Wednesday, November 14, 2018

F. Georgia Stroup (1882-1952)

Teacher, Writer, Laborer
Born March 16, 1882, Liberty, Clay County, Missouri
Died November 14, 1952, presumably at East Moline State Hospital, East Moline, Illinois

I have found a Fannie Georgia Stroup and I hope that she is the same Fannie Georgia Stroup throughout the records that I have found. I'm pretty confident in most of this. It's the transition from California to Chicago (or Kansas to Chicago) that seems a little uncertain. But then there is a gravestone for her in Illinois. The name and birthdate on the stone fit the facts of Fannie's biography. Maybe sometimes things really are as simple as they seem.

Fannie Georgia Stroup was a writer, a teacher, and a teacher of teachers. She was born on March 16, 1882, in Liberty, Missouri, to George W. Stroup (1856-1886), a farmer, and Louisa D. "Lula" Stroup (1860-1932). Her parents married in about 1881 and had two daughters, Fannie being the elder, Anna May Stroup (1886-?) the younger. They all lived together in Osage Township, Miami County, Kansas, at the time of the Kansas State Census of 1885, but that way of life came to an end with George Stroup's death in 1886.

Lula Stroup remarried sometime after her husband's death. In the state census of 1895, she and her daughters were in Osage Township with her second husband, William H. Addy, (1848-1920), who was also a farmer. By the time of the 1900 U.S. Census, Fannie, at age eighteen, was teaching. Also during that year she attended (or possibly taught at) a school called Brush College. From 1900 to 1902 or after, she taught at Boicourt, Keokuk, and Moneka, all in Linn County, Kansas. She was at Linn County Normal School at about the same time and in 1907 taught at the Frantz school, also in Kansas.

That's a lot of trivia adding up to not very much. However, it indicates that Fannie Stroup, who called herself F. Georgia Stroup (perhaps after her father), was pretty well on her own once she reached adulthood. That changed on April 25, 1909, when she married William Harvey "Will" Morrison (1879-1946) in Fontana, Linn County, Kansas. In the week after their wedding, the two went to live in California. In the census of 1910, they were in Redlands, where he worked as a farm laborer and she as a teacher. By 1920, he had worked his way up to being a police officer in the city. She, on the other hand, was an orange packer. He kept working his way up, eventually to become chief of police in Redlands from 1935 to 1942. She, on the other hand, ended up in a grave at a mental hospital in Illinois.

The split between F. Georgia Stroup and her husband came sometime in the late 1910s and was final by 1930 when she was living in Chicago and working as a forelady at a lamp shade factory. William H. Morrison had another wife by then and was ensconced at Redlands. So what made Georgia move to Chicago? No one can say, for she was one of countless millions of people who have been swallowed up by the black hole of the past--millions who have left not a trace of themselves other than in public records and perhaps a granite monument in some lonely graveyard.

F. Georgia Stroup left one more thing, though. She left a story called "The House of Death," published in Weird Tales in the magazine's very first issue, March 1923. Did that story arrive on the editor's desk from California? From Kansas? Or was she already in Chicago by 1923? If I had to guess, I would say that Georgia returned home, to Kansas, after her California adventure, including her marriage, came to an end in about 1920. As one piece of evidence, I have a non-fiction piece called "Iron Rust," written under the byline F. Georgia Stroup Morrison and published in the Stockton Review, Stockton, Kansas, March 2, 1922. That article may be the only other piece of her writing still in existence.

Again, by the time of the 1930 census, F. Georgia Stroup was in Chicago. She was counted again in the same place in 1940 but did not give an occupation. She also provided a little more information that was previously lacking in census records: she was in fact divorced and she had received only an eighth-grade education. Also, she let us know that she had lived in Chicago in 1935.

Born in the spring, F. Georgia Stroup died in the fall, sixty-six years ago today, on November 14, 1952. In this week of remembering, we can remember her, too. She lies buried at State Hospital Cemetery in East Moline, Illinois. Presumably she died there, at East Moline Hospital. Norman Elwood Hamerstrom (1899-1970), who also contributed to Weird Tales, died at that same hospital and may very well rest in the same place.

F. Georgia Stroup's Story in Weird Tales
"The House of Death" (Mar. 1923)

Further Reading

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Eleventh Hour

This is a year of two anniversaries divisible by one hundred years each. Two hundred years ago, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, in which a man (or semi-man) is assembled from corpses, came out in an edition of 500 copies. One hundred years ago today, at this hour (my local time), the Great War, in which millions of men had been reduced to corpses, came to an end. Both were momentous events. One was a work of art, thus of life and creation. The other was a great and horrifying work of death and destruction. In 1818 and 1918, these were recognized as opposites: life and death, creation and destruction. On a much smaller scale, both had a great influence on the evolution of fantasy and weird fiction. Some people consider Frankenstein to be the first novel of science fiction. From it and similar books--books more properly called romances--came tales by British and American authors, chiefly Edgar Allan Poe, that led to weird fiction. And it is from Edgar Allan Poe that Weird Tales, no doubt named for a collection of his works published in the 1890s, is descended. But would there have been Weird Tales without the Great War? It's impossible to say. But in that war, horror, death, mutilation, and destruction met and in some ways became allied with art. I have recently read a book that makes that claim at least, and I have a hard time seeing that its author was wrong.

The book is called Art and Fear. The author was Paul Virilio, who was still living when I read it a couple of months ago but who has since died, on--of all days--September 10, 2018, the day before an anniversary of mass death and horror could revisit the world. (1) Art and Fear is a slim volume, published in 2006 by Continuum of London. It consists of two essays drawn from talks given by M. Virilio. Here I'll consider the first, "A Pitiless Art."

