EDitorial Comments

Underway: 2015 Memorial Day Sale!

Posted in Murania Press,Special Sale on May 22, 2015 @ 3:41 pm

Our last two Memorial Day sales were quite successful, so we’ve decided to try a third for this year. If you’ve been holding back on buying our recent releases, here’s your chance to pick them up at a discounted rate: Between now and 11:59 p.m. on Monday, May 25th, all Murania Press titles are available at 20 percent off cover price, with shipping included for purchasers in the United States.

If, for example, you’re interested in the triple-sized Blood ‘n’ Thunder 2014-15 Special Edition (pictured below), you can pick it up this weekend for $23.95 instead of the usual $29.95. J. Allan Dunn’s The Island, Volume Five in our Classic Pulp Reprints series, can be had for $15.95 as opposed to $19.95.

Did you miss out on the award-nominated Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders, the first of our two volumes on silent-era movie serials? That, too, is temporarily available at $23.95, down from $29.95. Ditto for the best-selling book in our catalog, The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction. And if you’ve missed recent back issues of Blood ‘n’ Thunder itself, you can grab them for $10.00 each, postage included, rather than $12.50.

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I must stress, though, that the free shipping extends to domestic U.S. customers only. We pay considerably more for books shipped internationally (including to Canada and Mexico) and, regrettably, must pass along those additional costs. Our average charge for sending a single item to foreign buyers is $6.99, but the good news is that the increase in shipping does not go up dramatically for multiple books. So by purchasing two or three at a time during one of our sales, international customers will find their postage fees largely absorbed by saving 20 percent off each item. If you’re buying from another country, please first send us an e-mail letting us know which books you want. After calculating the cost of shipping we’ll get back to you with a Paypal invoice for the total amount.

So while you’re waiting for the grill to heat up or those cookout guests to arrive, take a look at our books and magazines. If you’re a fan of pulp fiction, vintage movies and radio dramas, we guarantee you’ll find something of interest. Maybe several somethings. Happy hunting, and happy Memorial Day!

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May 19: A 2nd Tarzan-Related Birthday

Posted in Birthday,Serials on May 19, 2015 @ 7:29 pm
Natalie Kingston publicity photo, circa 1927.

Natalie Kingston publicity photo, circa 1927.

Earlier today I posted a birthday tribute to Herman Brix, a former screen Tarzan. But he wasn’t the only person with a connection to the Ape Man born on May 19th. The screen’s fifth and last silent-era Jane, Natalie Kingston, shared the same birthday and is likewise deserving of recognition here.

Born in 1905 as Natalie Ringstrom, this Golden State native showed traces of her mixed lineage, having both Spanish and Hungarian ancestors. Dark-eyed, dark-haired, and olive-skinned, Natalie grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. While still a teenager she began performing professionally as a dancer, briefly hoofing on Broadway. Natalie was just 18 when, having returned to California, she became one of Mack Sennett’s fabled Bathing Beauties and secured roles in his comedies starring Harry Langdon, among others.

In 1926, now billed as Natalie Kingston, she supported top comics Eddie Cantor in Kid Boots and Raymond Griffith in Wet Paint. Frequently cast as a fiery Latina, she occasionally played dramatic roles and was said to be particularly effective in a 1927 Ronald Colman vehicle, The Night of Love. Kingston also drew supporting roles in such popular late silent films as Howard Hawks’ A Girl in Every Port and Frank Borzage’s Street Angel.

A scene from TARZAN THE MIGHTY (1928).

A scene from TARZAN THE MIGHTY (1928).

In some of her early screen appearances Natalie looked a tad plump, but by 1928 she had slimmed down considerably. Lithe and leggy, the erstwhile chorus girl had never looked better when she was cast to play “Mary Trevor” in that year’s Tarzan the Mighty, a Universal chapter play scheduled for release in the fall.

The serial, supposedly based on the sixth book in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ long-running series, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, was actually filmed from an original screenplay. Kingston’s character had no counterpart in ERB’s collection of short stories, but she looked quite fetching in her abbreviated animal-skin garb. Champion gymnast and body-building enthusiast Frank Merrill, who had doubled Elmo Lincoln in The Adventures of Tarzan (1921), made a convincing Ape Man and bore at least a glancing resemblance to the Tarzan depicted in some of J. Allen St. John’s cover paintings.

A scene from TARZAN THE TIGER (1929).

A scene from TARZAN THE TIGER (1929).

The early episodes of Tarzan the Mighty were released while the serial was in the latter days of principal photography. Enthusiastic exhibitor reaction and the accompanying increase in bookings persuaded Universal to extend the film from 12 to 15 installments, thereby guaranteeing additional revenue inasmuch as serials were rented by the chapter. It was Universal’s highest-grossing production of the year.

