Gabriel Marlowe

From The Lost Club Journal:

The Marlowe mystery

The Time Out Book of London Short Stories (1993) contains an intriguing essay, ‘Newman Passage or J. Maclaren-Ross and the Case of the Vanishing Writers’, by the filmmaker and novelist Chris Petit, in which he attempts to track Maclaren-Ross and his associates through the dead ends of the years. Newman Passage is the sinister byway linking Newman Street and Rathbone Street which Michael Powell used for the scene of the prostitute’s murder in Peeping Tom (1960). Maclaren-Ross – who strangely does not seem to refer to the film anywhere (its genre was his preferred territory) – said the passage was known to Soho types as ‘Jekyll and Hyde Alley’, ‘because it was the sort of place through which Mr Hyde flourishing his stick rushes low-angle on the screen’. The adjacent warehouse yard, he explained, was a convenient spot ‘into which one sometimes guided girls in order to become better acquainted’. (In that case, there should be a plaque to Ross here.) One of the vanishing writers referred to in Chris Petit’s essay is the elusive G. S. Marlowe, the author of the extraordinary cult success, now forgotten, called I am Your Brother (1935), which sounds a little like ‘The Dunwich Horror’ with a London setting. Maclaren-Ross, who adapted the book for an unproduced radio drama in 1938, refers in Memoirs of the Forties to ‘the repulsive mother of the schizophrenic young composer, shuffling and snuffling around the Soho markets in search of offal on which to nourish her other, perhaps imaginary son: a monster product of maybe artificial insemination, who lived in an attic above his brother’s studio and had to be fed raw liver and fairy stories once a day’. When they met, Ross found Gabriel Marlowe, comfortably ensconced in a Kensington flat with an attractive secretary, to be ‘very large, Nordic looking, in his middle thirties, amiable, ambling, almost ursine in appearance. Like a big gentle blond bear . . .’ Maclaren-Ross never discovered Marlowe’s nationality: he variously speculates that he was Scandinavian, Viennese or from the Danube basin. He told Maclaren-Ross that I am Your Brother originated as a bedtime story told to the children of Sir Roderick and Lady Jones (Lady Jones was Enid Bagnold, the author of National Velvet) while staying with them in the country. Ross says that Marlowe had worked in Hollywood, where he met Greta Garbo, and written the script of David Copperfield (1934); though the name of Hugh Walpole, who plays the vicar in the film, appears in the credits. Marlowe was friendly with Walpole, however, so Ross’s statement may have had some foundation. Maclaren-Ross later visited Marlowe in a larger, modern flat in Chelsea: ‘Here, on an afternoon in Spring, I found him living in an Edgar Wallace-like opulence, surrounded by dictaphones, telephones, and typewriters, with a brand new secretary even better looking than the last.’ In the spring of 1940 Marlowe, who was Jewish, left Britain for Norway – mistakenly believing it the one place the Nazis wouldn’t invade ‘ . . . and Marlowe, who had meant on returning to join the British Army never returned, never published another book [but see below], was in due course written off as dead by all including his literary executors.

‘Yet was he dead? For a few years ago I was drinking champagne cider with a man who’d known Marlowe before the war, and claimed to have met him recently, alive and well, in some village the name of which I can’t remember. This man had no idea he was supposed to have been lost in Norway, so asked no searching questions, and in the village inn they had together sunk a pint. Thus Marlowe contrived to enshroud himself in mystery right up to the end, if indeed it was his end.’ If any readers do know what happened to Gabriel Marlowe, perhaps they could tell us. And we should very much like to trace Maclaren-Ross’s son, Alexander; last heard of living in Kent.