Friday, July 22, 2016

Joel Townsley Rogers (1896-1984)-Part One

Aka Roger Curley, Roger Curly
Aviator, Author, Editor, Civil Servant
Born November 22, 1896, Sedalia, Missouri
Died October 1, 1984, Washington, D.C.

Joel Townsley Rogers was born on November 22, 1896, in Sedalia, Missouri, to Otis J. and Bertha T. Rogers. He matriculated at Harvard University with the class of 1918, but world events had other things planned for him, for on June 25, 1917, Joel Townsley Rogers joined the United States Naval Reserve. Based on his record of service (below), I presume that he entered active duty on August 19, 1917. According to a website with the heading "Joel Townsley Rogers-Writings," Rogers received his flight training at Hampton Roads, Virginia, and was sent to Pensacola, Florida, to be a flight instructor. He served there, in Miami, and in Rockaway, New York, the last being the station where he separated from the navy on August 15, 1919.

Once returned to civilian life, Rogers decided to give writing for the pulps a try. The FictionMags Index has his first published story as "Finders-Keepers," published in Telling Tales in July 1920. However, according to the previously mentioned website, Rogers, writing as Roger Curly, had a story called "The Battle Cruiser Lady" in Snappy Stories for February 18, 1920. We probably should assume for now that "The Battle Cruiser Lady" was his first story using any byline. Dozens more followed, the last coming with the end of the pulp era in the 1950s. They were published in Action Stories, Adventure, Air Stories, Argosy, Detective Fiction Weekly, Metropolitan Magazine, New Detective Magazine, Snappy Stories, Warbirds, and other titles. Rogers had only one story in Weird Tales, "Hark! The Rattle!" from the very first issue, March 1923. Other works in the genres of fantasy and science fiction appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Startling Stories, Super Science Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories. Incidentally, Joel Townsley Rogers was one of few pulp writers who crossed over into writing for slick magazines, for he had three stories in The Saturday Evening Post between 1943 and 1958.

In 1920, Rogers was in Washington, D.C., with his parents and siblings. He was still working in aviation, in this case in the private sector. In 1922, the young writer was a graduate student at Princeton University and an editor at Brentano's Book Chat, where he used the pseudonym Roger Curley, a reference to his own curly hair. Rogers' first book dates from about that time as well. Entitled Once in a Red Moon, it came out in 1923, the same year in which he was published in Weird TalesBy 1940, he was in New York and working as a freelance writer. His remaining books came after that, The Red Right Hand in 1945, Lady with the Dice in 1946, and The Stopped Clock, also called Never Leave My Bed, in 1958. Rogers' books have been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Icelandic, and German. I don't know what he did once opportunities in the pulps dried up in the 1950s, but he lived for another quarter century and died on October 1, 1984, in Washington, D.C.

To be concluded . . .

Joel Townsley Rogers' Story in Weird Tales
"Hark! The Rattle!" (Mar. 1923)

Further Reading
There are lists of Rogers' stories on The FictionMags Index, The Internet Speculative Fiction Database, and on a web page with the heading "Joel Townsley Rogers-Writings," here. The last website also has information on Rogers' family, life, and career. You can of course also do an Internet search, which will likely prove fruitful, as Rogers is a widely admired writer, especially for his book The Red Right Hand, about which I will write next.

A military record for Joel Townsley Rogers, from U.S. Adjutant General Military Records, Harvard's Military Record in the World War (1921).
A passport photograph of Rogers, with his signature, from 1919.

Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley


  1. I'm not familiar with Rogers' work, but based on your post I am intrigued. Since he's an author of pulp fiction with a background in aviation he sounds like he'd be right up your alley!

    1. Dear Mike,

      I wasn't familiar with him or his work until, by chance, I found his book. He wasn't alone among pulp writers in having served in the Great War. There was actually a whole generation of them, including the founder of Weird Tales, Jacob Clark Henneberger, and its best-known editor, Farnsworth Wright. Donald Keyhoe, later of flying saucer fame, was first an aviator, then a pulp writer. There were others of course. And, yes, I was in aviation, but only on the ground crew, although I flew in the back seat of an F-16 once and have ridden in all kinds of airplanes, from a little Cesna to what a fellow service member called "the tube of death" (a small commuter jet) to a KC-135, a KC-10, and a Boeing 747, the "cattle car" that carries people in a great circle to the Far East.

      I hope you enjoy the second part of my article on Rogers.


    2. Though I'm not really an aviation enthusiast, I am fascinated with the military aircraft of World War II, and one of the high points of my life was taking a ride a couple of years ago in the B-17 Flying Fortress that is owned and operated by the Colling's Foundation. Wow! What a piece of history!

    3. Dear Mike,

      So you have one up on me. I have never ridden in an airplane from World War II. I have also never ridden in a helicopter. There's still time, though . . .