Rex Stout

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Rex Stout
Portrait photograph of author Rex Stout at age 35, photographed by Arnold Genthe
Rex Stout in 1931
Photograph by Arnold Genthe
BornRex Todhunter Stout
(1886-12-01)December 1, 1886
Noblesville, Indiana,
United States
DiedOctober 27, 1975(1975-10-27) (aged 88)
Danbury, Connecticut,
United States
GenreDetective fiction
Notable worksNero Wolfe corpus
SpouseFay Kennedy (1916–1932)
Pola Weinbach Hoffmann (1932–1975)
ChildrenBarbara Stout Selleck (1933–)
Rebecca Stout Bradbury (1937–)
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Rex Stout
Portrait photograph of author Rex Stout at age 35, photographed by Arnold Genthe
Rex Stout in 1931
Photograph by Arnold Genthe
BornRex Todhunter Stout
(1886-12-01)December 1, 1886
Noblesville, Indiana,
United States
DiedOctober 27, 1975(1975-10-27) (aged 88)
Danbury, Connecticut,
United States
GenreDetective fiction
Notable worksNero Wolfe corpus
SpouseFay Kennedy (1916–1932)
Pola Weinbach Hoffmann (1932–1975)
ChildrenBarbara Stout Selleck (1933–)
Rebecca Stout Bradbury (1937–)

Rex Todhunter Stout (/stt/; December 1, 1886 – October 27, 1975) was an American writer noted for his detective fiction. Stout is best known as the creator of the larger-than-life fictional detective Nero Wolfe, described by reviewer Will Cuppy as "that Falstaff of detectives."[1][2]:287 The Nero Wolfe stories are narrated by Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin, who is presented as having recorded the cases of the detective genius from 1934 (Fer-de-Lance) to 1975 (A Family Affair).

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 2000, the world's largest mystery convention, and Rex Stout was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century.[3]


Early life[edit]

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 from 1906 to 1908 in the U.S. Navy (as a yeoman on President Teddy Roosevelt's official yacht) and then spent about the next four years working at about thirty different jobs (in six states), including cigar store clerk, while he sold poems, stories, and articles to various magazines.

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

In 1916, Stout married Fay Kennedy of Topeka, Kansas. They divorced in February 1932,[4]:xx and in December 1932 Stout married Pola Weinbach Hoffmann, a designer who had studied with Josef Hoffmann in Vienna, Austria.[2]:234–236[5]


Rex Stout began his literary career in the 1910s writing for the pulps, publishing romance, adventure, and some borderline detective stories. His first stories appeared among others in All-Story Magazine. He sold articles and stories to a variety of magazines, and became a full-time writer in 1927. Stout lost the money he had made as a businessman in 1929.

In Paris in 1929 he wrote his first book, How Like a God, an unusual psychological story written in the second person. During the course of his early writing career Stout tackled a variety of literary forms, including the short story, the novel, and science fiction, among them a pioneering political thriller, The President Vanishes (1934).

After he returned to the U.S. Stout turned to writing detective fiction. The first work was 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). In 1937, Stout created Dol Bonner, a female private detective who would reappear in his Nero Wolfe stories and who is an early and significant example of the woman PI as fictional protagonist, in a novel called The Hand in the Glove. After 1938 Stout focused solely on the mystery field. 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). Though Stout's rate of production declined somewhat after 1966, he still published four further Nero Wolfe novels and a cookbook prior to his death in 1975, aged 88.

During WWII 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 the British humorist P. G. Wodehouse, writer of the Jeeves novels and short stories. Each was a fan of the other's work, and there are evident parallels 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). It is also evident in that Wodehouse mentions Rex Stout in several of the books (as both Bertie and his Aunt Dahlia are fans.)

Public activities[edit]

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.[2]:196–197 Stout helped start the radical Marxist magazine The New Masses, which succeeded The Masses and The Liberator, in 1926.[6] Although he had been told the magazine was primarily committed to bringing arts and letters to the masses, Stout realized after a few issues "that it was Communist and intended to stay Communist", and he ended his association with it.[2]:197–198

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).[2]:196–197

In 1942 Stout described himself as a "pro-Labor, pro-New Deal, pro-Roosevelt left liberal".[7] 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 a provocative essay, "We Shall Hate, or We Shall Fail",[8] which generated a flood of protests after its January 1943 publication in The New York Times.[4]:95 The attitude is expressed by Nero Wolfe in the 1942 novella "Not Quite Dead Enough".

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.

After House Committee on Un-American Activities chairman Martin Dies called him a Communist, Stout 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."[9]

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.[10] In its April 1976 report, the Church Committee found that The Doorbell Rang is a reason that Rex Stout's name was one of 332 placed on the FBI's "not to contact list," which it cited as evidence of the FBI's political abuse of intelligence information.[11]

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."

