By the 1920s Paul Reilly's cartoons were appearing in major national magazines like Life and Harper's. Reilly's career declined in the 1930s with the onset of the Depression, however, and, like other artists at this time, he found work with the New Deal era Works Progress Administration (WPA), producing 182 easel works for educational books and brochures.
It was at this time that Helen Reilly became the main breadwinner for the family, publishing her first detective novel in 1930. (I don't know whether, like Margery Allingham's artist husband, Philip Youngman Carter, Paul Reilly ever designed any book jackets for his mystery writer wife.) "Even when my husband was alive," Helen later pointedly but poignantly recalled, "I made the living, but he made the living worthwhile."
Although Helen and Paul married in 1914, they did not begin a family until five years later, with the birth of the eldest Reilly girl, Helen. Mary followed the next year, in 1920, then Ursula in 1923 and finally Katherine around 1929. During the earlier years of the marriage the Reillys and their children (as well as Paul's mother, Mary) resided together in Yonkers, New York; but by 1930 the group had moved to Westport, CT, where Helen settled down to a constant regimen of writing and child rearing. At Mystery*File nine years ago, a neighbor of the Reillys, Max Roesler, charmingly recalled the Reilly menage in the early years of the Second World War:
Helen's husband Paul, [a] failed artist but [a] kindly soul, had [a] studio on [the] top floor, shared with [a] parrot. Helen was probably [the] main support of the family. Mother's and my cat "James" disappeared, [and] later a James lookalike showed up at Helen and Paul's, [and] proceeded to bear many litters, some with stubby Manx tails. They and all but Paul and the parrot inhabited the rest of the house. Because I had noticed smoke from [an] iron left "on" burning its way down on [the] Reilly's ironing board and had alerted my mother, who took action, I was free to visit whenever [I wanted], to pet cats, and to enjoy shoestring French fries, a Reilly staple. World War II shortages meant that frying fat was used over and over, and the house smelled of cat, but the hospitality was warm and genuine. I remember [Helen and Paul and Ursula] most. Quirky household, but many in Westport, CT, were. The town was a curious mix of art colony and NYC suburban/exurban dormitory.
Described as a "salty" and "witty" woman, Helen Reilly was but 4'8" but she left a large legacy of crime fiction. I will be looking at some of it this week, including one novel with plenty of poison in it!