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.
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.
Just a reminder that our two-week sale on Collectibles ends at midnight this coming Tuesday, March 31st. Until then you can get anything in the section at 20 percent off the original listed price.
A number of desirable items have sold since the sale began on March 17th, but I’ve just added a half-dozen more, including a sharp first edition of Glenn Lord’s invaluable 1976 bio-bibliography of Robert E. Howard, The Last Celt. It’s a high-grade copy with a dust jacket in similar condition, and you don’t see many around in this shape anymore.
Stop by the Collectibles For Sale section and take a look. There are some great bargains still to be had!
Today is the first day of Spring — although you’d never know it here in northern New Jersey, where we’re expecting three to five inches of snow—so it’s time for our Spring Cleaning Sale. Accordingly, prices on most items in our Collectibles for Sale section have been reduced by 20 to 25 percent, effective until March 31st. Items listed at $10.00 or less will remain available at those prices.
Although we’ve sold a fair amount of books and magazines listed during the last month or so, many desirable items are still available, and now at bargain prices. This includes a number of scarce and high-grade Arkham House books, as well as other vintage hardcovers, fanzines, dime novels, and monster magazines, along with choice issues of such highly collectable pulps as The Shadow, Doc Savage, Astounding Science Fiction, Blue Book, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Startling Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories.
Just remember that the discounted prices include shipping within the U.S. only; international customers will pay extra for shipping.
Last week, as the result of an overstock situation, I offered two-volume sets of Murania Press books dealing with silent-era movie serials: Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders, a history of the form, and The Perils of Pauline: Centennial Edition, our reprinting of the 1914 novelization of the classic chapter play that made Pearl White an international star. I priced the set at $40.00 (which included shipping to domestic buyers), a savings of 20 percent off the combined list price of those books.
To my surprise, all but two of the overstocked sets have sold, so if you were thinking about getting one, this is your last chance.
Although it’s been a long time between issues of Blood ‘n’ Thunder and volumes in our Classic Pulp Reprints series, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been planning and working on Murania’s 2015 slate of releases. The planned double issue of BnT has ballooned into another triple issue (but without a book-length novel this time) that will debut at next month’s Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. I’ll have more to say about the issue in a future post. Today let’s concentrate on the upcoming Classic Pulp Reprints releases.
First up will be J. Allan Dunn’s The Island, his 1922 sequel to Barehanded Castaways, which was the second book in our reprint line. Island, like Castaways before it, originally appeared in Adventure magazine and—quite inexplicably—never saw publication between hard covers in America. It continued the saga of men with widely differing backgrounds coming together to survive on a small Pacific island after being shipwrecked. Barehanded Castaways ended with a handful of survivors attempting a return to civilization on a sturdy sea-raft while several of their comrades stayed behind. The Island picks up where the earlier tale left off and is every bit as engrossing as its predecessor. The Murania Press edition has a similar design to our Castaways, even to using the same N. C. Wyeth painting for the cover, so that buyers can instantly see that it’s a companion volume to the first story. Look for it next month.
Next in the series is what I believe to be one of the unsung great pulp yarns of the early Thirties, originally published in a 1933 issue of the Popular Publications magazine Dime Mystery Book. Written by William Corcoran and titled The Purple Eye, it’s a 60,000-word novel that could very well have been the template for later hero pulps from Harry Steeger’s Popular. Corcoran is largely forgotten today, but he was a successful fictioneer who wrote for most of the major detective pulps (Black Mask, Detective Story, and Detective Fiction Weekly among them), the top anthology pulps (including Argosy, Short Stories, and Adventure, which he briefly edited), and some of the best slicks (Liberty, Cosmopolitan, and The American Magazine).
The Purple Eye has as its protagonist one of those globe-trotting millionaire adventurers so common in the hero pulps. Wayne Saxon returns to New York City from a round-the-world trip to find his home town terrorized by a crime cult, The Brotherhood of Baktuun, headed by the brilliant but seldom-seen Purple Eye. The police prove unable to halt the Brotherhood’s depredations, and Saxon combats the Eye’s murderous followers with the aid of a vigilante band known as The Secret Hundred. The Purple Eye moves like a runaway train and crackles with action, and after reading it you’ll wonder why this glittering little gem isn’t better known by pulp aficionados.
