Nero Wolfe is a fictional character, an armchair detective created in 1934 by the Americanmystery writer Rex Stout. Wolfe's confidential assistant Archie Goodwin narrates the cases of the detective genius. Stout wrote 33 novels and 39 short stories from 1934 to 1975, with most of them set in New York City. Wolfe's residence, a luxurious brownstone on West 35th Street, features prominently in the series. Many radio, television and film adaptations have been made from the stories.
The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated for Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon2000, the world's largest mystery convention, and Rex Stout was a nominee for Best Mystery Writer of the Century.
I suggest beginning with autobiographical sketches from each of us, and here is mine. I was born in Montenegro and spent my early boyhood there. At the age of sixteen I decided to move around, and in fourteen years I became acquainted with most of Europe, a little of Africa, and much of Asia, in a variety of roles and activities. Coming to this country in nineteen-thirty, not penniless, I bought this house and entered into practice as a private detective. I am a naturalized American citizen.
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.":49
Archie Goodwin, the narrator of the stories, frequently describes Wolfe as weighing "a seventh of a ton." 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. In 1947 Archie writes, "He weighs between 310 and 390, and he limits his physical movements to what he regards as the irreducible essentials."
"Wolfe's most extravagant distinction is his extreme antipathy to literal extravagance. He will not move," wrote J. Kenneth Van Dover in At Wolfe's Door: The Nero Wolfe Novels of Rex Stout:
He insists upon the point: under no circumstances will he leave his home or violate his routines in order to facilitate an investigation. The exceptions are few and remarkable. Instead of spreading the principles of order and justice throughout his society, Wolfe imposes them dogmatically and absolutely within the walls of his house — the brownstone on West Thirty-Fifth Street — and he invites those who are troubled by an incomprehensible and threatening environment to enter the controlled economy of the house and to discover there the source of disorder in their own lives.
The invitation is extended to readers as well as to clients.
Perhaps Wolfe's most remarkable departure from the brownstone is due to personal reasons, not to business, and thus does not violate the rule regarding the conduct of business away from the office. That event occurs in The Black Mountain, when he leaves not only his home but the shores of the United States, to avenge the murder of his oldest friend. He abandons for a time his cherished daily habits and, despite his physical bulk, engages in strenuous outdoor activity in mountain terrain.
You, gentlemen, are Americans, much more completely than I am, for I wasn't born here. This is your native country. It was you and your brothers, black and white, who let me come here and live, and I hope you'll let me say, without getting maudlin, that I'm grateful to you for it.
— Nero Wolfe to the black staff of Kanawha Spa in Too Many Cooks (1938), chapter 10
Nero Wolfe and his boyhood friend Marko Vukcic hunted dragonflies in the mountains where Wolfe was born, in the vicinity of Lovćen
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.":403, 566
"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.":403, 556
Wolfe is reticent about his youth, but apparently he was athletic, fit, and adventurous. Before World War I, he spied for the Austrian government's Evidenzbureau, but had a change of heart when the war began. He then joined the Serbian-Montenegrin army and fought against the Austrians and Germans. That means he was likely to have been involved in the harrowing 1915 withdrawal of the defeated Serbian army, when thousands of soldiers died from disease, starvation and sheer exhaustion — which might help to explain the comfort-loving habits that are such a conspicuous part of his character. After a time in Europe and North Africa, he came to the United States.
In 1956, John D. Clark theorized in an article 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 and implied in the novels of Nicholas Meyer, 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. This suggests that in the Nero Wolfe universe, Sherlock Holmes is a real person, not a fictional one. Some commentators, noting both physical and psychological resemblances, suggest Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes as a more likely father for Wolfe. Commentators have noted a 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 derived 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. They note that in one story Lupin has an affair with the queen of a Balkan principality, which may be Montenegro by another name. Further, they note that the name Lupin resembles the French word for wolf, loup.
I rarely leave my house. I do like it here. I would be an idiot to leave this chair, made to fit me —
Nero Wolfe, who has expensive tastes, lives in a comfortable and luxurious 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 or windows, 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. He employs three live-in staff to see to his needs.
The front door is equipped with a chain bolt, a bell that can be shut off as needed, and a pane of one-way glass, which enables Archie to see who is on the stoop before deciding whether to open the door.
Wolfe's office becomes nearly soundproof when the doors to the front room and hallway are closed. There is a small hole in the office wall, covered by what Archie calls a "trick picture of a waterfall." A person in an alcove at the end of the hallway can open a sliding panel covering the hole, so as to see and hear conversations and other events in the office without being noticed. The chair behind Wolfe's desk is custom-built, with special springs to hold his weight; according to Archie, it is the only chair Wolfe really enjoys sitting in. Near the desk is a large chair upholstered in red leather, which is usually reserved for Inspector Cramer, a current or prospective client, or the person whom Wolfe and Archie want to question.
As noted in Champagne for One (chapter 10) and elsewhere, the brownstone has a back entrance leading to a private garden from which a passage leads to 34th Street — used to enter or leave Wolfe's home when it is necessary to evade surveillance. Archie says that Fritz tries to grow herbs such as chives in the garden.
