Jonathan Latimer

Pseudonyms include Peter Coffin

“Jonathan Latimer is the best kept secret in noir fiction. One of the great unrecognized masters.”
— Max Allan Collins

Born in Chicago, Illinois, JONATHAN LATIMER was educated in Arizona and Illinois. He worked as a reporter at the Chicago Herald Examiner for a few years before he started writing fiction. His first book, 1935’s Headed For a Hearse, was one of the first hard-boiled screwball comedies, following closely on the heels of the previous year’s The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Like Hammett’s Nick and Nora, Latimer’s Bill Crane was a booze-soaked, seemingly-inept detective who somehow always managed, despite the ponderous and copious intake of a variety of intoxicating substances.

The “eternally sozzled” Crane appeared in five novels in all–books that any true fan of the hard-boiled should investigate.Latimer published at least one more classic, 1941’s Solomon’s Vineyard, a true classic, and pretty hot stuff, at least in the eyes of the protectors of American decency of the time.

Gone are the goofy, good-natured, gin-swilling dicks of the Bill Crane series. Instead we have private eye Karl Craven in a tale of “murder, violence, perverse sexuality and twisted religion in a corrupt Midwestern town (that) echoes Hammett…and anticipates the work of both Ross Macdonald and Mickey Spillane,” according to William DeAndrea, in his introduction to the first uncensored American edition of the book (finally published in 1988–more than forty years after it had been published in Britain!)

But controversy had always dogged Latimer, and he was often accused of racism, misanthropy and the like. The reason is simple–he may have come out of the same hard-boiled screwball scene that also included such writers as Norbert Davis, Geoffrey Homes, Cleve Adams, Robert Reeves, Dwight Babcock, Frank Gruber and Robert Leslie Bellem, but Latimer wrote books–he didn’t have to deal with the restrictions placed on periodicals by the United States Postal Service. Thus, he could go further than most. And yet it rarely felt gratuitous, but rough and honest. His readers were supposed to be shocked–and amused. As David L. Vineyard pointed out in an excellent essay on Mystery*File:

“… once upon a time there were writers who dared to dare us–to shock, titillate, and even challenge us–and Latimer was one of the best, and did within the framework of some first class detective work too… (like) Chandler, (Latimer) would use a rough rather black and grim humor to color his stories and novels. Both writers wanted the reader to notice “the tarantula on the angel food cake.” It’s a very American tradition that goes back to Washington Irving and Poe and is notable in Mark Twain. In some ways it is the American literary voice.”

By the late thirties, Latimer had begun working as a screenwriter, a profession he continued for several decades. He worked on a lot of B-films, like the Charlie Chan and Lone Wolf series, as well as such classics such as Stuart Heisler’s version of Hammett’s The Glass Key (1942) with Alan Ladd, and The Big Clock, and at least one lost treasure, 1953’s Plunder of the Sun, based on the P.I. novel of the same name by David Dodge. There’s was also a screenplay for an unproduced film adaptation of Hammett’s Red Harvest.

In the sixties he moved on to television, and became a major contributor to the Perry Mason series.


  • “(Crane’s) writing is notable for its corrosive humour, off-the-wall perspective, bizarre settings and protagonists who solve classical crime puzzles through a woozy but instinctive grasp of the deductive process…”
    — Woody Haut in Heartbreak and Vine




