Monday, March 21, 2022

"The Strange Mystery of the Mayfair Suicides"

UNLIKE SHAKESPEARE'S CLEOPATRA barging up and down the Nile, age can wither and custom stale what was at one time fresh and engaging. Here we have an example of how humorous parodies are often destined to have early expiration dates; while time has been exceedingly kind to Sherlock Holmes, the same can't be said of either The Rover Boys, Michael Arlen, or The Green Hat, the proximate triggers for Corey Ford's piece and all-but-forgotten artifacts from a century ago. With that admonition in mind, you just might want to skip . . .

"The Rollo Boys with Sherlock in Mayfair; or, Keep It Under Your Green Hat."
By Corey Ford (1902-69).
Illustrations by Gluyas Williams (1888-1982; HERE).
First appearance: Three Rousing Cheers for the Rollo Boys (1925).
Reprinted in The Bookman, January 1926.
Book chapter.
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE; 15 pages) and (HERE; 5 pages).

     "You are not a bad woman, Iris March. You are just bad grammar."

From what you often read in your average Jazz Age novel, you might conclude that people with plush bank accounts spent a great deal of their time either lounging in the sun on the Riviera or contemplating suicide—or lounging in the sun on the Riviera and contemplating suicide. Anyhow, the prospect of one of the bright young things that populated those stories who's thinking about doing herself in is what prompts Holmes and the Boys to action . . . .

References and resources:
- "or Mencken":
  "Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956) was an American journalist, essayist, satirist, cultural critic, and scholar of American English. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians, and contemporary movements" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "one for Burbank":
  "Luther Burbank (1849–1926) was an American botanist, horticulturist and pioneer in agricultural science. He developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants over his 55-year career. Burbank's varied creations included fruits, flowers, grains, grasses, and vegetables" (Wikipedia HERE).
- The Rover Boys: At the time just about everybody knew who they were, making a parody altogether possible:
  "The Rover Boys, or The Rover Boys Series for Young Americans, was a popular juvenile series written by Arthur M. Winfield, a pseudonym for Edward Stratemeyer. Thirty titles were published between 1899 and 1926 and the books remained in print for years afterward" (Wikipedia HERE).
- A perfect parody of the Rover Boys was filmed:
  "The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall (also known as The Dover Boys) is a 1942 Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Chuck Jones. The short was released on September 19, 1942. The cartoon is a parody of the Rover Boys, a popular juvenile fiction book series of the early 20th century" (Wikipedia HERE; also see HERE).
- As Bill Peschel (HERE) notes: "The Green Hat and [its author] Arlen is forgotten today except as a curiosity, but little more than a year after its publication The Green Hat was still worthy of parody."
- Despite its grammatical deficiencies, Michael Arlen's (HERE) novel, The Green Hat (play version HERE), was a smash hit upon publication:
  "The Green Hat perfectly reflects the atmosphere of the 1920s—the post-war fashion for verbal smartness, youthful cynicism, and the spirit of rebellion of the 'bright young things' of Mayfair. Iris Storm, femme fatale, races around London and Europe in her yellow Hispano-Suiza surrounded by romantic intrigue, but beneath the glamour she is destined to be a tragic heroine. A perfect synecdoche, in fact: as the hat is to the woman, so the words of the title are to an entire literary style. The success of the novel when it was first published in 1924 led to its adaptation for the screen, with Greta Garbo starring as Iris Storm" ( summary HERE).
  The book is online at (HERE). The ISFDb has a list of Arlen's supernatural fiction output (HERE).
- In making his annotations for Dorothy L. Sayers's (DLS) and Robert Eustace's The Docu-ments in the Case, Dan Drake notes references to Arlen, his novel, and the Rollo Boys in that book:
  "the latest Michael Arlen" . . . "Lady Susan and Ann Hilgeman have filled us in on Mr. Arlen, a popular novelist, author of 'The Green Hat, a "spicy" novel about a lady who is more sinned against than sinning, Iris March (?)', as well as These Charming People, and the screenplays for both." . . . "In The Green Hat some fashionable Mayfair types meet untimely ends seeking Purity. This matter was later investigated by Sherlock Holmes in a bizarre triple-barreled parody, 'The Rollo Boys with Sherlock in Mayfair; or, Keep It Under Your Green Hat,' which appears in Three Rousing Cheers for the Rollo Boys by Corey Ford. While this doesn't count as a Sherlock Holmes reference in DLS, it does take us to a Sherlockian parody so obscure that it didn't make it into The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes" (Dan Drake HERE).
- Corey Ford occasionally dined at the Algonquin Hotel with people whose names are still known (Wikipedia HERE); also see Wikipedia (HERE), the IMDb (HERE; 11 credits), and Wikipedia again (HERE).

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