Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Donald E. Keyhoe (1897-1988)

Aviator, Government Worker, Author, Investigator, Ufologist
Born June 20, 1897, Ottumwa, Iowa
Died November 29, 1988, New Market, Virginia

Donald Edward Keyhoe was born on June 20, 1897, in Ottumwa, Iowa, and attended the U.S. Naval Academy. Keyhoe graduated in 1920 and was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps. He learned to fly airplanes and balloons but was injured in a plane crash in Guam in 1922. During his convalescence, he took up writing as a hobby. It's for his writing that he is known today.

Keyhoe's injury forced him to leave the military in 1923, whereupon he went to work for the National Geodetic Survey and the U.S. Department of Commerce. He kept his hand in aviation, though, by managing a national tour by Charles Lindbergh. He later served stateside in the U.S. military and afterwards test flew airplanes. Keyhoe's first book was Flying With Lindbergh (1928). He also wrote for pulp magazines, including Weird Tales, Dr. Yen Sin, and Flying Aces, for which he created two fictional aviators with super powers, Captain Philip Strange and flying ace Richard Knight. Keyhoe's other magazine clients included The American MagazineCosmopolitanThe Nation, Reader's DigestThe Saturday Evening Post, and True. Keyhoe returned to active duty during World War II and retired as a major. 

During the war, pilots all over the world reported seeing so-called "foo fighters," small, illuminated orbs or objects that seemed to follow their aircraft. After the war, a plague of "ghost rockets" alarmed and puzzled people in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. Then, on June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot in the Pacific Northwest, sighted a group of disk-like objects that seemed to skip through the air like saucers on a pond. It didn't take long for a new term to enter the language: "flying saucers." It also didn't take long for flying saucers to become something like a religion in the minds of some. After all, here were angels for a technological age, sent to earth to save us from ourselves.

In 1949, the editor of True magazine contacted Donald Keyhoe, requesting an investigation into the flying saucers phenomenon. The resulting article, "Flying Saucers Are Real," appeared in True in January 1950 and in expanded form in The Flying Saucers Are Real (1950). The article was much talked about and the book sold over half a million copies in paperback. Its thesis: flying saucers are extraterrestrial craft--and the U.S. government knows it. Keyhoe wrote several more books on the subject: Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953), The Flying Saucer Conspiracy (1955), Flying Saucers: Top Secret (1960), and Aliens from Space: The Real Story of Unidentified Flying Objects (1973). He also cofounded the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) in 1956 and joined the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) in 1981. Incidentally, Donald Keyhoe was interviewed by Mike Wallace, who just passed away, on ABC-TV in 1958.

Donald Keyhoe died on November 29, 1988, in New Market, Virginia. He is remembered as an even-keeled authority on flying saucers.

Donald E. Keyhoe's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Grim Passenger" (Apr. 1925)
"The Mystery Under the Sea" (Jan. 1926)
"Through the Vortex" (July 1926)
"The Master of Doom" (May 1927)

Further Reading
Some of Donald Keyhoe's work has fallen into the public domain and has been reprinted in new editions or reproduced for the Internet. You can see Mike Wallace's interview with Donald Keyhoe on YouTube. And of course you could do things the old fashioned way and read Keyhoe's books in their original editions.

The Flying Saucers Are Real by Donald Keyhoe, a Gold Medal paperback from 1950. If this cover looks like the front of a science fiction magazine, it's for good reason. For one, flying saucers had been around for years before Kenneth Arnold saw a squadron of them winging their way over Washington State. They were seen mostly by science fiction fans and always in two dimensions. For another, the cover illustration was by Frank Tinsley, a longtime pulp artist.
Here's a hardbound cover for Keyhoe's second book on flying saucers, Flying Saucers from Outer Space (1953). Note the byline: "Major Donald E. Keyhoe, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.)." 
Here's British edition of the same book with a more colorful and provocative cover illustration from an unknown artist.
And a later American edition with a clever cover design ripped from the headlines. 
A Spanish-language edition with a similar title: Platos Voladores de Otros Mundos, which I believe translates as Flying Saucers from Other Worlds.
The story of flying saucers took a more sinister turn as the 1950s went on, hence The Flying Saucer Conspiracy from 1955. 
Nearly three decades before, Donald Keyhoe's byline had appeared on an entirely different kind of publication: Weird Tales, a magazine of the strange and unusual. Investigators of the paranormal and extraterrestrial caution against the testimony of witnesses who have previously expressed an interest in such matters. They prefer disinterested testimony. I don't think Keyhoe's reputation was impugned by his authorship of stories for Weird Tales. After all, he was a retired Marine Corps pilot. The cover artist for Keyhoe's "Through the Vortex" was E.M. Stevenson.
Another pulp cover, another dragon, another woman in peril, and another pistol-packing hero. Here is Dr. Yen Sin for May-June 1936--the inaugural issue of the magazine--with a cover story, "The Mystery of the Dragon's Shadow," by Donald Keyhoe. I don't know who did the cover art. 
Keyhoe's air stories have been collected in new editions, including this one, The Complete Adventures of Richard Knight. 
And now, back to the flying saucer era and a movie based on the work of Donald Keyhoe, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, starring Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor and released in 1956. Don't let the B-movie-title fool you: this is an intelligent and engrossing movie owing in no small part to a screenplay co-written by Curt Siodmak, the same man who wrote screenplays for The Wolfman (1941) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). I'm not sure when the first real-world account of an alien abduction took place, but the Antonio Villas Boas Case (1957), the Betty and Barney Hill Case (1961), and countless subsequent cases bear a striking resemblance to the abduction scene in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. You can complicate things by saying the scene in the movie draws upon real-world events that preceded its production. Or you can entertain the notion that the first abductees drew upon memories (consciously or unconsciously) of seeing this movie prior to their own experiences. By the way, Joan Taylor, female lead in the film, passed away last month (on March 4, 2012) at age eighty-two. Also by the way, Ray Harryhausen, special effects man on the movie, consulted with flying saucer contactee George Adamski on the appearance of the craft. Finally, to close the circle, I Walked with a Zombie (which you could describe as Jane Eyre with zombies) was produced by Val Lewton, a contributor to Weird Tales
Flying saucers come in all shapes and sizes. So do posters advertising flying saucer movies.
See what I mean?
Flying saucer sightings were a worldwide phenomenon of the 1950s. No wonder Earth vs. the Flying Saucers would show in France. . .  
Italy . . .  
or Scandinavia.
In the 1950s, people interested in the flying saucer phenomenon split into camps. One camp (which included George Adamski) held beliefs about saucer occupants that can only be called religious. Others looked at the phenomenon as a purely scientific or technological matter. (Some didn't even want to consider the possibility that flying saucers have occupants.) It looks like Donald Keyhoe fell into the second camp. In any case, the U.S. government investigated UFOs (as they were called) until 1969 when the report of the Condon Committee put a few nails in the coffin of the phenomenon. Ironically it was the same year in which a manned spacecraft from Earth first landed on another world. The Condon Committee concluded that a study of flying saucers would yield little if anything of scientific value. I disagree. Studying the phenomenon probably won't tell us anything about the things we see in the sky. But we can still learn a great deal about ourselves and why we believe the things we believe.

Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

1 comment:

  1. And don't forget, Donald Keyhoe's work was a major source for Ed Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space"!