“Miss Highsmith is a crime novelist whose books one can reread many times. There are wery few of whom one can say that. She is a writer who has created a world of her own – a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger…” (Graham Greene, ‘Introduction’ to THE SNAIL-WATCHER, 1970).




Click here to order this fascinating biography of Patricia Highsmith “THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH” by Joan Schenkar.

A brief review of the new Highsmith biography by Joan Schenkarz:

Author and playwright Joan Schenkar (Truly Wilde) presents a compelling portrait of suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith (1921–1995), whose own life was often as twisted as that of her antihero Tom Ripley. Dispensing with the traditional chronological narrative, Schenkar divides her study into themed sections, which crisscross and mirror each other, embodying the themes of doubling and alter egos in Highsmith’s work and life. From her early years in Texas through her time soaking up Manhattan’s literary life in the ’40s to her self-exile in Europe, Highsmith kept diaries in which she meticulously detailed everything from her myriad female lovers to plot ideas. Pessimistic, alcoholic and chronically unhappy, Highsmith created some of the most chilling tales of psychological suspense and betrayal, including The Talented Mr. Ripley and its sequels, and Strangers on a Train. Schenkar’s research is impeccable, and she makes excellent use of the voluminous Highsmith archives in Switzerland and interviews with Highsmith’s friends, ex-lovers and literary contemporaries. “Perversion,” Highsmith once said, “interests me most and is my guiding darkness,” and Schenkar illuminates how her demons played out on the page and in real life.

Highsmith’s novels were filled with references to trains and ships. In STRANGERS ON A TRAIN the antagonist met the protagonist on a train. In THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY Tom Ripley sailed on one of the Cunard Liners – the RMS QUEEN MARY or RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH to Europe so he could do murder.

(Left) Farley Granger and Robert Walker in Hitchcock’s film based on Highsmith’s novel. The two men have luncheon in Walker’s compartment – the result was to be caught up in murder.  (Right) THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY – In Highsmith’s novel Tom Ripley sailed from New York to Europe aboard Cunard Line’s liner the RMS QUEEN MARY.   Ripley hosted a farewell party in the novel but this was not included in both film adaptations.


Patricia Highsmith (January 19, 1921 – February 4, 1995) was an American novelist and short-story writer most widely known for her psychological thrillers, which have led to more than two dozen film adaptations.

Her first novel, Strangers on a Train has been adapted for the screen three times, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951.

In addition to her acclaimed series about murderer Tom Ripley, she wrote many short stories, often macabre, satirical or tinged with black humor.

Although she wrote specifically in the genre of crime fiction, her books have been lauded by various writers and critics as being artistic and thoughtful enough to rival mainstream literature. Michael

Dirda observed that “Europeans honored her as a psychological novelist, part of an existentialist tradition represented by her own favorite writers, in particular Dostoevsky, Conrad, Kafka, Gide, and Camus.”


The monumental American author Patricia Highsmith talks about the first story she ever wrote, her childhood fear of death and Tom Ripley. Ripley was her terrific character as a “rather civilized person who only kills when he has to.” Interview by Melvyn Bragg in 1982, interwoven with a dramatization of a Ripley story.

In 1982, writer Patricia Highsmith talks about writing the Tom Ripley books (The Talented Mr Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, Ripley’s Game…).

Writer Patricia Highsmith says there is no excuse for murder. Excerpt from an interview by Melvyn Bragg in 1982, interwoven with a dramatization of “Ripley Under Ground”.

A movie preview of Alfred Hitchcock’s great thriller STRANGERS ON A TRAIN based on Patricia Highsmith’s first novel. Joan Schenkar’s new biography THE TALENTED MISS HIGHSMITH explores this fascinating woman. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN was published in 1950 and made into a film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. It depicts two men, an architect and a psychopath, who meet on a train, and “swap” murders. “Some people are better off dead -like your wife and my father, for instance,” states Bruno, the rich psychopath and proceeds to carry out his part of the bargain. This work set the tone for Highsmith’s following novels, in which two different worlds intersect and the border between normal and abnormal persons is seen vague and perhaps nonexistent. “Any kind of person can murder. Purely circumstances and not a thing to do with temperament! People get so far – and it takes just the least little thing to push them over the brink. Anybody. Even your grandmother. I know.”


Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) – Mary Patricia (née Plangman, stepfather’s name Highsmith); has also written as Claire Morgan.

One of the great American writers of the 20th century – totally ignored by the New York literary establishment – because she wrote about the antagonist as hero. This was something the grim Manhattan literati couldn’t abide. There always had to be someone to root for.

