Philip MacDonald

Philip MacDonald (5 November 1900 – 10 December 1980) was a British writer of fiction and screenplays, best known for thrillers.

Life and work

MacDonald was born in London, the son of author Ronald MacDonald and actress Constance Robertson, and grandson of the fiction writer and Christian minister George MacDonald.[1] During World War I he served with the British cavalry in Mesopotamia, later trained horses for the army, and was a show jumper. He also raised Great Danes. After marrying the writer F. Ruth Howard, he moved to Hollywood in 1931. He was one of the most popular mystery writers of the 1930s, and between 1931 and 1963 wrote many screenplays along with a few radio and television scripts.

His detective novels, particularly those featuring his series detective Anthony Gethryn, are primarily "whodunits" with the occasional locked room mystery. His novel X v. Rex (1933), aka The Mystery of The Dead Police, is an early example of what has become known as a serial killer novel (before the term "serial killer" was coined), in which an insane murderer is killing police officers one after the other. Perhaps his best-known novel is The List of Adrian Messenger.[1]

His work in screenwriting included not only screenplays based on his own works (such as The Mystery of Mr. X in 1934, Who Killed John Savage? in 1937, based on The Rynox Mystery, and many others) but also original stories and screenplays for series characters such as Charlie Chan (Charlie Chan in London, 1934, and Charlie Chan in Paris, 1935) and Mr. Moto (Mysterious Mr. Moto in 1938, Mr. Moto's Last Warning and Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation in 1939). He did not receive any screen credit for his work in adapting Bride of Frankenstein. He adapted a story written by Agatha Christie for the movie Love From A Stranger (1947). MacDonald and Michael Hogan adapted the novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, from which Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison created the screenplay for Rebecca, the 1940 film. Sherwood and Harrison were nominated for an Academy Award.

MacDonald's 1927 novel Patrol was issued as one of the first twenty Penguin Books in 1935. He won the annual Edgar Award for Best Short Story twice, in 1953 for "Something to Hide" and in 1956 for "Dream No More". He also wrote television scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Malice Domestic", 1957) and Perry Mason ("The Case of the Terrified Typist", 1958).

As "W.J. Stuart", MacDonald wrote the novelisation of the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet. He also dabbled in science fiction under his own name, writing four SF short stories over a span of decades. Two of them are frequently issued in anthologies ("Our Feathered Friends", 1931, and "Private – Keep Out!", 1949).

MacDonald died in Woodland Hills, California.

Bibliography of works by Philip MacDonald[2]

Some sources list The Singing Scorpion as a title by MacDonald; in fact, this novel was written by a different writer, Allan Colt MacDonald.

  • The Rasp (1924). Serialised in American newspapers [3]
  • Queen's Mate (1926)
  • Patrol (a.k.a. The Lost Patrol) (1927)
  • The White Crow (1928)
  • Likeness of Exe (1929)
  • The Noose (1930). Serialised, Manchester Evening News (1930)
  • The Link (1930)
  • Rynox (1930) (a.k.a. The Rynox Murder Mystery, The Rynox Mystery, The Rynox Murder)
  • The Choice (a.k.a. The Polferry Mystery and The Polferry Riddle) (1931)
  • The Crime Conductor (1931)
  • Murder Gone Mad (1931)
  • The Wraith (1931)
  • The Maze (a.k.a. Persons Unknown) (1932)
  • Rope to Spare (1932)
  • Death on My Left (1933)
  • R.I.P. (a.k.a. Menace) (1933)
  • Glitter (1934)
  • The Nursemaid Who Disappeared (a.k.a. Warrant for X) (1938)
  • The Dark Wheel (a.k.a. Sweet and Deadly) with A. Boyd Correll (1948)
  • Something to Hide (a.k.a. Fingers of Fear) (1952)
  • The Man out of the Rain (1955)
  • Guest in the House (a.k.a. No Time for Terror) (1955)
  • The List of Adrian Messenger (1959). Serialised in American newspapers as Murder Seed
  • Death & Chicanery (1962)

As Oliver Fleming

  • Ambrotox and Limping Dick (1920), with Ronald MacDonald
  • The Spandau Quid (1923), with Ronald MacDonald

As Anthony Lawless

  • Harbour (1931)
  • Moonfisher (1931)

As Martin Porlock

  • Mystery at Friar's Pardon (1931)
  • Mystery in Kensington Gore (1932) (a.k.a. Escape)
  • X v. Rex (1933) (a.k.a. The Mystery of Mr. X and Mystery of the Dead Police) (Later republished as Mystery of the Dead Police by Philip MacDonald as Pocket Books #70, 1940)

As W. J. Stuart

  • Forbidden Planet (1956, novelization of film)

As Warren Stuart

  • The Sword and the Net (1941) [4]

Film scripts by Macdonald

Films based on works by MacDonald


  1. Internet Book List :: Author Information: Philip MacDonald
  2. Hubin, Allen J., Crime Fiction, 1749–1980: A Comprehensive Bibliography. New York/London, Garland Publishing, 1984. ISBN 0-8240-9219-8
  3. For example, The Philadelphia Inquirer, starting from 29 January 1933 as Who Killed C@ck Robin Hoode
  4. "Serendip's Detections XII: The Gladiator. CADS (Crime and Detective Stories), 52 (August 2007)
  5. Mavis, Paul. The Espionage Filmography McFarland, 2015, p. 56ISBN 9781476604275
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