Some sad news reached EQMM recently: On June 17, 2022, Douglas Dannay died in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Born July 3, 1933, Doug was the eldest son of Frederic Dannay, who, together with his cousin Manfred B. Lee, wrote the Ellery Queen novels and stories and founded EQMM. I did not know Doug at all well, as he lived, until his retirement, in Merrick, Long Island, not in New York City where the magazine was based, and he was often unable to attend EQMM events. However, the limited contact I had with Doug left me with two strong impressions: that he was very intelligent and that he was extremely modest.
Doug’s connection to EQMM was not just a familial one. His own fiction, a story entitled “Tough Break,” published under the pseudonym Ryam Beck, appeared in EQMM’s Department of First Stories in October, 1956. Here’s how his father, Fred Dannay, introduced the story:
Ryam Beck’s “Tough Break” is the author’s first published story—that is, in a professional sense. Mr. Beck tells us that two of his stories have appeared in high school and college literary magazines, but “Tough Break” is the first story that has earned him even a modest chunk of coin of the realm. For a new writer Mr. Beck has a surprisingly firm grip on characterization—the people in his story come alive; and the narrative flow is both driving and disciplined.
“Tough Break” is the tale of a gambler who is unlucky in love—which, according to an old saying in the profession, is not the worst thing in the world that can happen to a gambler . . . But speaking of old sayings, we could paraphrase W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) by calling your attention to the fact that, taking one consideration with another, a gambler’s lot is not a happy one, and reminding you that there are times when the punishment should fit the crime . . .
We cannot tell you much about the author. He is 23, unmarried, was graduated from Haverford College where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and his ambition is to become a serious and successful writer. As we have assured so many other beginners with talent, we of EQMM are always willing—nay, eager—to lend a helping hand.
Hallelujah, the young ones keep coming on . . .
I do not know for sure whether, when this submission first arrived at the EQMM offices, Fred was aware that it was from his son, for it may have been submitted under a different pseudonym than Ryam Beck—a name Fred would likely have recognized as based on the name of his first wife (Doug’s mother), Mary Beck. But whether he realized the author was his son or not, there was absolutely no nepotism here. The story stands up well even after sixty-six years. I’d have bought it myself—and we’ll be reprinting it in our March/April 2023 issue, where you can see for yourselves.
Twenty-three-year-olds can seldom see exactly where their ambitions will take them. I imagine that Doug may have begun a career in teaching as a path parallel to his aim of becoming a “serious and successful writer.” It is, after all, a frequent career choice for those seeking to write at night and on weekends. In Doug’s case, though, the teaching itself caught fire. He became a legendary middle-school teacher of English literature and poetry, earning this unsolicited praise from a former student who tracked down his brother Richard Dannay in 2019 in the hope of getting a thank-you message to Doug fifty years after taking his classes:
That message—the finest tribute one could imagine receiving—was read by Richard at Doug’s funeral. With such a rewarding career in teaching absorbing him every day, it’s not surprising that Doug never devoted as much time to his own writing as he’d anticipated when he debuted as a fiction writer in 1956. But he never abandoned the effort either. Even more attractive to him than novel or short story writing was the prospect of writing for the theater, and in 2010 I received an e-mail from him saying that he had completed a play—and did I know of an agent who represented playwrights to whom he might submit it. Unfortunately, I did not, and in future correspondence Doug never mentioned the play again. If it’s among his things, it’s my hope that something can be done with it. I expect it’s good; after all, Ellery Queen himself described this author as one with a “firm grip on characterization” and a “driving flow” to his way of unfolding a narrative.
Doug was far more than was comprised in his work as a teacher and writer, of course. He was, as his brother Richard said in his obituary, which appeared in the New York Times on June 22nd and 23rd, a beloved husband, son, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, and friend, and, not to be left out, “Pinter’s pal”—Pinter being Doug’s dog, named for the playwright Harold Pinter.
May Doug rest in peace after a life well lived.