Four years ago, I wrote a series called "What is the monster of the twenty-first century?" My conclusion was that the zombie, representing mass man, in other words, all of humanity in our mass age, is that monster. Lately, though, I have seen signs that the zombie is fading. For example, we're already into the last season of The Walking Dead (supposedly), and it looks like zombies are going to lose their main television venue. Sorry, zombies. I have also seen signs that another monster for the twenty-first century could be on the horizon. Some people think that Artificial Intelligence (AI) or robots armed with AI will turn against us and seek to destroy us. Maybe. But maybe AI is a red herring. Maybe the next monster will be inclusive of AI but be something else instead.

Maybe the new monster of the twenty-first century will be the transhuman, or, perhaps more accurately, the man who makes him.

Whether it will be or not, Paul Virilio foresaw the coming of the transhuman and the maker of the transhuman in the monstrousness and horrors of the twentieth century, a century in which terror, murder, mutilation, and mass dehumanization of men became like artistic expressions, one in which science and the arts fused in the creation of new ways of representing the human form, not in stone or clay, not on canvas or paper, but in the murdered corpse, the dissected, mutilated, or vivisected body, and in the genetically altered human being himself.

In his essay, Virilio invoked Nietzsche, but he seems to have dated our drive towards teratogenesis to the Great War:
At the dawn of industrial modernity, Baudelaire declared, 'I am the wound and the knife.' How can we fail to see that, in the wake of the hecatomb of the Great War, when Braque and Otto Dix found themselves on opposite sides of the trenches in the mud of the Somme, modern art for its part forgot about the wound and concentrated on the knife--the bayonet--with the likes of Oskar Kokoschka, 'the scalpel-wielding artist', before moving on through the German Expressionism of Der Sturm to the Viennese Actionism of Rudolph Schwarzkogler and his cohorts in the 1960s . . .
ART MAUDIT or Artist Maudit? What can you say, meanwhile, about the likes of Richard Hülsenbeck, one of the founding fathers of Dada, who told a Berlin audience in 1918, at a conference on the new trends in art, 'We were for the war. Dada today is still for the war. Life should hurt. There is not enough cruelty!' The rest is history. (p. 16)
And so we have had a century not only of cruelty but also of terror, mass murder, self-destruction, dehumanization, and mutilation of the human form and the human person, much of it the hands of scientists (or pseudoscientists) operating beyond any previously observed or acknowledged limits. They are men without pity, practitioners of one of the pitiless arts of Virilio's title. They were and are technological giants but ethical pygmies, maybe even ethical amoebas.

Seven years after the war ended, the French-Jewish art dealer René Gimpel, who would go on to perish in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in his diary:
The new German painting, naturally, represents current sensibility in Germany and it really frightens me. The Ancients invented and represented the world of witches, but the world of Hate is a modern invention, the invention of Germany, spread out over the canvas. The demons of gothic pictures are child's play when it comes to the human, or, rather, inhuman, heads of a humanity bent on destruction. Furious, murderous, demoniacal heads not in the style of the old masters but in completely modern manner: scientific, choking with poison gas. They would like to carve the Germans of tomorrow out of fresh meat . . . (p. 18)
This is a key insight, I think, for as Gimpel saw so keenly, Hate--a new and special kind of hate--is an invention of modernity, more specifically, a materialistic and thoroughly scientified modernity, one that has replaced God with countless minor gods. "The demons of gothic pictures," as Gimpel put it, "are child's play." The gothic, the supernatural, the romantic, the traditional, the folkloric--all have been overtaken and left in the dust by modernity. This was the greater problem for humanity in the twentieth century, a far lesser one for weird fiction. I have written before about this problem and how one teller of weird tales, Fritz Leiber, Jr., tried to deal with it.

Germans may have been first to sicken from this new disease of modernity--they were after all closest to the source of infection (2)--but the disease has spread throughout the world:
This is how Rothko put it: 'I studied the figure. Only reluctantly did I realize it didn't correspond to my needs. Using human representation, for me, meant mutilating it.' (p. 20)
Rothko killed himself in 1970, "exercising," Virilio wrote, "the most nihilistic of freedoms of expression: that of SELF-DESTRUCTION." (p. 21) In that, Rothko recapitulated other suicides by other artists and prefigured the suicides of many more to come.

