Rediscovered: The Weather Channel c. 1888

Mostly in connection with the Texas writer Robert E. Howard, I’ve been in and out of the Lone Star State several times and got to deeply savor some of the storms. Tornadoes even hit a couple of towns over from where I stood.

I’ve never been in one of the big hailstorms, though rolling in with Rob Roehm from his home in the Mojave Desert we followed one in by a few hours and I saw something I’d never seen before: large mobile hail stone centers, driving around doing repairs.

Damn. I got the idea. I’d still like to see a Texas hailstorm — if I was huddled under a metal roof or at least a tree and not caught flatfooted in a car being torn apart on the road.

They had weather back in the days of cowboy Charlie Siringo, too, as Nathan Ward acknowledges in his recent book:

“The open beauty of the plains became terrifying in springtime lightning storms; feeling a charge in the air, those men who carried pistols might toss them out of fear, while on some nights, electricity would flash on cattle horns, brims of men’s hats, or tips of their horse’s ears before striking nearby. Hailstorms, too, were more violent on the plains, forcing cowboys to jump off and uncinch their saddles for cover from the pelting stones.”

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Rediscovered: “Wild Bill, I Presume?”

In building up his history of the Old West in his new book, Nathan Ward naturally brings in Wild Bill Hickok.

Couldn’t leave him out, in my opinion. It’s like the IMDb Top Four Known Fors.

Right now I think the Wild West is best known for Wild Bill, Buffalo Bill Cody, Geronimo and Billy the Kid.

I wouldn’t argue that you might squeeze in Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Jesse James, Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse instead. The top names are the top names, and I have nothing against Kit Carson or Joaquin Murietta but let’s stay real here.

And as part of the coverage of Hickok I was pleased to see Nathan stick in some info I can’t recall reading about before now.

One of my favorite side hobbies is the Who Was When? game, where you bring together people you wouldn’t associate with one another — and my absolute favorite was tumbling to the info that the 12 year old Benjamin Franklin knocked off a poem and sold copies on the streets of Boston about the Last Stand of Blackbeard the Pirate, which took place in a whirlwind of blades and musket balls November 22, 1718 on Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks.

Apparently the first mention ever of Blackbeard in a poem, and we’ve all heard of Blackbeard, right? And Ben Franklin.

Here’s the info Nathan eased in:

On July 21, 1865, Hickok had been in what is often called the first recorded one-on-one gunfight — quick draw, as opposed to European-style gentlemen’s dueling — when he and a man in a white linen coat named Davis K. Tutt fired at each other across some seventy-five yards of Springfield, Missouri’s public square. Tutt, who had taken Bill’s pocket watch against his poker debt, moved first, according to some witnesses, then grabbed his breast after the shots were fired to announce, accurately, “Boys, I am killed.” After the facts of the shooting made the local paper, Hickok’s name was introduced to a public hungry for other stories of frontier violence, true or not. Hickok was happy to oblige his growing myth, particularly in an interview filled with tall tales he fed to the journalist Henry Morton Stanley, who more famously found Dr. Livingstone near Lake Tanganyika in Africa a few years later.

Man, that newshound Stanley got around, didn’t he?

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Rediscovered: Cowboy America

“Wild cattle that refused to move with the herd and kept returning to the brush the cowboys might make docile by sewing their eyelids shut; after about two weeks, when the thread had decayed enough for the eyes to reopen, the animals were less likely to stray. The trail hands spent stormy nights in their saddles, watching the nervous group they had assembled, or otherwise slept in shifts on bedrolls on the ground. But to Charlie it was the only life worth living.”

Charlie Siringo was an Everyman Cowpoke like many hundreds more, doing a job, riding the vast plains as sprawling cattle drives began to forge north from Texas to the cowtowns and railroad heads, doing his bit to change the face of the Wild West.

Unlike most Cowpokes, it turned out he could write, and captured the era in a series of autobiographies. Primal Western documents.

I’m confident Nathan Ward realized what he had to hand in the Siringo saga as he was writing his biography of Dashiell Hammett, mining a later stage in the life where the cowboy became a range detective working with the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. Companion volumes with plenty of adventure. And as it turned out, Siringo and Hammett both ended up in Hollywood, which didn’t hurt their notoriety any.