Highsmith’s works works were especially successful in Europe were this fascinating woman was a major figure. Highsmith has explored the psychology of guilt and abnormal behavior in a world without firm moral ground. Often her novels deal with questions of fading identity and double personality. She also published several volumes of short stories in the fields of fantasy, horror, and comedy. Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train was based on Highsmith’s novel and her series character, Tom Ripley, has inspired several films.

“But the beauty of the suspense genre is that a writer can write profound thoughts and have some sections without physical action if he wishes to, because the framework is an essentially lively story. Crime and Punishment is a splendid example of this. In fact, I think most of Dostoyevsky’s books would be called suspense books, were they being published today for the first time. But he would be asked to cut, because of production costs.” (from Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, 1966)

Patricia Highsmith was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and grew up in New York. Her parents, who separated before she was born, were both commercial artists. Her father was of German descent and she did not meet him until she was twelve – the surname Highsmith was from her stepfather. For much of her early life she was cared for by her maternal grandmother. Her great-grandmother Willi Mae was “a Scot, very practical, though with a great sense of humor, and very lenient with me,” Highsmith later recalled.

Highsmith was educated at Julia Richmond High school in New York and at Columbia, where she studied English, Latin and Greek, earning her B.A. in 1942. According to some sources, Highsmith spent some time providing story-lines for the comics after leaving college. It is believed she worked on scripts for Black Terror and possibly Captain America.

Highsmith showed artistic talent from an early age – she painted and remained talented sculptor, but she had determined to be a writer. She had written as a teenager stories and edited the school magazine at Barnard College, and after leaving college she worked with comic books, supplying the writers with plots. Before her first book, Highsmith had a number of jobs, including that of a saleswoman at a New York Store.

As a writer Highsmith made her debut with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, which appeared in 1950. It depicts two men, an architect and a psychopath, who meet on a train, and “swap” murders. “Any kind of person can murder. Purely circumstances and not a thing to do with temperament! People get so far – and it takes just the least little thing to push them over the brink. Anybody. Even your grandmother. I know.” (from Strangers on a Train) Highsmith developed the idea further in THE BLUNDERER (1954), where a man’s wife dies accidentally but people become suspicious when he regularly visits another who had murdered his wife. “Some people are better off dead -like your wife and my father, for instance,” states Bruno, the rich psychopath and proceeds to carry out his part of the bargain. This work set the tone for her following novels, in which two different worlds intersect and the border between normal and abnormal persons is seen vague and perhaps nonexistent.

The cunningly plotted melodrama inspired the director Alfred Hitchcock who made it into film. Both the book and the film are considered classic in the suspense field. The story has also been filmed later, in 1969 under the title Once You Kiss a Stranger, directed by Robert Starr. It did not gain much attention, but Danny DeVito’ spinn-off Throw Momma From the Train (1987), which turned the story into black comedy, was better received.

Highsmith’s THE PRICE OF SALT under the pseudonym Claire Morgan appeared in 1953 after her publishers had turned it down. The homosexual love story between a married woman and a shopgirl was in its time unusual and sold almost million copies. The book was reissued with an afterword in 1991 under the title CAROL. Highsmith dealt with sexual minorities in her other works, and her final novel, SMALL G: A SUMMER IDYLL (1995), depicted a bar in Zurich, where a number of homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual characters are in love with the wrong people. Highsmith herself had a number of lesbian affairs, but in 1949 she also become close to the novelist Marc Brandel. Between 1959 and 1961 Highsmith had a relationship with Marijane Meaker, who wrote under the pseudonym M.E. Kerr.

Tom Ripley, Highsmith’s most popular character, is a small-time con man and bisexual serial killer, who was introduced to the world in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1955). The critic and awarded mystery writer H.R.F. Keating included the work in his Crime & Mystery: the 100 Best Books (1987). In its foreword Highsmith wrote: “I now have a different view of Cornell Woolrich, thanks to the two pages on him here. Keating describes The Bride Wore Black, and Woolrich’s curious and indirect methods of laying out his plot and his clues. A homosexual who apparently lived in the closet, Woolrich shared a life in residential hotels with a mother whom he both loved and hated. Could anything be worse?” Ripley is a thief, and in the end of the story he is a double murderer. Ripley meets a worried rich father, whose stay-away son lives in Europe. He is willing to finance Tom’s trip to Europe to contact him. Ripley kills there his rich friend and assumes his identity. The book was first filmed in 1960 under the title Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), directed by René Clément, starring Alain Delon. The likeable amateur murderer Ripley inspired the Wim Wenders film The American Friend (1977), starring Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz, Samuel Fuller, and Nicholas Ray. In the story Ripley becomes involved with the Mafia and he uses a non-professional hit-man, whose fate is sealed.

