Joseph Wambaugh Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The only child of Anne Malloy and Joseph Aloysius Wambaugh, Joseph Aloysius Wambaugh, Jr., was born on January 22, 1937, in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The German surname accounts for one-quarter of his ethnic heritage; the other three-quarters is Roman Catholic Irish. His was a family of hard workers, many of whom labored in the Pittsburgh steel mills.

Wambaugh’s California settings originate in his personal experience. His father had been police chief in East Pittsburgh before the family moved to California in 1951. Three years later, Wambaugh left high school to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. During his service time, in 1956, he and Dee Allsup, his high school sweetheart, were married. They had three children; their son Mark would later die at the age of twenty-one. On Wambaugh’s discharge from the Marines in 1957, the couple returned to California, where Wambaugh worked at different jobs while earning an associate degree in English from Chaffey College in 1958.

In 1960, Wambaugh graduated from California State College, Los Angeles, with a bachelor’s degree and joined the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) as a burglary detective. However casually he came to police work (he once told an interviewer that he joined the police department because he had “nothing better to do” and because the money was more than he had ever earned), he soon found himself deeply involved. He was a solid, commonsense investigator who cracked more than his share of tough cases. He has said that police work relaxed him and soothed his soul.

Wambaugh began writing after he became involved in helping to control the Watts riot. On August 11, 1965, six days of rioting began in...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Joseph Aloysius Wambaugh, Jr., was born in 1937 in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of a small-town police chief. Following in his father’s footsteps was not young Wambaugh’s original intention. He entered the U.S. Marine Corps in 1954 and soon thereafter married his high school sweetheart, Dee Allsup. Discharged from the military in 1957, Wambaugh settled in Ontario, California, where he became a steelworker and went to college part time at night. He planned to be a teacher and eventually completed both a B.A. and an M.A. in English. In 1960, however, while in his senior year at California State College in Los Angeles, Wambaugh decided instead to become a policeman. Over the next fourteen years, he worked his way up to detective in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and was eventually promoted to sergeant, despite several well-publicized run-ins with his superiors. Many of these conflicts were occasioned by the publication of Wambaugh’s first novel(and best seller), The New Centurions, in which the hierarchy of the LAPD is irreverently satirized.

Wambaugh continued to be both detective and novelist until 1974. By that time, he had become so famous that his celebrity status had begun to limit his job effectiveness. He regretfully gave up police work for full-time writing. In 1983 Wambaugh moved from Los Angeles, dividing his time between the suburban areas of Orange County and Palm Springs. In 1993 he moved farther south to the Point Loma district of San Diego. Then, for more than a decade, Wambaugh turned to true-crime writing, most notably his account of a California serial arsonist who was also an arson investigator, Fire Lover, which brought Wambaugh his second Edgar Allan Poe Award for best fact crime in 2003. His return to fiction—and to stories of the LAPD—in 2006 was hailed by critics and by fans.

Wambaugh continues to pursue numerous projects, such as the adaptation of his 2006 novel Hollywood Station as a television series. In addition, recognizing the impacts that film and television have had on the development of police fiction and the public perception of the process of criminal investigation, he regularly guest lectures on screenwriting and screen adaptation at the University of California at San Diego.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joseph Wambaugh (WAHM-baw), in full Joseph Aloysius Wambaugh, Jr., was born into what he described as a family of “steelworkers, bar owners, and champion drinkers.” His father and mother, Anne Malloy Wambaugh, moved from Pennsylvania to California with their only child in 1951.

Three years later, Wambaugh joined the United States Marine Corps, serving until 1957. In the middle of his tour, he married Dee Allsup. They settled in Ontario, California, where Wambaugh worked in the Kaiser steel mill and attended college part-time. In 1958, he received an associate of arts degree in English literature from Chaffey College in Alta Loma, California. Two years later he was awarded his bachelor of arts from California State University, Los Angeles.

The year 1960 was a remarkable one in Wambaugh’s life. In addition to receiving his B.A., he entered into the career that would eventually have a huge impact on crime fiction and the true crime genre: He joined the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), wearing badge number 178.

Wambaugh told one interviewer that he loved his job as a cop, in part because he found that in a single night, he “sometimes learned things that a man could not expect to learn in a month or a year.” He continued his studies in night school, receiving his master’s degree in 1968. The Watts riot of 1965 may have been the major catalyst for Wambaugh’s writing about the rough streets of Los Angeles from the viewpoint of young policemen. His first efforts were short stories, all of which were rejected for publication. Finally, an Atlantic Monthly editor advised Wambaugh to try a novel. The result was The New Centurions.

While reviewers noted some typical first-novel faults, such as one-dimensional characterizations and clumsy exposition, they...

(The entire section is 745 words.)