Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
The dark forebodings that affected the author’s works may have originated in his early life. Cornell Woolrich was born Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich in New York City on December 4, 1903. His father was a civil engineer and his mother was a socialite; as a boy, Woolrich was often in Latin America. At about the age of eight, after seeing a production of Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (1904), he was overwhelmed with a profound sense of fatalism. When revolutions broke out in Mexico, he was fascinated by the fighting and collected spent cartridges that could be found on the street. It would appear that he was badly shaken by the eventual breakup of his parents’ marriage, which left him unusually dependent on his mother.
In 1921, Woolrich entered Columbia University in New York, where courses in English may have spurred his interest in creative writing. One of his classmates, Jacques Barzun, later recalled that Woolrich was an amiable if somewhat distant individual. On one occasion, he was immobilized by a foot infection, an experience that may be reflected in the theme of enforced immobility that would appear in some of his later writings. During that time, however, under the name Cornell Woolrich he composed his first novel, Cover Charge (1926); this romantic work was favorably received. His Children of the Ritz (1927) won a prize offered jointly by College Humor magazine and a motion-pciture company; Woolrich...
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