10 April, 2009
Evan Hunter was a prolific American author and screenwriter. Though he was a successful and well-known writer using the Evan Hunter name (a name he legally adopted in 1952), he was perhaps even better known as Ed McBain, a name he used for most of his crime fiction, beginning in 1956.
Evan Hunter was born and raised as Salvatore Lombino in New York City, living in East Harlem until the age of 12, at which point his family moved to the Bronx. He attended Olinville Junior High School, then Evander Childs High School, before winning an Art Students League scholarship. Later, he was admitted as an art student at Cooper Union.
Lombino served in the Navy in World War II, writing several short stories while serving aboard a destroyer in the Pacific. However, none of these stories were published until after he had established himself as an author in the 1950s.
After the war, Lombino returned to New York and studied at Hunter College, majoring in English, with minors in dramatics and education. He published a weekly column in the Hunter College newspaper as "S.A. Lombino".
While looking to start a career as a writer, Lombino took a variety of jobs, including 17 days as a teacher at Bronx Vocational High School in September 1950. This experience would later form the basis for his 1954 novel The Blackboard Jungle.
In 1951, Lombino took a job as an Executive Editor for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, working with authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, P.G. Wodehouse, Lester del Rey, Poul Anderson, and Richard S. Prather, among others. He made his first professional short-story sale that same year, a science-fiction tale entitled "Welcome Martians", credited to S.A. Lombino.
Soon after his initial sale, Lombino sold stories under the pen names "Evan Hunter" and "Hunt Collins". The name "Evan Hunter" is generally believed to have been derived from two schools he attended, Evander Childs High School and Hunter College, although the author himself would never confirm that. (He did confirm that the name "Hunt Collins" was derived from Hunter College.)
Lombino legally changed his name to Evan Hunter in May 1952, after an editor told him that a novel he wrote would sell more copies if credited to "Evan Hunter" than it would if it were credited to "S.A. Lombino". Thereafter, he used the name Evan Hunter both personally and professionally.
As Evan Hunter, he gained fame with his 1954 novel The Blackboard Jungle, which dealt with juvenile crime and the New York City public school system. In 1956, the book was made into a movie.
During this ear, Hunter also wrote a great deal of genre fiction. He was advised by his agents that publishing too much fiction under the Hunter byline, or publishing any crime fiction as Evan Hunter, might weaken his literary reputation. As a consequence, during the 1950s Hunter used the pseudonyms Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, and Richard Marsten for much of his crime fiction. A prolific author in several genres, Hunter also published approximately two dozen science fiction stores and four SF novels bewtween 1951 and 1956 under the names S.A. Lombino, Evan Hunter, Richard Marsten, D.A. Addams and Ted Taine.
His most famous pseudonym, Ed McBain, debuted in 1956, with the first novel in the 87th Precinct crime series. NBC ran a police drama also called 87th Precinct during the 1961–1962 season based on McBain's work.
Hunter himself publicly revealed in 1958 that he was McBain, but he continued to use that pseudonym for several decades, most notably for the 87th Precinct series, and for the Matthew Hope series of detective novels.
By about 1960, Hunter had retired the pen names of Cannon, Marsten, Collins, Addams and Taine. From this point on, crime novels were generally attributed to McBain, and other sorts of fiction to Hunter. Reprints of crime-oriented stories and novels written in the 1950s previously attributed to other psuedonyms were issued under the McBain byline. Hunter stated that the division of names allowed readers to know what to expect: McBain novels had a consistent writing style, while Hunter novels were more varied.
Under the Hunter name, novels steadily appeared throuoght the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, including Come Winter (1973), and Lizzie (1984). Hunter was also active as a screenwriter, penning the screenplay of the 1963 film The Birds for Alfred Hitchcock, very loosely adapted from Daphne du Maurier's short story. He was also set to adapt Winston Graham's novel Marnie for Hitchcock, but he and the director had a disagreement over a crucial scene, and Hunter was let go.
From 1958 until his death, McBain's "87th Precinct" novels appeared at a rate of approximately one or two novels a year. From 1978 to 1998, they were joined by another McBain series about lawyer Matthew Hope; books in this series appeared every year or two. For about a decade, from 1984 to 1994, Hunter published no fiction under his own name.
In 2000, a novel called Candyland appeared that was credited to both Hunter and McBain. The two-part novel opened in Hunter's psychologically-based narrative voice before switching to McBain's customary police procedural style.
Aside from McBain, Hunter used at least two other pseudonyms after 1960. The 1975 novel Doors was originally attributed to Ezra Hannon, before being reissued as a work by McBain, and the 1992 novel Scimitar was credited to John Abbott.
Hunter died of laryngeal cancer in 2005 at the age of 78 in Weston, Connecticut.