Friday, May 10, 2013

Before the Golden Age-Murray Leinster

Murray Leinster
Pseudonym of William Fitzgerald Jenkins
Author, Radio and Television Scriptwriter, Movie Scriptwriter, Inventor
Born June 16, 1896, Norfolk, Virginia
Died June 8, 1975, Gloucester, Virginia

Murray Leinster was the youngest of the three authors I have written about in the last few days, yet he was first to show up in Weird Tales. He wrote four stories for "The Unique Magazine" between 1925 and 1933. His first, "The Oldest Story in the World," was reprinted in 1938.

William Fitzgerald Jenkins was born on June 16, 1896, in Norfolk, Virginia, and sold his first story before his twentieth birthday. Entitled "The Foreigner" (The Smart Set, May 1916), it was followed by more than 1,500 others in a career that spanned half a century. Jenkins used several pen names, but he is best known by science fiction fans as Murray Leinster. His first science fiction story was "The Runaway Skyscraper," published in Argosy in its February 22, 1919, issue. Jenkins would go on to sell works to a wide variety of titles, including slick magazines such as Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post. Unlike Ray Cummings and Ralph Milne Farley, Jenkins adapted to changing tastes and remained a force in the science fiction field even late in life. In the 1940s, Jenkins wrote about first contact with alien species. (In fact, the phrase "first contact" was his, though not, it turns out, in any legalistic way.) He was also the first science fiction author to write about a universal translator and a linked system of computers in every home--in other words, the Internet. Among his other innovations were the "parallel universe" story and--in actuality--the invention of the front projection method of filming, which was first used in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969). In 1949, Time magazine dubbed him "the dean of science fiction writers," and in 1956, Jenkins won a Hugo award for his novelette "Exploration Team."

An inveterate wordsmith, Will Jenkins provided stories and scripts for movies, television, and radio throughout his career. His story "The Purple Hieroglyph" was adapted to film in 1920 as The Purple Cipher, in 1930 as Murder Will Out, and in 1939 as Torchy Blane in Chinatown. Other adaptations included The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (1966) and The Terrornauts (1967). Jenkins returned the favor by adapting television shows such as The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants to paperback novel form. Those adaptations were published during Jenkins' eighth decade on earth.

Will F. Jenkins died on June 8, 1975, at age seventy-eight. He was honored posthumously by his native state when the Virginia legislature designated June 27, 2009, as "Will F. Jenkins Day" in Virginia. You can read the full resolution by clicking here. We should note that Bloomsday, the yearly celebration of the work of James Joyce, falls on Will Jenkins' birthday, June 16. I would not want to hazard a guess as to which author--Jenkins or Joyce--has proved more popular or more widely read.

For Weird Tales
"The Oldest Story in the World" (Aug. 1925; reprinted Oct. 1938)
"The Strange People" (Mar., Apr., and May 1928)
"The Murderer" (Jan. 1930)
"The Monsters" (Jan. 1933)

Murray Leinster had three stories and a three-part serial printed in Weird Tales for a grand total of seven appearances. (One story was printed twice.) The first installment of his serial "The Strange People" made the cover of "The Unique Magazine" in March 1928. I find many of C.C. Senf's covers for Weird Tales to be unremarkable, but this one has something. I think it's a combination of an intriguing and evocative title--"The Strange People"--and the figure of the woman. She is perfectly posed in a way women so often are when in the arms of a man, yet she seems to be distracted (perhaps by us, the viewers). Her hair, her face, and her figure are gorgeous. The artist wisely put her hand to use holding that green garment. At first glance, the man with the knife would appear to be the villain, but he has evidently cut her loose. It looks like her boyfriend may be in for some trouble.
There are lots of people in this world who claim to hate the 1950s. Something to do with conformity, etc. But how can you hate a decade that would produce something like this, the cover of The Last Spaceship? The artist was the indispensable Emsh. His signature, as is so often the case, is a part of the picture. Here, it's engraved on the rocket on the lower right.
Emsh also executed the cover art for The Forgotten Planet, a hardbound edition issued by Gnome Press in 1954. The image of the giant insect hearkens back to Ray Cummings' theme of miniaturization and to Ralph Milne Farley's Radio Planet. It also anticipates Land of the Giants, the 1960s television show novelized by Murray Leinster.
Here's the Ace version (1961) with uncredited art. 
Shasta was another publisher of hardbound science fiction during the 1950s. Here is the dust jacket for Sidewise in Time (1950, minus the flaps) with art by Hannes Bok. 
City on the Moon was published by Avalon Books, a third publisher of hardbound editions, in 1957. Emsh was back as the cover artist.
Doctor to the Stars (1964) with cover art by John Schoenherr. I'm not sure what that green-eyed creature is, but it looks like a tarsier.
Get Off My World! (1966). The art is unsigned but it looks like the work of Richard Powers. Note the giant insect again.
I'm a maker of monsters and aliens and I love a good monster like this one on the cover of Monsters and Such (1959). The artist was Victor Kalin.
Murray Leinster worked in other genres besides science fiction. Here's a Western, probably from the 1950s. I don't know the cover artist.
He also wrote Westerns under his own name. Here's the cover of Dallas, a tie-in to a movie starring Gary Cooper.
More than a decade later, as Murray Leinster, Jenkins adapted The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants to paperback.
Science fiction, Westerns, movie and television adaptations--well, how about mysteries, too. Here's the cover for The Murder of the U.S.A., "A Handi-Book Mystery" from 1946.
Finally, The Best of Murray Leinster, a British edition with cover art by Peter A. Jones. This is a distinctly British cover, but I can see a little bit of Frank Frazetta in the figures and a little bit of Cthulhu in the monster.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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