Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Eli Colter (1890-1984)

Pseudonym of May Eliza Frost
Aka May Eliza Harvey, Eliza Mae Harvey
Author, Musician, Artist
Born September 30, 1890, Portland, Oregon
Died May 30, 1984, Los Angeles, California

May Eliza Frost went by the name Eli Colter, in print and in her private life. She adopted that name in the early 1920s and used it as her byline in hundreds of stories, serials, and novels, mostly Westerns, but also including what she called "problem life stories" and weird fiction. She was born on September 30, 1890, in Portland, Oregon, where she spent most of the first half of her life. She attended the Ladd School in her native city, but when she was thirteen, blindness struck. She regained her sight and--determined to become a writer--began a course of self-education. May Eliza played piano and pipe organ in movie houses to make her living. In 1922 she submitted a story to Black Mask Magazine. It was her first submission and her first published story. Over the next thirty years, the name Eli Colter became a fixture on the covers of pulp magazines and popular novels.

Eli Colter wrote a dozen stories and serials for Weird Tales, beginning with "Farthingale's Poppy" in July 1925. The fourth part of her serial "On the Dead Man's Chest" was voted second most popular of all stories printed in Weird Tales in April 1926. She was in good company, for H.P. Lovecraft came in first with "The Outsider," while Robert E. Howard's "Wolfshead" received third place. Eli Colter topped her previous mark with the most popular stories in January 1927 ("The Last Horror"), August 1927 (part three of the serial "The Dark Chrysalis"), and August 1928 ("The Man in the Green Coat"). "The Last Horror" fell into seventh place among all-time most popular stories behind works by A. Merritt, C.L. Moore, H.P. Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn, Nictzin Dyalhis, and Edmond Hamilton. It was also reprinted in the February 1939 issue and was voted fourth most popular story by readers of Weird Tales for that issue. Despite her popularity, Eli Colter never earned a spot as the author of a cover story for Weird Tales.

Eli Colter's last story for Weird Tales was called "The Man Who Died Twice" and it appeared in the November 1939 issue of the magazine. The following month, "The Crawling Corpse," the first of her four stories for Strange Stories, appeared. Almost everything else she wrote in the 1940s and '50s was in the genre of mystery or Western, including "Something To Brag About" from The Saturday Evening Post, which was adapted to the silver screen in The Untamed Breed (1948) with Sonny Tufts, Barbara Britton, and Gabby Hayes.

In her fourteen months writing for Strange Stories, Eli Colter alternated with an author named Don Alviso in the pages of that same magazine. Alviso wrote four stories for Strange Stories. All eight of those stories--four by Eli Colter and four by Alviso--originated from the same address, for Don Alviso was actually Glenn FaGalde (1901-1957), husband of Eli Colter. Husband and wife were Oregon natives and married during the early 1930s after having divorced their previous spouses. The couple moved from Portland to Azusa, California, in 1935 or 1936 and set about building a rock house on their "estate." By the end of the decade, their household was the center of a writer's colony in Azusa. Others in the group included Edwin Williams (David Wynn), Earl Dow, J. Lane Linklater, Elizabeth Stewart Way, Mary Elizabeth Painter, and another writing couple, Thomas Barclay Thompson and Ruby LaVerte Thomson [sic]. Eli Colter's previous husband was John Irving Hawkins (1891-1981), a ranch hand and himself an aspiring writer. The couple met when Eli advertised for cowboys whom she could interview for material for her fiction. They were married in 1926 and divorced in the early 1930s. Hawkins should not be confused with the television writer and producer John Hawkins (1910-1978) or the painter John Franklin Hawkins.

The trail of Eli Colter grows cold after the mid-1950s. She lived another thirty years however, dying in Los Angeles on May 30, 1984, at the age of ninety-three.

