Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween


HAPPY HALLOWEEN
FROM
TELLERS OF WEIRD TALES!

Cover art by Virgil Finlay

Paul Annixter (1894-1985)

Pseudonym of Howard Allison Sturtzel
Author
Born June 25, 1894, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died November 3, 1985, Laguna Beach, California

Howard Allison Sturtzel was born on June 25, 1894, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a young man he lived a hard and adventurous life, helping to support his grandmother and mother, riding the rails over the United States and Canada, and living in extreme isolation in the north woods of Minnesota. Under his own name and as Paul Annixter, he penned dozens of stories for Adventure, Argosy, Boys' Life, The Blue Book Magazine, Collier's, Cosmopolitan, Liberty, The Saturday Evening Post, Short Stories, Top-Notch, and various Western pulp magazines. The first credit I have found for him is "Officially Sprung" by H.A. Sturtzel in All-Story Weekly, September 2, 1916. At the time that story was published, Sturtzel was just twenty-two years old. By then he had already been a professional writer for three years. He lived off his writing for the rest of his long life.

Sturtzel attended Fargo College and North Dakota Agricultural College. When he filled out his draft card in 1917, he was living in Detroit. The following year he made a pilgrimage to southern California and the study of William Levington Comfort, a writer whom he had "always admired." Sturtzel rented a cabin near Comfort's home and under Comfort's tutelage began shedding his "college English" for the prose of a short story writer. The two collaborated on a number of stories. Then Sturtzel began selling his own work, "done more or less in the Kipling tradition." (1) In meeting Comfort, Sturtzel also met Comfort's young daughter, Jane Levington Comfort. They were married on February 18, 1920, probably over the objections of her father. (She was after all just sixteen years old.) Born on June 22, 1903, in Detroit, Michigan, Jane Comfort was also a writer: her first novel, an autobiographical work of her relationship with her father, was entitled From These Beginnings and was published in 1937. When her husband ran into writer's block many years later, Jane Comfort collaborated with him as Jane Annixter.

* * *

William Levington Comfort (1878-1932), better known as Will Levington Comfort, was the author of fifteen novels and scores of short stories and essays, the first of which may well have been "The Recruit in the Black Cavalry," which appeared in Ainslee's Magazine in September 1899. Comfort got his start as a newspaperman in Detroit and Pittsburg (before it was spelled Pittsburgh). A veteran of the Fifth Cavalry Division in the Spanish-American War, he became a war correspondent in the Philippines and in East Asia during the Russo-Japanese War. "Jimson of Many Services: The Story of a War Correspondent," published in Leslie's Monthly Magazine (1904), was one result. Another was that in his Asian travels, Comfort came in contact with Theosophy and other mystical and philosophical beliefs. Back in the United States, he lectured in the Los Angeles area and gathered a following among artists and writers. (More than one source calls him "a Hollywood guru." [2]) Will Comfort moved to the Theosophical colony Krotona, located in Hollywood Hills, in 1917. He and his ideas became a profound influence on the painter Mabel Alvarez (1891-1985). I wonder now if he would have known Bernice T. Banning, who contributed to Oriental Stories and who lived in the Theosophical community at Ojai in the 1930s.

Will Levington Comfort died suddenly on November 2, 1932. Stricken at home, he was rushed to Monte Sano Hospital, an osteopathic facility, where he passed away that evening. The police were concerned enough that they launched an investigation into Comfort's death. As it turns out, there may not have been much of a mystery. Comfort was a known alcoholic. According to James Whitcraft Forsyth in The Canadian Theosophist (Jan.-Feb. 1989, found on line), Comfort died of complications from that affliction. In the end, it would appear spirits were of more interest to him than the spirit. (3)

* * *

According to the Speculative Fiction Database, Paul Annixter wrote just four works of science fiction or fantasy:

  • "Black Sorcery" in Weird Tales (Jan. 1924)
  • "White Hunter" in Jungle Stories (Fall 1940)
  • "Elephant Law" in Jungle Stories (Summer 1940)
  • The Last Monster with Jane Annixter (1980)

That seems like a pretty skimpy list for a man who wrote so prolifically. I guess it will have to do for now. I'm not even sure that The Last Monster is indeed a work of genre fiction.