"That readers have proved endlessly fascinated with the topography of Wolfe's brownstone temple should not be surprising," wrote J. Kenneth Van Dover in At Wolfe's Door:
It is the center from which moral order emanates, and the details of its layout and its operations are signs of its stability. For forty years, Wolfe prepares menus with Fritz and pots orchids with Theodore. For forty years, Archie takes notes at his desk, the client sits in the red chair and the other principals distribute themselves in the yellow chairs, and Wolfe presides from his custom-made throne. For forty years, Inspector Cramer and Sergeant Purley Stebbins ring the doorbell, enter the office, and explode with indignation at Wolfe's intractability. The front room, the elevator, the three-foot globe — all persist in place through forty years of American history. ... Like Holmes's 221B Baker Street, Wolfe's West Thirty-Fifth Street remains a fixed point in a turning world.
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 American writer 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."
The absence of brownstones in Wolfe's neighborhood sent the producers of the A&E TV series, A Nero Wolfe Mystery, to the Upper West Side of Manhattan for an appropriate home and setting for select exterior shots. This Manhattan brownstone, unlike the model specially constructed on the Toronto set where most of the series was filmed, lacked some peculiarities of Wolfe's home — for example, the correct number of steps leading up to the stoop — and was therefore shown from angles that would camouflage any slight discrepancies. The series settled on "914" for the brownstone's address. This number can be seen on the studio set representing the front door exterior in several episodes and on a closeup of Archie's paycheck in "Prisoner's Base".
Once he burned up a cookbook because it said to remove the hide from a ham end before putting it in the pot with lima beans. Which he loves most, food or words, is a tossup.
Along with reading, good food is the keystone of Wolfe's mostly leisured existence. He is both a gourmand and a gourmet, enjoying 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 enjoys his food but lacks Wolfe's discerning palate, laments in The Final Deduction (chapter 9) 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 "Cordially Invited to Meet Death", a young woman gives Wolfe a lesson in preparing 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 (chapter 17), 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 his breakfast in his bedroom. Archie eats his separately in the kitchen, although if Wolfe has morning instructions for him, he will ask Fritz to send Archie upstairs. Regularly scheduled mealtimes for lunch and dinner are part of Wolfe's daily routine. In an early story, Wolfe tells a guest that luncheon is served daily at 1 p.m. and dinner at 8 p.m., 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, he will eat separately in the kitchen because Wolfe cannot bear to see a meal rushed. Wolfe also has a rule, sometimes bent but very rarely overtly broken, against discussing business at the table.
In the earliest books, Archie reports that Wolfe is subject to what he terms a "relapse" — a period of several days during which Wolfe refuses to work, or even to listen to Archie badger him about work. The cause is unknown. Wolfe either takes to bed and eats nothing but bread and onion soup, or consults with Fritz on menus and the preparation of nonstop meals. In Fer-de-Lance (chapter 6), Archie reports that during a relapse Wolfe once ate half a sheep in two days, different parts cooked in 20 different ways. The relapse also appears briefly in The League of Frightened Men (chapter 11), The Red Box (chapter 6) and Where There's a Will (chapter 12), but subsequently disappears from the corpus as a plot device.
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 (chapter 11), Wolfe states that "I know nothing of restaurants; short of compulsion, I would not eat in one were Vatel himself the chef."
Wolfe appears to know his way around the kitchen; in Too Many Cooks (chapter 17), 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 Goodwin 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. During the short story "Murder Is Corny", he lectures Inspector Cramer on the right and wrong ways to cook corn on the cob, insisting that it must be roasted rather than boiled in order to achieve the best flavor. (The 1940 story "Bitter End" suggests the contrary view that Wolfe was unable to prepare his own meals; 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 main course, a salad served after the entrée (with the salad dressing mixed at tableside and used immediately), and a dessert course with coffee.
Many of the dishes referred to in the various Nero Wolfe stories and novels were collected and published, complete with recipes, as The Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout and the Editors of the Viking Press, published in 1973. All recipes are prefaced with a brief excerpt from the book or story that made reference to that particular dish.
[Fritz] served Wolfe’s beer first, the bottle unopened because that's a rule, and Wolfe got his opener from the drawer, a gold one Marko Vukcic had given him that didn’t work very well.
Nero Wolfe's first recorded words are, "Where's the beer?"
The first novel, Fer-de-Lance, introduces Wolfe as he prepares to change his habits: with Prohibition at an end, he can stop buying kegs of bootleg beer and purchase it legally in bottles. Fritz brings in samples of 49 different brands for him to evaluate, from which he ultimately selects Remmers as his favorite. Several times during the story, Wolfe announces his intention to reduce his beer intake from six quarts a day to five. "I grinned at that, for I didn't believe it," Archie Goodwin writes.
