On this day in 1952, The Mousetrap, a murder-mystery play by Agatha Christie, opens in London’s West End; it will go on to have the longest initial run of any play in history, with more than 23,000 performances to date. In addition to The Mousetrap, the highly prolific Christie penned dozens of other plays, novels and stories, a number of which were adapted for television, film and radio.
Christie was born Agatha Miller on September 15, 1890, in Torquay, England. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published in 1920 and introduced Detective Hercule Poirot. The mustachioed Belgian sleuth would appear in some 30 novels, including 1926’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1934’s Murder on the Orient Express, 1937’s Death on the Nile and 1942’s Five Little Pigs. The final Poirot novel was 1975’s Curtain. On screen, a string of actors portrayed Poirot, starting with Austin Trevor in the 1931 film Alibi. Albert Finney earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Poirot in 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express. The film, which was directed by Sidney Lumet, earned a total of six Academy Award nominations and featured an all-star cast that included Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and Sean Connery. Peter Ustinov played Poirot in a half-dozen movies, including 1978’s Death on the Nile and 1988’s Appointment with Death. Since 1989, the English actor David Suchet has portrayed Christie’s fictional detective on the British TV series Poirot.
Another famous Christie creation, spinster and amateur sleuth Jane Marple, appeared in some earlier short stories but made her novel debut in The Murder at the Vicarage, first published in 1930. The tweedy Miss Marple, featured in a dozen books, first appeared on the big screen in 1962’s Murder, She Said, starring the Academy Award-winning English actress Margaret Rutherford. Angela Lansbury took on the roll of Miss Marple in 1980’s The Mirror Crack’d, which co-starred Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Lansbury went on to star as the crime-solving mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, a character reportedly inspired in part by Miss Marple, in the popular TV series Murder, She Wrote, which originally aired from 1984 to 1996. Helen Hayes and Joan Hickson are among the other actresses to play Miss Marple.
The acclaimed big-screen adaptations of Christie’s work that featured characters other than Poirot and Marple include 1957’s suspenseful courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution, directed by Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard) and starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton. The film received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
Dubbed the “Queen of Crime,” Agatha Christie was one of the top-selling writers in history. She died at the age of 85 on January 12, 1976.