Georgiana Ann Randolph was born in Chicago on June 5, 1908, the daughter of Harry Moschiem “Bosco” Craig and Mary Randolph Craig. Her father was an itinerant artist, her mother the daughter of a Chicago physician. Accounts differ on her correct surname. Her most famous pen name combines her father’s last name and the last name of his brother-in-law and sister with whom she lived, Mr. and Mrs. Elton Rice.
Educated by her uncle and in a Jesuit missionary school, Rice developed a dislike of conformity and at the age of eighteen began earning a precarious living in the Chicago literary world. She succeeded because of her versatility; she took on jobs as a crime reporter, a radio and motion-picture script writer, and publicity manager for Gypsy Rose Lee and a group of traveling wrestlers, as well as working as a general freelance writer.
Rice was married at least four times, to Arthur John Follows, a newspaperman named Arthur Ferguson, H. W. DeMott, Jr., and a writer named Lawrence Lipton, not necessarily in that order. Her children, Nancy, Iris, and David, appear as characters in her semiautobiographical novel, Home Sweet Homicide (1944). The children spent much of their time in boarding schools while their mother wrote at home in Santa Monica, California. Her husband at the time, Lawrence Lipton, worked in an office in Los Angeles.
Rice’s first detective novel, Eight Faces at Three (1939), took her nearly two years to write. The first chapter was easy enough, but she had trouble getting beyond its intriguing problem. She claimed that she never understood how she did it, but the character of the hard-drinking, womanizing John J. Malone succeeded with the public and appeared in several subsequent novels.
Reportedly an expert marksman, cook, and grower of prize gardenias, Rice enjoyed life enormously. Nevertheless, in spite of fame and financial rewards (she was the first mystery writer to appear on the cover of Time), she found meeting deadlines increasingly difficult. The drinking that she made amusing in print was not amusing in her own life. On August 28, 1957, she died of an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol.