Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thomas P. Kelley (1905-1982)

Aka Tommy Kelley, Gene Bannerman, Roy P. Devlin, Jack C. Fleming, Valentine North or Worth, et alia
Boxer, Author, Radio Scriptwriter
Born April 6, 1905, Hastings, Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada
Died February 14, 1982, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thomas Patrick Kelley, self-proclaimed "King of the Canadian Pulps" and the "Fastest Author in the East," was born on April 6, 1905, in Hastings, Northumberland County, Ontario. He was the son of Thomas P. Kelley (1865-1931), a second generation Irish-Canadian, and Helen Burgess, a British-born Irish girl. Kelley's father ran a medicine show called the Shamrock Concert Company. His son traveled with him on his circuit and seems to have learned something about self-promotion. Decades later, Thomas P. Kelley, Jr., wrote a memoir of those days, The Fabulous Kelley, published in 1974.

The Kelley family emigrated to the United States in 1911. In 1920, they lived in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. As a young man (ca. 1927-1929), Kelley boxed under the name Tommy Kelley. The next phase of Kelley's biography came in the 1930s when he began to write pulp fiction. According to Wikipedia, he claimed thirty pseudonyms and authorship of two dozen books, mostly true crime and fiction. If the number of pseudonyms is correct, then the number of stories and books authored by Thomas P. Kelley will probably never be known. I will attempt a partial list:

  • "The Last Pharaoh" in Weird Tales (four-part serial, May through Aug. 1937)
  • "I Found Cleopatra" in Weird Tales (four-part serial, Nov. 1938 through Feb. 1939), reprinted in Uncanny Tales (three-part serial, July, Aug., Sept. 1941)
  • "A Million Years in the Future" in Weird Tales (four-part serial, Jan. through July 1940), reprinted in Uncanny Tales (five-part serial, Nov., Dec. 1941, Jan., Feb., Mar. 1942)
  • "Murder in the Graveyard" in Uncanny Tales (Nov. 1940)
  • "The Talking Heads" in Uncanny Tales (Nov. 1940, May 1941)
  • The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships: A Complete Novel of the Weird (1941)
  • "Isle of Madness" in Uncanny Tales (May, June 1941)
  • "The Shaggy God" in Uncanny Tales (May 1941)
  • "Beyond the Veil" in Uncanny Tales, as Gene Bannerman (June 1941)
  • "The Man Who Killed Hitler" in Uncanny Tales, as Valentine Worth (June 1941)
  • "The Weird Queen" in Eerie Tales (July 1941)
  • "Black Castle of Hate" in Uncanny Tales, as Valentine Worth (Oct. 1941)
  • "City of the Centaurs" in Uncanny Tales, as Gene Bannerman (Dec. 1941)
  • "The Soul Eater" in Uncanny Tales (May 1942)
  • "Old Troopers Die Hard" in Short Stories (Aug. 25, 1942)
  • Tapestry Triangle (1946)
  • "He Who Saw Tomorrow" in Fantastic Adventures (July 1946)
  • Famous Canadian Crimes (1949)
  • Bad Men of Canada (1950)
  • The Gorilla's Daughter (1950)
  • No Tears for Goldie as Jack C. Fleming (1950)
  • "The Strongest Man That Ever Lived" in Double-Action Western (July 1951), about the Canadian giant Angus MacAskill
  • Canada's Greatest Crimes (1958)
  • The Fabulous Kelley (1974)
  • Jesse James: His Life and Death

In addition, in the 1940s, Kelley wrote scripts for a radio show called Out of the Night.

Thomas P. Kelley is most well known for his books on the so-called "Black Donnellys" of Middlesex County, Ontario, a family who were murdered in their home in February 1880. There were at least three books in the series:

  • The Black Donnellys: The True Story of Canada's Most Barbaric Feud (1954)
  • Vengeance of the Black Donnellys
  • The Donnelly Family Album

Kelley's books were partly fictionalized. Anthony Boucher, who knew a thing or two about crime fiction, reviewed the first book for the New York Times (Sept. 11, 1955):
Thomas P. Kelley's THE BLACK DONNELLYS (Signet, 25 cents) can hardly be recommended for moral instruction, since the author seems determined to prove that lynching can be a Good Thing; but it's valuable as a full-length treatment of a sensational Canadian affair wholly unknown to American readers. The story of a criminal clan (a family hardly paralleled since the days of Sawney Bean) who terrorized a district in Ontario for decades until their collective murder by vigilantes in 1880, is an absorbing one, even in so slipshod and ungrammatical a treatment.
Despite any shortcomings, The Black Donnellys went through fifteen printings between 1954 and 1968 and supposedly sold over 400,000 copies.

Thomas P. Kelley seems to have dropped out of sight in his later years. He died on February 14, 1982, in Toronto, Canada.

Thomas P. Kelley's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Last Pharaoh" (four-part serial, May through Aug. 1937)
"I Found Cleopatra" (four-part serial, Nov. 1938 through Feb. 1939)
"A Million Years in the Future" (four-part serial, Jan. through July 1940)

Further Reading
Wikipedia, the Speculative Fiction Database, and the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction have entries on Thomas P. Kelley. The Wikipedia page is pretty inadequate I'm afraid. Better to go to a blog called The Dusty Bookcase: A Very Casual Exploration of Canada's Suppressed, Ignored and Forgotten, by Brian Busby.

Thomas P. Kelley's father ran a traveling medicine show. Strangely, Albert Roanoke Tilburne's father ran a traveling wild west show. Kelly wrote the story. Tilburne provided the cover illustration. Weird Tales, November 1938.
Kelley got a lot of mileage out of "I Found Cleopatra." There was a reprinting in the Canadian magazine Uncanny Tales . . .
In a paperback novel (1946) . . .  
And in a later paperback with a cover illustration by Stephen Fabian (1977). 
Kelley had two stories in the November 1940 issue of Uncanny Tales. Note his credit at the bottom: "Creator of the Original Stories Adapted to Radio in 'Out of the Night'."
Kelley's byline also landed on the cover of the May 1941 issue of Uncanny Tales. The art was by nineteen-year-old Tedd Steele.
Thomas P. Kelley's nonfiction book, The Black Donnellys, is supposed to have been among the most popular of the Harlequin paperbacks. Notice the death dates: February 4, 1880, for five of the Donnellys.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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