Trailing after Siringo, Nathan uses the canvas of that life to paint a vivid picture of the Old West growing — growing faster than history could keep up. From rounding up stray mavericks in the brush to endless trainloads of beeves heading to Chicago to make it the meat-packing capital of America. From Billy the Kid to Tom Mix, lives becoming legend.

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Hammett: And Charlie Watts

Terry Zobeck, keeping his eye to the pavement, let me know about the latest trove of rare and first edition Hammett hitting the auction block. And get this angle: those books and typescripts all come from the collection of the late Charlie Watts, impeccable time-keeper for the Rolling Stones.

You’ve got about three days to dig some coins out of the couch or mortgage your house, and then Christie’s opens the flood gates. I can’t recall hearing that books were such an important part of Watts’ life, but if you’ve got all P.G. Wodehouse, all Christie, Hammett, Chandler, you spent some years out of your life in your library.

Here’s Terry with a quick look into the offerings:

The late Charlie Watts was not only one of the finest Rock ‘n’ Roll drummers of all time, he also turned out to be one hell of an avid collector. Not only did he collect musical instruments — including the kits of his jazz drummer idols — but also classic automobiles (despite not having a driver’s license) — and rare modern first editions, as well as a good deal of jazz-related books and autographed ephemera.

He seemed to have an especial taste for Golden Age and hardboiled mystery and detective fiction, having a near complete run of Agatha Christie’s novels and first editions of all of Raymond Chandler’s novels, including the inscribed dedicatee (Helga Greene) copy of Playback, and all of his appearances in Black Mask.

Watts’ rare book collection is going under the hammer in a two-part auction: a live auction on September 28 at Christie’s in London, and via an online auction from September 15-29 also hosted by Christie’s.

The outstanding part of the collection will be offered at the live auction. Among the highlights of this auction are an inscribed first American edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—with an estimate of $250,000 to $375,000—and an inscribed British first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles—with an estimate of $75,000 to $125,000. The inscribed Gatsby lacks the rare dust jacket, but never fear, Charlie had a second copy of the first edition in the dust jacket (estimated between $125,000 and $187,000).

But of prime interest to those of us on These Mean Streets is Charlie’s collection of books by Dashiell Hammett. He had first editions of all five of the novels in dust jacket, all 10 of the digest story collections, and an inscribed copy of Red Harvest (lacking the jacket; estimated between $18,740 to $31,200).

The Hammett piece that really caught my eye was the corrected typescript for “The Hunter” (estimated between $5,000 to $7,500). As is well known now, this was a unpublished short story that eventually served as the title story of the 2013 collection of rare and previously unpublished material. In his introduction to that volume, co-editor Richard Layman notes those stories are archived at the Harry Ransom Collection at the University of Texas, Austin. For The Hunter and Other Stories, a carbon copy of the story from the archive was the reference.

So how did Charlie Watts end up with the original top sheet typescript in his collection?

I contacted Rick to find out. He told me that the unpublished stories were among Hammett’s effects owned by his secretary in New York, Marjory May, whom Rick knew well. All her Hammett material was eventually sold at auction.

“The Hunter” typescript was apparently later bought along the way by Charlie.

The typescript has several corrections presumably made by Hammett shortly after he finished typing. The carbon seems to still have been present to amend, since all the corrections are incorporated in the published version of the story.

620 Eddy Street, where Hammett lived in San Francisco between 1921 and 1926, appears on the typescript. But the Watts’ typescript has that address crossed out and “20 Monroe St” added.

Hammett moved to the Monroe Street address in 1926 and lived there for only a few months. Presumably, Hammett submitted the story for publication shortly after having written it, but it was rejected. It appears that sometime in 1926 he submitted it again or at least considered submitting it, but it was never published in his lifetime.

Hammett was known not to save many of his typescripts, so he must have valued “The Hunter” to some degree. It is the best of the previously unpublished stories collected in The Hunter and Other Stories and a fine addition to Hammett’s bibliography.

