Arthur Halstead (The Black Doll)

Created by William Edward Hayes
(1897-1956 )

ARTHUR HALSTEAD was a private eye who appeared in a trio of novels back in the thirties by William Edward Hayes that were popular enough–or at least promising enough–that the first one, The Black Doll (1936), was filmed as part of Universal’s Crime Club series.

Seen from the present, the books look passable enough (Kirkus suggested the first novel was “Guessable–but good entertainment”) and the books generally got decent–if not rousing–reviews.

Arthur seems to have been more a gadabout kinda guy than a hard-boiled dick. In the first novel, the afore-mentioned The Black Doll, Arthur, on behalf of a New York City detective agency, pokes around a Maryland mansion whose owner has been rattled by the appearance of a small voodoo-like doll. In Before the Cock Crowed (1937), Arthur seems to be as much a professional Johnny-on-the-spot as a working private detective when he’s drawn into an investigation at a tony weekend house party in Virginia when the host, the father of his fiancée, is murdered, while the final book, Black Chronicle (1938), finds Arthur and Marie Burton, his “perky assistant,” looking into the murder of a small town preacher.

The film adaptation of The Black Doll, meanwhile, gets little respect, mostly because after a promising opening, the law arrives in the form of a scenery-chewing Edgar Kennedy as the clueless local sheriff, who hijacks the film and turns it from a moody little mystery into a cringe-worthy, one-man Three Stooges act that, sadly, isn’t very funny. Mind you, it doesn’t help that Donald Woods, who plays Halsted, does so with as little pizazz as possible.

According to Hubin, the author was born in Muncie, Indiana in 1897 and had numerous jobs with railroad lines, before becoming a reporter and drama critic for New York Evening Journal. He was also the author of several non-fiction works, with transportation, and especially railroads, apparently a recurring subject matter.



  • THE BLACK DOLL | Buy the DVD
    (1938, Universal)
    Based on the novel by William Edward Hayes
    Screenplay by Harold Buckley
    Directed by Otis Garrett
    Starring Donald Woods as “NICK” HALSTEAD (“Arthur” in the books)
    Also starring Nan Grey, Edgar Kennedy, C. Henry Gordon, Doris Lloyd, William Lundigan, Holmes Herbert
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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