Date in History: 1908 – 1957 When Craig Rice, nee Georgiana Randolph Craig, appeared on the cover of Time Magazine (January 28, 1946) she was recognized as “virtually the only woman” working in the distinctly American genre of whodunits. And yet her own life story, including her Fort Atkinson connection, is as interesting as any of the plots that unfolded in her books.
It would be an understatement to say that Craig Rice had a turbulent personal life. Married five times and twice threatening suicide, Rice’s health was seriously compromised by chronic alcoholism. When she was found dead in her Los Angeles apartment at the age of 49, the coroner’s report indicated that this maven of the murder mystery had died of “natural causes.”
In 1908 Mary Randolph Craig reluctantly interrupted her globetrotting to return home to Chicago to give birth to her first child, Georgiana Randolph Craig. Mary’s husband, Harry Craig, a Fort Atkinson native nicknamed Bosco, apparently didn’t think the event noteworthy enough to join his wife. In fact soon after Georgiana’s birth Mary abandoned the child to return to her husband overseas leaving Georgiana to travel only from relative to relative. They returned in 1911 to meet their three-year old daughter but then departed for Europe again, moving on to India when the war broke out. This time, however, Georgiana had the good fortune to land in Fort Atkinson where she lived with her paternal aunt and uncle, Mr. & Mrs. Elton Rice at 607 South Main St. It was the Rices who raised Georgiana and it was her uncle Elton who has been credited with stirring her interest in mysteries by reading her the poems and stories of Edgar Allen Poe.
Rice got her start writing serial stories for radio station WCLO in Janesville in the early 1930s. It was here that she gained valuable experience in developing the murder mystery format. During 1939 and 1940 Rice wrote her first four mysteries at the home of her aunt on South Main St. Her first book, 8 Faces at 3, published in 1939 became an immediate bestseller. It was followed in rapid succession by The Corpse Steps Out, The Wrong Murder, and The Right Murder. In all, Rice went on to author 26 books, including some under the pseudonym Michael Venning and Daphne Sanders. The two constants in most of Rice’s murder mysteries were serious amounts of alcohol consumption and a detective named Malone.
By the time Time Magazine caught up to Rice she was living in Santa Monica, California, but she hadn’t forgotten her friends in Fort Atkinson. “Please will you write me with news from home,” she implored Mary Hoard in a letter dated April 6, 1948. “My greatest ambition is still to buy a farm in Jefferson County. I get the Union by mail, and so am able to catch up on the home folks. Also, please, will you give my love to Bill, and to all the dear dear people at home? And DO write me. You have no idea how homesick I get!”
When doing research on Craig Rice for a local authors exhibit, we discovered that neither the public library nor the museum had a copy of the original January 28, 1946 issue of Time Magazine. We contacted Time’s archive department to see if we could acquire one and they informed us that they had only 10 copies of the issue left and the asking price was $200. When we informed Connie Meyer at the library, she thought they might be able to make a swap with another library. She sent out an inquiry and sure enough our resourceful public library now has a copy of the issue courtesy of a library in Wisconsin Rapids. Good things come to those who ask!
The following excerpt aired on the radio as an Historic Minute on 03/24/2003.
When author Craig Rice appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1946, she was the acknowledged queen of the whodunit genre. And yet, her own life was as interesting as any of the plots that unfolded in her books.
Abandoned by her parents, Rice grew up at her aunt and uncle’s home at 607 South Main Street in Fort Atkinson. Here she wrote her first four books – all of which became immediate best sellers. Rice would move on to California and finally publish a total of 26 mysteries.
Married five times and twice threatening suicide, Rice’s health was seriously compromised by chronic alcoholism. When she was found dead in her Los Angeles apartment at the age of 49, the coroner declared that this maven of the murder mystery had died of “natural causes.”