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Sax Rohmer the Author of Dr. Fu Manchu

Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward (15 February 1883 – 1 June 1959), better known as Sax Rohmer, was a prolific English novelist. He is best remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu.

Born in Birmingham to a working-class family, he had an entirely working class education and early career before beginning to write. Rohmer initially pursued a career as a civil servant before concentrating on writing full-time.

He worked as a poet, songwriter, and comedy sketch writer in Music Hall before creating the Sax Rohmer persona and pursuing a career writing weird fiction.

His first published work came in 1903, when the short story The Mysterious Mummy was sold to Pearson’s Weekly. He gradually transitioned from writing for Music Hall performers to concentrating on short stories and serials for magazine publication. In 1909 he married Rose Elizabeth Knox.

After penning Little Tich in 1911 (as ghostwriter for the Music Hall entertainer) he issued the first Fu Manchu novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, was serialized from October 1912 – June 1913. It was an immediate success, with its fast-paced story of Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie facing the worldwide conspiracy of the ‘Yellow Peril’. The Fu Manchu stories, together with his more conventional detective series characters—Paul Harley, Gaston Max, Red Kerry, Morris Klaw(an occult detective), and The Crime Magnet— made Rohmer one of the most successful and well-paid authors of the 1920s and 1930s. The first three Fu Manchu books were published in the four years 1914-17; but it was not until 1931 (some fourteen years after the third book in the series) that Rohmer returned to the series with The Daughter of Fu Manchu.The reason for the long interval was that Rohmer wanted to be well and truly done with the series after THE SI-FAN MYSTERIES, much as Arthur Conan Doyle did with Sherlock Holmes. The first three books had been successfully filmed by Stoll in the twenties as a pair of serials. In 1928, Rohmer bowed to pressure and agreed to write a fourth novel as a serial for Collier’s. Paramount had the first Warner Oland picture gearing up for production and the daily newspaper strip based on the series was in the offing. There was public demand for the character’s return.

Warner Oland as Dr. Fu Manchu

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Rohmer’s first effort at reviving the Fu Manchu property was reworked as THE EMPEROR OF AMERICA. The original intent had been for the head of the organization to be Fu Manchu’s daughter. He kept Head Centre as a female criminal mastermind to combat Drake Roscoe, but was very unhappy with the book both as it started and in its finished form. He would later return to Drake Roscoe and his female supervillain for the SUMURU series. In the meantime, he tried again to focus his energies on what was first titled, FU MANCHU’S DAUGHTER for Collier’s in 1930, but with an older (now knighted) Nayland Smith as the protagonist once more. The results were infinitely better and jump-started the series in the process.

Boris Karloff as Dr. Fu Manchu

In the eighteen years from 1931 to 1959, Rohmer added no fewer than ten new books to the Fu Manchu series, meaning the series totals thirteen books in all (not counting the posthumous The Wrath of Fu Manchu.

Tales of Chinatown (1922)is a collection of ten stories was published in hardcover by Cassell in 1922 and Doubleday, Page and Company in 1922. All the stories first appeared in magazine format. This collection includes a story considered one of his best and also anthologized many times; “Tcheriapin.” The story “The Hand of the Mandarin Quong” was rewritten for this; first published as “Hand of the White Sheikh” Rohmer changed the setting to a Chinatown background and published it as “The Mystery of the Shriveled Hand,” the title then changed for this collection.

Rohmer also wrote several novels of supernatural horror, including Brood of the Witch-Queen.

Rohmer was very poor at managing his wealth, however, and made several disastrous business decisions that hampered him throughout his career. His final success came with a series of novels featuring a female variation on Fu Manchu, Sumuru. The Sumuru series consist of four books.

After World War II, the Rohmers moved to New York only returning to London shortly before his death. Rohmer died in 1959 due to an outbreak of influenza (“Asian Flu”).

His wife published her own mystery novel, Bianca in Black in 1954 under the pen name, Elizabeth Sax Rohmer. Some editions of the book mistakenly credit her as Rohmer’s daughter.

Christopher Lee as Dr. Fu Manchu with Elizabeth Sax Romer

Elizabeth Sax Rohmer and Cay Van Ash, her husband’s former assistant, wrote a biography of the author, Master of Villainy, published in 1972.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

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