Saturday, December 29, 2018

Robert H. Leitfred (1891-1968)

Aka Robert Fleming
Stenographer, Soldier, Author
Born August 5, 1891, Syracuse, New York
Died August 16, 1968, Orange County, California

Robert Henry Leitfred was born on August 5, 1891, in Syracuse, New York, to Henry and Jennie (Bennett) Leitfred. The surname is unusual. Nonetheless, it's not easy to find information on Robert H. Leitfred in newspapers, public records, or the Internet. As a young man, he worked as a stenographer. On October 26 (or 27 or 28), 1914, Leitfred married another stenographer, Mildred Snyder, in Syracuse.

In 1918, Leitfred enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in a motorcycle unit and was in France from 1918 to 1919 before returning to his civilian job as a stenographer. According to The FictionMags Index, his first published story was in Detective Tales in December 1923/January 1924. Detective Tales was a companion magazine to Weird Tales. (The first issue was actually published in October 1922, five months before Weird Tales.) We might take that as Leitfred's introduction to Rural Publishing Company and its magazine titles, but his first story in Weird Tales was not published until 1935. In the intervening years he had dozens of stories in war, aviation, Western, and other pulp magazines. From his start in 1923 to his finish in 1951, these included Aces, Airplane Stories, Black Book Detective Magazine, Breezy Stories, Detective Story Magazine, Over the Top, Short Stories, Sky Birds, Three Star Magazine and Three Star Stories, War Stories, Western Trails, Wings, and other titles. Leitfred's credits in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and weird fiction include the following:
  • "The Vanishing Ray" in Detective Tales (Dec. 1923/Jan. 1924)
  • "Where Gravity Ends" in Air Wonder Stories #3 (Sept. 1929)
  • "Prisoners of the Electron" in Astounding Stories of Super Science (Oct. 1930)
  • "Prisms of Space" in Astounding Stories (Nov. 1933)
  • "Yellow Doom" in Weird Tales (May 1935)
  • "Seven Seconds of Eternity" in Weird Tales (Sept. 1940)
  • "Core of the Purple Flame" in Weird Tales (Nov. 1941)

Under his pseudonym Robert Fleming, he wrote:
  • "Thunder Over the Channel" in Battle Birds (Feb. 1942)
  • "Just About Eels" in Fantastic Adventures (Aug. 1942)

Leitfred also wrote short stories published in newspapers during the early 1950s, three hardbound crime-detective novels in the 1930s, and a paperback novel in the 1950s:
  • The Corpse That Spoke (1936)
  • The Man Who Was Murdered Twice (1937)
  • Death Cancels the Evidence (1938)
  • Murder Is My Racket (1952)

In about 1930, Leitfred moved to Laguna Beach, California, to be among the growing colony of writers there. He went to Laguna Beach with Robert C. Du Soe (1920-1964), formerly of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, then and later an author of adventure stories and children's books. I have names of other writers who lived and worked in Laguna Beach during the 1930s, but those will have to wait for another day and another entry.

Robert H. Leitfred died on August 16, 1968, in Orange County, California, less than two weeks after his seventy-seventh birthday.

Robert H. Leitfred's Stories and Letter in Weird Tales
"Yellow Doom" (May 1935)
"Seven Seconds of Eternity" (Sept. 1940)
Letter to "The Eyrie" (Sept. 1940)
"Core of the Purple Flame" (Nov. 1941)

Further Reading
See "Robert H. Leitfred-Author" on the website PulpFlakes, July 15, 2017, hereFor more on Robert C. Du Soe, see Clear Heart Blog by Joe Cottonwood, in an entry of September 6, 2012, here.

Robert H. Leitfred's story "The Vanishing Ray" was in Detective Tales in its December 1923/January 1924 issue. For a year or so, Detective Tales was a companion magazine to Weird Tales. You can see the connection in the cover designs for the two magazines in 1923-1924. All or most of these were two-color designs (usually red and black, as in this cover). Many of the artists did double duty as well, for instance, R.M. Mally, who created this design, as well as the covers for Weird Tales for most of the period June 1923-May/June/July 1924. As for Leitfred's story: I don't know what it's about, but the title makes me think there is some kind of proto-science-fictional theme or elements.

Without my intending to, this is becoming a series relating to World War I and a few of the tellers of weird tales who were also veterans of the war. Robert Leitfred was among them. I don't know in what unit he served and whether he saw combat, but Leitfred wrote war stories for years after his return to the United States in 1919. His story "The Fourth Squad," for example, was in Three Star Stories for July 1929 (#1). The cover art includes the artist's monogram, but I don't know who he or she was.

As the 1920s and stories of war gave way to the 1930s and a proliferation of crime and detective tales, Leitfred wrote more in those two genres. His story "The Devil Laughed" was the cover story for Detective Fiction Weekly for October 10, 1936. I don't know the name of the cover artist.

Leitfred had another cover story in Weird Tales in September 1940. It's called "Seven Seconds of Eternity," and the cover art, by Ray Quigley (1909-1998), is strange beyond belief.

After nearly thirty years as a professional writer, Robert H. Leitfred began to wind down in the early 1950s. Whether that was by choice or by the vicissitudes of the market, I can't say. In any case, he had a last hurrah as the author of a paperback crime-detective novel, Murder Is My Racket, a Harlequin book from 1952.

Text and captions copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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