The principal players—Merrill, Kingston, and villain Al Ferguson—were reunited the following year for the absurdly titled Tarzan the Tiger, a reasonably faithful adaptation of ERB’s Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. This time around Natalie played Jane, who during the course of the story was menaced by Arab slave traders and Opar’s Queen La (played by the exotically beautiful Mademoiselle Kithnou). She screened to good advantage in a tasteful nude swimming scene. While successful, Tarzan the Tiger was not the box-office sensation that its predecessor had been, and the Ape Man’s screen career lay dormant for several years before being revived with M-G-M’s first Tarzan opus starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan.

TARZAN THE TIGER: Ferguson, Merrill, Kingston.

TARZAN THE TIGER: Ferguson, Merrill, Kingston.

Kingston had the female lead in one other Universal serial, The Pirate of Panama (also 1929), an adaptation of William MacLeod Raine’s adventure novel about modern-day treasure hunters. In a shameless bid to capitalize on her physical assets the script kept Natalie’s character clad in shredded garments for much of the footage, if production stills are to be believed. The chapter play itself is lost, as is Tarzan the Mighty.

Although Kingston had a perfectly acceptable voice and delivered dialogue convincingly, she failed to gain much of a foothold in talking pictures and worked in a handful of minor films before retiring from the screen in 1933, still in her twenties. Natalie fared better than many of her peers, however. She invested her money in real estate and attended law school to obtain the legal expertise required to successfully manage her holdings. She also enjoyed a long and stable marriage to one George Andersch, whom she wed shortly before beginning work on Tarzan the Mighty; their union ended with his death in 1960.

Kingston and Ferguson in PIRATE OF PANAMA.

Kingston and Ferguson in PIRATE OF PANAMA.

Natalie Kingston died in 1991 at her home in Los Angeles, just a couple months shy of her 86th birthday. Her brief tenure as the silver screen’s Jane would likely be totally forgotten had not a resourceful film pirate gained access to the only surviving 35mm print of Tarzan the Tiger in the mid 1980s. This gent made a good-quality video transfer from the deteriorating material and circulated VHS copies to selected collectors before selling sub-masters to grey-market video distributors a few years later. Thanks to him, Tarzan fans have developed an appreciation for the silent era’s sexiest Jane.

PIRATE OF PANAMA: Kingston and Jay Wilsey.

PIRATE OF PANAMA: Kingston and Jay Wilsey.

Birthday Boy: Tarzan of the Movies! (Well, ONE of them, anyway.)

Posted in Birthday,Serials on @ 11:08 am
Herman Brix in his Los Angeles office, 1976

Herman Brix in his Los Angeles office, 1976

On May 19, 1906 Olympic athlete-turned-actor Herman Brix—also known as Bruce Bennett, the adopted name he used for most of his professional life—was born in Tacoma, Washington. Most film fans probably remember Bennett for his roles in such classic “A” movies as Mildred Pierce (1945), The Man I Love (1947, his personal favorite), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Serial aficionados, however,  revere the classic chapter plays in which he starred or co-starred as Brix: The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935), Shadow of Chinatown (1936), The Lone Ranger, The Fighting Devil Dogs, Hawk of the Wilderness (all 1938), and Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939).

I was supposed to visit and interview Brix in October 2002, at the tail end of a week-long stay in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he got food poisoning the day before our scheduled visit and, unable to postpone my flight back east, I missed my chance. However, I prepared a list of questions and gave them to the friend who had offered to videotape the event; subsequently he conducted the interview for me, getting nearly two hours of footage of the 96-year-old actor.

I was primarily interested in writing the definitive article on New Adventures of Tarzan, and my questions elicited many then-unreported facts about the making of that 1935 serial. The article first appeared in Blood ‘n’ Thunder #5 (Summer 2003, long out of print) and was later included in Blood ‘n’ Thunder’s Cliffhanger Classics. For the Summer 2006 all-serial issue of BnT (also out of print) I distilled Brix’s few comments on his other serials into a brief article titled “Happy Hundredth, Herman!”, a reference to his recent centennial. To celebrate what would be the star’s 109th birthday I reprint those comments below.

Brix fighting off Guatemalan natives in NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN.

Brix fighting off Guatemalan natives in NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN.

