Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pettersen Marzoni (1886-1939)

Newspaperman, Theater and Movie Critic, Author
Born April 6, 1886, Pensacola, Florida
Died July 1939, Jefferson County, Alabama

Pettersen Barto Marzoni was born on April 6, 1886, in Pensacola, Florida. His education came at Florida Agricultural College (now the University of Florida at Gainesville) and the Pensacola Classical School. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, but was dismissed from the Navy in January 1906 for hazing. As men sometimes do when they're down on their luck, Marzoni headed west. Nineteen ten found him working as a drug store clerk in Great Falls, Montana. Six years later, in August 1916, he was pardoned by the President, perhaps clearing the way for his wedding to Louise Glass in October 1916. That pardon also perhaps allowed him to serve as an officer in the Navy during World War I.

Marzoni's father-in-law, Frank Glass, was a newspaperman in Alabama. Marzoni lived with his wife's family for many years and took up the same trade, becoming "dramatic editor" with the Birmingham News. According to his grandson, Marzoni is "purported to have written the 'first' weekly film criticism column in an American newspaper, the Birmingham Age-Herald." (Marzoni was an early fan of Louise Brooks, who had something to say about claims of primacy.) You can read more from the grandson at the website of Black Mask Magazine, here.

Pettersen Marzoni wrote just one story for Weird Tales. It was called "Red Ether" and it appeared as a two-part serial in the February and March issues of 1926. He also wrote stories for Black Mask Magazine (1921-1922), Metropolitan Magazine, and Good Housekeeping. His "Thoroughly Cowed" appeared in the Chicago Tribune on April 8, 1923. MGM turned his story, "Big Hearted Jim" (Liberty, Nov. 20, 1926), into a movie called Brotherly Love starring Karl Dane, George K. Arthur, and Jean Arthur. Finally, Marzoni served as editor of slave narratives and other narratives. His role there is unclear to me. Pettersen Marzoni died in July 1939 in Jefferson County, Alabama. The cause was a ruptured appendix.

Needless to say, Pettersen B. Marzoni had an unusual name. It has been repeatedly misspelled as Patterson Marzoni, Peterson Marzoni, and Petterson Marzoni. Despite the difficulty, the name has been passed on through his family. Marzoni's son, Pettersen B. Marzoni, Jr. (1919-1999), tried his hand at writing, too, authoring a weird tale called "Altar of Night" at age fifteen. The tale--almost certainly inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft--was published in the Birmingham News-Age-Herald on July 7, 1935, as an entry in the newspaper's short story department. Artemus Calloway, another writer for Weird Tales, acted as editor.

Pettersen Marzoni, Jr., graduated from the Birmingham University School and attended Princeton University. During World War II, he served in the U.S. military. A statistician by training, Marzoni, Jr., patented a word dice game in 1977. The game, using icosahedral or twenty-sided dice, may or may not have been manufactured and marketed. In any case, twenty-sided dice (with numbers rather than letters) are a staple of role-playing and fantasy games such as "Call of Cthulhu," which is based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft and originally published in Weird Tales.

Pettersen Marzoni's Story and Letter in Weird Tales
"Red Ether" (serial, Feb. 1926-Mar. 1926)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Jan. 1937)

Further Reading
Some of Marzoni's work is available on the Internet, but I don't know if anything he wrote has been reprinted or anthologized.

Pettersen Marzoni (his name is misspelled here) in a yearbook photo from 1906 when he was a student at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Weird Tales, February 1926, with a cover story by Pettersen Marzoni and cover art by C. Barker Petrie, Jr. The story was voted most popular among readers for that month's issue.
Jean Arthur and Karl Dane in a still from the silent movie Brotherly Love (1928), based on the story "Big-Hearted Jim" by Pettersen Marzoni, who was credited as "Patterson Margoni."

Thanks to Randal Everts for additional information on Marzoni, Sr., and Jr. Thanks also to Tammie Kahnhauser and Barbara E. Kemp of the Nimitz Library, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, for the photograph of Marzoni.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

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