Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Hitchcock Project: About Emily Neff--A Few Words About a Forgotten Mystery Writer

Emily Neff
In my review of "One for the Road," I wrote that I had been unable to find any information about Emily Neff, the author of "Partner in Crime," the short story upon which that episode was based. However, I have recently made contact with Susan Bernard Voelker, the daughter of Emily Neff. Ms. Voelker was kind enough to provide details about her mother.

Emily Neff

by Susan Bernard Voelker

My mother, Emily Neff Bernard, was born in Denton, Texas, on September 22, 1922, to Sherman Brown Neff and Jessie Utz Neff. She had a younger brother, Phillip Duncan Neff. She was born Emily Neff, no middle name.

She came from a literary family. Her father had a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Yale, and a master’s and doctor’s degree from Harvard. Most of his life was devoted to college administrative work and teaching. For twenty-five years, Dr. Neff was the head of the Department of English at the University of Utah. After he retired, he went to Wayland College in Plainview, Texas, as chairman of the Division of Humanities and professor of English. He was much loved and revered by his students. He was the author of two books, The Province of Art: An Approach Through Literature, and Lazarus and Other Poems. He was listed in Who’s Who In America.

Emily’s mother was the youngest of ten children and grew up on a farm in Missouri. At age eighteen she got her teaching certificate and taught for a year in a one-room, one-teacher school. She wrote her memoirs about her life on the farm, but I have no information on college and career. She and my grandfather were avid readers, and passed on their love of books to my mother.

Her first story, "Hoolio," was published here
My mother grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. I believe she started writing at an early age. I have a little blue enamel vase she was awarded in 1936 (age fourteen) by the William M. Stewart School for "first prize, short story." After high school she went east, to Smith College, where she earned a B.A.­ with a major in English. She spent her junior year at the University of Utah, where she joined Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Initially she was interested in newspaper writing. For one year she was a reporter for the New Britain Daily Herald, but she wanted very much to move to New Orleans and work for the Times-Picayune. Her plan was to start out in New Orleans and then move on to San Antonio and San Francisco. I have a series of humorous letters between her and the managing editor of the T-P, where she is trying to convince him to hire her in spite of her inexperience, out-of-state status, and the fact that she was a "girl reporter." These letters are all signed with her nickname, Red Neff. A quote from one of her last letters: "I seem to be beating my head against a stone wall in trying to land a mail-order job on your paper. However, being too young to be discouraged, too mulish to give up, and too dumb to know when I’m licked, I shall continue to cling to the thread of hope you have extended." Eventually, she went to New Orleans, had an interview, and was hired. She never made it to San Antonio or San Francisco, because she met my father, Pierre Victor Bernard, who was a city editor on the paper, got married and had three daughters. All her life, she loved New Orleans.

"The Baby Sitter" was
published in this issue
Emily was a reporter for the Times-Picayune for two years. Over the next two decades, her fiction writing was sporadic, not prolific. Perhaps the reason it is difficult to find out anything about her is that she didn’t seek recognition and wrote more as a hobby than anything else. Her genre was the short story, but she wrote some clever little poems, and even once collaborated with a friend on a musical, which they didn’t finish. She wrote the lyrics and her friend the music. A favorite of mine was a children’s story called "Garfield, The Absent-Minded Goat," which was never published, and I’m not sure she even submitted it. A list of her writings, the ones I know of, is attached.

I’m pretty sure the stories that Alfred Hitchcock bought were all originally published in magazines, and I believe he bought them through her agent in New York, McIntosh and Otis. I don’t think my mother ever had any personal contact with Hitchcock. Of course, she was delighted he used her stories on his show, and it was always a source of pride in our family. Still is.

My mother stopped writing some time in the 70’s, I think, when she became increasingly interested in New Orleans politics. She started her own public relations firm, with mostly political accounts. My older sister worked with her, and, when Emily retired, my sister took over the business.

"The Chrysalis" was published here
When we were growing up, my mother was popular with our friends, who saw her as talented, glamorous, and hip. She was active in our schooling. She directed several plays when I was a Brownie and produced and directed talent shows at our high school. She taught sewing to the neighborhood children, and one summer she helped me and a friend write a neighborhood newspaper (The Nosy News).

