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Clayton Rawson (1906-1971), who also wrote under the pseudonyms Stuart Towne and The Great Merlini, was an American author, illustrator, editor and lifelong amateur magician. His works include non-fiction books about magic and novels and stories in the mystery genre. Rawson was born in Elyria, Ohio. In 1929, he graduated from Ohio State University and married Catherine Stone. He and Stone had four children.

Rawson was one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of America and founder of the organization's first newsletter, "The Third Degree". In 1963, Rawson became managing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, a position which he continued to hold until his death in 1971.

Clayton Rawson's four mystery novels are based around the character of The Great Merlini, an amateur detective who owns a shop that sells magicians' supplies. Rawson's four short stories center around a stage magician from Greenwich Village, New York called Don Diavolo, who also appears in one of the Great Merlini novels. Another recurring character in the Don Diavolo stories is homicide detective Inspector Church, who in each story either suspects the magician of commiting the crime or asks for his help in solving it.

Works

Novels

  • Death from a Top Hat (1938)
  • The Footprints on the Ceiling (1939)
  • The Headless Lady (1940)
  • No Coffin for the Corpse (1942)

Short story collections

  • Death Out of Thin Air (1941) (under the pseudonym Stuart Towne)
  • Death from Nowhere (1943) (under the pseudonym Stuart Towne)
  • Pictures Don't Lie (1950)
  • The Great Merlini (1979)

Non-fiction

  • Scarne on Dice (1945) (with magician John Scarne)
  • Al Baker's Pet Secrets (1951) (with Albert Baker)
  • How to Entertain Children with Magic You Can Do (1963), (under the pseudonym The Great Merlini)
  • The Golden Book of Magic: Amazing Tricks for Young Magicians (1964) (under the pseudonym The Great Merlini)

Adaptations of works

Two movies were based on Rawson's Great Merlini novels. The 1939 movie Miracles for Sale was based on Death from a Top Hat. The magician turned detective, played by Robert Young, is renamed The Great Morgan. The Lloyd Nolan movie The Man Who Wouldn't Die (1942) was based on No Coffin For the Corpse but the Merlini character is replaced by another fictional detective, the private investigator Michael Shayne created by author Brett Halliday.

Rawson wrote the script for The Transparent Man, a 1951 pilot episode for a Great Merlini TV series. The pilot starred Jerome Thor as stage magician The Great Merlini with Barbara Cook as his assistant and E.G. Marshall as the criminal. A TV series based on the pilot was not commissioned.

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