Coming later this year is our Johnston McCulley Collection, three volumes of crime and mystery yarns written by the creator of Zorro and originally published in Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine. I’ve chosen novel-length compilations of novelettes featuring favorite McCulley series characters. These books are Alias The Thunderbolt, The Return of Black Star, and The Spider Spins His Web. Each volume will include a specially commissioned essay on the prolific author. Thunderbolt and Spider reprint the first three installments of their respective series, while Black Star contains novelettes from that series’ third year. I’ll share more information on this trio as their publication draws closer.
Finally, this year will see publication of the first “double” volume in the Classic Pulp Reprints line. Two by Sheehan (that’s just a tentative title; I hope to come up with something snappier) will offer a brace of exemplary short novels written by Perley Poore Sheehan for the Munsey pulps: 1913’s The Copper Princess and 1915’s The Abyss of Wonders. Neither story is easy to categorize, but together they offer enough fantasy, mystery, melodrama, science fiction, and lost-race adventure to satisfy any fan of pulp fiction. Unlike many pulpateers of the Teens, Sheehan wrote in a fresh, vibrant style that makes his novels eminently readable a hundred years after they first saw print. Two by Sheehan will also include a long essay covering not only Sheehan’s pulp career but also his long involvement with Hollywood. The books in our Classic Pulp Reprints line generally sell for $19.95 each, but this one will carry a retail price of $24.95.
We’ve bitten off a lot to chew on for 2015 but, like I said earlier, work on these books is already well underway. Keep checking back here for further information and release dates.
A popular and prolific purveyor of pulp fiction, George Frank Worts was born in Toledo, Ohio, on this day in 1892. There was little about his upbringing to suggest that he would eventually become a ubiquitous presence in such notable rough-paper magazines as Argosy, Blue Book, and Short Stories. The most adventurous thing he had ever done was “punch brass”—operate a wireless radio set—aboard ships that sailed up and down the Central American coast.
During one fateful voyage Worts made the acquaintance of a writer who, as he later said, “painted the joys of free-lancing so vividly that I could not resist the call.” Soon thereafter he abandoned seafaring life to attend Columbia University. He completed his freshman year and then dropped out to accept a job as motion picture editor for the New York Evening Mail. In 1916, at the age of 24, he served as associate editor of Motion Picture News, one of the film industry’s leading trade journals. It was while toiling for the News that he began writing fiction on the side.
Worts sold his first story to The Argosy in 1917. It was published under the name Loring Brent because he didn’t want News editor William A. Johnston to know he was moonlighting. (Johnston, Worts recalled years later, “thought I fell asleep at my desk because I was working so hard for him!”)
When the income from his fiction writing surpassed his salary from Motion Picture News, Worts quit his job and began freelancing full time. The Argosy remained his top market but he also cracked the top slicks: Collier’s, Red Book, and the Saturday Evening Post all carried yarns by Worts. Yet it was work for the pulps commanded most of his time and effort.
“Peter the Brazen,” a six-part series published in late 1918 issues of Argosy, introduced the intrepid protagonist who became Worts’ best-remembered series character. Peter Moore was a ship’s wireless operator of unusual skill. Rumor had it he could “read a message in the receivers when the ordinary operator could detect only an indistinct scratching sound.” Although he was said to have worked all over the Pacific Ocean and in South America, Peter habitually manned a wireless on board the steamship Latonia, which sailed from the west coast of the United States to Hong Kong and ports south.
Like most pulp heroes Peter Moore had a knack for attracting women and trouble in equal measure. His first major adversary was the Gray Dragon, one of numerous Fu Manchu imitators who slithered across pulp pages in those days. The Dragon was summarily dispatched and late in 1919 Peter the Brazen returned to Argosy in “The Golden Cat,” this time pitted against the malevolent Fong-Chi-Ah, who coveted an ancient and fabulously valuable necklace adorned with a cat-shaped charm of gold.
Worts suffused his tales with atmosphere, painting vivid word-pictures with brief but pointed descriptive passages. He transported readers to the Orient with adventures that stretched the bounds of credulity yet captured the imagination of thrill-seeking readers. No one would mistake him for a great literary talent, but like the best pulpateers Worts was a gifted storyteller with a knack for grinding out page-turners with admirable regularity.
