Monday, October 21, 2013

Sax Rohmer (1883-1959)

Pseudonym of Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward
Clerk, Newspaper Reporter, Poet, Playwright, Songwriter, Comedy Writer, Author
Born February 15, 1883, Ladywood, Birmingham, England
Died June 1, 1959, London, England

Sax Rohmer was born Arthur Henry Ward on February 15, 1883. Although he came into the world in Birmingham, England, his parents were Irish Catholics. His mother told him stories of having descended from the Irish general Patrick Sarsfield. After her death in 1901, Arthur Henry Ward added the Sarsfield name to his own. Ward also used the names Michael Furey (his mother's maiden name), A. Sarsfield Ward, and Arthur Sarsfield Ward. Today he is known as Sax Rohmer.

Ward worked various jobs before hitting his stride as a writer. In writing for the stage, he met and married a performer, Rose Elizabeth Knox (1886-1979). His first published work, "The Mysterious Mummy" in Pearson's Weekly (Nov. 24, 1903), came when he was just twenty years old. Ward's first book was Pause!, published anonymously in 1910.

Sax Rohmer will forever be identified with his infamous Oriental villain, Fu Manchu. Like John Carter of Mars and Tarzan, Fu Manchu made his debut appearance in 1912. From October 1912 to June 1913, beginning with "The Zayat Kiss," Rohmer's first stories in the saga of Fu Manchu ran in the British magazine The Story-Teller. A book, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, followed in 1913. This year is the centennial year of Fu Manchu in book form.

Sax Rohmer published thirteen Fu Manchu books in his lifetime. In the movies, the character was played by Warner Oland (a Swedish-American actor who also played Charlie Chan), Boris Karloff, Peter Sellers, and the invaluable Christopher Lee. There was also a comic strip illustrated by Leo O'Mealia (1931-1933, reprinted in Detective Comics) and a television show with Glen Gordon as the title character (1956). Rohmer wrote more than just tales of insidious Asians. One series starred an occult detective, Moris Klaw. Rohmer also wrote supernatural horror and non-fiction. His earliest movie credit was the story for The Yellow Claw (1920).

After World War II, Rohmer moved to the United States and lived in New York City, Greenwich, Connecticut, and finally White Plains, New York. He died in a London hospital while on a trip to his native country. He was seventy-six years old. Sax Rohmer was buried in Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery in London.

I'll close with three pieces of Sax Rohmer trivia:

First, Rohmer was friends with Harry Houdini, who also contributed to Weird Tales

Second, Rohmer's wife, Rose Elizabeth Knox (1886-1979), a former stage performer, also wrote a mystery novel, Bianca in Black (1954), under the name Elizabeth Sax Rohmer.

Third, the name Sax Rohmer supposedly combines the Anglo-Saxon words for blade and wanderer, suggesting a freelancer. After he created Fu Manchu, there was probably never again a reason for Rohmer to work for another man.

Sax Rohmer's Story in Weird Tales
"Lord of the Jackals" (Sept. 1927)

Further Reading
You can read about Sax Rohmer on a number of websites:
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
The online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
The Page of Fu Manchu at:
Be very careful in reading Wikipedia's entry.

I have written about "The Yellow Peril" and the Oriental villain in a previous posting, here, but I thought I would offer an image from the movies, the poster for The Face of Fu Manchu, from 1965. 
Here's an image from television from about the same time. That's Leonard Strong as "The Claw," a Fu Manchu-type villain who calls himself "The Craw." ("Not Craw! Craw!") The show was Get Smart, one of the great television shows of the 1960s. Sax Rohmer had a detective hero named Klaw. Rohmer's first movie credit was for a film called The Yellow Claw.
I don't know whether this is the same Yellow Claw or not, but he's no doubt related to Fu Manchu.
The Claw in the Daredevil comics of the 1940s was even more monstrous.
Here's a comic book adaptation from 1951 with a cover by Wally Wood.
And another from 1958. That was fifty-five years ago, yet Fu Manchu lives on.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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