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The two cousins now known as "Ellery Queen" were born in
Brooklyn's Brownsville district. Manfred Lee in January 1905, and Frederic Dannay in October. Their birth names were Manford Lepofsky and Daniel Nathan.
Their mothers Rebecca and Dora where the daughters of Russian Jewish immigrants Leopold
Wallerstein and Rachel Granowsky. Rebecca married Benjamin Lepofsky and Dora married Meyer H. Nathan, a liquor salesman. Lepofsky may not have been the real family name as it may have been change by Benjamin's father on his way from Russia to America. Apparently a fellow immigrant advised him to Americanize his name from "Ashov" or "Arshow" to "Lepofsky", the name of someone he knew who had already immigrated into America.

Mrs. Rebecca Lepofsky named Manford after a leading character in a magazine love story she was reading shortly before her delivery. The doctor registered the boy's birth certificate as Emanuel. A similar thing happened when her sister Dora Nathan gave birth to her son nine months later, the doctor now seemed to dislike the name Daniel which his parents gave him and filled in the birth certificate as David. This was not even  known to close relatives as Richard Dannay confided: "After his death, I came across a copy of his petition to change his name to Frederic Dannay from -- David Nathan!"
Both changed their names as young men, Lepofsky truncating and anglicizing his last name and modifying his first to a name meaning "man of peace", Dannay constructing a surname out of the first syllables of his birth names and taking "Frederic" out of admiration for the music of Chopin. Friends and family kept calling them "Manny" and "Dan" or "Danny."

                Lee (left) and Danny (right) during a the summer of 1912 in Elmira.
Above: Lee (left) and Danny (right) during a the summer of 1912 in Elmira.

As eldest of three children Lee lived together in Brooklyn with sisters Helen and Rena. His sisters never married and put Manny through college. Helen worked in television and Rena for Time Magazine.  He attended Boys' High (now Boys' and Girls' High). As a child, Lee had a difficult time with what he termed "the brutality of the streets," so he turned "for refuge" to books. Dannay's family moved to then-rural Elmira, New York, when he was a small boy. This hometown of Mark Twain gave him a real "Tom Sawyer-like" boyhood together with a best friend named... Ellery. During vacations Manny went on holidays to his cousin en once in 1914 he even stayed the entire vacation. In 1917 the family decided to returned to Brooklyn to live in the Wallersteins house. During the first winter
Danny was bed stricken by a abscess to the left ear and one of his aunts handed him Conan Doyle's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It changed his life...

Together with Manny he now attended Boys' High. Much more as brothers they shared the same interests such as baseball and detective stories. It's in their mid-teens, coming to and from New York, whilst sharing a cab, streetcar,...they started plotting impossible crimes, playing with ideas. They even plotted a crime in the (for them) almost "holy sanctuary" of a public library. They concentrated on the "how" rather than the "who"... Eventually they changed the location to the museum to work out this closed-room-mystery.

Manny graduated from Boy's High in 1921 and went on to the N.Y. University, whilst working as a Western Union messenger. "In the 1920s, when Dad applied to New York University as Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky, he discovered that Jewish students were among the ethnic groups barred from attending the main NYU campus. Later, when he was about to graduate from the Greenwich Village campus of NYU with a summa cum laude degree in English, Dad told a faculty friend of his dream of becoming a college English professor at his alma mater. The “friend” replied, “Oh, Manny, no Jew will ever get tenure in the NYU system—you are all so much smarter than we Gentiles, it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of us.” This prompted my father to abandon his professorship dreams, and change his name." (The Story is the Thing, Rand B. Lee)

