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Rex Todhunter Stout (December 1 1886 - October 27 1975) was an Americanmarker crime writer, best known as the creator of the larger-than-life fictional detective Nero Wolfe, described by reviewer Will Cuppy as "that Falstaff of detectives." Wolfe's assistant Archie Goodwin recorded the cases of the detective genius from 1934 (Fer-de-Lance) to 1975 (A Family Affair).

The Nero Wolfe corpus was nominated Best Mystery Series of the Century at Bouchercon 2000, the world's largest mystery convention, and Rex Stout was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century.


Early life

Stout was born in Noblesville, Indianamarker, but shortly after that his Quaker parents, John Wallace Stout and Lucetta Elizabeth Todhunter Stout, moved their family (nine children in all) to Kansasmarker.

His father was a teacher who encouraged his son to read, and Rex had read the entire Bible twice by the time he was four years old. He was the state spelling bee champion at age 13. Stout attended Topeka High School, Kansas, and the University of Kansas, Lawrencemarker. His sister, Ruth Stout, also authored several books on no-work gardening and some social commentaries.

He served from 1906 to 1908 in the U.S. Navy (as a yeoman on President Teddy Roosevelt's official yacht) and then spent about the next four years working at about thirty different jobs (in six states), including cigar store clerk, while he sold poems, stories, and articles to various magazines.

It was not his writing but his invention of a school banking system in about 1916 that gave him enough money to travel in Europe extensively. About 400 U.S. schools adopted his system for keeping track of the money school children saved in accounts at school, and he was paid royalties. Also in 1916, Stout married Fay Kennedy of Topeka, Kansasmarker. They separated in 1933 and Stout married in the same year Pola Hoffman of Viennamarker, Austriamarker.


Stout started his literary career in the 1910s writing for the pulps, publishing romance, adventure, and some borderline detective stories. Rex Stout's first stories appeared among others in All-Story Magazine. He sold articles and stories to a variety of magazines, and became a full-time writer in 1927. Stout lost the money he had made as a businessman in 1929.

In Paris in 1929 he wrote his first book, How Like a God, an unusual psychological story written in the second person. During the course of his early writing career Stout tackled a variety of literary forms, including the short story, the novel, and science fiction, among them a pioneering political thriller, The President Vanishes (1934).

After he returned to the U.S. Stout turned to writing detective fiction. The first work was Fer-de-Lance, which introduced Nero Wolfe and his assistant Archie Goodwin. The novel was published by Farrar & Rinehart in October 1934, and in abridged form as "Point of Death" in The American Magazine (November 1934). In 1937, Stout created Dol Bonner, a female private detective who would reappear in his Nero Wolfe stories and who is an early and significant example of the woman PI as fictional protagonist, in a novel called The Hand in the Glove. After 1938 Stout focused solely on the mystery field. Stout continued writing the Nero Wolfe series for the rest of his life, publishing at least one adventure per year through 1966 (with the exception of 1943, when he was busy with activities related to World War II). Through Stout's rate of production declined somewhat after 1966, he still published four further Nero Wolfe novels and a cookbook prior to his death in 1975, aged 88.

During WWII Stout cut back on his detective writing, joined the Fight for Freedom organization, and wrote propaganda. He hosted three weekly radio shows, and coordinated the volunteer services of American writers to help the war effort. After the war Stout returned to writing Nero Wolfe novels, and took up the role of gentleman farmer on his estate at High Meadows in Brewstermarker, north of New York City. He served as president of the Authors Guild and of the Mystery Writers of America, which in 1959 presented Stout with the Grand Master Award — the pinnacle of achievement in the mystery field.

Stout was a longtime friend of the British humorist P. G. Wodehouse, writer of the Jeeves novels and short stories. Each was a fan of the other's work, and there are evident parallels between their characters and techniques. Wodehouse contributed the foreword to Rex Stout: A Biography, John McAleer's Edgar Award-winning 1977 biography of the author (reissued in 2002 as Rex Stout: A Majesty's Life).

Public activities

Raised with liberal sensibilities, Stout served on the original board of the American Civil Liberties Union and helped start the radical magazine The New Masses, which succeeded the Masses, a Marxist publication, during the 1920s. During the Great Depression, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the New Deal.

During World War II, he worked with the advocacy group Friends of Democracy and figured prominently on the Writers War Board, particularly in support of the embryonic United Nations. He lobbied for Franklin D. Roosevelt to accept a fourth term as President. When the war ended, Stout became active in the United World Federalists.

Stout was active in liberal causes. When the anti-Communist era of the late 1940s and 1950s began, he ignored a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee at the height of the McCarthy era.