Like most other things in Wolfe's life, his beer drinking is bound by ritual. Seated at his desk, Wolfe presses the button twice to ring for beer, and Fritz delivers the bottles unopened. Wolfe uncaps the bottles himself, using an 18-carat gold bottle opener given to him by a satisfied client. He never drinks directly from the bottle, but instead pours the beer into a glass and lets the foam settle to an appropriate level before drinking. He keeps the gold opener in the center drawer of his desk, where he also keeps the bottlecaps as a means of tracking his daily/weekly consumption.
In Plot It Yourself (chapter 13), Wolfe makes an unprecedented vow after Archie tells him the killer they seek has killed again. Wolfe hits the desk with his fist, bellows in a language Archie doesn't understand, then coldly orders Fritz away when he enters with the beer: "Take it back. I shall drink no beer until I get my fingers around that creature's throat."
Wolfe had once remarked to me that the orchids were his concubines: insipid, expensive, parasitic and temperamental. He brought them, in their diverse forms and colors, to the limits of their perfection, and then gave them away; he had never sold one.
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.":445
"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 à 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."
In The Second Confession, the orchid rooms are torn apart by gunfire from across the street. The shooters are in the employ of crime boss Arnold Zeck, who wants Wolfe to drop a case that could lead back to him. Wolfe and Archie call men to take care of the plants and repair the windows before notifying the police.
I understand the technique of eccentricity; it would be futile for a man to labor at establishing a reputation for oddity if he were ready at the slightest provocation to revert to normal action.
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 invite people to use his first name and addresses them by honorific and surname. Aside from his employees, one of the only two men whom Wolfe addresses by their first names is his oldest friend, Marko Vukčić; Marko calls him Nero. In Death of a Doxy Julie Jaquette refers to Wolfe as Nero in a letter to Archie; and Lily Rowan has addressed Wolfe using an assumed first name. But these are exceptions. In "The Rodeo Murder" Wolfe finds it objectionable when Wade Eisler addresses him as Nero; and in "Door to Death" Sybil Pitcairn's disdainful use of his first name makes Wolfe decide to solve the case. Men nearly always address him as Wolfe, and women as Mr. Wolfe.
He 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 is extremely fastidious about his clothing and hates to wear, even in private, anything that has been soiled. The short story "Eeny Meeny Murder Mo" opens with an example of this habit, in which Wolfe removes his necktie and leaves it on his desk after dropping a bit of sauce on it during lunch. The tie is later used to commit a murder in his office. Beyond that, Wolfe has a marked preference for the color yellow, habitually wearing shirts and silk pajamas in this color and sleeping on yellow bedsheets.
Wolfe states that "all music is a vestige of barbarism" and denies that music can have any intellectual content. 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.
Wolfe maintains a rigid schedule in the brownstone. He has breakfast in his bedroom while wearing yellow silk pajamas; he hates to discuss work during breakfast, and if forced to do so insists upon not uttering a word until he has finished his glass of orange juice (Murder by the Book). Afterwards, 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 (even if, by Archie's lights, there is). Sunday's schedule is more relaxed; Theodore, the orchid-keeper, usually goes out.
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. It is not women themselves that he dislikes: rather, it is what he perceives as their frailties, especially a tendency to hysterics — to which he thinks every woman is prone. "In the all-male Wolfe household that is an apparent bulwark of men's-club solidarity, Wolfe's misogyny is part pose, part protection, but above all, a shrewd tool of detective strategy," wrote critic Molly Haskell. "Archie does the romancing while Wolfe prods and offends, winnowing out the traitorous and brattish women and allowing the cream, the really great women, to rise to the top. ... We deduce from the glow of those special women who do earn the detective's good will just how discriminating and interested an observer of womankind the author is." These women include Clara Fox (The Rubber Band), Lily Rowan (introduced in Some Buried Caesar), Phoebe Gunther (The Silent Speaker) and Julie Jaquette (Death of a Doxy).
That Wolfe disapproves of women is well established, but Archie claims that there are nuances: “The basic fact about a woman that seemed to irritate him was that she was a woman; the long record showed not a single exception; but from there on the documentation was cockeyed. If woman as woman grated on him you would suppose that the most womanly details would be the worst for him, but time and again I have known him to have a chair placed for a female so that his desk would not obstruct his view of her legs, and the answer can’t be that his interest is professional and he reads character from legs, because the older and dumpier she is the less he cares where she sits. It is a very complex question and some day I’m going to take a whole chapter for it.” (The Silent Speaker, chapter 30.)
Wolfe has an aversion to physical contact, even shaking hands. Early in the first novel Archie explains why there is a gong under his 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 ..." When Jerome Berin, creator of saucisse minuit, repeatedly taps Wolfe on the knee, Archie grins at "Wolfe, who didn't like being touched, concealing his squirm for the sake of sausages." In Prisoner's Base, Wolfe speaks coldly as he tells the DA and Cramer that the despised Lieutenant Rowcliff "put a hand on me. ... I will not have a hand put on me, gentlemen. I like no man's hand on me, and one such as Mr. Rowcliff's, unmerited, I will not have." Wolfe's prejudices make it all the more surprising when, in "Cordially Invited to Meet Death", Archie finds Wolfe in the kitchen with a woman who has solved the problem of preparing corned beef: "Standing beside him, 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, was Maryella."
