Mignon G. Eberhart
Mignon G. Eberhart was one of the most prolific authors of mysteries of the mid-20th century, with some 63 novels to her credit from 1929-1988, of which eight were made into movies, principally by Warner Bros. Born Mignon Good in Lincoln, NE, in 1899, she attended Nebraska Wesleyan University, graduating in 1920. Three years later, she married Alanson C. Eberhart, a civil engineer. His work required the couple to travel extensively, which left Mignon with lots of time and little to do. She turned to writing as something to occupy her time, initially as a freelance journalist, but during the late '20s, began to write novels. Her first mystery, The Patient in Room 18, was published in 1929; in it, she introduced the sleuthing couple of nurse Sarah Keate, a middle-aged health practitioner and amateur sleuth, and police detective Lance O'Leary, who figured in four more novels together. Eberhart's books were built on fairly complex mystery stories, with lots of detail and potential blind alleys to keep the reader guessing, and, in terms of character and structure, were offshoots of the old gothic romance school of fiction. Her Sarah Keate was a mature, matronly crime-solver, somewhat similar to Charles Stewart Palmer's Hildegard Withers character.
Eberhart's books began getting adapted to the screen in 1935, when her second novel, While the Patient Slept, was picked up by Warner Bros.' B-movie unit and turned into a pleasant 67-minute entry in its "Clue Club" series starring middle-aged Aline MacMahon as crime-solving nurse Sarah Keate and more than middle-aged Guy Kibbee as police detective Lance O'Leary under director Ray Enright. The studio's second film from an Eberhart book, The White Cockatoo (1935), directed by Alan Crosland, was altered considerably from its source and provided a vehicle for Ricardo Cortez and Jean Muir. By the studio's third adaptation,Murder by an Aristocrat (1936), the character of Sarah Keate was back with an altered name and in a much younger form played by Marguerite Churchill. Eberhart's From the Dark Stairway was similarly altered for The Murder of Dr. Harrigan, with Kay Linaker playing the young nurse/sleuth. 20th Century Fox took over the Eberhart books in 1937 with The Great Hospital Mystery, in which hefty, matronly Jane Darwell played the nurse protagonist. Warner Bros.' British studio produced a genuinely obscure adaptation of From The Dark Stairway as The Dark Stairway in 1938, but, from a modern perspective, the most interesting of all the Eberhart-based films was The Patient in Room 18 (1938), directed by Crane Wilbur and Bobby Connelly. Patric Knowles plays a detective-story enthusiast who is hospitalized for his own good, only to stumble upon a real murder mystery; Ann Sheridan played nurse Sara Keate, in this movie, which strangely anticipated elements of Conspiracy Theory. Sheridan was back for one more film as Eberhart's nurse protagonist, Mystery House (1938), but Eberhart's work faded from the screen after that, with the exception of Republic Pictures' 1945 adaptation of Hasty Wedding as Three's a Crowd.
Although Hollywood ignored her after 1945, Eberhart's work remained popular for another four decades. Her output slackened somewhat in the 1940s, possibly due to a tumultuous personal situation -- she divorced her first husband, married a man named John Hazen Perry, divorced him in 1948, and then remarried her first husband. She wrote 33 books over the ensuing 38 years, and was given a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1971, at age 72. She retired from writing at in 1988. She died in 1996 at age 97.
~ Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide