Stephen Gould Fisher was born on August 29, 1912, in Marine City, Michigan and grew up in the Los Angeles area. His mother, an actress, was often out of town so she enrolled Fisher in Oneonta Military Academy. He hated it and ran away from the school when he was sixteen and enlisted in the navy. Fisher spent four years on a submarine, and during this time wrote more than two hundred stories about navy and submarine life, many of which were published in navy publications.
He wanted to be a fulltime writer, so when he was discharged from the navy Fisher returned to California. He had trouble selling his stories and, frustrated by his lack of success, he moved to New York City in 1934. For a few months, Fisher struggled to make ends meet. He was evicted and, on several occasions had to pawn his typewriter.
Gradually Fisher’s stories began to sell, beginning with “Hell’s Scoop” in the March 1934 issue of Sure-Fire Detective Magazine. His versatility was evident in the fact that he sold stories to every genre of pulp magazine.
During his years in Greenwich Village and other New York neighborhoods, Fisher became acquainted with other writers, including his close friend Frank Gruber, who profiled Fisher’s life in Pulp Jungle (1967). Some of his other friends were Roger Torrey, Cornell Woolrich, and Carroll John Daly. They all belonged to the American Fiction Guild, a society for pulp writers. During this time he also met and married Edythe (Edie) Seims, an editor at Dime Detective.
Fisher’s big break in the pulps came when Frank Gruber convinced Fanny Ellsworth, the new editor of Black Mask, to buy Fisher’s story “Murder at Eight.” He would ultimately publish over five hundred pulp stories. He created several memorable series characters, including Kip Muldane, a Hawaiian private eye (Black Mask), Danny Garrett and Sheridan Doome (The Shadow), and Captain Babyface (Dare-Devil Aces). Most of his pulp stories appeared under his own name, but he also wrote some under his two pseudonyms, Grant Lane and Stephen Gould.
Like many of the pulp writers of his time, he aspired to sell stories to the “slicks,” large-circulation magazines printed on slick paper that paid better than the pulps. Fisher’s first sale was “About Bread on Water,” to Liberty magazine in June 1937.
Fisher decided to move to Paris in 1939. Many artists and writers chose this route to take advantage of a lower cost of living while they polished their craft. It was during his six months in Paris that Fisher got his foot in the door in Hollywood. He sold the short story “If You Break My Heart,” to Universal Pictures. It became the film Nurse from Brooklyn (1938). Likewise, “Shore Leave” was sold to Monogram and made into Navy Secrets (1939). Paramount Pictures then bought a story that became the film Typhoon (1940). The money he made from these stories enabled him to return to the United States.
By now Fisher had two infant sons and needed more money than he could earn writing stories for the pulps and the slicks. He knew a studio contract would get him what he needed, so he went to Hollywood late in 1939. Fisher found work as a writer at Paramount, but his option was not renewed and he returned to New York. Finally, in 1941, he and his family moved permanently to Los Angeles.
Over the next ten years he contracted to work with Paramount, Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox, MGM, and Columbia. Fisher’s salary increased from $400 to $1,500 a week as he established a reputation as a reliable writer of original screen stories and screenplays. As well as he was doing financially in Hollywood, Fisher never felt it was enough and continued writing for the pulps and the slicks. As the pulps disappeared in the forties and fifties though, his career took a downswing.
It was the growing popularity of television that gave him an opportunity to make a good living as a writer again. In the late 1950s Fisher started to write scripts for The George Sanders Mystery Theatre and Michael Shayne, Detective. His career in television was at its height during the 1970s when Fisher wrote for many different types of shows, including Starsky and Hutch, Barnaby Jones, and Fantasy Island.
Although for most of his career Fisher earned his living as a writer of short stories, screenplays, and television scripts, he also spent a lot of time writing novels. He met with mixed success, but Fisher’s I Wake Up Screaming (1941) is a classic hard-boiled tale that was twice made into films.
He died in March 1980.