Rex Stout: A Biography Table of Contents

Rex Stout: A Biography Table of Contents

Table of Contents

I. Background and Basics
Who is Rex Stout?

Background / Upbringing

II. Rex Stout the Writer
Major Accomplishments and Awards

Personal Life

III. Public and Private Persona
Rex Stout In the News

Public Statements

IV. Extras


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Rex Stout: A Biography Table of Contents
Rex Stout: A Biography Table of Contents

List of links

Further Reading

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Rex Stout: A Biography Background and Basics


Background and

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Rex Stout: A Biography Background and Basics

Who is Rex Stout?

Author Rex Stout created one of the best-known and popular fictional detective
characters in history, Nero Wolfe, along with Wolfe's unforgettable and talented personal
assistant, Archie Goodwin. With Nero Wolfe, Stout has been described as a puppet master
who manipulated a character until it took on a life of its own.

Nero Wolfe became so real that he has spawned decades of study and analysis from
reviewers, bibliophiles, academics, and fans who debate and speculate on every aspect
of Nero Wolfe's life: the man himself, his assistant Archie Goodwin, his detective methods,
his home, and his culinary preferences. Although Rex Stout the author was a fascinating
man with a life history worth telling, he comes second to the characters he created in
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.

In each of the Nero Wolfe narratives, comprising almost 80 novels, novellas and short
stories, the story is told through the eyes of Archie Goodwin. Wolfe is brilliant, eccentric,
and lazy. Archie does all of the legwork, while Wolfe stays at home and solves the
mystery. Some have speculated that the Archie Goodwin character was Rex Stout's
idealized self-portrait. Others have suggested Archie was actually female, although there
is little evidence in Stout's books to support that.

Ironically, Stout himself wrote an opinion piece "Watson was a Woman?" in which he
presents evidence and argues quite persuasively that Sherlock Holmes' sidekick Watson
was really a woman named Irene Watson.

Although Stout started out writing other types of books, including a psychological novel,
with the 1934 publication of Fer-de-Lance, his first Nero Wolfe novel, he concentrated
completely on writing about Nero Wolfe, detective extraordinaire. Wolfe quickly came
alive for readers as a real person. Nero Wolfe loves orchids and has a penchant for
gourmet food, as evidenced by his corporeal figure that weighs in at, according to Archie,
a seventh of a ton. Many of Wolfe's elaborate menus are described at length in each
novel, leading Stout to publish a cookbook based on Wolfe's favorite dishes in 1973.

Part of Wolfe's charm is his vocabulary. He tosses out words like flummery, recondite,

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Rex Stout: A Biography Background and Basics
Rex Stout: A Biography Background and Basics

contumelious, dolichocephalic and acarpus, and he uses a cryptography technique called
chaffing and winnowing. He avoids exercise: Wolfe only gets up from his chair to move to
another chair, unless it is to escape a crying woman (in which case, he leaves the room).
He has elaborate rules of proper behavior, and refuses to talk to anyone who remains
standing in his presence.

Nero Wolfe's genius allows him to solve seemingly impossible mysteries, always, of
course, with the help of Archie Goodwin, who is sent out to do the real dirty work. Wolfe
always has three ways he solves a mystery:

He contacts each suspect and accuses them of being the murderer. He then waits for
them to expose themselves by stealing a key piece of evidence or by trying to kill
Archie, Wolfe, or a person Wolfe has used as bait.

He sends an operative to retrieve a piece of evidence. This is withheld from Archie and
revealed at the end to expose the murderer.

He uses logic and reasoning to work out who is the killer.

The quirky personality of Nero Wolfe is highlighted in the following excerpts, in Archie's
words, as always:

"Wolfe was in his office looking at television, which gives him a lot of pleasure. I have
seen him turn it on as many as eight times in one evening, glare at it from one to
three minutes, turn it off, and go back to his book." (The Golden Spiders, 1953)

"The trouble with mornings is that they come when you're not awake." (A Window for
Death, 1956)

“I resent your tone, your diction, your manners, and your methods; and only a witling
would call a man with my conceit a liar." (Immune to Murder, 1955)

"I presume you know, since I've told you, that my distrust and hatred of vehicles in
motion is partly based on my plerophory that their apparent submission to control is
illusory and that they may at their pleasure, and sooner or later will, act on whim. Very
well, this one has, and we are intact. Thank God the whim was not a deadlier
one." (Some Buried Caesar, 1939)

Then there is Wolfe's attitude towards women:

"Women don't require motives that are comprehensible by intellectual

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Rex Stout: A Biography Background and Basics

processes." (Door to Death, 1949)

Rex Stout's other claim to fame was his political and social involvement. During WWII, he
was the leader of the Authors League of America, through which he advocated against
Nazism. He was also chairman of the War Writers Board and master of ceremonies for
the radio program Speaking of Liberty, each of them serving as vehicles for Stout to
espouse his political viewpoints against Communism and to encourage others to get
involved in advocating for peace. In his novels he also argued for racial equality and in
favor of the civil rights movement.

