The two men who together invented the Ellery Queen persona were Brooklyn-born cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. In reality, their famous alter ego is a pseudonym for two pseudonyms: Dannay was born Daniel Nathan, while Lee’s real name was Manford Lepofsky. Both were born in 1905, and both attended Boys’ High School in Brooklyn. Lee went on to receive a degree from New York University in 1925, where he pursued what was to be a lifelong interest in music. In 1942, Lee married actress Kaye Brinker, his second wife, with whom he had eight children—four daughters and four sons. Dannay was married three times: in 1926 to Mary Beck (who later died), with whom he had two sons, in 1947 to Hilda Wisenthal (who died in 1972), with whom he had one son, and in 1975 to Rose Koppel.
During the 1920’s, Dannay worked as a writer and art director for a New York advertising agency, while Lee was employed, also in New York, as a publicity writer for several film studios. In 1928, the two cousins began collaborating on a murder mystery, spurred on by a generous prize offered in a magazine detective-fiction contest. The two won the contest, but the magazine was bought by a competitor before the results were announced. The following year, however, Frederick A. Stokes Company, the publishing house cosponsoring the contest, published the cousins’ novel, The Roman Hat Mystery (1929), and Ellery Queen was born.
By 1931, Dannay and Lee were able to quit their jobs and devote themselves completely to their writing, producing one or two books a year throughout the 1930’s. During this period, the pair also wrote briefly under the name Barnaby Ross, publishing the four books that make up the Drury Lane series, The Tragedy of X (1932), The Tragedy of Y (1932), The Tragedy of Z (1933), and Drury Lane’s Last Case (1933). The bulk of their energy, however, was directed toward Queen, and the series...
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