Friday, December 14, 2012

Edison Marshall (1894-1967)

Author, Adventurer
Born August 28, 1894, Rensselaer, Indiana (1)
Died October 29, 1967, Augusta, Georgia

I have been writing about authors whose stories were reprinted in Weird Tales of the 1970s, after they had passed away. Edison Marshall is chronologically the last, as he was born on August 28, 1894, in Rensselaer, Indiana. If you're drawing up a list of writers who were also adventurers, you can include Edison Marshall along with E. Hoffman Price, Gordon MacCreagh, and George Griffith. In any case, Edison Tesla Marshall, named for the two combatants in the "War of Currents," came from a family of adventurers, at least in their own small ways. His father studied law but settled in Rensselaer, bought the local newspaper, and married the schoolmarm, who bore the singular name of Lilly Bartoo. Lilly was an artist and a poet. Her sister Jessie was one of the first women in Indiana to operate a photographic studio. Marshall's Aunt Minnie gave up teaching at age sixty to become the operator of a linotype machine.

As a boy, Marshall hunted and fished around his northern Indiana home. In 1907, he moved to Medford, Oregon, when his father retired from the newspaper business to become a orchardist. Marshall attended the University of Oregon from 1913 to 1915 or 1916 and began writing fiction as a student. He sold his first story, "When the Fire Dies," (2) to The Argosy when he was a freshman and another to The Saturday Evening Post at age twenty-one. Adventure stories, historical novels, and pulp fiction poured out of his typewriter after that. Except for one year in the U.S. Army during World War I, Marshall made his living solely as a writer.

By his early twenties, Edison Marshall had lost his left thumb, but that didn't stop him from becoming a hunter and adventurer the world over. After the war, with literary success in hand (or four-fifths of a hand), Marshall set off on trips to the Arctic, Africa, French Indo-China, and Burma, where he hunted grizzly bears, leopards, tigers, and the great sladang, the wild ox of Malaya. His hunting trophies couldn't match his accomplishments as a writer however. Marshall twice had stories placed in the annual O. Henry collection. These included "The Heart of Little Shikara," selected the best American short story of 1921. He followed that with scores of stories and articles for The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Field and Stream, Good Housekeeping, Liberty, and many other magazines. In 1939, Marshall turned to writing novels of history and adventure. Nine of his books were adapted to the movies. Strength of the Pines (published in 1921, filmed for release in 1922) was the first. Others included Benjamin Blake (1941), which became Son of Fury (1942) starring Tyrone Power; Yankee Pasha: The Adventures of Jason Starbuck (1947), which had its title shortened to Yankee Pasha (1954); and The Viking (1951), the title of which was pluralized for the 1958 classic starring Kirk Douglas. Also worth noting are Marshall's lost worlds romance, Dian of the Lost Land (1935), and The Lost Colony (1964), a historical novel of the Roanoke settlement and Virginia Dare.

Married to a Southerner during his year in the army, Edison Marshall returned to Georgia (where he had been stationed) in 1926. Over the course of his long career, he wrote from a home he called Breetholm, a place name he used in his novel Benjamin Blake. Author of forty-nine novels in all, Marshall became one of the most successful of popular writers. Like so many in that category, however, he saw his popularity and sales go into decline in later years. The New York Times observed his passing, which took place on October 29, 1967, at his Georgia home, with a photograph and a very brief obituary. The man who had written millions of words in his lifetime received only a few with the notice of his death.

Edison Marshall's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Serpent City" (Summer 1973, originally in The Blue Book Magazine, Nov. 1919)
"The Son of the Wild Things" (Summer 1974, originally in The Blue Book Magazine)

(1) I have seen birth dates of August 28 and August 29, each apparently asserted with confidence. Edison Marshall's World War I draft card, however, gives the date as August 28. Unless someone can come up with a better source, I'll stick with that.
(2) Sam Moskowitz gave the title as "The Sacred Fire."

