Harlem’s James Thorne Smith The Topper Humorous Supernatural Fantasy Fiction Writer, 1892 – 1934

James Thorne Smith Jr., March 27, 1892 – June 20, 1934, lived at 103 Street and Broadway, in Harlem, NY.

He was a writer of humorous supernatural fantasy fiction under the byline Thorne Smith.

He is best known today for the two Topper novels, comic fantasy fiction involving sex, much drinking, and ghosts.

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He is best known today for the two Topper novels, comic fantasy fiction involving sex, much drinking, and ghosts.

With racy illustrations, these sold millions of copies in the 1930s and were equally popular in paperbacks of the 1950s.

Smith drank as steadily as his characters; James Thurber’s The Years with Ross tells the story of Smith’s unexplained week-long disappearance.


When asked why he hadn’t called in sick, he retorted, “The telephone was in the hall and there was a draft.” Smith was born in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of a Navy commodore, and attended Dartmouth College.

Following hungry years in Greenwich Village, working part-time as an advertising agent, Smith achieved meteoric success with the publication of Topper in 1926.

Following hungry years in Greenwich Village, working part-time as an advertising agent, Smith achieved meteoric success with the publication of Topper in 1926.

He was an early resident of Free Acres, a social experimental community developed by Bolton Hall according to the economic principles of Henry George, in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.

Death

He died of a heart attack in 1934 while vacationing in Florida.

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