Nick Carter

Created by Nicholas Carter
Pseudonym of John R. Coryell

(1848-1924)

Sound of someone knocking on the door…
Woman: “What’s the matter? What is it?”
Man: “It’s another case for Nick Carter… Master Detective!.”
Announcer: “Yes, it’s another case for that most famous of all manhunters,
the detective whose ability at solving crime is unequalled in the history of detective fiction–
Nick Carter, Master Detective!
— opening of radio show

What a long strange trip it’s been for New York City detective NICK CARTER, arguably the most published character in American fiction. He’s been an adventurer, a private investigator and a government assassin, in print, film, radio and comic books.

“The Little Giant,” as he was first introduced to readers, first appeared in a story entitled “The Old Detective’s Pupil; or, The Mysterious Crime of Madison Square,” in the September 18, 1886 issue of Street and Smith’s New York Weekly.

It was written by John R. Coryell, but he worked from an outline provided by Ormond G. Smith, the son of one of the founders of Street & Smith, so in a way, Nick Carter had two daddies.

That first story turned out to be quite popular, as did the next two that Coryell wrote, but there was no way one writer could keep up with demand, and soon handed the writing chores over to what would soon become a multitude of writers over the next several decades.

Initially, Nick was young, strong, dedicated to clean living (No cigarettes! No booze!) confident, a master of disguise, and possessor of a keen mind, filled with more trivia than anyone would ever need to know (except, of course, for dime novel master sleuths!) and posessing otherworldly strength, able to “lift a horse with ease… while a heavy man is seated in the saddle… he can place four packs of playing cards together, and tear them in halves between his thumbs and fingers.”

It seems that Nick’s dad, the legendary detective “Old Sim” Carter, had raised his son from an early age to become a perfect mental and physical specimen. And he succeeded–Nick was essentiall a crime-solving Paul Bunyan. No wonder pulp historian Jess Nevins refers to him as “the Grandfather of superheroes.”

Upon reaching adulthood, Nick becomes the world’s greatest detective, with a swank apartment on Madison Avenue in New York City, although his cases frequently have him hopping all over the world, frequently accompanied by his loyal (and manly) partners-in-arms Patsy and Scrubby.

Although occasionally being accused of being some sort of American Sherlock Holmes wannabe (even though he actually made his debut a year before Holmes), he was really modeled on other popular dime novel detectives of the time, like Old Sleuth, Old Cap Collier and Old King Brady. He did subsequently take on Holmesian attributes, to be sure, but he was always more than a mere knock-off. Another popular hero of the same era, Sexton Blake, suffered the same misconceptions.

Nick Carter first appeared in film in 1908, in Nick Carter, Le Roi Des Détectives. A six-part black and white silent serial, produced in French, it featured Pierre Bressol as our hero, and was the first of many films to appear. There were French nicks, German Nicks, British Nicks and even occasionally American Nicks. There were series and serials, all black and white, all silent. Over forty of them.

By 1949, it was estimated that Carter had appeared in over 4000 stories in various dime novels and pulp magazines, films (mostly silent), comic books, comic strips and radio shows. There were probably more Nick Carter adventures than those of any other fictional detective.

As with any long-running character, Nick went through numerous changes. Originally a pretty straightforward dime novel detective, he soon developed into a sort of two-fisted consulting detective/adventurer. In the twenties, the superhero stuff was toned down a little, and he became more of a standard hard-boiled detective, although his adventures still bordered on the fantastic; more Doc Savage than Continental Op. During the forties, his cases became much more realistic, and more downbeat.

It was as a radio show in the forties, in fact, that Nick really made his mark as a private eye. Nick Carter, Master Detective was one of the first detective radio shows to really hit it big with audiences. In it, Nick was a pretty typical private eye of the time, caught somewhere between the two prevelant models of the time, somewhere between two-fisted tough guy and gentlemanly sleuth, although there were some distinctive touches.

The opening for the show was particularly memorable, and really grabbed you. An increasingly urgent knocking (pounding) on Nick’s office door. A startled Patsy, his assistant (now a female secretary) opens the door and says, “What’s the matter? What is it?” A male voice says, “Another case for Nick Carter, Master Detective!”

While not exactly hard-boiled, there was never any doubt about Carter’s toughness or his abilities. In one episode, Patsy was facing imminent murder and she bet $100.00 to a penny that Nick would save her. Rumor on the street has it that the phrase “In The Nick of Time” can be attributed to Nick’s always arriving just in time.

