Stuart Palmer (June 21, 1905 – February 4, 1968) was a popular mystery novel author and screenwriter, best known for his character Hildegarde Withers. He also wrote under the names Theodore Orchards and Jay Stewart.
Palmer tried his hand at writing a murder mystery with The Penguin Pool Murder, published in 1931 and filmed the following year by RKO Radio Pictures. Character actress Edna May Oliver starred as Palmer's heroine, Hildegarde Withers, a spinster schoolteacher who was an amateur sleuth – something of an American version of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple although considerably more comic and caustic. "The model for the unusual sleuth had been his high school teacher, a Miss Fern Hakett, he later admitted." The casting of Oliver for the role was a happy coincidence, as Palmer had been influenced by her performance in the Broadway production of "Show Boat" when creating the character. The film was a hit and Oliver starred in two more Withers films, but she left RKO in 1935. Helen Broderick and ZaSu Pitts played Withers in another three films, but the series then ended. "The success of his first novel also inspired Palmer to collect pictures and statues of penguins and he even devised a personal trademark featuring one of these birds."
Palmer wrote fourteen Hildegarde Withers novels, including Murder on the Blackboard (1932), Murder on Wheels (1932), The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1934), Four Lost Ladies (1949), and Cold Poison (1954), set in the thinly disguised Walter Lantz animation studio. The short story collection People vs. Withers and Malone (1963) was a collaboration with Craig Rice, in which Hildegarde Withers was teamed with Rice's hard-drinking lawyer detective J. J. Malone; one of the stories, "Once Upon A Train, or The Loco Motive," was the basis for the movie Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone (1950). Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene (1969) was completed by Fletcher Flora upon Palmer's death and published posthumously. Palmer also featured Withers in dozens of short stories that were published in newspapers and mystery magazines; these were collected in The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (1947), The Monkey Murder (1950), and Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles (2002).
(A Very Missing Person 1972) was a Made for TV Hildegarde Withers film starring Eve Arden as Miss Withers. Which one cannot help but think must have pleased Palmer no end as she was most famous for playing that caustic High School Teacher OUR MISS BROOKS.)
Outside the Hildegarde Withers series, Stuart wrote two novels about newspaperman-turned-PI Howard Rook, Unhappy Hooligan (1956) and Rook Takes Knight (1968). He also wrote a handful of science fiction and fantasy stories, published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Fantastic Universe.