In Anthony Minghella’s film from 1999 Highsmith’s homosexual subtext is not hidden. In the story a millionaire asks Ripley to track down his son, Dickie, who is living in Italy. The prodigal son and Ripley became friends, but when Dickie wants to get rid of his new associate, Ripley starts to lie and kill to continue the high life he has found so attractive. Dickie vanishes, and Ripley appropriates his identity for fun, to keep up his lifestyle and to fill the emptiness of his weak character.

Scenes from PURPLE NOON – the excellent adaption of THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.  The film (1960) was known as Purple Noon (French: Plein Soleil, aka Full Sun or Blazing Sun).  Directed by René Clément it starred Alain Delon in his first major movie. The film, principally in French, contains brief sequences in Italian. This version of Highsmith’s novel was far better than the 1999 version featuring Matt Damon who was totally miscast.

Ripley became Highsmith’s most enduring character, who could be a sadist and an understanding husband, a parody of upper-class mentality and a criminal only by force of circumstances.

“Murder, in Patricia Highsmith’s hands, is made to occur almost as casually as the bumping of a fender or a bout of food poisoning,” wrote Roberts Towers in The New York Review of Books.

The thrill of the novels is based on the problem, how Ripley is going to get away again with his crime. Like Dorian Gray, he lives a double life, but remains unpunished for his actions.

(Left: Alain Delon as Ripley) After The Talented Mr. Ripley the ambivalent hero appeared in several sequels, among them RIPLEY UNDER GROUND (1970), in which he both masquerades as a dead painter and kills an art collector, RIPLEY’S GAME (1974), a story of revenge, in which Ripley is paired with a first-time murderer, THE BOY WHO FOLLOWED RIPLEY (1980), and RIPLEY UNDER WATER (1991), the final Ripley adventure, in which Ripley is pursued by a sadistic American, who knows too much of his past.

This time Ripley doesn’t kill anybody. “The feeling of menace behind most Highsmith novels, the sense that ideas and attitudes alien to the reasonable everyday ordering of society are being suggested, has made many readers uneasy. One closes most of her books — and her equally powerful and chilling short stories — with a feeling that the world is more dangerous than one had imagined.” (Julian Symons in The New York Times, October 18, 1992)

As a reclusive person, Highsmith spent most of her life alone. “People forget that she was a very conservative person,” said the American playwright Phyllis Nagy, “she wasn’t bohemian like Jane Bowles and she did hold some very weird and contradictory views.” The publisher Otto Penzler, who admired her work and brought her in the mid-1980s to New York, described her as the most unloving and unlovable person he have ever known.

In 1957 Highsmith won the French Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere and the British Crime Writers Association awarded her in 1964 a Silver Dagger. In 1979 she received the Grand Master award by the Swedish Academy of Detection. Although writing remained her true passion, she also showed talent as an artist and sculptress. Highsmith moved permanently to Europe in 1963, living in East Anglian and France. Her final years Highsmith spent in an isolated house near Locarno on the Swiss-Italian border. She never abandoned her Texan background, dressing in 34-inch-waist Levis, sneakers and neckerchiefs. Highsmith died in Switzerland on February 4, 1995.

(Left: Major suspense novelist Graham Greene greatly admired Highsmith.) Highsmith’s works outside mystery genre include a juvenile book, short stories, and non-fiction. In PLOTTING AND WRITING SUSPENSE FICTION (1966) she stated that “art has nothing to do with morality, convention or moralizing.” Several of Highsmith’s works fall out from the mystery genre and her crime novels often have more to do with psychology than conventional plotting. “Her peculiar brand of horror comes less from the inevitability of disaster, than from the ease with which it might have been avoided. The evil of her agents is answered by the impotence of her patients – this is not the attraction of opposites, but in some subtle way the call of like to like. When they finally clash in the climactic catastrophe, the reader’s sense of satisfaction may derive from sources as dark as those which motivate Patricia Highsmith’s destroyers and their fascinated victims.” (Francis Wyndham in Lesbian and Bisexual Fiction Writers, ed. by Harold Bloom, 1997) Russel Harrison has argued that Highsmith’s fiction demonstrates elements of existentialism as linked to Sartre and Camus, and reflects sociopolitical concerns to the gay and lesbian issues of 1980s and 1990s. Graham Greene has remarked that the world of a Patricia Highsmith novel is “claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger”.

“Miss Highsmith is a crime novelist whose books one can reread many times. There are wery few of whom one can say that. She is a writer who has created a world of her own – a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger…” (Graham Greene, ‘Introduction’ to THE SNAIL-WATCHER, 1970).


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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