Thorne Smith (mid 1920s)
Thorne Smith (mid 1920s)

James Thorne Smith, Jr. (March 27, 1892 – June 20, 1934) was an American 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. 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."[1] 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. 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.[2] He died of a heart attack in 1934 while vacationing in Florida.


Topper was made into a 1937 film starring Cary Grant as George Kerby, Constance Bennett as Marion Kerby, and Roland Young as Cosmo Topper. Two filmed sequels followed: Topper Takes a Trip, in 1939, and Topper Returns, in 1941. The latter film was not based on a book. Young reprised the role in the 1945 NBC radio summer replacement series The Adventures of Topper.[3] The books were adapted into an American television series, Topper, beginning in 1953, with Leo G. Carroll as Cosmo Topper, and Robert Sterling and Anne Jeffreys as the ghosts. Seventy-eight episodes were made. The pilot episode and a few of the early episodes were written by Stephen Sondheim.

Skin and Bones, Turnabout, The Night Life of the Gods, The Passionate Witch, The Stray Lamb, The Bishop's Jaegers, The Glorious Pool, and Rain in the Doorway were all published by Armed Services Editions.


  1. ^ Thurber, James. The Years with Ross, 1959.
  2. ^ Buchan, Perdita. "Utopia, NJ", New Jersey Monthly, February 7, 2008. Accessed February 27, 2011. "Free Acres had some famous residents in those heady early days: actors James Cagney and Jersey City–born Victor Kilian, writers Thorne Smith (Topper) and MacKinlay Kantor (Andersonville), and anarchist Harry Kelly, who helped found the Ferrer Modern School, centerpiece of the anarchist colony at Stelton in present-day Piscataway."
  3. ^ "The Adventures of Topper".
  4. ^ Turnabout Show Summary, at
  5. ^ DeCandido, Keith R.A. (8 November 2016). "Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: "Turnabout Intruder"". Tor. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  6. ^ Fantasy and Science Fiction: Curiosities at

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