Sinister Cinema: A Fistful of Fisher

Pulps in the Movies. On Sale Every Wednesday.

And does our resident pulp/film buff John Locke have a title for you today: I Wake Up Screaming.

Yeah, we all get that feeling, right? — now maybe more so than ever.

The pulps spotted, and this particular movie, give John a chance to cover a workhorse of the fiction mag scene in the person of:

Steve Fisher (1912-80) dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Navy, perfect preparation, as it turned out, to be a high-volume pulp writer. After returning to civilian life, he published in the neighborhood of 400 pulp stories, primarily from 1933-46.

He also expanded into slick-magazine stories and hardbound novels, which made him an object of envy in pulp-writing circles.

Ever ambitious, he soon tapped into Hollywood — and the big bucks. His novel I Wake Up Screaming was published in March 1941 and quickly snapped up by 20th Century-Fox for $7,500. The film premiered on Halloween later the same year.

In this shot from the film, police detective Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar) passes a newsstand. Near his left hand is a row of four pulps: Clues (March 1941), Black Mask (August 1941), Detective Fiction Weekly (September 21, 1940), and The Shadow (issue unidentified).

It’s probably not an accident that these pulps were selected. Primarily a crime-fiction writer, Fisher made his name in all four.

He appeared in Clues fourteen times from 1935-43. His Black Mask run was brief but memorable: nine stories from August 1937 through April 1939. He could be found frequently in DFW: twenty-four appearances from 1935-41.

But it was The Shadow that received the bulk of his sales, a staggering 130 stories. They began in 1935 and continued into 1943, long after his Hollywood success had been established. They were all back-of-the-book shorts, most featuring characters Sheridan Doome and The Kid, in alternating issues. The Doomes were published under the byline of Stephen Gould. After 1939, all of Fisher’s Shadow stories appeared under pennames.

None of the issues displayed in the shot feature Fisher stories, unless there’s one in The Shadow. This “Easter egg” (highly unlikely to be recognized by the audience) was worth a little effort — but not that much effort.

Bonus Fisher landing strip . . . Just below the pulps is another magazine Fisher appeared in from time to time: Liberty (July 5, 1941).

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