Rediscovered: Barlow and the Becks

Autograph Hound Super-Sunday continues Brian Leno’s recent fascination with the tragic literary figure Robert H. Barlow, spotlighting some of the most recent autograph items he’s picked up as satellites to that interest.

And just as one thing connects to another (really, would anyone in the normal course of things expect Barlow to have met William S. Burroughs?), Brian hauls back into the conversation Robert E. Howard, Doc Howard and Otis Adelbert Kline.

Your show, Brian:

I’ve never seen the Kline note I just acquired reproduced anywhere before, but that certainly doesn’t mean it hasn’t — images of both sides above.

I’m no authority on Kline and his dealings with Dr. Howard after Robert E. Howard’s 1936 suicide, but I believe Druid Press — which consisted of Robert H. Barlow, Groo Beck and possibly Claire Beck — were sent a package containing Howard’s poetry somewhere at the end of 1939, or the beginning of 1940.

In February 1940 Druid Press wrote to Kline and told him they weren’t going to publish the poems and were mailing them back express.

Between then and around the date of this 1940 note it seems Dr. Howard made some sort of offer to them if they would change their minds. Obviously he wants to know their plans regarding the poetry, but Kline must have dropped out of contact with the Druid Trio shortly afterwards.

In April of 1941, Kline is trying to locate them once again, to explain that the good doctor is withdrawing whatever offer he had made.

He writes Dr. Howard that he no longer knows where they could be, but he believes E. Hoffmann Price knows one of them.

(The timeline of the whole Howard-Kline-Druid correspondence remains a bit murky. The doc burned a bunch of Howard’s poems by mistake and then, around 1943, wanted to know if Druid Press had made copies.)

The history of Barlow and the Beck brothers is very interesting.

Barlow went to Lakeport, California, where the Becks lived and he wrote in his short autobiography that he “could not decide which of the Beck boys to fall in love with.”

While Barlow was gay, apparently the Beck brothers were not, although Barlow writes that Claire evidently “had a mania for bathing”, liked to wear “skin-tight drawers” and had a “nice prick, uncircumcised.”

Later Barlow would move in with Groo on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco and they would share a bed. Barlow made advances but Groo, apparently, wasn’t biting.

Barlow wrote that Groo had a “Christ like red beard” which “excited him sexually.” He also noted that the Beck boys were ” big as oxen” which probably got him going a little bit also.

The Groo Beck inscription comes from After Sunset, a book of poems by George Sterling — they had sent a copy along to Kline to show as an example of their work. Published under the eponymous imprint of San Francisco bookseller John Howell, Barlow usually is credited as editor and Groo as the printer. In Barlow’s short autobiography, collected in O Fortunate Floridian, he writes that Beck did 90% of the work from a manuscript the bookseller Howell had. He says the book made expenses.

I would guess that Groo’s signature is pretty uncommon. His inscription is a poetic one, but it’s safe to assume he’s no George Sterling.

This entry was posted in Frisco, Lit, REH and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.