Death Lit: Down and Out in Sweden

And yes, I keep chugging along with reviews on the side. This somewhat recent one is close enough to the wording I turned in to qualify for a link.

Someone did sub in the term “mean streets” in place of my original bit: “Richly detailed, drenched in sweat, a landscape with street names such as Ynglingagatan and Biblioteksgatan where starving dogs hopelessly meander. . . .” But I think I was messing with them. Ynglingagatan. Give me a break. A whole book with names like that? Jeez.

But of course I frequently use the term “mean streets” in the reviews, so the sub-in flows. I’m not saying every review where you see “mean streets” might have me behind it, or even every review that references Charles Willeford, but I bet there’s more than a 50/50 chance.

Posted in Boxing, Lit | Tagged |

Rediscovered: Correctomundo Once More

Ah. And I am proven correct yet again.

Most recently, you may recall the post I did largely on the topic of Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright where I noted —reviving the term from a debate in the letters column of The Cimmerian — that finally Farny got “shitcanned” from the job.

One younger guy poking around in this same literary history wrote to ask if I had any proof that in fact Farny was fired. And I told him, honestly, no — or not that I could place hands on, some Pink Slip hidden away in a file. But I may well have gotten the impression from the many hours of conversation I had with Donald Wandrei or possibly E. Hoffmann Price — still, no Pink Slip.

No, my call was strictly litcrit — what I am known for, after all — where the circumstances and psychology are weighed, and after processing in the old dome, bingo. I have thought for many years that Wright was fired. Seems obvious enough.

And, I told the guy, if I don’t have any hard “proof” that Farny was fired, did he have any proof that he was not fired?

He said he’d keep an eye peeled, and just let me know the other day about this quote from a letter Otto Binder sent to Jack Darrow, March 10 1940, which is referenced in John Locke’s The Thing’s Incredible! The Secret Origins of Weird Tales — as I skimmed rapidly through that book I had missed it.

Otto Binder (pronounced Bender) was an active pulp fictioneer in that era, Adam Link, Robot and so on, but here he comes in as an assistant in the Otis Adelbert Kline Literary Agency. He said:

Wright was cold-bloodedly fired from Weird Tales, because of circulation drop. It’s being carried on by McIlwraith. Wright is hit pretty hard, and our gang has pledged to boycott the mag. If Wright succeeds in getting another publisher interested in backing a new weird mag, we’ll submit only to him. It’s all we can do for one of the best and most liked editors in our field. With Wellman, Kuttner, Hamilton, Quinn, Williamson, and others not submitting to Weird, I’m thinking McIlwraith will have to print blank pages.

I think that quote is blunt enough most people ought to understand it. Fired. Cold-bloodedly. After relocating from Chicago to New York for the job.

Of course, where exactly the Kline Agency might have sold the fiction their clients were aiming toward Weird Tales is a big question. I believe that the vast bulk of Seabury Quinn’s vasty bulk of pulp writing hit print in Weird Tales, so in that scenario would Quinn have gone along with the plot or broken ranks? Yet another tantalizing What If! scenario.

Wright hesitated to use new and longer fiction by H. P. Lovecraft, so HPL lost steam, so HPL wasn’t making extra money for food, and so he died in 1937 of intestinal cancer.  A few tweaks to the timeline and Farny could have had HPL spearheading a legion of young apprentices in the pulp — which he was doing already by the mid-30s. Robert Bloch. Kuttner. Fritz Leiber was about to jump in, too. I wonder what that crew might have done if Lovecraft had lived, given what they did do?

Perhaps Wright wouldn’t have been unceremoniously kicked to the kerb.

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Rediscovered: Dime Novel Westerns

Before Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan, dime novel writers created the Wild West, or big chunks of it.

Our pal Nathan Ward just did a survey of that scene, and writes: “Thought you might be amused by some of the dark set-pieces I dug up for this story on the dangers for Easterners looking to find the dime novel West.”

He also notes, “(Subhead not mine.)”

Check it out.

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Rediscovered: Further ERBivoring

Kevin Cook, noted pulp and book collector, chimes in with some comments on Edgar Rice Burroughs: “Unless you have a fortune hidden away somewhere, I would vote against dropping all the other authors you collect in favor of ERB as you jokingly suggested on the blog.

“Just purchasing the October 1912 issue of All-Story and a first edition of Tarzan of the Apes in dust jacket will probably run you $100,000 if you want quality copies. Of course, a first with a facsimile jacket and an All-Story replica will cost about $99,999 less!

