Ed McBain is the most famous pen name of author Evan Hunter, and it is the name under which Hunter did his best-known work, the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals. As Hunter, however, he wrote the novel The Blackboard Jungle (1954), on which the film starring Sidney Poitier and Glenn Ford is based, and the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963). As the 87th Precinct series grew in popularity, however, McBain's fame eventually eclipsed Hunter's, and today it is largely McBain who is remembered as the father of the police procedural.
His origins are even more complicated, however; he was not born Evan Hunter either but Salvatore Albert Lombino, the son of Italian-American parents. McBain grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx and thought he might become a comic artist before heading off to the Pacific on a destroyer during World War II. It was during the war that he found himself scribbling stories. When the war ended, McBain enrolled in Hunter College in New York City where he studied English and psychology, wrote for the school paper and married his college sweetheart, Anita Melnick. Odd jobs including a brief and unsuccessful stint at a Bronx high school preceded his time at the Scott Meredith literary agency where he rubbed shoulders with Arthur C. Clarke and P.G Wodehouse. He also published his first piece of professional fiction as S.A. Lombino, a science fiction short story.
It was one of many names under which his fiction would appear, particularly over the next ten years; he largely wrote only as Evan Hunter and Ed McBain after 1960. In 1952, he legally changed his name to Evan Hunter, feeling that his blatantly Italian birth name would be a professional disadvantage, and in 1954, he produced his first notable work, The Blackboard Jungle, as Evan Hunter. The book stunned audiences with its portrayal of teenagers and juvenile delinquency and was made into a successful film the following year with Sidney Poitier and Glenn Ford. But his greatest creation was yet to come. In 1956, the modern police procedural was born between the covers of a modest crime novel titled Cop Hater by a new writer named Ed McBain. This tale of a group of cops in the 87th Precinct set in the fictional Isola, a stand-in for New York City, revolutionized crime fiction.
McBain relocated his cops for practical reasons: " it was supposed to be New York. Then I discovered the cops' ground rules kept changing and if I was going to keep up with police procedure in New York City it was going to be a fulltime job," he told www.shotsmag.co.uk on Dec. 4, 2002. Along with the new series of novels, McBain began writing for television as well starting with a teleplay for "The Kaiser Aluminum Hour" (NBC, 1956-57) as Evan Hunter. He was responsible for the story for two episodes of "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer" (Syndicated, 1958-59) as Curt Cannon, but the rest of his work for TV and film was written as either Evan Hunter or Ed McBain. In 1958, the 87th Precinct first appeared on television in a couple of episodes of "Kraft Television Theater" (NBC, 1947-1958). Several of McBain's novels were made into films including "Cop Hater" (1958), "The Pusher" (1960) and "Strangers When We Meet" (1960), for which he also wrote the screenplay, before creating the "87th Precinct" (NBC, 1961-62) television show.
As Hunter, he wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," and Akira Kurosawa's "High and Low" (1963) was based on his 87th Precinct novel King's Ransom (1959). Throughout the 1960s, he continued to write novels as both Hunter and McBain as well as for TV and film, although he was fired from "Marnie" (1964) following a disagreement with Hitchcock over the film's rape scene. By the early 1970s, McBain's first marriage had produced three sons and subsequently failed, and he married his second wife, Mary Vann Finley. He wrote at least one book, Doors (1975), under another pseudonym, Ezra Hannon, as well as one or two 87th Precinct novels per year, in addition to a number of books as Evan Hunter. Television and film work over the next two decades included a western, "The Chisholms," (CBS, 1979-1980), based on Hunter's own books and a number of TV movies based on the 87th Precinct novels. Several of the McBain novels were adapted for Japanese television. McBain also created a new series character, a crime-solving attorney named Matthew Hope.
His imaginary city may not have kept up with the rules of police work in New York City, but it notably changed with the times, growing grittier with each passing year and becoming more graphic as McBain devoted himself to researching authentic detail including ride-alongs with police officers. In the final years of his life, McBain showed no signs of winding down. His second marriage ended and he married his third and final wife, Dragica Dimitrijevic, in 1997. In 2000, Ed McBain and Evan Hunter "collaborated" on a novel, Candyland, that alternated the narrative voice of the two.
McBain continued writing until his death, with his last novel appearing posthumously. Despite being both prolific and influential, he felt snubbed by a lack of awards in the fields of crime and mystery - though the Mystery Writers of America did present him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1986 - and the lack of acknowledgment of his influence on gritty police procedural shows like "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87). Without McBain, there likely would never have been a "Hill Street Blues," and without "Hill Street Blues," there would have been no precursor for shows like "The Shield" (FX, 2002-2008) and "The Wire" (2002-2008) to come into existence. Hence, the genre of the police procedural in fiction would not exist as it does today. As a result, many critics feel that McBain's influence on American pop culture cannot be overstated.