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Monday, October 26, 2015

Charles G Booth

A little bit of Caught in the Act research.

One of the earliest authors who could be described as writing hard-boiled fiction is Charles G. Booth, who penned stories that relied on criminal argot for realism. Booth must have had an ear for dialogue as he made it in Hollywood as a scriptwriter, winning the Academy Award for best story for The House on 92nd Street in 1945. What is perhaps surprising is that Booth was an Englishman and had spent his early years in Canada.

Charles Gordon Booth was born in Manchester, Lancashire, on 12 February 1896, the son of William Booth and his wife Emily Ada (nee Hill). William (c1831-c1904) was a bricklayer from Manchester, still working in 1901 at the age of 70. Burnley-born Emily (c1861- ) was thirty years his junior. William died and Emily, a Methodist, took her young son to Canada in 1904.

After attending his first school in Manchester, Booth continued his education at public schools in Toronto, Ontario, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Living in St. Boniface, a suburb of Winnipeg, he left school at the age of 14 in order to help support his mother. Booth was working as a stenographer for a lumber firm in Norwood, when, on 3 March 1916, he volunteered to join the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. Booth served in the 203rd Battalion (Winnipeg Rifles), which sailed to England in October 1916, until 1917 when he was honourably discharged.

Booth spent the next seventeen months in hospital where he developed an interest in creative writing and over the next few years sold a number of short stories to periodicals in Canada and America. He continued to work as a book keeper with a lumber firm until left Canada, on 4 April 1922, taking his mother to Washington and thence to San Diego, California, where he made a living writing fiction. By 1927, when he applied for naturalization, he was living at 4905 Del Mar Avenue, Ocean Beach, California.

Three and a half years later – and now living at 4695 Coronado Avenue, Ocean Beach – Booth become a naturalized citizen, his application certified on 22 September 1930. In the 1930s – between 1935 and 1937 – Booth married Lilian Lind, born in Newman Grove, Nebraska, on 18 Mar 1904, the daughter of Carl Edward Lind and his wife Emelia, nee Nelson, and raised in Twin Falls, Idaho, where her father ran a garage. Lilian was living in California in 1930 and travelled at least once to Japan but had no recorded occupation. The couple lived in El Cajon, San Diego.

Booth had began selling to American pulps like Western Story Magazine and Detective Story Magazine when he was in his mid-twenties. His career took off quickly once he was ensconced in California and he continued to sell stories for the next two and a half decades, contributing to many American magazines, including MacLean's, Munsey's, Pall Mall, Pearson's Life, Holland's, People's Popular Monthly, Sunset and others.

His first novel, a crime thriller entitled Sinister House, was serialised in Mystery Magazine in early 1926 and published by William Morrow in the USA and Hodder & Stoughton in the UK a year later.
There is a real atmosphere of mystery and romance in Charles G. Booth's "Sinister House"... It is set in the charming scenery of Southern California, and the noise of the surf breaking on the beach in front of the "House of Yesterday" is continually reaching the ears of the reader. The story opens with a hold-up and develops suddenly into a murder mystery, the victim of which is an intrepid wanderer, Conniston, whose chief possessions are some intaglio gems. There are several reasons why Kerry O'Neil should be suspected, but these Gail Hollister, refuses to countenance, and the remainder of the story tells of her efforts to clear his name. Mr. Booth's mastery of characterisation and aptness in fitting his characters for the positions allotted to them and keeping them in these have combined to produce a story which will be read at one sitting, or reluctantly laid aside if necessity compels interruption. (Dundee Courier, 19 Apr 1927)
Elsewhere, other critics found nothing new in the plot but admitted that Booth had maintained the suspense and the solution came as a complete surprise. Booth's second novel, Gold Bullets, was equally well received:
A thrilling mystery is evolved by Charles G. Booth in "Gold Bullets"... which develops on unusual lines. In the first chapter a Californian millionaire is found murdered, and his son is suspected. The chief clue to the mystery is an old pistol with gold bullets owned by a close friend of the murdered man. Events move dramatically to a deserted gold mine where a long-dead past is resuscitated, and the real criminal is brought to justice. This novel intrigues and baffles in an absorbing fashion (Aberdeen Journal, 17 Sep 1929)
As was his third, Murder at the High Tide:
The title of this detective "thriller" means more than most such titles, for two murders were committed when the tide was at the maximum. First there is a shooting of a self-made man whose hobby, it appears, was to alienate everyone with whom he came into contact, and then comes the death from a similar cause of the only man who seems to have any clue to the perpetrator of the first crime. When a man is hated as Dan Parados, the victim of the first crime was, there are more motives than the average detective cares to cope with, but the reader will enjoy himself picking up the various clues and pursuing the false trails he is expected to follow. (Aberdeen Journal, 25 Aug 1930)
The detective in the case was  a "comically suave French policeman," according to Steve Lewis (The Mystery Fancier, Jul/Aug 1979). "In his own words, he's the cleverest on the Paris Surete. He's also greatly given to twirling his moustaches and busily polishing the top of his head, all the while contemplating life's little mysteries."