Wolfe likes to solve the crossword puzzle of British newspapers in preference to those of American papers, and hates to be interrupted while so engaged.
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.
Born in Ohio. Public high school, pretty good at geometry and football, graduated with honor but no honors. Went to college two weeks, decided it was childish, came to New York and got a job guarding a pier, shot and killed two men and was fired, was recommended to Nero Wolfe for a chore he wanted done, did it, was offered a full-time job by Mr. Wolfe, took it, still have it.
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 has frequent reason to note that he needs at least eight hours sleep each night, and prefers more. He reacts bitterly when his sleep is interrupted or otherwise shortened by events, such as late night interrogations at Homicide headquarters or a precinct, or a 1:45 a.m. phone call from a client who has lost her keys, or driving a suspect to her home in Carmel and returning to Manhattan at 2:30 a.m.
Archie's initial rough edges become smoother across the decades, much as American norms evolved over the years. Noting Archie's colloquialisms in the first two Nero Wolfe novels, Rev. Frederick G. Gotwald wrote, "The crudeness of these references makes me suspect that Stout uses them in Archie to show their ugliness because he uses them unapologetically." 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.
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. Archie is the lineal descendant of Huck Finn ... Archie is spiritually larger than life. That is why his employer and companion had to be made corpulent to match.
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 Dr. Watson or Arthur 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.
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.
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. Archie often comments on Saul's exceptional memory, especially his talent for recalling people's faces.
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
Inspector Cramer — head of Homicide in Manhattan. In some of the stories it is implied that his authority extends to other NYC boroughs.
Lon Cohen — of the New York Gazette, Archie's pipeline to breaking crime news. Lon apparently has no official title at the Gazette but occupies a room just two doors down from the publisher's corner office. Archie frequently asks Lon for background information on current or prospective clients, and returns those favors by providing Lon exclusives, and occasional photos, concerning Wolfe's cases. 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"). Vukčić owns the high-class Rusterman's Restaurant in Manhattan. According to In the Best Families (in which Wolfe gives him power of attorney), he is the only man in New York who calls Wolfe by his first name. Wolfe is executor of Vukčić's will and, following Vukčić's death, runs Rusterman's as a trustee for "a couple of years."
Lewis Hewitt — well-heeled orchid fancier, for whom Wolfe did a favor (as told in "Black Orchids"). During a prolonged absence (In the Best Families), Wolfe sends his orchids to Hewitt for care. Wolfe occasionally asks professional favors of Hewitt (as in The Doorbell Rang), and Hewitt has sent at least one friend, Millard Bynoe, to ask Wolfe's assistance ("Easter Parade").
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 has a broad scope of interests: e.g., Parker converses with Wolfe in French, in "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, or medical attention is required, at the brownstone. In The Silent Speaker, Vollmer contrives an illness severe enough that Wolfe cannot be questioned or even seen by anyone. Vollmer examines Louis Rony's corpse for Wolfe in The Second Confession and acts as a go-between for Cramer and Archie in The Doorbell Rang. Vollmer's motivation, aside from friendship, is that Wolfe helped him out with a would-be blackmailer years ago.
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.
Ethelbert Hitchcock — Wolfe's contact in London who handles enquiries to be made in Europe. Although he is usually identified by only his surname, in The Rubber Band (chapter 10) Archie refers to him as Ethelbert Hitchcock, "which I consider the all-time low for a name for a snoop, even in England." Wolfe also identifies him by that full name when speaking to FBI investigator Stahl in Over My Dead Body (chapter 15). Some years later, in The Black Mountain (chapter 4), it is Geoffrey Hitchcock who meets Wolfe and Archie at the airport.
Felix Courbet — Part owner and manager of Rusterman's Restaurant following the death of Marko Vukčić. Felix plays a major role in both "Poison à la Carte" and A Family Affair, in which his surname is changed to Mauer. In The Black Mountain his surname is Martin.
He passes the supreme test of being rereadable. I don't know how many times I have reread the Wolfe stories, but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn't matter. That's writing.
Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books (novels and novella/short story collections) are listed below in order of publication. For specific publication history, including original magazine appearances, see entries for individual titles. Years link to year-in-literature articles.
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 0-670-50599-4 / Paperback ISBN 1-888952-24-5
"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."
How would you feel if someone wanted to continue the Wolfe series after you laid aside your pen? I don't know whether vampirism or cannibalism is the better term for it. Not nice. They should roll their own.
— Rex Stout, interviewed by biographer John J. McAleer:494
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.[not in citation given] 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.
Viola Brothers Shore wrote a parody titled "A Case of Facsimile" (1948) in which Nerissa Wolfe, Samantha Spade and Elsie Queen assist Shirley Holmes in solving a mystery. The story appeared in the October 1948 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
Thomas Narcejac included a pastiche of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe titled The Red Orchid (L'orchidee rouge) in his collection Faux et usage de Faux (Librairie des Champs-Elysées 1952). The story was translated by Lawrence G. Blochman for the January 1961 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
Marion Mainwaring's 1954 novel Murder in Pastiche parodies nine famous fictional detectives, including Trajan Beare (Nero Wolfe).
Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy novel Too Many Magicians (1966) includes an appearance by the Marquis of London, a fat genius who looks and talks like Nero Wolfe, never leaves home, and is intensely interested in his hybridized plants. He has an assistant, Lord Bontriomphe (a literal French translation of "Goodwin"), who is first seen examining an exhibition of plants (like Archie in "Black Orchids"), and a cook corresponding to Fritz Brenner. The title pays homage to that of many Nero Wolfe stories, from Too Many Cooks (1938) to Too Many Clients (1960).
Lawrence Block's Make Out with Murder (1974) and The Topless Tulip Caper (1975) are tongue-in-cheek mystery novels in which wisecracking narrator Chip Harrison is assistant to Leo Haig, a fat detective who raises tropical fish instead of orchids in his Manhattan brownstone. Block revisited the characters in "As Dark as Christmas Gets" (1997), a short story commissioned by Otto Penzler and collected in Christmas at The Mysterious Bookshop (2010).
Julian Symons's Great Detectives: Seven Original Investigations (1981) includes his story, "In Which Archie Goodwin Remembers." The author's interview with Archie Goodwin in retirement is illustrated by Tom Adams.
John Lescroart places numerous clues in his novels Son of Holmes (1986) and Rasputin's Revenge (1987) that the main character, Auguste Lupa (the son of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler), later becomes Nero Wolfe.
Charles E. Burns, a charter member of The Wolfe Pack, relates how Wolfe and Archie met in "Firecrackers" (1990), a pastiche collected in Nero Wolfe: The Archie Goodwin Files (2005), edited by Marvin Kaye.
William L. DeAndrea's Written in Fire (1995), a historical mystery set in the Old West, features frontier lawman Lewis "Lobo" Blacke. Confined to a wheelchair after he is shot in the back, Blacke takes over a newspaper and is assisted by reporter Quinn Booker, who becomes his biographer. DeAndrea completed a sequel, Fatal Elixir (1997), published posthumously.
Alan Vanneman, a published writer of two novel-length Sherlock Holmes pastiches, also wrote Three Bullets: A New Nero Wolfe Threesome in the early 2000s. The first of the three novelettes takes place in the original timeline (1930s), while the last two stories see Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin and the rest transferred to the 21st century, post-9/11 New York, to the "online era". The trilogy can be freely downloaded.
Loren D. Estleman created the rotund amateur detective Claudius Lyon, who is so obsessed with Nero Wolfe's style of life that he duplicates it with just enough of a difference that his idol won't be entitled to take legal action. Ex-con Arnie Woodbine narrates the comic stories (printed in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine), which include "Who's Afraid of Nero Wolfe?" (June 2008), "The Boy Who Cried Wolfe" (September–October 2008) and "Wolfe at the Door" (February 2009).
Dave Duncan wrote the Venice Trilogy (2007–2009), starring the legendary clairvoyant, astrologer, and physician Maestro Nostradamus, who solves mysteries for the rulers of Venice, Italy while never leaving his apartments. Instead he sends the young swordsman Alfeo Zeno on various investigative tasks around the city, seeking clues, arranging interviews, and generally stirring up trouble until something happens. Nostradamus holds a similar disdain for women, and Alfeo's primary romantic partner is a highly-ranked courtesan, similar in station to Lily Rowan (an independent socialite).
Bourne, Michael, Corsage: A Bouquet of Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe (1977, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers; Hardcover ISBN 0-918736-00-5 / Paperback ISBN 0-918736-01-3). 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 0-316-17280-4). 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 1-55742-484-5). Selected articles from The Wolfe Pack publication The Gazette, edited by a charter member.
Kaye, Marvin, The Nero Wolfe Files (2005, Wildside Press; ISBN 0-8095-4494-6). Selected articles from The Wolfe Pack publication The Gazette, edited by a charter member.
Ruaud, A.F., Les Nombreuses vies de Nero Wolfe (2008, Moutons électriques (France); ISBN 978-2-915793-51-2). 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 1-55611-077-4). Chapter 10 is titled "Seeing Red: Rex Stout".
Symons, Julian, Great Detectives: Seven Original Investigations (1981, Abrams; ISBN 0-8109-0978-2). 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 0-8240-9479-4). 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 0-918736-51-X / Paperback ISBN 0-918736-52-8). Bibliography, reviews and essays.
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.
Nero Wolfe depicted in a set of 12 Nicaraguan postage stamps issued in November 1972 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Interpol.
Nero Wolfe is one of 12 famous fictional detectives depicted in a set of Nicaraguan postage stamps issued in November 1972 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Interpol.
"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 the artist's attorney and friend Harry Torczyner. "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.
After the publication of Fer-de-Lance in 1934, several Hollywood studios were interested in the movie rights.:254 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.:48
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.":554
"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.":254–255
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 revisited 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."
"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.":48
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.'":324
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.":324
"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.":325, 487
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.