Rex Stout was one of a number of American writers placed under FBI surveillance during
the J. Edgar Hoover years. He was considered either a Communist or an affiliate tool, and
therefore an enemy of the FBI. In the Church Committee's 1976 investigative report it
was discovered that Rex Stout's name had been put on the FBI's "not to contact list."

Almost a third of his FBI file related to his 1965 novel, The Doorbell Rang. In that novel
Nero Wolfe takes on the FBI and tries to get them to stop tailing and harassing a woman
who had been distributing books that criticized the Bureau and J. Edgar Hoover. The book
was published during a time when the public was unhappy with some FBI activities, and
the novel was not particularly flattering in how it portrayed the agency, its director, and
its agents.

During the final decade of his life, Rex Stout had more books in print than any other
American author. At the time of his death, Nero Wolfe books had sold over 45 million
copies in 22 languages. Stout continued to write Nero Wolfe novels right to the end,
publishing A Family Affair a month before he died on October 27, 1975 at the age of 88.

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Rex Stout: A Biography Background and Basics
Rex Stout: A Biography Background and Basics

Background / Upbringing

Rex Stout was born December 1, 1886 in Noblesville, Indiana, to Quaker parents, John
Wallace Stout and Lucetta Elizabeth Todhunter Stout. He was the she sixth of nine
children. Shortly afterwards, his parents moved the family to Kansas. John Wallace Stout
was a teacher and he encouraged all his children to read. By the time Rex was four, he
had read the Bible twice, and by age 13, he was the state spelling bee champion.

He was recognized as an arithmetic prodigy, with an IQ of 185. He reportedly took delight
in correcting his teachers or demanding that they provide proof of certain statements,
leading his biographer to later dub him “Mr. Know-It-All in Knee Pants.”

Stout went to Topeka High School and later attended the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
He left high school in 1905 and enlisted in the Navy, and from 1906 to 1908 did a stint as
Yeoman on the official yacht of President Teddy Roosevelt. Once finished, he spent four
years drifting and working at some 30 different jobs across six states, including store
clerk, hotel manager, office boy, and bookkeeper. While working, he wrote and managed
to sell poems, stories and articles to various magazines.

In 1916, his math skills helped him invent a school banking system called Bank Day that
tracked money school children saved. The system was adopted by almost 400 U.S.
schools, and the royalties allowed Stout to travel extensively in Europe and devote his
time to writing. He married Fay Kennedy of Topeka, Kansas that same year.

Much of Stout's writing during the 1910s was romance, adventure and some borderline
detective tales for publications such as All-Story Magazine. His success selling articles and
stories to magazines encouraged him to become a full-time writer in 1927. In 1929 he
wrote his first book, How Like a God, in Paris. It was a psychology story told in second
person. His writing over his career spanned a variety of literary forms: short story, novel,
science fiction, political propaganda. He published three novels before taking up the
detective mystery genre. All were well-received but did not become best-sellers.

Rex and Fay divorced in 1932, and that same year he married Pola Weinbach Hoffman, a
designer who studied in Vienna under Josef Hoffman and who became well-known in her

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Rex Stout: A Biography Background and Basics
Rex Stout: A Biography Background and Basics

own right. They had two daughters, Barbara Stout Selleck, born in 1933, and Rebecca
Stout Bradbury, born in 1937.

Rex Stout returned to the U.S. and bought a house on the Connecticut-New York state
line, apparently choosing the location specifically to avoid having a Conservative
representative in Congress.

In 1934, the first of his Nero Wolfe titles, Fer-de-lance, was published. Thus began a long
line of novels, all about one very special detective, Nero Wolfe, and his assistant and
spokesperson, Archie Goodwin. Stout conceived of the character of Nero Wolfe shortly
after his father, John, died, and it has been suggested that the character embodies many
of the characteristics of John Stout. Stout did admit that money was a motivator, and that
his initial impetus for writing was the need to bring in an income. For the next 40 years,
Nero Wolfe provided Rex Stout with a healthy one.