In addition to his many short stories, Paul Annixter wrote--alone and with his wife--a number of books, mostly about animals and the outdoors and mostly for children. His books and their books include Wilderness Ways (1930), Swiftwater (1950), The Roan Runner (1956), The Devil of the Woods (1958), The Phantom Stallion (1961), Trouble at Paint Rock (1962), Wagon Scout (1965), and White Shell Horse (1971). Paul Annixter also wrote stories adapted to the screen, the first of which was for a short film called "The Sheriff's Oath," released on February 28, 1920, just ten days after he was married. (I suspect Will Levington Comfort had a hand in getting the story on screen.) In 1965 Walt Disney released Those Calloways, Annixter's novel from 1950. Those Calloways also appeared on television, on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, in 1969.

The Annixters enjoyed a long writing life together. I believe they died childless, Howard Allison Sturtzel on November 3, 1985, in Laguna Beach, California, at the age of ninety-one, and Jane Levington Comfort on January 13, 1996, in Orange County, California, at the age of ninety-two. The couple's papers are at the University of Oregon Libraries.

Paul Annixter's Story in Weird Tales
"Black Sorcery" (Jan. 1924)

Further Reading
There isn't much on Paul Annixter on the Internet. You won't find him in The Junior Book of Authors, but there are very engaging autobiographical profiles of both him and his wife in Something About the Author (1971). As for Will Levington Comfort: there are many, many sources on a most fascinating topic, that of Utopian, mystical, pseudo-religious, and pseudoscientific groups in California from the 1800s onward. New World Utopias: A Photographic History of the Search for Community (1975) gives a nice overview. 

Notes
(1) Quotes are in Annixter's own words from the entry on him in Something About the Author (1971), pp. 210-212. 
(2) For example, Reading California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000edited by Stephanie Barron, et al., p. 36.
(3) The Will Levington Comfort House and Stone Study, constructed in 1915 in Kingsville, Ontario, has been designated as a historic structure in that city. Comfort's papers are at the University of California. Finally a quote from Comfort, pertinent to our time and every time: "A people glutted with what it wants is a stagnant people."

Jane and Paul Annixter from Something About the Author (1971).
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ralph Snider (1917-1986)

Franz Nabl was a mystery. So now is Ralph Snider, the artist who illustrated his story. But I have a speculation to make:

Clarence Ralph Snider was born on July 5, 1917, in Dallas County, Texas. His father was Clarence Bon Snider (1874-1922), a painter and decorator. Ralph's mother was Mabelle Laura Kuechmann Snider (1873-1964). Both were born in Indiana, as were their oldest children, Bon Mable or Mabelle, Lynn (a boy), and Elmira.

Clarence Bon Snider's work carried the family to Texas and Oklahoma. Sadly, he died in 1922 in Bigheart (now Barnsdell), Oklahoma. Mabelle Snider returned to Indiana and in 1923 lived in Muncie with an artist named Bon Snider, who worked for the Delaware Engraving Company. Unfortunately I don't know what relationship the two had, whether Bon was Mabelle's own daughter Bon, or another relative. In any case, by 1930, Mabelle L. Snider and her family were in Los Angeles, California, living with Bon and her husband, Joseph Dana Staigers. Lynn, aged twenty-four, was working as a designer. Clarence, then going by the name Ralph, was just twelve years old. Joseph Dana Staigers, by the way, was the older brother of the cornet and trumpet virtuoso Charles Delaware "Del" Staigers (1899-1950). I suppose Bon and Joseph Staigers had met in Muncie, the Staigers' hometown.

A very young-looking Ralph Snider attended Heald College in San Francisco in the mid-1930s. The prediction in his yearbook of 1935 read:

RALPH SNIDER will draw all
Those beautiful queens
That are seen on the front
Of the best magazines.

I take that as pretty good evidence that he was an artist. Was he the artist for Weird Tales? It seems to me that Farnsworth Wright scouted California colleges and universities during the 1930s. Maybe Ralph Snider was one of his finds. In any case, in successive San Francisco city directories from the 1930s to the 1950s, Ralph Snider was a clerk, a lampshade maker, and an artist. At about the same time, Bon Snider was also listed as a student and an artist in Oakland. Clarence Ralph Snider died on October 28, 1986, in San Francisco. I can't say that he was the artist who drew that one illustration for Weird Tales, but the evidence seems pretty good to me. I hope someone can offer some more information.