On Shadow of Chinatown, his second serial and first film after playing Tarzan: I was taken by my agent to see [the serial’s producer] Sam Katzman, who wanted a leading man to play opposite Bela Lugosi. He hired me right away. I don’t remember waiting to be told I had gotten the part. Now, Bela was paid a considerable sum of money—I couldn’t tell you exactly how much—and he was on the set for one and a half days, total. That’s it. Shot all his scenes for a 15-chapter serial in one and a half days. (Editor’s Note: We find this very difficult to believe, given the amount of footage Lugosi has in Shadow. We’re more inclined to believe that he only worked a day and a half with Brix, who was in most scenes and therefore needed to be around for the entire shooting schedule.) That film was made in the days just before the Screen Actors Guild [instituted regulations governing overtime pay for actors]. Several times, I worked 12-hour, 14-hour days and just slept on a cot in the back of the studio. I wouldn’t go home for two or three days at a stretch.

[Director] Bob Hill was a very enthusiastic and humanitarian man, but he had a helluva job getting these things out on time. I liked him, but the quality of his pictures [for Katzman] was catch-as-catch-can. The direction was along the lines of, “You walk from here to here, you jump off that bridge there . . . .”

Bela was a nice guy. He and his wife had my wife and I out to his place for dinner one night when we finished shooting early. He told me he couldn’t understand how I could do all the things I did, the physical stuff as well as the acting, on that kind of schedule. “All those scenes in one day!” He was very professional, but I thought he had a strange sort of idea of acting. He learned all the lines, but he said them in his certain way and that was it. Frankly, I never understood why people wanted to see him [in movies]. But he had that peculiar quality of mystery about him that made him good for that kind of part.

Sam Katzman . . . well, at that phase of his career he gave the impression of being just a happy-go-lucky guy who hoped everything would turn out all right. But, boy, he sure watched the pennies. If he could save a few hundred dollars by having two crews work 12-hour shifts instead of paying one crew overtime, that’s the way he would do it. He was pretty clever at figuring out the most economical way of doing a picture.

Brix has his hands on Bela Lugosi, whose henchmen intervene in SHADOW OF CHINATOWN.

Brix has his hands on Bela Lugosi, whose henchmen intervene in SHADOW OF CHINATOWN.

On making his first serial for Republic, The Lone Ranger: That was a lot of fun. We shot most of the exteriors up in Lone Pine. We did lots of shots riding back and forth, here and there, with those mountains in the background. I remember they assigned me a horse named Blackjack. Now, he had a tough mouth. You really had to jerk the reins back hard to get him to respond. One day I was doing an insert shot, a running insert, and Blackjack got the bit in his teeth and wouldn’t stop. He jumped up on top of a boulder—I swear, it looked as big as a house to me—and I fell off backward, and he fell down as well. And that was the last day I rode Blackjack.

On making The Fighting Devil Dogs with his Lone Ranger co-star, Lee Powell, and director William Witney, who shared the megaphone with John English: I liked Lee a lot. We got to be pretty good friends and we did another serial together after The Lone Ranger. It was The Fighting Devil Dogs. We played Marines. I don’t remember too much about it, except that it had a lot of stock shots. The scenes were built around stock footage. But Lee and I had a lot of fun with it. There was a lot of action, a lot of fighting, as I recall. But, you know, when you’re young and active and in good health, you do the damnedest things that you otherwise wouldn’t do. During World War II, Lee was called up and went overseas. He was shot down not long after he got there. I was very unhappy to hear that he had died. I remember Billy Witney being an energetic, clever young director. On the set, he acted like, “Alright, I don’t care, do it that way.” But he always knew what he was doing. And everybody felt that way [about him].

Between scenes of THE LONE RANGER: Brix, behind the mask, with co-director Bill Witney and leading lady Lynn Roberts.

Between scenes of THE LONE RANGER: Brix, behind the mask, with co-director Bill Witney and leading lady Lynn Roberts.

On making his only solo starring serial for Republic, Hawk of the Wilderness: That was fun to make. And I believe it was a fairly successful picture of that type for Republic. I can tell you what I remember most about that one. At the end of the shooting schedule, there were still a number of scenes—maybe 15 pages of script—that hadn’t been shot. Scenes with the Hawk doing things alone, running, climbing, and other things. This stuff hadn’t been shot when the production originally shut down. So [the producer] had me come back and we went up to the location, just me and a camera crew. Well, we shot one whole day, that night, and into the next day—without stopping. Now, by that time the SAG regulations were [being enforced], and I was on triple overtime. I got more money for those two long days and one night than I got for the whole film!

As "Kioga," Brix is at the mercy of "Yellow Weasel" (Monte Blue) in HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS.

As “Kioga,” Brix is at the mercy of “Yellow Weasel” (Monte Blue) in HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS.

Updated: Collectibles Section

Posted in Collectibles For Sale on May 6, 2015 @ 9:10 pm

I’ve just updated the Collectibles section, removing many recently sold items and adding 20 new lots with a total of 50 pieces. You’ll find newly listed pulps, pulp reprints, fanzines, reference books, and collections of vintage newspaper comic strips. As usual, there are great bargains here; some of the multi-volume comic-strip collections are available for less than half their original publication price.

