Frank Kane
(1912-68, pseud. Frank Boyd)

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:

"...There are currently nine full length novels about (Johnny Liddell) in circulation. Ten pocket books have been produced about him with an estimated sale of 5,000,000 copies. He has been the hero of over 400 short stories, is currently featured on the covers of the leading magazines in the private eye field. King Features has bought newspaper rights to the books and tab editions of the books have been featured in major newspapers throughout the country...."

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.

UNDER OATH

  • "A writer of fast, tough and exciting mystery stories."

-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

  • "Pretty tough, very fast."

-- The New York Times on Green Light for Death

  • "Trigger Mortis, by Frank Kane (251 pp.; Rinehart; $2.95), starts shooting up the seamier side of Manhattan long before anyone thinks of calling the cops. Johnny Liddell, one of the hardest private eyes in town, takes on ex-pugs, Harlem hopheads, dance-hall dolls, a poverty-row pressagent and the alcoholic editorial staff of a scandal magazine in a two-fisted attempt to keep a client from being reminded of her days as a dancer at stag smokers. It proves only that when a girl gets into trouble there is always a good man around to get her out, provided she has copper-colored hair and the kind of construction that puts a lovelight in a private eye."

-- Time Magazine, April 28, 1958

NOVELS

SHORT STORIES

  • "Louis or Schmeling? (July 1938, Champion Sports Magazine; with Ben Feingold)
  • "Compliments of the El Paso Kid" (March 1942, Western Action)
  • "Murder at Face Value" (January 1944, Crack Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Sometimes Money Talks" (July 1944, Crack Detective Stories)
  • "Dead Blood Runs Purple" (November 1944, Crack Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Suicide" (January 1945, Crack Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Morgue Star Final" (July 1945, Crack Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Slay Upon Delivery" (January 1946, Crack Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Marked for Death" (July 1946, Crack Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Murder Feeds the Flames" (September 1946, Crack Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Accidental Death" (August 1947, Crack Detective Stories)
  • "Keeper of the Killed" (February 1948, Crack Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Homicide Harvest" (November 1948, Private Detective Stories)
  • "Green Light for Death" (July 1949, Crack Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Putt it There" (January 1950, Complete Sports; golf)
  • "The Uncertain Corpse" (November 1950, Scarab Mystery Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "The Frozen Grin" (January 1953, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "A Game of Murder" (February 1953, Mobsters; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Get-Away Deluxe" (February 1953, Famous Detective Stories)
  • "Dead Drunk" (Spring 1953, The Saint Detective Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Payoff" (March 1953, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "10,000 Witnesses to Murder" (March 1953, Smashing Detective Stories)
  • "Evidence" (July 1953, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Slay Belle" (August 1953, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "It's Murder" (November 1953, Pursuit Detective Story Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Gory Hallelujah!" (December 1953, Private Eye; Johnny Liddell)
  • "The Icepick Artists" (December 1953, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Finish the Job" (January 1954, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Bullets, Back to Back" (March 1954, The Saint Detective Magazine; Johnny
    Liddell
    )
  • "Lead Ache" (May 1954, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Frame" (August 1954, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "A Package for Mr. Big" (September 1954, The Saint Detective Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Big Steal" (December 25 1954, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Play-and-Slay Girl" (1954, Double-Action Detective Stories #1; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Return Engagement" (February 1955, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "The Dead Grin" (June 1955, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Make It Neat" (August 1955, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "The Dead Stand-In" (January 1956, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Sleep Without Dreams" (February 1956, Manhunt; also, 1960, Dames, Danger, Death; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Insurance" (March 1956, Accused Detective Story Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "The Killing" (May 1956, Accused Detective Story Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Key Witness" (August 1956, Manhunt)
  • "Red, Hot--and Dead" (October 1956, Suspect Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "The Rumble" (February 1957, Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine)
  • "Dead Pigeon" (July 1957, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Live Blonde--Dead Millionaire" (August 1957, Trapped Detective Story Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "The Patsy" (August 1957, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Dead Set" (December 1957, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Trigger Mortis" (April 1958, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Dead Wrong" (August 1959, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Dead End" (October 1959, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Dead Reckoning" (December 1959, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Dead Run" (January 1960, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Pass the Word Along" (April 1960, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "The Great Pretender" (July 1960, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "A Grave Matter" (August 1960, Web Detective Stories; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Deadly Error" (May 1961, Web Detective Stories)
  • "Music to Die By" (April 1962, Argosy)
  • "The Mourning After" (April 1962, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Hearse Class Male" (September 1963, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Play Tough" (March 1965, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "Clean-Up" (May 1965, Manhunt; Johnny Liddell)
  • "With Frame To Match" (1965, Come Seven, Come Death; Johnny Liddell)

COLLECTIONS

FILMS

  • KEY WITNESS
    (1960, MGM)
    82 minutes
    Black and White
    Based on the 1956 novel by Frank Kane
    Screenplay by Alfred Brenner and Sidney Michaels
    Directed by Phil Karlson
    Produced by Kathryn Hereford
    Original music by Charles Wolcott
    Starring Jeffrey Hunter, Pat Crowley, Dennis Hopper, Joby Baker, Susan Harrison, Johnny Nash, Corey Allen, Frank Silvera, Bruce Gordon, Terry Burnham, Dennis Holmes

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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