In later years Stout alienated some readers with his hawkish stance on the Vietnam War and with the contempt for Communism expressed in certain of his works. The latter viewpoint is given voice most notably in the 1949 novel, The Second Confession. In this work, Archie and Wolfe express their dislike for "Commies," while at the same time Wolfe arranges for the firing of a virulently anti-Communist broadcaster, likening him to "Hitler" and "Mussolini." Thus Stout in this book stakes his ground as an anti-communist Leftist, perhaps something like George Orwell who seems to have occupied a similar position.

Stout and the FBI

Rex Stout was one of many American writers closely watched by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, journalist Herbert Mitgang discovered when he requested Stout's file for his 1988 book, Dangerous Dossiers:

A dozen years after Rex Stout's death, the FBI did not easily give up his personal file under the Freedom of Information Act. Of 301 pages that were reviewed, only 183 pages were released to me, and these were heavily censored. ... Stout's name in the FBI files reached back to his beginnings as an author, but what particularly irked the bureau and possibly other government agencies occurred during the McCarthy era when he served as president of the Authors League...

Stout's faithful readers knew him best as the genial author of detective novels featuring Nero Wolfe, gourmet, connoisseur and orchid grower, who, with the help of his assistant, Archie Goodwin, could solve crimes without leaving his Manhattan brownstone. The Federal Bureau of Investigation files show that J. Edgar Hoover considered Stout anything but genial: as an enemy of the FBI, as a Communist or a tool of Communist-dominated groups, someone whose novels and mail had to be watched, and whose involvement with professional writers organizations was not above suspicion. In the vague, bizarre phrase of one of the documents in his dossier, Stout was described as 'an alleged radical' ...

J. Edgar Hoover himself and the FBI's powerful publicity machine came down hard on Stout in 1965 when his novel, The Doorbell Rang, was published by the Viking Press. About one hundred pages in Stout's file are devoted to this novel, the FBI's panicky response to it, and the attempt to retaliate against the author for writing it.

In its April 1976 report, the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities — commonly known as the Church Committee — found that The Doorbell Rang is a reason Rex Stout's name was placed on the FBI's "not to contact list," which it cited as evidence of the FBI's political abuse of intelligence information:

The Bureau also maintained a "not to contact list" of "those individuals known to be hostile to the Bureau." Director Hoover specifically ordered that "each name" on the list "should be the subject of memo." 91

This request for "a memo" on each critic meant that, before someone was placed on the list, the Director received, in effect, a "name check" report summarizing "what we had in our files" on the individual.

:91 Memorandum from Executives Conference to Hoover, 1/4/50. Early examples included historian Henry Steele Commager, "personnel of CBS," and former Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. (Memorandum from Mohr to Tolson, 12/21/49.) By the time it was abolished in 1972, the list included 332 names, including mystery writer Rex Stout, whose novel The Doorbell Rang had "presented a highly distorted and most unfavorable picture of the Bureau." (Memorandum from M. A. Jones to Bishop, 7/11/72.)

Radio broadcasts

Information Please (NBC)

Rex Stout was a guest panelist on Information Please, Clifton Fadiman's famous quiz show, at least four times. He joined regular panelists John Kieran and Franklin P. Adams for broadcasts on March 28, 1939 (with Moss Hart); August 29, 1939 (with linguist Wilfred Funk); September 26, 1939 (with Carl Van Doren); and April 18, 1941 (with Henry H. Curran, chief magistrate of Manhattan).

Invitation to Learning (CBS)

In late January 1942 Rex Stout joined Jacques Barzun and Elmer Davis in a discussion of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on Mark Van Doren's popular CBS radio show, Invitation to Learning. Van Doren included a transcript in his 1942 book, The New Invitation to Learning: The Essence of the Great Books of All Times, published by Random House.

Our Secret Weapon (CBS)

On August 9, 1942, Rex Stout conducted the first of 62 wartime broadcasts of Our Secret Weapon — the truth — on CBS. The idea for the series had been that of Sue Taylor White, wife of Paul White, the first director of CBS News. Research was done under White's direction. "Hundreds of Axis propaganda broadcasts, beamed not merely to the Allied countries but to neutrals, were sifted weekly," Stout's biographer John McAleer wrote. "Rex himself, for an average of twenty hours a week, pored over the typewritten yellow sheets of accumulated data ... Then, using a dialogue format — Axis commentators making their assertions, and Rex Stout, the lie detective, offering his refutations — he dictated to his secretary the script of the fifteen-minute broadcast." By November 1942 Berlin Radio was reporting that "Rex Stout himself has cut his own production in detective stories from four to one a year and is devoting the entire balance of his time to writing official war propaganda." Newsweek described Stout as "stripping Axis short-wave propaganda down to the barest nonsensicals ... There's no doubt of its success." Sunday-night broadcasts of Our Secret Weapon continued through October 8, 1943.

Television appearances

Omnibus, "The Fine Art of Murder" (ABC)

Rex Stout appeared in the December 9, 1956, episode of Omnibus, a cultural anthology series that epitomized the golden age of television. Hosted by Alistair Cooke, "The Fine Art of Murder" was a 40-minute segment described by Time magazine as "a homicide as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe [and] Rex Stout would variously present it." The author is credited as appearing along with Gene Reynolds (Archie Goodwin), Robert Echols (Nero Wolfe), James Daly (narrator), Dennis Hoey (Arthur Conan Doyle), Felix Munso (Edgar Allan Poe), Herbert Voland (M. Dupin) and Jack Sydow. Written by Sidney Carroll and directed by Paul Bogart, "The Fine Art of Murder" is in the collection of the Library of Congress (VBE 2397-2398) and screened in its Mary Pickford Theater February 15, 2000.

The Dick Cavett Show (ABC)

Rex Stout was a guest on Dick Cavett's ABC-TV talk show on September 2, 1969.


Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books are listed below in order of publication. Novels can be browsed alphabetically by title at the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout page. Titles of the novella collections are listed alphabetically on the Nero Wolfe short story collections page.

Nero Wolfe novellas by Rex Stout

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novellas are listed below in order of first appearance.

Other Nero Wolfe works by Rex Stout

  • The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, with the editors of Viking Press (1973) — The cuisine and world of Nero Wolfe are brought to life in a wealth of recipes and pertinent quotes from the corpus, illustrated by vintage New York City photographs by John Muller, Andreas Feininger and others. Chapters include "Breakfast in the Old Brownstone"; "Luncheon in the Dining Room"; "Warm-Weather Dinners"; "Cold-Weather Dinners"; "Desserts"; "The Perfect Dinner for the Perfect Detective"; "The Relapse"; "Snacks"; "Guests, Male and Female"; "Associates for Dinner"; "Fritz Brenner"; "Dishes Cooked by Others"; "Rusterman's Restaurant"; "Nero Wolfe Cooks"; and "The Kanawha Spa Dinner". Hardcover ISBN 0670505994 / Paperback ISBN 1888952245. "For a number of years Rex Stout had been prodded by friends ... to tackle a bit of hard work at last by writing out the recipes that make the reader's mouth water when they should be thrall to the dry fare of reason. ... The task was accomplished and now the secret of saucisse minuit is out -- with a couple hundred others. The organization of the book is excellent too ..."

  • "Why Nero Wolfe Likes Orchids" [22223], Life (April 19, 1963) — Concluding a feature story titled "The Orchid" that was photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Archie Goodwin "investigates and explains the deep satisfactions of his boss's orchid-fixation." (The article was reprinted in Corsage" A Bouquet of Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe, edited by Michael Bourne.)
  • "The Case of the Spies Who Weren't," Ramparts Magazine (January 1966) — Archie Goodwin reports that the previous evening Nero Wolfe and "Rex Stout, my literary agent" filled 27 pages in his notebook with their discussion of Invitation to an Inquest by Walter and Miriam Schneir, a recently published book that they are reviewing for Ramparts magazine. Since their review must be fewer than 3,000 words, Wolfe frowns and orders Archie to "Contract it. Cramp it."
:I frowned back. "You cramp it. Or Stout. Let him earn his ten per cent. Dictate it."
Archie loses the argument and condenses their views on the book, which concerns the case against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Other works by Rex Stout


  • 1913 Her Forbidden Knight
    (a crime story about counterfeiting with no continuing characters, set in New York City)
    Paperback ISBN 0786704446

  • 1914 Under the Andes
    (a "scientific romance" and a "lost race" fantasy novel)
    Paperback ISBN 0445405074

  • 1914 A Prize for Princes
    (a novel of Balkan intrigue and murder about a very dangerous woman)
    Paperback ISBN 0786701048

  • 1916 The Great Legend
    (a historical novel set during the siege of Troy)
    Paperback ISBN 0786704438

  • 1929 How Like a God
  • 1930 Seed on the Wind
  • 1931 Golden Remedy
  • 1933 Forest Fire
    (an early Brokeback Mountain-type story featuring a college student working as a summer forest ranger under a strict forest supervisor, who first is critical of his work, then becomes fond of him, then extremely jealous when a female tourist arrives and distracts him from his duties.