“The most successful ‘imitator’ of Tarzan was William L. Chester with his Kioga novels, especially the first two, Hawk of the Wilderness and Kioga of the Wilderness. In fact, the honest truth is that Chester was a better writer than Burroughs.

“I do not know what Lupoff stated in his talk, but to my mind the first Tarzan imitation was ‘Polaris of the Snows,’ the polar Tarzan, by Charles B. Stilson. Polaris debuted in All-Story in December 1915, just three years after Tarzan first appeared. (But, Stilson is famous for so disliking the ending of Tarzan of the Apes that he wrote his own ending to the novel.)”

Now that the topic comes up again, I believe Lupoff’s goal was to find Tarzan clones that otherwise he didn’t mention in his book Master of Adventure — something like that.  In any case, one way or another we can be sure the clones were practically dropping out of the trees.

I actually mentioned one in my talk about ERB and Robert E. Howard. Never published professionally. Norris Chambers in an interview mostly about REH said that he had done his own Tarzan variant as a teenager, but in his scenario the hero was raised — not by apes or wolves — but by whales.

I believe my comment was: “That’s different!”

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Rediscovered: ERBivores on the Prod

On Saturday the 11th I made a run up to Folsom to do a little talk for a gathering of Edgar Rice Burroughs fans, assembled for North Coast Mangani III (aka NCM3). Thomas Krabacher talked me into it, figuring I could handle the assignment. The artist guest-of-honor was Thomas Yeates — some Tarzan, Swamp Thing, currently doing Prince Valiant — the image above from a Dark Horse comics gig where Tarzan rips things up with a tommy gun. Richard A. Lupoff was the author guest-of-honor, and wouldn’t require any introduction in that crowd — he’s done ERB stuff since the 1960s, in addition to mucho science fiction, radio — a fixture for decades. 

On the drive up I was chatting with Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes and he mentioned that Burroughs wasn’t that important to him, and then spent an hour talking ERB.  In particular he said he’d like to have War Chief and Apache Devil in the 1960s Ballantines to read. ERB did saddle-up in the hunt for Geronimo, years before he turned to writing. Morgan remembered those covers and had never read them. I picked up the pair in the dealers room — I don’t think I read them back in the day, either, though must have knocked down close to fifty Burroughs books. Or more.

Yeates did a talk with slideshow on a future-history Tarzan plot he did, set in a flooded London, with descendants of Hippies one major surviving faction of humanity vs. the forces of oligarchs. Deciding to have Tarzan popping around with a Thompson proved to be bad timing, since the Aurora shootings occurred near the release date. He left to do Prince Valiant and the next guy got to illustrate a sequence about growing vegetables.

I held down the next hour of programming, talking initially about ERB and his influence on Robert E. Howard, how many Burroughs titles REH had in his personal library, that sort of thing — eventually getting off into all kinds of pulp and film stuff, even the Continental Op.

Lupoff came next, apologizing for his current rasping quiet voice against his mellifluous tones of yesteryear. His topic was surveying the multi-year gaps between the appearance in print of Tarzan clones, when you’d think there’d be dozens — and there might well be dozens, except he hasn’t found them. Lupoff mentioned his findings might see print in an upcoming issue of The Burroughs Bibliophile.

My memory — I didn’t take notes — is that it jumped from the first Tarzan in 1912 to the next thing many years later, 1923, then a jump to circa 1932, then 1936, then the 40s and then the 50s.

The adventures of Ki-Gor in the pulp Jungle Stories became the most prolific, with some 59 novellas — or “short novels” for purposes of pulp publication. I’m guessing the Ki-Gors run less than half the length of a Tarzan novel, but since you have 59 Ki-Gors against 24 Tarzans by Burroughs, I think the word count might come out close to even.

But then, you have One Man vs. the Legion.

One man: Edgar Rice Burroughs. The legion: the group of house writers churning out copy for Jungle Stories.

It’s usually observed that today the average age for bigtime ERB fans tops 70, so I am closing in. Give me a few years. I did have the thought that maybe I ought to clear other stuff  — Hammett, Machen, Starrett, Haefele, Clark Ashton Smith, The James Gang and the rest — off the shelves and go full Apeman. 

ERB can fill up a lot of shelf space.

Posted in Lit, News, REH | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Tour: Summer & Fall 2019

Shot above: leading the pack across the intersection of Post and Hyde Streets during the tour by appointment for Sisters in Crime, August 5, 2017.