Eli Colter's Stories and Letters in Weird Tales
Letter to "The Eyrie" (May 1925)
"Farthingale's Poppy" (July 1925)
"The Deadly Amanita" (Dec. 1925)
"On the Dead Man's Chest" (four-part serial, Jan.-Feb.-Mar.-Apr. 1926)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (May 1926)
"The Corpus Delicti" (Oct. 1926)
"The Last Horror" (Jan. 1927, reprinted Feb. 1939)
"The Greatest Gift" (Mar. 1927)
"The Dark Chrysalis" (three-part serial, June-July-Aug. 1927)
"The Golden Whistle" (Jan. 1928)
"The Curse of a Song" (Mar. 1928)
"The Man in the Green Coat" (Aug. 1928)
"The Vengeance of the Dead" (Feb.-Mar. 1929)
"The Last Horror" (Feb. 1939, reprinted from Jan. 1927)
"The Man Who Died Twice" (Nov. 1939)

Over the course of her thirty-year career, Eli Colter wrote hundreds of stories for dozens of magazines. With a name like "Eli Colter," she could be expected to have authored works full of Western action and gunplay, and that was the case. A catalogue of her magazine fiction would be lengthy; The FictionMags Index has made a stab at it, but I don't think even that long list is complete. It certainly doesn't include Eli Colter's work for Weird Tales and Strange Stories. Anyway, here is a cover for Popular Western (Mar. 1937) featuring Eli Colter's byline.
A decade later she was still at it, landing the cover story for Ace-High Western for December 1947.
Eli Colter's fiction wasn't limited to the lowly pulp magazine. It also appeared in slick magazines like The Saturday Evening Post. Her story "Something To Brag About" was adapted to film as The Untamed Breed in 1948.
Dubbed in French, The Untamed Breed became Brahma Taureau Sauvage. The movie featured a brahma bull, but there was no sign of Mongo as far as I know. 
Don Alviso was another popular writer of Westerns between 1937 and 1947. His "Five Empty Holsters" appeared in Western Story Magazine in the February 20, 1937, issue. Don Alviso just happened to be the husband of Eli Colter. At the time this story was printed, the writing couple lived in a stone house in Azusa, California.
Eli Colter saw a dozen of her stories and serials printed in Weird Tales between July 1925 and November 1939. By her second appearance (Dec. 1925), she had earned notice on the cover. The cover art was by Joseph Doolin.
There was her byline again, right back on the cover the following month, January 1926. Andrew Brosnatch was the artist.
Between October 1939 and February 1941, Eli Colter and Don Alviso alternated in the pages of Strange Stories. Each penned four stories for the magazine. Alviso's first appeared in the October 1939 issue and even earned a place for its author on the cover.
"The Crawling Corpse," Eli Colter's first for Strange Stories, was also a cover story (Dec. 1939). Her last story for Weird Tales ("The Man Who Died Twice") had appeared a mere month before.
Don Alviso was back in February 1940 with "The Mask of the Marionette."
Eli Colter returned in April 1940 with "One Man's Hell."
Like clockwork: Don Alviso in June 1940.
Finally, Eli Colter's last story in Strange Stories, "The Band of Death," from February 1941. It may have been her final weird tale of all.
Eli Colter (1890-1984). Image courtesy of the Oregon State Library.

* * *

Update, March 12, 2024:

Reader and commenter Sachin Walia has created links to an article about Eli Colter in the Los Angeles Times, from 1937. I believe the photograph below is from the article that he's referencing. The date might be mixed up, though. Remember that Americans have dates backwards from Europeans' point of view, and vice versa. From the Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1937, page 24:

Text and captions copyright 2012, 2023 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Thanks for this excellent post about a fascinating woman. I have researched a little about Colter and your post helped me with a stumbling block I hadn't discovered that Aviso was the pen name of her second husband, FaGalde. Great info!

  2. Hi, Dawn,

    I'm glad I could help. If you know or find out anything on her life after the 1940s, I would be very interested to hear about it. Good luck with your research.


  3. Terence: Sorry. Just discovered your response. I did find a short autobiography Colter wrote in 1955 at the request of Alfred Powers (who wrote "History of Oregon Literature" in the '30s.) The slim little booklet is typewritten and it appears Colter took some pains with it. The cardboard covers are decorated with marbled paper. I requested the booklet from the archives and got to spend an afternoon with it at the Oregon Historical Society. Unfortunately, Colter mostly talked about her childhood and alluded to her rather intricate past only obliquely -- basically saying her private life was private. As I recall, she didn't write much about her later projects.
    Here's a link to the Powers' collection.