Ralph Snider's Illustration in Weird Tales
"The Long Arm" by Franz Nabl, misidentified as Franz Habl (Oct. 1937)

Ralph Snider's illustration for "The Long Arm" by Franz Nabl, October 1937. If this was the work of the artist I have written about here, then he would have been twenty years old when he drew this very Virgil Finlay-like illustration. 
A photograph of Ralph Snider from his college yearbook, Heald College, 1935.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Franz Nabl (1883-1974)

Editor, Dramatist, Author
Born July 16, 1883, Lautschin, Austria-Hungary (now Loučeň, Czech Republic)
Died January 19, 1974, Graz, Austria

Until a few months ago, Franz Nabl presented a problem. If you look in Jaffery and Cook's Collector's Index to Weird Tales, you will find a German-sounding name, Franz Habl, as author of a story called "The Long Arm." I searched in several sources for a German, Austrian, or German-American named Franz Habl without result. Then, earlier this year, I heard from Lars Dangel, a German fan and collector of weird fiction. It was Mr. Dangel who solved the mystery of Franz Habl by describing a story called "Der griff aus dem dunkel" ("The Reaching Out of the Dark" or "The Grabbing Out of the Dark"), written by Franz Nabl and published in about 1935. I read "The Long Arm" on line, and it is more or less the story described by Mr. Dangel. I would like to acknowledge Lars Dangel's contribution and to say thanks to him for solving the mystery of Franz Nabl.

Translated by Roy Temple House, "The Long Arm" was published in the October 1937 issue of Weird Tales. I can propose several explanations as to how the misspelled name came about:
  1. Roy Temple House transcribed the name correctly from the original source, but it was misread by the editor, the proofreader, or the typesetter and misprinted in Weird Tales.
  2. House or someone at Weird Tales deliberately changed the name to Habl for some reason, perhaps to avoid issues with copyright.
  3. The story was printed in Weird Tales during the Nazi era. That fact could have had some bearing on the name change.
  4. Nabl asked that his name be changed for some reason.
  5. House freely adapted the story to such an extent that it was no longer solely Nabl's work. It's worth noting that Habl could be a contraction of House and Nabl.
Nabl still presents a bit of a problem in that most online resources on his life and work are in German. If you want to read about him, you will discover the limitations of Wikipedia and Google Translate. This is what I can gather:

Franz Nabl was born on July 16, 1883, in Lautschin, Austria-Hungary, to a high-ranking official or aristocrat. He lived in Vienna and Baden as a boy and attended high school in Baden and the Elisabeth-Gymnasium in Vienna. He received the equivalent of his bachelor's degree in 1902 and studied philosophy thereafter. He was married twice, first to Hermenegild Lampa in 1907, and after her death, to Ilse Meltzer in 1940. Evidently Nabl lived most of his life in Vienna, Baden, and Graz, working early on as an editor at Neuen Grazer Tageblatt, then as a novelist, a playwright, and an author of short stories. His first books in those forms were published between 1905 and 1911. Some of his works have been adapted to film.

It isn't clear to me by reading a translated German-language Wikipedia entry just what relationship Nabl had with the Nazis. If I interpret the entry correctly, then Nabl was a member of the Austrian PEN Club until 1933, when he and others made a conspicuous exit to join the Federation of German Writers in Austria. (It's worth noting that Felix Salten, author of Bambi, was president of the Austrian PEN Club until 1933.) That second organization seems to have been sympathetic to the Nazi movement. In March 1938, of course, Nazi Germany annexed Austria in the run-up to World War II.

If Nabl was tarred at all by a Nazi brush, he recovered his reputation after the war by winning several prizes: the 1952 Literature Prize of the City of Vienna, the 1955 Peter Rosegger Prize, the 1956 Grand Austrian State Prize for Literature, and the 1969 Austrian Decoration for Science and Art. Franz Nabl died on January 19, 1974, in Graz, Austria, at the age of ninety.

Franz Nabl's Story in Weird Tales
"The Long Arm" translated by Roy Temple House (Oct. 1937)

Further Reading
It would be worth a little research to find out more on Franz Nabl, especially if it were to uncover more weird fiction. In the meantime, you can read "The Long Arm" on line.

Ralph Snider's illustration for "The Long Arm" by Franz Nabl, misidentified as Franz Habl, Weird Tales, October 1937.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thomas P. Kelley (1905-1982)

Aka Tommy Kelley, Gene Bannerman, Roy P. Devlin, Jack C. Fleming, Valentine North or Worth, et alia
Boxer, Author, Radio Scriptwriter
Born April 6, 1905, Hastings, Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada
Died February 14, 1982, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thomas Patrick Kelley, self-proclaimed "King of the Canadian Pulps" and the "Fastest Author in the East," was born on April 6, 1905, in Hastings, Northumberland County, Ontario. He was the son of Thomas P. Kelley (1865-1931), a second generation Irish-Canadian, and Helen Burgess, a British-born Irish girl. Kelley's father ran a medicine show called the Shamrock Concert Company. His son traveled with him on his circuit and seems to have learned something about self-promotion. Decades later, Thomas P. Kelley, Jr., wrote a memoir of those days, The Fabulous Kelley, published in 1974.

