Thorne Smith

Thorne Smith
(27 March 1892 - 21 June 1934)

Thorne Smith was a thoroughly American writer of humorous fantasy, whose favourite theme was of suburban lives turned topsy-turvy by some whimsical supernatural intrusion. In this he follows the British tradition of F. Anstey (1856-1934), who famously explored identity exchange in Vice Versâ (1882) and had his hero's tranquillity disrupted by a magic statue in A Fallen Idol (1886) – two elements found in Smith's Turnabout (1931). But where Anstey never really strayed beyond the proprieties of a Victorian upbringing, Smith was cheerfully uninhibited in his treatment of sexual desire and its comic potential.

James Thorne Smith Jr., son of the US Navy officer Commodore James Thorne Smith, was born on 27 March 1892 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. His education was at Locust Dale Academy in Virginia, St. Luke's School in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth College. Following his father's example, Smith served in the US Navy during the First World War and was an editor of the Navy publication The Broadside – A Journal for the Naval Reserve Force. His marriage to Celia Sullivan produced two daughters, Marion and June. For a time he worked in advertising, until the success of his comic fantasies freed him from money worries. Hollywood opportunities followed, and in 1933 Smith began to devote much of his time to screenwriting for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He died tragically early from a heart attack on 21 June 1934 in Sarasota, Florida.

Smith's literary debut was Biltmore Oswald (1918), the comic fictional diary of a hapless naval recruit, drawing heavily on wartime experience with the Navy. Episodes had featured in Broadside. The book sold well enough to allow the appearance of a sequel, Out o' Luck (1919). Smith also published poetry in Broadside, in newspapers such as the New York Herald, and in slick magazines like Smart Set: 65 examples were collected in Haunts and By-Paths (1919).

Already prefigured in Biltmore Oswald, the author's characteristic voice approached maturity in Topper: An Improbable Adventure (1926), which made his name. Cosmo Topper is a classic example of the middle-class drudge whose life – according to Smith – needs salutary upheaval. He is overweight, approaching forty, with a solid job in banking and a stale, ten-years-old marriage to a selfish woman who cultivates indigestion as a cherished excuse for always having her own way.

Topper still feels a rebellious spark, and breaks modestly loose by buying and learning to drive a second-hand car. Its former owners George and Marion Kerby, "the fastest young couple in town," ended their short but merry lives by crashing that car into a tree. Even in rebellion, Topper remains faintly absurd:

He looked rather small beneath the majestic reaches of the tree, and his stomach seemed pitifully brave, thrusting itself out aggressively into a world that could trump with mountains.

This visit to the fatal tree attracts the attention of the now ghostly Kerbys, who gleefully join Topper in "their" car and begin to torment him. George issues outrageous reproaches: "Topper, perhaps you do not realize you are sitting on my wife's lap – or do you?" Indeed an equally invisible but partly materialized Marian now occupies the same seat as Topper, coexisting in that volume of space rather than being literally sat on.

The disconcerting presence of partially intangible and/or invisible bodies was one of Smith's favorite comic effects. In a farcical scene at a garage, the invisible but far from immaterial ghosts' assistance with gasoline and water so horrifies the garage man that Topper himself makes the transition from shock and fear of madness to helpless laughter.

When attempted reconciliation with his wife (who disapproves of the automobile and its provenance) fails owing to a trivial parking accident, Topper rebels more openly. Of his own accord he goes back to the rowdy ghosts and eventually embarks on a prolonged, riotous vacation, well lubricated with alcohol despite the feeble restrictions of Prohibition. Hard liquor is regularly deployed in Smith's comedies as a dissolver of inhibitions.

Another favourite ingredient, sexual titillation, comes to the fore when George Kerby impulsively wanders away "to sea for a change," leaving Topper at the mercy of the volatile Marion. Even when she materializes in the robes of an angel, (albeit an angel "with a bottle, the contents of which she was transferring to a glass"), the costume includes – as an interested male witness later recalls – "black silk stockings, thin ones ..." At other times Marion hankers for real rather than ectoplasmic accessories, and a ladies' underwear shop is filled with hysteria by the discovery of a "smoky lady who was trying on knickers." There are teasing contacts, invisible hugs, discreet kisses, and very nearly compromising proximity in a hotel bedroom ... but nothing further.