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Rex Stout: A Biography Rex Stout the Writer
Rex Stout: A Biography Rex Stout the Writer


Rex Stout the Writer

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Rex Stout: A Biography Rex Stout the Writer

Major Accomplishments and

In 1959, Rex Stout won the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award.

The Nero Wolfe series was nominated Best Mystery Series of the Century at
Bouchercon 2000, which is the largest mystery convention in the world. Rex Stout
himself was nominated Best Mystery Writer of the Century.
The President Vanishes was made into a film by Paramount Pictures in 1934, the same
year the book was published. It was immediately condemned by the National Legion of
Decency, an organization of the Catholic Church, as an immoral film.

The Nero Award is an annual literary award of excellence presented to an author for
excellence in the mystery genre. It has been awarded in December of each year in
New York City since 1979. Past winners have included Lawrence Block, Martha Grimes,
Tony Hillerman, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Jeffery Deaver.

The Nero Wolfe books were adapted to radio in 1943 and 1946, 1951, and 1982. They
were also adapted to television many times, beginning in 1956 with The Fine Art of
Murder, then again in series appearing in 1949, 1967, 1977, 1981, and 2001.

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Rex Stout: A Biography Rex Stout the Writer

Personal Life

While laying the groundwork for his Nero Wolfe series in 1934, Stout published The
President Vanishes, doing so anonymously in hopes of taking advantage of speculative
curiosity this tactic would engender. Rumor was circulated that the book had actually
been written by someone high up in government, which helped sales and led to the book
being made into a movie, with Edward Arnold and Rosaline Russell in the lead roles. It
wasn't until 1939 when Rex Stout had become active in politics did he admit to being the

Rex Stout had a number of social and political interests. He served several terms as
President of the Authors League of America, which led to him becoming involved in the
National Committee for the Universal Copyright Convention, adopted in Geneva in 1952
and ratified in 1954 along with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This was one of two
principal international conventions to protect copyright.

Interestingly, Stout's longevity has meant that, unlike many of his contemporaries whose
works are now in the public domain, Stout's legal copyright has not expired

Stout was president of the Society for the Prevention of World War III and chairman of
the Writers Board for World Government, and he used these as vehicles for advancing his
antifascist viewpoint and ideas about a world government. Through Nero Wolfe, he
compared McCarthy to Hitler, Franco and Malenkov. These factors all contributed to his
later FBI blacklist. At the height of the McCarthy era he was subpoenaed by the House Un-
American Activities Committee, but he ignored it and refused to appear.

Over his lifetime, Stout wrote hundreds of books and stories. The Nero Wolfe books
totaled 47 novels and 40 novellas, published at the rate of at least one book a year over a
40-year period. Stout also produced three Nero Wolfe companion works: The Nero Wolfe
Cookbook (1973), a collection of recipes and quotes from the books; Why Nero Wolfe
Likes Orchids (1963), in which Archie Goodwin investigates the history of Wolfe's
obsession; and The Case of the Spies Who Weren't (1966), a case discussion among Nero
Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, and Rex Stout. Stout also wrote at least 12 other types of novels
and dozens of short stories.

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Rex Stout: A Biography Rex Stout the Writer
Rex Stout: A Biography Rex Stout the Writer

Like most authors, many of Stout's ideas came from his own life. Reportedly his
grandmother, Emily McNeal Todhunter, was quite plump and liked to sit in her special
chair, addicted to flowers. Laziness is a theme that runs through the Nero Wolfe novels,
perhaps rooted in Stout's Quaker upbringing, which rejected temptations to laziness,
among other things.

A month before Stout died on October 27, 1975 at the age of 88, he published his final
Nero Wolfe book, A Family Affair. In 1985, a collection of three Nero Wolfe novellas,
Death Times Three, was published posthumously. Two of the novellas in the collection are
expanded rewrites, and the third, Assault on a Brownstone, is a never before published
story. A number of books have been written about Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe, including
biographies, academic discussions of the Nero Wolfe series, edited anthologies, and at
least one annotated bibliography. Some of these are quite creative and fanciful, for
example, The Brownstone House of Nero Wolfe (1983) has Archie Goodwin telling the
biography of Nero's house, along with floor plans.