Let’s say you’ve had the Hammett Tour on your bucket list for awhile, or you want to take it again after 20 or 30 years to see if it’s still any good. If so, the walk will meet Sundays at noon in front of 870 Market:

May 19 and 26.

June 9 and 23 and 30.

July 14 and 28.

August 11 and 25.

September 8 and 15.

October 6 and 13 and 20 and 27.

Three hours. A couple of miles. $20 per person.

After October the winter rains ought to come drifting in, so I’ll play it by ear from that point on — until next spring and summer.

Posted in Frisco, Tour | Tagged , , |

Rediscovered: On a Postcard, Halloween 1944

Brian Leno reports in bright and early from behind the lines, after another raid on his autograph collection:

“Was going to send you this image sometime back, but never got around to doing it.

“Sorry about the blurry picture — it’s under glass and that’s never a good thing when it comes to scanning.”

Brian says he got the postcard “mainly because of the Francis X. Bushman autograph, as I also picked up a Ramon Novarro signature at the same time. Put them both together and you’ve got Ben-Hur.”

The 1925 silent Ben-Hur, of course. Chariots by Canutt (who stepped back in to give Chuck Heston a boost in the remake).

“That’s Bushman’s feet at the top,” Brian reveals, “couldn’t scan the whole thing.”

“But I figured you might get a kick out of the Ricardo Cortez auto. The original cinematic Sam Spade, no less, and a lot cheaper than a Bogart.

“The other signatures, Marsha Hunt I remember mainly from a Gunsmoke episode ‘The Glory and the Mud’ — Jay Kirby was in a few Hopalong Cassidy movies.”

From the most casual net research I don’t see any 1944 film projects that would have brought those names together, so guess that someone hauled the card around for scrawls before winging it off to the Bronx.

Postmarked Halloween, the City of Angels.

Kind of interesting that Novarro would be murdered “Halloween eve,” October 30, 1968. Jeez, maybe I ought to get into numerology. . . .

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , , |

Hammett: Jeopardy! Watch

They haven’t been dropping Hammett clews on Jeopardy! recently, although I did notice another Lovecraft item with a mention of Cthulhu — could old HPL be easing out Hammett as the show’s new go-to pulp-era writer?

Nathan Ward has been holding down a stakeout, too, and notes: “I have kept track of Jeopardy! and I don’t believe the super competitor has been challenged yet on his Hammett knowledge.”

At the moment a guy now nicknamed “Jeopardy James” is having a record-breaking run and has knocked over a million-plus in winnings.

Nathan says, “Maybe that will be his undoing” and suggests this clew:

This portly sleuth worried about going blood simple.

Yeah, that could stop your typical Jeopardy! contestant like a dum-dum through the pump. 

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Hammett: And Fechheimer

Got a note in from Nathan Ward commenting on the death of P.I. David Fechheimer

“Here is my Hammett-related obit that was picked up in Crimereads.

“Just repaying a debt.

“Too bad that guy never wrote his book.

“I had the same feeling Terry did that the Times obit missed the Hammettish core of Fechheimer’s contribution.

“Also, I don’t put too much stock in those old Esquire quotes. David said he was not converted in one night by reading Falcon to run to the phone in the morning and call the Pinks, but writers loved the romantic story, so it passed on from profile to profile down the years.

“As for Spade sleeping with his client, I have always assumed he did it partly to get her key from her and check her room.

“A job-related sacrifice.”    

Posted in Dash, Frisco | Tagged , , , |

Rediscovered: John D. Haefele on the History of Arkham House

Our resident expert in everything Arkham returns to review a new (if repurposed) book on the fabled press. John D. Haefele certainly burst fully-formed on the scene with his A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos, but he’s done a ton of stuff on the subject, most recently a run of articles appearing in Crypt of Cthulhu. See his Amazon page for a thorough list of books, chapbooks, monographs, web and print surveys. He knows the turf.

Take it away, John:

The introduction to S. T. Joshi’s Eighty Years of Arkham House: A History and Bibliography, released in 2019 by his own imprint, the Sarnath Press, concludes with this positive note:

Arkham House remains the most significant small press in the history of weird fiction, and its legacy remains imperishable. It has inspired legions of other small presses to take up the work of publishing the leading luminaries in this field, and for that alone it will deserve to be remembered.

Considering that Joshi at every opportunity—for more than four decades—has spent his time maligning Arkham founder August Derleth (among the legion of opinions, citing his “incompetent and error-riddled editions of Lovecraft’s work”), his current verdict for purposes of this book seems. . . perhaps “generous” is the word?

