Thursday, August 4, 2011

Durbin Lee Horner (1906-1979)

Aka Jack Horner
Author, Editor, Radio Scriptwriter, and Actor
Born March 19, 1906, Pennsylvania
Died May 3, 1979, Pennsylvania

World War II carried away whole generations of men and women. Some never returned. Others, like Durbin Lee Horner, were fortunate enough to continue the work they did in civilian life even while wearing the uniform of an American serviceman. Horner's wartime service may actually have boosted his career as a writer and editor. It sure didn't hurt.

Horner was born on March 19, 1906, in Pennsylvania. By his mid-twenties, he was living in Manhattan, working as an actor, and sharing lodgings with another actor, Robert Allen. By the mid-1930s, he had found work as an editor of Mystery magazine. He also edited a hardbound collection, Murder by the Dozen: The Cream of the Mystery Crop, published in 1935. (Vincent Starrett, a teller of weird tales, was among the authors represented in the book.) Horner also wrote radio scripts during the 1930s. His only story for Weird Tales dates from that decade as well. "The House on Fifth Avenue" was published in the January 1937 issue of "The Unique Magazine." 

The facts on Horner's career as an actor aren't clear. An actor by the name of Jack Horner appeared on the Broadway stage in a play called The Stairs in November 1927. There was also a voice actor by the name of Jack Horner in Walt Disney's Bambi (1941). The whole question is complicated by the fact that an actress, Adele Horner, also went by the name Jack Horner. Maybe that's research for another day.

Durbin Lee Horner, civilian, became Private Horner, U.S. Army, in August 1942. As an author and editor with four years of college under his belt, he eventually landed a plum assignment as London editor of Yank. Horner also wrote for the magazine and rose to the rank of technical sergeant before separating in November 1945. Back in New York, he went right to work, helping to launch Salute, a journal for ex-GIs, in March 1946 (first issue dated April 1946). Horner served as editorial director. His contributing editors included Irwin Shaw, Marion Hargrove, and Jimmy Cannon. Horner drew on his experience in show business in his work as editor of several movie magazines during the 1950s and '60s. His titles included Modern Screen, Screen Hits Annual, and Screen StoriesAfter a long and varied career, Durbin Lee Horner died on May 3, 1979.

Durbin Lee Horner's Story in Weird Tales
"The House on Fifth Avenue" (Jan. 1937)

Further Reading
Horner's work is scattered in old magazines, some of which can still be found at reasonable prices. I don't know of anything in print on his life or work.

Durbin Lee Horner palled around with authors, editors, actors, and--yes--cartoonists. Here he is (far right) with Charles Raab, Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon), Phyllis Raab,  and Noel Sickles (Scorchy Smith), date unknown, but probably from the 1930s. As you can see from the digital watermarks, this and the following image are from the collection of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum.
Durbin Lee "Jack" Horner as Napoleon, one of several portraits and caricatures drawn by Noel Sickles of the author, actor, and editor.
Salute, "Produced by Former Editors and Writers of Yank and Stars & Stripes," made its debut in 1946. After three years in the Army, editorial director Durbin Lee Horner had a sense of what ex-GIs wanted. The cover of the fourth issue (Aug. 1946), featuring a young, brunette Marilyn Monroe in nothing but terry cloth, is evidence of that.
Horner was also editor of Screen Stories magazine. Different title, same principle: a picture of a pretty woman on the cover helps move magazines.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

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