|The "Author" Hannah Dobryn||Her Novels||The Composer Ted Nywatt||His Songs|
|The "Author," Hannah Dobryn|
30 years ago I lived next door to Hannah Dobryn in Honolulu.
She was a widow, then in her mid-70s, who played piano and sang
Broadway show tunes. When
she heard I was a writer, though, she told me about her books.
War II she was one of the ghostwriters for a girl-detective series.
The publisher's contract forbade
her from revealing her own titles, and I could never get her to break
the pledge. But she was
from Chicago; so perhaps she was the "Dorothy Wayne" who wrote
the Dorothy Dixon series (e.g., Dorothy
Dixon Solves the Conway Case, from 1933) for the Chicago-based
Goldsmith Publishing Co.
Harbor, she took a job in the Office of War Information, where she wrote
speeches and skits for Bond drives and U.S.O. shows, and through which
she met a
reporter for the Army newspaper Stars & Stripes.
They were married in 1946 and settled in Honolulu, where he took
an editor's job on a daily paper and encouraged her to resume writing.
created a grown-up heroine, close to her own age, who had lived through
some very turbulent decades. Women had held important jobs even before the War, and a lot
of women had always had to work.
So Katy got a career, and a personality both clever and strong
enough to solve dangerous puzzles.
For being what mystery writers call an "accidental" detective -- not a professional gumshoe -- Katy is nonetheless familiar with self-defense, disguise, and clandestine weaponry. Those subjects are nowhere to be found in girl-sleuth books of the '30s. I suspect that Hannah's work during the War went far beyond merely entertaining the troops. She was no more forthcoming about her War work than about her ghostwriting, but she's buried among the servicewomen in Punchbowl National Cemetery.
wrote the Katy Green books from about 1947 until 1951, and sent each of
them off to editors. But she
was out of sync with the post-War mystery market.
Many hardback publishers had abandoned the field; and the new
paperback publishers wanted heroes -- not heroines.
In the paperback mysteries of the late '40s and early '50s, women
could be only victims or vamps.
corresponded with Hannah for a few years after I moved back to the
Mainland; but in 1994 I heard from another neighbor that Hannah had died
on October 10, a week after her 96th birthday. The following January a package arrived from the executor of
her estate. Hannah, who'd
never had children, had willed to me her Katy Green manuscripts, along
with the notebooks, file folders and clippings from which she'd developed
musical, Hannah made Katy a working musician with what she herself had:
traditional, classical training and up-to-date Swing skills.
(Hannah played piano only; she probably gave Katy the violin and
saxophone to keep her light on her feet.)
tracks killers through a variety of musical milieux: an
"all-girl" Swing combo (Too Dead To Swing), a chamber music ensemble (A Fugue In Hell's Kitchen), a home-town band (Old
Arrangements), and a shipboard dance orchestra headed for Hawaii on
the eve of War (The Last Full Measure).
had assigned the copyrights to me, on condition that I make an effort
to get the novels published under her byline.
And so I did. I had
two of them retyped on a word-processor, and sent fresh manuscripts to a
literary agent who shopped them around.
|The Composer: Ted Nywatt|
The songwriter in Too Dead To Swing is called "Ted Nywatt," apparently in honor of a man whom she knew. Some of his letters were in her file-folders.
Nywatt was a composer, and conductor of the orchestra at the Republic film
studio in Hollywood, during the 1930s.
But he also wrote songs and musical revues -- one of which, in
1934, was called "To The Nines" and featured an all-female cast.
into a musical family in Colorado, in 1903, he was too old to be a soldier
in World War II. But like
many of his Hollywood colleagues, he received a commission to entertain
the troops. In 1942 and '43
he was an arranger for Irving Berlin's "This Is The Army" revue;
and by 1944 he was composing original music for servicemen's shows.
Unfortunately, while in the Pacific on a U.S.O. tour, the island
came under attack; and Ted was killed.
apparently met Ted through the U.S.O., and they talked at some point about
her work in the fiction factory and his at the studio.
Republic was famous for adventure serials like "Mysterious
Doctor Satan" and "Zorro's Fighting Legion": weekly
cliff-hangers with slam-bam action. I
think that Hannah was acknowledging the appeal that action has for men,
because she gave Katy great physicality and vivid chase scenes.