Sunday, May 20, 2018

From Palmer and Shaver to Barker and Bender

If it weren't for Ray Palmer, we wouldn't have had a Shaver Mystery, and if it weren't for him, we probably wouldn't have flying saucers. You can curse him or praise him, but you sure can't ignore him.

Palmer didn't invent either of these belief systems, but he knew a good thing when he saw it, and he was likely unmatched among science fiction editors in bringing fringe ideas into the real world. Perhaps thwarted in his visions and ambitions while at Ziff-Davis of Chicago, Palmer founded, with Curtis Fuller (1912-1991), Clark Publishing Company sometime in 1947. Venture Press, also founded or co-founded by Palmer, may have been a forerunner to Clark Publishing Company. On the other hand, the two may have run side by side, with Fuller and Palmer at the helm of one and Palmer alone on the other. In any case, in 1948, Venture Press published in hardback I Remember Lemuria! by Richard S. Shaver, while Fuller and Palmer put out the first issue of Fate under their jointly held Clark Publishing Company. The cover story in that inaugural issue of Fate was of course Kenneth Arnold's account of his sighting of flying saucers over Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947. That was the same month--June 1947--in which Ziff-Davis put out an all-Shaver Mystery issue of Amazing Stories under the editorship of Ray Palmer. It's funny how all of these things fit together.

Palmer was out the door at Ziff-Davis at the end of 1949. The last issues of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures in which he was credited as editor were those of December 1949. By then he was already working as editor of a new digest-sized magazine, Other Worlds Science Stories, first issued in November 1949. Put out by Clark Publishing Company, then by Palmer Publications, Other Worlds printed both fiction and non-fiction (plus pseudo-fiction and pseudo-non-fiction) in its eight years in print. Just before giving up the ghost in 1957, Other Worlds Science Stories became Flying Saucers from Other Worlds.

It was through the letters column of Other Worlds that Gray Barker and Albert K. Bender met in 1952-1953, and it was through their meeting that a new and bizarre chapter in the history of science (non-)fiction (or science-pseudo-non-fiction) began. It occurs to me now that in writing about the Flatwoods Monster, Men in Black (MIB), the Shaver Mystery, secret bases in Antarctica, and people who knew too much about flying saucers, Barker played the Palmer role to Bender's mad Shaver.

To be continued . . . 

Other Worlds Science Stories, November 1949, the first issue, with a cover story by Richard S. Shaver called "The Fall of Lemuria." In hindsight, the title can be seen as ironic, for the Shaver Mystery was, as we now know, in decline by the end of the 1940s. Very nearly banished from the Ziff-Davis titles, it would survive another few years under the wing of Raymond A. Palmer. The cover art is by Malcolm H. Smith.

Shaver's name next appeared on the cover of the March 1950 issue of Other Worlds. I don't know what's going on in this picture, but it looks like it involves a giant red rubber band. (The slingshot effect maybe?) The cover artist was once again Malcolm H. Smith. 

The September 1950 issue, with cover art by Smith, included a story by Shaver under his pseudonym Peter Dexter.

Shaver's name reappeared on the cover for October 1951, but only his surname and only at the bottom of the page. Far more prominent were the title and author's byline of the presumed cover story, "I Flew in a Flying Saucer." The confessional title of Captain A.V.G.'s two-part serial evokes the equally confessional "I Remember Lemuria!" from Amazing Stories from six years before. The cover artist by the way was H.W. McCauley.

This issue of Other Worlds was probably on the newsstand in September 1951, the same month in which The Day the Earth Stood Still was released. (The exact date of release was September 18.) I can't say for sure, but that film may have been the first to show an alien abduction. A more sensationalistic title could easily have been I Was Abducted by an Alien from Outer Space or I Went Aboard a Flying Saucer. Keep in mind, all of this took place several months before George Adamski first claimed to have gone aboard a flying saucer. In other words, it happened in science fiction (or science-pseudo-non-fiction) before anyone made any claims that it had happened to him or her in real life. This trend continued throughout the prime years of the flying saucer era, from 1947 to 1968 (or 1973): ordinary people imagined little if anything before it was imagined by authors and artists of science fiction. 

Other Worlds Science Stories, January 1952, with more flying saucer content, this time concerning Kenneth Arnold, the original witness. The cover art, again by McCauley, was reused, I think, for a cover of Fate magazine. Or maybe it was on the front of Fate first.

Other Worlds Science Stories, March 1952, with cover art by Malcolm H. Smith. This was the first issue of the magazine to show flying saucer-like craft on the cover, this despite Palmer's obvious enthusiasm for the subject.

