A Tribute to a Good Friend and Master of Mystery

My friend Alan Russell wrote this about our mutual friend Bob Wade:

bob-wade

On September 30, 2012, the San Diego reading and writing community lost a giant.  If you don’t know Robert Wade’s name, then you might be familiar with Wade Miller, Whit Masterson, or Will Daemer, three of the pseudonyms used by Wade in the 44 novels he wrote (33 of them co-written with Bill Miller).

During Wade’s lifetime he sold more than 30 million books that were published in 18 languages.  Even if you didn’t read one of his books, there’s a good chance you saw a movie based on one of them.  Six of his novels were adapted to the screen, the most famous being Orson Welles “Touch of Evil” (based on the Whit Masterson book “Badge of Evil”).  A number of his books were also adapted for the television show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Bob was born in San Diego on June 8, 1920.  His love of his hometown was often put on display in pages of his books.  One of his most famous characters was San Diego private eye Max Thursday (yes, created well before Joe Friday), who was the hero in six of his novels.

When my first mystery novel “No Sign of Murder” was published in 1990, I’ll never forget the thrill of getting called by Bob.  I knew his name, of course, not only because of his books but for his “Spadework” column (his mystery book review column ran in the Union-Tribune for 35 years).

The reason for his call, he told me, was to tell me how much he had enjoyed my debut novel.  I remember him saying how he was amazed that for a county the size of San Diego there were so few mystery writers.  I stammered out my thanks for his taking the time to call me, an act of kindness I’ll never forget.

Successful writers often have oversized egos.  Bob was humble and self-effacing.  I have known too many writers with one-tenth of his talent, and ten times his ego.

Because San Diego is a small literary pond, I had the chance to talk with Bob at a number of book events.  If I had a writing mentor, it was Bob.  Whenever I came away from talking to him I always said to my wife, “When I grow up I want to be Bob Wade.”

I have been lucky enough to have had my books reviewed in many periodicals, but the review that always mattered more than any was Bob’s.  His reviewing philosophy was simple:  he only reviewed books he liked.  I do remember one exception, though, a negative review brought on by a San Diego area author who complained that Bob never reviewed his books.  There was a reason Bob hadn’t reviewed his books – he didn’t like them.  I am sure it gave Bob no pleasure to finally pan that author’s book, but he was scrupulously honest:  Bob was not one for false praise.

Bob’s memorial service was held on Sunday, October 7 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Spring Valley.  There was a full church to hear Bob’s send-off.  I expected to see many authors and fans at the service, but that wasn’t the case.  Author Ken Kuhlken was there, as well as two long time mystery fans I recognized, but most of those in attendance were friends of Bob from outside the literary community.

The service was revealing.  I learned Bob did not graduate from San Diego State, but was expelled because of an editorial he and Bill Miller (his best friend and future writing partner) wrote denouncing the U.S. government’s interring of Japanese-American citizens.  For speaking their minds and conscience, the two students were denied their sheepskins.  Within days of their being expelled, both Wade and Miller enlisted.  Bob’s service took him to North Africa where he was an infantryman.  During the war he worked in counterintelligence and served as a correspondent.  After being discharged with a bronze star, he returned to his beloved San Diego.

You would think Bob might have commented to me about the plotline in my novel “Political Suicide” imitating his own life.  In that book my protagonist is expelled from West Point, but there is a good and ethical reason for that.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, though, at Bob’s silence.  He rarely inserted himself in his reviews.

Those attending his service had a chance to talk about Bob.  One man recollected the story of Orson Welles claiming all the credit for having written “Touch of Evil,” although Bob had written the original screenplay and it was clear Welles utilized many of those pages.

“If I’d have been in your place I would have raised a ruckus,” the man said.  “Why didn’t you insist upon getting a screen credit?”

“It was an honor to work with a genius,” Bob replied, making it clear he held no grudge.

(However, it should be noted that upon hearing that story one of Bob’s sons shouted out, “Who said that, Orson or my father?”).

Bob had four children:  two girls and two boys.  It was clear from their recollections at the service that all revered their father.  Bob was giving not only to his family, but the community.  He served on the Advisory Board of the San Diego Zoo, and worked hard to see the establishment of the Wild Animal Park (Zoo Safari).  Bob was also one of the founding members of Trinity Presbyterian Church, and for decades was director of many stage productions held at the church.

One parishioner remembered how Bob ran a book group at the church.  When she attended her first meeting the book being studied was “The Scarlet Letter.”  Since she didn’t have a copy of the book, Bob loaned her his.  Although she meant to return the book, her good intentions weren’t realized until almost 25 years later when she stumbled upon the loaned copy.  Bob’s response when she contritely returned it?  “I hope you’ve had enough time to read it.”

I can just imagine the twinkle in his eye when he said it (yes, behind his glasses Bob’s eyes really did twinkle).

Because Bob realized the importance of education, he served on many school boards.  One year he was supposed to be the keynote speaker for the “Teacher of the Year Awards” in San Diego County.  The day before the event I received a call from a very sick Bob asking if I could fill in.  I am sure all the teachers were disappointed that year in my trying to fill Bob Wade’s considerable shoes.

Bob received many writing awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Local Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Diego Library.  There are writers I know that have their awards displayed like shrines; Bob’s were put away in a drawer.

Bob is survived by his children and his wife Jeanne.  Those skeptical about their being such a thing as true love never met Bob and Jeanne.  They went everywhere together, always delighted in being in each other’s company.

“Even if I met up with them in the parking lot of Ralph’s,” said Ken Kuhlken, “they were always walking hand in hand.”

Luckily for San Diegans, Bob left behind as a legacy his 44 novels, books that are still being reprinted half a century after many were first printed.

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