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But for the existence of a continuing character in his works--such as Miss

Marples, Lord Peter Whimsey or Philip Marlowe--the Calumet Region's most

accomplished mystery writer could be entertaining you each Thursday on PBS's

"Mystery." Still, Leslie John Edgeley has already given you the chills over and

over in radio, TV and the movies--without your knowing it.

Born Oct. 14, 1912 in London, Leslie left behind the suspense and horror of

World War I Zeppelin and airplane bombings when his parents emigrated to Canada

in 1918. Five years later, Leslie's father Edwin followed the song of the

Calumet Region and found a job in one of the rolling mills of Youngstown Sheet

and Tube (now LTV Steel). Three years later Edwin sent for his family and the

Edgeleys established a new home in Marktown, and Leslie enrolled in Washington

High. It was a cultural shock for the sensitive lad.

Dominated by eastern and southern Europeans, Mexicans and African-Americans

from the rural south, Indiana Harbor harbored people who tended to speak

standard American English as a second language. Rather than relying on dubious

verbal symbols, they conveyed their thoughts largely with emotion and body

language, and, on the assumption that volume promoted communication, they

shouted at each other in broken English. For a reserved, discriminating lad

from London who had been brought up to value calmness and to believe that

proper thought depended on proper English, The Harbor seemed about as civilized

as an Eastern bazaar and a very spooky place.

Leslie took an insouciant attitude toward what he found in The Harbor,

finding refuge in writing and in making the National Honor Society. With his

faint English accent, which he retains to this day, Leslie projected aloofness

to many of his more hot-blooded classmates. Even an appearance in "Patsy," the

senior play, did little to change his image. In a yearbook photo of the play,

tall, slim, blonde Leslie Edgeley in formal attire is shown bending from the

waist and kissing the hand of Patsy, the ingenue, while the caption protests:

"That's a heck of a place to kiss a girl."

After also editing the Weekly Anvil, the school newspaper, Leslie graduated

into The Great Depression when jobs were as numerous as nonsmokers in a

millgate shanty. While developing his writing skill, he worked

catch-as-catch-can, as a bank messenger, truck driver and gravestone salesman.

Finally, he gained a job at Youngstown, working as a mailboy from March 1934 to

July 1935. It was an ideal position. Between trips to the various mills, Leslie

would retreat to the basement and write.

In 1935 Leslie married Mary Gustaitis, a Lithuanian girl he had met at a

funeral when his hiccups provoked uncontrollable giggles in her. It was love at

first hic. He then quit Youngstown, free-lanced in radio for a year before

landing a job with NBC Radio in 1936. As one of a half-dozen network writers,

Leslie wrote everything from variety show blackouts to traffic safety dramas.

Importantly, he wrote many mysteries for such coast-to-coast shows as "Lights

Out," "Inner Sanctum," "The Fat Man," and others.

"We would write dramas, comedy routines, all sorts of programs," he said

recently. "We'd write a soap opera one time and a mystery another. It was a

marvelous training ground for young writers. You had to be versatile to

survive. It also meant that you had to meet deadlines. So when I became a

free-lance and had to bring up a family on what I earned, I was able to set my

own deadlines and thus keep the work going."

While working at NBC, Leslie began to write books. After publishing the

non-best seller "Your Health Dramatized: Selected Radio Scripts" (E.P. Dutton,

1939), Leslie published "No Birds Sing" (Farrar & Rinehart, 1940), a

Hemingwayesque novel set in Indiana Harbor (Steelton) that communicated life

there so convincingly that it could have been nonfiction.

The novel features a frustrated, bored young man who could not get a job in

the mill, a young girl from a Lithuanian enclave dominated by ancient customs

and her authoritarian father who called the shots for his daughter. Of course,

the characters are composites, but few old-timers would fail to recognize

Leslie's father-in-law or the doctor who always had a chaw of tobacco in his

cheek (Doc Niblick), or the protagonist's spiritual triumph over a hostile

environment. "In the case of Dr. Niblick, my late brother-in-law, Dr. John

Gustaitas, worked with him when he was first out of medical school," Leslie

said.

After the brutally cold wartime winter of 1943-44, Leslie became the model

for the man who tired of Chicago's winters and moved to a mall. Late in 1944,

he and his family drove to California, each member holding his breath all the

way, hoping the ration stamps and the car would hold out. Once there, he

returned to free-lance work in radio, movies and TV.

During a slump in radio, however, Leslie said to his wife, "I'm going to sit

down and write a book, and I'll give myself a month to do it." He picked

mysteries because they had the readiest market and because he had written so

many of them for network radio. In a month he finished the book and, luckily,

sold it. From that time on, he would write books between radio, TV and movie

stints. All received good reviews. You might like to challenge your local

library to find some of his best-known works:

"Fear No More" (Simon and Schuster, 1946); "The Angry Heart"

(Doubleday, 1947); "False Face" (Simon and Schuster, 1947); "The Shadow

of Guilt" (Doubleday, 1947); "The Crooked Frame" (Unicorn Press, 1952); "From

This Death Forward" (Doubleday, 1952); "The Judas Goat" (Doubleday,

1952); "Vengeance Street" (Doubleday, 1952); "The Runaway Pigeon"

(Doubleday, 1953); "Stranger in Town" (Doubleday, 1953); "When Strangers

Meet" (Doubleday, 1956); "Kill With Kindness" (Doubleday, 1962);

"Portrait of Murder," a drama (Samuel French, 1964); "A Dirty Business"

(Putnam, 1969); and "Final Reckoning" (R. Hale, 1971).

(Note: Leslie also wrote under the name Robert Bloomfield, among others).

At the same time, Leslie wrote numerous movie scripts, most of which were

paid for by big studios and vaulted. In addition to television scripts for such

programs as "Rawhide" and various Disney shows, he wrote mystery scripts for

"Perry Mason," which still follow him around the world. Once while staging his

play "Portrait of Murder" in England, Leslie turned on the TV set in his hotel

room only to find a rerun of a "Perry Mason" he had written.

At age 78, Leslie Edgely still writes because "writing has become a

compulsion by now." In fact he's collaborating long-distance with his son

Michael, a writer in Alexandria, Va., on a new play which is in the third

rewrite and should be ready by the first of the year. Titleless at the moment,

Leslie might call it Hamlet II. Asked if it was autobiographical, Leslie said,

"No, my days of indecision are behind me. I hope."

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