And now it can be yours for as little as $5,000 — or perhaps a trifle more once the hammer falls. A real bargain for a fan of both Hammett and the Stones with a deep wallet.

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Rediscovered: Biography Month Redux

Today is the official publication date for Nathan Ward’s newest bio, Son of the Old West — The Odyssey of Charlie Siringo: Cowboy, Detective, Writer of the Wild Frontier. Something to kick off another Biography Month here on These Mean Streets. It’s coming out of the stall bucking, already the No. 1 New Release on Amazon in the category of Bios and Memoirs of Criminals, and running pretty hot in the stampede of Adventurer and Explorer Bios.

Last time I whipped up a Biography Month Nathan’s 2015 bio of Dashiell Hammett, The Lost Detective, provided the excuse. Before that, it was the cool bio of hobo and writer Jim Tully by Mark Dawidziak and Paul Bauer back in 2012.

I’ve got a few piled up, from the new autobio of Danny Trejo (happened to spot one of the Trejo’s Tacos outlets when I was cruising around LA on the 2nd) and a gorgeous new translation of Kafka’s diaries.

Plus I think I ought to mention some books I haven’t read through after many years — the doorstop award-winning bio of Captain Cook, where I tried, I really tried. And the Eugene Manlove Rhodes collection A Bar Cross Man, that’s one tough sled — Rhodes is one of the primal Writers of the Old West like Charlie Siringo, and probably needs some smooth new writer like a Nathan Ward to speed it all up.

And unexpectedly, Jimmy Buffett just died, reminding me that he got pretty pissed off when Steve Eng did an unauthorized bio on his life in 1997 (and responded with an autobiographical book of his own in 1998, an instant bestseller). I’ll dig around and see if I can find Steve’s report on it at the time. Buffett called him “some hack from Nashville,” and Steve reveled in his hard-won title. I bet he wouldn’t have objected if they’d carved it on his tombstone.

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Hammett: Have Horse, Will Gallop

Nathan Ward just popped in the news that a racehorse named Maltese Falcon just moved up from maiden to graded stakes winner status — and in La Jolla, Raymond Chandler’s old stomping grounds.

“There are Hammett quotes to apply,” Nathan suggests, “no matter how the next races go. I remember somebody bets on a horse named Peggy O’Toole, a sly in-joke. Maybe in The Glass Key.”

Yeah, Peggy was a dame who hit New York City with Hammett on his first big trip as a newly minted novelist. And I’m pretty sure the namedrop was in Glass Key, too.

Nice-looking pony. Hammett loved the track.

Jeez, just think: maybe we’ll get a showdown someday between Maltese Falcon and Dain Curse. Red Harvest and Thin Man.

Get your bets in.

“At minimum,” Nathan says, “we have to place a bet on this horse.”

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Frisco Beat: Nathan Ward Goes to Sea

You’ll remember Nathan Ward and his Hammett bio The Lost Detective. That one really gets going when Hammett rolls into San Francisco and sits down at his typewriter.

Over on CrimeReads Nathan has just kicked a story off from San Francisco again, a tale of mutiny at sea from 1902 with murder and shooting — highly detailed, very interesting. You’ll want to find out how the main mutineer later turned up as a sheriff in Arizona, I bet.

I haven’t been thinking a lot lately of Frisco as a hotbed of shanghai action and a major port and all that history, but of course it was.

Two words: Jack London. Three words: The Sea Wolf.

And the rebel crew back in 1902 picked up the handle the “cowboy mutineers.” I suspect Nathan may have come across this saga as he was working on his upcoming book about Charlie Siringo, due out in September. He’s been digging into range detective Siringo’s career the last few years. He keeps busy.

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Sinister Cinema: Contacts Made

If you were worried about the guy who worked on Wim Wenders’ Hammett getting in contact with the guy doing a documentary on that film, you can relax.

They’ve been put in touch, and have spent an initial two hours on the phone. Many more to follow, no doubt.

Joe Goodrich, the guy who knows the guy who can inform the guy, also mentioned something else of interest: he’s one of the people who’ve done fiction featuring Hammett as the protagonist, like Joe Gores did in his novel Hammett.

