When King came to Yale the precocious Porter already was writing musical plays for the YDA. "Rufe" King, who was adept among the all-male membership at playing women's parts, became one of the YDA's star attractions (about King, another member of the YDA, Arnold Whitridge, wrote the following--no doubt envious!--couplet: "Little Rufe King couldn't teach me a thing/I'm the Queen of the Yale Dramat").
Perhaps the best known Porter play in which King starred was And Still the Villain Pursued Her (1912), a send-up of Uncle Tom's Cabin and nineteenth-century melodramas. King's friend, the future Oscar-nominated actor Monty Woolley played the villain, while King, age nineteen, took the heroine's part.
Oh gee! It's heaven to be the lovely heroine.
All the men woo me
And try to undo me
But that's not my line.
I live so far from New York
I faint dead away at the smell of a cork.
Why! I'm such a child I believe in the stork!
For I'm the heroine.
Wooley's lyric from "I'm the Villain" naturally was a mite more pugnacious:
|Cole Porter at Yale|
The dirty little villain;
I leave a pool of blood where e'er I tread,
I take delight
In looking for a fight
And pressing little babies on the head
Till they're dead.
(see The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter, p. 13-14).
In 1914, King was planning to enroll in Columbia Law School (surely a loss to musical comedy), but instead he steered another, more unexpected, course.
|Rufus King, author|
After the war King was employed for a time in the maritime division of the New York police, before achieving success in late thirties as a mystery novelist. All in all, surely one of your most interesting mystery author backgrounds!
Well, in April 1934, Dillinger and his gang were holed-up at the Little Bohemian Lodge in the upstate Wisconsin village of Manitowish Waters. The lodge owner's wife managed to get a letter to the FBI, which launched a badly botched assault on the building, in the process killing a bystanding Civilian Conservation Corps worker, but failing to capture or kill Dillinger or any members of the gang.
|Little Bohemia Lodge, site of a 1934 FBI-Dillinger altercation|
Evidently a good businessman, the owner of the lodge, Emil Wanatka, sought to get as much publicity out of the bloody shoot 'em up as he could.
Besides selling his story to Startling Detective Adventures ("I Was Held Captive by Dillinger and Saw Him Blast His Way to Freedom"), Wanatka proudly pointed out to visitors the bullet holes in the walls and windows of his lodge and displayed Dillinger possessions that he said he had found in the small cottage adjacent to the lodge where Dillinger had stayed during his brief but memorable visit (Wanatka also faked a photo of him and Dillinger together; see below).
|Proud members of the Rufus King fan club?|
So was our man Dillinger a fan of Rufus King, an author who "to millions of people" had made-- according to the enthusiastic publicity people at King's publisher Doubleday, Doran--his detective "Lieutenant Valcour a symbol of danger and excitement" (obviously Dillinger didn't get enough danger and excitement in his life already)?
It may well be so--though surely a true crime fiction addict would have dashed back to that cottage and grabbed the book before eluding the clutches of the FBI. Surely one just can't go and leave a Rufus King novel unfinished!
Dillinger must have finished reading Murder on the Yacht before the boys from the bureau started shooting. Or maybe he waited to make his escape until he finished the last page ("Just one more page, Floyd!").
Pictures One and Four are courtesy of Bill Pronzini. Dillinger and his gang also attacked a state police arsenal in Peru, Indiana, birthplace and boyhood home of Cole Porter, oddly enough. Did Rufus King ever visit Peru, Indiana? I'm on the case!
Meanwhile, see my recent review of King's classic Murder by Latitude (1930) here. A review of King's Murder on the Yacht is coming, along with reviews of Ellery Queen, Rex Stout and Max Alan Collins. TPT