Mort: John Jakes

It’s time to mention his name in Atlantis.

Brian Leno popped the news to me that John Jakes died Saturday March 18, age 90.

Jakes was one of the most commercially successful writers to emerge from the paperback originals and digest mags of the 1950s and 60s. I imagine Mario Puzo may have made more money after he broke through, but it’s hard to imagine many others even close — Spillane maybe, but I’d think Jakes did much, much better than “king of the paperbacks” John D. MacDonald.

And that level of success explains why he gets a big obit in the New York Times.

More granular fans of Jakes don’t just know the North and South historical sagas and the rest, but understand he did a little bit of everything before getting to those. Science fiction, crime, detective. With his character Brak the Barbarian, Jakes became one of the first wave of modern writers following the trail into Sword-and-Sorcery pioneered by Robert E. Howard.

When I got my critical anthology on Howard, The Dark Barbarian, ready to go to press in 1984 I understood it would be nice to have a few advance blurbs. Within the circle of writers working in S&S, I considered Fritz Leiber the best — but Fritz had an essay in the book. Other genre stylists didn’t seem to carry enough gravitas with them to count for much, not if the book was going to go larger than just another fan effort.

Jakes, however — by then a huge bestseller and an actual fan of Howard and S&S. I asked Greenwood Press to send him an advance proof, in case he’d do a blurb for it.

The blurb:

“Tops my list of all Howard studies so far. Serious, scholarly, yet entertaining throughout.” — John Jakes

I can see getting other blurbs about as good as that one, but I can’t see getting one that is better.

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

Hammett: Smelling Nice

As noted previously, Jeopardy! hasn’t been piling on the Hammett clews as in the Days of Yore — when Alex Trebek was at the stick.

But yesterday S39 E134 for March 16 in the first round they finally eased another one in.

Category: Love, In So Many Words.

$1000 slot.


You can detect this novelist, “Nora said: ‘I love you, Nicky, because you smell nice & know such fascinating people.'”

None of the contestants pressed a buzzer or uttered a word.

Host Ken Jennings sketched in the info: “That’s Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett.”

Come on, how many things in life or culture run under the banner Nick & Nora?

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Rediscovered: An Item of Modern Arkham House Ephemera

John D. Haefele and I actually have been slaving away on a book on Arkham House ephemera from the Classic Years — 1937-1972. We’ve got guys eyeballing some of the largest private collections (as I post, one stalwart has the legendary Phil Mays Collection under review), and we’re riding the whirlwind trying to juggle the info into order.

May I say, brutal. If I seem to disappear from the scene, rest assured I am drowning under ephemera.

Recently our pal and longtime consultant, bookseller Paul Dobish, sat down with his holdings and made scans of five Classic Era Items that did not appear on the list I did for Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine back in October 2002, our baseline for establishing what is known vs what is unknown.

Of the five Items, Haefele and I had tracked down all of them in recent years and are working them into the queue. That’s very good news. The less unknown, the better.

But Paul also collects the ephemera that followed the 1971 death of Arkham publisher August Derleth — the Modern Era. Only recently Haefele took on that subject himself for Firsts, with a history of the post-Derleth press in one issue, and a checklist of Items in the following number for November/December 2019.

Turns out Paul has an Order Form for August 2006 that slipped through the net. Looks as if it would go between Haefele 91 and Haefele 92.

For those of you who collect the Modern Era, take note. Literally, if you want. I have a working copy of the Classic Era Firsts that I have annotated to death, circling the listed Items I have, inserting thumbnail descriptions of previously unknown Items as we found them.

It’ll probably be years before Haefele updates his Modern Era list, so if you want to be in the know, pick the issue up. So far only two unknown Items have surfaced.

This Order Form is one of them.

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Mort: Raquel Welch

Upon news of her passing today at the age of 82, Autograph Hound Brian Leno pulled his signed Raquel Welch print from his stacks and stacks of autos.

From One Million Years B. C., of course.

I usually misquote a famous dictum cooked up by Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes — to the effect that any work of art is improved by the presence of cavemen and dinosaurs.

A spin-off dictum surely must read: Any movie with cavemen and dinosaurs was improved —and transformed into a cult classic — by the presence of Raquel Welch.

Posted in Film, News | Tagged , , , |

Rediscovered: Every Other Day Birthdays

The noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook spotted a fantasy writer trend and reported in:

January 20            A. Merritt

January 22            Robert E. Howard

January 24            C.L. Moore

January 26            Philip Jose Farmer

Posted in Lit, News | Tagged |

Rediscovered: Like Brian Leno Needed Another John Hancock from Jack Dempsey

Our maniacal Autograph Hound pal Brian Leno got a surprise for Xmas — an item of Jack Dempsey ephemera. Let Brian explain it:

“A friend of mine was at a library book sale in North Carolina and found a promotional pamphlet for Jack Dempsey’s upcoming book Dempsey by the Man Himself. With some excerpts and photos. About six pages.

“I didn’t even know that thing existed.

“Trick was it was signed — and sitting in the trash pile.

“My friend snapped it up and mailed it to me. Can’t believe a Dempsey autograph was residing in the trash pile.

“It’s pretty beat up, right side tattered but the signature is nice and clear. 

“I’ve already had it framed, so the tattered side is no longer in view.

“Looks pretty nice for a throwaway item.