The Kelley family emigrated to the United States in 1911. In 1920, they lived in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. As a young man (ca. 1927-1929), Kelley boxed under the name Tommy Kelley. The next phase of Kelley's biography came in the 1930s when he began to write pulp fiction. According to Wikipedia, he claimed thirty pseudonyms and authorship of two dozen books, mostly true crime and fiction. If the number of pseudonyms is correct, then the number of stories and books authored by Thomas P. Kelley will probably never be known. I will attempt a partial list:

  • "The Last Pharaoh" in Weird Tales (four-part serial, May through Aug. 1937)
  • "I Found Cleopatra" in Weird Tales (four-part serial, Nov. 1938 through Feb. 1939), reprinted in Uncanny Tales (three-part serial, July, Aug., Sept. 1941)
  • "A Million Years in the Future" in Weird Tales (four-part serial, Jan. through July 1940), reprinted in Uncanny Tales (five-part serial, Nov., Dec. 1941, Jan., Feb., Mar. 1942)
  • "Murder in the Graveyard" in Uncanny Tales (Nov. 1940)
  • "The Talking Heads" in Uncanny Tales (Nov. 1940, May 1941)
  • The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships: A Complete Novel of the Weird (1941)
  • "Isle of Madness" in Uncanny Tales (May, June 1941)
  • "The Shaggy God" in Uncanny Tales (May 1941)
  • "Beyond the Veil" in Uncanny Tales, as Gene Bannerman (June 1941)
  • "The Man Who Killed Hitler" in Uncanny Tales, as Valentine Worth (June 1941)
  • "The Weird Queen" in Eerie Tales (July 1941)
  • "Black Castle of Hate" in Uncanny Tales, as Valentine Worth (Oct. 1941)
  • "City of the Centaurs" in Uncanny Tales, as Gene Bannerman (Dec. 1941)
  • "The Soul Eater" in Uncanny Tales (May 1942)
  • "Old Troopers Die Hard" in Short Stories (Aug. 25, 1942)
  • Tapestry Triangle (1946)
  • "He Who Saw Tomorrow" in Fantastic Adventures (July 1946)
  • Famous Canadian Crimes (1949)
  • Bad Men of Canada (1950)
  • The Gorilla's Daughter (1950)
  • No Tears for Goldie as Jack C. Fleming (1950)
  • "The Strongest Man That Ever Lived" in Double-Action Western (July 1951), about the Canadian giant Angus MacAskill
  • Canada's Greatest Crimes (1958)
  • The Fabulous Kelley (1974)
  • Jesse James: His Life and Death

In addition, in the 1940s, Kelley wrote scripts for a radio show called Out of the Night.

Thomas P. Kelley is most well known for his books on the so-called "Black Donnellys" of Middlesex County, Ontario, a family who were murdered in their home in February 1880. There were at least three books in the series:

  • The Black Donnellys: The True Story of Canada's Most Barbaric Feud (1954)
  • Vengeance of the Black Donnellys
  • The Donnelly Family Album

Kelley's books were partly fictionalized. Anthony Boucher, who knew a thing or two about crime fiction, reviewed the first book for the New York Times (Sept. 11, 1955):
Thomas P. Kelley's THE BLACK DONNELLYS (Signet, 25 cents) can hardly be recommended for moral instruction, since the author seems determined to prove that lynching can be a Good Thing; but it's valuable as a full-length treatment of a sensational Canadian affair wholly unknown to American readers. The story of a criminal clan (a family hardly paralleled since the days of Sawney Bean) who terrorized a district in Ontario for decades until their collective murder by vigilantes in 1880, is an absorbing one, even in so slipshod and ungrammatical a treatment.
Despite any shortcomings, The Black Donnellys went through fifteen printings between 1954 and 1968 and supposedly sold over 400,000 copies.

Thomas P. Kelley seems to have dropped out of sight in his later years. He died on February 14, 1982, in Toronto, Canada.

