Edgar Wallace

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Edgar Wallace (1875-1932)[1] was a journalist, editor, poet, novelist, scriptwriter and playwright.


Born Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace in London, he was the illegitimate child of an actress. He went to St. Peter's School and the Board School, but left school at age 12, inter alia to work in a printing shop, a shoe shop, and a rubber factory, before he joined the army at age 21. He came to South Africa with the West Kent Regiment in 1896, but then managed to get a transfer to the Royal Army Medical Corps, stationed in Simonstown. He again managed to transfer, this time to the Press Corps, and in 1899 bought his way out of the army and became a full-time author.

He now became a war correspondent in South Africa, initially writing for Reuters and later the Daily Mail (1900) and other periodicals during the Boer War. He was for example a fairly regular contributor to the South African Review.

In 1901 he returned to London deeply in debt to work as a journalist and begin writing thrillers to raise income, publishing his first book (The Four Just Men) himself in 1906.

Wallace was twice married, to Ivy Maude Caldecott (1901 to 1918), and Ethel Violet King (1921-1932).

An incredible career now followed for this prodigious writer, during which he produced some 173 books, 25 plays and 6 film scripts. Among the screenplays were one for the first sound film adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1932), produced by Gainsborough Pictures, and the first scenario for the film King Kong.

Wallace died in Hollywood in 1932.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

Wallace began working as a creative writer in Simonstown, starting with songs and poetry, apparently inspired in part by meeting with Rudyard Kipling in Cape Town in 1898.

His also wrote his first play, An African Millionaire, inspired by the life of Cecil John Rhodes and possibly written while he was still in South Africa. It was staged by Leonard Rayne in 1904, though it was not a great success apparently, for it never revived by Rayne, according to Boonzaier (1923). The text was not published till 1972 when it appeared as a Davis-Poynter playscript.




D.C. Boonzaier. 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1923. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

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