SEARCHING FOR BLONDY—
A MYSTERY ABOUT A MYSTERY
Richard A. Lupoff
Researching American author Philip Wylie (1902-1971), as I have been doing of late, I have come across the following brief statement, over and over and over: He also wrote as Leatrice Homesley. Apparently some researcher discovered the Homesley pseudonym several years ago and included it in an essay.
Once cited on a website, the sentence has been repeated endless times, but seldom with any further information as to what it’s about. Fortunately, some Wylie bibliographies do include the Homesley reference and give a single title published under that byline. It was Blondy’s Boy Friend. Every bit of information helps, but at the same time the puzzle remains: What was this book and why did Wylie use such an odd byline on it?
I’ve been researching and collecting antiquarian books for a long time and I’ve developed a fairly extensive network of sources for such books and for information about books and authors. I queried numerous sources but without success. An internet search brought up a single copy for sale–or seemed to, for it was listed as “not currently available.”
A query directed to Philip Wylie’s surviving daughter and granddaughter brought the response that they were unaware of any such book, nor could they find any reference to it the Wylie papers that remain in possession of his family. The agent for the Wylie estate, Mr. Craig Tenney of Harold Ober Associates, was able to track down some information about the elusive Blondy’s Boy Friend, including the fact that it was published by Chelsea House in 1930.
There is a Chelsea House in the publishing business in this, the Twenty-First Century. But it’s a different Chelsea House. The original Chelsea House was owned by an old-line periodical publisher and eventually disappeared back into its parent company. That company was absorbed into another publisher, apparently went through the slice-and-dice process of so many corporate entities, and is now only a fond memory among scholars and collectors.
We were back to Square One.
Then it was Gavin O’Keefe to the rescue! An Australian book dealer, graphic designer, and my associate at Ramble House and Surinam Turtle Press, O’Keefe actually managed to turn up a copy of Blondy’s Boy Friend, the only one I’ve ever seen. It’s an attractively made, sizable hardcover book of well over 200 pages. The binding was green cloth with faded gold lettering. The dust jacket, unfortunately, had long since departed but the text of the book was complete, and is the basis of the current Surinam Turtle Press edition.
A former owner had clipped the jacket flap from this copy and pasted inside the book. I would quote from it extensively, but it is, alas, one of those publisher’s screeds that gives away far too much of the plot. Suffice that it begins, “Irene called herself a dizzy blonde.”
Indeed she did!
The book is a remarkable example of its type. Irene—“Blondy”—is a wise-cracking, thoroughly up-to-date nineteen-year-old Manhattanite very much into having fun, riding in roadsters, and engaging in petting parties. Taking a summer job at a millionaire’s estate in rural Connecticut, she finds herself plunged into a hectic adventure with love, mystery, and danger lurking at every turn.
While the book was published as “A Love Story,” it is also very much a murder mystery, with Blondy herself playing the role of amateur sleuth. Nancy Drew had nothing on our girl Irene!
The book is variously comparable to the jazz novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the New England Gothics of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. It is also a ghost story, a theme most intriguingly introduced—and then dropped. Why would Wylie do such a thing? There’s no telling for sure, but in all likelihood he was writing frantically against a publisher’s deadline. He threw in the ghosts early in the book, intending to come back to them later, and simply forgot them.
I am tempted, also, to draw a comparison to Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie. But Blondy was published in 1930; Dame Agatha’s classic work, in 1934. This is not to charge Miss Christie with plagiarism, conscious or otherwise, but one is definitely left wondering.
Seen purely in its own rights, Blondy’s Boy Friend is an oddity. It seems as if Wylie was experimenting with various modes and styles of writing. From the aforementioned jazz novel and Gothic traditions—an odd mixture to start with—the book evolves into a fairly traditional murder mystery of the English country house variety.
There is the old mansion, the eccentric neighbor, the innocent young companion to an older woman (in Blondy’s case, perhaps not so innocent), a brutal investigator, a handsome young physician, and a plethora of clues. The solution to the mystery is—well, let’s just say, somewhat strained. Blondy’s Boy Friend is not likely to appear on any critic’s list of The Ten Best Murder Mysteries of All Time, or even the Hundred Best. But it is certainly a readable, good natured outing.
There remains the question of why Philip Wylie wrote this book under the pseudonym of Leatrice Homesley. By 1930, even at the young age of twenty-eight, Wylie had established himself as a rising literary figure. His first novel, Heavy Laden, had been published in 1928. He followed with Babes and Sucklings in 1929.
The early 1930s were busy years for him. In addition to Blondy’s Boy Friend he appeared on the bookshelves with Gladiator (1930), The Murderer Invisible (1931), Footprint of Cinderella (1931), The Savage Gentleman (1932), and Five Fatal Words (1932). He was already established as both a serious mainstream novelist and a genre writer, and was accumulating screen-writing and magazine credits as well.
Blondy’s Boy Friend was in all likelihood serialized in one of the love story pulps popular in the 1920s and later decades. Research has so far failed to turn up the magazine involved. The readership of these magazines was overwhelmingly female, and it was conventional wisdom that these readers preferred to read stories by female authors.Was this the real reason for the creation of “Leatrice Homesley”—? Somewhere in Wylie’s papers or in the archives of some long-departed publisher, the answer may lie. Or—we may never know. A little mystery adds spice to the literary life.