My older sister and I both majored in English. Neither of us followed in our mother’s footsteps. Although we didn’t write creatively, except for a few poems here and there, our background in English helped us in writing various articles/reports for our jobs, my sister in public relations and advertising, and me in social work. My younger sister was an art major, creative in another way.

Emily liked to travel… the UK, Europe, Russia, India, Mexico, Jamaica. Italy was her favorite, and she took classes to learn the language.

It was Emily’s wish to make it to the year 2000, but she fell a few months short. She died of a stroke on August 22, 1999, in Mandeville, Louisiana, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. She was seventy-six. At her memorial service, I read from the last chapter of Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, which I had been reading to her when she was sick. We scattered her ashes in her beloved Bryce Canyon, Utah.

I asked my friends who knew her to tell me the first word or words that came to mind when thinking about my mother. These are the words: red, red lipstick and hair, intellectual, intimidating, haughty, elegant, reserved, critical, stubborn, intelligent.

Ms. Voelker's husband, Tom Voelker, also was kind enough to share his memories of Emily Neff:
"Mr. Blanchard's Secret"
was published here

What about Emily?

I could never pin her down.

Creative. Insightful. Intelligent. Emily.

She could be charming. She could be dismissive. She could be engaging or remote, at once inviting and unapproachable.

Her smiles played across subtle wit, thoughtful observation, and cutting sarcasm.

In Emily, strength of character shaded over into hard willfulness.

But it wasn’t just that she was self-centered. Her center was her self.

Like all of us, there was much more to Emily than what met the eye.

To me, she was a mystery. Something essential remained hidden: the center.

She eluded me.

I never saw more than a few facets of her infinite variety.

I wonder whether anyone did.

Short stories by Emily Neff

"Hoolio," Seventeen, May 1948
"The Other Man," The Times-Picayune Magazine, April 10, 1949
"The Chrysalis," Cosmopolitan, October 1952
"Pupa and Butterfly," Familie Journal, Feb. 12, 1953
"The Baby Sitter," Cosmopolitan, May 1953
"Standard of Loving," Toronto Star Weekly Magazine, December 8, 1956
"Partner in Crime," Wicked Women, 1960
"The Love Sportsman," Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 1961
"No Bed of Roses," Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March 1977
"Mr. Blanchard’s Secret," Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, June 1978

TV Shows Adapted from stories by Emily Neff:

"The Baby Sitter," Alfred Hitchcock Presents, May 6, 1956
"Mr. Blanchard's Secret," Alfred Hitchcock Presents, December 23, 1956
"One for the Road," Alfred Hitchcock Presents, March 3, 1957 ("Partner in Crime")
"Bed of Roses," The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, May 22, 1954 ("No Bed of Roses")
"Murder in Mind," Alfred Hitchcock Presents, January 28, 1989 ("Mr. Blanchard's Secret")


FictionMags Index
Galactic Central


Peter Enfantino said...

Great detective work, Jack!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! I was thrilled to find out more about a forgotten writer.

Jose Cruz said...

Seabrook is on the case. Wonderful find, Jack!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Freddie Mercury!

anon1 said...

Just saw "One for the Road" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Great stuff. And great to see someone track down a good mystery writer.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks. It's very satisfying to find out more about the people who wrote these stories.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if they based the female writer in Blanchar's Secret on her.

Jack Seabrook said...

It's certainly possible! Thanks for reading!

Unknown said...

I happened to find an old letter recently from ENB dated May 15, 1990, when she congratulated me on winning the Neff Fellowship at the University of Utah. We talked on the phone once as she was driving from Canada back through SLC but were not able to arrange coffee that day. Googled her to find this post and was even more sorry not to have met her, aside from the call. Kevin Cantwell, Middle Georgia State University

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for your comment, Kevin! I'm so glad you found the post.

Momma Bee said...

I was very pleased to learn something about this clever woman! Thanks to her family!