Published 1991 by Fordham University Press, 312 pp.

Out of Print.

With this volume, the BSI Archival History series shifted from scrapbook to historical narrative, though the archival aspect remained intact with the inclusion of much contemporary correspondence and documents.




Enter Rex Stout. — The annual dinner. — The “Watson Was a Woman” outrage. — Morley leaves the Saturday Review of Literature. — Deplorable situations of Vincent Starrett and Frederic Dorr Steele. — 221B

en Espanol? Boston doings of The Speckled Band. — “Baker Street Bibliography.” — Howard Haycraft interprets Sherlockiana to the public. — On to 1942.


     Splendid past, threadbare present. — Boissons. — Parlor F

and Parlor G. — An Age Passes when the Murray Hill closes. —

“Murder at the Murray Hill.”


Edgar Smith’s birth, education and war service. — His General Motors career. — Corporate life between the wars. — Technology changing American life. — The business day and Irregular time. —

Smith the internationalist and good comrade.

4. 1942: “A WAR A BEASTLY WAR!”

The annual dinner: “The Road to Baker Street.” — Death of Dr. Gray Chandler Briggs. — Smith’s Pamphlet House resumes. — Vincent Starrett’s sonnet “221B.” — Collecting Sherlock Holmes in the ‘Forties. — Miss Winspear and Miss Mouillerat. — The Sherlock Holmes Coat

of Arms controversy. — Irregulars in uniform. — FDR joins the BSI. — “The Man Who Was Wanted” is discovered. — A new Irregular Reader

is conceived. — Death of James Keddie, Sr. — On to 1943.

5. THE HOUNDS OF CHICAGO by John Nieminski

Vincent Starrett, Charles Collins, and the Chicago Tribune. — Birth of

a scion society. — Search for a proper name. — Early members and meetings. — A name at last. — Hounds beget Hugo’s Companions.

6. THE PAMPHLET HOUSE by Glen Miranker

Non-Sherlockian origins. — Appointment in Baker Street. — Early ‘Forties publications from Edgar Smith’s pen. — Anthologizing other Irregulars. — Sherlock Holmes bibliography. — Recording Harvey Officer’s Baker Street Suite. — The Thorneycroft Press. — Late ‘Forties and Early ‘Fifties titles. — A very non-profit enterprise.


     The annual dinner. — The first The Woman. — “The Man Who Was

Wanted,” still wanting. — The Murray Hill comes under threat. — The Trilogy Books in preparation. — Profile by Gaslight takes shape. — The

credo of the BSI. — Irregular music and song. — The Limited Editions Club. — Sale of Vincent Starrett’s collection. — Closer to the madding crowd. — Debut of James Montgomery. —

Last words of Frederic Dorr Steele.


Vincent Starrett’s “domestic crisis.” — David Randall purchases

his collection. — Unsuccesssful search for an institutional buyer. — Scribner’s sale catalogue, with tongue in cheek. — Some offerings

and prices. — Starrett begins a new collection: philanthropic impulse

of Logan Clendening.


     The Murray Hill still stands, for the present. — The annual dinner.

— The Sherlock Holmes Prize Competition. — Imminent publication

of the Trilogy Books.


[The actual first The Woman: Edith Meiser.]


“Sons of the Baker Street Boys”

The Baker Street Irregulars was founded in 1934 by Christopher Morley, and remained throughout the ‘Thirties a matter of his whimsicality, like its forebears, the Three Hours for Lunch Club and Grillparzer Sittenpolizei Verein. Of course the times then (Morley later remarked) were ripe for such a sodality. Sherlock Holmes was in the air in the early ‘Thirties in print, on stage, screen and radio, and celebrated in books which treated him seriously, albeit in perfectly charming ways, like Vincent Starrett’s Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The idea of the Baker Street Irregulars, in fact the very name, was already in Starrett’s mind in the autumn of 1933. Had Morley not founded the BSI at the very outset of 1934, a different BSI might have arisen, with its center of gravity in the Middle West instead led by Starrett in Chicago, Gray Chandler Briggs in St. Louis, and Logan Clendening in Kansas City, and looking to New York not for Morley (whose Sherlockian fervor prior to ’34 was only just perceptible, in the Saturday Review of Literature), but rather to Starrett’s talented friends, Frederic Dorr Steele and Alexander Woollcott. Morley’s beating Starrett unknowingly to the punch was something of an accident though Morley’s BSI did come equipped with a ready set of Sherlockian members and customs.

