Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Katherine Metcalf Roof (1871-?)

Author, Playwright, and Biographer
Born March 31, 1871, Clifton Springs, New York
Died ?

Pulp magazines rose and many older and more respectable titles fell in the years following World War I. The Great Depression was partly to blame. Paper shortages during World War II finished off many of the titles that had survived the 1930s. Writers who once saw their work printed in Scribner's, The Century, and The Smart Set had to be satisfied in later years with writing for the pulps. Katherine Metcalf Roof was one of them. She was born on March 31, 1871, in Clifton Springs, New York, and began writing for magazines as early as 1902. Ainslee's, Metropolitan, and The Smart Set were among the magazines that published her work. The high point of her writing career may have been The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase (1917), a biography of her friend, the renowned painter and teacher from Indiana, William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). She also wrote plays, including Three Dear Friends, and a second book, Colonel William Smith and Lady, published in 1929.

Pulp magazines that printed Katherine's work included Street and Smith's Detective Story Magazine, Snappy Stories, Romance, and of course Weird Tales. Katherine's lone story for "The Unique Magazine" was "A Million Years After," which made the cover of the November 1930 issue. (That was the same year coincidentally in which The Century and The Smart Set gave up the ghost.) She ended the decade with a letter to "The Eyrie" in December 1939. 

Dinosaurs were in the air when "A Million Years After" appeared. Brought to the silver screen in the 1910s by moviemaker Willis O'Brien (through stop-motion photography) and cartoonist Winsor McCay (through hand-drawn animation), dinosaurs had been in the public eye for some time when the silent film The Lost World was released in 1925. Based on Arthur Conan Doyle's book, the film featured advancements in Willis' techniques and proved a smash hit. Soon dinosaurs appeared on the covers of popular magazines, including Amazing Stories in June 1926 and February 1929. Weird Tales got in on the act with Katherine Metcalf Roof's story, illustrated by Curtis C. Senf on the cover and in the interior. Robert Weinberg considered it a mediocre tale, while Donald F. Glut was kinder, describing it as a "whimsical story" involving the theft and inadvertent incubation of a brontosaurus egg by two burglars. After going on a rampage, the poor dinosaur meets the same fate as rampaging dinosaurs everywhere. Incidentally, less than three years after "A Million Years After" was published, the moviegoing public flocked to the nation's theaters to see a film that was then and is still a sensation--King Kong.

Katherine Metcalf Roof's Story and Letter in Weird Tales
"A Million Years After" (Nov. 1930)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Dec. 1939)

Further Reading
Some of Katherine Metcalf Roof's early work has been digitized and is available on the Internet. I don't know of any reprints of her pulp fiction.

Katherine Metcalf Roof's "Million Years After" landed her a spot on the cover of Weird Tales in November 1930. The art is by C.C. Senf.

Note: Although Katherine Metcalf Roof listed her birth year as 1881 in an application for a passport, Randal A. Everts has found her in the 1880 census, aged nine. I have changed the birth year I had previously shown in this posting. Her date and place of death are still unknown.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Was she the first to put dinosaurs in Antarctica ?
    just curious...

  2. Hi, One Law,

    That's a tough one. I don't know. Everett Bleiler might have been the person to ask. Maybe one of his reference works has the answer. Readers?