Virilio continues:
As far as contemporary science and biology go, doubt is no longer an option, for genetics is on the way to becoming an art, a transgenic art, a culture of the embryo to purely performative ends, just as the eugenicists of the beginning of the twentieth century hoped. When Nietzsche decided that 'moral judgements, like all religious judgements, belong to ignorance', he flung the door to the laboratories of terror wide open. (p. 26)
* * *
The expressionism of a MONSTER, born of the labour of a science deliberately deprived of a conscience . . . As though, thanks to the progress of genetics, teratology had suddenly become the SUMMUM of BIOLOGY and the oddball the new form of genius only, not a literary or artistic genius anymore, but a GENETIC GENIUS. (pp. 26-27)
* * *
Sir Francis Galton, the unredeemed eugenicist, is back in the land of his cousin Darwin: freedom of aesthetic expression now knows no bounds. Not only is everything from now on 'possible'. It is 'inevitable'! 
Thanks to the genetic bomb [analogous to the atomic bomb in physics], the science of biology has become a major art only, an EXTREME ART. (p. 29)
* * *
Confronted by such 'expressionist' events [i.e., genocide in the late twentieth century], surely we can see what comes next, looming over us as it is: an officially terrorist art preaching suicide and self-mutilation thereby extending the current infatuation with scarring and piercing. Or else random slaughter, the coming of a THANATOPHILIA that would revive the now forgotten fascist slogan: VIVA LA MUERTA! (pp. 30-31)
* * *
Thanatophilia, necro-technology and one day soon, teratology . . . Is this genetic trance still a science, some new alchemy, or is it an extreme art? (p. 31)
* * *
Where will it end, this impiety of art, of the arts and crafts of this 'transfiguration' that not only fulfills the dreams of the German Expressionists but also those of the Futurists, those 'hate-makers' whose destructiveness Hans Magnus Enzensberger has dissected. (p. 34)
Where will it end? I suspect it won't, as "end" requires limit. There are and will be no limits in men who lack all moral and ethical sense. And so, as Mary Shelley foresaw two hundred years ago, as the men who lived through the Great War foresaw a century ago, and as Paul Virilio foresaw at the beginning of the current century, we will have things among us that cross boundaries, between man and animal, between man and machine, between man and monster. These will be transhuman. But will they be the real monsters among us, or will that role be played by the men who create them? Who in Frankenstein was the real monster, the creature or the creator?

* * *

The problem of transhumanism goes deeper than that, though. If we say that the transhuman or the creator of the transhuman is the monster, we remove the problem from ourselves. We are absolved. We can say to ourselves, Those people over there are monsters. But not us. We are good. Remember Virilio's premonition: "[S]urely we can see what comes next [. . .] an officially terrorist art preaching suicide and self-mutilation thereby extending the current infatuation with scarring and piercing. Or else random slaughter, the coming of a THANATOPHILIA [. . . .]" The signs are all around us. We are full of hatred, each for himself, all for all, all for humanity, for human history, culture, society, and civilization. And because of those hatreds we rush to negate ourselves, mutilate ourselves, destroy ourselves, or else commit murder, mass murder if we can, but murder nonetheless. We can point fingers and say that the transhuman or the men who will create him will be monsters, but what will stop us from rushing to those same creators, begging them to mutilate us, transform us, turn us into monsters, anything so that we might be something other than what we are in this hated thing? Are we not attempting transhumanism ourselves? And if the transhuman is a monster, what does that make us?

* * *

Paul Virilio did not mention Frankenstein in his essay, yet by strange coincidences, the connections are made in this year of a centennial, a bicentennial, and his passing from the earth. I am an artist. I can tell you that what Virilio described among artists is an actuality. I have seen so much hatred, violence, cruelty, nihilism, and destruction in the work of artists I have encountered. There isn't any question in my mind that they hate not only themselves but also life, God, the world, and the rest of humanity. Not knowing what they are or hating what they are, they engage in the everyday self-mutilations of tattooing, piercing, and scarring. And now we have people having their bodies surgically altered. Anything, they seem to be saying. Give us anything so that we don't have to be what we are. These things are the drip, drip, drip of suicide and self-destruction. If they could, these artists might very well commit murder. Short of actual killing, they commit murder in their art. It is an art of extreme cruelty, extreme violence, extreme destruction. Artists once provided warnings against such things. They were human, not anti-human. Artists and thinkers operating within limits foresaw that the transhuman and his extreme-scientist/extreme-artist creator, operating without limits or beyond limits, would prove monstrous. But then, in the twentieth century, the artist joined the scientist and the war-maker as one of a class of destroyers. Those who lived and operated within limits, before limits were destroyed, may have failed to see that we might all wish to be monsters, but we will be. Unless we draw back, unless we recognize limits, unless we say no to death and destruction and yes to life and creation.

(1) The translator's preface to Art and Fear, by Julie Rose begins: "Immediately after September 11--an event that did not take him by surprise--people who had always dismissed Virilio as a pessimist started plaguing him for interviews." (p. vii)
(2) And they're still carrying on quite well, despite their sickness, on their march to self-destruction and the destruction of Europe.

The Wounded Soldier by Otto Dix, 1917.
An illustration for Frankenstein by the American artist Lynd Ward (1905-1985).

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, November 9, 2018

Paul Ernst (1899-1985)-Part Two

Paul Ernst lived a long life and enjoyed a long career as an author of stories published in popular magazines. The FictionMags Index has his first story as "Lights Out," published in Breezy Stories in July 1926. (He was then twenty-six years old and presumably living in Chicago with his mother.) Wikipedia gives a very late credit, a short story called "Blackout" for Good Housekeeping, July 1971. (Then seventy-one years old, he was presumably living in the Tampa Bay area with his wife.) In the intervening forty-five years, Ernst penned hundreds of stories for Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories, Breezy Stories, Clues Detective Stories, Dime Mystery Magazine, Droll Stories, Ghost Stories, Horror Stories, Mystery Stories, Nick Carter Magazine, Popular Detective, Racketeer Stories (who knew there was such a thing?), The Shadow Magazine, Terror Tales, and dozens of other titles. Under the byline Kenneth Robeson, Ernst wrote two dozen tales for The Avenger magazine. He was the ninth most prolific author of stories appearing in Weird Tales. As pulp magazines faded, Ernst sold stories to The American Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, The Saturday Evening Post, and Woman's Home Companion. He wrote love stories, detective stories, crime fiction, weird fiction, science fiction, tales of terror and horror (also called weird menace), and the kind of mainstream fiction that appeared in women's magazines and slick magazines for decades after the war. In short, Paul Ernst wrote everything (everything but Westerns), and he kept it up for decades. And still, we know so little about him.