    And by the late ‘Thirties, the flame of Morley’s BSI had burnt very low. After 1936, no more annual dinners were called until Edgar W. Smith came along in 1938, and then only after Smith repeatedly brought up the subject of organized sodality for a year and a half more. At last the BSI did meet again, as we saw in the last volume of his archival history series, with the publication of Vincent Starrett’s anthology of Irregular writings, 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes, for excuse.

    Thus dawned the BSI’s Murray Hill era, on January 30, 1940, lasting until 1948. This time it was Edgar Smith who sent out the invitations, in his new capa-city as the BSI’s “Buttons.” The office was extra-constitutional, but once Smith had the bit between his teeth, he amiably, indeed endearingly, but firmly, kept it there. Doubtless he had no intention of letting the BSI slip back into suspended animation again, and he had the secretarial resources of General Motors’ New York office to help him keep the thing going fortunately for the BSI, since World War II made the early ‘Forties unusually busy years for Smith. Even Christopher Morley, whose instinct was always to avoid over-organization of his whimsical clubs, was won over:

The happiest achievement of the BSI was when it attracted the attention of our devoted Edgar Smith [who] wrote in a vein of decorous modesty asking if he could be put on the mailing list and offered to undergo any sort of inquest of suitability. It was plain from the first that here was THE Man . . . most of us were content to go on without any Stated Meetings . . . but Edgar Smith’s affectionate zeal, not less than his Sherlockian scholarship, his gusto in pamphleteering, his delight in keeping orderly records, and his access to mimeographic and parchment-engrossing and secretarial resources, all these were irresistible. I don’t suppose that any society of Amateur Mendicants had ever had a more agreeable or competent fugleman.

    The BSI took on new energy under Edgar Smith’s tactful but effective steer-ing. Smith called the annual dinners, arranged the programs, negotiated with the waiters, wrote and mailed the invitations, kept and sent out the minutes, dupli-cated other Irregulars’ papers for distribution, maintained the membership list, served as the BSI’s principal point of contact, faithfully attended the Five Or-ange Pips’ and Speckled Bands’ annual dinners, and composed a long series of irregular memoranda to the BSI, to keep the Memory green between Januaries, and the Irregulars au courant about the eventful Sherlockian scene. Old rituals were maintained in the BSI’s new setting; new ones were created and added to the body of tradition. And in the meantime, Smith continued to research, write, and publish on his own the series of important Sherlockian works which he began with Appointment in Baker Street in 1938. To call Smith the best and wisest sparking-plug the BSI has ever known is more than just an automotive pun. And it is to Christopher Morley’s lasting credit that no one recognized it more than he, along with his worshipful cronies from the Grillparzer days who had been the original Baker Street Irregulars.

The early ‘Forties were unforgettable years for the BSI. Rex Stout scandalized the Irregulars by claiming that “Watson Was a Woman.” Vincent Starrett charmed them instead, by striking the perfect note with his sonnet “221B,” born of the exigencies of war but timeless in its sentiments. Franklin D. Roosevelt honored the Irregulars by accepting the honorary membership they offered him. The Conan Doyle Estate incensed them by withholding an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story that had been discovered. The publishing industry orchestrated the simultaneous publication of three major Sherlockian works by Irregulars. Amer-ica’s most famous stripteaser titillated the BSI by becoming its first avatar of Irene Adler. And Irregulars discovered a new sense of loss when several of their comrades fell from the ranks. The BSI continued to grow, though, and for the first time, the dinner’s size became a point of concern.

