Philip Marlowe might not have had a secretary, but Sam Spade knew better. Who else do you trust to bring you the dingus but your loyal secretary? Who else can you depend on to fend off inconvenient lovers or nasty cops, and deal with dead ship captains?
Dashiell Hammett’s Effine Perrine is just one of mystery’s famous characters who happens to be a secretary. It is impossible to think of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason without Della Street. No matter what the danger, be it in books, radio, movies, or television, we knew Della would be at Perry’s side when he needed her.
Where would Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe be without Archie Goodwin? Not having a beer while he tends to his orchids, that’s for sure. Though the most popular PI “legman” might be Sam from TV’s Richard Diamond, Private Detective in the late 1950s (Sam was portrayed by Mary Tyler Moore’s legs), Archie is mystery’s most famous legman. But Archie is more than just a legman he also answers the phone, takes notes during meetings with clients and suspects, does the books, and handles the running of Wolfe’s office.
Archie Goodwin is a fine example of how complex the job of secretary can be. It is more than typing, taking dictation, and fetching coffee. No wonder that in fine mystery tradition the “secretary” has been known by any number of names, from the typewriter girls of the late 1800s to today’s Administrative Professional.
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