(Photo by Jerry Prank, Dartford UK, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
I just came across a post reporting that the author of the Cat Who… books died on June 4th at the age of 97. I did a search to find out more about the circumstances of her death (and life) and located a couple of articles, one from the New York Times and one from the Detroit Free Press, which give some insight into her career. She had a more interesting background than I had ever imagined.
She was a very private person and wasn’t given to revealing much about her personal life. Being a true ‘lady’ of the old school, she let everyone believe she was born in 1926 until an interview in 2005 when she revealed her true birth date — June 20, 1913. She was born in the small town of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. Since the depression made a college education much too expensive, she became an advertising copywriter in Detroit for several stores and then moved to the Detroit Free Press where she spent the majority of her career as a lifestyle writer and editor. She wrote the first three of her books while working there and then stopped for eighteen years because her publisher wanted her to inject more sex and violence into her novels and that was just not her style.
Her first husband died in 1969. She married her second husband, an actor, about the time she retired and they moved to Bad Axe, Michigan where she did volunteer work for the next several years. Her second husband encouraged her to start writing again and she came out of retirement and published the bulk of her books after reaching the age of 70. She was a true technophobe — she wrote many of her books in longhand and then gave them to the typist. She never moved beyond a basic mechanical typewriter. She was more interested in her characters than in solving mysteries and admitted it and with the success of her books she started a trend that changed the mystery market.
She modeled her fictional town, Pickax, after Bad Axe, Michigan where she lived until the mid-eighties. If you’ve ever read any of her books, you can see that many of the stories and situations come from her experience on the newspaper. She actually did have a siamese cat who died at a young age under mysterious circumstances. It fell out of a ten story window and Ms. Braun was told by a neighbor that it had been pushed. She based one of her short stories on that incident. She did most of her writing from her retirement home in Tryon, North Carolina — a place she discovered while she was working on a story for the Free Press.
Her final years sound difficult. For the last several years of her life she and her husband didn’t have cats. She was given a siamese kitten which kept getting underfoot and after Ms. Braun tripped several times, it went back to live in Atlanta with the fan who had given it. Her older cat had to be put down. Ms. Braun’s health suffered and she developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and became so weak that she could no longer write after 2007 when her last book, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, was published.
I was fairly critical of this last book in a previous post (see Farewell to ‘The Cat Who…”) and I still stand by my opinion, but I think I better understand what was going on. I think that Ms. Braun knew that her time was limited and that she was trying to tie up loose ends, to get her characters and their lives settled. Her husband, Earl Bettinger, said that her one regret was that she was unable to finish her last novel, The Cat Who Smelled Smoke.
I hope that her characters, along with their author, will be left in peace. It would be a shame if anyone else tried to finish the book in her absence. She was a terrific storyteller and a great talent as well as an interesting and intelligent woman. May she rest in peace.