     This Irregular hubbub was taking place in a milieu very different from 1934’s. The BSI had been founded in an atmosphere of speakeasies, peace, and Depression. When it was revived in 1940, the Depression was finally over, but 1934’s worst fears about the world overseas had materialized, and weighed heavily on American minds. America was not yet at war as 1941 began, but most of Europe was, and Japan seemed poised to overrun Asia and the Pacific. The New York World’s Fair, saluting a mockingly inappropriate future of peace and progress, was over, and being dismantled. Instead, America was beginning to rearm, and an intense debate over neutrality versus intervention in the world’s quarrels raged throughout the land.

    In January 1941, Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated for a third term as President. During a Fireside Chat on December 29, 1940, he had called upon America to transform itself into the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Now he stepped up his campaign to woo public opinion away from neutrality. Gradually Americans realized that the threat to democracy would not pass the New World quietly by. Even though it was a time of labor unrest, production of military aircraft increased threefold from mid-1940 to -1941, and by the end of ’41 a new cargo ship was being launched every day. Automobile production was cut 20% as General Motor and other companies started producing large numbers of military vehicles. To pay for it all, the President signed a record tax bill in September. America’s court calendar was thick with cases of illegal communist and fascist activity and espionage. In March, Lend-Lease for Britain was passed despite bitter opposition from isolationists and German and Soviet sympa-thizers. In November, after a Nazi U-boat torpedoed an American destroyer on the high seas, killing most of its crew, a Joint Resolution of Congress repealed significant portions of the Neutrality Act of 1939. But by then the issue was nearly academic. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, and plunged America into war.

    Given all this, though, there was a remarkable atmosphere of normalcy in America during 1941. FDR treaded carefully for fear of outstripping public opinion. Many Americans listened to Edward R. Murrow’s broadcasts from wartorn London, but the largest radio audience continued to belong to Jack Benny. Fiorello LaGuardia was still mayor of New York, first-class postage was three cents, and Cokes just a nickel. Trainfare from Chicago to Miami Beach was just $23.35. Ted Williams and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio thrilled fans in the best baseball season in years. 90,000,000 Americans went to the movies every week, and the Oscar for 1941’s Best Picture went to the elegiac How Green Was My Valley. Bing Crosby, Kate Smith, and Guy Lombardo’s band topped the musical charts in 1941. The publishing event of the year was Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. The most popular whisky in America was Cutty Sark, and there was plenty available, even though Britain was at war.

     And even though public opinion was beginning to swing behind the Presi-dent, on August 7th, just four months before Pearl Harbor the very day that seemingly invincible German tanks planted the swastika on the shores of the Black Sea General George C. Marshall’s brand-new and barely trained Army survived by a single vote in the House of Representatives.

    America’s complacency vanished during the two years that followed. America had begun to rearm in 1940, but that was nothing compared to the mobilization which got underway in 1942. Before long, taxes were raised again, food and gasoline rationing was imposed, industry shifted from peacetime to round-the-clock military production, women went to work in unprecedented numbers, over 16,000,000 Americans went into the Service, and the armed forces of the United States began to carry the war across the Atlantic and Pacific to the enemy. Peacetime plans were set aside for the duration. The first commercial television broadcasting license had been granted in 1941, for example; but by 1942, television was being used to train air raid wardens instead 150,000 of them by 1943.

    America’s mood also changed perceptibly. One barometer was the Hollywood genre of Screwball Comedy. Born brilliantly in 1934 with Twentieth Century, it seemed distastefully shallow by 1943, because of the war. In January 1941, The Philadelphia Story had been released to adoring audiences without conveying the slightest hint of the storms gathering on America’s horizon. Screwball Comedy continued on its merry way through 1941, in hilarities like Love Crazy with William Powell and Myrna Loy. But then came Pearl Harbor, and Screwball Comedy began to vanish from the theaters. By the end of the war, it was as dead as Hitler’s mustache. Meanwhile, a new strain of movie had begun to portray an emphatically gloomy view of the world in 1941: Orson Welles brooded on the corruption of ideals in Citizen Kane, Humphrey Bogart created the anti-hero in The Maltese Falcon, and even Frank Capra’s view of the common man grew wary, in Meet John Doe.

    If Dashiell Hammett had created Sam Spade, he had also created Nick and Nora Charles. But Hammett’s best work was behind him when he enlisted in the Army in 1942, at the age of 47. His literary heir was Raymond Chandler, whose first novel, The Big Sleep, had appeared in 1939. While his Philip Marlowe was never a sadistic Mike Hammer, the morose Chandler was altogether incapable of producing anything as debonair as Hammett’s The Thin Man. Instead, the early ’Forties became a time when the unrelievedly dark visions of writers like Cornell Woolrich began to find a market. The refined, cerebral Philo Vance gave way to tough private eyes like Mike Shayne. Ellery Queen dropped the pince-nez and the effete mannerisms of his early novels, and a new, sober, melancholy Ellery emerged in Calamity Town in 1942. Rex Stout all but gave up Nero Wolfe as he threw himself into war work for the duration.

    And yetmany Americans would look back longingly at these years after the war was over. If times were bad, the country was overwhelmingly united now behind the President’s policy of making war against the Axis until Germany and Japan surrendered unconditionally. The sacrifices which that required were accepted in common. Early defeats and setbacks only led to renewed efforts and determination. Acts of heroism prompted tears and pride in equal measure. Even in the worst days of 1942, the American people never doubted the outcome of the war: America would win, and emerge bloodied but victorious into a better world.  And if Americans were no longer “In the Mood” they’d been in back in carefree 1939, Glenn Miller’s “American Patrol” in 1942 was no less jaunty, for all the world’s woes.

    The war permeated the BSI’s world as well. During 1941, Britain’s fate, and the prospect of America entering the war were constantly on the minds of Irregulars. After Pearl Harbor, some donned uniforms and before long were in action far away. Others immersed themselves in home-front work, producing the weapons and supplies that American fighting men and their Allies needed. No one’s life was unaffected. Even Sherlock Holmes was mobilized: the Victorian milieu reproduced so well in Basil Rathbone’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1939 was replaced in 1942 by the first of several modernized Holmes movies pitting the great detective against the Nazis. Baker Street Irregulars may have winced; but they did not complain. Instead, they added their own voices to the cause of keeping Holmes’s London free of Nazi jackboots, in Harvey Officer’s stirring anthem of the period, “The Road to Baker Street.”

It is a curious coincidence that this volume was compiled during the autumn and winter of 1990-91, as several hundred thousand American troops deployed and went to war in the Persian Gulf. It was a strange but oddly satisfying feeling to spend days at the Pentagon engaged in the work of that war, and evenings and weekends reliving the eerily similar thoughts and feelings of wartime Baker Street Irregulars in the early ‘Forties.

    Our understanding of the BSI’s history in the ‘Thirties was largely limited to the incomplete memories which survive in old letters and newspaper and maga-zine reporting. Beginning in 1940, Edgar Smith kept minutes of the BSI din-ners, through 1960, and supplemented them with his periodic memoranda to the BSI, until the creation of The Baker Street Journal in 1946 rendered them unnecessary. Those Irregular Records are supplemented here by contemporary correspondence among Irregulars.

    While it is impossible to say how much past Irregular correspondence has been lost over the years, we are fortunate indeed that so much has survived. And in our electronic age, the historian cannot help but be struck by a remarkable difference between ourselves and our Irregular forebears. Except for an occasional three-hour lunch together, the vast majority of BSI business was transacted between Christopher Morley and Edgar Smith by letter, not by telephone, even though Smith was writing from his office at 57th and Broadway, and Morley from his barely ten blocks away at 47th and Sixth. Did they think about leaving their Irregular descendants a permanent record? I doubt it; but we should be extremely grateful that they did.