I found an interesting article that mentions Paul Ernst's name, though. It's from the Tampa Times for January 21, 1942, and it describes a winter writer's colony at Anna Maria Key, located ten miles west of Bradenton, Florida. (1) The other authors mentioned as wintering or living at Anna Maria Key included:
  • Joel Reeve, Pseudonym of William R. Cox (1901-1988)-A prolific author of Westerns, mystery stories, and sports stories, Cox was working on a Western on the day of his death at age eighty-seven.
  • Wyatt Blassingame (1909-1985)-Another prolific author of adventure stories, crime stories, and detective stories, as well as of tales of terror and horror.
  • Theodore Tinsley (1894-1979)-A third very prolific author of crime and detective stories. Tinsley also wrote a number of stories of The Shadow for that character's self-titled magazine.
  • Norvell Page (1904-1961)-A veteran newspaperman and pulp author, Page is most remembered for his many stories of the The Spider. He also wrote tales of heroic fantasy, one of which was adapted to Marvel Comics' Conan the Barbarian in 1973-1974.
  • Margaret Scott (1898-?)-According to the article, Margaret Scott was the sister of Mrs. Wyatt Blassingame, otherwise known as Gertrude (Olsen) Blassingame. I have found Margaret Scott in public records. Her name was actually Margurete or Margurite Olsen, but she wrote under the pseudonyms Margaret Scott, Rita Dever, and (with Will Oursler) Gale Gallagher. Her stories appeared in The Household Magazine, LibertyTriple Detective, and confession-type magazines.
  • Kreigh Collins (1908-1974)-Although he wrote adventure stories for boys, Kreigh Collins was and is most well known for his work as a comic strip artist, illustrator, and painter. He created a number of beautifully drawn comic strips, including Mitzi McCoy/Kevin the Bold (1948-1972).
  • Frances Mallory Wykes (1905-1990)-Born in Evanston, Illinois, Frances Mallory Wykes lived in Florida for many years. She was the author of novels, including Wings in the Sun (1941) and The Lady and the Looking Glass (1955). She was married to Frederic Kirtland Wykes (1905-1982), who illustrated Wings in the Sun.
  • Fanny Herron Wingate (dates unknown)-A poet whose work appeared in magazines and newspapers.
  • Dr. James M. Stifler (1875-1949)-An authority and author of books on Benjamin Franklin, Stifler was a Baptist minster and a secretary of the University of Chicago (1935-1940). He's not the kind of man I would expect to hang around with a bunch of lowly pulp writers, but who said they hung around together? Maybe they all just wintered in the same place.
  • Dr. Binford Throne (1873-1952)-Dr. Throne was an expert on skin diseases and served as a physician in New York City for many years. He wrote in his area of expertise for various medical journals.
  • Talbot Mundy (1879-1940)-Pulp writer and adventure story author Talbot Mundy also wintered at Anna Maria Key . . .
  • Walter Lippman (1889-1974)-As did journalist, author, and commentator Walter Lippman.
So Paul Ernst didn't labor away in isolation and obscurity, but the image of a group of writers wintering on the golden coast of Florida in the mid 1940s is so powerful that I want to go there and be among them. Golden days like that may be lost forever . . . 

Anyway, Paul Ernst wrote thirty-eight stories for Weird Tales, the first being "The Temple of the Serpents," from October 1928, and the last being "Outbound," from September 1945. Ernst wrote one of these stories, "The Way Home" (Nov. 1935), under a pseudonym, Paul Frederick Stern. Among his other stories was the five-part serial "The Black Monarch," from February-June 1930. Ernst also contributed four stories to Oriental Stories and one to The Magic Carpet Magazine, plus one letter to "The Eyrie," the letters column of Weird Tales. Eight of his stories for "The Unique Magazine" were in the Doctor Satan series. As mentioned, he also penned twenty-four stories about the series character The Avenger for the magazine of the same name, from 1939 to 1942. All or most of these appeared as reprint paperback editions in the 1970s under the Warner Paperback Library imprint.

I wonder what happened to Paul Ernst's papers after his death in 1985. Could they have been destroyed? Or are they still out there somewhere? If nothing else, we have his hundreds of stories, all that remains of his life on this earth.

Paul Ernst's Stories and Letter in Weird Tales, Oriental Stories, and The Magic Carpet Magazine
See the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, here.

Further Reading
I'm afraid there's nothing much on the Internet on Paul Ernst except for lists of his stories on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and The FictionMags Index. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has a brief article on him cautioning against confusing him with other authors of the same name. That makes me wonder if The FictionMags Index, and consequently I, have him confused with the other Paul Ernst. Anyway, there is also Robert Weinberg's long-ago collection, Dr. Satan (Pulp Classics #6), published in 1974.

(1) "Nationally Famed Authors Form Winter 'Colony' at Anna Maria Key," Tampa Times, January 21, 1942, page 19.

A gallery of covers illustrating stories by Paul Ernst. First, Astounding Stories, June 1932, with cover art by H.W. Wesso.

Startling Stories, May 1948, with cover art by Earle Bergey.

Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, March 1932, with cover art by Wesso again.

Terror Tales, March 1936, with cover art by John Howitt. Note the red-robed cultists.

The Avenger, September 1939, with cover art by H.W. Scott.

Finally, a Swedish edition, De mikroskopiska jättarna (The Microscopic Giants), published in 1973. I think A.E. van Vogt's byline is on the cover for his authorship of "The Sea Thing," which was originally published in 1940 and included in this edition.

