Stuart Palmer is best remembered today as the creator of Hildegarde Withers, the aging schoolteacher and amateur sleuth -- best portrayed by Edna May Oliver -- in a handful of successful and fondly remembered RKO films of the 1930s. In addition to being a very prolific mystery author, he was also a very busy screenwriter in Hollywood during the 1930s and '40s, specializing in detective stories and thrillers.
Charles Stuart Hunter Palmer was born in Baraboo, WI, in 1905. He studied at the Chicago Art Institute and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. At the end of the 1920s, he wrote his first novel, The Penguin Pool Mystery, which was published in 1931 and was a well-received by critics and readers. Set in New York City during the fall of 1929, amid the stock market crash and its aftermath, the book had an immediacy and topicality that was bracing in its time; it also introduced the character of Hildegarde Withers, a matronly spinster schoolteacher who deals with most of the world (especially any men younger than she is) as though they are unruly students. The following year, RKO brought Hildegarde Withers to the screen in the person of Edna May Oliver in The Penguin Pool Murder; as directed by George Archainbaud, this was one of the biggest hits that RKO had that year, delighting critics and audiences. The movie also established one of the early sound era's more delightful and fondly remembered "double acts," teaming Oliver's Miss Withers with James Gleason as Inspector Oscar Piper, the amateur sleuth's one steady contact (and often a skeptical one) on the New York Police Department.