Thomas P. Kelley's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Last Pharaoh" (four-part serial, May through Aug. 1937)
"I Found Cleopatra" (four-part serial, Nov. 1938 through Feb. 1939)
"A Million Years in the Future" (four-part serial, Jan. through July 1940)

Further Reading
Wikipedia, the Speculative Fiction Database, and the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction have entries on Thomas P. Kelley. The Wikipedia page is pretty inadequate I'm afraid. Better to go to a blog called The Dusty Bookcase: A Very Casual Exploration of Canada's Suppressed, Ignored and Forgotten, by Brian Busby.

Thomas P. Kelley's father ran a traveling medicine show. Strangely, Albert Roanoke Tilburne's father ran a traveling wild west show. Kelly wrote the story. Tilburne provided the cover illustration. Weird Tales, November 1938.
Kelley got a lot of mileage out of "I Found Cleopatra." There was a reprinting in the Canadian magazine Uncanny Tales . . .
In a paperback novel (1946) . . .  
And in a later paperback with a cover illustration by Stephen Fabian (1977). 
Kelley had two stories in the November 1940 issue of Uncanny Tales. Note his credit at the bottom: "Creator of the Original Stories Adapted to Radio in 'Out of the Night'."
Kelley's byline also landed on the cover of the May 1941 issue of Uncanny Tales. The art was by nineteen-year-old Tedd Steele.
Thomas P. Kelley's nonfiction book, The Black Donnellys, is supposed to have been among the most popular of the Harlequin paperbacks. Notice the death dates: February 4, 1880, for five of the Donnellys.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

L.M. Montgomery (1874-1942)

Lucy Maud Montgomery
Teacher, Proofreader, Poet, Diarist, Author of Novels and Short Stories
Born November 30, 1874, Clifton, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Died April 24, 1942, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Believe it or not, Lucy Maud Montgomery, creator of Anne of Green Gables, also contributed to Weird Tales. Hers was but a single story, "The House Party at Smoky Island," published in the August 1935 issue of "The Unique Magazine." She was born on November 30, 1874, on Prince Edward Island, the setting for her Anne of Green Gables books. Called Maud by her friends, she was orphaned before the age of two when her mother died and her grief stricken father left her with his wife's parents. Maud grew up a lonely child, and though she enjoyed a whirlwind social and romantic life as a young woman, once she settled into marriage, Maud endured a good deal of unhappiness. Her husband, a Presbyterian minister, was unhappier still. According to Wikipedia, "writing was her one great solace."

Under the pen name L.M. Montgomery, Maud wrote twenty novels and 500 short stories and poems. Her first novel was the acclaimed Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908. Like Sax Rohmer with Fu Manchu, Maud tired of her most famous creation and authored a number of other series. None is or was as popular as her stories of the irrepressible redheaded orphan of Prince Edward Island.

Shortly before she died, Maud penned a note, later found at her bedside. It read in part:
I have lost my mind by spells and I do not dare think what I may do in those spells. May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it. What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best.
The cause of her death is unclear. Some believe she killed herself. Others say no. In any case, Lucy Maud Montgomery died at home in Toronto on April 24, 1942. She was sixty-seven years old.

L.M. Montgomery's Story in Weird Tales
"The House Party at Smoky Island" (Aug. 1935)

Further Reading
You can find more on Lucy Maud Montgomery at Wikipedia and the Speculative Fiction Database, which has links to other sites.

I have never read the Anne of Green Gables books, but I saw the PBS series from many years ago. In that series, Anne is of course a positive and cheerful girl. Little did I know that there were darker undercurrents in the life of her creator. Among the Shadows (1990) collects the darker stories of L.M. Montgomery. Five of the nineteen tales in this collection have supernatural elements.
Here is the French-language version of the book . . . 
And a variant cover, which looks more like a Gothic romance from the 1970s.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sax Rohmer (1883-1959)

Pseudonym of Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward
Clerk, Newspaper Reporter, Poet, Playwright, Songwriter, Comedy Writer, Author
Born February 15, 1883, Ladywood, Birmingham, England
Died June 1, 1959, London, England

Sax Rohmer was born Arthur Henry Ward on February 15, 1883. Although he came into the world in Birmingham, England, his parents were Irish Catholics. His mother told him stories of having descended from the Irish general Patrick Sarsfield. After her death in 1901, Arthur Henry Ward added the Sarsfield name to his own. Ward also used the names Michael Furey (his mother's maiden name), A. Sarsfield Ward, and Arthur Sarsfield Ward. Today he is known as Sax Rohmer.

