Friday, October 4, 2013

Day Keene (1904-1969)

Pseudonym of Gunard R. Hjerstedt
Aka Lewis Dixon, William Richards, Daniel White
Actor, Author, Radio and Television Scriptwriter
Born March 28, 1904, Chicago, Illinois
Died January 9, 1969, Los Angeles, California

Gunard R. Hjerstedt was born on March 28, 1904, in Chicago. His paternal grandparents were Swedish. His mother bore an Irish name, Daisy Josephine Keeney. Gunard Hjerstedt went to work as an stage actor in the 1920s. According to mystery and crime writer Ed Gorman, Hjerstedt was friends with young actors Melvyn Douglas and Barton MacLane. They decided to give movies a try. Hjerstedt decided to flip a coin between acting and writing. Writing won. Douglas and MacLane went on to successful careers in movies and television. You could argue that Hjerstedt did equally well as a man behind the scenes. Genius is a word thrown around lightly in some cases. I have read that word in association with Gunard Hjerstedt, better known as Day Keene.

The 1930 census has Hjerstedt listed as an actor. According to "The Pulp Fiction of Day Keene: A Bibliography" by Steve Lewis, Hjerstedt made his debut in the pulps a year later, in the October 31, 1931, issue of Detective Fiction Weekly. Hjerstedt wrote half a dozen stories for Detective Fiction Weekly and Clues Detective Stories between 1931 and 1935. His pulp career picked up again in 1940. By then he was calling himself Day Keene. Mystery and crime writer Talmage Powell (1920-2000), a friend of Day Keene, explained the transformation in an interview conducted in 1987:
When Day began writing for the magazines, he went up to the office of the editor who told him, "This name is absolutely impossible. I would like to cover-mention this story, but I am not going to put that name on the cover of the magazine. Why don’t you pick out a good pen name to work under?" On the spur of the moment, Day remembered that his mother's maiden name was Daisy Keeney. Day thought to himself that "If I can't use my father’s name, I will use my mother's." He contracted her name to Day Keene. (1)
Between stints as a pulp writer, Gunard Hjerstedt, as himself or as Day Keene, wrote radio scripts for Little Orphan Annie, The First Nighter (1935-1937), Behind the Camera Lines (1936), and Kitty Keene, Inc., a 15-minute private eye soap opera that ran from September 13, 1937, to 1941 on the CBS and Mutual networks. I'm not sure that anyone alive today knows who created that show, but Kitty Keene written by Day Keene seems like a pretty big coincidence to me.

Day Keene enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 27, 1942, in Pinellas County, Florida. If you think being in the Army and not behind a typewriter would have slowed Keene down, you're mistaken. His string of published stories remained unbroken. Between 1931 and 1964, the byline "Day Keene" appeared in pulp and digest magazines month after month after month. There were more than 200 of them altogether, and they were printed in mystery, detective, crime, adventure, jungle, and Western titles. Keene placed just one story in Weird Tales.

Keene's first book, This Is Murder, Mister Herbert and Other Stories, was published in paperback in 1948. Like his magazine stories, Keene's novels poured out of his typewriter and eventually numbered more than fifty. The last, Live Again, Love Again (1970), was published posthumously. Hard Case Crime reissued his 1952 novel, Home Is the Sailor, in 2005.

Keene returned to writing scripts in the 1950s. He wrote teleplays for Hawaiian Eye (1959-1960), Miami Undercover (1961), and Burke's Law (1963-1964). Many of his stories have been adapted to other TV shows and movies.

Day Keene lived in Florida for many years and was friends with Talmage Powell, John D. MacDonald, and other writers. His last residence was Studio City, California. Gunard R. Hjerstedt, alias Day Keene, died in Los Angeles on January 9, 1969. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills.

Day Keene's Story in Weird Tales
"Dead Man's Shoes" (Mar. 1950)

Further Reading

Notes
(1) From an interview by Al Tonik, excerpted at the following URL:

There are lots of great covers to Day Keene's novels. I chose this one for its unusual design and flawless execution. 
Keene is a very well admired author in America. Evidently Europeans liked his novels as well. Here is a Finnish edition. For those of us who don't know a lick of Finnish, the title translates as Blind Witness. I have a feeling the cover illustration sold as many books as the author's name.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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