Saturday, August 1, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983)-Part Five

In Washington, D.C.

By July 1937, when he wrote to Weird Tales about the death and legacy of H.P. Lovecraft, Earl Peirce, Jr., was living in Washington, D.C., with his family. His father had been appointed to a position there with the U.S. Forest Service. Earl Peirce, Sr., would spend the rest of his forestry career in the nation's capital, retiring in 1951 after more than forty years on the job.

"The Death Mask" may have been the last story that Earl Peirce, Jr., sent to Weird Tales from his Milwaukee home. It was published in the issue of April 1937. "The Homicidal Diary" followed in October 1937. Nearly a whole year went by before Peirce had his next story in "The Unique Magazine." Written with Bruce Bryan, "The White Rat" was published in September 1938.

Born in Washington, D.C., Leslie Bruce Bryan (1906-2004) was an archaeologist and anthropologist known for his work in the American Southwest and on the Channel Islands. He worked at the County Museum of Natural History, Science, and Art (now the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History) and the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, not only as a man in the field but also as a curator and a staff writer for The Masterkey, the magazine of the Southwest Museum. Between 1932 and 1939, he wrote or co-wrote five stories published in Weird Tales and its sister title, Oriental Stories. During the same period, he had twelve letters printed in weird fiction magazines.

Bryan's first collaborator in weird fiction was Dudley S. Corlett (ca. 1880-1946), with whom he wrote "The Dancer of Quena," published in Oriental Stories in Spring 1932. Born in England, Corlett lived in southern California for many years. Like Bryan, he worked in scientific or semi-scientific fields, in his case, botany and tropical agriculture.

Bruce Bryan returned to his native city during the early or mid 1930s. He married his second wife, Mary Katherine Fahrenwald, in Washington, D.C., in November 1936. In 1940, he registered for the draft while living there, and like Earl Peirce, Jr., he called himself a writer. During the previous decade, Bryan had had stories not only in weird fiction magazines but also in Argosy, as well as in Western, crime, mystery, and detective titles. Bryan returned to California in the 1940s.

While living in Washington, D.C., Bryan became a member of a Weird Tales fan club. Fan and letter writer Julius Hopkins led the group. Other members included Everill Worrell (1893-1969) and Seabury Quinn (1889-1969). Earl Peirce, Jr., joined, too. Unfortunately, I don't have any details on him except that he was a member and that he co-wrote a story with Bruce Bryan.

After collaborating with Bryan, Earl Peirce had just two more stories in Weird Tales"The Stroke of Twelve" (June/July 1939) and "Portrait of a Bride" (Jan. 1940). He followed up with "Legacy of the Dead" in Terror Tales (July 1940) and "The Shadow of Nirvana" in Strange Stories (Feb. 1941). Although Peirce had other stories in the pulp magazines of the 1940s, these were his last in the weird fiction titles.

On April 16, 1940, Earl Peirce, Jr., was counted in the U.S. census in Washington, D.C. He was with his family at 3738 Huntington Street, N.W. If the house at that address now is the same as in 1940, then it was a pretty fine one. Later that year, on October 16, 1940, Peirce filled out his draft card, giving his employer as the General Federation of Women's Clubs. On May 7, 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. (His younger brother Dudley Beach Peirce enlisted the same day.) On December 26, 1941, less than three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Earl Peirce, Jr., married Gloria Hallett Grimm (1922-1999), also in Washington, D.C. The world had suddenly become a very serious place.

I don't think it was mere coincidence that Peirce's writing for the pulps went on pause in 1941. Military service, marriage, and world war have ways of interrupting a person's plans. He had just one story published during the war and only three more after that. His last came in October 1949, just thirteen years after his first.

To be continued . . .

Earl Peirce's fifth story in Weird Tales was "The White Rat," cowritten with Bruce Bryan and published in the September 1938 issue. "The White Rat" is set in Norway. It begins as a club story, but the middle and end take place in a remote northern location. Despite the weird-fiction or gothic-romance elements of separation and isolation, "The White Rat" actually approaches science fiction. I guess we can call it a weird science story.

If there is weird science, there should probably be a weird--or mad--scientist, and there is in this story. There is also a tale told of a medical doctor with psychopathic or sociopathic proclivities. We have seen characters like that before. They're also with us in the real world.

"The White Rat" has similarities to Frankenstein. It's sort of a Frankenstein's monster of a story, too. There are elements not only of Mary Shelley's seminal gothic romance/proto-science fiction novel but also of stories by H.P. Lovecraft, including "The White Ape" (Weird Tales, Apr. 1924), "The Whisperer in Darkness" (Weird Tales, Aug. 1931), "The Dunwich Horror" (Weird Tales, Apr. 1929), and "Cool Air" (Tales of Magic and Mystery, Mar. 1928). The story was written before Watson and Crick found out about DNA, so maybe we can forgive some of its fumbling about genetics. There are, however, suggestions of Lamarckian evolution or Lysenkoism in its pages. I'm pretty sure that both would have been discredited by the time Peirce and Bryan wrote their story. Finally, the weird fiction or science fiction trope of the body frozen in a block of ice and waiting to be revivified is central to the plot. In that, "The White Rat" anticipated Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), The Thing from Another World (1951), and the Minnesota Iceman hoax of the 1960s. There is also something of The Fly (1958) in it, another film from the future.

The illustration above is the work of Virgil Finlay. It appears as a heading to the story. In combination with the first few pages of the story, it gives away part of the plot and part of the surprise. Before long, we've got it all figured out pretty well. Only the details are missing until the end. The issue in which "The White Rat" appeared was an all-star issue with stories and poems by Seabury Quinn, Algernon Blackwood, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, H.P. Lovecraft, Edmond Hamilton, Clark Ashton Smith, Manly Wade Wellman, and Paul Ernst. That was pretty good company for young Earl Peirce, Jr.

Thanks to Randal A. Everts for information on Julius Hopkins' fan club.
Text and captions copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

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