RARA-AVIS: Re: Pulp pleasures + Death Certificate

From: moorich2@aol.com
Date: 03 Oct 2004

In a message dated 10/3/2004 2:08:28 AM Eastern Daylight Time, rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com writes:

> Date: Sat, 2 Oct 2004 20:37:51 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Victoria Lavagette < lavagette@yahoo.com>
> Subject: Pulp pleasures + death certificate
> There is a mystery story lurking in these details and trying to get written.
> Victoria
> DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net wrote:
> Richard wrote:
> "As I've learned from his half-brother Don Torrey (who sent me the death
> certificate), . . ."
> Richard, this isn't the first time you've mentioned contact with an
> author's surviving family members (I remember your mentioning Ralph
> Dennis's sister, for instance). You clearly research the pasts of
> writers you like. Any chance of your putting together a collection of
> stories you've gathered about your favorites? I'd buy it.
> Mark

I did track down Ralph Dennis' sister Irma Spence, who alas died this summer before signing contracts to publish (via PointBlank) unpublished Dennis novels. I still hope this will take place.

But Roger Torrey's half-brother Donald contacted me based on my posts on Rara-Avis about his brother's writing. This is not that unusual as I get emails all the time based on Rara posts I've written. Which raises an interesting question? Now that the list is on Yahoo, are the posts available to outsiders doing Internet searches? If not, I will find it regrettable. I've learned a lot from these contacts.

The Torrey story is fascinating. Don and Roger shared a father but that father had three separate families (one at a time) but apparently he never mentioned the other wives and children to the later families. Don was part of family number three and did not learn (IIRC) of the others until his father's funeral, which came decades after Roger's death. He thinks Roger (who was in family number one) knew of the second family but not the third.

Almost nothing was known in the mystery world about Roger Torrey, other than the fact that like his detective Shean Connell, he was a "barrelhouse piano player" and an alcoholic. Frank Gruber mentions spotting him one morning on the streets of New York and he was either still on a long evening or getting an early start on the day's drinking. He was also described as looking as tough
(of the short and wiry type) as any of his characters. Dennis Macmillan's reprint of 42 DAYS TO MURDER has a blurb that said he "...supposedly died in the arms of his mistress somewhere in Florida in the late 1940s." This sounds like an old-timer heard something close to the truth and passed down the oral tradition.

So I was excited to hear from Don because he pinpointed the key facts. Roger Denzel Torrey was born May 5, 1901 (although the death certificate says 1900, it is more probably the 1901 date) the son of Neil Baldwin Torrey
(1880-1967). He died on January 11, 1946 at 1009 S.E. 4th Street, Ft. Lauderdale, FL with the cause of death as acute intoxification and cirrhosis of the liver. It's doubtful he died in the arms of a mistress as he was living with his then wife Helen at the time of his death. This would have been Roger's second wife and perhaps she had previously been known as his "mistress."

 The death certificate also mentions that he had been in the Canadian Army during World War I. Half-brother Don tracked that down and, indeed, learned that having been turned down for U.S. service, he crossed the border and enlisted in the Canadian Army at the age of 17. He was living in Oregon at the time and his occupation was listed as "logger."

The war ended before he could be sent to Europe. Yet, I find it interesting that two of the mainstays of Black Mask in the 1930s were veterans of the Canadian Army. While today Chandler's reputation dwarfs most of his contemporaries, Torrey debuted along about 1933 and his name was soon featured prominently on the cover of Black Mask and I am sure they shared many issues. I doubt they were aware of this common point.

This is all fascinating stuff but all the credit goes to Don Torrey, who over the last couple of years I have encouraged to write it up. I did find out for him that Roger was in New York for at least some of the organizational meetings of what became the Mystery Writers of America and so it seems he was still New York-based within a few months of his death. Were he and his wife just wintering in Ft. Lauderdale or was this a permanent move? I doubt we will ever know.

Beyond this one point (and passing on the Gruber quote), my only repayment to Don for this fascinating information is to send him copies of the Roger Torrey stories I managed to pick up at reasonable prices on eBay and elsewhere. As so many of his better stories, including several Shean Connell novelettes, are in Black Mask issues from the classic era, I will need to win the lottery to obtain those issues. The prices for those are really amazing.

So where was I? Don't credit me for being that much of a literary detective.
 I do a bit here or there but mostly I just read my email. And again, I wonder if the Yahoo lists are searchable on the Internet. My experience on other Yahoo lists is that they are not. If so, I will miss getting these
"out-of-the-blue" emails that have added so much to my knowledge.

Richard Moore

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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