Sinister Cinema: Coop for the Star

Evan Lewis, excavating the newsprint of yesteryear, just put up a clump of news items on who was going to star in the first movie version of Hammett’s The Glass Key.

Gary Cooper was the first choice for Ned Beaumont. But ultimately he wasn’t the only possible Ned Beaumont.

Or the final Ned Beaumont.

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Sinister Cinema: Perry Palms Pulps; or, Mason Manhandles Magazines

Another installment of the epic run of Pulps in the Movies. On Sale Every Wednesday. Brought to you by that renowned and eagle-eyed pulp expert John Locke.

In this Case of the Curious Lawyer, however, we’re easing over from actual movies into TV — though we’re sticking to moving images with pulps in them. Movies, TV, if you’re watching something on your phone, what’s the difference, right?

And now, John Locke with the argument for the defense:

Here’s Raymond Burr as the immortal lawyer Perry Mason in the original TV series. The episode was “The Case of the Bigamous Spouse,” airdate November 14, 1963 — in those halcyon days before the JFK assassination when killers had tangible motives, and before the Beatles ruined popular music for the Pat Boones of the world.

Mason was the creation of Erle Stanley Gardner, who started selling to the pulps in 1921. He was a regular in Black Mask from 1924-43, with his stories of Ed Jenkins, the Phantom Crook, and numerous other characters. Mason never appeared in Black Mask, though. A higher-class character, his exploits were published in hardbound from 1933 into the Sixties. Occasionally, he was serialized in Liberty or the Saturday Evening Post.

In this scene from “Bigamous Spouse,” Mason explores an abandoned dwelling looking for clues and finds a large quantity of old western pulps. Being a highly inquisitive but generally unhip officer of the court, he naturally flips the mags over to marvel at the pocket-watch ad on a back cover.

The visible cover is the August 2 1942 issue of Ranch Romances. The issue dates from a brief period when the logo was red-on-white versus its more common white-on-red.

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Frisco Beat: Working the Hammett Hangout in the Days of Coronavirus

A.k.a. not working.

Just heard a GoFundMe page is up for the employees of John’s Grill, 63 Ellis Street, where Sam Spade grabs a meal in The Maltese Falcon.

Tide them over until those noir doors open again.

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Rediscovered: In the Annals of Sword-and-Sorcery

Brian Leno, trapped in his Last Redoubt in Bismarck, North Dakota, nonetheless managed to pop a review to me in my Last Redoubt — the good old sanctum sanctorum — which I’ll toss out to people stuck in their Last Redoubts everywhere.

If you don’t understand casual refs such as “Carter and de Camp,” I’d hope the book under review covers such things.

Here’s Brian:


When I was young I read everything I could find on ancient civilizations. Edith Hamilton, with her books on the great mythological hero-warriors, only furthered my desire to read of fabled, half-forgotten kingdoms that never were, but should have been.

So, around 1966, when I discovered Robert E. Howard and Conan through the Lancer paperbacks, it was apparent to my youthful mind that truly I had been born at the right time.

This Sword-and-Sorcery was really something. A literary world ablaze with eons-old crumbling cities where necromancers dwelt in sorcery-filled lairs, spinning ancient spells. Deadly trouble for the barbarian who would invade their territory, undoubtedly on a quest to pilfer some fabulous jewel or rescue some half-naked maiden who would sooner or later show a great deal of appreciation.

Of course it wasn’t long before I discovered that some Sword-and-Sorcery was stale beer compared to Howard’s dark ale.

I bought a lot of paperbacks in those years, but it would have cost a fortune to purchase everything. I’ve always wanted to see a decently written history of Sword-and-Sorcery that might lead me to books I should have read but missed.

Enter Brian Murphy and his recently published Flame and Crimson: A History of Sword-and-Sorcery. A fellow alumni of that most literate of journals devoted to Howard, The Cimmerian, I was pretty sure his book would be a worthwhile catch.

Unfortunately Flame and Crimson started slow for me. Murphy understandably focused on the life of Howard and while it was completely necessary for the purpose of his book, I’m sure any hardcore Howard fan has seen it all before. Still, if you need a refresher course on REH, Murphy does a good job on the summing up.

Murphy also devoted a rather long section to the debating of the merits of the Civilization versus Barbarism correspondence between H. P. Lovecraft and Howard which, again, was too familiar territory.

For me, Murphy really started to hit his stride when he began concentrating on writers such as Michael Moorcock and Fritz Leiber and Karl Edward Wagner. Everyone should be well aware of the importance of these authors to the history of Sword-and-Sorcery — and here Murphy shined, presenting some new and interesting details that I hadn’t seen covered before.

While I had certainly read my share of S&S, by the beginning of the eighties I’d had my fill of the same old, same old. Instead of Steak and Potatoes, writers were starting to deliver Spam and Mustard. And so I was done with what was once my favorite reading material.