    When I know where a letter was written, I have provided that information. Often that is not the case with Edgar Smith’s letters, because many survive only as carbon copies lacking return addresses. Smith dictated most of his Irregular correspondence to his General Motors secretary in New York City. Occa-sionally he wrote from his summer cottage “Thorneycroft” in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, but I have never seen a letter with his Maplewood, New Jersey, home as the return address.

    This volume could not exist without the generous assistance of others. I am grateful to Peter B. Spivak and Glen Miranker for contributing original research and essays to this volume, and additionally to Glen for digging out of his collec-tion a great deal of the correspondence which appears in it. Other collectors who dipped deep into their holdings were Peter E. Blau, Daniel Posnansky, Steven Rothman, and John Bennett Shaw. Robert G. Harris, Edwin V. King, Jr., and Dirk Struik were kind enough to dip into their memories of the era. The late John Nieminski’s account of the early years of The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic) is taken from the fortieth-anniversary history of that scion society which he published privately in 1983.

    In Irregular Memories of the ‘Thirties last year, I lamented that it had not been possible for me to examine Vincent Starrett’s papers at the University of Minnesota Library. For this volume, and ones to come, not only Starrett’s papers there, but Frederic Dorr Steele’s and Howard Haycraft’s as well, were thoroughly combed by Allen Mackler, Andrew Malec, and Bruce Southworth. I am grateful to them, and to Austin McLean at the University of Minnesota Library. I am also indebted to my wife  and many others for help of different kinds: Ray Betzner, Jr., James Duval, Joseph Eckrich, George Fletcher, Mickey Fromkin, Andrew Fusco, Robert S. Gellerstedt, Jr., Paul Gitlin, William D. Jenkins, Robert S. Katz, John McAleer, Robert Mangler, Jerry Margolin, C. Paul Martin, Bruce Mont-gomery, Bjarne Nielsen, W. T. Rabe, Susan Rice, Theodore G. Schulz, Charles Shields, Philip A. Shreffler, Robert G. Steele, Thomas L. Stix, Jr., Wayne B. Swift, Michael F. Whelan, and the staff of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York, whose permission to reprint the Irregular correspondence of the late President is gratefully acknowledged. And as before, I would have shrunk from undertaking this task were it not considerably lightened by Ronald De Waal’s Bibliographies.

    Finally, I tender my apologies to anyone whose help I have forgotten to ac-knowledge.


From the book:

    Ch. 7, 1943: “May the Day Be Speeded!”

[from Edgar W. Smith’s minutes for the BSI annual dinner held at the Murray Hill Hotel on January 8, 1943—]

    Upon conclusion of the unrecorded preliminaries in Parlor F, the Gasogene-cum-Tantalus called the meeting to order in Parlor G at 7:30 p.m.  . . . .

Notes on the 1943 BSI dinner

    The “unrecorded preliminaries” which took place in Parlor F of the Murray Hill Hotel prior to the dinner are worth some attention, for this brief and colorless expression masked a colorful event which set a custom and created an institution still honored by the Baker Street Irregulars today. This was the first time that a lady was invited to the BSI dinner’s cocktail hour, as a living avatar of The Woman, to be toasted as such before being sent upon her way before the Irregulars sat down to their meal. Such an avatar had been suggested by Logan Clendening in 1934; how it finally happened in 1943 is unknown to us. The lady in question was Rose Louise Hovick — known to the entire world, surely, as Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous ecdysiast (to use the term coined for her by the acerbic H. L. Mencken). Edwin King [“Captain Arthur Morstan,” BSI] remembers her that evening as “assuredly at or near her peak in beauty and charm, and fresh from her successes as a writer of witty mysteries, The G-String Murders and Mother Finds a Body, and her then current engagement in the smash Broadway musical, Star and Garter.” From 1943 to the present day, it has been the custom of the BSI to invite some suitable lady to attend the cocktail hour as The Woman, and since Julian Wolff fully institutionalized the custom in 1961, The Women have been a distinguished society with traditions of their own.

