Rediscovered: Rejections (W)right Up to the End

You know that Brian Leno loves to jump in on new litcrit as it breaks here on the Mean Streets. And you know that above all the dude is a stone-cold, steely-eyed Autograph Hound.

All the ruminating in re: Farnsworth Wright getting fired from the editorial chair at Weird Tales caused Brian to go digging through binder after binder until he pulled the note seen above from the trove. He has it mostly because of the “initial signature” of Farnsworth Wright — the squiggly “FW” — not initialed just to speed things up but because Wright, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, had a hell of a hard time doing a full autograph.

And it’s on official Weird Tales stationery from the New York offices, which heightens the appeal.

The brief note consists of Wright rejecting a yarn submitted by Howard Wandrei. While most of Wright’s rep rests with the fiction that did make it into the pulp pages of Weird Tales, we now know much more about how many stories he rejected. Some he reconsidered and asked to see again. Some just stayed rejected. Robert E. Howard’s “The Frost-Giant Daughter,” and others. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shunned House,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” and others. The list is extensive.

And some of us wonder what he may have rejected that stopped the potential careers of budding weird fiction writers. Wright is famous for using “first stories” by a large number of writers. Did they then send in second and third stories, only to have them rejected?

Never to be heard of again?

On December 29, 1939 he kept his run going, bouncing one of the Wandrei brothers. Farny would be fired from the magazine around March 1940 and died June 12 1940.

In all fairness to the old boy, in this period he did accept the first story that Fritz Leiber sold professionally, “The Automatic Pistol,” although the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser episode “Two Sought Adventure” beat it into print in the August 1939 issue of Unknown. Many so-called scholars don’t know that Wright might have claimed Fritz as a discovery. Since the story didn’t see print until the May 1940 issue of Weird Tales, some credit Wright’s successor at the helm, Dorothy McIlwraith, for the find.

A rep increasingly haunted by all the rejections.

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Rediscovered: More on the Firing of Farnsworth Wright

Checking the Wikipedia entry for Farnsworth Wright just now, I see that they have the whole issue of whether or not he was fired as editor of Weird Tales boiled down to the inaccurate line “Wright’s failing health forced him to resign as editor during 1940, and he died later that year.”

Even Wright’s pal E. Hoffmann Price, in the collection of pulp era memoirs Book of the Dead, notes, “When he was dismissed because of physical disabilities, many of the younger contributors to W.T. emoted all over the place, and waged a campaign to boycott the magazine.” So, per Price, old Farny was fired — though in this scenario because of the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease and not because newsstand sales were plummeting.

“I did not join in this piece of juvenile idiocy,” Price continued. “To expect a publisher to retain an editor incapable of coming to work was unrealism beyond the norm, even for youth! Finally, Wright’s successor, Dorothy McIlwraith, certainly was not responsible for his having been relieved of duty. As editor of Short Stories, her position was far more important than was the editorship of W.T.” 

It’s worth noting that the idea of writers boycotting the magazine suggested by Otto Binder — and even Clark Ashton Smith got behind the idea of rallying the gang behind Wright — hinged on Farny going out and finding another publisher to release a competing magazine. Apparently he was released from duties in March 1940 and died June 12 of that year, not quite reaching his fifty-second birthday.

So, who knows if the proposed boycott might have gone live, in the unlikely event Wright had lived long enough to engage another publisher. Opportunistic fictioneers such as Ed Price used the fact that McIlwraith was now editing both Weird Tales and the more prestigious Short Stories to further splash the field. Looking back on his pulp career, Ed maintained that a writer left bottom-of-the-barrel markets such as Weird Tales as quickly as possible, and strived to crack the pages of Argosy, Adventure, and Short Stories. Ed broke into all of those, but as he noted, he never could land a sale in Blue Book.  And, yes, it helps to have an “in” — even W.T. mainstay Seabury Quinn began placing some yarns with S.S.  

Today the contents of Short Stories have little interest for most people, but the best writers from Weird Tales linger on the cultural scene. McIlwraith in her editorial run even got to pick up some early fiction by a kid named Ray Bradbury.

So, can we drop the polite cover-story that Wright resigned from the magazine because of his health and just admit he was fired?

Fired because of his health — fired because top writers such as Robert E. Howard had died in 1936 and Lovecraft died in 1937 and weren’t around to help carry the load — fired because the circulation for the book was dying under his watch.

I still think it is kind of sad that the new owners of the magazine allowed him to relocate from Chicago (original home for Weird Tales) to New York for the job, and perhaps equally that Wright didn’t have enough self-awareness to just let it go. I do wonder if the added stress of moving sped up his inevitable demise. Perhaps if he’d stayed put, and attempted to put together that prospective competing pulp, history might have played out differently. 

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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.

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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.

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. . . .

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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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