Joe told me, “A story of mine featured Hammett and Fred Dannay solving a murder that took place at the Jefferson School of Social Science in early 50s New York City.”

Title was “The Ten-Cent Murder” and it saw print in the August 2016 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

Dannay came in to speak to Hammett’s classes, and that’s the era when he was paperbacking a lot of Hammett’s fiction (but not the now discredited “The Diamond Wager” — man, I bet not one Hammett fan is sorry to see that dog kicked out of the kennel).

Of course, Dannay jumped a bunch of the stories with a quick blue pencil. . . .

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Sinister Cinema: A Big Tip for the Documentary on Wim Wenders’ Hammett

Got up today, holiday festivities looming in a few hours, and found some exciting news in the inbox.

Remember the guy in France working on a documentary on the first shoot Wim Wenders did for the neo-noir movie Hammett? Guy’s name is Damien Bertrand, if you know him — I only mention this angle because every recent email I’ve sent his way comes back instantly as Mailer-Demon Undeliverable.

How are you supposed to help a guy you can’t reach, anyway?

The news comes from Joe Goodrich, obviously an inhabitant of the Mean Streets — he tells me “I reread your Hammett guidebook every time I reread his novels.” No more solid a credential.

Joe says, “I was intrigued to learn of the French documentary in-the-works on Hammett.

“Michael Hacker, an old friend of mine from my stint in Los Angeles, was Wenders’ assistant on the film and was there — to quote Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane ‘from before the beginning’ to ‘after the end.’ (Michael also worked on One from the Heart and Apocalypse Now.)

“I think he’s someone the filmmakers might like to speak with. Michael’s up for it. How best to put the two together I don’t know, but I thought it worth mentioning.”

So, pass on the word.

Help hookup Talking Head with Documentarian.

I think we’d all like to see more info on the Wenders San Francisco shoot come out.

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Sinister Cinema: Greeks in Hollywood

Paging through Greeks in Hollywood: In the Silent Movie Era, I was stopped in my tracks when I saw the clipping of Jack Pierce, legendary makeup artist, working on Boris Karloff.

If you dig the original Universal Monsters, Pierce pretty much gave all of them their iconic looks, imagery which persists to this day. I’ve known Pierce’s name since I was a teen, but I guess I never read deeper into his biography over all these years.

I had no idea he was Greek.

Real name Ioannis Pikoulas.

The sub-title In the Silent Movie Era for the book isn’t strictly accurate, even though most of the coverage goes back to the earliest days of Hollywood. But Pierce brings you into the talkies, and there’s a photo of a young Marlon Brando hanging out on a beach with some fellow (Greek) actors.

Roughly half of the hundred page plus text comes from Nikos Theodosiou, and the other half from our pal Fondas Ladis. You’ll remember that Fondas is researching the San Francisco strikebreaker Blackjack Jerome, prominent on the local scene when Hammett first arrived in the city as a Pinkerton’s op in 1921. But he took a sidetrack to knock this project out.

Great book — if you’re a silent movie buff (or a student of Greek cultural history) I cannot plug it enough. Tons of period photos and ads. You’ve got a large section on Alexander Pantages and his theatres. Thanasis Lyberis and other Greek film pioneers you probably have never heard of fill up other chapters.

Here’s a paragraph that I like:

We find Lyberis in 1916 in Mexico, in the midst of the Mexican Revolution, looking for his brother, who was by then Pancho Villa’s brother-in-law, and while in Russia the Winter Palace was falling to the Reds in 1917, Lyberis was an extra in silent movies in Hollywood.

There’s a page covering how Pantages bet Jack London $195 against the three dollars he had in his pockets that the young author wouldn’t be able to land a Beardslee trout on a fishing expedition to Lake Crescent in the Olympic Mountains.

Using the Greek angle, you get a look into primal Hollywood you won’t know about. Not the same old same old.

And the actual physical book is gorgeous, a tall trade paperback with a three-quarters wrap-around dustjacket.

I can only hope Fondas’ book on Blackjack Jerome is this good. But I’m guessing it will be.

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