Monday, June 8, 2015

Frank Owen's Books

US author and editor, husband of Ethel Owen. He wrote 10 mildly salacious novels in the 1930s as Roswell Williams, sometimes listed erroneously as his real name. FO is best-know for mannered tales of the Orient. (p. 739)
According to that source, his works fall into the category of fantasy and fable, some with supernatural elements. The Encyclopedia is right in saying that Owen's real name was not Roswell Williams but wrong in saying Ethel Owen was his wife. She was in fact his older sister. Following is an incomplete list of Frank Owen's books:
  • Coat Tales from the Pockets of the Happy Giant (with Ethel Owen, collection, New York: The Abingdon Press, 1927)
  • The Dream Hills of Happy Country (with Ethel Owen, collection, New York: The Abingdon Press, 1928)
  • Games in Rhyme (with Ethel Owen, illustrated by M. Farini, New York: C.R. Gibson and Company, 1929)
  • The House Mother (New York: Lantern Press, 1929)
  • Pale Pink Porcelain (1929)
  • The Wind that Tramps the World: Splashes of Chinese Color (collection, New York: Lantern Press, 1929)
  • The Purple Sea: More Splashes of Chinese Color (collection, New York: Lantern Press, 1930)
  • Wind Blown Stories (with Ethel Owen, collection, illustrated by George T. Tobin, New York: The Abingdon Press, 1930)
  • Della Wu, Chinese Courtezan and Other Oriental Love Tales (collection, New York: Lantern Press, 1931)
  • Rare Earth (New York: The Lantern Press, 1931)
  • The Blue Highway (with Ethel Owen, collection, illustrated by George T. Tobin, The Abingdon Press, 1932)
  • Madonna of the Damned (as by Roswell Williams, 1935)
  • Lovers of Lo Fab (as by Roswell Williams, 1935 or 1936)
  • Between the Covers (New York: The Macaulay Company, 1938)*
  • A Husband for Kutani (collection, New York: Lee Furman, 1938)
  • The Scarlet Hill (New York: Carlyle House, 1941)
  • Morris the Midget Moose (children's book, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1945)*
  • The Porcelain Magician: A Collection of Oriental Fantasies (collection, illustrated by Frances E. Dunn, New York: Gnome Press, 1948)
*I can't be sure that these books were by our Frank Owen, who should not be confused with the Welsh military officer, author, and newspaperman, nor with the American cartoonist (1907-1971) of the same name.

In addition to writing books, Frank Owen was an editor. Many of these books are from the Teen-Age Library series published by Lantern Press and/or Grosset and Dunlap. The following list may or may not be complete:
  • The Bedside Bonanza (New York: Frederick Fell Company, 1944)
  • Murder for Millions: A Harvest of Horror and Homicide (New York: Frederick Fell Company, 1946)
  • Teen-Age Companion (illustrated by Carl Cobbledick, 1946)
  • Fireside Mystery Book (New York: Lantern Press, 1947)
  • Teen-Age Baseball Stories (1947)
  • Teen-Age Outdoor Stories (1947)
  • Teen-Age Sports Stories (1947)
  • Teen-Age Basketball Stories (1948)
  • Teen-Age Football Stories (1948)
  • Teen-Age Mystery Stories (illustrated by Carl Cobbledick, New York: Lantern Press, 1948)
  • Teen-Age Stories of Action (1948)
  • Teen-Age Winter Sports Stories (1949)
  • Teen-Age Victory Parade (1950)
  • Teen-Age Winter Sports Stories (Grosset Dunlap, 1950)
  • Baseball Stories (paperback, Lantern Press, 1964)

Ethel Owen, Frank Owen's sister and sometime co-author, was born in August 1890 in New York, probably in Brooklyn. In addition to writing books with her younger brother, Ethel also wrote books on her own, many about parties for young people, some about more adult topics. Here is a partial list:
  • A Book of Original Parties (1925)
  • Parties That Are Different (1926)
  • The Pumpkin People (1927)
  • Hallowe'en Tales and Games (illustrated by Eleanore Mineah Hubbard, Chicago: A. Whitman and Company, 1928)
  • Wish for Tomorrow (New York: Robert Speller Publishing Corp, 1936)
  • The Abingdon Party Book (1937)
  • Romance in the Rain (New York: Green Circle Books, 1937)
  • Some One Shall Love Me (New York: Lee Furman, 1939)
  • Unwilling Bride (Astro Books #9, 1948)
  • Confessions of a Good-Time Girl (Astro Books #10, 1948)
  • A Year of Recreation
Ethel Owen died on November 17, 1946, at age fifty-six. Her obituary--an incomplete obituary taken from the online archive of the New York Times--from November 18, 1946:
OWEN, Ethel, on Sunday, Nov. 17, 1946, devoted sister of Frank Owen, Mrs. Andrew Rankine and Mrs. Paul F. Pinkham. Service at her residence, 204 Weirfield St., Brooklyn . . . .