You’ll find a nice variety of vintage pulps among the new additions: Western, adventure, detective, and science fiction. There are a few autographed items as well, including a copy of the long-out-of-print hardcover first edition of The Weird Tales Story signed by author Robert Weinberg and a 1935 issue of Thrilling Western signed by cover artist R. G. Harris.

For a look at the new items click here.

thrill-west copy

BNT Subscription Drive for May

Posted in Blood 'n' Thunder,Classic Pulp Reprints,Murania Press on May 1, 2015 @ 4:44 pm

As these words are being written, copies of the new Blood ‘n’ Thunder have been sent to all current subscribers. There are quite a few renewals outstanding, which is hardly surprising. Since it had been nine months between issues prior to the release last month of the 2014-15 Special Edition (comprising numbers 42, 43 and 44), I can easily understand some of you thinking I’d pulled the plug on BnT. Additionally, last year’s subscriber-database meltdown contributed to the confusion when approximately 30 subscribers were inadvertently dropped from the list and therefore did not receive the Summer 2014 issue. But BnT is still very much alive and now back in business.

Naturally, I’m expecting to hear soon from the zine’s loyal readers with lapsed subscriptions. But I’m also hoping, as always, to attract new subscribers—and to that end I’m announcing a month-long subscription drive with a special discount:

Beginning today and going through May 31, those subscribing to BnT for the first time will be eligible for a 20-percent discount on any and all currently available Murania Press publications. Please note that the offer extends only to books and magazines listed on this site as of May 1 and does not apply to future releases.

To qualify for the discount, newbies must first subscribe here. Then, having picked out the publications they wish to purchase at the 20-percent discount, they should e-mail Kevin C. at muraniapress@yahoo.com and list the books wanted. At that point he will generate an invoice for the discounted items and send it to the buyer. We will accept Paypal payment for these purchases, just as we do normally.

To be clear, this deal is for first-time subscribers only.

The new Murania Press releases got a warm reception at last month’s Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention: I came home without a single copy of either the BnT Special Edition or The Island, volume five in the Classic Pulp Reprints series. And post-show orders for each have been brisk.

I’m already working on the Summer 2015 issue of BnT (#45) and will be teasing it soon as the contents are mostly set. The next entry in Classic Pulp Reprints, William Corcoran’s 1933 thriller The Purple Eye, could be ready as soon as June 1.

Keep watching this space for further announcements!

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Birthday Boy: Talbot Mundy

Posted in Birthday on April 23, 2015 @ 10:47 pm

One hundred years ago or thereabouts, Talbot Mundy was one of pulpdom’s superstars, his works appearing regularly in Adventure, the classiest rough-paper sheet of the era. His 1912 short story for that periodical, “The Soul of a Regiment,” was so popular that it was reprinted seven times in subsequent issues. Mundy’s 1916 novel King—of the Khyber Rifles, originally published in Everybody’s Magazine, became a career-defining best seller and established him as the premier writer of exotic adventure fiction. And yet, despite having penned more than three dozen novels and countless shorter yarns, he is almost totally forgotten.

Born in London on April 23, 1879, William Lancaster Gribbon came from a stable, well-to-do family and enjoyed the benefits of a comfortable upbringing and a solidly middle-class education. In spite, or perhaps because, of that background he developed a bad case of wanderlust and embarked upon a series of adventures . . . and misadventures.

Mundy's first major story for the pulps.

Mundy’s first major story for the pulps.

Young Willie Gribbon drifted aimlessly after graduating from Rugby, one of England’s oldest and most distinguished public schools. He studied agriculture in Germany before securing passage to India and working as a British colonial merchant. He married in 1903 but couldn’t remain faithful to his wife. In British East Africa he adopted the name Thomas Hartley and added bigamy to a long list of indiscretions. Hartley’s wayward eye and dishonest practices earned him the nickname “Makundu Viazi”—which is Swahili for “White Arse.” He worked as a town clerk but was a con man on the side; eventually he even spent time in jail.

Upon visiting New York in 1910 the erstwhile Willie Gribbon immediately ran afoul of local thugs and got himself beaten up. While in hospital recovering from a fractured skull he decided to try his hand at writing, drawing for inspiration on his experiences in India and Africa. As “Talbot Mundy” he first graced the pages of Adventure in 1911. Mundy later invented for himself a background every bit as fanciful as those devised for his fictional characters: He claimed to be a famous big-game hunter who had fought in the Boer War. Adventure‘s readers—and its editor, Arthur Sullivant Hoffman—were taken in by Mundy but loved his evocative yarns, which invariably had the ring of authenticity.

