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Charlotte Armstrong Lewi (May 2, 1905, in Vulcan, Michigan – July 7, 1969, in Glendale, California) was an American author. Under the names Charlotte Armstrong and Jo Valentine she wrote 29 novels, as well as short stories, plays, and screenplays. She also worked for The New York Times' advertising department, as a fashion reporter for Breath of the Avenue (a buyer's guide), and in an accounting firm. Additionally, she worked for the New Yorker magazine, publishing only three poems for them.
Daughter to mining engineer, Frank Hall Armstrong and Clara Pascoe Armstrong, Charlotte Armstrong Lewi graduated from Vulcan High School in Vulcan, Michigan, in June 1921. She attended the junior college program at Ferry Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois for one year (1921–22), during which time she served as Editor-in-Chief of the student publication, Ferry Tales. She attended the University of Wisconsin for two years and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College in 1925. During her time at The New York Times, she met Joseph (Jack) Lewi, who she married on January 21,1928. She had a daughter and two sons: Jacquelin Bynagte, Peter Lewi, and Jerry Lewi.
Style and themesEdit
In 1939, while she was located in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Charlotte Armstrong began her career as a writer publishing the script for the play The Happiest Days and two years later for the play Ring Around Elizabeth. Both of these plays made it to Broadway; however The Happiest Days flopped, and Ring Around Elizabeth did not perform well either. This lack of success prompted Armstrong to progress into the next stage in her writing career publishing novels in mystery fiction with The Case of the Weird Sisters (1943) and The Innocent Flower (1945). Mystery fiction is a genre of fiction that usually centers around solving crimes or mysteries. Her career really took off with her successful entrance into suspense with The Unsuspected. Recognized as pioneer of domestic suspense, Armstrong frequently induced suspense in her stories to keep the reader on their toes in the protagonist’s journey to solve the mystery. Later adapted into the film, Talk About a Stranger, Charlotte Armstrong’s 1951 novel, The Enemy, is just one example of Armstrong’s mystery novels that employ suspense domestically as a device to enhance the mystery fiction genre.
Many of Armstrong’s novels such as The Enemy also embedded hidden political allegories. In these mystery stories, developed characters grouped into mobs to try to solve the mysteries. Mobs tend to jump to the first proposed conclusion on who is guilty, and in the process ignore any other contradictions no matter how relevant or logical. Around the same time as Armstrong published these novels, fear of Communist influence in American institutions and the infiltration of Soviet spies started the era known as the McCarthy era. During this time, hundreds of American were accused of being communist or working with communists despite questionable and usually exaggerated evidence leading to destroyed careers and unemployment. In The Enemy, mob rule is prevalent as people grouped together make up their mind on where the guilt lies ignoring all contrary evidence, paralleling McCarthyism as it dominated politics at the time. These elements of McCarthyism are also present in her 1951 novel Mischief, which was adapted into the film Don't Bother to Knock, directed by Roy Baker.
In 1957, she received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her novel A Dram of Poison. She wrote two other Edgar-nominated novels: The Gift Shop (1966) and Lemon in the Basket (1967). Three of her short stories, all published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, were nominated for Edgars: "And Already Lost" (1957), "The Case for Miss Peacock" (1965), and "The Splintered Monday" (1966).
Archiving and recognitionEdit
In recognition of her work, the house which Armstrong moved to and lived in until death in Glendale, California, became known as the "Charlotte Armstrong House." In 1965, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center reached out to Armstrong and requested to be the repository of all of her works. Armstrong obliged and now the Gotlieb Center serves as the best body for retrieving any of Armstrong's works. Furthermore, around 1956, Armstrong and her family put together a collection of works about her and her family, titled, Charlotte Armstrong, A Master Storyteller Remembered.
It seems Armstrong was not able to finish her own autobiography due to her early passing, but in 2008, Rick Cypert authored a biography of Armstrong which dictated her personal and professional life titled The Virtue of Suspense: The Life and Works of Charlotte Armstrong. Additionally, Mysterious Press made 13 of Armstrong's novels accessible by e-book.
Armstrong's publications generally followed one of two tracks. All of her novels were published by Coward-Mccan, even The Protege, which was published posthumously. Armstrong's short stories, however, were published in magazines. Most of these stories were published in Ellery-Queen's Mystery Magazine, but some others were published in The Saturday Evening Post and Argosy magazine.
- The Happiest Days, 1939 (play)
- Ring Around Elizabeth, 1941 (play)
- Lay On, Mac Duff! 1942
- The Case of the Weird Sisters, 1943
- The Innocent Flower, 1945 (also known as Death Filled the Glass)
- The Unsuspected, 1945/6, Coward-McCann
- The Chocolate Cobweb, 1948
- The Evening Hour, 1950
- Fatal Lady, 1950
- All the Way Home, 1951
- Mischief, 1951
- The Enemy, 1951
- The Black-Eyed Stranger, 1952
- Catch-as-Catch-Can, 1953 (also known as Walk Out on Death)
- Laugh It Off, 1953
- The Trouble in Thor, 1953 (as Jo Valentine; also known as And Sometimes Death)
- The Better to Eat You, 1954 (also known as Murder's Nest)
- A Gun is a Nervous Thing, 1955
- The Dream Walker, 1955 (also known as Alibi for Murder)
- A Dram of Poison, 1956
- And Already Lost..., 1957
- The Albatross, 1957 (short story collection)
- Incident at a Corner, 1957
- Night Call, 1958
- Something Blue, 1959
- The Seventeen Widows of San Souci, 1959
- The Girl with a Secret, 1959
- The Ring in the Fish, 1959
- Then Came Two Women, 1962
- The Other Shoe, 1962
- The One-Faced Girl, 1963
- The Mark of the Hand, 1963
- The Witch's House, 1963
- Who's Been Sitting in My Chair?, 1963
- A Little Less Than Kind, 1964
- Mink Coat, Very Cheap, 1964
- Run--If You Can, 1964
- The Case for Miss Peacock, 1956
- Protector of Travelers, 1965
- The Cool Ones, 1965
- The Turret Room, 1965
- Dream of Fair Woman, 1966
- I See You, 1966 (short story collection)
- The Gift Shop, 1966
- The Splintered Monday, 1966
- Lemon in the Basket, 1967
- More than One Kind of Luck, 1967
- The Second Commandment, 1967
- From Out of the Garden, 1968
- The Balloon Man, 1968
- Seven Seats to the Moon, 1969
- The Light Next Door, 1968
- The Protege, 1970
- Night Call and Other Stories of Suspense, ed. Rick Cypert and Kirby McCauley, Crippen & Landru Publishers, 2014
- "Incident at a Corner", episode of Startime, dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1959
- "The Summer Hero," episode of The Chevy Mystery Show, 1960
- Three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Sybilla" (dir. Ida Lupino); "The Five-Forty-Eight" (adapted from the John Cheever short story); and "Across the Threshold", 1960
- The Mark of the Hand was adapted for an episode of the Thriller television series.
The following films were adapted from Armstrong's novels and stories.
- Merci pour le chocolat, 2000 (from the novel The Chocolate Cobweb) (dir. Claude Chabrol)
- The Sitter, 1991 (from the novel Mischief) (dir. Rick Berger)
- La Rupture, 1970 (from the novel The Balloon Man) (dir. Claude Chabrol)
- Talk About a Stranger, 1952 (from the short story, "The Enemy")
- Don't Bother to Knock, 1952 (from the novel Mischief) (dir. Roy Baker)
- The Three Weird Sisters, 1948 (from the novel The Case of the Weird Sisters) (dir. Daniel Birt)
- The Unsuspected, 1947 (dir. Michael Curtiz)
- Wright, Erica (October 12, 2018). "The Book You Have Read: "A Dram of Poison," by Charlotte Armstrong". The Rap Sheet. The Rap Sheet. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
- Unger, Lisa. "Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong | Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s". womencrime.loa.org. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
- "Armstrong, Charlotte". gadetection.pbworks.com. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
- "About Charlotte Armstrong". Charlotte Armstrong - Mystery and Suspense Writer. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
- "Charlotte Armstrong | Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s". womencrime.loa.org. Retrieved September 27, 2019.
- Khan, Irman (January 29, 2015). "Perilous Discoveries: The Feminist Murder-Mysteries of Charlotte Armstrong". PopMatters. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
Burke, Jan (Summer 2007). "The Last Word: The Mean Streets of the Suburbs, the Kindness of Strangers—A Tribute to Charlotte Armstrong". Clues: A Journal of Detection. 25.4. pp. 65–69. Archived from the original on June 29, 2013.