Cornell Woolrich was born in New York City; his parents separated when he was young. He lived for a time in Mexico with his father before returning to New York to live with his mother, Claire Attalie Woolrich. He attended Columbia University but left in 1926 without graduating when his first novel, Cover Charge, was published. Cover Charge was one of six Jazz Age novels inspired by the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He soon turned to pulp and detective fiction, often published under his pseudonyms. For example, “William Irish” was the byline in Dime Detective Magazine (February 1942) on his 1942 story “It Had to Be Murder,” (source of the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie Rear Window) and itself based on H. G. Wells’ short story “Through a Window”. François Truffaut filmed Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black and Waltz Into Darkness in 1968 and 1969, respectively, the latter as Mississippi Mermaid. Ownership of the copyright in Woolrich’s original story “It Had to Be Murder” and its use for Rear Window was litigated before the US Supreme Court in Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207 (1990). Cornell Woolrich was gay and sexually active in his youth. In 1930, while working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, Woolrich married Violet Virginia Blackton (1910–65), daughter of silent film producer J. Stuart Blackton. They separated after three months, and the marriage was annulled in 1933.
He returned to New York where he and his mother moved into the Hotel Marseilles (Broadway and West 103rd Street). He lived there until her death on October 6, 1957, which prompted his move to the Hotel Franconia (20 West 72nd Street). In later years, he socialized on occasion in Manhattan bars with Mystery Writers of America colleagues and younger fans such as writer Ron Goulart, but alcoholism and an amputated leg (caused by an infection from a too-tight shoe which went untreated) left him a recluse. He did not attend the premiere of Truffaut’s film of his novel The Bride Wore Black in 1968, even though it was held in New York City. He died weighing 89 pounds. He is interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Cornell Woolrich bequeathed his estate of about $850,000 to Columbia University, to endow scholarships in his mother’s memory for writing students.
- December, 04, 1903
- New York, New York
- September, 25, 1968
- New York, New York
- Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum
- Hartsdale, New York