“Jarring” might be another.

In 1939 Derleth and his co-founder Donald Wandrei published the first Arkham House: The Outsider and Others, by H. P. Lovecraft, but for most of the years before his death in 1971 the press was a solo operation by August Derleth. He paid the bills—which greatly exceeded publishing income—wrote all of the promotional materials, did bookkeeping, shipping and handling of orders. His vision initiated all of the innovations and successes for which Joshi praises the publishing firm in his nine-page introduction.

During his tenure, Derleth launched two additional imprints that complimented Arkham House: Mycroft & Moran and Stanton & Lee. Taken together, the books published with Derleth at the helm—what we Arkham collectors refer to as the Classic Era—dwarf everything that came after his death, often dubbed the Modern Years.

Derleth, of course, set down the template for this book in Thirty Years of Arkham House (1970), where he covered 125 items. Joshi was hired to do Sixty Years of Arkham House (1999) as a further authorized bibliography for the press, which incorporated the entirety of the previous book and followed Derleth to the letter—and added the roughly one hundred titles released during the intervening years. (It’s too bad Joshi didn’t wait out the next decade this time to do the more perfectly apposite Ninety Years of Arkham House.)

The effort Joshi put into this new book, however, seems to be wanting.

After admitting the book’s “inevitable” resemblance to Sheldon Jaffery’s Arkham House Companion (1990)—one book listing the contents of an Arkham being similar to another book also listing the contents of an Arkham—Joshi reiterates from his Sixty Years preface that he compiled all information “independently.” Strangely, despite listing the book in the reference bibliography included, he doesn’t refer otherwise to Leon Nielsen’s Arkham House Books: A Collector’s Guide (2004), the most recent such reference after Sixty Years of Arkham House.

Likewise, Joshi repeats that he is the first to include the contents of the house magazine Arkham Collector (1967-70). Joshi apparently forgot that I compiled exactly the same detailed list in 1997 in The Arkham House Supplement: Bibliographical Additions, Comments, Marginalia (on pp. 82-87), right before he released Sixty Years. The Supplement was my first book, I suppose, in a run of only some 45 copies, most of them distributed to the membership of the Esoteric Order of Dagon amateur press association. Joshi was the compiler for EOD mailings at that moment, so all the submissions went through his hands.

Eighty Years picks up right where Sixty Years leaves off—yet, even including items without assigned numbers, Joshi adds to the tally of the three major Derleth imprints only 13 books.

Scarcely worth the effort.

Especially since this grand total represents only six more books than Leon Nielsen listed in his guide. Six. Nielsen’s 240 entries against Joshi’s new total of 246. Such small numerical advances hardly seem to warrant new books.

Even if Joshi did compile every iota of even his newest information “independently”—and was lucky enough Arkham House/Mycroft & Moran/Stanton & Lee managed in combination to publish 13 more books—the worth of such a bibliography is in the asides, the deep knowledge that may be imparted to the prospective Arkham House completist.

Joshi ignores most of the charming items of Arkham House ephemera, the stock lists and brochures that drummed up orders to keep the company afloat. The only published sources on these items are the 1985 chapbook The Phil Mays Collection of Arkham House Ephemerae released by the bookseller Roy Squires, and the greatly expanded “Arkham House Ephemera: A Checklist of the Classic Years” Don Herron complied for the October 2002 issue of Firsts: The Book Collectors Magazine. Any book that purports to combine history with a bibliography of Arkham House, given today’s interest in the publisher, leaves the job half done if it doesn’t include the hundreds of booklets, brochures and other advertising items, always chock-full of original “autobiographical” material in terms of the life of the press.

The closest Joshi comes to acknowledging the ephemera is the handful of pieces he incorporates into his primary Arkham list, which—unlike most printed ephemera—were issued with intentions that they would be of lasting significance, because they fulfill some sustained reader interest. Taking cues from Jaffery, Joshi includes exactly the same ones: Derleth’s bibliographical Years of Writing chapbooks, and the AH 1939-1964: 25th Anniversary booklet. Except, Joshi demotes them, removing Jaffery’s separate ID numbers.

His explanation? “Not part of the Arkham House list.” One wonders why they show up in his book, in that case.

Joshi likewise “un-numbers” Lovecraft’s Autobiography [:] Some Notes on a Nonentity, a chapbook traditionally stamped with the publisher’s imprint, and offered for sale in Arkham’s regular Stock Lists as a limited release. Neither did Derleth number this item in 1969, but Joshi misses the opportunity to delve into possible reasons.

Also lacking separate numbers are both versions of Lovecraft’s The Shunned House, an attempt made by W. Paul Cook in 1928 to release what would have been Lovecraft’s first book. The pages had been printed and organized into signatures for binding, but the project fell through. While some experts understandably relegate the unbound House signatures to a non-Arkham status, no expert worth his salt categorizes as less than full status the bound edition that has “Arkham House” printed on the spine. Derleth’s edition was the first time any of the surviving sheets were bound commercially.

Perhaps the numbering ambiguity in Sixty Years is what prompted Nielsen’s bibliography to reintroduce the numbering system favored by collectors in the field. In Eighty Years, Joshi undoes it all again. Odd for a work he claims is geared for “a wide variety of individuals, from collectors to librarians to scholars to general readers.”

Sixty Years had adequately covered the period when Jim Turner acted as editor for Akham House—Turner probably signed that book’s contract with Joshi and afforded him insider access to company records. But the more recent intervals, with Peter Ruber as editor, followed by the team of Robert E. Weinberg and George A. Vanderburgh (whose name Joshi misspells throughout), are responsible for every one of the 13 new titles we find in Eighty Years.

Not surprisingly, Joshi gives them short shrift.

Joshi’s Baker Street Irregular entry (at this writing Arkham’s last book) is complete—he identifies both limited printings, the “Presentation” and “Author’s” editions—but for Vanderburgh’s 17 lettered Shunned House Facsimile copies, each with a pasted-in pocket holding a rare unused signature from the actual 1928 printing, there’s not a word.

In addition, Joshi inexplicably assigns a single number to four different collections of Derleth’s weird tales promoted by Vanderburgh in 2009 as “The Macabre Quarto”— though not necessarily a set, each could be purchased separately. (Nor does Joshi indicate that all of the Quarto books were available in limited hardcover editions, as well as softcover.) The result of this single entry is more ambiguity. Nor is this combo-entry much different than if Joshi had included his own “pure text” series of Lovecraft volumes in the Jim Turner era as one unit, per the pre-release “The Arkham Lovecraft” hype.

Joshi listed 19 entries for Mycroft & Moran in his 1999 bibliography, which Nielsen upped to 20, which is where Joshi left it.

If he had done the homework—perhaps contacted George Vanderburgh—he could have added the ten Steve & Sim titles George published under the M&M banner 2001-2010, and even some later collections featuring Carnacki and Dupin. More than doubling the ranks of post-Sixty Years releases. One wonders how “independent” Joshi felt he had to be if he didn’t interview the last living Arkham House editor.

Stanton & Lee, alas, is more neglected. Total books add up to 16, same as in Sixty Years—same as Nielsen. And once again two S&L books from 1971 left out of Sixty Years are omitted: This Undying Quest, by Grant Hyde Code, and Night Letters, by Francis May.

Joshi is barely phoning it in. Checking the list of the “Lost” Arkhams—proposed titles that never saw print from the press—Joshi’s new list is Jaffery’s list. Both, if one looks closely, name 62 of these lost titles, if you include several titles Joshi kept from Jaffery, but only in small print and without his separate number. Besides this, Joshi finds several mainstream Derleth titles to add, but deducts an equivalent number of what he deems “minor title variants”—inconsequential categories, but which offset each other when it comes to counting.

What is consequential is that Joshi’s “Lost” list lacks important additions he should have listed, including such provocative titles as Ghost Stories by R. H. Malden, Collected Weirds by Fitz-James O’Brien, a Selected Tales of Lord Dunsany omnibus, The Gargoyle by Marjorie Bowen, and a Farrar, Straus & Young sci-fi anthology titled Morning Stars.

Personally, and making use of only published records, I could have added a baker’s dozen lost titles—at least.

And at eighty years after the birth of the press—beyond updating what was already there—why not a list of publishers that were so influenced by Arkham House they chose to carry on, for a while, where Derleth left off? Why not direct the Arkham bibliophile to Mirage, Carcosa, Whispers Press, Fedogan & Bremer, and others? One might make the case that the Joshi-affiliated Necronomicon Press and Hippocampus Press fall into this tradition.

Simple lists, easy to populate. A trove of hard data. How nice it would be to have it all in one place.

Instead, exploiting a benchmark opportunity apparently to make a buck.

Once again leveraging Derleth’s reputation.

“Arkham House remains the most significant small press in the history of weird fiction, and its legacy remains imperishable.”

At least Joshi got that part right.

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