Ward worked various jobs before hitting his stride as a writer. In writing for the stage, he met and married a performer, Rose Elizabeth Knox (1886-1979). His first published work, "The Mysterious Mummy" in Pearson's Weekly (Nov. 24, 1903), came when he was just twenty years old. Ward's first book was Pause!, published anonymously in 1910.

Sax Rohmer will forever be identified with his infamous Oriental villain, Fu Manchu. Like John Carter of Mars and Tarzan, Fu Manchu made his debut appearance in 1912. From October 1912 to June 1913, beginning with "The Zayat Kiss," Rohmer's first stories in the saga of Fu Manchu ran in the British magazine The Story-Teller. A book, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, followed in 1913. This year is the centennial year of Fu Manchu in book form.

Sax Rohmer published thirteen Fu Manchu books in his lifetime. In the movies, the character was played by Warner Oland (a Swedish-American actor who also played Charlie Chan), Boris Karloff, Peter Sellers, and the invaluable Christopher Lee. There was also a comic strip illustrated by Leo O'Mealia (1931-1933, reprinted in Detective Comics) and a television show with Glen Gordon as the title character (1956). Rohmer wrote more than just tales of insidious Asians. One series starred an occult detective, Moris Klaw. Rohmer also wrote supernatural horror and non-fiction. His earliest movie credit was the story for The Yellow Claw (1920).

After World War II, Rohmer moved to the United States and lived in New York City, Greenwich, Connecticut, and finally White Plains, New York. He died in a London hospital while on a trip to his native country. He was seventy-six years old. Sax Rohmer was buried in Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery in London.

I'll close with three pieces of Sax Rohmer trivia:

First, Rohmer was friends with Harry Houdini, who also contributed to Weird Tales

Second, Rohmer's wife, Rose Elizabeth Knox (1886-1979), a former stage performer, also wrote a mystery novel, Bianca in Black (1954), under the name Elizabeth Sax Rohmer.

Third, the name Sax Rohmer supposedly combines the Anglo-Saxon words for blade and wanderer, suggesting a freelancer. After he created Fu Manchu, there was probably never again a reason for Rohmer to work for another man.

Sax Rohmer's Story in Weird Tales
"Lord of the Jackals" (Sept. 1927)

Further Reading
You can read about Sax Rohmer on a number of websites:
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
The online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
The Page of Fu Manchu at: http://www.njedge.net/~knapp/FuFrames.htm
Be very careful in reading Wikipedia's entry.

I have written about "The Yellow Peril" and the Oriental villain in a previous posting, here, but I thought I would offer an image from the movies, the poster for The Face of Fu Manchu, from 1965. 
Here's an image from television from about the same time. That's Leonard Strong as "The Claw," a Fu Manchu-type villain who calls himself "The Craw." ("Not Craw! Craw!") The show was Get Smart, one of the great television shows of the 1960s. Sax Rohmer had a detective hero named Klaw. Rohmer's first movie credit was for a film called The Yellow Claw.
I don't know whether this is the same Yellow Claw or not, but he's no doubt related to Fu Manchu.
The Claw in the Daredevil comics of the 1940s was even more monstrous.
Here's a comic book adaptation from 1951 with a cover by Wally Wood.
And another from 1958. That was fifty-five years ago, yet Fu Manchu lives on.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Austin Hall (1880-1933)

Farmer, Ranch Hand, Watchman, Author
Born July 27, 1880, Santa Clara, California
Died July 29, 1933, San Jose, California

Austin Javen Hall was born on July 27, 1880, in Santa Clara, California. He was the son of J.S. Hall, a blacksmith, and Isabelle or Belle Hall. I don't know what happened to Austin Hall's father, but by 1900, Hall's mother had remarried. She and her son were living in Brecksville, a small town located south of Cleveland, Ohio, with Belle's husband and Austin's stepfather, Wallace McCreery. Austin was nineteen and attending school at the time. According to a 1933 interview with Forrest J Ackerman, Hall attended Ohio Northern University, Ohio State University, and the University of California. Whether he graduated or not (or attended or not), Hall was in the right place at the right age to have done what he claimed. By 1910, the McCreerys and the Halls were back in California, Wallace McCreery in Oakland, Austin Hall in Soquel Township, Santa Cruz County. Hall was married by then and employed as a farmer. His young wife was named May or Mae and she had just borne a son named Javen. That was one turning point. Another would come in the next decade of Austin Hall's life.

