Rediscovered: Leigh Brackett at 100

brackettLeigh Brackett would have been 26 the day Pearl Harbor came under attack, and today is birthday 100.

My pal Morgan Holmes mentioned the anniversary to me the other day, saying various people were doing an array of blog posts for the occasion — he’s doing a little series, himself. Surf around, if interested. Brackett got in on the pulps, collaborated with Ray Bradbury on a Sword-and-Planet yarn featuring a hero named Conan (Iä! Robert E. Howard!), got hired to co-write the Bogie-Bacall The Big Sleep with William Faulkner, scripted several flicks for John Wayne including Rio Bravo, and got yet another toehold on immortality with her last film project — a little thing for George Lucas titled The Empire Strikes Back.

I’m not worried about her name fading away. If you have yet to read some Brackett, look over her credits and see what appeals, or check out some of the films. She’s pretty much a standard, or considered so by me and many others. My pal Dennis McMillan released an omnibus of her crime writing in 1999 under the title No Good from a Corpse, intro by Bradbury, afterword by Michael Connelly.

I met Brackett once, at a Mini-Con — a convention for science fiction, fantasy and faanish fans —  in Minneapolis in 1975 or 76, when I was doing my stint in St. Paul. Didn’t really talk to her or her husband Edmond Hamilton, also in attendance — but did end up in conversation with Jack Williamson, like Hamilton one of the early writers of science fiction for the pulps, including Weird Tales. Those three had known each other for years.

If you recall my report on PulpFest earlier this year, you may remember this bit:

Haefele is among the arch-collectors, I’m sure — he’s always looking to upgrade copies, talking about the as-new subtle pages of 1960s paperbacks he has in his set, a complete Arkham House and a near-complete run of Arkham ephemera. He told me that people who had bought copies the day before returned with them for the signing — but that some of the copies had bent covers, coffee stains. . . .

Why would you want to get a bent copy signed, Haefele wondered. . . .

“But you signed it, right?” I asked. He said he did. Always sign copies, that’s my motto. If Haefele’s going to hang out with me he needs to sign the books. . . .

I got that attitude from Brackett.

My major encounter with her was wandering over when she was in the lobby chatting as people came up and had her sign books. I had a couple of paperbacks, and stood aside as she got the current round done. Those people walked away.

Brackett looked at me and smiled and reached out, took the books from my hands and laid in her John Hancock.

I thought right then, and think now, wow, this writer is a pro. She’s here at the convention to meet fans, sign books — no dainty I can only sign this book or that, you have to get the book from this dealer or that. No quibbles. No hesitation. No I’m only here to hang out with publishers and my fellow writers.

Brackett, Hamilton, and Williamson pretty much closed out the hospitality suite, as I recall.

So, I do my best to follow that lead, although I understand why writers — especially bestselling writers — get tired of signings. It’s one thing to sign a couple of books here and there, another to sit down and grind through hundreds of copies.

I actually felt kind of sorry for Michael Connelly once, when I saw him signing books for a line that looked like hundreds of fans. But he signed away — he is worthy of having the afterword in the Brackett collection.

(But there are physical limitations. His signature looks to me like a sideways “MC” — initials, or a squiggle, that’s what it sometimes comes to.)

Anyway, raise a toast to Brackett’s centennial — she’s remembered here on These Mean Streets.

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