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Rex Stout: A Biography Public and Private Persona
Rex Stout: A Biography Public and Private Persona


Public and Private

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Rex Stout: A Biography Public and Private Persona

Rex Stout In the News

The Rex Stout Archive at Boston College represents the best existing collection of the
published works of Rex Stout, along with personal papers and manuscripts. The archive
also contains items donated by the Stout family: correspondence, legal papers,
photographs, first editions, and other papers.

Between 2001 and 2002, A Nero Wolfe Mystery aired on the A & E Network. This
television series was adapted from the Nero Wolfe books, filmed in Toronto, Canada, and
stars Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin. The series
ran for two seasons, 20 one-hour episodes, and the scriptwriters made a conscious effort
to base each screenplay closely on the novels, retaining the original language and spirit.
The series received positive reviews and was nominated for a number of awards. It has
since been released as a DVD collection.

The Kansas Historical Society has a tribute page to Rex Stout.

"When Stout is on top of his game, which is most of the time, his diabolically clever
plotting and his storytelling ability exceed that of any other mystery writer you can name,
including Agatha Christie." (Nancy Pearl in Book Lust, 2003)

Meet Nero Wolfe (1936) starred Edward Arnold and Lionel Stander, and was loosely
based on Fer-de-Lance.

"Rex Stout's witty, fast-moving prose hasn't dated a day, while Wolfe himself is one of the
enduringly great eccentrics of popular fiction. I've spent the past four decades reading
and re-reading Stout's novels for pleasure, and they have yet to lose their savor… It is to
revel in such writing that I return time and again to Stout's books." (Terry Teachout,
in Forty years with Nero Wolfe, 2009)

"Nero Wolfe, with Maury Chaykin as the great detective and Timothy Hutton as his smart-
mouth sidekick Archie, re-created Rex Stout's world of fine food, imported beer, rare
orchids, strong opinions, and vile acts almost perfectly in one of the year's best series."
(Review of Nero Wolfe, the television series. New York Magazine, top 10 shows of 2001).

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Rex Stout: A Biography Public and Private Persona

June 11, 2011, the Wolfe Pack announced the most recent recipient of the Nero Award,
presented to Louise Penny for Bury Your Dead.

In 2002, lawyers acting for Rex Stout's estate sent letters to a number of websites
demanding that all Nero Wolfe/Rex Stout quotes be removed due to copyright concerns.

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Rex Stout: A Biography Public and Private Persona

Public Statements

In one of the Nero Wolfe mysteries Archie Goodwin says to a girl, “Are you Catholic?
What's the difference between a Catholic and a river that runs uphill?” When Rex Stout
was asked for the answer to the riddle, he burst out laughing: "How the Hell do I know?
I just invented it for the scene."

"There are damn few great writers and I'm not one of them. While I could afford to I
played with words. When I could no longer afford that I wrote for money," (1941

"Every book takes me from 35 to 41 days to write. I don't know why that is. I've tried
to get it down to 30 or 31, depending on the length of the month, but it won't work. I
don't drink while I'm writing because it fuddles my logical processes, but when I finish
a book I go down to the kitchen and pour myself a big belt."

“In a way, short fiction is harder to write than long. An unnecessary page in a long
novel doesn't hurt it much, but an unnecessary sentence in a three-thousand-word
story spoils it."

"A person who does not read cannot think. He may have good mental processes, but
he has nothing to think about. You can feel for people or natural phenomena and
react to them, but they are not ideas. You cannot think about them."

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Rex Stout: A Biography Extras
Rex Stout: A Biography Extras



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Rex Stout: A Biography Extras


Stout began writing Nero Wolfe books when he was 48 years old.

In an article The Easy Chair, Bernard DeVoto makes an argument that Nero Wolfe was
actually the son of Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft.

Rex Stout was an active opponent of censorship and helped controversial author
Arthur Machen republish Casanova's Memoirs.

Stout's fans included Somerset Maugham, P.G. Wodehouse, and Kingsley Amis, who
called Wolfe "the most interesting of all the great detectives."

Stout never wrote a second draft, since his novels were plotted out with such care and
precision first time around.

Rex Stout would hide boxes of chocolates, just like the female character in The Red

Nicaragua and San Marino have both released commemorative stamps based on the
character of Nero Wolfe.

FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) liked to relax by reading Nero Wolfe stories.

