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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