Radio broadcasts[edit]

Information Please (NBC)[edit]

Rex Stout was a guest panelist on Information Please, Clifton Fadiman's famous quiz show, at least four times. He joined regular panelists John Kieran and Franklin P. Adams for broadcasts on March 28, 1939 (with Moss Hart); August 29, 1939 (with linguist Wilfred J. Funk); September 26, 1939 (with Carl Van Doren); and April 18, 1941 (with Henry H. Curran, chief magistrate of Manhattan).[12]

Invitation to Learning (CBS)[edit]

In late January 1942 Rex Stout joined Jacques Barzun and Elmer Davis in a discussion of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on Mark Van Doren's popular CBS radio show, Invitation to Learning. Van Doren included a transcript in his 1942 book, The New Invitation to Learning: The Essence of the Great Books of All Times, published by Random House.[2]:298[4]:121

Our Secret Weapon (CBS)[edit]

Main article: Our Secret Weapon

On August 9, 1942, Rex Stout conducted the first of 62 wartime broadcasts of Our Secret Weapon – the truth – 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," Stout's biographer John McAleer wrote. "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."[2]:305–307[4]:121–122

Television appearances[edit]

Omnibus, "The Fine Art of Murder" (ABC)[edit]

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."[13] 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.[14] Writer Sidney Carroll received the 1957 Edgar Award for Best Episode in a TV Series.[15] "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.[16]

The Dick Cavett Show (ABC)[edit]

Rex Stout was a guest on Dick Cavett's ABC-TV talk show on September 2, 1969.[2]:495

Reception and influence[edit]

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.

Jacques Barzun[17]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Popular culture[edit]

"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.[20][21] "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."[22] 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.[23]


His narrative and dialogue could not be improved, and he passes the supreme test of being rereadable. I don't know how many times I have reread the Nero 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.

P. G. Wodehouse[2]:v

Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout[edit]

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.

Other Nero Wolfe works by Rex Stout[edit]

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

Other works by Rex Stout[edit]

Other novels[edit]

Tecumseh Fox mysteries[edit]

Edited volumes[edit]

Short stories[edit]

Dates indicate first known publication. Unless otherwise noted, first date of publication is cited in Guy M. Townsend's Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980). [4]:47–69

Short story collections[edit]

Books about Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe[edit]

Rex Stout Archive at Boston College[edit]

Anchoring Boston College's collection of American detective fiction, the Rex Stout Archive [2] [3] represents the best collection in existence of the personal papers, literary manuscripts, and published works of Rex Stout, creator of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. The Rex Stout archive features materials donated by the Stout family – including manuscripts, correspondence, legal papers, publishing contracts, photographs and ephemera; first editions, international editions and archived reprints of Stout's books; and 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.[31]


Nero Wolfe adaptations[edit]

The adaptations section of the article on Nero Wolfe, and the article about the A&E TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001–2002), provide detailed information about the various film, radio and television adaptations of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories.

Lady Against the Odds (NBC)[edit]

Main article: The Hand in the Glove

Stout's 1937 novel The Hand in the Glove was adapted for an NBC TV movie titled Lady Against the Odds, which aired April 20, 1992. Crystal Bernard starred as Dol Bonner; Annabeth Gish costarred as Sylvia Raffray. Bradford May, who also directed, received an Emmy Award for outstanding individual achievement in cinematography.

The President Vanishes (Paramount)[edit]

In an interview printed in Royal Decree (1983), Rex Stout's official biographer John McAleer asked the author if there were any chance of Hollywood ever making a good Nero Wolfe movie. "I don't know," Stout replied. "I suppose so. They made a movie of another story I wrote – The President Vanishes. I hate like hell to admit it but it was better than the book, I think."[32]:48