Talbot Mundy as a young man.

Talbot Mundy as a young man.

During the Teens and Twenties he wrote feverishly, mostly for Adventure but occasionally for such other magazines as Argosy, Romance, Pearson’s, and Blue Book. Achieving success as a fictioneer enabled Mundy to settle down, although he never tamed his wandering eye and therefore married three more times. Despite earning top dollar for his fiction, Talbot was always broke because he spent money as fast as he made it. As the Great Depression got underway some editors soured on Mundy because he requested cash advances for stories that rarely materialized when they were due. In 1935 he stopped writing fiction as a full-time freelancer to take a steady job scripting the children’s radio serial Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. He spent five years so occupied, often working parts of his old novels into the show’s continuities. A devoted Theosophist, Mundy settled down considerably in the Thirties and found happiness with his fifth wife, Dawn, before passing away in 1940.

I never read a word of Mundy until I started seriously collecting pulp magazines in the late Nineties, but familiarizing myself with his oeuvre has provided me with innumerable happy hours since then, and today I number him among the handful of top pulpateers worth collecting. Although King—of the Khyber Rifles and The Ivory Trail (1919) rate high on my list of favorite Mundy novels, I most enjoy the later exploits of ex-soldier James Schuyler Grim, a.k.a. Jimgrim. The Nine Unknown (1923), The Devil’s Guard (1926), and Jimgrim (1931, serialized in Adventure as King of the World) are high-adventure thrillers impregnated with occultism and peopled with memorable supporting characters. It’s always fun to share danger vicariously with Jimgrim’s “posse,” which includes giant strong man (and usual narrator) Jeff Ramsden, the magnificent Indian warrior Narayan Singh, and the wily, trouble-prone babu Chullunder Ghose, who later won “leading man” status. I’m somewhat less fond of Om: The Secret of Ahbor Valley (1924), an interminably long and rather unexciting novel habitually mentioned as one of Mundy’s best.

Display of Mundy's books in store window.

Display of Mundy’s books in store window.

I’ll be the first to admit that Talbot Mundy takes some getting used to, especially if you’re a pulp fan weaned on the vivid action of hero pulps and the crisp prose of Black Mask and competing magazines that perfected the hard-boiled style. Mundy characters tend to strategize far too much, and key action sequences often unfold “off stage,” only to be described at length after the fact by observers. A particularly harrowing scene in King—of the Khyber Rifles is described so casually that I read a half-dozen pages beyond it before realizing what had just transpired. But Mundy is among those rare storytellers who draws readers into his world and holds them there by virtue of his gift for spinning tales suffused with authenticity. He’s one of the field’s true giants and is well worth sampling.

Convention Report: Windy City 2015

Posted in Conventions on April 22, 2015 @ 11:07 pm

This past weekend found me in Lombard, Illinois (a Chicago suburb) for the 15th annual Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention, a wildly successful event that drew approximately 500 fans and collectors of vintage books, pulp magazines, original art, and related memorabilia. “The Windy,” as it’s been named by regular attendees, has become a mecca for pulp devotees and is the hobby’s premier confab.

Launched in 2001 as a modest one-day show staged in a small hotel and attended by fewer than a hundred people, the Windy grew steadily and went through a succession of larger venues before settling into its present location, the beautiful Westin Lombard Yorktown Center. The Westin’s facilities are perfect for such a convention, offering 39,000 square feet of meeting space. The three-day Windy City show commandeers most of that space for dealers, programming, and art exhibits. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a staff member since 2002, compiling and presenting the annual film program and occasionally moderating and/or participating in panel discussions.) There’s also a spacious hospitality suite to which attendees can retire after hours for late-night libations and stimulating conversation.

Panoramic view of the dealer room.

Panoramic view of the dealer room.

For the last five or six years I’ve had the same routine for Windy City. Along with a group of friends and fellow collectors, I rent a large van we’ve dubbed “The Great White Whale”—one of those 12-passenger jobs typically used by hotels to ferry guests to and from airports—in which to make the journey. As several of us are exhibitors, the Whale is always loaded with inventory as well as luggage. Some years I can’t use the rear-view mirror because the cargo is packed so high. The other passengers assemble at my house for an early-morning departure; typically we leave before sunrise, fortified with coffee and bagels sourced from the local Dunkin Donuts. Being chief driver and the group’s resident speed freak, I make the 800-mile drive in one day. We stop briefly for gas, food, and to answer Nature’s call (not always in that order). Last Thursday the excursion took us just under 14 hours.