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 and directed by Paul Bogart, "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 (Archie Goodwin), Robert Eckles (Nero Wolfe), James Daly (narrator), Dennis Hoey (Arthur Conan Doyle), Felix Munro (Edgar Allan Poe), Herbert Voland (M. Dupin) and Jack Sydow. Writer Sidney Carroll received the 1957 Edgar Award for Best Episode in a TV Series. "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 (CBS)
On September 15, 1949, Rex Stout wrote a confidential memo to Edwin Fadiman, who represented his radio, film and television interests. The memo provided detailed character descriptions of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, and a physical description and diagram of Wolfe's office. Stout's biographer John McAleer later interpreted the memo as guidance for the NBC Nero Wolfe radio series that began in October 1950. But in summarizing the memo's unique revelations, McAleer remarked, "A TV producer could not have hoped for more specifics."
On October 22, 1949, Billboard reported that Fadiman Associates was packaging a television series featuring Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe characters. By 1957 CBS had purchased the rights and was pitching a Nero Wolfe TV series to advertisers.
Nero Wolfe was co-produced by Gordon Duff and Otis L. Guernsey, Jr., with Edwin Fadiman as executive producer. Written by Sidney Carroll and directed by Tom Donovan, the pilot was filmed in Manhattan in March 1959. Three or four episodes of the half-hour series were filmed, with a jazz score composed by Alex North.
Nero Wolfe was to air Mondays at 10 p.m. ET beginning in September 1959. But in April, CBS announced that the new comedy series Hennesey would occupy the time slot.
In June 1959, Baltimore Sun critic Donald Kirkley reported that the Nero Wolfe pilot had been, "in a way, too successful":
Everything seemed to point to a sale of the series. A facsimile of the brownstone house in which Wolfe lives in the novels … was found in Grammercy [sic] Square. But when the film was made and shown around, it was considered too good to be confined to half an hour. There was a new shuffle and deal, and in consequence, an hour-long, new pilot is now being photographed in Hollywood.
In October 1960, William Shatner was reportedly still working to sell the first television adaptation of Nero Wolfe to the networks.
Nero Wolfe (Paramount Television)
In 1967 Rex Stout told author Dick Lochte that Orson Welles had once wanted to make a series of Nero Wolfe movies, and Stout had turned him down; disappointed with the Nero Wolfe movies of the 1930s, Stout was leery of Nero Wolfe film and TV projects in America during his lifetime. In 1976, a year after Stout's death, Paramount Television purchased the rights for the entire set of Nero Wolfe stories for Orson Welles. Paramount paid $200,000 for the TV rights to eight hours of Nero Wolfe. The producers planned to begin with an ABC-TV movie and hoped to persuade Welles to continue the role in a mini-series.Frank D. Gilroy was signed to write the television script ("The Doorbell Rang") and direct the TV movie on the assurance that Welles would star, but by April 1977 Welles had bowed out. Thayer David was cast as Wolfe in the 1977 TV movie.
In March 1980, Paramount was planning a weekly NBC-TV series as a starring vehicle for Welles; Leon Tokatyan (Lou Grant) was to write the pilot. Welles again declined because he wanted to do a series of 90-minute specials, perhaps two or three a year, instead of a weekly series. William Conrad was cast as Wolfe in the 1981 TV series.
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.
Independent producer Michael Jaffe's efforts to secure the rights to the Nero Wolfe stories date back to his earliest days in the business. In the mid-1970s he was working with his father, Henry Jaffe, a successful attorney turned producer, when the Nero Wolfe rights came on the market. Warner Bros. wanted to adapt the Zeck trilogy for a feature film and approached Henry Jaffe, who traveled to New York to negotiate with the agent for Rex Stout's estate but lost out to Paramount Television.
"We finally got this opportunity," Michael Jaffe said in 2001:
I had chased the rights numerous times. One of the reasons that I never actually tried to make it as a series was that I didn't believe a network would ever let us make it the right way. Then A&E came along, and Allen Sabinson. I've known him for years and years. He swore he'd let me make it the right way.
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 retained Archie Goodwin's first-person narration and did not update the stories to contemporary times. The episodes were colorful period pieces, set primarily in the 1940s–1950s. The production values were exceptional and critics responded favorably.
Other members of the principal cast were 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). In a practice reminiscent of the mystery movie series of the 1930s and 1940s, the show rarely used guest stars in the roles of victims, killers and suspects, but instead used the same ensemble of supporting actors each week. An actor who had been "killed off" in one show might portray the murderer in the next. Actress Kari Matchett was a member of this repertory group while also having a recurring role in the series as Archie Goodwin's girlfriend Lily Rowan; other frequent members of the troupe included Nicky Guadagni, Debra Monk, George Plimpton, Ron Rifkin, Francie Swift and James Tolkan. 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 present-day 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 0-7670-8893-X
International TV productions
Zu viele Köche (Germany 1961)
A German TV adaption of Too Many Cooks — Zu 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.:488
Nero Wolfe (Italy 1969–1971)
"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.