The story lines usually followed the formula of the classic detective story. Nick would be on the case looking for clues. Each clue would bring him a little closer to the criminal. After the criminal had been apprehended, Nick would explain the meanings and importance of the various clues.

The series was unusual for several reasons. Most, if not all of the episodes followed a 19th century convention and had alternate sub-titles, such as “An Angle on Murder” was also called “Nick Carter and the Mystery of the Mutilated Foot.” Lon Clark played the title role for the entire twelve year run, over 700 episodes! (In roughly the same length of run, no fewer than six actors played Johnny Dollar and two others auditioned.) Nick Carter, Master Detective even fostered a spin-off series, Chick Carter, Boy Detective, which ran from 1943 to 1945; Chick was Nick Carter’s adopted son.

The radio show finally petered out in 1953, but by the 1960s, Nick was back, smack dab in the middle of the James Bond feeding frenzy as a spy, in a long string of “men’s adventure” paperbacks than ran under the title Nick Carter: Killmaster.

The Killmaster series was published from 1964 until the late 1990s, with at least 260 titles published, the transition of our hero from adventurer to globetrotting secret agent handled by (among others) Michael Avallone (creator of Ed Noon), Robert J. Randisi, Bill Crider, Michael Collins, Gayle Lynds and Martin Cruz Smith, all writing under the house name of Nick Carter.

Illustration of Nick Carter by Sean Phillips

UNDER OATH

  • “The first truly American detective hero… always young, always successful, always just.”
    — Otto Penzler

SHORT STORIES, NOVELLAS & NOVELS

With over 4000 of these floating around, we may need a bigger boat.

  • “The Old Detective’s Pupil; or, The Mysterious Crime of Madison Square” (September 18, 1886, New York Weekly)