addendum [p. 302]

Irregular Records of the Early ‘Forties was sent to Fordham University Press on July 24, 1991. On August 2nd, I was in San Francisco with the Scowrers, and spent the afternoon at the home of Glen Miranker (“The Origin of Tree Worship,” BSI) immersed in his superb collection of Sherlockiana and Baker Street Irregularity. My mind was primarily on future volumes of the BSI History as I examined the huge number of contemporary letters by Edgar W. Smith, Christopher Morley, Vincent Starrett, Gray Chandler Briggs, P. M. Stone, and many other Early Irregulars which Glen has collected. Many of them have been preserved and arranged in well-organized files; others are waiting to be read again for the first time in many decades.

    Suddenly I spied a letter dated February 13, 1942, from Edgar W. Smith, thanking a certain lady for having participated in the cocktail hour of the BSI dinner on January 9, 1942: “I have not had an opportunity until now to express, on behalf of the Baker Street Irregulars, the appreciation which all of us felt for your having graced our gathering on January 9th, even if for so short a time.” The lady in question was the redoubtable Edith Meiser, at that time the writer of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes radio series, and in 1930 the writer of the first Sherlock Holmes radio broadcast ever, with William Gillette in his immortal role.

    Smith’s letter does not say whether Miss Meiser came in the specific role of The Woman. The minutes of the dinner give no hint, not even the veiled reference to “unrecorded preliminaries” which appears in the minutes of later BSI dinners. But Smith’s letter makes clear that Miss Meiser attended the 1942 cocktail hour; and the mere fact of her being invited to attend and be honored by the BSI in that way means that the origin of the custom of The Woman should be dated from 1942, not from 1943 and Gypsy Rose Lee, as I suggested earlier in this volume.

    Edith Meiser is “A Fascinating and Beautiful Woman” in the Baker Street Irregulars now, and when she takes her place at the 1992 BSI dinner for the first time, it will be the 50th anniversary of her appearance as the first woman ever honored by the BSI.

(“Education Never Ends, Watson.”)

From Baker Street Miscellanea, No. 74, Winter 1994,

    reviewed by Donald A. Yates:

In his earlier Irregular Memories of the ’Thirties (l990), Jon L. Lellenberg chronicled the activities of America’s first organized Sherlockians during the period 1930-1940. That volume was the necessary and welcome history of the origins of the BSI, and also an admiring but clear-headed tribute to the gentlemen who established the group’s singular character and set it on its way. Irregular Records picks up where the first volume left off and meticulously documents three more years, during which, it is evident, the pace of Sherlockian activity in this country was picking up.

    As was the case with the earlier memoir, there is much material — some previously published, some original — that Lellenberg deftly positions and weaves together into a fascinating chronicle. Included here are three full chapters contributed by others: a portrait of Edgar Smith by Peter B. Spivak, the late John Nieminski’s spirited account of the early doings of The Hounds of the Baskerville (sic), and Glen Miranker’s well-documented report on the publishing and recording activities of the BSI.

    An especially laudable aspect of this volume is the masterfully evoked historical context that Lellenberg provides as backdrop for the burgeoning society. Indeed, his presence throughout stands as one of the most pleasing aspects of the book. His light touch and his always germane running commentary provide the perfect setting for the archival gems that, with the help of others, he has brought all together here.

    When Lellenberg’s history reaches 1944, Irregulars and fans will want to breathe a grateful sigh of relief: the first, the now most distant decade of the BSI’s existence has been preserved! The BSI History Project continues, with additional volumes in preparation.

    One final word of praise. Should the Irregulars ever get around to awarding “Arthurs” (as the Mystery Writers of America awards “Edgars”) to the most deserving authors among them, my script has Jon Lellenberg standing somewhere near the head of the line.

Donald Yates was chairman of the Romance Languages department of Michigan State University, and lives today in the heart of Napa County, California, in St. Helena.

Return to Books

Return to the Welcome page