Flique returned in The Cat and the Clock five years later:
A few hours before being found stabbed to death in her dressing-room, glamorous, heartless Stella Ghent swerved her car purposely into a kitten and killed it.
    You're puzzled—not sorry—when Charles G. Booth tells you of her death in his new thriller, "The Cat and the Clock". You're puzzled which of her enemies killed her. Was it her former dancing partner, red-haired Vivian Storm, or one of those she was blackmailing with a diary as a weapon?
    The other suspects are either connected with the stage or a politics racket—all sufficiently intelligent to put over a pretty fool-proof innocence plea.
    Snowball, the dead kitten, is the clue with which the famous French detective, bald, bewhiskered Anatole Flique, solves the mysteries of a real-life drama in Hollywood's make-believe background.
    Joe Irysh, Stella Ghent's Press manager tells the story briskly and convincingly. (Lancashire Evening Post, 20 Sep 1938)
It was around the same time he completed the above that Booth began his career as a Hollywood scriptwriter, his first success the story of The General Dies at Dawn the screenplay for which was adapted by Clifford Odets. It starred Akim Tamiroff as General Yang, whose vanity O'Hara (Gary Cooper), as a soldier of fortune in the ranks if the people's army in China, uses to save himself and a girl, Judy Perrie (Madeleine Carrol), a beautiful honey trap sent by the war lords O'Hara is engaged in annihilating.

Booth's play "Caviar for His Excellency" was picked up by Paramount who wanted George Raft for the lead role. Raft refused out of hand, which led to him being dropped by Paramount. The story became The Magnificent Fraud, about a group of politicians anxious to gain control of a South American country following the assassination of its president. To hide this fact, they hire a French actor Jules LaCroix (Akim Tamiroff), fleeing from a murder charge, to impersonate Señor Presidente, only to find that the actor takes the job seriously and eventually dies for his newly adopted country. The film was remade in 1988 as Moon Over Parador starring Richard Dreyfuss.

Hurricane Smith (1941, a.k.a. Double Identity), scripted by Robert Presnell for Republic from Booth's story, tells how rodeo rider 'Hurricane' Smith (Ray Middleton) is wrongly jailed for murder and robbery; he escapes and tracks down the real crooks, but after stealing the money he uses it to marry and start a new life. He is tracked down by 'Eggs' Bonelli (J. Edward Bromberg) and blackmailed.

Sundown (1941) was co-scripted with another escapee from England, Barré Lyndon (best known for his plays The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse and The Man in Half Moon Street), based on Lyndon's Saturday Evening Post story. The film was an odd war film set in East Africa starring Gene Tierney as the exotic Zia who Major Coombes (George Sanders) suspects is a Nazi sympathizer; however, along with district commissioner William Crawford (Bruce Cabot) she swaps trading for helping guide British troops through the dark continent. The film had a mixed critical reception: the New York Times called it "ridiculous ... the whole film becomes so much banal nonsense" but it was nominated for three Academy Awards (cinematography, score, art direction); the bad reviews won out and it was a flop at the box-office.

Booth's next original screenplay, The Traitor Within (1942), co scripted with Jack Townley, concerned rival trucking firms; Sam Starr (Don Barry) resents his rival John Scott Ryder (Ralph Morgan) taking credit for wartime heroics, but accepts his generosity when Sam loses his truck. When he discovers that Ryder has been blackmailed into his actions by Molly (Jean Parker), his wife, he refunds the gift; Ryder, also being blackmailed by a crooked politician, is left with his guilt and decides to end his life... only for Starr to be suspected of his murder.

Booth was living in Sierra Vista Street, Grossmont, San Diego, when he registered for service in World War II at the age of 46. He was able to continue his screenwriting career, becoming a contract writer for Twentieth Century Fox, receiving an Academy Award for his picture story for The House on 92nd Street (1945). The film saw him team up again with his Sundown collaborators Barré Lyndon and director Henry Hathaway and was notable for successfully bringing a documentary style of storytelling to the screen, using locations in New York and Washington and using FBI personnel to play FBI agents. An American student, Dietrich (William Eythe) pretends to be working for the Nazi's whilst passing on information to the FBI. The story was based in part on the Duquesne Spy Ring case from 1941.

