An appreciation and biography by Maura Fox
Author Frank Kane originally created Big Apple private eye Johnny Liddell in 1944 for a pulp story, and went on to write over thirty books and countless short stories about him. He was a prolific writer with a sensational wit and sense of humor that came through in his work. No, he wasn't a genius, a great innovator or the world's greatest stylist, but he never failed to deliver the the goods, constantly and consistently, in solid, workmanlike prose that always entertained, and rarely disappointed. As fellow crime writer Bill Crider put it on Rara-Avis in April 2000, if it's a Frank Kane book, chances are "it'll be a competent, straightforward P.I. story." In the following memoir, exclusive to this site, Maura Fox reminisces about her grandfather.
Frank Kane was my grand-father.
He was born in Brooklyn in July 1912, and by the time he was 19, he had graduated from New York City college, earning a BS. He attended St. John's Law School, but prior to graduating, his first daughter, Judy (my aunt), was born. My grandmother Ann Kane was fond of relating, despite my mother's embarassment, how she told him that he "better get a job and get some money pretty quick!"
Judy was followed by Maureen (my mother) and Debbie.
So he left law school and began to put his writing skills to use. He served a couple of years as a columnist for the New York Press, was Editor-in-Chief for the New York Trade Newspapers Corporation, and an associate editor for the New York Journal of Commerce. He also worked in public relations, as an advocate and spokesperson for the Liquor Industry. He apparently spent time on "the hill," in D.C., working with government officials to end the prohibition of consumption of alcohol. He did much work with the liquor industry throughout his career.
After World War II, he returned to public relations, as well as freelance writing, and later, radio and television production.
His writing for a New York newspaper led to a syndicated Broadway column called "New York From Dusk To Dawn," which profiled Hollywood movie stars visiting New York. The column was later made into a radio show, on which Kane featured popular movie personalities.
Kane went on to pen scripts for some of the most popular radio programs on the air, including six years as the writer for The Shadow. Kane went on to write for a multitude of radio programs. In the detective-adventure genre, he spent three years writing Gang Busters. He also wrote for Counter Spy, The Fat Man, Casey, Crime Photographer, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, The Lawless Twenties and Nick Carter, Master Detective. He created Call the Police for Lever Brothers, and created, wrote and produced Claims Agent for NBC, which was based on Kane's character, Jim Rogers. And in 1947, Frank Kane was selected to write the Coast Guard documentary You Have To Go Out, starring Robert Young.
But it was as the author of mystery novels about private eye Johnny Liddell that Kane was best known. Kane's first novel, About Face, placed detective Johnny Liddell in Hollywood to solve the murder of an ex-racketeer who became a power in the movie industry. The book could have been taken from the front pages of the newspapers at the time (1947), except that the novel was written months before the Bugsy Siegel murder.
His novels, under his own name, and the pseudonym of Frank Boyd, sold multi-millions of copies in hard cover and paperback, and were translated into more than 17 languages. In the 1940's, '50's, and '60's, Kane wrote between close to 40 books, most featuring Johnny. He also claimed Liddell was the hero of more than 400 short stories featured in top detective magazines such as Manhunt, The Saint Detective Magazine, Private Eye and Pursuit. 400 is almost surely an exaggeration, yet I took that number directly from an (undated) letter that my grandfather actually wrote, an apparent pitch for either a movie or television series about the Liddell character:
Frank always loved a good story, so it's entirely possible that he embellished a little bit there. But 400, or even just 40, there's no denying that Liddell was a popular character. CBS even approached Kane about adapting Johnny Liddell for a TV series. Unfortunately, CBS and Kane were unable to agree on terms of the project, and the plan fell through. But CBS and Kane subsequently did work out a deal for Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, and Frank Kane ended up writing for the series (rumours have it that many of the Hammer TV scripts were just adaptations of his Liddell stories with Hammer substituted for Liddell). In fact, Kane spent much of his later career in Hollywood, writing for television networks, writing teleplays not just for Mike Hammer, but for such shows as Special Agent 7 and The Investigators.
In 1960, one of his early novels, Key Witness, about a family pitted against a street gang, was made into a major motion picture movie. He formed and served as president of the Frank Kane Corporation and Frank Kane Associates, which produced regular and promotional films
Kane also formed his own publishing company, Lake Press, which published his works, including the travel book, Travel is for the Birds, as well as a monthly newsletter for the Liquor Industry, regarded as the bible of the trade. At the time of his death in November 1968, Frank Kane had many television and movie projects pending, and they remain unfinished.
In his career, he had served as a member of The Overseas Press Club, the Authors' Guild, the Writer's Guild of America East, and was on the board of the Mystery Writers of America.
Although largely forgotten now, save for fans of the P.I. genre, Kane managed to attract some pretty favourable press in his day. The New York Times said of him: "Frank Kane continues to be the most entertaining writer in the hard-boiled field since Jonathan Latimer." And The Philadelphia Inquirer said: "As a writer of fast, tough and exciting mystery stories, Frank Kane is tops," and The Los Angeles Herald Express said, "Frank Kane writes with the authority of a machine gun - - good socko mystery, hard-boiled and racy."
I think my grandfather was an extremely talented, clever, and witty writer whose career was sadly cut short at age 56 with many projects pending.
He was was, above all else, a pro. Be it print, radio, television or film, he delivered the goods, straight-up, and he never failed to entertain.
There are worse crimes.
-- The Philadelphia Inquirer
-- The New York Times on Green Light for Death
-- Time Magazine, April 28, 1958
Banned in Finland!
Report respectfully submitted by Maura Fox, with additional information compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Jim Doherty for some of the info on this page, and a tip of the fedora to David Spencer for the heads-up. And a very special thanks to Maura, for sharing her memories with us.
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