Baynard Kendrick

Born - Apr 8, 1894   |   Died - Jan 1, 1977   |   Genres - Crime, Mystery, Romance, Drama

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Baynard Kendrick was known as one of the best mystery writers in America from the 1930s onward and was successful enough to see some of his work adapted to both the large and small screens in his lifetime. Born Baynard Hardwick Kendrick in Philadelphia, he came from a well-to-do family and devoted himself to business until World War I intervened -- Kendrick was the first American citizen to join the combat by way of Canada, heading north and enlisting in the Canadian army. He served honorably during World War I and returned to civilian life as a proud veteran. Although he was fully sighted, Kendrick had made a special study of blind people and their ways of coping with life and their abilities, and all of this, plus his World War I service, were to figure in his best work when he turned to writing full-time in the 1930s, specializing in mysteries and thrillers. His short fiction appeared in such journals as Black Mask. Among his early books was a series -- including The Iron Spiders (1936) and Death Beyond the Go Through (1938) -- built around the character of Florida deputy sheriff Standish Rice. Kendrick also later wrote a small group of novels under the pseudonym Richard Hayward, including Trapped (1952) and The Soft Arms of Death (1955).

Kendrick's most enduring creation, however, was the character of Captain Duncan Maclain, the blinded World War I officer turned private investigator who figured in several of his best-known novels, including The Last Express (1937) and The Whistling Hangman (1937). The first movie to feature Maclain was Universal's 1938 adaptation of The Last Express, starring Kent Taylor as the detective. But it was Kendrick's 1940 book The Odor of Violets that brought the definitive portrayal of Maclain to the screen. The film rights to the book were purchased by MGM, which turned it into the thriller Eyes in the Night (1942), directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Edward Arnold as the blind sleuth ferreting out Nazi agents. A second Duncan Maclain movie, The Hidden Eye, starring Arnold but not based on a Kendrick novel, was released in 1945. Other Maclain stories included Blind Man's Buff (1943) and Death Knell (1945), and new books appeared fairly steadily right up to the last of them, Frankincense and Murder (1961).

In 1945, Kendrick also authored Lights Out, a non-mystery book about a United States Army sergeant who is blinded in combat, dealing with his rehabilitation and recovery of a life of his own, and his process of self-discovery along the way. The rights to the book were later purchased by Universal Pictures, which turned it into the 1951 movie Bright Victory (which became the reprint title of the book). Additionally, Universal used the story and script as a vehicle for its young aspiring actors to train with -- a scene from Bright Victory, featuring Grant Williams and a young Clint Eastwood, was seen performed on a mid-'50s television special entitled Allen in Movieland, built around Steve Allen's trek out to Universal for The Benny Goodman Story. When the Blinded Veterans Association was organized, Kendrick was the only sighted individual engaged as an advisor, and was also chosen as the Honorary Chairman of its Board of Directors. He later wrote for the CBS television network as well, and in addition to his novels published numerous short stories. The blind detective Mike Longstreet, portrayed by James Franciscus in a television series, was adapted from Kendrick's Duncan Maclain character. Kendrick was one of the most respected mystery and thriller writers of his generation, and was a co-founder of the Mystery Writers of America, member number one of the organization, and its first president.