RKO's Johnny Angel (1945) was based on Booth's 1944 novel MrAngel Comes Aboard and starred George Raft as the titular merchant ship captain who discovers his father's ship derelict and adrift. A survivor, stowaway Paulette (Signe Hasso), reveals that a shipment of gold has been stolen and Angel crosses swords with Lilah (Claire Trevor), his bosses wife, as he doggedly tracks down the missing bullion and his father's murderer.

Back at 20th Century Fox, Booth collaborated with  Scott Darling on Behind Green Lights (1946), a story of political intrigue and murder. The body of a dead private detective is parked at the front of a police station and becomes central to Police Lieutenant Sam Carson (William Gargan)'s case. Switched for another body, and then lost; but pressure is being put on Carson to arrest Janet Bradley (Carole Landis), who admits she was in his room; as does Nora (Mary Anderson), Bard's estranged wife.

Booth adapted Jack Andrews' story for Strange Triangle (1946) starring Signe Hasso as Francine Huber, whose husband, bank manager Earl (John Shepperd), is embezzling funds. Sam Crane (Preston Foster), a bank investigator, gets involved with Francine and is used to cover up her husband's crime and then as a fall guy in his murder.

Fury at Furnace Creek (1948) was Booth's only western, based on a story by David Garth and with additional dialogue by Winston Miller. Two brothers (Victor Mature and Glenn Langan) go undercover to prove that their father (Robert Warwick) was not responsible for the massacre of troops at Furnace Creek fort by Indian raiders hiding in a wagon train.

He died in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, on 22 May 1949, aged 53, survived by his wife, and a son, Charles Rockwell (Rocky) Booth, born in Los Angeles on 3 January 1947. Lilian subsequently remarried and, as Lilian Booth Foley, died in San Diego on 13 January 1996; she was later buried at Twin Falls.


Novels (series: Anatole Flique)
Sinister House. A mystery story of Southern California. New York, William Morrow & Co., Sep 1926; London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1927.
Gold Bullets. New York, W. Morrow & Co., Jan 1929; London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1929.
Murder at High Tide (Flique). New York, W. Morrow & Co., 1930; London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1930.
Those Seven Alibis. New York, W. Morrow & Co., Dec 1932; as At Ten Paces. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1933.
The Cat and the Clock (Flique). Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Doran & Co., Dec 1935; London, Cassell & Co., 1938.
The General Died at Dawn. London, G. Bell & Sons, 1937; New York, Pocket Books, 1941.
Mr Angel Comes Aboard. Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1944; London, Hammond, Hammond & Co., 1946.
Kings Die Hard (Flique). London, Hammond, Hammond & Co., 1949.
The Excommunicated, with Ahmad Kamal. London, Falcon Press, 1952; US, iUniverse, 2000.

Murder Strikes Thrice. Hollywood, CA, Anson Bond, 1946.