Austin Hall's first story, called "Almost Immortal," was published in the October 7, 1916, issue of All-Story Weekly.  The author was working on a ranch at the time. He recounted how the story came about:
One of the cowboys picked up a story half-written [and] made me finish it. Those same waddies carried it into town, had it typewritten, and sent it to the editor of the old All-Story Magazine. The editor called it the damnedest lie ever concocted, and bought it. (1)
Austin Hall's output as an author of science fiction and fantasy was small, but like most of what he wrote, "Almost Immortal" has been reprinted again and again.

I don't know where Hall was when he wrote his first story, but when he filled out his draft card a couple of years later, he was working as a farmer and a watchman in Mendota, in central California. During those last years of the 1910s, Hall built up a short list of pulp fiction credits:

  • "The Rebel Soul" in All-Story Weekly (June 30, 1917)
  • "Into the Infinite" in All-Story Weekly (serial, Apr. 12-May 17, 1919)
  • "The Man Who Saved the Earth" in All-Story Weekly (Dec. 13, 1919)

In all, Hall claimed to have written over 600 stories. Most of those were Westerns published in the 1920s and '30s.

I have written about Austin Hall's movements in detail for a reason, for he was on a course to meet another writer with whom he would collaborate on their most famous story. That writer was Homer Eon Flint (born Flindt), a shoemaker in San Jose, California. Like Hall, Flint was a westerner. Born in 1888 in Oregon, he arrived in California no later than 1904. Flindt married a schoolteacher who encouraged him in his writing. In 1912, he began selling scenarios to Vitagraph and other filmmakers. Flint's first science fiction story was "The Planeteer," published in All-Story Weekly, March 9, 1918. Like Hall, Flint sold several more stories to All-Story as the decade was coming to an end.

By 1920, Austin Hall was living in San Jose and calling himself a writer for magazines. I don't know how he and Flint met. Perhaps it was initially through correspondence; perhaps it was in person. In any case, Forrest J Ackerman told about the origins of their most famous story:
One day when Hall was with Homer Eon Flint, Hall held his finger up before one of his eyes and said, "Couldn't a story be written about that blind spot in the eye?" Not much was said about it until four days later at lunch; then Hall outlined the whole classic to Flint; asked him to write it with him.
The story that grew out of Hall's idea was called "The Blind Spot," and it was a true collaboration, for the beginning and ending chapters were written by Hall, while the middle chapters were Flint's work. The story, which concerns a world parallel to Earth, was serialized in Argosy-All-Story Weekly from May 14 to June 18, 1921. "The Blind Spot" was reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries/Fantastic Novels in 1940, and in book form at least nine times.

Both authors followed up their collaborative work with stories on their own. Austin Hall wrote the serial "People of the Comet" for Weird Tales (Sept.-Oct. 1923). He also wrote a sequel to "The Blind Spot" called "The Spot of Life," serialized in Argosy from August 13 to September 10, 1932. It, too, was reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries (1941) and in book form. Hall wrote that story alone, for his partner in writing had died many years before. Homer Eon Flint is known for his part in writing "The Blind Spot." There is also intrigue in his death (in April 1924) behind the wheel or under the wheels of a car owned by a known criminal and perhaps connected in some way to a bank robbery. You can read more about Flint's mysterious death on the websites listed below.

Austin Hall made many claims in his life. He recounted his last meeting with Homer Eon Flint:
[W]e had just come back from a ride. It was a foggy night--two o'clock in the morning, weird and ghostly. Homer stepped away, into the mist--I can see him yet--his dim figure and his voice floating back to me: "Well, so long. I'll speak to you from the Blind Spot." (2)
Whether or not Flint ever spoke to Hall again, "The Spot of Life" was Austin Hall's last science fiction credit. He died the year after it was published, on July 29, 1933, in San Jose, California. He had just passed his fifty-third birthday.

Notes
(1) Quoted in Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of "The Scientific Romance" in the Munsey Magazines, 1912-1920, edited and with a history by Sam Moskowitz (1970), p. 269.
(2) Ditto, p. 270.

