“….for now mine end doth haste.
I run to death, and death meets me as fast.”
Whenever, as yesterday, I start to feel too sorry for myself and I can sense my sorrow turning toxic, I try to snap myself out of it by reminding myself that as bad as my life got, at least it never reached Cornell Woolrich levels of bad. I take great comfort from knowing that as bad as things were, there is still so much further to fall before I find myself at full and abject Cornell Woolrich despair.
Pity Cornell, (Yes, also Chris Cornell who took his own life in May of 2017 hours after performing with Soundgarden—but at least he didn’t spend the majority of his adult life living as a recluse in a series of seedy motels, just him and his mother, that was all the other Cornell) Cornell Woolrich, arguably the greatest stylist of all the mystery writers of the first half of the 20th century. Cornell wanted to be F. Scott. Fitzgerald went to Princeton, Woolrich went to Columbia—but only for a year. He dropped out to write serious, literary jazz age novels. They didn’t catch on with the general public; but they were well-written and they caught Hollywood’s attention.
As with F. Scott before him, Cornell, newly married, moved to Hollywood in his 20s and tried his hand writing screenplays. His screenwriting career never had a chance. In Hollywood, Woolrich discovered and explored vigorously his homosexuality, which ended his marriage and earned him a reputation. He moved back to New York where he moved back in with his mom and pretty much disappeared from public view. He drank way too much: he got a leg amputated because his shoe was so tight it rotted that whole leg. He weighed less than a hundred pounds when he died in 1968 at the age of 64. His life after Hollywood sounds miserable. Maybe that’s the way these things work: in misery, Woolrich wrote better mysteries than just about anyone ever had before him. Happiness never did Cornell’s talent much good.
The quote above is the epigraph from Rendezvous in Black (1948), the last of the six mysteries Woolrich published with the word “Black” in the title. Most of these titles remain out of print, even though all of them rank within the best 100 mystery novels ever written.
Black Angel, the novel from 1943, was made into a film of the same title in 1946 with Dan Duryea and Peter Lorre starring and the whole Hollywood everything. Reportedly, Woolrich hated--hated!--the movie. It did not do his despair or his drinking any real favours. But, I don't know, I like it. Most of all because I still haven't found a copy of Black Angel to read so I don't have the source novel with which to compare the film. I can, me, myself personally, watch Peter Lorre or Dan Duryea in anything. Who else has ever been like either of them? It's a good movie.