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Stephen Fry

Character Mortdecai has much in common with creator Kyril Bonfiglioli

The indelible Charlie Mortdecai, literary offspring of the English novelist Kyril Bonfiglioli, was featured in three marvelously funny novels before his creator died, of cirrhosis, at the age of 56.

This past weekend he made the voyage from page to screen in "Mortdecai," which stars Johnny Depp in the title role.

The overlooked Bonfiglioli was a somewhat shady art dealer who came late to fiction. Born in 1928 to an Italian Slovenian father and English mother who, along with Bonfiglioli's younger brother, was killed by a German bomb during the Blitz, Bon, as he was known, lived a life dominated by drink and chaos.

Bonfiglioli joined the English army and served...