From February 1969 to February 1971, Italian television broadcast 10 Nero Wolfe TV movies. These are the episodes in order of appearance:
The successful series of black-and-white telemovies stars Tino Buazzelli (Nero Wolfe), Paolo Ferrari (actor) (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 became available on DVD in 2007.:488
On April 5, 2012, the RAI network in Italy began a new Nero Wolfe series starring Francesco Pannofino as Nero Wolfe and Pietro Sermonti as Archie Goodwin. Produced by Casanova Multimedia and Rai Fiction, the eight-episode first season began with "La traccia del serpente," an adaptation of Fer-de-Lance set in 1959 in Rome, where Wolfe and Archie reside after leaving the United States.
The first season comprises eight episodes, listed in order of appearance:
A Nero Wolfe newspaper comic strip appeared from 1956 to 1958, drawn by Mike Roy.
Nero Wolfe was highlighted in volume 17 of the Case Closed manga edition of "Gosho Aoyama's Mystery Library," a section of the graphic novels (usually the last page) where the author introduces a different detective (or occasionally, a villain) from mystery literature, television, or other media.
^ abWalker, Tom, "Mystery writers shine light on best: Bouchercon 2000 convention honors authors", The Denver Post, September 10, 2000. Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot was named Best Mystery Series of the Century. Agatha Christie was voted Best Mystery Writer of the Century; the other nominees were Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Sayers and Rex Stout. The 31st World Mystery Convention was presented in Denver September 7–10, 2000.
^McAleer, John J., Rex Stout: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977 ISBN 0-316-55340-9, p. 383. To assist the producers of the Sydney Greenstreet radio series, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout prepared a confidential memo dated September 14, 1949. Under the heading "Description of Nero Wolfe", Stout begins: "Height 5 ft. 11 in. Weight 272 lbs. Age 56."
^ abcMcAleer, John J., Royal Decree: Conversations with Rex Stout. Ashton, Maryland: Pontes Press, 1983.
^Cohen, Randy, “We'll Map Manhattan”, The New York Times, May 1, 2005; and (with Nigel Holmes) "We Mapped Manhattan", June 5, 2001. On the "Literary Map of Manhattan", the brownstone is numbered 58 and is placed in the middle of the Hudson River.
^Darby, Ken, The Brownstone House of Nero Wolfe, p. 8. Stout was playfully erratic about details in the stories. Besides the varying street addresses, he retained minor inconsistencies, and catching them is one of the pleasures of readers of the Nero Wolfe stories. Inspector Cramer's first name, rarely invoked, was originally Fergus, and later modified to L.T. 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.
^WireImage (image numbers 253302 – 253308) and Getty Images (image number 1302172) document the location photography directed by Timothy Hutton on October 15, 2000, also seen in the A&E documentary, The Making of Nero Wolfe
^"I do not sell orchids," Wolfe tells Archie in chapter 7 of Murder by the Book (1951). Six years later, in If Death Ever Slept (chapter 11), Archie describes Wolfe as "a practicing private detective with no other source of income except selling a few orchid plants now and then."
^"He was one of the only two men whom Wolfe called by their first names, apart from employees," Archie writes in Too Many Cooks, chapter 1. Sixteen years later, in The Black Mountain (chapter 1), Archie puts the number at ten.
^Archie's room is on the second floor in the first three novels: Fer-de-Lance (chapter 3), The League of Frightened Men (chapter 5) and The Rubber Band (chapter 8). In chapter 6 of Where There's a Will (1940), Archie's room is on the third floor, where it is in subsequent accounts. These include "Black Orchids" (chapter 6), "Cordially Invited to Meet Death" (chapter 3), "Not Quite Dead Enough" (chapter 3), "Booby Trap" (chapter 1), "Help Wanted, Male" (chapter 3), The Silent Speaker (chapter 19), "Before I Die" (chapters 10 and 11), Too Many Women (chapter 14) and "Omit Flowers" (chapter 8). In The Brownstone House of Nero Wolfe, Ken Darby attests that Archie stays put as "guardian of the third floor" from 1950 on (p. 59).
^Gotwald, Rev. Frederick G., The Nero Wolfe Companion, Vol. 1, p. 12. "I believe Stout uses such crude statements to have us feel how objectionable they are," Gotwald wrote (p. 43), adding that Archie's ethnic slur in chapter 2 of Fer-de-Lance was sanitized in paperback editions.
^But the admonition apparently did not take hold. In Too Many Cooks, Wolfe questions a group of black men. Archie’s opinion, voiced using racial epithets, is that interviewing them will be a waste of time, but Wolfe's candor and respect gains him the men's trust. The session ends at 4:30 A.M. and Wolfe instructs Archie to telephone the (white) district attorney. Again Archie objects, suggesting that Wolfe should wait until later that day. Wolfe calmly says: “Archie, please. You tried to instruct me how to handle colored men. Will you try it with white men too?”
^Jacques Barzun, A Birthday Tribute to Rex Stout. New York: Viking Press, 1965; reprinted in The Rex Stout Journal, no. 2 (Spring 1985), pp. 4–9.