    (1937, Universal)
    Based on the novel by Jonathan Latimer
    Starring Preston Foster as BILL CRANE
    (1938, Universal)
    Based on the novel by Jonathan Latimer
    Starring Preston Foster as BILL CRANE
    (1938, Universal)
    Based on the novel The Dead Don’t Care by Jonathan Latimer
    Starring Preston Foster as BILL CRANE
    (1939, Columbia)
    Based on Red Masquerade by Louis Joseph Vance
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Starring Warren William as LONE WOLF
    Also starring Ida Lupino, Rita Hayworth.
    Story by Jonathan Latimer
    Screenplay by William R. Lipman
    Starring Walter Pidgeon as NICK CARTER
    Also starring Donald Meek, Florence Rice.
    Based on the novel Sing a Song of Homicide by James R. Langham
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by William Clemens
    Starring Preston Foster, Patricia Morison, Albert Dekker
    Police lieutenant Steve Abbott investigates a murder case, but all clues point to his wife, Ethel, as the most likely suspect. Langham wrote four novels about detecting duo Ethel and Steve.
    Based on characters created by Thorne Smith
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer and Gordon Douglas
    Directed by Roy Del Ruth
    Starring Roland Young as COSDMO TOPPER
    Also starring Joan Blondell , Carole Landis, Billie Burke, Dennis O’Keefe, Patsy Kelly
    A recently murdered woman asks for Topper’s help in solving her murder.
  • THE GLASS KEY | Buy this video | Buy the DVD
    (1942, Paramount)
    Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by Stuart Heisler
    Starring Alan Ladd as ED BEAUMONT
    The second (and best) adaptation of Hammett’s novel.
    Screenplay by Nat Perrin
    Additional dialogue by Wilkie Mahoney
    Contributions to screenplay (uncredited): Lawrence Hazard, Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by S. Sylvan Simon
    Starring Red Skelton as WALLY “THE FOX” BENTON
    Also starring Ann Rutherford , George Bancroft, Guy Kibbee, Diana Lewis, Peter Whitney, Rags Ragland
    “Radio detective” Skelton interrupts his honeymoon to clear his bride’s friend of murder charges. There was a sequel, but Latimer wasn’t involved.
    Story by Frank Fenton & Rowland Brown
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by Edward L. Marin
    Starring George Raft, Joan Harrison
    A police detective (Raft) looks into the suspicious death of a playboy musician.
    Story by Gordon McDonnell
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by Irving Pichel
    Starring Robert Young, Susan HaywarD, Jane Greer
    A philandering stockbroker (Young) accused of murdering his girlfriend takes the stand to defend himself, detailing the preposterous chain of events that led to her death. eddie Muller praised “Jonathan Latimer’s sharp-edged screenplay.”
    Based on the novel by Kenneth Fearing
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Contributor to screenplay construction and dialogue: Harold Goldman (uncredited)
    Directed by John Farrow
    Starring Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan, George Macready, Rita Johnson, Elsa Lanchester, Harold Vermilyea, Dan Tobin, Henry (Harry) Morgan
    A classic of suspense, with an innocent man helping his boss to solve a murder, unaware he’s being framed for it. Arguablyt the best film Latimer was ever involved in.
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer, Charles Marquis Warren & William Wister Haines
    Directed by John Farrow
    Starring Alan Ladd, Donna Reed, George Macready
    An army captain falls for his commanding officer’s widow, but while attending West Point, he faces a serious disciplinary review and possible  court-martiall charges.
    Based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich
    Screenplay by Barré Lyndon and Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by John Farrow
    Starring Edward G. Robinson, Gail Russell, John Lund
    A fake psychic suddenly gets actual supernatural powers of precognition, and it scares the crap out of him. Based on the Cornell Woolrich novel.
    Based on the novel by Lionel Shapiro
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by Lewis Allen
    Starring Ray Milland, Florence Marly, John Hoyt
    The Perry Mason version of Judgement at Nuremburg. A former U.S. special prosecutor begins to suspect that a Nazi war criminal on death row has been wrongfully convicted.
    Based on an original story by Mindret Lord
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by John Farrow
    Starring Ray Milland, Audrey Totter, Thomas Mitchell
    An ambitious DA has a hell of a time after he gets tangled up the enigmatic and mysterious Nick Beal (Milland).
    Based on a story by Richard English
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by John Farrow
    Starring Ray Milland, Hedy Lamarr, Macdonald Carey
    Latimer, Farrow and Milland together again, this time in a western about a sharpshooter trying to help a group of copper miners.
    Starring Liam O’Brien, Story by Charles Marquis Warren
    Screenplay by Liam O’Brien and Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by Leslie Fenton
    Starring Glenn Ford, Edmond O’Brien, Rhonda Fleming, Alan Reed, Morris Ankrum, Edith Evanson
    Another western. A man charged with a murder he didn’t commit, searches for the Confederate agent, a woman, who is his only alibi.
    Story and screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by John Farrow
    Starring William Holden, Nancy Olson, William Bendix
    Commander Ken White reminisces about his experiences during WWII aboard submarine USS Tiger Shark and struggles with feelings of personal guilt. Farrow and Latimer again!
    Based on novel Botany Bay by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by John Farrow
    Starring Alan Ladd, James Mason, Patricia Medina, Cedric Hardwicke, Murray Matheson, Dorothy Patten, John Hardy, Hugh Pryse, Malcolm Lee Beggs 
    It’s 1787, and American medical student Hugh Tallant and a ship full of British convicts are Australia-bound, under the command of the evil Captain Gilbert. Farrow and Latimer again!
    (1953, Warner Brothers)
    Based on the novel by David Dodge
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by John Farrow
    Starring Glenn Ford as AL COLBY
    Great P.I. adventure yarn, from the novel by David dodge.
    Story by Richard Carroll
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by John Farrow
    Starring Robert Ryan, Anita Ekberg, Rod Steiger
    Adventure flick. A plane crash-lands in the cannibal-infested South American jungle, and passengers and crew fight to survive.
    (1957, RKO)
    Based on the play “The Prowlers” by William Durkee
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Starring Diana Dors, Rod Steiger, Tom Tryon, Beulah Bondi, Marie Windsor, Arthur Franz, Joe De Santis.
    Based on the play by Philip Mackie
    Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
    Directed by John Guillermin
    Starring Stewart Granger, Donna Reed, George Sanders
    On the French Riviera, a movie bigshot (Granger) is framed for the attempted murder of his leading lady by a man (Sanders) who claims he’s with the police.

