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Clayton Rawson

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Clayton Rawson

Cover of Genii (2001)
BornClayton Ashley Rawson
August 15, 1906
Elyria, Ohio
DiedMarch 1, 1971 (age 64)
CategoriesBooks by Clayton Rawson

Clayton Rawson (1906-1971) was an American mystery writer, editor, and amateur magician.


His four novels frequently invoke his great knowledge of stage magic and feature as their fictional detective The Great Merlini, a professional magician who runs a shop selling magic supplies. He also wrote four short stories in 1940 about a stage magician named Don Diavolo, who appears as a principal character in one of the novels featuring The Great Merlini. "Don Diavolo is a magician who perfects his tricks in a Greenwich Village basement where he is frequently visited by the harried Inspector Church of Homicide, either to arrest the Don for an impossible crime or to ask him to solve it."

In the late 1950's, Rawson organized the informal Witchdoctors Club in New York City as a successor to Bruce Elliott's Friday Night Sodality meetings.

From Clayton Rawson's son, Clayton Rawson, Jr.:

Every summer from the late 1950's into the mid 1960's, Clayton Rawson and his wife Kate invited the Witchdoctors Club and others to their home in Mamaroneck, New York for a summer picnic. Members performed an evening of magic for the Rawson's neighbors on the stage he had built in the backyard. It had curtains by Mother and spotlights in the trees... In additional to the regular Witchdoctors, others performers included: Milbourne Christopher, Harry Blackstone, Jr., Dai Vernon, the Amazing Randi, Harry Lorayne... I wish I had photos of those shows but i was too busy assisting back stage. Merlini performed many illusions at those shows notably Pepper's Ghost and the Levitation. I was featured in the former, my sisters alternated in the latter.
For many years, the Rawson backyard was also the site of the annual Mystery Writers of America picnic. Clayton Rawson was a founder of the MWA and the organization's first treasurer. He also coined the MWA's slogan: "Crime doesn't pay... enough".

A 30-minute pilot for a television series was created in 1951, but no further episodes were made. The Transparent Man, written by Rawson, starred Jerome Thor as The Great Merlini -- who in this incarnation was a stage magician—with Barbara Cook as his assistant Julie and featuring E. G. Marshall as a criminal.

He was one of the four founding members of the Mystery Writers of America, which presents the annual Edgar Awards in various categories of mystery writing. All of his novels were written before the founding of this group, but in 1949 and 1967 Rawson received Special Edgar Awards for his various contributions to mystery writing and the MWA, including the founding of the organization's first newsletter, "The Third Degree". Rawson is also credited with writing the organization's first slogan: "Crime Does Not Pay -- Enough". Rawson was managing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine between 1963 and his death in 1971.[1][2][3]

Sometime between 2006 and 2011 his name was added to his parents' double gravestone in his hometown of Elyria, Lorain County, Ohio in loving memory and acknowledgement of a home town boy who achieved some fame, but he was not buried there. Also the date of his death was incorrectly inscribed as 1970.[4]


Magic related books

Mystery novels

  • Death from a Top Hat (1938)
  • The Footprints on the Ceiling (1939)
  • The Headless Lady (1940)
  • No Coffin for the Corpse (1942)

Collections of short stories

  • Death Out of Thin Air (1941) (as Stuart Towne)
  • Death from Nowhere (1943) (as Stuart Towne)
  • Pictures Don't Lie (1950)
  • The Great Merlini (1979)


  1. Broken Wand, MAY, 1971
  2. Clayton Rawson: Magic and Mystery by Michael Canick (1999)
  3. Report of death, Abra, APRIL 10, 1971
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