|Born||Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin|
12 May 1907
|Died||15 April 1993 (aged 85)|
Windsor, Berkshire, England
|Occupation||Thriller writer, screenwriter|
Leslie Charteris (born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin, 12 May 1907 - 15 April 1993), was a British-Chinese author of adventure fiction, as well as a screenwriter. He was best known for his many books chronicling the adventures of his charming hero Simon Templar, alias "The Saint".
Charteris was born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin, in Singapore. His mother, Lydia Florence Bowyer, was English. His father, Dr S. C. Yin (Yin Suat Chwan, 1877-1958), was a Chinese physician who claimed to be able to trace his lineage back to the emperors of the Shang dynasty.
Leslie became interested in writing at an early age. At one point, he created his own magazine with articles, short stories, poems, editorials, serials, and even a comic strip. He attended Rossall School in Fleetwood, Lancashire, England.
In 1926, Leslie legally changed his surname to "Charteris". In the BBC Radio 4 documentary Leslie Charteris - A Saintly Centennial, his daughter stated that he had selected the name from a telephone directory.
Charteris wrote his first book during his first year at King's College, Cambridge. Once it was accepted, he left the university and embarked on a new career, motivated by a desire to be unconventional and to become financially well off by doing what he liked to do. He continued to write British thriller stories while working at various jobs, from shipping out on a freighter to working as a barman in a country inn. He prospected for gold, dived for pearls, worked in a tin mine and on a rubber plantation, toured Britain with a carnival, and drove a bus.
Charteris's third novel, Meet the Tiger (1928), introduced his most famous creation, Simon Templar. However, in his 1980 introduction to a reprint by Charter Books, Charteris indicated he was dissatisfied with the work, suggesting its only value was as the start of the long-running Saint series. Occasionally, he chose to ignore the existence of Meet the Tiger altogether and claimed that the Saint series actually began with the second volume, Enter the Saint (1930); an example of this can be found in the introduction Charteris wrote to an early 1960s edition of Enter the Saint published by Fiction Publishing Company (an imprint of Doubleday).
Charteris wrote a few other books, including a novelization of his screenplay for the Deanna Durbin mystery-comedy Lady on a Train, and the English translation of Juan Belmonte: Killer of Bulls by Manuel Chaves Nogales. However, his lifework - at least in the literary world -- consisted primarily of Simon Templar Saint adventures, which were presented in novel, novella, and short-story formats over the next 35 years. From 1963 onward, other authors ghost-wrote the stories, while Charteris acted as an editor, approving stories and making revisions when needed.
Charteris relocated to the United States in 1932, where he continued to publish short stories and also became a writer for Paramount Pictures, working on the George Raft film, Midnight Club.[page needed]
However, Charteris was excluded from permanent residency in the United States because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law which prohibited immigration for persons of "50% or greater" Oriental blood. As a result, Charteris was forced to continually renew his six-month temporary visitor's visa. Eventually, an act of Congress personally granted his daughter and him the right of permanent residence in the United States, with eligibility for naturalization, which he later completed.[better source needed]
In 1936, Charteris was a passenger on the maiden voyage of the Hindenburg. In America, The Saint became a radio series starring Vincent Price. In the 1940s, Charteris, besides continuing to write The Saint stories, scripted the Sherlock Holmes radio series featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.[page needed] In 1941, Charteris appeared in a Life photographic adaptation of a short story of The Saint, with himself playing the Saint.[page needed]
Long-term success eluded Charteris' creation outside the literary arena until RKO produced an eight-film series between 1938 and 1943: The Saint in New York (1938) with Louis Hayward as The Saint; The Saint Strikes Back (1939), The Saint in London (1939, filmed on location), The Saint's Double Trouble (1940), The Saint Takes Over (1940), and The Saint in Palm Springs (1941) all with George Sanders as The Saint. Another Briton, Hugh Sinclair, took over the role in The Saint's Vacation (filmed by RKO's British studio in 1941) and The Saint Meets the Tiger (again produced by RKO in 1941 but shelved until Republic Pictures released it in 1943).
A ninth film, The Saint's Return (known as The Saint's Girl Friday in the US) from 1953, with Louis Hayward returning as The Saint, is sometimes regarded as part of the RKO series. However, it was produced by British Hammer Film Productions, based on a special agreement between Hammer Films and Leslie Charteris, which gave Charteris a percentage in the film. RKO acted only as the film's US distributor, six months after the UK release.
Both George Sanders and Leslie Charteris had issues with the Saint pictures; Sanders because he disliked playing the same role again and again, and Charteris because of the liberties taken by the screenwriters. RKO dropped the Saint series and replaced it with The Falcon, another debonair amateur sleuth played by Sanders. Charteris saw this as a ploy to deprive him of his royalties, and sued RKO. Sanders bailed out of the Falcon series after three films, and was replaced by his brother, Tom Conway.
A film loosely based on the character simply titled "The Saint" was released in 1997 with Val Kilmer in the title role.
Many episodes of the TV series were based upon Charteris' short stories. Later, as original scripts were commissioned, Charteris permitted some of these scripts to be novelized and published as further adventures of the Saint in printed form (these later books, with titles such as The Saint on TV and The Saint and the Fiction Makers, carried Charteris' name as author, but were in fact written by others). Charteris lived to see a second British TV series, Return of the Saint starring Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar, enjoy a well-received, if brief, run in the late 1970s (with Charteris himself making a cameo appearance in one episode) and, in the 1980s, a series of TV movies produced by an international co-production and starring Simon Dutton kept interest in The Saint alive. Also, an ill-fated attempt at a 1980s TV series was made in the United States, which resulted in only a pilot episode being produced and broadcast. He also produced the original theme tune to the series, as can be seen on the end credits.
The adventures of The Saint were chronicled in nearly 100 books (about 50 published in the UK and US, with others published in France). Charteris himself stepped away from writing the books after The Saint in the Sun (1963). The next year, Vendetta for the Saint was published and while it was credited to Charteris, it was actually written by science fiction writer Harry Harrison. Following Vendetta came a number of books adapting televised episodes, credited to Charteris, but written by others, although Charteris did collaborate on several Saint books in the 1970s. Charteris appears to have served in an editorial capacity for these later volumes. He also edited and contributed to The Saint Mystery Magazine, a digest-sized publication. The final book in the Saint series was Salvage for the Saint, published in 1983. Two additional books were published in 1997, a novelization of the film loosely based on the character, and an original novel published by "The Saint Club", a fan club that Charteris himself founded in the 1930s. Both books were written by Burl Barer, who also wrote the definitive history on Charteris and The Saint.
Charteris spent 55 years - 1928 to 1983 - as either writer of or custodian of Simon Templar's literary adventures, one of the longest uninterrupted spans of a single author in the history of mystery fiction, equalling that of Agatha Christie, who wrote her novels and stories featuring detective Hercule Poirot.
Charteris also wrote a column on cuisine for an American magazine, and invented a wordless, pictorial sign language called Paleneo, which he wrote a book on. Charteris was also one of the earliest members of Mensa.
In 1952, Charteris married Hollywood actress Audrey Long (1922-2014); the couple eventually returned to England, where he spent his last years living in Surrey. He died at Princess Margaret's Hospital Windsor, Berkshire, on 15 April 1993, survived by his wife and daughter, Patricia.
He was married four times:
In addition, Charteris authored numerous uncollected short stories and essays.