To compensate for George's continuing absence, the floating party is augmented by further dissolute shades: Colonel Scott and Mrs Hart. The Colonel's dog Oscar provides additional low-comedy relief by his own incomplete materializations, straining the sanity of bystanders:

Then gradually the rump of a small, shaggy dog appeared. Its tail was wagging excitedly.

"That's the boy," cried the Colonel. "Keep it up, Oscar. Make a whole dog for the gentleman."

A few more inches of dog appeared, but evidently Oscar had exhausted his talents. The tail continued to wag as if asking to be excused from further endeavours.

Besides introducing this canine comic turn, the narrative function of the new ghosts is to maintain a background of drunkenness and cheery irresponsibility while – in between bouts of rowdiness – the relationship between Topper and Marion changes in tone. He has become fitter, largely from being so often on the run; she has calmer intervals when removed from the peer-group pressure of her raucous friends. The ill-matched friends enjoy a summer idyll of Platonic tranquillity, reading the Odyssey together.

Then George Kerby returns as an affronted husband whose unreasonable suspicions and jealousy require satisfaction. The resulting duel is largely slapstick, with hurled clam-shells as weapons and some outrageous cheating as Kerby deliberately lapses into invisibility. Once Topper is slightly wounded, Kerby's mood switches from bloodlust to remorse, and there is forgiveness and champagne all round. As Topper tells his ghostly companions:

"You've created happiness in me. [...] You've awakened dreams and left memories. You've made me humble and you've made me human. You've taught me to understand how a man with a hangover feels. You've lifted me forever out of the rut of my smug existence. I'll go back to it I know, but I won't be the same man."

The story comes full circle to that fatal tree as a last wild drive ends in another crash. Briefly Topper enters the ghost world, meets Marion for a chaste farewell kiss – and awakens in hospital. An anxious vigil at his bedside has replaced his wife's indigestion with better feelings towards Topper, a conventional change of heart frequently seen in the romantic comedies of P.G. Wodehouse. We leave him anticipating happier domestic relations, though not without a wistful backward glance to memories of Marion. A modern reader can derive little risqué thrill from the exceedingly mild naughtiness in Topper, but the novel retains an antic, frivolous charm.

A successful film adaptation followed, with Cary Grant playing George Kerby in Topper (MGM, 1937). This led to further Topper movies. Topper Takes a Trip (Hal Roach/United Artists, 1939) is based on Smith's sequel; Topper Returns (Hal Roach/United Artists, 1941) necessarily has a new storyline devised by scriptwriters after Smith's death. The 1953-56 Topper television series ran to 78 episodes. Two later TV movies, made as pilots for intended series, were poorly received: Topper Returns (NBC, 1973) and Topper (Cosmo Productions/CBS, 1979).

Despite this first novel's success, the author did not immediately seize on fantastic comedy as his greatest literary asset. Of his next four books, three ventured experimentally in directions which proved to be dead ends. The most ambitious of these is the little known Dream's End (1927), an florid, uncomic novel of Gothic romance featuring heavily symbolic dreams. This was actually Smith's first-written novel, rejected by publishers until the proven success of Topper. Its hero is melodramatically torn between desire for a perfect woman who is unattainable because married, and a bad but highly desirable girl who is all too available and seduces him against his will. Contemporary reviews were dismissive:

It is sad to see so goodly a craftsman as the author of Topper here wasting his admirable prose in a wallow of fevered flapdoodle. (Saturday Review of Literature, 3:765, April 23, 1927)

Did She Fall? (1930) is a straight murder mystery whose dialogue shows occasional traces of Smith's wisecracking energy, but whose plot – though constrained by genre to be far less rambling than the comedies – is unmemorable. Of greater interest to fantasy readers is Lazy Bear Lane (1931), written for the author's daughters and having something of the flavour of L. Frank Baum's magic land of Oz. With Lazy Bear as mentor, two children enter this land to meet friendly animals including deer, lions, squirrels and further bears. The young protagonists are first seen as an old couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bingle, and restored to childhood by Lazy Bear to rediscover "all the lovely old lost things – the things we used to know." This foreshadows the theme of The Glorious Pool (1934).