Convention co-chairmen Doug Ellis and John Gunnison have show prep down to a science and everything got underway on Friday morning without a hitch. The dealer’s room—all 150 tables worth—opened to the public at 11 a.m. and the first movie screening took place at noon. The Windy often has a theme, and this year we celebrated the 125th birthday of horror-story writer H.P. Lovecraft, one of relatively few pulp fictioneers who have gone on to achieve recognition in literary circles. I selected nine films that adapted his works and opened the program with 2001’s Dagon.

Just a few of the pulps for sale.

Just a few of the pulps for sale.

The Windy’s hucksters room always bustles with activity and this year’s was no exception. I debuted two new Murania Press publications: the 2014-15 Special Edition of Blood ‘n’ Thunder and J. Allan Dunn’s The Island, Volume Five in our Classic Pulp Reprints series. Since I’ve been introducing books at the Windy for many years now, I like to think I have a good idea of how much inventory I need, but I sure guessed wrong about The Island, the 1922 sequel to Dunn’s Barehanded Castaways (which I reprinted in 2012): Within four hours I had sold a dozen copies and was totally out of stock by 5 p.m. on Friday, when the dealer room closed for the day.

That evening I sat in on another Windy City auction of rare pulps and books owned by the late uber-collector Jerry Weist. For the last several years Jerry’s stuff has provided greatly enticing auction items that have attracted big buyers. Many of the 250 lots—comprising groups of such desirable magazines as Argosy, All-Story Weekly, and Blue Book—realized record-breaking prices. The 99-issue set of Startling Stories, broken up into lots by year, fetched more than three times its previously established value. (The Saturday-night auction supplemented another 104 lots of Weist material with several dozen consignments from dealers. All told, the two evenings generated more than $50,000 in sales. Not bad for moldy old books and magazines.)

More pulps, and some original art, for sale.

More pulps, and some original art, for sale.

The dealer room hummed with activity all day Saturday, and my sales were steady if not extraordinary. Ultimately I sold about 75 percent of my inventory, a number within my pre-show expectations. Although I hadn’t planned on spending much money on collectibles, my discipline gradually eroded as I stumbled over issues that filled holes in my lengthy runs of Argosy and Adventure. I got the last issue needed to finish my third set of the reprint pulp Fantastic Novels (don’t ask me why I sold the first two) and came within a dozen or so issues of completing my third file of Famous Fantastic Mysteries (ditto).

A collector attends conventions like the Windy because they attract dealers from all across the country and allow for close-up inspection of scarce, desirable items before purchase—an advantage you don’t have when buying pulps on Internet auction sites like eBay or aggregators of rare-book dealers like ABE. The Windy is a great marketplace; the hobby’s best, for my money. But there’s much more to the show than commerce.

An outstanding display of rare pulps.

An outstanding display of rare pulps.

Confabs like this one enable hobbyists to meet and mingle with fellow enthusiasts who often become close friends as an outgrowth of their common interest in pulp fiction.The camaraderie is palpable, and newbies are always welcome. As much as I enjoy selling Murania Press books and scarfing up new additions to my collection, there’s a great deal to be said for the lengthy meals and late-night gabfests with friends one generally sees only at these events.

I’ve even learned to cherish the long hours spent with my close pals in The Great White Whale. Believe it or not, I actually look forward to those 14-hour drives, and when we got back to New Jersey at 9 p.m. this past Monday I was depressed that the trip to which I’d looked forward these past 12 months had come and gone, seemingly in the blink of an eye.

Artwork, both new and old, offered for purchase.

Artwork, both new and old, offered for purchase.

Of course, we’re all looking forward to PulpFest this summer. The drive isn’t as long, and the vibe is slightly different, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had. You’ll be reading more about that convention here in the weeks and months to come.

I’d like to thank one of our new friends, Sai Shankar, for the photos accompanying this post. He has many more accompanying his own con report on his most excellent blog Pulp Flakes.

A Lost Serial Found (And Screened): Pearl White’s THE HOUSE OF HATE

Posted in Serials on April 14, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

As an historian and archivist, I’m excited by few things as much as the discovery, restoration, and revival of a movie serial long thought lost. In 50 years of actively researching and championing the preservation of chapter plays I’ve been privileged to be part of several such recovery efforts. So it was with particular enthusiasm that I visited Astoria, New York’s Museum of the Moving Image this past Sunday to see the first public exhibition in America of Pearl White’s The House of Hate since its theatrical release in the spring of 1918.

For many years the serial-fan cognoscenti knew that the Russian film archive Gosfilmofond held film elements to House of Hate, which was released in Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Ukraine in 1919 following the Great War. The existing material was said to be incomplete, but I still hoped to see it one day: Where silent serials are concerned you take what you can get, since so few survive in their complete, domestic-release versions.