Short Stories/Serials (for the most part derived from FictionMags)
Honor Preferred (ss) Overland, Sep 25 1921
Foolhardy Bravery (ss) Western Story Magazine May 20 1922
A “Baser” Base (ss) Detective Story Magazine Sep 9 1922
Through the Porthole (ss) Detective Story Magazine Jan 6 1923
Hammer and Nails (ss) Detective Story Magazine Feb 3 1923
The Moth (ss) Detective Story Magazine Mar 3 1923
Safe from the Law (ss) Detective Story Magazine Mar 17 1923
Outcast and Shinto (ss) Overland, Apr 1923
So Darned Sure (ss) Detective Story Magazine May 5 1923
“Not According to Text” (ss) Detective Story Magazine Jul 28 1923
The Three Spiders (ss) The Black Mask Sep 15 1923
Lights Out (ss) The Black Mask Mar 15 1924
The Malevolent Bequest (ss) The Black Mask Apr 1 1924
Split Rock Vengeance (ss) Fawcett’s Triple-X Magazine Jul 1924
Ten to Midnight (ss) Fawcett’s Triple-X Magazine Aug 1924
So This Is Brawley! (ss) Flynn’s Oct 18 1924
The Fourth Dimension (ss) Flynn’s Oct 25 1924
Logger Larry, One Man Posse (ss) Fawcett’s Triple-X Magazine Oct 1924
No Questions Asked (nv) Novelets Mar 1925
Watch Your Step (ss) Open Road, Apr 1925
Mixed Magic (ss) Flynn’s Apr 11 1925
Sixty Minutes (ss) Flynn’s Apr 25 1925
One-Shot (ss) The Black Mask Jun 1925
The Serpent’s Head (ss) Fawcett’s Triple-X Magazine Sep 1925
Mark of the Gobi (ss) Open Road, Nov 1925
Fighting Through Fire (ss) Fighting Romances from the West and East Dec 1925
The House of Shadows (ss) Brief Stories Jan 1926
Ransome’s Revenge (ss) Fighting Romances from the West and East Jan 1926
Sinister House (sl) Mystery Magazine Mar 15 1926, etc.
The Mark of Gobi (ss) Hutchinson’s Mystery Story Magazine Mar 1926
Love and Dynamite (ss) Sunset, Jun 1926
Twenty Miles to the Gallon (ss) Top-Notch Magazine Jul 1 1926
The Outlaw of Timber Island (ss) Argosy All-Story Weekly Aug 28 1926
Raw Gold (nv) The Black Mask Aug 1926
Diamond Tooth (ss) Thrills Jul 1927
The League of the Three Swords (ss) People’s Popular Monthly Aug 1927
Adobe (ss) 20-Story Magazine Nov 1927
Sea Magic (ss) Mystery Stories May 1928
Red Miller Shaves Himself (ss) Mystery Stories Jun 1928
Old Loyalty (ss) Mystery Stories Aug 1928
“Keep on Going!” (ss) West Oct 27 1928
Globules of Death (ss) Mystery Stories Oct 1928
Slow Poison (nv) Five-Novels Monthly Oct 1928
Gold Bullets (sl) Holland's, Nov 1928-Apr 1929
The Bachelor Baby (ss) Prize Story Magazine Jan 1929
The Finger of Guilt (ss) Startling Detective Adventures Jan 1930
Bulletin (ss) Clues Mar #1 1930
Reaching Hands (ss) 20-Story Magazine Apr 1930
Murder in the Woods (ss) Startling Detective Adventures May 1930
Protection (ss) Clues Jul #2 1930
Figure Eight (ss) Clues Oct #1 1930
Some of Them Are Worth It (ss) Clues Nov #1 1930
Dynamite Burns ’Em Brown (ss) Clues Jan #2 1931
A Cat Called Banjo (ss) Clues Apr #1 1931
The Golden Arrow (ss) All Star Detective Stories Apr 1931
Crime of Circumstance (ss) Complete Detective Novel Magazine Jun 1931
The Little God Laughs (ss) 20-Story Magazine Apr 1932
My Girl Is Red-Headed, Too (nv) Clues May 1932
At Ten Paces (sl) Physical Culture Aug 1932, etc.
Sister Act (ss) Black Mask Feb 1933
Cigarette Lady (nv) Clues Oct 1933 [McFee]
Kings Die Hard (n.) Complete Detective Novel Magazine Nov 1933 [Anatole Flique]
Stag Party (nv) Black Mask Nov 1933 [McFee]
Orchid Lady (ss) Mystery League Jan 1934
Gentleman with a Past (na) Star Novels Magazine Spr 1934
The Man Who Used Rouge (nv) Super-Detective Stories Mar 1934
Paladin by Proxy (ss) The Canadian Magazine Jul 1934
Hold Me Honey (ss) Complete Detective Novel Magazine Nov 1934
Sketched in Red (ss) Ten Detective Aces Jan 1935
Tarrbridge Balloons, Ltd. (ss) Britannia and Eve Feb 1935
Count Your Pennies (ss) Detective Fiction Weekly Mar 30 1935
Two-Spot (nv) Detective Fiction Weekly Oct 12 1935
Midnight Decoy (nv) New Detective Magazine Dec 1935
Gold Is Where You Find It (ss) Complete Stories Jun 1936
Mr. Angel Comes Aboard (sl) Liberty Jan 22 1944, etc.


  1. Hi Steve:
    Again, thanks for maintaining this great blog about my dad! I have been doing some research of my own going through his papers and had a couple of questions about his publications in 1922 that I cannot locate. They are not on your list, nor can I find them on line. However they are in his writer's journal with number of words, date of sale, and publication. Other parts of his journal are quite complete.
    I have also found and verified some works that are missing from your list, and also have # of words and sales price of most of the stories. I would like to share this with you if you are interested. If so, please send me your email so I can send attachments.
    Rocky Booth
    La Jolla, California

  2. Hi Rocky, you can contact me at the e-mail address just below the photo, top left.