The book that continued the comic vein of Topper and set the pattern for the future was The Stray Lamb (1929). Though Topper himself narrowly avoids a final change into ghostly form, most other Smith protagonists suffer some transformation, usually involuntary. The most unwittingly protean of them all is this novel's hero T. Lawrence Lamb, who during the narrative takes on eight different animal forms, none of them a lamb.

Lamb, more interestingly complex than the gentle Topper, is "a thoroughly unmoral man, a sort of warmed-over pagan as judged by all standards of conventional morality." Besides mild irreverence for quotidian routine, this supposed unmorality manifests as an eye for attractive women, a potential for sexual enjoyment, and a fondness for practical jokes – traits suppressed in the interests of suburban respectability.

Though much smitten with the lovely Sandy, a friend of his daughter's who models underwear and is determined to capture Lamb, he resolutely holds her at bay. Even when he finds his unfaithful wife embracing another man, with amateur dramatics as the excuse, he contents himself with sarcasm:

"Why persist in misunderstanding?" complained Mrs. Lamb. "Leonard and I are rehearsing for Sunday night."

"Then I suppose I should stay away or visit friends?" her husband suggested.

Lamb's adventures enter the realm of the fantastic after he stumblingly confesses to a sense of being restricted by social conventions ... unaware that his confidant, a mysterious "little russet man" who takes an interest in Lamb, has the power to grant wishes and may be the god Pan.

"... I'm tired of being a human being. I think I'd like to be things if I could – animals, birds, beasts, fish, any old sort of a thing, just to get another point of view, to keep from thinking and acting always as a man, always as a civilized being, an economic unit ..."

This order is filled in painstaking detail. Next morning Lamb wakes as a horse. Subsequent transformations, with interludes in normal human shape, see him spending time as a seagull, a kangaroo, a goldfish, an appalling mongrel dog, a cat, a lion, and finally "any old sort of a thing" – a chimera with "the feathered head of a large rooster, the body of some strangely designed prehistoric animal and the tail of a lizard." In this form, at the book's darkest point, he attracts the fury of a xenophobic mob.

En route there is considerable fun as Lamb seizes on the copious opportunities for practical joking available to an animal body with human intelligence. His wife's friends and lover are hilariously discomfited. Even as a goldfish he contrives to write alarming messages on the inside of the tank, goading Mrs. Lamb into an unsuccessful murder attempt. Eventually the strain placed on this unstable marriage by Lamb's successive transformations, and by the weakening of his "respectable" inhibitions, leads to the solution he would not himself have dared to seek: divorce, and a new life with Sandy.

Contrasting with Topper's return to a slightly improved version of the initial state of affairs, The Stray Lamb kicks over the traces and offers the delicious possibility that anything can happen. Thorne Smith's handling of bawdy comedy had reached its irresponsible maturity.

Rowdiness and rioting on a still larger scale are the keynotes of The Night Life of the Gods (1931), one of this author's best fantasies. It begins with a nod to science fiction, as an explosion in the laboratory of wealthy scientist Hunter Hawk marks his success in "achieving complete cellular petrification through atomic disintegration." That is, his devices will convert living flesh to stone and – less believably – back again.

Unconcerned with scientific plausibility, Smith explores many variations on this theme. Portions of several characters, including the tail of the usual comic dog, are petrified and restored without thought for such practical issues as blood circulation. Hawk can even petrify himself while retaining the power of speech and leaving one hand free to carry out his own restoration: "I gave myself only a surface treatment. My material processes continued to function." It is all pure magic despite the initial pseudoscientific jargon.

Indeed, after vengefully petrifying the unloved relatives who are freeloaders in his home, Hawk very shortly gets drunk with an ancient member of the Little People from far-off Ireland. This leprechaun's daughter Meg (Megaera), 900 years old but dangerously sexy, marks Hawk for her own and – under the influence of further drink – teaches him "the trick that goes yours one better," the secret of animating statues that were never previously alive.

