Henry Slesar (June 12, 1927 - April 2, 2002) was an American author, playwright, and copywriter. He is famous for his use of ironyand twist endings. After reading Slesar's "M Is for the Many" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock bought it for adaptation and they began many successful collaborations. Slesar wrote hundreds of scripts for television series and soap operas, leading TV Guide to call him "the writer with the largest audience in America."
He was born Henry Slesar in Brooklyn, New York City. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, and he had two sisters named Doris and Lillian. After graduating from the School of Industrial Art, he found he had a talent for ad copy and design, which launched his twenty-year career as a copywriter at the age of 17. He was hired right out of school to work for the prominent advertising agency Young & Rubicam.
It has been claimed that the term "coffee break" was coined by Slesar and that he was also the person behind McGraw-Hill's massively popular "The Man in the Chair" advertising campaign.
During World War II, for some years he served in the United States Air Force, which influenced his story "The Delegate from Venus". Afterwards, he opened his own agency.
Slesar was married three times: to Oenone Scott, 1953-1969; to Jan Maakestad, 1970-1974; and to Manuela Jone in 1974. He had one daughter and one son.
In addition to writing chiefly under his own name, Slesar published under several pseudonyms, particularly on early short stories. These included:
- Clyde Mitchell - a Ziff Davis "house pseudonym" used by some science fiction and fantasy authors in Amazing Stories and Fantastic, which were edited by Paul W. Fairman. (Authors publishing as Clyde Mitchell include Robert Silverberg, Randall Garrett, Harlan Ellison, and others.) Slesar used the Mitchell name for "The Monster Died at Dawn" inAmazing Stories (November, 1956), and "A Kiss for the Conqueror" in Fantastic (February, 1957).
- O. H. Leslie - Slesar chose this name, which he used from 1956 to 1964, again for Paul Fairman as well as other magazines.
- In Amazing Stories he published such stories as "Marriages Are Made in Detroit" (December 1956), "Reluctant Genius" (January 1957), "No Room in Heaven" (June 1957), and "The Anonymous Man" (July 1957).
- In Fantastic he published such stories as "Death Rattle" (December 1956), "My Robot" (February 1957), "Abe Lincoln—Android" (April 1957), "The Marriage Machine" (July 1957), and "Inheritance" (August 1957).
- Ivar Jorgensen - This pseudonym, a house name, was also used by Robert Silverberg, Randall Garrett, Harlan Ellison, Howard Browne, and Paul Fairman himself. Slesar's use of the name appeared in Fantastic for "Coward's Death" (December 1956) and "Tailor-Made Killers" (August 1957).
- E. K. Jarvis - another Ziff Davis house name, also used by Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Paul W. Fairman, Robert Bloch, and Robert Moore Williams. Slesar used it for "Get Out of Our Skies!" in Amazing Stories (December 1957).
- Lawrence Chandler - Another Ziff Davis house name, shared by Howard Browne, Slesar used it for "Tool of the Gods" in Fantastic (November 1957).
- Sley Harson - Nearly an anagram of Slesar's name, he used it in collaboration with his friend Harlan Ellison. Together they published "Sob Story" in The Deadly Streets (Ace Books, 1958).
- Gerald Vance - Another Ziff Davis house name; shared by William P. McGivern, Rog Phillips, Robert Silverberg and Randall Garrett. Slesar sold the story "The Lavender Talent" to Paul Fairman at Fantastic (March 1958).
- Jeff Heller - A pen name he used when collaborating with his friend, M*A*S*H writer Jay Folb.
Other house names Slesar employed were Jay Street, John Murray, and Lee Saber.
After 1958, he wrote chiefly under his own name.
In 1955, he published his first short story, "The Brat" (Imaginative Tales, September, 1955). While working as a copywriter, he published hundreds of short stories—over forty in 1957 alone—including detective fiction, science fiction, criminal stories, mysteries, and thrillers in such publications as Playboy, Imaginative Tales, and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine; he was writing, on average, a story per week. Alfred Hitchcock hired him to write a number of the scenarios for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
He wrote a series of stories about a criminal named Ruby Martinson for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine—"The First Crime of Ruby Martinson" (September, 1957), "Ruby Martinson, Ex-Con" (June, 1958), "Ruby Martinson, Cat Burglar" (June, 1959), "Ruby Martinson’s Great Fur Robbery" (May, 1962)—and later worked on Rod Serling's Twilight Zoneseries. He also penned the screenplay for the 1965 film Two on a Guillotine, which was based on one of his stories. His short story "Examination Day" was used in the 1980sTwilight Zone revival.
His first novel-length work was 20 Million Miles to Earth, a 1957 novelization of the film. In 1960, his first novel, The Gray Flannel Shroud (1958), a murder mystery set in an advertising agency, earned the Edgar Allan Poe Award.
In 1974, he won an Emmy Award as the head writer for CBS Daytime's The Edge of Night. His term as head writer (1956–84) was considered lengthy. Chris Schemering writes in The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, "Slesar proved a master of the serial format, creating a series of bizarre, intricate plots of offbeat characters in the spirit of the irreverent detective movies of the '40s." During that time, he was also head writer for the Procter & Gamble soap operas Somerset (on NBC Daytime) and Search for Tomorrow until John William Corrington replaced him on the latter. During the 1974-75 television season, he was the creator and head writer for Executive Suite, a CBS primetime series.
He wrote mainly science-fiction scripts for the CBS Radio Mystery Theater during the 1970s.
In 1983, Procter & Gamble wanted to replace him as the head writer for The Edge of Night, but ABC/ABC Daytime kept him. After his eventual replacement as head writer by Lee Sheldon, the network named him and Sam Hall the new head writers of its soap opera One Life to Live, but he left that show after only one year. He was later the head writer of theCBS Daytime series Capitol.
His last novel was Murder at Heartbreak Hospital (ISBN 0-897-33463-9). It is based on his experiences as a writer for soaps. A homicide detective investigates murders on the set of a soap opera and meets a variety of amusing characters, including the bland leading man, a rapacious starlet, a couple of gay teleplay writers, and some executives. As so many of his works did, it features a twist ending. It was originally published in Europe in 1990 and the American version retains British spellings and some errors (possibly Slesar's, as when the detective's name is wrongly given in chapter three). The novel was adapted into a film, Heartbreak Hospital, by Ruedi Gerber in 2002; it starred John Shea as Milo, the leading man, Diane Venora as his wife, and Patricia Clarkson as Lottie.
Other late works included "interactive mystery serial" stories for MysteryNet.com, which invited readers to contribute their ideas.