Joseph Louis Vance: The Lone Wolf

We are amused to learn that the author of the Lone Wolf series of mystery novels (oft adapted for the screen) was named Joseph Louis Vance (1879-1933) because of course there was a similar series of films and novels around the same time featuring a hero named Philo Vance. One wonders if S.S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright) named his fictional hero in homage to the slightly earlier author.

At any rate, the real Vance wrote a number of books that were brought to the screen, but his most successful were his series of eight Lone Wolf novels (1914-34) featuring ex-con Michael Lanyard who becomes a private dick, using his old contacts and his inside intel on how crooks operate in order to solve mysteries. Obviously his nickname comes from the fact that he’s alienated old cronies and is also distrusted by authorities and polite society. He’s on his own. It’s also a nice, creepy, nocturnal type sobriquet. We would be remiss however (and pretty doltish) if we didn’t both notice and point out that it’s a remarkably similar concept to French author Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin novels, which will no doubt receive attention here too in due course, especially since we are so fond of the recent TV series revival.

Eleven different actors played the American breed of the species in numerous incarnations: Bert Lytell in The Lone Wolf (1917), The Lone Wolf Returns (1926), Alias the Lone Wolf (1927), The Lone Wolf’s Daughter (1929) and Last of the Lone Wolf (1930); Henry B. Walthall in The False Faces (1919), Bertram Grassby in the first version of The Lone Wolf’s Daughter (1919); Jack Holt in a 1924 remake of The Lone Wolf; Thomas Meighan in Cheaters at Play (1932); Melvyn Douglas in The Lone Wolf Returns (1935); and Francis Lederer in The Lone Wolf in Paris (1938). (The French would say wasn’t The Lone Wolf always in Paris?

The most successful and best remembered of the screen Lanyards was the impeccable Warren William in a B movie series for Columbia: The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939), The Lone Wolf Strikes (1940), The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady (1940); The Lone Wolf Keeps a Date (1941) The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance (1941), Secrets of the Lone Wolf (1941), Counter-Espionage (1942), One Dangerous Night (1943), and Passport to Suez (1943). (William had also played Philo Vance, btw!) Then Gerald Mohr took over the role in The Notorious Lone Wolf (1946), The Lone Wolf in Mexico (1947) and The Lone Wolf in London (1947) as well as a 1948 radio show. The last Columbia picture The Lone Wolf and His lady (1949) starred Ron Randell, who’d also played Bulldog Drummond. Louis Hayward played the detective in a television series which ran from 1954 to 1955.

Unlike Lupin, who never quite died, The Lone Wolf has slept pretty soundly since the mid 20th century, apart from the occasional TV airing. As for Vance — he died in a fire. Smoking in bed. Solving that one didn’t take a detective.