“Every so often a library sale spits out some gold.”

Posted in Boxing | Tagged , , |

Sinister Cinema: A Marlowesque Neeson

Brian Wallace slipped me the dope back in 2019 that Liam Neeson was lined up to portray Philip Marlowe in a flick.

Now he sends along a review of the finished film by Stephanie Bunbury.

You know people will argue the hell out of the idea of Neeson as Marlowe — hey, have fun — but you might want to check out the review. Very good.

My favorite line from the coverage: “Obviously, Neeson is also his own genre.”

Obvious, indeed. He’s carved out a late-career niche not dissimilar to what Charles Bronson did with his filmography.

Remember when Taken came out in 2008 and some critics were grousing that Neeson at 56 was too old for such a role? They got increasingly outraged as he entered his 60s and established a cottage industry of taking names and kicking ass.

How could he be doing this to his audience? they lamented.

I figured these reviewers for near imbeciles. They knew Neeson was in Schindler’s List in 1993 and Love Actually in 2003, but the pretense that he hadn’t soiled his career with action movies before Taken was ludicrous.

Earliest role I remember Neeson from was the fantasy action flick Krull (1983). Swords. Monsters.

And he played Patrick Swayze’s brother in the hillbilly action flick Next of Kin (1989). And as soon as he came off Kin, he starred as the scarred superhero in Darkman (1990), not short on action and explosions.

Soon after he did Schindler’s List he was back swinging swords in Rob Roy (1995). Give the guy props for doing all kinds of roles, but don’t pretend an actor in the Star Wars and Batman franchises should have passed on Taken.

Another way to look at it: thank the cinema gods Keanu Reeves signed on for John Wick.

Posted in Film, News | Tagged , , |

Hammett: Jeopardy! Hits Nick and Nora (And Glass Onion Cameos the Black Bird)

Jeopardy! hasn’t hit the Hammett clew pile lately as much as it did back in the Golden Age of Alex Trebek.

But every now and then they just can’t avoid it. . . .

For the show broadcast December 23rd, the Double Jeopardy round sported a category called Rian Johnson Loves a Whodunit — and Whodon’t, right?

The whole row of statements featured Johnson — writer and director of the popular crime puzzler Lights Out from 2019. Plus the just-released this week Glass Onion: A Lights Out Mystery.

For the $2000 clew in the category — the big money — they featured a closeup of Myrna Loy and William Powell, with Johnson saying:

The loving relationship in The Thin Man between these two lead characters is endearing, and the only killing they do is of 12 martinis between them at a sitting.

Current multi-game champ Ray buzzed in with the correct answer: “Who are Nick and Nora Charles?”

Yeah, who else?

And if you stream Glass Onion, you’ll find that Nick and Nora aren’t the only Hammett sleuths familiar to Johnson (his first feature, Brick from 2005, is kind of The Maltese Falcon set in high school — the late great Bill Arney enthusiastically recommended it to me at the time).

Think it’s about the 2:03 time marker, around there, big showdown in a display gallery with tons of glass sculptures on pedestals. Keep your eyes peeled, it only shows up for a moment, but near actress Madelyn Cline (in the role of “Whiskey”) you’ll find another ref to the Sam Spade novel — with the Black Bird done in crystal.

A Glass Onion Maltese Falcon.

Posted in Dash, Film, Lit, News | Tagged , , , , , |

891 Post: In Memoriam Bill Arney

Bill Arney

Front, Bill Arney at the dedication ceremony for the plaque on 891 Post Street, March 17, 2005.

Behind him, on the right, Jo Hammett, youngest daughter of Dashiell Hammett.

Posted in Dash, Frisco | Tagged , , |

891 Post: The Hidey Hole

On September 20, 2009 I took a shot of the hidden compartment Bill Arney had — mysteriously — set in the floor of the Sam Spade apartment.

I guess he figured, Why not?

Out of all the Herculean effort Bill put into preserving the place and recreating the Hammett era, the floor had to have been his masterwork.

Who even thinks about a floor, right? You stand on it. Transaction finished.

But during his seventeen year stint as Inhabitant of the Apartment, Keeper of the Shrine, and so forth, the floor jumped up in Bill’s face.

Earthquake retrofit work was going to be done on the entire building. Steel beam supports, the works.

They told Bill they were going to rip out most of the floor.

“And then what happens?” Bill inquired. “Do you put it back””

Well, no.

They’ll rip up the original woodwork, haul it out, pop in some plywood when ready, cover it with wall-to-wall carpeting and it’ll be very nice.

“Noooooooooooooooo!!!” — or something like that — Bill said.

An architect, an extremely detail-focused hobbyist (hand-painting tiny figurines from the Napoleonic Wars and the like), Bill proceeded to pull up all the flooring. He hand-numbered and cross-referenced each and every board.

And when the retro work was done, he put them all back in, in order.

Some shorter pieces ended up going in the west end of the room, on the floor below the windows overlooking Hyde.

As he was placing those last pieces, Bill realized he could make a hidden compartment, and he did.

Bill showed the hidey hole to the restoration crew hired to polish the place up when he moved late in 2009. He said they looked, with some minor oohs and ahs.

Bill glanced at me when he was telling the story and asked, “Do you know what they did with it?”

“Nailed it shut?” I said.

“Yeah,” Bill said. “They nailed it shut.”

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