Lucille Fletcher, 88, novelist and writer of radio plays

September 05, 2000|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Lucille Fletcher, the author of the spine-tingling radio play "Sorry, Wrong Number" and a 30-year resident of Oxford, died Thursday of a stroke at a Pennsylvania hospital. She was 88.

Miss Fletcher wrote at least 16 radio plays, nine suspense novels and a Broadway play, using her maiden name as a pen name. She was married twice. Her first husband wrote the score to the famed Orson Welles film "Citizen Kane," and her second husband was the author of a novel that became the hit Broadway musical "Damn Yankees."

Hers was a girl-makes-good story straight out of Hollywood's Golden Age. Born in 1912 to a working-class Brooklyn, N.Y., family, she attended Vassar College on a scholarship, graduating with honors in 1933.

It was the depth of the Depression, and her father had suffered a stroke and was unable to work. Miss Fletcher went to work as a music librarian and typist at CBS Radio and began looking for ways to make extra money to help support her family.

"She was typing these radio plays of other people's, and she said, `I can do better than this,'" said Dorothy Hermann, one of Miss Fletcher's two daughters.

The sunny-natured young woman turned out to have a knack for dark tales filled with psychological tension and shocking plot twists. "Sorry, Wrong Number" is the tale of a wealthy, bedridden woman who picks up her bedside telephone, overhears two men plotting a murder and realizes that she is the intended victim.

The radio play was made into a movie in 1948 starring Barbara Stanwyck and was translated into 15 languages. It won Miss Fletcher an Edgar Award, the top honor among mystery writers.

"When she was writing, she was in a trance," Ms. Hermann said. "It was a family joke. We'd go into her office and say, `Can we have $10,000?' and she'd say, `Um-hmm. It's in my purse.'"

In 1939, she married a CBS Radio colleague, composer Bernard Hermann, and in 1940 they moved to Hollywood, where Mr. Hermann was working on the musical score for "Citizen Kane." The couple divorced in 1948, and Miss Fletcher returned to New York.

The following year she was staying at the Hamilton Hotel in Ocean City when she fell in love with the owner's nephew, John Douglass Wallop III, who was working as a desk clerk at the hotel and writing short stories on the side.

They were married in 1949 and moved to Alexandria, Va., where, with his wife's encouragement, Mr. Wallop wrote the comic novel "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant." The book became a best-seller, and in 1955, Mr. Wallop helped transform it into the musical, "Damn Yankees."

With the proceeds from the hit musical, the couple bought a gray-shingled summer house in Oxford, then a watermen's town accessible only by ferry. In 1965, they moved there permanently.

Miss Fletcher played the organ at Oxford United Methodist Church and wrote novels on a 1925 Underwood manual typewriter. Her last book, "Mirror Image," was published in 1988, three years after her husband's death.

In 1995, Miss Fletcher moved to Sunrise Assisted Living in Towson, and about six months ago, she moved into a nursing home near her daughter's home in New Hope, Pa.

Services were private.

In addition to Ms. Hermann, she is survived by another daughter, Wendy Harlow of Phoenix, Md.; a sister, Iris Norstrand of Brooklyn; and two grandsons.

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