Other Worlds got along for many issues with good cover art, not only by Malcolm H. Smith--the artist here--and H.W. McCauley but also by Hannes Bok and others. Smith's cover, from April 1952, is one of my favorites. This is the kind of image that made people love science fiction during the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. The interior of the ship in the foreground reminds me of the the tomb-lid at Palenque, which some people believe shows a Mayan king at the controls of a rocketship.

Shaver's byline was back on the cover of Other Worlds in July 1952. The artist was Malcolm H. Smith.

Other Worlds Science Stories, August 1952, with cover art by Smith. This was the last issue of the magazine to appear before the sighting of the Flatwoods Monster, which took place on September 12, 1952. (There was no September 1952 issue of Other Worlds.) I doubt that any of the witnesses saw this image, but the men shown here encased in their machines bear a vague resemblance to the monster, especially a later interpretation that says that what Kathleen May and the boys of Flatwoods saw was not an alien itself but an alien riding inside a kind of machine. I would refer you to the theories and artwork of Frank Feschino, Jr.

Albert K. Bender's letter to the world, informing it of the creation of the International Flying Saucer Bureau, appeared in the December issue of Other Worlds. Gray Barker down in West Virginia read that letter and sent one of his own to Bender in his Connecticut home, thereby introducing himself. For a year or more prior to writing, the two men must have read a lot of flying saucer content in Other Worlds: fiction, non-fiction, and even advertisements. Both had been interested in science fiction, flying saucers, and--significantly--the Shaver Mystery for years prior to that. Their enthusiasm must have been high at the end of 1952, and each must have felt he had found in the other a kindred spirit. This remarkable cover, by Malcolm H. Smith, shows what might be called an influencing machine at work. See the last image below for another machine of this type.

This cover of Other Worlds, from January 1953, has nothing to do with anything, but I couldn't pass it by. The artist was H.W. McCauley. You might notice an influence on Frank Frazetta. I thought of a different image by Dave Stevens . . .

. . . proof that there is nothing new under the sun (or moon).

Something happened to Other Worlds Science Stories in 1953. Although Bea Mahaffey, a science fiction fan out of Cincinnati, came on to assist Raymond Palmer, the magazine disappeared after its July issue that year and didn't reappear until May 1955. Palmer and Mahaffey were still editors then, but the magazine was now published by Palmer Publications, Inc. I suspect this was all tied up with Palmer's selling his interest in Fate (presumably also in Clark Publishing Company) to Curtis and Mary Fuller. That may have left him with Other Worlds Science Stories, but the magazine seems to have taken a step down after the deal. That's Virgil Finlay art on the cover and you can't go wrong there, but it was old art even then and reproduced here in black and white instead of the original color. The design and maybe the paper and printing were cheaper, too. After seventeen years as an editor of science fiction magazines, Palmer seems to have gone into decline. 

Other Worlds Science Stories, May 1957, with cover art by an unknown artist, colored and recycled from a previous appearance on the cover of a Shaver Mystery-related title. I have wondered about this image before. It may have been done originally by Steele Savage, but I can't say for sure, and I don't think that anyone can at this point. In any case, its use demonstrates, I think, that Other Worlds and Palmer himself were falling on hard times. 

Then, in June 1957, Palmer issued Flying Saucers from Other Worlds, an unnumbered issue that may or may not have been a continuation of Other Worlds Science Stories. The occasion was no doubt the tenth anniversary of the first sighting of flying saucers. The cover art, if you can call it that, is pretty horrendous, a collage of photographic images and blobs of ink. I suspect that the moirĂ© effects are in the scanning rather than in the original, but you never know.

Palmer returned to the Other Worlds format in July 1957 but retitled his magazine Flying Saucers from Other Worlds. The cover art, by Malcolm Smith, was recycled from the December 1951 issue. Inside was the story "Quest of Brail" by Richard S. Shaver, also recycled, from Amazing Stories, December 1945, that golden year of the Shaver Mystery. This was the penultimate issue of Other Worlds. The magazine came to an end in October 1957.

Finally, in July 1958, Shaver and his mystery had their last gasp in an American science fiction magazine when Fantastic published a special Shaver Mystery issue. Thereafter, he and it were relegated to the pages of magazines on the fringes, magazines published by Palmer and by Shaver himself. To be fair to both men, science fiction pulps were coming to an end, too, in the late '50s. I have read that the last pulp magazine of this genre was published in 1958 and the last pulp magazine of any genre in the early 1970s. By then, the flying saucer era had reached its end, too, while Shaver and Palmer were in the last decade of their lives. In the meantime, Gray Barker and Albert K. Bender kept the memory of the Shaver Mystery alive, at least for a while.

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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