Orson Welles apparently made overtures to Rex Stout, hoping to work together on a
Nero Wolfe project. Stout rebuffed Welles because he was a genius, and he did not
consider geniuses reliable.

Nero Wolfe was released as a television series in Italy, Germany, and Russia.

In December, 1956, Rex Stout appeared on television on an episode of Omnibus, a
cultural anthology on the golden age of television.

William Shatner was chosen to play Archie Goodwin in the 1959 Nero Wolfe series,
which was aborted before it began.

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Rex Stout: A Biography Extras
Rex Stout: A Biography Extras


Although Rex Stout died in 1975, his memory lives on, aided in large part by the Wolfe
Pack, an organization founded in 1977 by a group of devoted fans. They run the official
Rex Stout website and maintain an active forum to discuss the Nero Wolfe books and
novellas. The Wolfe Pack has implemented a number of annual awards based on Nero
Wolfe, including the Archie Award, the Nero Award, and the Black Orchid Novella Award.

Legions of fans have been inspired in other ways. Nero Wolfe's love of orchids prompted
an upsurge in interest in growing orchids. There is a cooking blog inspired by Nero Wolfe There are biographies of Rex Stout and fan sites
in a number of languages and countries: Japan, Finland, Italy, Holland, Czechoslovakia,
France, Russia, and Denmark, just to mention a few.

Rex Stout's books were not simply detective novels. Stories often reflected political issues
and social agendas of the time, and became popular in many countries behind the Iron
Curtain. In The Black Mountain, for example, his characters travel to the Balkans where
they witness corruption and inequality, something Stout had seen himself in Yugoslavia.
Stout helped form the Committee to Protest Absurd Censorship and he fought against

He took a strong anti-war stance, and his radical viewpoints on the Vietnam War
alienated some. For a time he was under investigation by the FBI as an undesirable. But
his political agenda did not seem to impact his popularity as a writer.

Rex Stout's legend endures through the memorable characters he created in detective
Nero Wolfe and his tireless and hardworking sidekick Archie Goodwin. Nero Wolfe never
ages, and neither, it seems, does Rex Stout. One fan advanced the theory that Nero
Wolfe simply repudiates time, looking up from his book to glare at the clock and mutter
"pfui!" telling time to make an appointment with Archie Goodwin just like everyone else.

In spite of the fact that he has been dead since 1975, Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe both
have an active Facebook page. If it were possible that any writer could become eternal
by simply telling the clock to stop, Rex Stout, through Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin,

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Rex Stout: A Biography Extras
Rex Stout: A Biography Extras

might well have found a way to make it happen.

"Compose yourself, Archie. Why taunt me? Why upbraid me? I am merely a genius, not a
god." (Nero Wolfe in Fer-De-Lance, 1934).

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Rex Stout: A Biography Extras

List of links

Official Nero Wolfe site by the Wolfe Pack:

A Nero Wolfe Mystery.

Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason. Nancy
Pearl, Seattle, Washington: Sasquatch Books, 2003.

About Last Night, "Forty years with Nero Wolfe." Terry Teachout, January 12, 2009.

Annotated bibliography and links about Rex Stout:

TV Weekend; A Sleuth Who Has Flair (And Maybe a Thesaurus).

Ten Interesting Things About Rex Stout.

Kansas Historical Society page on Rex Stout:

A bibliography of Rex Stout's work:

A biography of Nero Wolfe:

Rex Stout on Facebook.

Nero Wolfe on Facebook:

Interview with Rex Stout, Strand Magazine:

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Rex Stout: A Biography Extras

William Shatner to have Played Archie Goodwin in Aborted 1959 Nero Wolfe Series.

Church Committee Reports:

Rex Stout quotes:

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Rex Stout: A Biography Extras
Rex Stout: A Biography Extras

Further Reading

The Wolfe Pack:

Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street, Baring-Gould, William S., Viking Press, 1969.

Rex Stout, Anderson, David R. Frederick Ungar, 1984.

Rex Stout: A Majesty's Life, John J. McAleer, James A. Rock & Co., March, 2002

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Rex Stout: A Biography Extras
Rex Stout: A Biography Extras

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Rex Stout: A Biography About The Author
Rex Stout: A Biography About The Author

About The Author

Aileen Wen
Aileen Wen is an experienced writer and a member of the Hyperink Team,
which works hard to bring you high-quality, engaging, fun content. Happy

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Rex Stout: A Biography About The Author

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