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Paul Ernst (1899-1985)-Part One

Aka Chris Brand, Frederick Carr, George Alden Edson, George Edson, Ernest Jason Fredericks, Emerson Graves, Kenneth Robeson, Paul Frederick Stern
Born November 7, 1899, Akron, Ohio
Died September 21, 1985, Pinellas County (possibly in Largo), Florida

When I first looked at Paul Ernst a few years ago, information on his life was pretty well missing. That has changed, but Wikipedia still has his birth and death dates wrong. His biography on that website is otherwise spare. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database is better, but it has a link to the biography of another man (German actor Paul Ernst [1866-1933]) on the Internet Movie Database. It also has a link to the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which has Ernst's place of birth wrong. (His place of death on that same website may or may not be right.) I guess the thing to do is to start with primary sources.

First, according to Summit County, Ohio, birth records, Paul Frederick Ernst was born on November 7, 1899, in Akron, Ohio, to Louis C. and Nellie (Ticknor) Ernst. They had married on August 22, 1897, in Portage County, Ohio, and Paul was their firstborn and only child. Louis Ernst worked as a railroad postal clerk. His parents were immigrants from Germany.

By 1910, Louis Ernst was gone. His widow Nellie, then working as a dressmaker in her own home, was in Chicago with ten-year-old Paul. She remarried on October 14, 1915, in Cook County, Illinois. Her new husband was George B. Kerr. He was nearly thirty years her senior. In the U.S. census of 1920, the three were living in Chicago, where Kerr managed a brass foundry. Paul Ernst, giving his age as twenty-two, was unemployed at the time.

The next record I have for Paul Ernst is for a trip he made with his mother to Europe and back. On December 19, 1928, the two arrived in New York City from Naples. They gave their address as 540 Brampton Place in Chicago. That place seems to be no longer in existence.

I have not found Ernst in the 1930 census, but in 1940, he was living in Buckingham Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and working as a freelance writer. He was also married. His wife was named Martha, and the two let the enumerator of the census know that they had lived in the same place in 1935. She was the former Martha Jones, who had lived in Chicago with her parents. In 1930, she was single. That narrows down the marriage date for Paul Ernst and Martha Jones to the period 1930-1935. Ernst was in New Hope in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1942 when he filled out his draft card. At five feet, ten inches tall, he was a slight 140 pounds.

That's where the public records leave off until the death of Martha (Jones) Ernst on May 5, 1974, in Pinellas County, Florida. She was seventy-five years old at her death. (She was born on December 26, 1898.) Paul Ernst remarried after his wife's death. His second wife, Rae Ernst of Largo, Florida, died on May 1, 1989, at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Florida, at the age of ninety. (May was a bad month for the wives of Paul Ernst.) "A native of Finland," reads her obituary, "she moved to the [Tampa] area in 1953. She was a retired executive for AT&T. She was past president of Telephone Pioneer[s] of America." (1)

In between those two deaths, Paul Ernst himself died. That unhappy event took place on September 21, 1985, when he was eighty-five years old. At the time of his death, Ernst lived at 202 Crestwood Lane, Largo, Florida. According to his obituary, he had arrived in the area twenty years before from Pennsylvania. "He was a U.S. Navy veteran," it read. "He was a member of the Pelican Golf Club, Belleair." (2)

I guess it's no wonder that the facts in the life of Paul Ernst are so hard to come by. His parents died before he reached mid life. He didn't have any brothers or sisters. He also didn't have any children as far as I can tell. His first wife died before him. And, finally, his second wife, whom he had married late in life, had been married before and had only a daughter, in other words another family apart from him. In any case, Wikipedia is wrong, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database is right but has an errant link, and the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has his dates right but at least one of the places wrong. Here's hoping that corrections are on the way. Oh, and by the way, today would have been his 119th birthday, so Happy Birthday, Paul Ernst!

Next: The Writing Career of Paul Ernst

(1) Tampa Tribune, May 3, 1989, p. 110.
(2) Tampa Tribune, September 24, 1985, p. 20. According to public records, Ernst died in Pinellas County. I assume he died either at home or at a local hospital.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, November 5, 2018

Doctor Satan on the Cover of Weird Tales

I wrote the previous series on superheroes, supervillains, supermen, and super-words in order to get here today. My hypothesis was that these words and concepts originated in the 1890s, give or take a decade. The evidence seems to bear out my hypothesizing. I didn't realize how strong would be the connection between super-ness and the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, though. Even so, we as Americans more or less took these words and concepts away from European high culture and its distant and abstruse philosophizing and adapted them to our popular culture, in the process making them safer and more immediate, democratizing them, deflating them, and reducing the danger they represented to humanity. (1) There were echoes of words and concepts from Nietzsche--of supermen and super-words--in the popular press and in popular culture as late as the pulp fiction era, but as the twentieth century progressed, the superhero, as the successor to the hero in popular, folkloric, conventional, and sentimental literature, became more positive than negative, a force for the preservation of civilization and society rather than for their destruction, or for his striding over them in Nietzschean fashion. The superhero or superman came first, and in becoming positive, he had to have something against him, an antagonist, a foil, a counterweight. That's how, I think, we came to have the supervillain.

