Leslie Charteris

From Academic Kids

Leslie Charteris (May 12, 1907, SingaporeApril 15, 1993) was born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin, to a Chinese father and an English mother. His father was a physician. Charteris's father claimed to be able to trace his lineage back to the emperors of the Shang Dynasty. The city of his birth was Singapore when it was part of the Federated Malay States and the largest port in the world.

When he was young, he typed out his own magazine with articles, short stories, poems, editorials, serial installments, and a comic strip. Since he wasn't good at drawing, his characters consisted of stick figures, which spawned the symbol for his only memorable literary creation, Simon Templar, The Saint.

When his first book, written during his freshman year at Cambridge University, was accepted, he quit school and embarked on a new career. Charteris was motivated by a desire to be unconventional and to become financially well off by doing what he liked best to do. He continued to write English thriller stories, while he worked at various jobs from shipping out on a freighter to working as a bartender in a country inn. He prospected for gold, fished for pearls, tried employment in a tin mine and on a rubber plantation, toured England with a carnival, and drove a bus. In 1926, when he was just setting out on all this, he legally changed his last name to Charteris (pronounced "charter-is"), based on an admiration for a certain Colonel Francis Charteris, who was, apparently, a bit of a romantic bounder.

By 1928, he wrote his third novel, Meet the Tiger, published by Ward, Lock, in which he introduced the Saint (the book is better known by the title The Saint Meets the Tiger which was used for a later film adaptation). He didn't have to look very far for a model on which to base his dubious hero, who pursued crime for his own enrichment at the expense of criminals who preyed upon the helpless. He chose himself.

He dabbled with a couple of other books in 1929, but from then on, with one exception, he concerned himself exclusively with recounting the Saint's imaginary adventures. As with many British writers at the time, Charteris felt the best markets were in the United States. He moved there in 1932, able to get $400 for his first short story and was soon getting $1,000 a story thereafter. He went to Hollywood and was hired in the writing department at Paramount Pictures, working on the George Raft film, The Midnight Club. During this period in his life, he came to know socially several Hollywood personalities like Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow. Charteris also travelled on the Hindenburg on its successful maiden voyage to New Jersey (it was only during its second flight that the Hindenburg met its ghastly end, though there were survivors).

However, Charteris was excluded from permanent residency in the United States because of the Oriental Exclusion Act, a law which prohibited immigration for persons of "50% or greater" Oriental blood. As a result, Charteris was forced to continually renew his six-month temporary visitor's visa, until an act of Congress personally granted him and his daughter the right of permanent residence in the United States, with eligibility for naturalization (which he later completed).

In the 1940s, Charteris, besides continuing to write Saint stories, scripted the Sherlock Holmes radio series featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. In 1941, he appeared in a Life Magazine picturization of a Saint short story, with himself playing the Saint.

During this time, a number of moderately successful motion pictures were produced based upon his stories, and featuring several different actors as Templar, but long-term success eluded Charteris' creation. He felt vindicated in 1962 when the British-produced television series The Saint went into production and played successfully for seven years around the world with Roger Moore in the Simon Templar role, as Charteris reportedly did not approve any of the previous actors who had portrayed his creation.

He permitted scripts from the television series to be turned into fictional treatments and published as further adventures of the Saint in printed form. However, he took his right of script approval seriously, becoming upset if locations or plot elements were altered or changed. Charteris would live to see a second British TV series, Return of the Saint starring Ian Oglivy as Simon Templar, enjoy a well-received, if brief, run, and in the 1980s a series of TV movies produced in Australia and starring Simon Dutton kept interest in The Saint alive.

Besides being a fiction writer, Charteris also wrote a column on cuisine for a British newspaper, as a sideline. He also invented a wordless, pictorial sign language called Paleneo and wrote a book on it. He was also one of the earliest members of Mensa, the high-IQ society.

In all Charteris chronicled the adventures of the Saint in nearly one hundred books. Some of his later ones were collaborations with other authors. See the article Simon Templar for a complete list.

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