Happily, what I saw on Sunday—a feature version running approximately three hours at sound speed—retained practically all of House‘s action highlights, including 15 of the 19 “cliffhanger” endings. I was able to confirm this by re-reading the chapter synopses printed in the serial’s pressbook, a copy of which I own.

Stripped of side intrigues designed to pad the serial to 20 episodes, House‘s plot is simple. Winthrop Waldon (played by J. H. Gilmour), scion of a distinguished American family with roots dating back to the 16th century, manages the Waldon War Works, a huge munitions plant currently occupied not only with supplying ordnance to the Allies but also with developing experimental weapons that could shorten the war. As Chapter One opens, he receives a threatening note from an enigmatic enemy whose identity he seems to know.

Believing his life in imminent danger, Winthrop calls a meeting of his relatives: daughter Pearl (White), brother Ezra (Paul Clerget), nephew Haynes (John Webb Dillion), and niece Naomi (Peggy Shaynor). He wants to settle the matter of inheritance and hopes Pearl will marry Haynes. But the strong-willed girl balks at this proposal; she already loves Harvey Gresham (Antonio Moreno), a brilliant scientist who works for the War Works and has a private laboratory in Waldonclyffe, the castle-like ancestral home that overlooks the plant from a high bluff.

That night, Winthrop is murdered by a hooded and black-robed figure. The Hooded Terror, as he is called, has sworn vengeance against Winthrop and his heir, which puts Pearl in his crosshairs. As the serial progresses he makes countless attempts on her life. Who is this fantastical character with the strength of a madman? Well, Chapter One’s scenario points the finger of suspicion at uncle Ezra and cousin Haynes, and the next few episodes introduce a few minor suspects who are quickly disqualified. The penultimate installment reveals that scenarist Bertram Millhouser, adapting an original story by Arthur B. Reeve and Charles A. Logue, has been stringing us along. The Terror turns out to be Randolph Waldon, Winthrop’s criminally insane brother, who as a young man was shipped to Java lest his perfidy be discovered and bring shame upon the House of Waldon.

It’s always a cheat to expose a serial’s mystery villain as someone the audience has never seen before; that renders the guessing game pointless. But House of Hate is so much fun that, frankly, it hardly matters that we’ve been led down the proverbial primrose path.

Of Pearl White’s 11 serials—all released by Pathé—only the last, Plunder (1923), survives complete in its original domestic-release version. So it’s difficult to evaluate her output objectively. Her first chapter play, the iconic Perils of Pauline (1914), has been unfairly judged based on the only surviving material, a nine-chapter French abridgment that reordered some major sequences and totally jettisoned others, while eliminating more than half the total footage. To make things worse, the condensed version sports crudely written subtitles translated from French back into English by someone lacking any knowledge of American idiom. For decades now, appraisals of Pauline have been tainted by exposure to this bastardized edition (which, on top of its other faults, suffers from poor pictorial quality as a result of duping from substandard film elements).

The House of Hate we saw had been “bumped up” from a VHS copy with innumerable dropouts. It was transferred from material cobbled together from at least two and perhaps three sources (we were told before the screening that Gosfilmofund had access to multiple prints of the serial, none of them complete) of varying print quality. But a true film buff learns quickly how to look past such defects and visualize the film as it would have appeared to original audiences. On that basis I was utterly captivated by House of Hate from first frame to last.

Pearl White in her serials was often a distressed damsel, but never a passive one. She could throw a punch with the best of ‘em and frequently engaged in close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat with male adversaries. In House of Hate she tangles with the Hooded Terror at least as often as Antonio Moreno does. In one scene the Terror throws her through a window; in another he pitches her down a flight of stairs. He chokes her several times and menaces her with knives, clubs, and even a fire axe. But Pearl never shrinks from a tussle with the Terror.

The condensed feature version leaps from fight to chase, and from chase to cliffhanger, with dizzying speed. The action is paced so fast and cut so tight that, at 24 fps, many of the thrills were almost lost on the Museum audience. But I daresay that few of those in attendance at Sunday’s screening ever enjoyed a faster, more exhilarating three hours at the movies.

I’m one of the few with an interest in serials that goes beyond the image on the screen. Having done a great deal of research on Pathé’s chaptered product I naturally looked for certain things associated with the company’s East Coast chapter plays. For example, the interior of Pathé’s Jersey City studio on Congress Street doubled for part of the Waldon War Works plant; the giveaway was the visibility in long shots of greenhouse-style windows in the sloped roof permitting sunlight to reach the stage below.