Their subsequent relationship lurches between comic quarrels and discreetly indicated sexual bliss. "I hear a little moral leprosy has broken out in here," says Hawk's delighted niece on discovering that he is not alone in bed: "Is this the lepress? She's sweet." But there is also a note of melancholy in Meg's clear understanding of the outcome for a near-immortal in love with a human:

"You belong to me, but I don't belong to you. I just keep on going, and some time you'll stop ... come to an end ... and I'll go on raising hell, no doubt loving but yet not wanting to love ... living yet fed up with life."

Meanwhile, though, there is fun to be had, with much bewilderment and crazy dialogue at cross-purposes. Drunken and adulterous parties are plunged into chaos by promiscuous statue-making and unmaking. Policemen are reduced to gibbering when their successful chase reveals only a carful of apparent statues, who subsequently reanimate and escape.

The promise of the title is fulfilled, and the plot reason for Meg's reanimation secret made clear, in a night visit to the New York Metropolitan Museum. There, just for the hell of it, Hawk and Meg awaken the statues of selected gods and godlings: Mercury, Bacchus, Neptune, Hebe the cup-bearer, Apollo, Perseus, Diana, and an orthodoxly armless Venus.

With the amoral scientist and kleptomaniac leprechaun-girl presiding as joint lords of misrule, much comic disruption ensues. The gods, housed in half a floor of hotel rooms rented by Hawk, behave as stereotypes from a comedy of humours. Most are determinedly amorous. Bacchus is not alone in being stunned by the high potency and dire quality of modern bootleg spirits: Hebe has much delighted cup-bearing to perform, after an initial misunderstanding with a chamber pot. Mercury steals citizens' watches and wallets, Diana looses arrows at the slightest provocation, and Perseus is accompanied by the living, snake-haired head of Medusa – not, perhaps unexpectedly in this context, exerting the traditional petrifying power but producing general alarm by its mere presence. Most troublesome of all is Neptune, whose fish obsession raises havoc in a seafood restaurant and a fish market. He is the only god to display any supernatural power: his modest ability to remain indefinitely under water causes much consternation at a public swimming pool.

Scenes of unbridled slapstick eventually lead to arrest and a trial at which the magistrate is terrorized by sorcerous antics. The freed gods are tired, worn down by debauchery and the bad liquor of those Prohibition days. They willingly return to their museum pedestals and resume a placid existence as stone. In a memorably poignant ending, Hawk and Meg solve the problem of their love's transience by also becoming museum statues, naked and locked in a permanent embrace that time cannot spoil.

The chemistry between these lovers makes The Night Life of the Gods more than just a raucous comedy. Hawk's personality is reminiscent of Lamb from The Stray Lamb, fundamentally decent but with a strong pagan streak and even less concern for respectability. Meg regards other people's property as ripe for the taking but expresses a fierce moral sense about fidelity between partners. Neither is at home in Smith's portrayal of a joylessly decadent American social scene during Prohibition; and so they escape.

In the less expansive but equally successful Turnabout (1931), the author inflicts his brand of chaos on more ordinary folk: Sally and Tim Willows, a young couple whose marriage has developed frictions after five routine years. She is bored with suburban home life, and says so at length. He is exhausted by an advertising job whose satirical excesses – like the boss's pompous, bombastic lectures on brevity in copywriting – must owe something to Smith's own experiences in that field. Both drink heavily. Infidelity is in the air.

Tim does in fact enjoy a brief, dreamlike fling with a sympathetic divorcée, but Sally never quite succumbs to the unpleasant charmer Carl Bentley who repeatedly lays siege to her. A clinch in the kitchen during an impromptu party is broken up when Tim stuns Bentley with a rolling pin. (There is some macabre farce about manhandling and disposing of a cumbersome body, before it emerges that Bentley is not dead.)

Mutual dissatisfaction has led both Sally and Tim to wish that they could swap roles. Their quarrelling irritates "Mr. Ram," a small statue from ancient Egypt which stands on their bedroom bookcase and secretly possesses both sentience and magic power. The wish is granted. One morning, Tim awakens in Sally's body and she in his.