Rex Stout's anonymous 1934 novel was quickly transformed into a feature film by Paramount Pictures. The President Vanishes (1934, British title Strange Conspiracy) was produced by Walter Wanger and directed by William Wellman, and featured a cast that includes Arthur Byron, Edward Arnold and Rosalind Russell.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rothe, Anna (ed.) Current Biography (1946), New York: H. W. Wilson Co., 1947, p. 576. Essays by both Will Cuppy ("How to Read a Whodunit") and Rex Stout ("Watson Was a Woman") appeared in The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Howard Haycroft (Simon and Schuster, 1946). Cuppy likened Wolfe to Falstaff in 1936, in his review of The Rubber Band. In 1959, Stout's beloved character Hattie Annis stated the comparison to Wolfe himself, immediately after being introduced to him in the novella "Counterfeit for Murder".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k McAleer, John J., Rex Stout: A Biography, foreword by P. G. Wodehouse. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977 ISBN 0-316-55340-9.
  3. ^ a b Walker, Tom "Mystery writers shine light on best: Bouchercon 2000 convention honors authors"; The Denver Post, September 10, 2000. The other four nominees were Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy Sayers. Christie was voted Best Mystery Writer of the Century, and Christie's Hercule Poirot was named Best Mystery Series of the Century. The 31st World Mystery Convention was presented in Denver September 7–10, 2000.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography, associate editors John J. McAleer, Judson C. Sapp and Arrien Schemer. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1980 ISBN 0-8240-9479-4.
  5. ^ Born in Stryj, Poland, Pola Weinbach Hoffmann Stout (1902–1984) studied at the Vienna School of Design. She and her first husband, Wolfgang Hoffmann – son of the famous architect and Wiener Werkstätte co-founder Josef Hoffmann – were a prominent design team when they emigrated to the United States in 1925. (Modern Solutions, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2, Shaping the Modern: American Decorative Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago, 1917–65 [2001], p. 52.) After her second marriage, Pola Stout was an influential textile designer. (Kirkham, Pat, Women Designers in the USA, 1900–2000 [2000], p. 151).
  6. ^ Aaron, Daniel (1992). Writers on the Left: Episodes in Literary Communism. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 102. ISBN 9780231080385. 
  7. ^ "Manly, Chesly, 'Writer's War Board' Aids Smear Campaign.". Washington Times-Herald, June 4, 1942. The Harold Weisberg Archive, Digital Collection, Hood College. Retrieved 2013-10-25. 
  8. ^ "We Shall Hate, or We Shall Fail" (PDF), The New York Times, January 17, 1943, with response by Walter Russell Bowie and reply from Rex Stout; at The Wolfe Pack. Retrieved 2013-10-18.
  9. ^ "CLAP-TRAP Some Quips That Flew In From the Air Front". Amarillo Globe-Times, April 26, 1945. Retrieved 2013-10-26. 
  10. ^ Mitgang, Herbert, Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America's Greatest Authors; 1988, Donald I. Fine, Inc.; Hardcover ISBN 1-55611-077-4, pp. 216–217, 227. For more information see the articles on Where There's a Will and The Doorbell Rang.
  11. ^ Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, Book II, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate; April 26, 1976. E. Political Abuse of Intelligence Information, Subfinding c, Footnote 91.
  12. ^ As listed on Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs. These four radio programs can be heard at the Internet Archive (three 1939 broadcasts and one 1941 broadcast).
  13. ^ Program Preview, Time, December 10, 1956
  14. ^ TV Guide, December 8–14, 1956 (p. A-18); Omnibus, "The Fine Art of Murder" at
  15. ^ Edgar Awards Database; retrieved December 3, 2011
  16. ^ Mary Pickford Theater, Archive of past screenings: 2000 Schedule
  17. ^ A Birthday Tribute to Rex Stout, The Viking Press, 1965; reprinted by permission in The Rex Stout Journal, number 2, Spring 1985, pp. 4–9
  18. ^ Haycraft Queen Cornerstones Complete Checklist at Classic Crime; retrieved December 1, 2011
  19. ^ The Edgar Awards – Past Winners; retrieved July 31, 2011
  20. ^ McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography, p. 578. McAleer quotes a letter dated May 24, 1974, that he received from Torczyner, a New York collector who was also Georges Simenon's attorney.
  21. ^ "We know the importance granted to the words by Magritte in his paintings and we know the impact that literary works such as Poe's, Rex Stout's or Mallarmé's had on him." The Brussels Surrealist Group, Magritte Museum (retrieved July 31, 2011).
  22. ^ Danchev, Alex, "Canny Resemblance"; Times Higher Education Supplement, June 30, 2011
  23. ^ Matteson Art – 1931–1942 Brussels & Pre-War Years; retrieved July 31, 2011
  24. ^ Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8
  25. ^ Time magazine book review, April 17, 1933
  26. ^ McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography, p. 546. "In addition, beginning on 16 May 1914, during All-Story's serialization of A Prize for Princes, Rex was thrice credited with having written 'Their To-Day.' 'Their To-Day' probably had read 'Their Lady' in a hasty script and had been misread by a compositor."
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i Contento, William G., ed., The FictionMags Index, Rex Stout chronological index. Retrieved December 25, 2011
  28. ^ Included in The Rex Stout Reader (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007) ISBN 0-7867-1862-5
  29. ^ "The American Holmes"
  30. ^ Bourne, Michael, "An Informal Interview with Rex Stout"; 1998, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers ISBN 0-918736-22-6
  31. ^ Special Collections Listing at the Wayback Machine (archived October 15, 2013), Boston College, archived from the original at the Internet Archive. Retrieved 2014-10-15.
  32. ^ McAleer, John J., Royal Decree: Conversations with Rex Stout. Ashton, Maryland: Pontes Press, 1983, limited edition.

External links[edit]