemy uses propaganda to weaken American morale
Cast: Rex Stout, Jackson Beck, Arnold Moss, Charlotte Holland, Irene Hubbard, Lenny Hoffman, Peter Capell, Ian Martin, Bill Martin, Ed Latimer, Ted Jewett, Guy Repp, Nathan Van Cleve (composer, conductor)
April 27, 1943 Mutual 30 min. This Is Our Enemy "March to the Gallows"
Stout addresses the audience at the end of a program dramatizing the stories of well-known traitors including Vidkun Quisling
October 13, 1943 WHN 30 min. Author Meets the Critics A discussion with John Roy Carlson, author of Under Cover: My Four Years in the Nazi Underworld of America
Cast: Max Lerner, Victor Riesel, Rex Stout
February 2, 1944 WHN 30 min. Author Meets the Critics A discussion with Louis Nizer
Cast: John K. M. McCaffrey (host), Russell Hill, Rex Stout
March 5, 1944 ABC 30 min. Wake Up America "What Should Be Done With Defeated Germany?"
Debate between Rex Stout and Paul Hagen, author of Germany After Hitler
October 24, 1944 ABC 30 min. Wake Up America "Does Any National Emergency Justify a Fourth Term?"
Rex Stout and commentator Upton Close take questions
March 24, 1945 CBS 30 min. A Report to the Nation Program includes an interview with Rex Stout after his return from Europe, where he asked Germans what they thought about democracy
Cast: John Daly (host), Richard C. Hottelet, Rex Stout, Brian Aherne, Clare Boothe Luce
1945 Synd 30 min. Win the Peace Wartime roundtable discussion about the proposals for a United Nations organization
Cast: Edgar Ansel Morra (foreign correspondent), Harry Gideonese, Rex Stout, Virginia Gildersleeve, William Agar (acting president of Freedom House)
December 5, 1946 Mutual 30 min. Author Meets the Critics Cast: John K. M. McCaffrey (host), Paul Gallico, Virgilia Peterson, Rex Stout
January 2, 1949 NBC 30 min. Author Meets the Critics A discussion of Larks in the Popcorn with guest author H. Allen Smith
Cast: John K. M. McCaffrey (host), Eloise McElhone, Rex Stout
October 12, 1950 30 min. United World Federalists Report on the fourth annual meeting of the United World Federalists
Cast: Jean Putnam, Rex Stout, William O. Douglas, Raymond Gram Swing
July 30, 1951 NBC 45 min. The Eleanor Roosevelt Program Program includes an interview with Rex Stout
March 11, 1965 WNYC 30 min. Authors and Critics Gathering "What do I think about book reviews and book reviewers?"
Stout discusses his concerns about the copyright act and asks critics to write about it
Cast: Rex Stout (moderator), C. D. B. Bryan, Ralph Ellison, Muriel Resnick, Barbara Tuchman, Edward Albee
February 14, 1966 WNYC 60 min. Book and Author Luncheon Program includes Rex Stout discussing The Doorbell Rang
Cast: Maurice Dolbier (host), Helen Hayes, William O. Douglas

Select television credits

Date Network Length Series Detail
February 16, 1949 ABC 30 min. Critic at Large "Are Detective Stories Getting Better or Worse?"
Moderator John Mason Brown; guests Clifton Fadiman, Howard Haycraft, Rex Stout and J. Scott Smart
November 8, 1951 DuMont 30 min. Crawford Mystery Theatre "The Case of the Devil's Heart"
Mystery writers and other guests watch a 20-minute filmed episode of the 1947–48 series Public Prosecutor and guess the solution
Moderator Warren Hull; guest panelists Rex Stout, Glenn Langan and Betty Buehler
December 9, 1956 ABC 90 min. Omnibus "The Fine Art of Murder" (40 minutes)
"A homicide as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe [and] Rex Stout would variously present it" (Time)
Cast: Alistair Cooke (host), Gene Reynolds (Archie Goodwin), Robert Eckles (Nero Wolfe), James Daly (narrator), Dennis Hoey (Arthur Conan Doyle), Felix Munro (Edgar Allan Poe), Herbert Voland (M. Dupin), Jack Sydow, Rex Stout
Writer Sidney Carroll received the 1957 Edgar Award for Best Episode in a TV Series
Episode is in the collection of the Library of Congress (VBE 2397–2398)
February 3, 1957 CBS 60 min. Odyssey "The Baker Street Irregulars"
A program devoted to Sherlock Holmes that includes the first look inside The Baker Street Irregulars, with film of the organization's annual dinner January 11, 1957
Includes remarks by Stout, and a dramatization of "The Red Headed League" recorded at a special BSI meeting December 14, 1956, at Cavanagh's Restaurant, New York City
Preserved on kinescope
Cast: Charles Collingwood (host), Rex Stout, Richard H. Hoffmann, Edgar W. Smith, Red Smith, Michael Clarke Laurence (Sherlock Holmes), Donald Marye (Wilson), Harry Gresham (Hargreave)
September 16, 1957 CBS 60 min. Studio One "First Prize for Murder"
At the annual banquet of the Mystery Writers of America, novelist Nathaniel Arch fails to appear to receive his award. A stranger shows up who is anxious to find the writer, who is suspected of murder.
Live drama by Phil Reisman, from an idea by John D. MacDonald
Cast: Darren McGavin (Johnny Quigg), Robert Simon, Barbara O'Neil (Mrs. Cory), Jonathan Harris (Master of Ceremonies), Philip Coolidge (Severns), Colleen Dewhurst, Larry Hagman, Ross Martin
Appearing as themselves are Rex Stout, George Harmon Coxe, Brett Halliday, Frances and Richard Lockridge and Georges Simenon
April 5, 1959 CBS 30 min. The Last Word Cast: Bergen Evans (host), Rex Stout, editor Russell Lynes
September 2, 1969 ABC 60 min. The Dick Cavett Show Dick Cavett's guests include Rex Stout
1973 WTTW 30 min. Book Beat "Book Beat On Tour"
Chicago journalist Robert Cromie records an interview with Stout at his home in Brewster, New York, on April 24, 1973
Program airs on public television stations nationwide beginning in November 1973
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 07 Apr 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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