In my search for various super-words, I found a first occurrence of supervillain in the 1910s, significantly, I think, in drama (or melodrama) and in the cinema, in other words, in pop-cultural forms rather than in high culture or belles lettres. Tarzan and John Carter, two of the earliest superheroes, first appeared in 1912. The following year, one of the earliest supervillains, the insidious Fu Manchu, showed his face for the first time. (2) Tarzan and John Carter were and are regular and recurring characters. In that way, they have one of the qualities we associate with superheroes. But neither has a regular and recurring supervillain to oppose him. Likewise, Fu Manchu does not have a superhero against him. Instead there is Sir Denis Nayland Smith, a kind of Sherlock Holmes to Fu Manchu's Moriarty. Perhaps that was the model for the Doctor Satan stories that appeared in Weird Tales, beginning in August 1935.

In 1984, Robert Weinberg collected the Doctor Satan stories in a softbound booklet called, appropriately enough, Dr. Satan. In his introduction, Mr. Weinberg explained the origin of the series as a response to the popularity of the weird horror or terror titles of the early 1930s. These magazines were in competition with Weird Tales. If the editor, Farnsworth Wright, was going to keep up, he would have to feature stories of weird detectives in his magazine, or so he must have thought. "The Death Cry," by Arthur Reeves, printed in the May 1935 issue of Weird Tales, was the first entry in the magazine's journal of weird detective tales. The Doctor Satan series, by the prolific Paul Ernst, followed over the next year or so.

Whether he was ever referred to as a supervillain or not, Doctor Satan fits the bill. He has superpowers (his are supernatural) and regularly wears the same costume, at least on the cover of Weird Tales, making him instantly recognizable to children and fans. His foil is Ascott (or Ascot) Keane, a detective who may or may not be super. (He's definitely no Batman.) The two fought it out, as heroes and villains do, for eight stories spread out over a year's worth of issues. Still, the conventions of the superhero genre were not well established in the early to mid 1930s. There may have been superheroes at the time but not always supervillains to match them. Conversely, there may have been supervillains, like Doctor Satan, but no superheroes in possession of equal and opposing superpowers with whom they might contend.

Doctor Satan was on the cover of two issues of Weird Tales, in his debut in August 1935 and in his penultimate appearance in May 1936. In the meantime, the author, Paul Ernst, had his byline on the cover of the magazine several times. Unfortunately for him and his supervillainous character, the Conan stories, by Robert E. Howard, were running at the same time. Conan won the cover contest by a score of three to two in the year he and Doctor Satan shared space in Weird Tales. Conan the superhero is still remembered today. Doctor Satan the supervillain is, on the other hand, almost forgotten.

The Doctor Satan Stories in Weird Tales
"Doctor Satan" (Aug. 1935)
"The Man Who Chained the Lightning" (Sept. 1935)
"Hollywood Horror" (Oct. 1935)
"The Consuming Flame" (Nov. 1935)
"Horror Insured" (Jan. 1936)
"Beyond Death's Gateway" (Mar. 1936)
"The Devil's Double" (May 1936)
"Mask of Death" (Sept. 1936)

(1) Here is Camille Paglia in Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (Vintage, 1991): "I will argue that high culture made itself obsolete through modernism's neurotic nihilism and that popular culture is the great heir of the western past." (p. 31)
(2) There were supervillains before Fu Manchu, of course. One example is the Invisible Man from the novel of the same name by H.G. Wells, first published in 1897.

Weird Tales, August 1935. Cover story: "Doctor Satan" by Paul Ernst. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

Weird Tales, May 1936. Cover story: "The Devil's Double" by Paul Ernst. Cover art by Margaret Brundage.

These covers also appear in my entry "Devils and Demons on the Cover of Weird Tales," from October 24, 2016, here.

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Secret Origins of the Superhero-Part Five

Every superhero has his secret identity. With Superman, it's Clark Kent. (Or is the other way around?) (1) Superheroes also have their unique costumes, secret hideaways, props, trappings, and supporting characters, including their love interests. Many of these conventions of the superhero genre come from other genres, some of which are as old as time. It's impossible now to uncover the origins of many of them, but secret identity is a specific phrase that lends itself to a search. I've done that, and I have an early occurrence of the phrase secret identity, again from the 1890s.

1890-The Earliest Use of Secret Identity

The earliest use I have found of secret identity is actually from a piece of serialized fiction called King or Knave?, written by Robert Edward Francillon (1841-1919) and published in various newspapers in the 1890s, perhaps beginning with the Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner of Manchester, England. The quote below is from the installment of January 11, 1890, page 10. In Francillon's story, a doctor and a young woman named Cynthia have met on a train. They begin discussing some people they know in common. Then their conversation takes a turn:
A dreadful pang shot through the doctor's heart. Could anybody else have discovered the secret identity and be trading on it? He made his last remark to see how it was taken. If she did know the secret, it was incredible that she should have played with it before a stranger--unless, indeed, she were playing some very deep game [. . .].
There were more secret identities in newspapers from 1890 to about 1940 or so, but it was only after Superman came along that the phrase became a part of common currency, including in professional wrestling. (Professional wrestlers, along with rock stars, might be the closest thing we have in real life to costumed superheroes.)

1912-The Earliest Use of Supervillain

Last to arrive on the scene was supervillain. The earliest use I have found of that term is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 10, 1912, page 7. The article, "Guardsmen Are to Repeat War Drama Triumph," is a review of a stage play called Held by the Enemy. "War dramas," wrote the reviewer, "require two things--a heroine of emotional type and a super-villain." (What about a hero?) In this instance, Mrs. Horace Applegate played the former. Major Dick Gruner, playing Surgeon-General Fielding, filled the latter role, making him perhaps the first supervillain so named in our popular culture. I have another use from about the same time, from the Vicksburg Herald for April 13, 1915, page 5. This, too, was a review, for a "five part photodrama" called Money. From the first paragraph:
"A Million Dollars for a Banquet"--that is the amount of money spent [. . .] by the super-villain of the story, John D. Maximillian, otherwise known as Croesus, who has made himself the Money-Power of the World.
So it looks like Maximillian as a supervillain possesses the superpower of money--he is "the Money-Power of the World."

