Yesterday a Hammett clew made a reprise appearance on Jeopardy! as they mined their archives to fill in the weeks of summer with From the Vault: Million Dollar Masters.
If I heard right, this tournament rounding up previous champions was the first time the show offered a purse of one million dollars for the winner. When the episode originally aired on May 8, 2002, that was pretty serious money. Not bad today, but you can do better.
In the Jeopardy! Round, $1000 clew in the category Strain Thy Brain:
In the 16th C., it was the unusual annual rent paid by the Knights of Malta to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V
Man. Talk about easy.
Not one of the three eggheads of yesteryear buzzed in with a guess!
A look of disappointment seemed to cross Alex Trebek’s face.
He gave them the info: “And that was. . . the real Maltese Falcon.”
Brian Leno noticed a copy of my 1984 litcrit anthology on Robert E. Howard — The Dark Barbarian — on the block at eBay for $150 or make an offer. Hunt around and you can find copies much cheaper, but those copies are not this copy, inscribed to Ted Schulz in the year of publication.
Ted was a bigwig Sherlockian in the Bay Area, and in that era in the early 1980s I often attended meetings of the local Baker Street Irregulars club, known by the handle The Scowrers and the Molly Maguires (if memory serves). Ted was ex-military and used his connections to host meetings in the old Officers Club in Fort Mason.
I said at the time— and still think — that Ted must have been the nicest guy I ever met. He radiated niceness.
He was, however, a crummy driver (like many guys I’ve encountered from the military). Made me nervous as hell. Clutching the seat with clawed fingers stuff.
Once we were heading to SFO to pick someone up — I think it was Jon Lellenberg. Jon was another bigtime Holmesian, from around D.C, I think — some sort of government work, the detail I remember was that he had just spent a few weeks or months at the Arctic Circle staring down the throat of “the Russian Bear.” Another nice guy. Hosted a Bouchercon once. You may have seen his name recently because John D. Haefele singles him out in his Firsts article on modern Arkham House ephemera as the author of what — currently — is the final book published under the Arkham banner: Baker Street Irregular.
So, we drifted toward SFO with Ted at the wheel, just poking along, wandering across lanes, and finally I couldn’t take it any more and said something like, “Jeez, Ted, you drive like a mother-in-law.”
Ted took his eyes off the road and just beamed at me.
Autograph Hound Saturday once again. Kind of snuck up on me.
I mentioned the other week that Brian Leno has been collecting signatures like hell recently — on top of collecting like hell his whole life — and he’s here today to unholster a few new items from his horde of John Hancocks:
I’ve been going a little nuts lately with the autographs, Don.
Got Freddie Mills in the mail yesterday.
Picked up a Delos Lovelace, the guy who wrote the movie adaptation of King Kong back in the thirties, and on the same theme I got Helen Mack, the lady from Son of Kong — she also starred in She, alongside Randolph Scott.
I’m waiting for a Malcolm McDowell signed 8×10 from A Clockwork Orange.
Also picked up a Frank E. Schoonover auto — did the great dust jacket for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. Tough to find at a decent price.
Right now I have my beady eyes on Valerie Hobson, Baroness Frankenstein from The Bride of Frankenstein. She was married to John Profumo — remember him and the big political sex scandal in England in the sixties?
For all you sports fans I picked up some handwriting examples of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Nothing major there, but they will do until I can grab their autographs, which because they are so goddamned expensive, could take a while.
The boxer in the shot above of course is Freddie Mills. The Secret Life of Freddie Mills, by Michael Litchfield, is a very good book and I recommend it. Litchfield delves into all the murky business of Freddie and the infamous Kray Brothers, and the Jack the Stripper case. How much is believable is up to the reader.
And speaking of the Krays I received Reg Kray’s A Way of Life in the mail today from the U.K. I was told it was signed and I took the seller’s word for it and let that be a lesson to me. It looks like an authentic signature, but when it’s compared to other copies of the same book it’s revealed to be a facsimile.
I should have tracked down other “signed” copies and I’d have seen right away what it was. I didn’t do my homework on that one, which I usually do.
Let my guard down and got banged with a left hook.
Still it was cheap enough that I won’t kick up a fuss. Live and learn, and I’m sure the book will still be an interesting one.
I’ve never read Hugh Pendexter, but Robert E. Howard did.
In a 1931 letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Howard heaps praise onto Pendexter’s “Devil’s Brew,” a two-part serial that had appeared that year in the pages of Adventure.
The Texas author liked it so much he informed Lovecraft that he was going to mail the two issues to him, so he could judge for himself.
Obviously he valued the opinion of the Gentleman from Providence.