    Then a forest fire starts...)

  • 1934 The President Vanishes
  • 1935 O Careless Love!
  • 1937 The Hand in the Glove
    (featuring Dol Bonner)
  • 1938 Mr. Cinderella
  • 1939 Mountain Cat (always republished as
    The Mountain Cat Murders — a non-series mystery)
  • 1939 Double for Death
    (a mystery featuring Tecumseh Fox)
  • 1939 Red Threads
    (featuring Inspector Cramer)
  • 1940 Bad for Business
    (a mystery featuring Tecumseh Fox, rewritten as
    the Nero Wolfe novella "Bitter End")

  • 1941 The Broken Vase
    (a mystery featuring Tecumseh Fox)
  • 1941 Alphabet Hicks
    (a mystery republished as The Sound of Murder)

Edited volumes

  • 1942 The Illustrious Dunderheads -- a collection of isolationist, anti-WWII and pro-Nazi statements and votes by sitting Members of Congress
  • 1946 Rue Morgue No. 1 (with Louis Greenfield) — Anthology of 19 mystery stories
  • 1956 Eat, Drink, and Be Buried — Anthology of mystery stories. British edition titled For Tomorrow We Die(1958) omitted three stories.

Short stories

  • 1912 "Excess Baggage"
  • 1913 "The Infernal Feminine"
  • 1912 "A Professional Recall"
  • 1913 "Pamfret and Peace"
  • 1913 "A Companion of Fortune"
  • 1913 "A White Precipitate"
  • 1913 "The Pickled Picnic"
  • 1913 "The Mother of Invention"
  • 1913 "Methode Americaine"
  • 1914 "A Tyrant Abdicates"
  • 1914 "The Pay-Yeoman"†
  • 1914 "Secrets"†
  • 1914 "Rose Orchid"†
  • 1914 "An Agacella Or"
  • 1914 "The Inevitable Third"†
  • 1914 "Out of the Line"
  • 1914 "The Lie"†
  • 1914 "Target Practice"†
  • 1915 "If He Be Married"†
  • 1915 "Baba"†

  • 1915 "Warner and Wife"†
  • 1915 "A Little Love Affair"
  • 1915 "Art for Art's Sake"
  • 1915 "Another Little Love Affair"
  • 1915 "Jonathan Stannart's Secret Vice"†
  • 1915 "Santetomo"†
  • 1915 "Justice Ends at Home"†
  • 1916 "It's Science That Counts"†
  • 1916 "The Rope Dance"†
  • 1917 "An Officer and a Lady"†
  • 1917 "Heels of Fate"†
  • 1936 "It Happened Last Night"
  • 1936 "A Good Character for a Novel"
  • 1953 "Tough Cop's Gift" (aka "Santa Claus Beat," "Cop's Gift," "Christmas Beat," and "Nobody Deserved Justice" in magazine and anthology reprintings)
  • 1955 "His Own Hand" (featuring Alphabet Hicks, plus Nero Wolfe recurring character Sergeant Purley Stebbins); first appeared in Manhunt magazine in April 1955, and has been reprinted in anthologies under the titles "By His Own Hand" and "Curtain Line.")

Short story collections

  • 1977 Justice Ends at Home, and Other Stories (The Viking Press; Hardcover ISBN 0670411051).Collection of 16 short stories written between 1912 and 1917, edited and introduced by John McAleer, Stout's authorized biographer.
  • 1998 Target Practice (Carroll & Graf Publishers; Paperback ISBN 0786704969). Contains the stories marked (†) above.
  • 2000 An Officer and a Lady and Other Stories (Carroll & Graf Publishers; Paperback ISBN 078670764X).