Patricia Lee Caldwell recalls: "Hy Miller attended college at New York University and there met Manny Lee. Uncle Hy had a great singing voice and may also have played some instrument and some time later they formed a band with three or four other students and performed in various venues, including on some cruises and at some vacation spots."
(Arthur Vidro
) This was the five piece jazz-band Manny directed for a while (he was an excellent violin player). Manfred B.Lee "Poffy" completed his studies at the New York university and his new adjusted ambition back then was to be a serious writer, a "20th century Shakespeare". Manfred's mother wanted him to go on to law school but soon after, in 1926, found his way into advertising as redactor of slogans and scripts for film companies (FBO Pictures co. 1926-27; Sterling Pictures, 1927-28; Gotham Pictures, 1928; later Pathé, 1930). "Mannie Lee" (sic) was described as a swell copy writer and layout man. At some point in 1926 Hy brought his friend and fellow band member Manny Lee to Philadelphia for a weekend to meet the family. That weekend, Manny Lee met Claremont-born Betty Miller (b. July 30.1909).  After that, he commuted regularly to her home on Memorial Day, Easter, and graduation day and on the fourth visit they became engaged. One year later the couple was married (Aug 6. 1927) in Manhattan, they spent their honeymoon in New York.
After working for several years with F.B.O.
(Film Booking Offices) in the publicity and advertising department Lee had quit that company early in 1927 to join Henry Ginsberg at Sterling Pictures Distributing Corporation. He was to devote much of his time to the formulation and preparation of story material for screening purposes. That same year Manfred (under the name Manfred Lee) wrote, together with Frances Guihan, the story for the silent movie Closed Gates, directed by Phil Rosen.  E.G. Johnston reviewed the movie in Motion Picture News: "Manfred B. Lee, who wrote the story for this feature, offers this one in proof of his statement that the independent producer CAN make Broadway pictures. We are inclined to agree with Mr. Lee, for certainly it is on a par with many that have secured Metropolitan first runs. At least two of several dramatic situations reach considerable height." In June Manny took two weeks to recover from the inglorious mumps.
On January 7. 1928, only one year after he started there, it was reported that Manfred "in charge of Sterling advertising and publicity", resigned and "would take up writing as a vocation".

It was Mike Simmons who took Manfred Lee into Gotham Pictures (May 1928). However in 1929 Manfred worked as a writer at Pathé, where he was commissioned, among other things, to compile the AMPA yearbook together with Mike Simmons, the presentation in March would form one of the distinctive features of the Hollywood Masque Ball staged at the New York Astor Hotel.
In April 1930 Manny Lee of the Advertising Department at Pathé was responsible for the press sheet prepared for the exploitation of Pathé's dramatic circus production Swing High. Reportedly it was one of the largest and nattiest ever compiled on any picture since the inauguration of the era of dialogue and sound. it combined beauty, color, utility and real service to picture showmen.


Dannay had his own ambitions wanting to be a poet. Even now faith dealt him a feebler hand. Prohibition meant his father was out of business and he had to quit Boy's High before his graduation. In 1921 at sixteen and in his third year High School he went working to help out the family. His after- school job as a soda fountain clerk set aside his first full-time position was as a bookkeeper but not his last. For the next seven years he jumped from job to job and the family's financial position changed. Danny could even receive his high school diploma (1922) and even took some courses in the Arts Students' League (to paint). By 1928 Fred worked as a copy writer, art director for a N.Y. advertising agency. He left the United Advertising agency for the copy department at the Caples Company, a national ad agency. There he was art director at least until 1932 and was art and typographic counsel to Superior Typography, Inc.

Their offices were at walking distance and since their interests were basically the same, "Manny" and "Danny" met on a regular basis and frequently went out for lunch together.
They were fascinated by the crime and decided to write about it.

One of those fascinations was Joseph Bowne Elwell, the greatest bridge player alive, the so-called "Wizard of Whist", a tutor of the game to the King of England and the millionaire Vanderbilts. Author of best-selling bridge textbooks, an unofficial "spycatcher" and intelligence agent, a heavy gambler on the stock exchange, the owner of a large stable of race horses, a developer of Florida real estate, a dealer of bootleg liquor, and an industrious philanderer.  Joseph Elwell is believed to be the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby in his book, The Great Gatsby. Today Joseph Elwell is remembered for being murdered in June 1920 in a classic "locked room" mystery---to this day still unsolved. Someone managed to sneak into his art-filled house in Manhattan, shoot Elwell in the head, and vanish into thin air.....leaving Elwell in a room locked from the inside! The Slaying of Joseph Bowne Elwell is author Jonathan Goodman's fascinating account of the corrupt life and mysterious death of one bizarre man. The Elwell case has been used as the basis of many crime novels (including one of the most famous, S.S. Van Dine's The Benson Murder Case), films, and a play. Supposedly this case resulted in the formation of the writing partnership. They would set their teen-age fantasies aside and write a "serious" book in the Van Dine-manner. They only needed the spark to set it off...


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