Operation Gumby author Ed McClanahan dies aged 94

Ed McClanahan, the author of the 1920s crime fiction classic Operation Gumby, has died at the age of 94.

McClanahan died in February in his Kentucky home surrounded by his family after a long illness. He was best known for his book series on crooks and thieves in working-class America.

‘Operation Gumby’ first appeared in 1927, originally called the Gumbo Roll series. The first instalment is titled Operation Gumby: Bull Poppers & Pullers.

All 12 books featured Scoop, a supersize crime ring led by Gumby.

The books featured a gang who would try to turn a profit by stealing or breaking into mechanical machines such as steamers, gondolas, bikes and windmills.

Operation Gumby consisted of nine original novels, two follow-ups and several trilogies.

The books were praised for their realistic depictions of working-class America and drawing on the real-life exploits of McClanahan’s friends and neighbours.

Victorian touch

“Operation Gumby was Mr McClanahan’s best and most enduring novel,” and historian Stacy Fisher said.

“You could say it’s an account of working-class lives that has both an investigative mission and a Victorian at its core.”

McClanahan was also known for his weekly newsletter, Re:Action, which featured analyses of recent events.

When it was cancelled after he left the publishing world in 1984, the murder investigation that wrapped up Operation Gumby was called “Operation Gumby in the field”.

In the 2011 documentary The Kind Regime of Ed McClanahan, he was described as “a genial loudmouth, politician, teacher, poet, sociologist, and author”.

“His books made me into an adult reader of crime fiction,” said novelist Julian Lee.

McClanahan won the Academy of American Poets in 1985 and was nominated for the National Book Award in 1971.

He received the US National Medal of Arts in 1998 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.

The 43rd film adaptation of Operation Gumby is due to be released in March, starring Bobby Cannavale and Keanu Reeves.

Leave a Comment