Books about Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe

  • Anderson, David R., Rex Stout (1984, Frederick Ungar; Hardcover ISBN 080442005X / Paperback ISBN 0804460094). Study of the Nero Wolfe series.
  • Baring-Gould, William S., Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street (1969, Viking Press; ISBN 0140061940). Fanciful biography. Reviewed in Time, March 21, 1969 ("The American Holmes" printout/0,8816,839934,00.html).
  • Bourne, Michael, Corsage: A Bouquet of Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe (1977, James A. Rock & Co, Publishers; Hardcover ISBN 0918736005 / Paperback ISBN 0918736013). Posthumous collection produced in a numbered limited edition of 276 hardcovers and 1,500 softcovers. Shortly before his death Rex Stout authorized the editor to include the first Nero Wolfe novella, "Bitter End" (1940), which had not been republished in his own novella collections.Corsage also includes an interview Bourne conducted with Stout (July 18, 1973; also available on audiocassette tape), and concludes with the only book publication of "Why Nero Wolfe Likes Orchids," an article by Rex Stout that first appeared in Life (April 19, 1963).
  • Darby, Ken, The Brownstone House of Nero Wolfe (1983, Little, Brown and Company; ISBN 0316172804). Biography of the brownstone "as told by Archie Goodwin." Includes detailed floor plans.
  • Gotwald, Rev. Frederick G., The Nero Wolfe Handbook (1985; revised 1992, 2000). Self-published anthology of essays edited by a longtime member of The Wolfe Pack.
  • Kaye, Marvin, The Archie Goodwin Files (2005, Wildside Press; ISBN 1557424845). Selected articles from The Wolfe Pack publication The Gazette, edited by a charter member.
  • Kaye, Marvin, The Nero Wolfe Files (2005, Wildside Press; ISBN 0809544946). Selected articles from The Wolfe Pack publication The Gazette, edited by a charter member.
  • McAleer, John, Rex Stout: A Biography (1977, Little, Brown and Company; ISBN 0316553409). Foreword by P.G. Wodehouse. Winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical Work in 1978. Reissued as Rex Stout: A Majesty's Life (2002, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers; Hardcover ISBN 0918736439 / Paperback ISBN 0918736447).
  • McAleer, John, Royal Decree: Conversations with Rex Stout (1983, Pontes Press, Ashton, MD). Published in a numbered limited edition of 1,000 copies.
  • McBride, O.E., Stout Fellow: A Guide Through Nero Wolfe's World (2003, iUniverse; Hardcover ISBN 0595657168 / Paperback ISBN 0595278612). Pseudonymous self-published homage.
  • Mitgang, Herbert, Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America's Greatest Authors (1988, Donald I. Fine, Inc.; ISBN 1556110774). Chapter 10 is titled "Seeing Red: Rex Stout."
  • Symons, Julian, Great Detectives: Seven Original Investigations (1981, Abrams; ISBN 0810909782). Illustrated by Tom Adams. "We quiz Archie Goodwin in his den and gain a clue to the ultimate fate of Nero Wolfe" in a chapter titled "In Which Archie Goodwin Remembers."
  • Townsend, Guy M., Rex Stout: An Annotated Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1980, Garland Publishing; ISBN 0824094794). Associate editors John McAleer, Judson Sapp and Arriean Schemer. Definitive publication history.
  • Van Dover, J. Kenneth, At Wolfe's Door: The Nero Wolfe Novels of Rex Stout (1991, Borgo Press, Milford Series; updated edition 2003, James A. Rock & Co., Publishers; Hardcover ISBN 091873651X / Paperback ISBN 0918736528). Bibliography, reviews and essays.

Rex Stout Archive at Boston College

Anchoring Boston Collegemarker's collection of American detective fiction, the Rex Stout Archive [22224] [22225] represents the best collection in existence of the personal papers, literary manuscripts, and published works of Rex Stout, creator of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. The Rex Stout archive features materials donated by the Stout family — including manuscripts, correspondence, legal papers, publishing contracts, photographs and ephemera; first editions, international editions and archived reprints of Stout's books; and volumes from Stout's personal library, many of which found their way into Nero Wolfe's office. The comprehensive archive at Burns Library also includes the extensive personal collection of Stout's official biographer John McAleer, and the Rex Stout collection of bibliographer Judson C. Sapp.


Nero Wolfe adaptations

The adaptations section of the article on Nero Wolfe, and the article about the A&E TV series A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001–2002), provide detailed information about the various film, radio and television adaptations of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe stories.

Lady Against the Odds (NBC)

Stout's 1937 novel The Hand in the Glove was adapted for an NBC TV movie titled Lady Against the Odds, which aired April 20, 1992. Crystal Bernard starred as Dol Bonner; Annabeth Gish costarred as Sylvia Raffray. Bradford May, who also directed, received an Emmy Award for outstanding individual achievement in cinematography.

The President Vanishes (Paramount)

In an interview printed in Royal Decree (1983), Rex Stout's official biographer John McAleer asked the author if there were any chance of Hollywood ever making a good Nero Wolfe movie. "I don't know," Stout replied. "I suppose so. They made a movie of another story I wrote — The President Vanishes. I hate like hell to admit it but it was better than the book, I think."

Rex Stout's anonymous 1934 novel was quickly transformed into a feature film by Paramount Pictures. The President Vanishes (1934, British title Strange Conspiracy) was produced by Walter Wanger and directed by William Wellman, and featured a cast that includes Arthur Byron, Edward Arnold and Rosalind Russell.


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