Another easily spotted landmark was the Congress Pharmacy just across the street from the studio. It had the closest phone booth and therefore was invariably used for scenes in which players had to make quick calls. The Pharmacy phone booth popped up at least four times in the three-hour feature version.

I’ve not yet identified the stone mansion that doubled for Waldonclyffe, but it’s also prominent in several chapters of Pathé’s Mystery of the Double Cross, shot the previous year around Jersey City and Fort Lee. Definitely not an exterior set, it likely was a private estate built during the Gilded Age by some robber baron.

The New Jersey Palisades, wooded cliffs overlooking the Hudson River’s western edge, were employed for many exteriors, including a breathtaking struggle between Pearl and the Terror staged on what has in recent years been named “Cliffhanger Point.” This area is pictured below in a House of Hate publicity still.

I wish I could say that this exceptionally entertaining serial will someday be available on DVD or perhaps on cable TV. Chances are, though, it won’t be. I’d like to think there will additional screenings at museums or other educational venues, but such exposure is by no means guaranteed or even likely. More’s the pity. Of all the Pearl White footage that exists—and there’s quite a bit, albeit mostly in fragmented form minus original titles or chapter configurations—House of Hate is perhaps the most enjoyable.

HOUSE OF HATE director George B. Seitz hangs over the edge of "Cliffhanger Point" while Pearl White and Antonio Moreno watch. That's future Oscar-winning cinematographer Arthur Miller at the camera.

HOUSE OF HATE director George B. Seitz hangs over the edge of “Cliffhanger Point” while Pearl White and Antonio Moreno watch. That’s future Oscar-winning cinematographer Arthur Miller at the camera.

Now Available: THE ISLAND

Posted in Classic Pulp Reprints on April 10, 2015 @ 3:42 pm

The December 20, 1921 issue of Adventure magazine carried a complete novel by J. Allan Dunn titled Barehanded Castaways. Unlike most yarns published in “the Dean of the Pulps,” Castaways did not come in over the transom, so to speak, but was solicited by editor Arthur Sullivant Hoffman, who had brainstormed the concept with his staffers. After hashing out the premise and setting some conditions the story’s writer would have to meet, Hoffman challenged Dunn to tackle the assignment.

That premise was deceptively simple: Nine average men with widely varying backgrounds are shipwrecked on a deserted island. Lacking tools or weapons—without even a wristwatch among them—the castaways quickly learn that their only chance of survival lays in pooling their skills and knowledge. With the hostile forces of Mother Nature arrayed against them, the nine work constantly just to survive on the most basic level. The strain eventually takes a horrible toll and drives one of their number mad, an event that sends the plot spinning off into another direction.

Hoffman’s conditions were that Dunn could not employ the usual plot devices that ameliorated such situations in shipwrecked-on-a-deserted-island tales. The castaways would not reach the island with tools in hand, nor would they be able to salvage supplies from a sunken ship in close proximity. There would be no friendly natives on the island to help them obtain food and fresh water. The nine men, naked or nearly so, would have nothing but their own wits and God-given talents by which to survive.

Dunn succeeded beyond Hoffman’s hopes and expectations. Barehanded Castaways became one of the most popular yarns ever to appear in Adventure. Nearly 15 years after its initial publication, when then-editor Howard Bloomfield was preparing the magazine’s 25th-anniversary issue and polling readers to determine which stories they would like to see reprinted, Barehanded Castaways got more votes than any other.

The enthusiastic reception to Castaways persuaded Hoffman that a sequel was called for. But had Dunn shot his bolt on the first story? Could he devise a second that would feature the same characters and still maintain suspense?

The Island, published complete in the October 30, 1922 issue of Adventure, settled those questions definitively. While not quite the sensation its predecessor had been, the sequel satisfied those who had been clamoring for it. J. Allan Dunn put a memorable spin on the original concept and found new facets in the old characters. It is perhaps better considered as the second half of a long story, rather than a wholly separate entity.

Amazingly, neither Castaways nor Island achieved American publication in book form, even though many Adventure novels with far less merit enjoyed that distinction. Castaways was published between hard covers in England, however Island was passed up.

Barehanded Castaways, which we published as a trade paperback several years ago, has in a small way replicated its initial success in Adventure by becoming the best-selling title in our “Classic Pulp Reprints” line. I expect something similar from Murania’s edition of The Island, which is now available here on the web site. It has the same cover design as Barehanded Castaways to reinforce the fact that it’s a sequel.

The Island can be purchased here for $19.95 (postage and handling included for domestic buyers), the standard price for our “Classic Pulp Reprints” volumes. For those who have not read Castaways, however, I’m offering—for the proverbial brief time only—both books at a combined price of $31.95, which represents a savings of 20 percent. You can get the pair here.

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