This changeover is Smith's most effective high-comedy concept – simple, spicy, and productive of endless fun without resorting to a succession of arbitrary devices and capricious acts as in The Night Life of the Gods. The two misplaced souls, constantly lapsing into the wrong vocal register, cause effortless alarm to servants, acquaintances, and the dog. While Tim wrestles with the hellish complexities of underwear and make-up, Sally finds that flirting with Bentley on the commuter train opens up whole new vistas of public embarrassment that never arose when she did it in woman's shape. At the advertising firm she brings office life to a near-standstill by automatically entering, and trying to join a conversation in, the wrong rest room.

Further set-piece scenes follow, including a gruelling church supper whose lovingly described awfulness suggests grim personal experience on Smith's part. Tim and Sally are forced closer together by their alienating secret, and find consolation in bed; the logical consequence is that Tim discovers the joys and terrors of pregnancy and eventually childbirth. En route, Bentley is further discomfited when he attempts to complete his conquest of Sally and is very nearly murdered by the irate female Tim; another courtroom scene follows.

All ends happily, with Mr. Ram undoing the transformation and causing a final spasm of alarm when the once again male Tim awakens in a maternity-ward bed. A rich and thoroughly unrespectable uncle steps in as financial saviour following Tim's deliberate farewell to advertising, a relentlessly honest underwear ad headlined A MESSAGE TO THE MISSHAPEN:

"If your physical development is 'way below par take heart, because now your worst defects can be comfortably covered and no one will be the wiser. [...] Unprepossessing under the most ideal circumstances, these union suits nevertheless make you look no sillier than those of another make."

Almost needless to say, the ad is a tremendous success, but Tim cannot be lured back to the office. Like his creator, he has escaped advertising forever and henceforth will be a writer. Turnabout (Hal Roach/United Artists, 1939) is the cinema adaptation, considered less successful than the first two Topper movies. The same title was used for a 1979 US TV series based on the book's general situation, with the characters pointlessly renamed as Sam and Penny Alston.

As a change of pace, The Bishop's Jaegers (1932) omits both the expected fantastic or supernatural intrusion and – perhaps more surprisingly – the alcoholic excess. A mishap involving a river ferry and fog strands six ill-assorted travellers in an eccentric commune where nudism is compulsory. As the title suggests, the bishop among the party is allowed to retain his capacious drawers in a gesture of what might be called reverence for the cloth. Embarrassments and high-spirited capers follow. With nakedness as the catalyst, a triangle comprising the hapless hero, his chilly fiancée and his "bad" (that is, unhypocritically amorous) secretary is resolved along predictable lines. An untame pet duck called Havelock Ellis stands in for the usual dog, pecking all and sundry in inconvenient places and adding to the terrors of the usual courtroom scene.

Uniquely among this author's output, Topper Takes a Trip (1932) is a sequel – to, of course, Topper. Perhaps Smith was dissatisfied by the lack of true carnality in Topper's relationship with Marion, or by the unlikely personality improvement which transformed Mrs. Topper for a conventionally happy ending. Both these flaws, if flaws they are, are firmly dealt with during Topper's vacation with his wife on the French Riviera. We learn that she soon reverted to dyspepsia and the arid pleasures of snubbing, thwarting, and generally being more respectable than Topper.

When the same four fun-loving ghosts (plus the dog Oscar) join the holiday, the supernatural high jinks eventually lead to Mrs. Topper's outraged departure, and Topper makes the most of his second chance with the seductive Marion. Besides the usual heavy drinking – and some asides about American unease with the civilized arrangements of France – the escapades include further larceny, cheating at tennis, and fixing horse-races. The last is a particularly effective sequence of sustained absurdity. Invisible hands spread chaos, dissent and public nudity on a bathing beach ironically known as La Plage Tranquille ... an episode lovingly echoed in John D. MacDonald's science-fantasy homage to Thorne Smith, The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything (New York: Fawcett, 1962).

The humour takes a darker turn as Marion plans to keep Topper for herself and save him from old age, by a benevolent act of murder. This goes farcically wrong; Topper suffers only a highly undignified flesh wound. Left alone at the end, all inhibitions lost, he seems ready to console himself with the French housemaid who has been giving him coy glances throughout.