It's interesting that the supervillain came to popular culture (i.e., pulp fiction and comic books) from popular culture (i.e., melodrama and cinema). In other words, the super- prefix seems to have attached itself to the supervillain not because of his association with the Nietzschian Superman but because of the general usage of that prefix during the first decade or two of the twentieth century. (2) American movies, as a more or less conventional, middle-class, heavily sentimentalized, even moralistic medium, had superheroes and needed counterbalancing supervillains as their foils. In short, the supervillain seems to have been an invention strictly of American popular culture. 

In summary, the words superhero, superheroine, superman, superwoman, superpower, secret identity, and supervillain were all in use well before the 1930s. (3) It only took science fiction and fantasy, and then, ultimately, comic books, to turn these words into what we understand them to mean today. And that happened in the 1930s, mostly because of Superman.

* * *

PostscriptIn writing this series, I have thought about Slan, by A.E. van Vogt (1946), and other science fiction stories. The idea of the superior man is vast and deep in genre fiction; a simple blog just isn't big enough for the exploration. Instead I'll say that, although the concept of the Superman--and super-ness--seems to have come from Nietzsche, it found its natural home only in America, in the land of tall tales, hype, and boosterism. When it arrived here, we did with it what we do best: we a) commercialized it, and b) turned it into popular culture. Super-ness went from being a serious and abstruse philosophical concept to one taken up by ordinary men and women, mostly in the popular press. You could say that the concept became--"Horrors!" Nietzsche might exclaim--democratized. In the process, the Nietzschean Superman, an idea perhaps too serious for its own good, was punctured and became deflated, only to be replaced by the democratic Superman, who fights for truth, justice, and the American way.

As it turns out, the pretender or aspirer to super-ness is more often a small man than a great one--a small man living among the masses, either in a democracy or as part of a mass movement. He is decidedly not an aristocrat or a man above men. I'm not sure that we have had a true Nietzschean Superman since the philosopher first came up with the idea. In fact, the advent of the Nietzschean Superman may very well be an impossibility. (God always has the last laugh.) On the contrary, the desire to be above the rest of humanity holds a special appeal to small men rather than big, and they can't seem to resist it. More often than not, they choose a political--especially a politico-racial--means for attempting super-ness. The recent synagogue shooter in Pittsburgh, the recent mail bomber in Florida, the castor-bean-mailer in Utah, the black-church shooter in South Carolina--these are all good examples of small men trying to be big, and necessarily failing. Lee Harvey Oswald is another example. So is the shooter in Las Vegas, who, significantly, fired on masses of people from above. To him they must have seemed like ants (or worms, in Zarathustra's formulation). All or most of the high-ranking Nazis were like that, too: small men--freaks, perverts, deviants, misfits, outcasts, losers--all trying to be big.

Unfortunately, the same kind of thing was and is sometimes at work in science fiction, especially in early science-fiction fandom. Those early fans were physically unattractive, awkward, inept at ordinary living, etc., yet some were convinced that their superior brains and vast knowledge of science, fitted to what was sure to be a better, more technologically advanced future, would make them big. In creating Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster may have been acting out a kind of fantasy--their fantasy--of achieving bigness and greatness--his bigness and greatness. But they seem to have come up with an innovation: they converted the Nietzschean Superman into a force for good rather than one for himself and his own greatness. In that way, they took the Nietzschean Superman away from the Nazis and other pretenders so well and so thoroughly that when we think of the Superman today, we think only of the DC version, not the Nazi or Nietzsche version. What a powerful thing they did! The Allies may have destroyed the Nazis, but Siegel and Shuster, two Jewish kids from Cleveland, destroyed the Nazis' physical, racial, and political ideal by wresting it from them forever.

Next: A Return to Weird Tales.

(1) And both Clark Kent and Superman may have had secret identities in their creators, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. Through Clark Kent, with his double English name (English occupation, clark, and English place name, Kent) and his Middle American origins, they might pass, I guess, as WASPS. And through Superman, they might pass as big, strong, powerful men rather than as ordinary Jewish urbanites. All of this (and my postscript) ignores the possibility that Clark Kent is the real identity of Superman and not the other way around. The evidence for that? Clark Kent wants Lois Lane to love him for himself rather than for what he is as Superman. Recent moviemakers have ruined the story of Superman by getting rid of the love triangle that is at its heart. They do, however, tell and retell (and retell) Superman's origin story, which is part Moses and part Jesus, or at least part Messiah.
(2) Like Magneto, Nietzsche might have found the idea of hero or villain, or hero vs. villain, to be nonsensical. It's no villain (or "reprobate," as in a quote on this blog from a few weeks ago) who strives to become the Nietzschean Superman.
(3) Super-villainess actually came last, in a review of Shadow Hall by John Paul Seabrooke, quoted in the London Observer, May 15, 1927, page 9: "Full of thrills. What a gang of villains is here led by a super villainess."

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Secret Origins of the Superhero-Part Four

"Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman--a rope over an abyss. . . . What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal . . . ."
--Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
(Penguin, 1961, pp. 43-44)

I think of Nietzsche as conservative or backward-looking, but his concept of the Superman seems forward-looking, evolutionary, futuristic, even progressive. It's no wonder that those who looked to the future--progressives, socialists, eugenicists, writers and fans of science fiction--glommed on to it. Although there were people who looked with hope towards the coming of the Superman (or who believed in themselves as Supermen), others pulled back, in doubt, skepticism, caution, fear, or--because of nazism as much as anything--horror. The Superman in their view would be a tyrant, a destroyer, a user and oppressor of men in his exercise of his supreme will. "You have made your way from worm to man," says Zarathustra, "and much in you is still worm." (p. 42) If we fail to cross the rope, the bridge, to a higher state, are we then still worms? And if so, is the Superman right to tread upon us?

Science fiction fans Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster began their creation of Superman with a Nietzschian version, a superior man who is more villain than hero. Their innovation in creating the superheroic version a couple of years later was twofold. First, they made their hero super not by his positioning of himself above others but by bestowing superpowers upon him. Second, and more importantly, they turned their version of the Superman from a self-centered being to one who is selfless, from bad to good, from amoral to eminently moral. The Nietzschian Superman seems to have come out of an inverted Garden of Eden. From his loins sprang two versions of himself. The Nazi had or was his own Übermensch, a kind of anti-Abel. Siegel and Shuster, both Jewish, created Superman, an anti-Cain, a man above men ("Look! Up in the sky . . . .") but who uses his powers to their benefit. Has the anti-Cain, the good Superman, then slain the anti-Abel, the bad Übermensch? Can he? Or is the battle never-ending? Whatever the case, from Superman came the true superhero of today with his superpowers, secret identity, and readily identifiable costume. The Nietzschian Superman--the Übermensch--on the other hand became his nemesis, the comic-book supervillain. Magneto from the The Uncanny X-Men, with his desire to take mutant man to the next level of evolution, may be the best example of this type. Sorry, Lex Luthor.

1879, 1907, 1909-The Earliest Uses of Superpower

The earliest use of the word superpower that I have found is from before the Civil War and was applied to looms for industrial weaving. I assume the super- part refers to the overhead location of the power source. The earliest use for something other than machinery is in an item from The Isle of Man Weekly Times, March 29, 1879, page 6. The item is about God and religion. The word superpower refers to God's own power:
. . . for who can doubt that the Saviour's hallowed, persecuted form personified the wisdom, the super-power, love, and mercy of the Almighty Father?
The earliest use of superpower that I have found applied to a person is from The Daily News and Observer of Charlotte, North Carolina, April 18, 1907, page 4. The reference is to Theodore Roosevelt:
Roosevelt loomed before the country out of the clouds of battle as a well exploited and highly advertised fin de siecle meteor of primitive Americanism. He was the "super"-natural, super-candid, super-boyish, super-scrapping, super-type of the gentleman in "chaps." [. . .] They [men of "the literary and collegiate cults"] begin to express a fear of the super-power they have helped to rear and glorify [i.e., Roosevelt himself].
Superpower is applied here to the man himself and not to the powers he might possess. It occurred to me when I read this that the prefix super- seems to have caught on in America during the early twentieth century, and why not? Our country was a big, bustling place. Ordinary words could not describe it. We needed super-words. From frontier days, we had boasting, lying contests, tall tales, literary and journalistic hoaxes, and boosterism of the most forward and obvious kind. In 1903, for example, a baseball playoff began between the two major leagues. Those leagues were confined to the northeastern quarter of the United States, yet their playoff was called the World Series. Teddy Roosevelt was the perfect president for his time, for he was big, he was full of energy, he had accomplished great things. He was, in short, super--though not quite yet a superhero.

The best early use I have found of superpower, approximating our current concept, comes from the Chicago Tribune for January 31, 1909, page 34. It's in a poem under the heading "Your Corner" and the byline Fadette. The poem is long, but it begins with a striking line:
Some of us live in worlds and some in superworlds.
In the third stanza are these lines:
Some live ethereally in the ineffable spiritualities.
[. . .]
They have no feelings, but perceptions.
They know no powers save the superpowers of the supermen.
They have no possessions, hopes, homes, friends, or paradises save those of the spirit. (1)
I'm not sure what to make of this poem, but there is the word superpowers (supermen, too), and it came just when we might expect it to have come, not long after Nietzsche, during the Progressive Era, during a time when progressivism, boosterism, and "primitive Americanism" lived side by side, when super-words seemed to express best what was happening in the world but most especially here in the United States. It was only a matter of time before the superhero would come along as a positive archetype for the twentieth century.

To be concluded . . . 

(1) Contrast Fadette's use of supermen to refer to men of the spirit with these words from Zarathustra:
     I entreat you, my brothers, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of superterrestrial hopes! They are poisoners, whether they know it or not.
     They are despisers of life, atrophying and self-poisoned men, of whom the earth is weary: so let them be gone!
X-Men #63, December 1969, with cover art by Neal Adams and Tom Palmer. The supervillain here, Magneto, comes close, I think, to a Nietzschian Superman, one who seeks to cross the rope or bridge on which we hang between our animal past and a higher future state. In Magneto's mind, I'm sure, he isn't a villain. The very idea of "hero" or "villain" might be absurd to him. Strangely, Magneto, at least in later issues and titles, became a Jew who had been sent to Auschwitz but who had escaped. And about Magneto and bridges: see the X-Men movies in which Magneto is imprisoned beyond a bridge and even moves a bridge using his superpowers.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley