"Topper" by Thorne Smith

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Cosmo Topper, nearing 40, functions staunchly as a banking officer in the big city, and a volunteer fireman in the little town where he lives. But then he buys a used and infamous car, comes under the delinquent influence of a couple of ghosts, and goes on an extended debauch in this charming 1920s classic.

Topper (1926) is widely credited with establishing the current comic thread in treatment of ghosts. It led directly to the 1937 movie of the same name, starring Cary Grant, and the 1950s TV series, starring Leo G. Carroll. It led hardly less directly to endless TV and movie treatments too numerous to name. The ghost comedy, with all its permutations, is a hardy staple, with us to this day.

It’s easy to see why this slender work has all the credit. One could call it a harmless fantasy of rebellion, except that Topper doesn’t come out of it unscathed. He has frequent – near daily – hangovers, spends one night in jail that we know of,
and flees the law through unfamiliar wildernesses in the wee hours, on numerous occasions. All through this, he tries without success to explain or hide, the boisterous and mischievous behavior of his ghost friends. His head, his liver, and his reputation all take a beating, and he winds up crashing the car and nearly dying.

But Mr. Topper’s near-fatal vacation expands his life, his opinions, and his social experience. He becomes enamored with, and loses forever, the comely and obliging Marion Kerby, but emerges with a renewed appreciation of his wife. This engaging, light piece completely deserves its place as the seminal ghost comedy. Pick it up and be charmed, like generations of readers before you.