All about The Saint by Leslie Charteris, aka Simon Templar: bio, links to books
Simon Templar, alias the Saint, is the Robin Hood of modern crime. All his motives are impeccable while his behavior is often illegal. He fights crime by criminal methods, and is “the headache of cops and crooks alike.” (RKO Press Release)
The Saint, according to his creator, is “a roaring adventurer who loves a fight, a dashing, daredevil, imperturbable, debonair, preposterously handsome, a pirate or a philanthropist as the occasion demands. He lives for the pursuit of excitement, the one triumphant moment that is his alone.” (D.L. Taffner Press Release)
The adventures of Leslie Charteris’ the Saint, have continuously appeared since 1928, making Simon Templar the longest running character in contemporary detective fiction.
Novels and short stories chronicling the international escapades of this modern-day pirate have been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, German, Hebrew, Arabic, Norwegian, Japanese, Danish, Finish, Swedish, Chinese, and Braille. The French editions alone, including reprints, would reach eight hundred times higher than the Eiffel Tower. There are over 25 million Saint books in print worldwide.
“We Saints are normally souls of peace and goodwill,” says Simon Templar in “Enter The Saint,” “But we don’t like crooks, bloodsuckers, traders in vice and damnation. We’re going to beat you up and do you down, skin you, smash you, and scare you off the face of Europe. We are not bothered by the letter of the law, we act exactly as we please, we inflict what punishment we think suitable, and no one is going to escape us.”
Subtle is not exactly the best word to describe either the early Simon Templar or the style of an even younger Leslie Charteris. Yet, it is this rush of youthful exhuberance and supreme self-confidence that Charteris defines for all time the essential aspects of the Saint’s persona. “He made for himself a world fit to live in. Simon Templar was a man who couldn’t help spreading melodrama all around him like an infectious disease.” (“The Policeman with Wings”)
More than exciting adventures, Saint novels and short stories are characterized by clever dialog, humorous descriptions, and an outrageous sense of fun.
His earliest adventures are decidedly British, with the Saint making life miserable for both bad guys and Scotland Yard. His primary nemesis and occasional collaborator is Inspector Teal of Scotland Yard. Teal, a droopy eyed detective who looks perpetually bored, spends most of his career attempting to arrest the Saint.
“The Saint is a compromise,” wrote Charteris. “He can have all the fun and sympathy of the fugitive from justice, while at the same time his motives are most impeccably commendable. He can be rude to policemen and at the same time do their work for them.” (“The Saint vs Scotland Yard”)
There were several reccurring characters in the Saint adventures, including a semipermanent ladylove named Patricia Holm. She debuted in the first Saint book, “Meet the Tiger” (1928), and reappeared in numerous books and short stories over the decades.
Always well dressed, she enters “The Saint in Miami” (1940) wearing a $1,000 designer original. “She was part of his life, the most enduring keystone of his happiness, unchanging as the stars,” wrote Charteris of his hero’s primary romantic interest. “[But] I could play her down more and more, time would tell whether in the end she would fade away.”
Patricia Holm, one of the best drawn female characters in adventure fiction, was bright, witty, self-reliant, and, considering Templar’s many romantic entanglements, remarkably tolerant. Patricia Holm softly left the series in 1947.
The Saint became a British pop culture sensation in the early 1930s when Charteris was writing for The Thriller: the Paper of a Thousand Thrills and The Empire News. The Saint’s popularity cut across all class lines in the U.K., and intense promotion proclaimed, “The man who has never heard of the Saint is like the boy who has never heard of Robin Hood.”
Charteris wanted a wider audience and more opportunity than England offered. A rewarding trip to America to write for the slick paper American Magazine changed everything. He was then brought to Hollywood by Paramount Pictures where he wrote the George Raft feature “Midnight Club.” Returning to England a year later, Charteris wrote his first American best-seller, “The Saint in New York.” RKO optioned film rights and cast Louis Hayward as Simon Templar. Worldwide popularity for the Saint was on the horizon.
George Sanders replaced Hayward in the second film, The Saint Strikes Back, and starred in several more Saint productions of varying quality. Hugh Sinclair was the final RKO leading man to play the Saint, and Hayward returned for the independently produced “The Saint’s Girl Friday” in the early 1950s.Two French films were also produced, but have never been shown in any English speaking country.
The Saint, a hot movie property in the late 1930s, and expanded into other media the following decade. The 1940s brought Simon Templar in several versions, interpretations, and adaptations coexisting in the marketplace at the same time — books, movies, comic books, newspaper strip, and radio. All shared the central character of Simon Templar, yet the characterizations were modified to suit the diverse media.
For Charteris, the real Saint was the one encountered on the printed page. Approached throughout the 1950s by various television producers, Charteris refused to license the Saint to TV. Robert S. Baker broke through Charteris’ wall of resistance in 1961, and the Saint finally came to television in 1962 with Roger Moore in the title role.
Produced by ITC for British broadcast, and rejected by the American networks, “The Saint” became the most successful nonnetwork syndicated television series in history. It was the first series to be picked up by a major American network (NBC) after debuting in syndication. The first two years’ episodes were in black and white, but new color shows were produced for NBC. The series continues in popularity to this day, with both the color and black and white episodes airing somewhere in the world on a daily basis. “Vandetta for The Saint” and “The Fiction Makers,” both two-part TV episodes starring Roger Moore, were released to theaters as full-length Saint movies in Europe and other foreign markets.
In the 1970s, Ian Ogilvy was cast as the Saint in ITC’s “Return of The Saint.” Despite high production values and glamorous locations, only 24 episodes were filmed.
In the 1980s, DLT Entertainment secured TV rights to the Saint and produced a pilot episode for “The Saint in Manhatten” starring Australian actor Andrew Clarke. The series was not picked up, and the project was abandoned. DLT then produced six two-hour Saint television movies starring Simon Dutton as part of their “Mystery Wheel of Adventure” series which was syndicated internationally and broadcast on independent television stations in the United States.
Charteris continued producing new Saint books into the 1980s, concluding with Salvage for The Saint cowritten by Peter Bloxsom.
On May 7th, 1992, the Crime Writers Association presented Charteris with the Diamond Dagger, their prestigious life achievement award.
“I was always sure that there was a solid place in escape literature for a rambunctious adventurer such as I dreamed up in my own youth,” commented Charteris, “I still cling to that belief — that there will always be a public for the old-style hero, who had a clear idea of justice, and a more than technical approach to love, and the ability to have some fun with his crusades. This is how and why the Saint was born, and why I hope he may eventually occupy a niche beside Robin Hood, d’Artagnan, and all the other immortal true heroes of legend. Anyway, on this date, I can say that I’ll always be glad I tried.” (“The Saint Meet the Tiger”)
Currently, movie and television rights to The Saint rest with Paramount Pictures. Val Kilmer starred in “The Saint” (1997), the studio’s first film of a proposed series. In addition, RKO retains remake rights to their eight previous Saint films and recently commissioned screenwriter Larry Cohen to prepare a new script for contemporary retelling of “The Saint in New York.”
The entire history of Leslie Charteris’ unique hero, the Saint, is chronicled in the Edgar Award winning book, “The Saint: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Film, and Television by Burl Barer. Following Charteris’ death, the estate of Leslie Charteris authorized Barer to write new Saint adventures. Ian Dickerson, friend and confidant of the Charteris family, is writing an authorized comprehensive biography of Leslie Charteris. The official Web Site of the Saint Club, maintained by Saint historian Dan Bodenheimer, is at: http://www.saint.org.