^Another fictional creation by Stout, the solo operative Tecumseh Fox, who is perhaps a fusion of the best qualities of Wolfe and Goodwin into a single person without Wolfe's collection of idiosyncrasies, is arguably a better and more effective fictional character, as in the novel The Broken Vase. That book, however, was not a commercial success, and only three books featuring Fox were written, one of which was later used as the basis for a Wolfe story at the urging of Stout's publisher.
^In The Rubber Band (1936) Wolfe displays great respect (if not always cooperation) towards Cramer, but thinks Hombert "should go back to diapers" — an opinion indirectly shared by Cramer himself who points out that Hombert is a politician and not a policeman. In The Silent Speaker, Wolfe gets a chance to humiliate Hombert and help Cramer in the process.
^Wolfe receives news of her death in the latter. "Lovchen" is not a family name; rather, it is the name of the black mountain from which Montenegro gets its name.
^Wolfe and Archie first meet Sally Colt, later Corbett, in "Too Many Detectives" (1956), chapter 1, when they are summoned to Albany for questioning about wiretapping activities. Archie starts his report by stating, "I am against female detectives on principle." Still Sally Colt, she is again called on to help out in If Death Ever Slept (1957), chapter 17. In Plot It Yourself (1959), chapter 19, it is a Sally Corbett, not Colt, who helps out on Wolfe's case. "Sally Corbett was one of the two women who, a couple of years back, had made me feel that there might be some flaw in my attitude toward female dicks." Sally Colt/Corbett makes a final appearance in The Mother Hunt (1963), chapter 12. Archie remarks again that Sally and Dol had made him change his attitude about female detectives.
^Also one of the few stories where Wolfe has to flee his home to escape arrest
^Pierleoni, Allen, "Serial Thriller: John Lescroart's passions range from family to fishing but he's hit the big time with his novels"; Sacramento Bee, February 13, 2006. "Next came two books about the foreign adventures of crime-solving chef Auguste Lupa, reputedly the son of Sherlock Holmes — and who may have been the young Nero Wolfe."
^Burns, Charles E. (1990). "Firecrackers". First published in The Gazette: The Journal of the Wolfe Pack, Volume IX, Number 2 (Spring 1991), and available for download in three PDFs. Retrieved 2013-05-30. The story can now also be read on a webpage, as well as in EPUB and MOBI formats. Retrieved 2013-07-01. Subsequently collected in Gotwald, Rev. Frederick G., The Nero Wolfe Handbook (1992 edition), pp. 301–336. Subsequently published in Nero Wolfe: The Archie Goodwin Files, edited by Marvin Kaye. Wildside Press, 2005, pp. 240–297. ISBN 1-55742-484-5.
^McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography, pp. 383–384. Rex Stout's confidential memo of September 15, 1949, describing Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin and Wolfe's office, is reprinted in the back matter of the 1992 Bantam Crimeline edition of Fer-de-Lance (ISBN 0-553-27819-3).
^Film score researcher Bill Wrobel located North's unheard score for Nero Wolfe and six recorded tracks on digital audio tape in the UCLA Music Library Special Collections; Film Score Rundowns, "CBS Collection 072 UCLA," Blog 42, June 25, 2010. See the Alex North article for details.
^Ewald, William F., Television in Review (syndicated column), April 8, 1959
^Ewald, William F., Television in Review (syndicated column), April 9, 1959
^Witte, Lawrence, "TV-Radio News Bits"; The Evening Independent, Massillon, Ohio, October 26, 1960
^Lochte, Dick, "TV finally tunes in Nero Wolfe," Los Angeles Times, January 30, 1977; discussed by Lochte, March 8, 2000. Lochte interviewed Rex Stout May 27, 1967 (McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography, pp. 479–480).
^Bawden, J.E.A., Films in Review, October 1977, p. 462
^Terrace, Vincent, Television 1970–1980. San Diego, California: A.S. Barnes & Company, 1981, ISBN 0-498-02539-X p. 266.
^Jaffe, Michael, "A Labor of Love: The Nero Wolfe Television Series." December 2001 address to the Wolfe Pack, reprinted in The Nero Wolfe Files, edited by Marvin Kaye (2005, Wildside Press; ISBN 0-8095-4494-6) pp. 86–88. Allen Sabinson became a programming consultant for A&E in 1999, and was named the network's senior vice president for programming in spring 2001.
^Jaffe/Braunstein Films, Ltd., secured the rights to the Nero Wolfe stories in 1998 (U.S. Copyright Office Document Number V3412D882, recorded March 13, 1998).
^Vitaris, Paula, "Miracle on 35th Street: Nero Wolfe on Television"; Scarlet Street, no. 45 (2002), p. 37. The exception is the second-season premiere directed by Timothy Hutton. For 'Death of a Doxy,' Tim decided to play it in the early sixties," Producer Michael Jaffe said. "If you look at that episode, it's really fun, because everything—the wardrobe, the art direction—is different, since it's a different generation. It breaks our mold."