Sinister Cinema: Perley Poore Sheehan

For his next Autograph Hound Saturday offering, Kevin Cook turns to the pulpster and film-writer Perley Poore Sheehan — let’s proceed, with Kevin at the wheel:

“Perley Poore Sheehan is an unacknowledged master of fantastic fiction.

“After serving as Munsey’s editor of The Scrap Book and working in the same editorial offices with Matthew White (Argosy) and Bob Davis (All-Story), he was able to sell a steady stream of novels and stories to both editors for the next decade before he was lured to Hollywood.

“His most well-known screenplay would be the adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 starring Lon Chaney.

“Prior to that triumph, though, we find an author whose magazine serials were regularly published in book form; titles such as Apache Gold, If You Believe It, It’s So, Three Sevens and Those Who Walk in Darkness.

“What was not published in book form at the time were the fantastic novels that Sheehan wrote, the best of which include ‘The Abyss of Wonders,’ ‘The Copper Princess,’ ‘The Woman of the Pyramid’ and ‘Judith of Babylon.’

“He must really have loved writing fantastic fiction because he lost economically by doing so, with no book publication bringing in that additional income. That’s a key ingredient in my admiration for Sheehan, the fact that he continued writing fantastic fiction even though it was not to his financial benefit. He could have concentrated on writing his melodramas, routinely issued in book form, and made more money.

“You can see from the checks from that period how little money authors received; even for novels the pay seemed to be in the $500 to $800 range. For some reason, though, fantastic themes from lost race to reincarnation, interested him enough that he sacrificed the extra funds to write them.

“Sheehan wrote well enough that basically anything he wrote would sell, but only he and George Allan England seemed to regularly get their pulp novel work for Munsey reprinted immediately in book form. I stress the immediacy. Examples here would be by England The Alibi, magazine 1915, book 1916, Cursed, magazine 1919, book 1919, and by Sheehan Apache Gold, magazine 1919, book 1919, We Are French, magazine 1914, book 1914.

“On the other hand, Sheehan’s fantastic fiction masterwork The Abyss of Wonders was published in Argosy in 1915 and was not published in book form until 1953. Immediacy. How could an author choose to write a novel and project his income therefrom if it might not be published in book form until a decade or more later?

“Remember, even Edgar Rice Burroughs did not get a single science fiction novel published in book form until the first four Tarzan novels were selling well enough for A.C. McClurg to be willing to take a chance on the Mars series. A Princess of Mars, serialized in All-Story in 1912 — the book in 1917. Most of the non-Tarzan Burroughs from McClurg came a decade or more after the original magazine serialization. At the Earth’s Core, magazine 1914, book 1922. The Eternal Lover, magazine 1915, book 1925. The Monster Men, magazine 1913, book 1929.

“And even then, only 10,200 copies of A Princess of Mars were printed in October 2017 — after 32,000 copies of The Son of Tarzan were issued in March of that year.      

“The letter here deals with motion picture rights. The movie rights for The Whispering Chorus went for $3,000.00, and Sheehan pocketed $2.700.00 after Munsey’s 10% commission.

“102 years ago that was probably a nice sum of money.      

“The extra $2,700.00 he received for film rights was easily four or five times what he was paid for the magazine serial rights.

“In all honestly, this whole subject of Why They Lost Money Writing Fantastic Fiction deserves a whole essay in and of itself. The main problem in writing it is that there are few if any words left by those authors from a hundred years ago to tell us their thoughts about the subject. Everything has to be conjecture.

“Although, the possible thought exists that prior to the strict classification of fiction into genres the authors simply may not have realized that they were losing so much potential income by writing fantastic fiction.

“They just wrote on spec what interested them, skipping from topic to topic without thought of the ‘type’ of fiction they were writing.

“The appearance in 1915 of Detective Story Magazine and its subsequent success changed the pulp landscape forever by the end of the 1910-1919 decade. Weird Tales would appear in 1923. Amazing Stories, the first all science fiction pulp, in 1926.”


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