Just at the time I was giving up, Murphy, almost twenty years younger than me, came on the scene through the Marvel Conan comic books, and this time period appears to be where his knowledge is deepest, and his presentation on the years of “rebirth” was especially interesting to me.

Interesting enough that I’m going to give up my self-imposed exile from S&S and do some fantasy exploration starting with David Gemmell and Glen Cook, two authors who,  I’m ashamed to say, I’ve never read. And so Murphy’s history does exactly what every book should do — it makes you want to read more. He went fishing. This reviewer swallowed the bait.

I’ve continued to read and reread some Howard every year since I found him in 1966. His decadent cities and scheming sorcerers have never grown old for me. Hopefully I’ll find some new and deadly ancient ruins populated by necromancers with almost unpronounceable names in my upcoming literary journeys. 

It should be noted that I purchased the Kindle edition of the book and found that the editing, and proofreading, could have been better. Clifford Ball, author of “Duar the Accursed,” is listed as “Henry Ball” and, at one point, Murphy writes of Frazetta’s cover for the Lancer edition of Conan the Barbarian. He, of course, meant Conan the Adventurer. Obviously he knows better, so I’m guessing hasty proofreading.

One further point. Absent from this book is any mention of David Mason, one of my favorites in those early days. His Kavin’s World is a classic and seems to be now somewhat overlooked, which is a pity.

Perhaps, if Murphy writes a second book on Sword-and-Sorcery,  he could include Mason, who makes Carter and de Camp look like second raters — which of course is exactly what they were.

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Rediscovered: Even in Bismarck

Yep, no one better positioned to appreciate the COVID-19 outbreak than science fiction fans. It’s like living the la vida loca of a Zombie Apocalypse without the severe downside of rampaging zombies.

But I would have thought if anyone I know was more or less removed from the action, it would be Brian Leno up in Bismarck, North Dakota. The hinterlands. The whole state has less people than the pop of San Francisco.

Brian reports in from the front lines:

Well, Don, two confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Burleigh County,  which is where the teeming metropolis of Bismarck is located.

So I sauntered to the grocery store to stock up on supplies and while I was looking at the ground beef I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned to find Chuck Heston standing next to me.

“Soylent Green is people,” he whispered to me.

I looked at the slip on my hamburger and, sure enough, it read “ground chuck.”

Just as I put the meat in my cart I heard someone yell that he was selling a book.

“To Serve Man!” he kept screaming and some toothless old fart yelled out “Don’t buy it! It’s a cookbook! It’s a cookbook!”

Once I got home I went for a walk and got stopped by a patrol car, whose driver looked a lot like Ray Bradbury. He asked my name and what was I doing outside when the county was on lock down.

“Just walking,” I said, “Just walking.”

“Just walking, Mr. Leno, just walking?” I nodded my head and he switched off the headlights which had been glaring into my face. He told me to get home and go into isolation.

No kidding, this junk ran through my mind today while shopping and walking. The shelves were bare, no milk, no eggs, no bread. It was like a scene from a science fiction movie or story.

Another confirmed case in Morton County, right across the river.

A voice, just before it goes dark. . . .

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Sinister Cinema: Breezy Bombshell

Another exciting installment in that argosy of adventure, Pulps in the Movies! On Sale Every Wednesday. Your expedition leader, as usual, none other than pulp expert John Locke, here to report:

Blonde bombshell Jean Harlow (1911-1937) left us too soon, only age 26, but not before flashing the May 1933 Breezy Stories.

Her Ruby Adams may be trying to impress con-man Slim (Garry Owen) who seems more interested in igniting the cig which is pointing, more or less, toward his final destination.

The film was Hold Your Man, which premiered in New York City on June 30, 1933, a mere three months after that issue of Breezy first hit the newsstands.

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Tour: The Germ’s Afoot

Man! Look at all those people who could have been giving me coronavirus — or vice versa — except it was back in August 5, 2017 on a tour by appointment with Sisters in Crime, and I doubt any of us were thinking we’d be jumped by a global pandemic any time soon.

Personally, I’m not particularly worried about it, but everybody else seems to be. Libraries closing, music festivals unplugged — the entire Bay Area as of today on mandatory lock down for a few weeks. Jeez.

Guess I won’t be doing walks in the immediate future. Can’t honestly say they are essential services — fun, sure, but not essential. (I wasn’t thinking about doing much if anything before May, in any case).

The backup plans of being forced to hole up in my lair, binge-watching shows month after month, poking around on various writing and editing projects — I’d be doing that anyway.

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Rediscovered: More on Collecting Haefele

Ah, my mention last October of Lloyd Currey not having seen the true first of John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos has shaken up the valuation on the title and seems to have pried a couple of copies out of hiding and onto the block.

In November two copies of the first edition hardcover showed up on Amazon. One came with the price tag of $150 — the other $286.99. That was when I first noticed on November 9th.

November 17 the prices were $150 and $343.01. November 24 back to the first prices I saw. February 15, $150 and $459.25. Today I see it’s $150 and $184.39.

I can’t say that these offers are for actual books, especially with the wildly varying algorithm-driven pricing on the second copy. (Could they be trying to rope someone into ordering, THEN they think they’ll just find a copy somewhere? Ha!)

I think it’s safe to say that someone got the message.

(And as always in the book collecting hunt, if you can bag one cheap, good for you. Skill. Patience. You know the drill.)

And now Haefele has almost talked himself into the idea that his first book was not his first book. We were figuring his maiden booklet was the bibliography of August Derleth he did in an edition of 100 copies for The Cimmerian Press in 2006, but lately he’s thinking he sprang much earlier, in 1997 with another booklet, The Arkham House Supplement: Bibliographical Additions, Comments, Marginalia.

“The Supplement was my first book, I suppose,” Haefele ruminates, “in a run of only some 45 copies, most of them distributed to the membership of the Esoteric Order of Dagon amateur press association.”

Sure, forty-five copies, a hundred copies — plenty to go around, right?

And while I again touch on the subject, check out one of the Currey blurbs for Haefele’s history and checklist on the topic of Modern Arkham House ephemera:

* Haefele, John D. “Arkham House Ephemera: The Modern Years.” In: Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine. September-October 2019 (volume 29, number 9-10), pp. 24-32. A checklist is scheduled to appear in the November-December 2019 issue. There was an earlier article in Firsts on Arkham House ephemera (in the October 2002 issue) which I can’t lay my hands on to verify at this moment.

The 2002 bit of course was something I did — but here’s the thing: Currey loaned me his entire sales stock of the ephemera to check for unknown items at the time. I was half-shocked he’d misplaced the issue. Currey was in the thick of the action.

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Rediscovered: Arkham House Ephemera Back on the Block

In the last month or so bidding on items of Arkham House ephemera on eBay has been hot and heavy. The other day I popped a note to my ephemera collecting bud John D. Haefele and reported: “To my surprise the Item on the block today — no. 82 — roped in $127.50 (we’re rich!).”

The item number refers to my list of Classic Arkham ephemera in Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine back in October 2002. No. 82 is a one page announcement for the then new little magazine The Arkham Collector (but at least it features printing on both sides).

I didn’t jump in with a bid, because I have it — and in better condition than the one offered. (Though truth to tell, I’m not that picky about condition — with the ephemera, you take what you can find, and I actually kind of like the ones marked up by Derleth at Arkham or even annotated by the individual collectors of yesteryear. I say as much in Firsts.)

Haefele responded to the news: “That’s amazing — ridiculous actually — thankfully I have one that came with my subscription to the Arkham Collector that began with the first issue. If my notes are correct, this insert first appeared as part of the Collector bundle beginning with the second issue — sent then to everybody — after that only to new purchasers that were starting with a later issue.”

Another Item just went on the block (No. 83 if you want to check) — blurbed as “uncommon,” but I don’t know. I’ve got FIVE copies. I wonder how many Haefele has?

All the action prompted a prowl through my holdings again, where I surprised myself discovering I have two of Item 68 (the 25th anniversary booklet) and three of Item 74. I knew I had one each, somehow had never marked down the dupes.

I even got up enough steam to reread Haefele’s recent Firsts article on the Modern Ephemera and look through that stuff, too.

I’d half-forgotten the page plugging Frank Belknap Long’s biography of Lovecraft, which I got from Harry O. Morris Jr. of Nyctalops fame. The Classic Era stuff that came from HOM is especially appealing, because he kept the various Items inside the original envelopes that Derleth sent them in. Very cool.

I thought some of you might like a look at the Long Item. You won’t find it on Haefele’s checklist of the Modern Ephemera, because it is not a piece of official in-house Arkham publicity. Looks to be something Long threw together himself to promote the book for the release in 1975. Haefele covers the saga of that title’s delays and problems in his article.

I guess — if you’re ambitious, or merely crazy — you could begin a collection of such things, side-promos from Arkham authors. I know Donald Sidney-Fryer did a bookmark to celebrate the release of his 1971 volume Songs and Sonnets Atlantean.

That’s two.

How many more?

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Sinister Cinema: An Oscar-Winning Pulp Reader

Pulps in the Movies. On Sale Every Wednesday. Brought to you by that expert pulp hound John Locke.

Take it away, John:

Who knew you could win an Oscar for reading a pulp mag on screen?

But here is Tatum O’Neal doing exactly that in Paper Moon (1973), playing Addie while con-man Moses Pray (played by Tatum’s real-life father Ryan O’Neal) — not having a pulp of his own — looks on, bored.

Tatum, who was ten, is still the youngest person ever to win an Oscar.

The pulp is the December 1931 Clues, with a cover by Wesso. Addie appears to be reading “The Better Half,” a short story by crime-fiction writer Milo Ray Phelps.

The screen story is set in 1936, so, for us purists the use of a 1931 magazine totally destroys the willing suspension of disbelief.

But there’s no arguing with the Academy.

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