Edison Marshall wrote historical novels of every era, but here is one set in a place close to home for him: South Carolina. This cover for an abridged version of Castle in the Swamp (1951) is one of Dell's renowned map backs. The front cover artist was George Mayers. Coincidentally, I wrote about Perley Poore Sheehan the other day. His story "Monsieur De Guise" is also set in a large house in a swamp.
You should never pass up an opportunity to show covers like this one for Gypsy Sixpence. The original edition was from 1949. Here's a later paperback edition with a cover from an unknown artist. 
Another historical period, another map back, this time for The Upstart (1950).
It's only fitting that a man named Marshall would write Westerns. The cover artist's signature is in the lower left, but I can't read it.
Here's a fuzzy scan of the cover of Earth Giant, a novel from the early 1960s when Biblical epics and sword-and-sandal movies were all the rage. The artist's signature is as fuzzy as the rest of the image.
I like to show foreign-language editions of American novels and stories. The cover artist on this Spanish edition was Armengol Terre.
The figures on this Spanish-language edition look very Nordic. The artist's name begins with a "P" I think, but that's all I can read.
Here's a French edition with a sketchy cover drawing.
In addition to writing adventure stories and historical novels, Edison Marshall  wrote fantasy and science fiction. Dian of the Lost Land, from 1935, was one of his more sustained works in those genres. It has been reprinted repeatedly, including in this issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries from April 1949. The cover artist was Lawrence Sterne Stevens, aka Lawrence (1884-1960).
Here's the cover of the first edition, published in 1935. The artist's signature is in the lower right, but it's too small and illegible for me to read. 
Here's a Spanish-language edition of the same book. The artist was Juan Pablo Bocquet (1904-1966), a native of Barcelona. Thanks to "A Spaniard" for the information.
Chilton reprinted Dian of the Lost Land in 1966. Curtis Books reissued it with a new title, The Lost Land, in 1972. The book concerns an air expedition to Antarctica and a search for a secret valley. According to the blurb on the back cover, two explorers discover "a lost world ruled by a race of creatures from the darkest depths of time."  That same description might also be applied to "At the Mountains of Madness" by H.P. Lovecraft, which was written in 1931 but not published until 1936, when it was serialized in Astounding Stories. Without a doubt, Marshall's novel owes something to stories of lost worlds from the past. (She by H. Rider Haggard comes to mind.) In any case, we can add Dian of the Lost Land to the list of Arctic and Antarctic fantasy and science fiction. The cover art doesn't appear to be signed and there is no credit on the inside of the book, but this looks like the work of the Spanish artist Gervasio Gallardo, who was very active in creating fantasy book covers during the early 1970s.
The Viking, published in 1951, was one of Edison Marshall's most popular books . . .
In 1958, it was made into a movie called The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh. (Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh were married at the time.) That looks like Ernest Borgnine bringing up the rear in this poster. Borgnine, a navy veteran of World War II, died earlier this year. After sailing around on a longboat in The Vikings, he hopped onto a PT boat for his starring role in McHale's Navy. That show made its debut fifty years ago in October and ran for four seasons on ABC-TV. Unlike so many stage and movie actors who acted in television, he didn't become typecast and went on to play serious roles--and not-so-serious roles, such as the voice of Mermaid Man on SpongeBob SquarePants. In any case, we have lost another irreplaceable actor.
Finally, a publicity photo from The Vikings with Kirk Douglas and Janet Leigh, a woman of unquestionable beauty and extraordinary pulchritude. She made two of the very best American movies within two years of each other, Psycho in 1960 and The Manchurian Candidate in 1962.

Now, four "by the ways": First, Psycho was of course based on the book by Robert Bloch, a contributor to Weird Tales. Second: Janet Leigh appeared in The Manchurian Candidate and Three on a Couch with the actress Leslie Parrish. I call that an odd combination, not of actresses but of movies. Third, in Psycho, Janet Leigh was the woman killed by the creepy male lead. In The Manchurian Candidate, Leslie Parrish suffered that fate. Finally, have the children of Kirk Douglas and Janet Leigh ever acted together?

Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley 


  1. The name of the Spanish artist who painted the cover of "Dian of the Lost Land/La reina del Antártico" is Juan Pablo Bocquet.

    Congratulations for your interesting blog.

  2. Thanks to A Spaniard for the name of the artist. If anyone can provide biographical information on him, I will post it here. Thanks also for your kind words. TH

  3. Unfortunatelly, I can´t help you. I only know about him that Bocquet was born in Barcelona on 1904 and He dead in the same city on 1966.

    And sorry for my poor English.

  4. Thank you. I have added your information to the caption above. And no need to apologize.

  5. How satisfying to find some detailed information on this author! I just finished reading Gypsy Sixpence, and found it rather peculiar. My father tells me he loved this author as a boy--perhaps the book I seized on wasn't his best work?

  6. Hi, Patricia,

    Having never read any of Marshall's books, I can't point you in the right direction. However, Benjamin Blake and Yankee Pasha were both very popular. If you like old movies, you might want to watch The Vikings, based on Marshall's book.


  7. Thanks for this article...I am the owner of the home he and his wife lived in, mid 1920's, Medford, Oregon. He grew up down the street. They left for his wife's former Augusta home, local lore that she didn't fit well into Medford--but with his family still here, visited often. His younger sister married into the area Colvig family...her brother-in-law being Vance "Pinto" Colvig, the original Bozo the Clown. No longer well remembered with the passing of years, I have collected most of his books, some magazines and family history. Will be giving a Windows in Time history talk on him at our library next month. Some of the more hokey, early on adventure stories were ones he wrote while living in this to read knowing he wrote them, upstairs in a bedroom turned author's workroom.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      That's really fascinating. I'm glad you know the history of the house and the biography of its former resident. I'm glad also that you have made a collection related to Edison Marshall. If I were in town, I would be there for your talk at the library.

      Thanks for writing.


    2. Well, as for Augusta...

      Edison Marshall lived up the block from me. I lived-- literally-- one block down from his house-- he was on a corner up the road a bit. Gary Street, as I recall-- it was about fifty years ago, after all.

      I was ten when he died-- well, about two months shy of it, I find. I did not know him well, but I did know him, and thought of him as "that guy who wrote that movie" (That movie being "The Vikings") or as the oldish man who had a missing thumb (which fascinated a child, of course). I really didn't know much more, nor, being a child, did I care that much.

      I also recall being informed that he had died, and thought (as children do) that that was too bad.

      His house-- as all the houses in that neighborhood were-- was on the larger side, and as I recall, he did well enough by the kids on Halloween... which again, at that age, meant more to me than any literary output.

      I found myself reminded of that while idly surfing the internet, and coming across mention of The Movie, and decided to look up what there was about him. Thus I found your article.

      For what it's worth, this is what I recall of him... an older man with a missing digit who wrote a movie. I think that perhaps I shall look up his literature the next time I find myself in a used bookshop... now that I'm old enough to think more about him.