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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

WALLIS, James Harold

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Photo courtesy: Andrea Wallis Aven

WALLIS, James Harold. (Dubuque, IA, Jan. 23, 1885--Scarsdale, NY, Jan. 13, 1958). Wallis, the son of John William WALLIS and Mary Burton and brother of John Rider WALLIS, attended high school in Dubuque and was the class valedictorian. At Yale, he was a classmate of future president Herbert Hoover. Wallis was also the class poet, editor of the Lit and Courant, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He planned to study law and entered the University of Chicago before deciding on another career path.

Wallis served as editor of the Dubuque Times Journal until 1919 when he organized the Dubuque Daily News.

An experienced politician, Wallis served as an alderman and mayor pro tempore from 1912-1917. (1) He began and then led a campaign to adopt the city manager plan of government in Dubuque while serving as publisher and editor of the Dubuque Daily News. He served as the chairman of the Finance Committee while on the city council and it was on his motion that $3,000 was appropriated for the purchase of the city's "automobile" ambulance. He also insisted that the "lungmotor" be purchased as well as fire equipment for the Grandview and Rhomberg fire stations. He brought about the raise in the assessment of the UNION ELECTRIC COMPANY from $500,000 to $1,500,000 which, according to his campaign literature, saved the taxpayers paying more. Wallis chaired the first hotel committee that took charge of building a new hotel in Dubuque after the destruction of the Julien. In 1915 he was the general chairman of the committees that raised $65,000 for a new YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.M.C.A.) building. Representing the Fourth Ward, Wallis supported the extension of the line out West Locust Street to connect with the Delhi street line. His work also led to the purchase of the triple-combination automobile pumping engine and its installation at the Delhi Street fire station. He was one of the organizers of the Allison-Henderson Memorial Association and served on the Organizing Committee of the International Bank of Washington,D.C.

In 1921 J.H. Wallis worked for the post-war American Relief Administration under Secretary of State Herbert Hoover. Harold spent five months in the war-torn countries of Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, and Austria, while also observing conditions in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, reporting directly to Hoover. After a two-year stint at the A.R.A. Office in New York City, Wallis and family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1923, for Wallis to work as Hoover's confidential secretary at the Department of Commerce. Wallis prepared the first daily summary of world events with analysis of editorial opinions.

In 1927 Wallis left Hoover's employ to take a job at the Joint Committee of the National Utility Associations in New York City. Hoover encouraged Harold to find his own path, away from the D.C. political arena, writing: "He was able, conscientious, and too promising a young man to spend his life in routine government work. I encouraged him to strike out on his own." (In letter to John Robert Waller, February 4, 1958, and included in: Biography of James Harold Wallis. Congressional Record, February 24, 1958, A1626. Also referenced at Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa.)

The family lived in Scarsdale, New York, where Harold continued his lifelong passion of writing. In addition to the four books of poetry that Wallis penned prior to the move to Scarsdale: Youth (1907), The Testament of William Windune (1916), British War Poems, by an American (1915), and, The Laughter of Omnipotence (1927), Wallis went on to write many essays and articles, along with additional works of poetry. In 1931 his first novel was published, Murder by Formula, after which he writing became his full-time career. Between 1931 and 1943 he wrote ten more novels: The Capital City Mystery (1932), Cries in the Night (1933), The Servant of Death (1933), The Mystery of Vaucluse (1933), Murder Mansion (1934), The Woman He Chose (1934), The Politician: His Habits, Outcries, and Protective Coloring (1935), Once Off Guard (1942), The Niece of Abraham Pein (1943), and The Synthetic Philanthropist (1943).

J.H. Wallis's murder mystery, Once Off Guard, was made into the movie, "The Woman in the Window" (1944) starring Edgar G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Raymond Massey, directed by Fritz Lang. The movie was the first "film noir" and established the genre. Another movie from Wallis's work, "Strange Bargain" (1949), starred Jeffrey Lynn, Martha Scott, and Henry Morgan, and was later used as the basis for a "Murder She Wrote" television episode (1987, Season 3, episode 21) with Angela Lansbury.

J.H. Wallis with Mr. Ray Connor, manager of the Palace Theater, 47th and Broadway in New York City, at the opening of the movie, "The Woman in the Window" (January 25, 1945) Photo courtesy: Andrea Wallis Aven
New York City premier of the movie, "Strange Bargain," based on one of Wallis' stories. (1949) In the picture from L to R: Sara O'Neil Wallis (wife of J.H. Wallis), Elisabeth "Betsy" Wallis (wife of J.H. Wallis's son, John), J.H. Wallis.)
John William Wallis, the father of James Harold Wallis. Photo courtesy: Andrea Wallis Aven
The home of James Harold and Sara Wallis in Dubuque (12 Wilbur). Photo courtesy: Andrea Wallis Aven
Mary Burton Wallis, the mother of James Harold Wallis. Photo courtesy: Andrea Wallis Aven



Andrea Wallis Aven

1. "Famed Local Novelist Dead," The Telegraph-Herald, January 14, 1958, p. 7

Congressional Record, February 24, 1958