Monday, May 13, 2013

Before the Golden Age-Arthur Leo Zagat and Nathan Schachner

Arthur Leo Zagat
Chemist, Lawyer, Author, Teacher, Government Worker
Born February 15, 1896, New York, New York
Died April 3, 1949, The Bronx, New York

Nathan Schachner
Chemist, Lawyer, Author, Biographer, Historian
Born January 16, 1895, New York, New York
Died October 2, 1955, The Bronx, New York

The lives of Arthur Leo Zagat and Nathan Schachner are so closely linked that it's best to write about them together in one posting. Born in New York City, the two were separated by only a year and a month in age. Both studied law, both were war veterans, both married and had one daughter each, and both wrote pulp fiction. In their writing, Zagat and Schachner were frequent collaborators. They even died in the same place, though five and half years apart.

Arthur Leo Zagat was born on February 15, 1896, in New York City. His father was a druggist and a president of the Bronx Pharmaceutical Association. Zagat graduated from the City College of New York (where he studied chemistry) and fought in World War I. After the war, he attended L'Université de Bordeaux. In returning to the United States, Zagat studied law at Fordham University while working at his father's drug store. Although he graduated, Zagat did not practice law. Instead he took up writing.

According to The Speculative Fiction Database, Zagat's first published science fiction story was "The Tower of Evil," which appeared in Wonder Stories Quarterly in its Summer 1930 issue. Zagat collaborated with Nathan Schachner on that and several more stories published in 1930-1931. Wikipedia credits Zagat with about 500 stories in a career that was cut short by his death.

During World War II, Arthur L. Zagat was an executive in the Office of War Information in New York City. In addition, he taught writing at New York University, visited veterans in hospital, and founded the Writers' Workshop for veterans who wanted to get started in the profession. Prior to the war (in 1941), Zagat was elected to the national executive committee for the pulp writers' section of the Authors League of America. Oscar Schisgall was chairman, while Zagat served as treasurer and Robert Carse as secretary. Frederick Faust and Erle Stanley Gardner were among the committee members. According to the website Horror News, Zagat is credited as a writer on the Outer Limits episode "The Bellero Shield," starring Martin Landau and Sally Kellerman.

Arthur Leo Zagat died on April 3, 1949, at home in The Bronx. He was only fifty-three years old. Zagat was buried at Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Nathan Schachner enjoyed an equally illustrious career. Born on January 16, 1895, in New York City, Schachner graduated from the City College of New York in 1915 and received his degree as a doctor of jurisprudence from New York University in 1919. (1) Schachner began his career (in 1915) as a chemist with the Board of Health in his native city. (2) During World War I, Schachner served in the U.S. Army in the Chemical Warfare Branch. Schachner practiced law after the war. After 1936 he devoted himself to writing and published his first work of history and biography, Aaron Burr, in 1937.

Nathan Schachner's first science fiction story was "The Tower of Evil," his collaboration with Arthur Leo Zagat. Many more stories rolled out of his typewriter during the 1930s. According to The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Schachner's last published science fiction was in 1941 (except for reprintings). Also worth noting is Schachner's involvement in the American Rocket Society, founded in 1930 as the American Interplanetary Society by science fiction writers George Edward Pendray (1901-1987), David Lasser (1902-1996), Laurence Manning (1899-1972), and others. (3) Nathan Schachner was also a member of the Authors League of America, director of the Aaron Burr Association, director of public relations of the National Council of Jewish Women, and a consultant with the American Jewish Committee.

Schachner died on October 2, 1955. His place of death was the same as his onetime collaborator, Arthur Leo Zagat--not just the city, or the borough, but the same address, 1749 Grand Concourse, The Bronx, New York. That's the location of the massive (another overused word, but in this case appropriate) Lewis Morris Apartment Building. Nathan Schachner was buried at Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

For Weird Tales
"The Dead-Alive" by Arthur Leo Zagat and Nathan Schachner (Apr./May 1931)
"Table for Two" by Arthur Leo Zagat (Jan. 1942)
"The Two Moons of Tranquilla" by Arthur Leo Zagat (Jan. 1943)
Letter to "The Eyrie" from Arthur Leo Zagat (Jan. 1943)

For Oriental Stories
"The Song of the Cakes" by Nathan Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat (Autumn 1931)

(1) I don't know when or how Zagat and Schachner met, but it could have been when they were students. Both attended the City College of New York, but perhaps at different times. Both were chemists and lawyers as well as pulp fictioneers. They would have had many opportunities to run into each other.
(2) I wonder if Schachner would have crossed paths with Sylvia Saltzberg (1896-1952), who was the same age and who worked as a pathologist for the city.
(3) I wrote about John Whiteside Parsons a year ago. I don't remember now if Schachner or any of the other members of the American Rocket Society were mentioned in Parsons' biography. Can anyone help?

"Seven Out of Time" was a six-part serial by Arthur Leo Zagat, published in Argosy Weekly in 1939. The art is by Rudolph Belarski.
Ten years later, Fantasy Press issued the story in hardback with cover art by A.J. Donnell. That's not a bad drawing, but you might as well call it a swipe. Oddly enough, the woman is smiling. I like the ambiguous title by the way. 
"Sunrise Tomorrow" was serialized in Argosy in 1940. The devastated city, the contemporary man thrown into a resulting savage world--it's an old story. I wonder what the first of its kind was. The art was again by Belarski.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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