FILMS

  • NICK CARTER, LE ROI DES DÉTECTIVES
    (1908)
    6-part serial
    Silent, black & white
    Language: French
    Premiere: January 26, 1921
    Screenplay by George Hatot
    Directed by Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset
    Starring Pierre Bressol as NICK CARTER
    The first known cinematic adaptation of Nick Carter was this six-part French silent serial. Episode titles are “Gùet-Apens,” “L’affaire des bijoux,” “Les faux-monnayeaurs,” “Les dévaliseurs de bank,” Les Empreintes” and “Les bandits des habits noir.”
  • LES NOUVEAUX EXPLOITS DE NICK CARTER
    (1909)
    2-part serial
    Silent, black & white
    Language: French
    Written and directed by Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset
    Starring Pierre Bressol as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Bahier, Maryse Dauvray, Madeleine Grandjean
    Known episodes include “En danger” and “Le sosie.”
  •  NICK CARTER: LES CLUB DES SUICIDÉS
    (aka “The Suicide Club”)
    (1909)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: French
    Written and directed by Victorin-Hippolyte JassetStarring NICK CARTER
  • DIE ERBSCHAFT VON NEW YORK
    (1919, Althoff)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: German
    Screenplay by Jane Bess
    Directed by Wolfgang Neff
    Starring Bruno Eichgrün as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Siegmund Aschenbach, Erwin Fichtner, Hanna Holl, Gerhard Ritterband
  • DER TODESBOTE
    (1920, Althoff)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: German
    Premiere: June 25, 1920
    Screenplay by Maria Warner
    Directed by Bruno Eichgrün
    Starring Bruno Eichgrün as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Maud Chanderlin, Rita Clermont, Kurt Katch, Georg Paeschke, Max Ruhbeck
  • DER VAMPYR VON ST. LOUIS 1. TEIL
    (1920, Althoff)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: German
    Directed by Bruno Eichgrün
    Starring Bruno Eichgrün as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Friedl Behn-Grund, Rita Clermont, Erwin Fichtner, Robert Päschke, Alfred Scherzer, Pia Tolstoi
  • THE MYSTERIOUS BOND CASE
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: February 3, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • AMONG THE COUNTERFEITERS
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: February 9, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • BIRDS OF PREY
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: February 23, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • NICK CARTER DOWN EAST
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: March 21, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • THE PATH OF THE SPENDTHRIFT
    (aka “The Spendthrift”)
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: March 27, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • SEALED ORDERS
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: March 30, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Colin Chase, Mae Gaston
  • DODGING THE LAW
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: April 3, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • DIE APOTHEKE DES TEUFELS
    (1921, Althoff Film)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: German
    Premiere: April 15, 1921
    Screenplay by Harry Scheff
    Directed by Bruno Eichgrün
    Starring Bruno Eichgrün as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Edi Blum, Bruno Eichgrün, Erwin Fichtner,Kurt Gerron, Fritz Kampers, Kurt Katch, Leonore Oppermann, Hans Wallner
  • WHO’S GUILTY?
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: May 1, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • THE BLACKMAILER’S BLUFF
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: May 8, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • THE DIAMOND TRAIL
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: May 22, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • MISSING MILLIONS
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: May 25, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • THE $100,000 KISS
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: May 25, 1921
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Directed by Robert Ross
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Colin Chase, Mae Gaston
  • A CRY AT MIDNIGHT
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Story by George DuBois Proctor
    Directed by Alex Hall
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Colin Chase, Mae Gaston, Harry Keenan
  • THE CRIMSON CLUE
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: June 8, 1921
    Story by George DuBois Proctor
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • THE GREAT OPIUM CASE
    (1921, Broadwell Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    20 minutes
    Premiere: July 6, 1921
    Story by George DuBois Proctor
    Titles by Tom Bret
    Starring Thomas Carrigan as NICK CARTER
  • ERZGAUNER
    (aka “The Cunning Rogue”)
    (1921, Althoff Film)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: German
    Premiere: August 6, 1921
    Screenplay by Mary Warner
    Directed by Bruno Eichgrün
    Starring Bruno Eichgrün as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Fritz Kampers, Mabel May-Yong, Kurt Keller-Nebri, Nella Retslag, Walter Tost, Ferry Seat-Simovles
  • DAS GASTHAUS VON CHICAGO
    (aka “The Chicago Inn”)
    (1921, Althoff Film)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: German
    Directed by Bruno Eichgrün
    Starring Bruno Eichgrün as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Pietro Bruce, Erwin Fichtner, Richard Georg, Kurt Katch, Gerhard Ritterband, Grete Weixler
  • NUR EINE NACHT
    (1922, Aafa-Film AG)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: German
    Screenplay by M.O. Green
    Directed by Rudolf Walther-Fein
    Starring Bruno Eichgrün as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Joseph Römer, Olga Engl, Robert ScholzIda, Perry, Rudolf Hilberg, Margarete Kupfer, Sybill Morel, Margit Barnay, Gustav Jahrbeck, Paul Hardtmuth, Max Ruhbeck, Erna Böwe, Max Neumann, Albert Paulig
  • FRAUEN, DIE DIE EHE BRECHEN
    (aka “Women and the Marriage Break”)
    (1922, Aafa-Film AG)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: German
    Screenplay by M.O. Green
    Directed by Bruno Eichgrün
    Starring Bruno Eichgrün as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Paul Hardtmuth, Margit Barnay, Margarete Kupfer, Frieda Lehndorf, Mabel May-Yong, Max Neumann, Felix Norfolk, Ethel Orff, Max Ruhbeck, Fritz Russ, Robert Scholz, Emil Sondermann, Helene Voß, Hans Wolmerod
  • DER PASSAGIER IN DER ZWANGSJACKE
    (aka “The Passenger in a Straitjacket”)
    (1922, Aafa-Film AG)
    Silent, black & white
    Language: German
    Screenplay by Rolf E. Vanloo
    Directed by Rudolf Walther-Fein
    Starring Bruno Eichgrün as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Karl Falkenberg, Rose Lichtenstein, Willi Allan, Arthur Bergen, Alfred Graening, Fritz Kampers, Grete Sorbeck
  • UNSEEN FOES
    (1922, Murray W. Garsson Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: November 1922
    Directed by Alexander Hall
    Starring Edmund Lowe as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Diane Allen, Charles Eldridge, Bernard Siegel, Anders Randolf, Jack Baston, David Wall, Charles Slattery, John Carney
  • THE SPIRIT OF EVIL
    (1922, Murray W. Garsson Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: November 1922
    Directed by Alexander Hall
    Starring Edmund Lowe as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Diana Allen, Mario Majeroni, Leslie King, Bryant Darley, Douglas Garner, James McDuff, Lewis Reinhardt, Stanley Walpole, Robert Downing
  • THE LAST CALL
    (1922, Murray W. Garsson Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: November 1922
    Directed by Alexander Hall
    Starring Edmund Lowe as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Diana Allen
  • A GAME OF CRAFT
    (1922, Murray W. Garsson Productions)
    Silent, black & white
    Premiere: November 1922
    Directed by Alexander Hall
    Starring Edmund Lowe as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Diana Allen, Henry Sedley, Vincent Coleman, Henry Martin, Rita Sanchez, Dorothy Sibley
  • NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE
    (1939, MGM)
    Directed by Jacques Tourneaux
    Starring Walter Pidgeon as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Rita Johnson, Donald Meek, Henry Hull, Milburn Stone, Sterling Holloway
  • PHANTOM RAIDERS
    (1940, MGM)
    Directed by Jacques Tourneaux
    Starring Walter Pidgeon as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Donald Meek, Joseph Schildkraut, Florence Rice
  • SKY MURDER
    (1940, MGM)
    Directed by George Seitz
    Starring Walter Pidgeon as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Donald Meek,  Joyce Compton, Karen Verne, Tom Conway
  • ADÉLA JESTE NEVECERELA
    (1978, Czechoslovakia)
    102 minutes
    Written by Jirí Brdecka and Oldrich Lipsky
    Directed by Oldrich Lipsky
    Starring Michal Docolomansky as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Rudolf HrusÌnsky, Milos Kopecky
    This loopy, over-the-top spoof has Nick visiting Prague, where he gets tangled up in the search for a missing dog — and a carnivorous plant. No truth to the rumour that the plant sounds like Levi Stubbs.