A macabre variation of the transformation theme generates much graveyard humour in Skin and Bones (1933). The protagonist Quintus Bland is a photographer whose "fluoroscopic camera film" research exposes him to chemical fumes whose side effect is to convert him intermittently into a living skeleton. That is, with Smith's usual unconcern for biological plausibility, Bland's flesh does not merely become invisible but intangible. Nevertheless, as a rattling structure of bones, he can walk, talk, eat and – especially – drink.

Alarm alternates with embarrassment as he switches helplessly between the terror-inducing skeleton form and his normal flesh. These upsets at first aggravate but eventually heal a rift between Bland and his attractively unreliable wife Lorna. There is a large supporting cost of stock characters whose lives are duly infected with madness: policemen, doctors, nurses, hotel staff, barflies, loose women, gun-toting gangsters, clergymen, and (when Bland woozily decides to buy a coffin and bury himself) a bewildered mortician. Additionally, the hero's dog gets into the home laboratory and spills the same experimental chemical, thus becoming – again intermittently – another walking anatomy lesson.

As in The Stray Lamb, the skeletal Bland is eventually pursued and almost killed by a vigilante mob, here masked and characterized as a "viciously intolerant rabble, glorified under the name of the Guardians of America." Humour temporarily fades from the narrative as Smith excoriates these malicious bigots and their motives ... but the comedy returns for a romping finale.

Not the protagonist but the world is seemingly transformed in the glowing wish-fulfilment fantasy Rain in the Doorway (1933). In SF terms, the hero Hector Owen is snatched into a topsy-turvy parallel universe, a manic utopia centred on a huge, department store run on the business principles of the Marx Brothers. The transition is from rain, depression, a tedious and endangered job, and an unfaithful spendthrift of a wife, to a world of sunlight, zany logic, eager women, and good liquor. Owen's initial view of the store verges on the transcendent:

He thought at first, from its noble proportions, that he was standing in some celestial railway terminal. The vast space was diffused with a soft yellow radiance shot with currents of sheer elation.

Uplift of a less heavenly nature is provided by "remarkably good-looking salesgirls standing in happy profusion," and the tone rapidly descends to slapstick. Unpopular customers are given the bum's rush, to general acclaim. The drunken management partners – who instantly invite Owen to join their fellowship – are only slightly troubled when thieves walk off with pockets full of diamonds, since this allows inflated insurance claims. Owen is ensnared by a designing salesgirl called Satin while selling books in the Pornographic Department....

Fantastically irresponsible escapades follow, culminating in an absurdist triple divorce trial after Owen wakes from another alcoholic stupor to find himself in bed with all three of his partners' wives. This case founders on the judge's subtle legal insight that "the three of you are trying to get a divorce from women you haven't even married?" Finally, to the partners' glee, the "criminally overinsured" store goes up in flames. Owen and Satin escape through a doorway that opens on rain – and are back in our own grey world. She then explains that she has been looking after him during a delirious "mental binge" that began in a department store; Owen assumes that the relationship is now over, but Satin has different ideas, and the future outlook is sunny. This is one of Smith's most exuberant performances.

Determinedly madcap activity also intrudes in The Glorious Pool (1934), here to the detriment of the story. The central notion is that a garden pool acquires the magical properties of the Fountain of Youth, promising an interesting triangle as elderly Rex Pebble and his long-time mistress are restored to youthful vigour while his wife of many years is not. Perhaps the triangle will be a quadrangle, since the pool's nymph statue has also come alive and is highly interested in men.

As though unwilling to explore this charged situation, Smith veers off into some six and a half chapters of barely relevant antics with comic firemen, policemen, gangsters, servants, and a particularly lugubrious dog. Pebble's wife does not even appear until near the finish. After a interlude in which Pebble is briefly reduced to infancy, The Glorious Pool does not so much end as stop on a chaotic and inconclusive note, with subplots unresolved.

Near the end of his life Smith wrote two minor, non-fantastic short stories, "Birthday Present" (1934) and "Yonder's Henry!" (1934). The former develops a comic family tangle from the henpecked protagonist's experiment with mugging as a source of funds to buy something for his wife's birthday. In the latter shaggy-dog tale the hound Henry, extolled as the star turn of a Texas fox-hunting pack, actually plays no part – and neither does any fox – in the drunken shambles of the ensuing hunt. "A Horse in the Bed" (The Golden Book Magazine, August 1933) and "Sex, Love and Mr. Owen" (Dream World vol. 1 no. 1, February 1957) are novel extracts, respectively from The Stray Lamb and Rain in the Doorway.

The final novel The Passionate Witch (1941), initially drafted by Smith as a film scenario, was completed by Norman Matson after his death. It fails to satisfy. There is something untrue to Smith in the assumption that the beautiful witch who bespells the hero into marriage is necessarily and irremediably evil; in her abrupt death while indulging in sacrilegious arson; and in the later, violent death of the semi-comic horse that is possessed by her disembodied spirit. Verbal humour is muted. Even the happy outcome, with the protagonist marrying the "right" girl at last, includes a sour touch of cynicism which Smith would surely have rejected. This storyline was heavily reworked for the sunnier, more successful movie adaptation I Married a Witch (Masterpiece/United Artists/Cinema Guild, 1942).

Although Thorne Smith's output was uneven and some of his plot devices became shopworn, he is remembered for several highly memorable and individual comedies which consistently promote life, spontaneity, tolerance and fun.


Biltmore Oswald (New York: Stokes, 1918);

Haunts and By-Paths (New York: Stokes, 1919);

Out o' Luck (New York: Stokes, 1919);

Topper: An Improbable Adventure (New York: McBride, 1926; London: Holden, 1926); reissued as The Jovial Ghosts: The Misadventures of Topper (London: Barker, 1933);

Dream's End (New York: McBride, 1927; London: Jarrolds, 1928);

The Stray Lamb (New York: Cosmopolitan, 1929; London: Heinemann, 1930);

Did She Fall? (New York: Cosmopolitan, 1930; London: Barker, 1936);

Lazy Bear Lane (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1931);

The Night Life of the Gods (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1931; London: Barker, 1934);

Turnabout (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1931; London: Barker, 1933;

The Bishop's Jaegers (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1932; London: Barker, 1934);

Topper Takes a Trip (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1932; London: Barker, 1935);

Rain in the Doorway (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1933; London: Barker, 1936);

Skin and Bones (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1933; London: Barker, 1936);

The Glorious Pool (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1934; London: Barker, 1935);

Thorne Smith: His Life and Times, with Roland Young and others (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1934);

The Passionate Witch, completed by Norman Matson (New York: Doubleday Doran, 1941; London: Barker, 1942).


"Yonder's Henry!" Esquire vol. 1 no. 3 (February 1934)

"Birthday Present," Redbook vol. 63 no. 6 (October 1934)


Jim Choma, "Haunts and By-Paths," unofficial Thorne Smith web site,;

Paul Di Filippo, "Thorne Smith," St James Guide to Fantasy Writers ed. David Pringle (Detroit, MI: St James Press, 1996): 532-3;

Elizabeth Elchlepp, "Turnabout," Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 4 ed. Frank N. Magill (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1983): 1983-5;

Stephen Goldin, "The Stray Lamb" and "Topper and Topper Takes a Trip," Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 4 ed. Frank N. Magill (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1983): 1848-50, 1958-62;

David Langford, "Thorne Smith," The Encyclopedia of Fantasy ed. John Clute and John Grant (London: Orbit, 1997; New York: St Martin's Press, 1997): 881;

Keith Neilson, "Thorne Smith," Supernatural Fiction Writers ed. E.F. Bleiler, (New York: Scribner's, 1985): 805-12;

Marcus Rowland, "The Forgotten Futures Thorne Smith Collection," assembling the humorous novels on line,

George H. Scheetz and Rodney N. Henshaw, "Thorne Smith," Bulletin of Bibliography vol. 41, no. 1 (March 1984): 23-36;

Christine Watson, "The Night Life of the Gods," Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 4 ed. Frank N. Magill (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1983): 1111-5.