Friday, June 10, 2011

Arthur William Bernal (1913-1991)

Aka A.W. Bernal, "Stendahl"
Author, Filmmaker, Food and Restaurant Critic
Born September 12, 1913, Oakland, California
Died October 13, 1991, Bayside, Queens, New York

Arthur William Bernal was born on September 12, 1913, in Oakland, California. An early fan of science fiction, he started writing at age fourteen and broke into magazines with letters to Astounding Stories of Super-Science (June 1930) and Amazing Stories (Aug. 1930). A year later, he provided the cover story ("Cosmic Menace") for the summer issue of Amazing Stories Quarterly. He wasn't quite eighteen years old.

Bernal's "Anaphylaxis" appeared in the July 1935 issue of Fantasy Magazine. He was only twenty-three years old when the magazine offered "A Biographical Sketch of A.W. Bernal," by Alvin E. Perry, a few months later (Jan. 1936). Bernal wrote several more tales for Amazing Stories during the 1930s and '40s: "Draught of Immortality" (Dec. 1935), "Paul Revere and the Time Machine" (Mar. 1940), and "King Arthur's Knight in a Yankee Court" (Apr. 1941). Writing science fiction helped pay his way through school. By 1941, Bernal was ready to pass the baton on to younger writers. He ran into one of those young writers at a science fiction convention. The young man had one of Bernal's cover stories pinned to his garage door and told him that someday he would be a good writer like Bernal. "I can remember his name," wrote Bernal. "It was Ray Bradbury."

Weird Tales proved a good market for Bernal's fantastic fiction. "The Unique Magazine" published five of his stories, two of which were multi-issue serials. "The Man Who Played with Time" (Mar. 1932) was the first, presaging Bernal's interest in time travel stories. "Vampires of the Moon" (serial, May-June-July 1934), "The Man Who Was Two Men" (Apr. 1935), "Satan in Exile" (serial, June-July-Aug.-Sept. 1935), and "So Very Strange!" (Apr. 1937) followed. Weird Tales expert Robert Weinberg called "The Man Who Was Two Men," a science fiction comedy story, "a major disaster" and "among the worst stories ever published in Weird Tales." True or not, that didn't stop the editor from making it the cover story for April 1935. "Satan in Exile," by the way, should not be confused with Paul Ernst's series of Doctor Satan stories which began coincidentally in August 1935, halfway through Bernal's similarly titled serial.

At the same time he was writing stories about vampires and devils, Arthur William Bernal began what would have been considered a more respectable career as a journalist. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in public speaking and graduating in 1936. He married in 1938 and settled in Beverly Hills. (Henry Kuttner lived in Beverly Hills at the same time. The two men may very well have known each other in that small world of Los Angeles fandom, a world that included Ray Bradbury and Forrest J. Ackerman.) Bernal continued writing into the early 1940s, but Uncle Sam came calling, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943. With his background in journalism (and perhaps with some connection to moviemaking), Bernal went to work on training films during the war.

After the war, Bernal worked for a company that made animated cartoons, then freelanced for Corporate Image Films, producing promotional films for industry. In the early 1960s, he created his own company, Firebird Films, and returned to animation with "The Foolish Frog" and "Leopold, the See-Through Crumb Baker." By the end of the decade, he had begun writing reviews of restaurants and soon adopted the pen name "Stendahl." As Stendahl, Bernal appeared on radio and in newspapers between 1970 and 1989. He also wrote six books on food, restaurants, and cooking, and wrote and produced two films on wine tours of Europe. After a long and varied career, Arthur William Bernal died on October 13, 1991, in Bayside, Queens, New York.

Arthur William Bernal's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Man Who Played with Time" (Mar. 1932)
"Vampires of the Moon" (three-part serial, May-June-July 1934)
"The Man Who Was Two Men" (Apr. 1935)
"Satan in Exile" (four-part serial, June-July-Aug. 1935)
"So Very Strange!" (Apr. 1937)

Further Reading

I don't know of any reprints of Bernal's work, but he wrote several books on food, cooking, and restaurants. His obituary in the New York Times (Oct. 16, 1991) offers a good deal of information on his life.

Arthur William Bernal, a picture from his college yearbook, University of California at Berkeley, ca. 1936.
The cover of Amazing Stories Quarterly, Summer 1931. Although Bernal's name does not appear on the cover, the illustration (by Leo Morey) shows a scene from his story, "Cosmic Menace." It was Bernal's first published story in a decade-long career as a pulp fictioneer.
Margaret Brundage provided the illustration for Bernal's only cover story for Weird Tales (Apr. 1935).  What is the next amazing step in radio after television? Bernal's story, "The Man Who Was Two Men," provided one possible answer.
An opening still from Arthur William Bernal's animated short, "The Foolish Frog," sung by Pete Seeger, adapted and directed by Gene Dietch, and animated by a Czechoslovakian studio. You can view the video on YouTube, here.
Thanks to Randal Everts for further information.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

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