Lovecraft replied favorably upon the pulp tale, and Howard was pleased. Always nice to have a friend confirm our own literary tastes.
Pendexter, one of the giants of Adventure, is not read so much today. He didn’t write about barbarians battling sorcery or multi-tentacled creatures arising from dark oceans.
Instead, Pendexter wrote historical fiction, books about the taming of the American Frontier, and these types of yarns just aren’t much in favor with the readers of today.
But back in his time he must have been something, filling the pages of Adventure with stories so strongly based in truth that, for the edification of his readers, he would list the books or articles he had used during the creation of his story.
Here is his autograph, in a battered copy of Gentlemen of the North, which had appeared in Adventure in 1919. He signed it on November 2, 1931 in his hometown of Norway, Maine. A very nice example of his penmanship, even if a couple of letters are a trifle smudged.
His signature isn’t common but I have come across a few books that he inscribed, and so far they all have one thing in common. They’re all beat to crap, as if they went a few rounds with Rocky Marciano.
Either his books were tossed aside and not regarded highly — or conversely they were valued greatly, and read again and again.
I think it’s the latter of those two, and for proof we can look at the March 20, 1926 issue of Adventure from my collection. It showcases a beautiful painting by Raphael Cavalier but a former owner has scrawled “Pendexter part three” across the cover, which does irritate me — but only a little.
On the spine of the magazine this desecration continues with the letters “HP” penned — this time neatly — into the side. How can anybody be irritated at witnessing a reader displaying such love for a favorite author?
The story inside was titled “Log Cabin Men,” and if I ever find the other 4 parts, I’ll have to give it a try.
But for now I’m going to start reading— soon — Gentlemen of the North. I just hope the book doesn’t crumble to pieces as I’m handling it.
If Pendexter was good enough for Robert E. Howard, I’ll bet he’s good enough for me.
Autograph Hound Brian Leno has been as busy collecting as ever, despite the pandemic and the lockdown, and pops in today to explain what happened to the guys on the rope.
In addition to that mountaineering moment, he reports that he “ordered a biography of the fellow who killed John Wilkes Booth, Boston Corbett. Interesting guy, very religious.
“Seems like one time he passed a couple of prostitutes and it must have excited him. Got himself home, started reading the Bible, fetched himself some scissors and castrated himself.
“With a pair of scissors.
“Apparently no one really knows of his passing, but it’s thought he died in a big fire in Minnesota.”
Among other notable acquisitions for the Leno trove he got the John Hancock of the Frankenstein play author Richard Brinsley Peake (Mary Shelley was in the audience for the premiere). The suicide or murdered Jack the Stripper suspect. Boxer Freddie Mills, rumored sexual partner to one of the Kray Brothers.
Brian says, “As with your Arkham ephemera collection they don’t take up much room. One scrap of paper and a signed small photo of Mills, getting ready to duke it out with someone. A smaller triumph was the purchase of another Freddie, Freddie Jones who played the carnival barker in The Elephant Man and the monster in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed.”
The multifarious joys of autograph collecting.
Here’s Brian to give us the scoop on the hot news of 155 years ago:
I have been to the mountain top. Just finished my own shootout for an Edward Whymper autograph, and that baby is coming to the states! I guess during the bidding you could say I started with a bang and got a Whymper. Wasn’t cheap.
The image above captures the moment the rope broke and four of Whymper’s companions, just after completing the first successful ascent of the Matterhorn, went tumbling to their deaths. Whymper, I believe, is second from the top and the print is by the great French artist, Gustave Dore. (Coincidentally, I also have Dore’s signed business card.) The chromolithograph appeared in the March, 1867 issue of Demorest’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine, a couple of years after the event.
The auto came in a shot-to-shit copy of Whymper’s 1896 guide to Chamonix and Mont Blanc. Once I got the book, I cut the page free and framed it.
On the Dore artwork, by the way, the guy with his arms outstretched, right at the break of the rope, is Lord Francis Douglas. Francis was the brother to the Marquess of Queensbury of the sponsor of the boxing rules fame. His nephew, it would follow, was then Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s boyfriend.
Of the four that perished, Douglas was the only body never found. Still not, as far as I know.
All this happened July 14, 1865. The fall off the Matterhorn occurred about two months after the end of the Civil War, to put things in perspective.
Of the incident, Whymper said, “Every night, do you understand, I see my comrades of the Matterhorn slipping on their backs, their arms outstretched, one after the other, in perfect order at equal distances. . . .”
In 1977 Don Herron began leading The Dashiell Hammett Tour, now the longest-running literary tour in the nation. On this site you’ll find information on current walks — dates, where to meet, arranging tours by appointment — plus a hard-boiled blog with news, reviews of books and film, and a dash of noir.