Austin Hall's Story and Letter in Weird Tales
"People of the Comet" (two-part serial, Sept.-Oct. 1923)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Nov. 1923)

Further Reading
Both Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint are in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the Speculative Fiction Database, and Wikipedia. There are also websites or web articles devoted to Flint:

"Homer Eon Flint: A Legacy" by Vella Munn on Strange Horizons, at this URL:

The website Homer Eon Flint, at this URL: http://www.homereonflint.com/

A poor reproduction of People of the Comet, a hardbound edition of Austin Hall's earlier novel. This is the Griffin Publishing edition from 1948. The cover artist was Jack Gaughan.
Two years later, the story was adapted to the comics as "La comète rouge" in the Belgian magazine Bravo
Austin Hall is most well known for his collaboration with Homer Eon Flint on the serial "The Blind Spot." Here is the cover for a reprint in Fantastic Novels, July 1940. The cover artist was Virgil Finlay. I think this was my first encounter with Finlay's art.
Here's another reprint, the Ace paperback edition of 1976. I don't know who did the cover art.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rivals of Weird Tales-Golden Fleece-Part 2

Golden Fleece Historical Adventure ran from October 1938 to June 1939. The editors were Arthur J. Gontier, Jr., (1900-1988) and C.G. Williams. Arthur J. Gontier, Sr., (1864-1942), who had founded Sun Publications in about 1912, was the publisher and head of the Gontier family. He had previously published 10-Story Book magazine. On May 7, 1938, Chicago police raided Gontier's offices, located at 529 South Clark Street. (According to author Harry Stephen Keeler, those offices occupied a former Chinese opium den.) The police arrested Gontier and his son Robert and hauled away three truckloads of magazines and printing equipment. The charge: possession of obscene literature. The August 1938 issue of 10-Story Book is available online. The warning is that this issue contains nudity. There was a time I suppose when nudity equated with obscenity. The August 1938 issue may or may not have been the last for 10-Story Book. But if Gontier was trying to keep his nose clean, publishing a magazine of historical fiction was one way to do it. The first issue of Golden Fleece came out that October.

As I have written, the editors of Golden Fleece were Arthur J. Gontier, Jr., and C.G. Williams, a person whose identity has been a minor mystery until now. She was in fact Constance Gontier Williams, the older sister of Arthur, Jr. Born in about 1895, Constance Gontier attended the University of Wisconsin, where she worked as a reporter on The Daily Cardinal, the student newspaper. She married Leroy Frederick Williams on September 8, 1920, in Chicago. Ten years later, when the enumerator for the census came around, husband and wife were living in Chicago. Leroy was in advertising, presumably for Sun Publications. Constance was a bookkeeper.

In between those two dates, a little scandal erupted in the Williams family. The Chicago Tribune published an account on November 4, 1928. According to the Tribune, Leroy F. Williams, apparently under an alias, eloped to Crown Point, Indiana, with a twenty-five-year-old Chicagoan. The two were married in July. In September, the new wife, young Cecile Collett Williamson (sic), discovered that her husband was already married. She found the other wife living at the Berkshire Hotel. Not long after, Cecile reported her husband's crime and "assured the police that they couldn't miss him." At six feet, eight inches tall, Williams--who was called Roy--stood out. The police nabbed him on November 3. "[W]ith his lanky frame doubled up in a cell at police headquarters," Williams said he was sorry but had no comment on the charge of bigamy.

Whatever happened, by 1930 Leroy F. and Constance Gontier Williams were together. The fate of the second bride is unknown. By 1940 the Williams were divorced and Constance was living in Chicago. According to her nephew, Constance Williams maintained a professional relationship with her ex-husband after their divorce. She never remarried, nor did she have any children. Constance Frechette Gontier Williams died in California in the 1950s.

At the time of the scandal, Roy Williams was working as the manager of 10-Story Book. Arthur J. Gontier remembers:
Roy was a personal friend of my father's [Arthur J. Gontier, Jr.] . . . I remember him as being impossibly tall, always wearing brown flannel trousers, and when he would squat down to pet one of the publishing company's cats (Big Bongo and Little Bongo) with me, [he was] very friendly and not scary at all. (1)
I don't know what happened to Leroy F. Williams, but the company he worked for came to an end sometime between 1940 and 1942. Golden Fleece folded in June 1939. In March 1940, Sun Publications put out the one and only issue of Colossus Comics. Arthur J. Gontier died two years later, on June 11, 1942. According to Harry Stephen Keeler, "Gontier . . . who naively made all arrangements to be buried in a garbage can, got cremated by his uncooperative children and his ashes scattered over the Rocky Mountains." According to Cook County records he was laid to rest at Acacia Park in Chicago.

For part 1 of this article, dated September 3, 2013, click here.

Notes
(1) Personal correspondence from Arthur J. Gontier, 2013.

Colossus Comics, Sun Publication's attempt to get in on a booming business. This was the first and last issue. The date was March 1940.
This is an update of a previous posting that was grossly in error. I am greatly indebted to Arthur J. Gontier for further information and for leading me to make corrections.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley