S. S. Van Dine was the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright (October 15, 1888 – April 11, 1939), an American art critic and detective novelist. He was an important figure in avant-garde cultural circles in pre-WW I New York, and he created the once immensely popular fictional detective Philo Vance, a sleuth and aesthete who first appeared in books in the 1920s, then in movies and on the radio. Autograph Slip Writing Signed, n.d. - 5 x 2 3/4 written in blk ink and cut from an ALS. Appears to be cut at the end of the letter; very nice even toning seen overall, fine/very fine condition.
Willard Huntington Wright was born to Archibald Davenport Wright and Annie Van Vranken Wright on October 15, 1888, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
His younger brother, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, became a respected painter and one of the first American abstract artists, founder of the school of modern art known as "Synchromism." Willard and Stanton were raised in Santa Monica, California, where their father owned a hotel.
Willard Wright, a largely self-taught writer, attended St. Vincent College, Pomona College and Harvard University without graduating. In 1907, Wright married Katharine Belle Boynton of Seattle, Washington; they had had one child, Beverley. After divorcing Katharine, whom he had abandoned early in their marriage, he married for a second time in October 1930. His wife was Eleanor Rulapaugh, known professionally as Claire De Lisle, a portrait painter and socialite.
At the precocious age of twenty-one, Wright began his professional writing career as literary editor of the Los Angeles Times, where he was known for his scathing book reviews and irreverent opinions. He was particularly caustic about romance and detective fiction. His friend and mentor H.L. Mencken was an early inspiration. Other important literary influences included Oscar Wilde and Ambrose Bierce. Wright was an advocate of the naturalism of Theodore Dreiser, and his own novel, The Man of Promise (1916), was written in a similar style. He also published realist fiction as editor of the New York literary magazine The Smart Set, from 1912 to 1914, a job he attained with Mencken's help. He was fired from that position when the magazine's conservative owner felt that Wright was intentionally provoking their middle-class readership with his interest in unconventional and often sexually explicit fiction.
In his two-year tenure, Wright published short stories by D.H. Lawrence, Ford Madox Ford, George Moore, Gabriele D'Annunzio, and Floyd Dell, a play by Joseph Conrad, and poems by Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats. Wright's energies were devoted to numerous projects, reflecting his wide range of interests. His book What Nietzsche Taught appeared in 1915.
An attempt to popularize the German philosopher with skeptical American audiences, it described and commented on all of Nietzsche's books and provided quotations from each work. Wright continued to write short stories in this period; recently Brooks Hefner revealed heretofore unknown short stories that featured an intellectual criminal, written by Wright under a pseudonym several years before his adoption of the Van Dine pseudonym. He was, however, most respected in intellectual circles for his writing about art.
In Modern Painting: Its Tendency and Meaning (secretly co-authored in 1915 with his brother Stanton), he surveyed the important art movements of the last hundred years from Manet to Cubism, praised the largely unknown work of Cezanne, and predicted a coming era in which an art of color abstraction would replace realism. Admired by people like Alfred Stieglitz and George O'Keeffe, Wright became under his brother's tutelage one of the most progressive (and belligerently opinionated) art critics of the time and helped to organize several shows, including the "Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters," that brought the most advanced new painters to the attention of audiences on both coasts. He also published a work of aesthetic philosophy, The Creative Will (1916), that O'Keeffe and William Faulkner both regarded as a meaningful influence on their thinking about artistic identity.
On April 11, 1939, at the age of fifty-one, Wright died in New York of a heart condition exacerbated by excessive drinking, a year after the publication of an unpopular experimental novel that incorporated one of the biggest stars in radio comedy, The Gracie Allen Murder Case, and leaving a complete novelette-length story that was intended as a film vehicle for Sonja Henie and was published posthumously as The Winter Murder Case. Max Perkins generously referred to Wright at the time of his death as a "gallant, gentle man" who had been tormented by the pressures of a market-driven age. His portrait, painted by his brother in 1914, hangs in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.