    NOTE: Latimer also supposedly worked (uncredited) on screenplays for the LONE WOLF and CHARLIE CHAN film series.


    Syndicated as “Streets of Danger”
    39 episodes
    Based on characters created by Louis Joseph Vance
    Writers: Jonathan Latimer, others
    Starring Louis Hayward as THE LONE WOLF
    39 episodes
    Based on chartacters created by Earl Derr Biggers
    Starring J. Carrol Naish as CHARLIE CHAN
    Also starring James Hong, Rupert Davies, Arthur Gomez, Oliver Burt, Hugh Williams
    Latimer allegedly wrote for this show. Other writers involved with the show include John K. Butler, Robert Leslie Bellem and Dwight V. Babcock
    (1958-59, CBS)
    Anthology series, focussing on crime and suspense stories about people being  pursued by others
    • “Tiger on a Bicycle” (November 12, 1958)
      Original story by Jonathan Latimer
      Adapted by Joan Scott
      A cop hunts down the the men who killed his partner during an armored car robbery.
    Created by Sterling Silliphant and Robert C. Dennis
    (1959-60, ABC)
    Latimer wrote six episodes of this detective show, starring Ray Milland (Him again!) as a wealthy attorney who decides to become a private eye.
    • “The Glass Diamond” (June 20, 1959)
    • “Vendetta in Venice” (June 27, 1959)
    • “Candy Store Jungle” (January 9, 1960)
    • “Sing a Song of Murder” (January 16, 1960)
    • “A Coffin for Cinderella” (February 4, 1960)
    • “The Long Search” (March 10, 1960)
    (1960-61, ABC)
    Created by Robert Buckner
    Starring Rod Taylor as Glenn Evans
    Latimer wrote 3 episodes for this short-lived series starring Rod Taylor as a two-fisted US reporter working in Hong Kong.
    • “The Jade Empress” (October 26, 1960)
    • “The Dragon Cup” (December 14, 1960)
    • “Murder by Proxy” (March 1, 1961)
    1960-62, CBS)
    Television series
    Created by Eric Ambler
    • “Target Tycoon” (November 5, 1960)
      Story by Jonathan Latimer
      Teleplay by Robert Libott
    • The Sound of Nervous Laughter” (February 14, 1962)
      Story and teleplay by Jonathan Latimer
  • 87th PRECINCT
    (1961-62, NBC)
    Based on characters created by Ed McBain
    Starring Robert Lansing, Ron Harper, Gregory Walcott, Gena Rowlands, Gregory Walcott, Norman Fell
    • “Out of Order” (January 22, 1962)
      Teleplay by Jonathan Latimer
    (1957-66, CBS)
    Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner
    Starring Raymond Burr as PERRY MASON
    Latimer wrote 31 episodes, from 1960-65.
    (1971-2003, NBC)
    Created by Richard Levinson and William Link
    Made-for-television movies
    Starring Peter Falk as COLUMBO
    • “The Greenhouse Jungle” (October 15, 1972)
      Written by Jonathan Latimer
      Directed by Boris Sagal
      Starring Ray Milland
      Somehow it’s appropriate that Latimer and Milland, after all those movies, are reunited one last time. Latimer’s last television credit.


  • “The Hard-Boiled Comedians” (April 1982, Mystery)
    A 1982 print interview with Latimer, conducted by David Wilson. (April 1982, Mystery)
  • J is for … Jonathan Latimer
    An impressive overview by Cavershamragu (July 2012, Tipping My Fedora
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Andy for the nudge.

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