Here are some other sources from the Times on the Owen family. The transcriptions may not be entirely accurate:
OWEN, Friday, March 25, 1938, Agnes A., beloved daughter of Henrietta and the late Henry Owen, sister of Margaret, Ethel, Ralph H., and Frank Owen, Mrs. Andrew Rankine and Mrs. Paul F. Pinkham. Services at her residence, 204 Weirfield Ave., Brooklyn. (Mar. 27, 1938)
Wills for Probate
OWEN, AGNES A. (March 25). Estate $4,800 personal. To mother, Henrietta Owen, 204 Weirfield St. Frank Owen, 204 Weirfield St., executor. (Apr. 6, 1938)

And Frank Owen's own obituary:
Frank Owen, Author, 75; Editor of Mystery Books
Frank Owen, an author who also wrote under the pen names Roswell Williams and Richard Kent, died Sunday after a long illness at his home, 21 Adler Place, Brooklyn. He . . . . (Oct. 15, 1968)

So what are we to make of the oeuvre of Frank Owen? He was a very prolific and seemingly reliable author for Weird Tales, yet his stories have very seldom been reprinted during the intervening years. It's true that they appeared in hardbound editions in the 1920s and '30s, even as most of his contemporaries were still hacking their way through the pulp jungle. But most were reprinted for the first and last time more than seventy years ago. Even if your library is well stocked, you might have a hard time coming up with even one of them. According to my recent email correspondent, E. Hoffman Price (another Orientalist) considered Owen "a fine writer," but how are we to know? If nothing else, "The Wind That Tramps the World," Owen's most popular story for Weird Tales, should be generally available. Instead, it has been reprinted only in Weird Tales #3, edited by Lin Carter, from 1981, a book that is hard to come by. (1) Ten authors are ahead of Frank Owen in the number of stories they wrote for Weird Tales. All but Allison V. Harding have had their stories reprinted again and again. (2) Most have their own large following of diehard fans. So what of Frank Owen? Is he a neglected author? Or is there something else going on? These are no mere rhetorical questions. We should know their answer.

(1) The title by the way is from the poem "Sestina of the Tramp-Royal" by Rudyard Kipling (1896).
(2) Allison V. Harding is a special case. There is reason to believe that stories by that pseudonymous author received special treatment in being published in Weird Tales.

You don't have to take my word for it. Here is an inscription from Ethel Owen:
July 23, 1936
To Frank Owen
My Brother
My Collaborator
My Fellow-Novelist
My Artist
A pretty good guy
Ethel Owen

Note: The illustration on the dust jacket of The Purple Sea is initialed "HR." I assume that to have been Hugh Rankin, an illustrator for Weird Tales.

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley


  1. The DJ for "THE PURPLE SEA" was by Hugh Rankin and is an illo
    for one of Owens stories in Weird Tales. I think it might be for the title story.
    Best Lem Nash

  2. Didn't Harding's stories receive special treatment because her husband was assistant editor of Weird Tales? Harding was a pen name.

    1. Dear Lohr,

      I believe Allison V. Harding's stories received special treatment from the editorial staff of Weird Tales because Lamont Buchanan, the assistant editor, was not the husband of the author but because he himself was the author. In other words, I don't think Jean Milligan was Allison V. Harding. I think Lamont Buchanan was Allison V. Harding. I don't have any hard evidence for that. It's just a feeling I have.


  3. I recently acquired Coat Tales from the Pocket of a Happy Giant by Ethel and Frank Owen.Any idea what the book is worth?

    1. Dear Unknown,

      I'm not an appraiser of or dealer in rare or collectible books, so I have no idea what your book might be worth. I would recommend contacting any number of rare book dealers you might find on line.

      Good luck.