    1. Hi, Wordbird,

      And thanks for the link. I'm still very interested in finding out about Eli Colter. Still missing are details about her life during and after the 1950s.

      Terence Hanley

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Nothing new to report on Colter herself but one of her stories, "The Kenosha Kid," was distinctly referenced by Thomas Pynchon in Gravity's Rainbow. There's a copy available online:

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      I want to thank you, belatedly, for your comment. I notice you wrote on Flying Saucer Day, so happy belated Flying Saucer Day as well.

      It's strange that writers who are largely unknown today once made their way into the works of far more well known writers of the past. For instance, Emerson Hough is mentioned alongside Zane Grey in the short story "Coventry" by Robert A. Heinlein (Signet, n.d., p. 143).

      In any case, I followed the link you sent. In that issue of Western Rangers (Aug. 1931), "The Kenosha Kid" is listed in the contents as a story by Forbes Parkhill. The next story down, "The Blood Law," is by Eli Colter. Parkhill contributed to Weird Tales as well.

      Thanks for writing.


  6. Hi, My name is Charles Rouse, I was raised in Glendora, California. I knew Eli when I was a boy, I knew here as my Aunt, though it wasn't quite that simple, I later learned. She was living with my Uncle, Bob Rouse, in a rented house in Glendora. I was born in 1943, so I would have been 7-8 years in 1950-51, which would have been the time that I knew Eli Colter. She was a short lady, I don't think she made 5 feet. She was bright, very much the artist, and one of those adults who would talk to children. She was very kind and attentive when I was around.
    My father told me that Bob and Eli spent a lot of time and energy in joint writing projects, mostly western stories. Dad didn't think they were very successful in this. Then there was the movie, The Untamed Breed. That was, of course from a short story that Eli wrote. I think she also wrote the screenplay, or collaborated on it. The movie opened at the Glendora theater, because of Eli living in Glendora.
    I knew Eli as a painter. She spent quite a bit of time painting in oils. She tried to explain a little bit about art to me, that you had to stand back to really appreciate a painting, and so forth.
    Eli had stories about people who worked in the movie business, not so much the actors, but everyone else, the folks who handled animals, a guy who provided snakes to the movie people for scenes requiring a snake and so forth.
    There was a hometown periodical, "The Glendoran," which I subscribed to for a while. My memory tells me that Eli Colter's son wrote a brief biography in that magazine. I remember he mentioned the stone house in Azusa.
    Eli and Bob split up, I don't know the particulars. Eli moved to Los Angeles. My father and my brother and I visited her once. She lived in an apartment very close to MacArthur Park. I think we lost track of her after that. I always remembered her as my aunt, and I missed her, I think.
    Mom and Dad had a large painting by Eli, a western scene. I always liked it. I don't know what happened to it, I don't have it, though I have couple of smaller things that she did.

    1. Dear Mr. Rouse,

      Thanks for the very nice remembrance of Eli Colter and for helping to flesh her out as a real, once-upon-a-time human being. This is the kind of thing I like in my blog, and I'm glad I was able to give you a place to put down your memories in writing. If you have anything or remember anything more on Eli Colter, please feel free to leave a comment.


  7. Eli Colter's "The Last Horror" (in Weird Tales, jan.1927) is probably one of the first, if not the very first Weird Tales story to have been translated in french langage, as early as 1929. The french edition in "Lecture Pour Tous" did not mention the original title, nor that its source was the Unique Magazine. I had to do some researches to find that out, and many thanks for your outstanding work on tellersofweirdtales, which is Unique too. So, Eli Colter made history.

    Yours truly, Myrrha Kerenko.

    1. Dear Myrrha,

      Merci for the new information. "Firsts" are always hard to confirm, but they're also always interesting. At least now we have a candidate.

      Thanks also for your appreciation of my blog. Please feel free to write again.


  8. Terence here is a picture of Eli Colter that I clipped in LA times Feb 10, 1937 edition. There is an article about her. I am working on compiling all her Weird Stories and was looking for a high-res picture and discovered this. Love your blog and checks it out daily for new content.

  9. Followed the link provided above by Sachin Walia to no avail. No photo of Eli Colter forthcoming from link.

  10. try this: