Thursday, October 31, 2013

Paul Annixter (1894-1985)

Pseudonym of Howard Allison Sturtzel
Born June 25, 1894, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died November 3, 1985, Laguna Beach, California

Howard Allison Sturtzel was born on June 25, 1894, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a young man he lived a hard and adventurous life, helping to support his grandmother and mother, riding the rails over the United States and Canada, and living in extreme isolation in the north woods of Minnesota. Under his own name and as Paul Annixter, he penned dozens of stories for Adventure, Argosy, Boys' Life, The Blue Book Magazine, Collier's, Cosmopolitan, Liberty, The Saturday Evening Post, Short Stories, Top-Notch, and various Western pulp magazines. The first credit I have found for him is "Officially Sprung" by H.A. Sturtzel in All-Story Weekly, September 2, 1916. At the time that story was published, Sturtzel was just twenty-two years old. By then he had already been a professional writer for three years. He lived off his writing for the rest of his long life.

Sturtzel attended Fargo College and North Dakota Agricultural College. When he filled out his draft card in 1917, he was living in Detroit. The following year he made a pilgrimage to southern California and the study of William Levington Comfort, a writer whom he had "always admired." Sturtzel rented a cabin near Comfort's home and under Comfort's tutelage began shedding his "college English" for the prose of a short story writer. The two collaborated on a number of stories. Then Sturtzel began selling his own work, "done more or less in the Kipling tradition." (1) In meeting Comfort, Sturtzel also met Comfort's young daughter, Jane Levington Comfort. They were married on February 18, 1920, probably over the objections of her father. (She was after all just sixteen years old.) Born on June 22, 1903, in Detroit, Michigan, Jane Comfort was also a writer: her first novel, an autobiographical work of her relationship with her father, was entitled From These Beginnings and was published in 1937. When her husband ran into writer's block many years later, Jane Comfort collaborated with him as Jane Annixter.

* * *

William Levington Comfort (1878-1932), better known as Will Levington Comfort, was the author of fifteen novels and scores of short stories and essays, the first of which may well have been "The Recruit in the Black Cavalry," which appeared in Ainslee's Magazine in September 1899. Comfort got his start as a newspaperman in Detroit and Pittsburg (before it was spelled Pittsburgh). A veteran of the Fifth Cavalry Division in the Spanish-American War, he became a war correspondent in the Philippines and in East Asia during the Russo-Japanese War. "Jimson of Many Services: The Story of a War Correspondent," published in Leslie's Monthly Magazine (1904), was one result. Another was that in his Asian travels, Comfort came in contact with Theosophy and other mystical and philosophical beliefs. Back in the United States, he lectured in the Los Angeles area and gathered a following among artists and writers. (More than one source calls him "a Hollywood guru." [2]) Will Comfort moved to the Theosophical colony Krotona, located in Hollywood Hills, in 1917. He and his ideas became a profound influence on the painter Mabel Alvarez (1891-1985). I wonder now if he would have known Bernice T. Banning, who contributed to Oriental Stories and who lived in the Theosophical community at Ojai in the 1930s.

Will Levington Comfort died suddenly on November 2, 1932. Stricken at home, he was rushed to Monte Sano Hospital, an osteopathic facility, where he passed away that evening. The police were concerned enough that they launched an investigation into Comfort's death. As it turns out, there may not have been much of a mystery. Comfort was a known alcoholic. According to James Whitcraft Forsyth in The Canadian Theosophist (Jan.-Feb. 1989, found on line), Comfort died of complications from that affliction. In the end, it would appear spirits were of more interest to him than the spirit. (3)

* * *

According to the Speculative Fiction Database, Paul Annixter wrote just four works of science fiction or fantasy:

  • "Black Sorcery" in Weird Tales (Jan. 1924)
  • "White Hunter" in Jungle Stories (Fall 1940)
  • "Elephant Law" in Jungle Stories (Summer 1940)
  • The Last Monster with Jane Annixter (1980)

That seems like a pretty skimpy list for a man who wrote so prolifically. I guess it will have to do for now. I'm not even sure that The Last Monster is indeed a work of genre fiction.

In addition to his many short stories, Paul Annixter wrote--alone and with his wife--a number of books, mostly about animals and the outdoors and mostly for children. His books and their books include Wilderness Ways (1930), Swiftwater (1950), The Roan Runner (1956), The Devil of the Woods (1958), The Phantom Stallion (1961), Trouble at Paint Rock (1962), Wagon Scout (1965), and White Shell Horse (1971). Paul Annixter also wrote stories adapted to the screen, the first of which was for a short film called "The Sheriff's Oath," released on February 28, 1920, just ten days after he was married. (I suspect Will Levington Comfort had a hand in getting the story on screen.) In 1965 Walt Disney released Those Calloways, Annixter's novel from 1950. Those Calloways also appeared on television, on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, in 1969.

The Annixters enjoyed a long writing life together. I believe they died childless, Howard Allison Sturtzel on November 3, 1985, in Laguna Beach, California, at the age of ninety-one, and Jane Levington Comfort on January 13, 1996, in Orange County, California, at the age of ninety-two. The couple's papers are at the University of Oregon Libraries.

Paul Annixter's Story in Weird Tales
"Black Sorcery" (Jan. 1924)

Further Reading
There isn't much on Paul Annixter on the Internet. You won't find him in The Junior Book of Authors, but there are very engaging autobiographical profiles of both him and his wife in Something About the Author (1971). As for Will Levington Comfort: there are many, many sources on a most fascinating topic, that of Utopian, mystical, pseudo-religious, and pseudoscientific groups in California from the 1800s onward. New World Utopias: A Photographic History of the Search for Community (1975) gives a nice overview. 

(1) Quotes are in Annixter's own words from the entry on him in Something About the Author (1971), pp. 210-212. 
(2) For example, Reading California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000edited by Stephanie Barron, et al., p. 36.
(3) The Will Levington Comfort House and Stone Study, constructed in 1915 in Kingsville, Ontario, has been designated as a historic structure in that city. Comfort's papers are at the University of California. Finally a quote from Comfort, pertinent to our time and every time: "A people glutted with what it wants is a stagnant people."

Jane and Paul Annixter from Something About the Author (1971).
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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