1950: The Mystery Writers of America Annual Dinner

Bat Head 2

The Mystery Writers of America Annual Dinner

April 20, 1950

Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 21, 1950

No Bela Laugh as Writers Spotlight Fearsome Lugosi


NEW YORK, April 21. (AP) – The Mystery Writers of America held their annual clambake last night in an atmosphere of fluttering bats’ wings, corpses in the broom closet and a dagger in every chest.

Fun? There hasn’t been so much mock mayhem since the late Mr. Bluebeard started using his wives’ necks for meat cleaver practice. Bluebeard, of course, wasn’t kidding. These whodunit authors were – or so they said, anyway.

Take the menu for instance. It led off with chilled hemlock cup (hemlock being a deadly poison), got down to business with a soup called “witches’ broth,” came through with bared breast of duck euthanasia for the main course.

After the dessert (creme de la crime) the annual awards were presented. “Edgars,” they’re called – in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, a fair hand at the horror business himself. Then came the stage show, in which the crime writers kidded the goose-pimples off their industry and each other.

Why did Poe take to drink? One of the skits explained it: He had a premonition of the radio horror programs that send 20th century children into nightmares.

What does a bride do when she finds her husband is trying to poison her? A skit disposed of that problem in no time. The bride killed several birds with one flask and fed the poison to her mother-in-law.

These mystery writers – who supply gore and suspense to the magazines, book publishers, movies, radio and television – really are gentle souls at heart. Or so they said, anyway.

Their clubhouse is in the heart of the slaughterhouse district. To get in, you elbow your way through a forest of carcasses. Beef carcasses. Don’t wear your best clothes. Bloodstains are hard to remove.

Bela Lugosi, the screen spine-chiller, was on hand as guest of honor – only the program called him “ghost of honor.”

Somebody suggested that he should make a speech. Lugosi, who makes like vampires and assorted creeps before the cameras, paled.

“A sweet family man…a henpecked husband like me…stand up in front of theses writers?” he quavered.

The blood-and-thunder brigade got no speech from Bela Lugosi.