RADIO

  • NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE
    (aka “THE RETURN OF NICK CARTER” until late 1946.)
    (1943-55, Mutual)
    722 episodes; 96 episodes are available
    First Broadcast: April 11, 1943
    Last Broadcast: September 25, 1955
    Writers: David Kogan, Alfred Bester, Milton J. Kramer, Jock MacGregor, John McGreevey, Ferrin N. Fraser, Norman Daniels and others
    Director: Jock MacGregor
    Producer: Jock MacGregor
    Starring Lon Clark as NICK CARTER
    with Helen Choate (and later) Charlotte Manson as Patsy Bowen
    John Kane as Scrubby Wilson
    Ed Latimer as Sgt “Matty” Mattison
    and John Kane as Scubby the Reporter
    Guest starring: John Ruby, Bill Lipton, Raymond Edward Johnson, Bryce Raeburn
    Announcer: Michael Fitzmaurice

    • “Flying Duck Murders” (October 4, 1943)
    • “An Angle on Murder” (October 25, 1943)
    • “Body on the Slab” (November 3, 1943)
    • “Nick Carter’s Christmas Adventure” (December 25, 1943)
    • “Double Disguise” (January 8, 1944)
    • “Corpse in the Cab” (February 5, 1944)
    • “Missing Harold Ascourt” (February 12, 1944)
    • “Death after Dark” (February 19, 1944)
    • “Murder Goes to College” (December 24, 1944)
    • “Murder in a Decanter” (December 31, 1944)
    • “Monkey Sees Murder” (January 7, 1945)
    • “Murder by Fire” January 14, 1945)
    • “Death by Richochet” (January 21, 1945)
    • “Eye for an Eye” (January 28, 1945)
    • “Webs of Murder” (March 11, 1945)
    • “Case of the Sunken Dollars” (May 29, 1947)
    • “The Case of the Last Old-Timer” (March 14, 1948)
    • “The Case of the Magic Rope” (March 21, 1948)
    • “The Unexpected Corpse” (May 13, 1948)
    • “The Flowery Farewell” (May 20, 1948)
    • “The Case of the Candidate’s Corpse” (September 26, 1948)
    • “The Case of the Bull and the Bear” (October 24, 1948)
    • “The Case of the Forgetful Killer” (November7, 1948)
    • “The Case of the Vanishing Weapon” (September 18, 1949)
    • “The Clumsy Forgeries”
    • “Murder on Mad Mountain”
    • “Sunken Dollar”
    • “Double Disguise”

TELEVISION

  • ADVENTURES OF NICK CARTER
    (1972)
    Made for TV movie
    73 minutes
    Based on characters created by John R. Coryell
    Written by Ken Pettus
    Directed by Paul Krasny
    Starring Robert Conrad as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Shelley Winters, Broderick Crawford

RELATED LINKS

Respectfully submitted by Stewart Wright (December 8, 1998). Additional information by Kevin Burton Smith, Jim Doherty and Jess Nevins. Special thanks to John McDonagh and Nancy Pike for their help, as well.

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