Peter the Brazen went into hibernation for a decade after appearing in “The Golden Cat,” but his creator returned to the pages of Argosy and its successor, Argosy All-Story Weekly, throughout the Twenties with stories of every type and genre. One of the more memorable was 1927’s “The Return of George Washington,” in which a great scientist claims to have found a method of regenerating human tissue from long-buried remains. His process is supposedly used on the skeleton of our first president, whose reappearance shocks a jaded nation. It all turns out to be a hoax, with “Washington” unmasked as a dull-witted hillbilly bearing an amazing resemblance to the nation’s father.
Worts revived Peter the Brazen in early 1930 at the behest of Argosy editor A. H. Bittner, who dusted off several long-dormant series characters, such as John Solomon and Semi-Dual, in a bid to recapture the allegiance of readers who had deserted the magazine. Peter Moore’s Thirties exploits were, if anything, more fantastic—but they crackled with action and excitement. He battled another Chinese master villain, the Blue Scorpion, in a trio of rapid-fire stories published between 1931 and 1933, and enjoyed many other adventures until 1935.
During this period Worts also wrote of slick lawyer Gillian Hazeltine and two-fisted Singapore Sammy Shay; the latter first appeared in Short Stories but eventually made his way into Argosy. These characters warrant further examination but will have to wait for a future blog post.
George F. Worts slowed down in the late Thirties, perhaps having finally exhausted his voluminous store of story ideas. Having married and divorced twice, he took a third wife and moved to Hawaii, doing public relations work and becoming a Collier’s correspondent during World War II. Worts returned to the States after the war and for a time lived in Arizona, editing Tucson magazine during the early Fifties. Unlike many of his fellow pulpateers, Worts invested wisely; his real estate holdings were extensive and provided him with enough income to travel widely. He died in 1968, leaving behind a dozen books and hundreds of stories now remembered only by pulp-fiction aficionados.
Recently I printed some extra copies of Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders and The Perils of Pauline: Centennial Edition for a Pearl White birthday commemoration organized by the Fort Lee Film Commission. Unfortunately, circumstances arising at the last minute prevented me from attending the event (which, I’m told, packed the venue), and as a result I’m in an overstock situation on these two books.
So for a limited time—a very limited time—I’m offering both books as a set for $40, shipping included, which represents a 20 percent discount. Distressed Damsels is the first book in my two-volume history of American movie serials of the silent-film era. The Perils of Pauline reprints the original 1914 novelization of the iconic chapter play, which made Pearl White an international star. The novel is preceded by my 5,000-word essay on the making of Pauline, a behind-the-scenes account every bit as interesting as the serial itself.
This offer is good only for as long as it takes to liquidate the sets I have on hand . . . and I don’t imagine that will be very long. You can order your own set here.
I’ve just added another batch of rare pulps and pulp-related books to the Collectibles For Sale section, including several bound volumes of the legendary Black Mask (previously owned by the magazine’s editor, Kenneth White), three collections of Johnston McCulley novelettes originally published in Detective Story Magazine, and a classic 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine in high grade. And I’ve added a sharp copy of the first mass-market collection of Black Mask stories, The Hard-boiled Omnibus.
The Black Mask bound volumes include 18 consecutive issues from September 1943 through May 1946. The provenance alone should make these three books very desirable, but I realize that many collectors would be satisfied to own just one of them, so being in an experimental mood I’m also offering the third volume in the sequence by itself. If it sells before the lot of three, I’ll list the others singly as well.
Aside from being in exceptionally nice condition, the Black Mask books cover an historically important period in the magazine’s development. By this time Mask was no longer the hard-boiled, rat-a-tat-tat pulp edited by “Cap” Shaw; it had settled into a medium-boiled mode, with fairly orthodox murder puzzles solved predominantly by private eyes. Under Ken White the prose was no longer terse or chiseled, and the detectives often boasted amusing eccentricities. Leslie Charteris’ The Saint and Brett Halliday’s Michael Shayne are two of the well-known super sleuths found in these mid-Forties issues, many of which sport striking woman-in-distress covers painted by Rafael de Soto, a past master at this sort of thing.
The Johnston McCulley books, published by Street & Smith subsidiary Chelsea House, reprint the adventures of his popular series characters created for Detective Story Magazine: Black Star, The Spider, The Thunderbolt. These yarns, now difficult to find in their original pulp-magazine appearances, hardly match the quality of Black Mask fiction edited by Cap Shaw and Ken White, but they have many of the qualities of later hero pulps and therefore still have adherents today. The Chelsea House hardcovers are nearly as tough to find as Teens issues of Detective Story, and they’re almost impossible to get in jacket. The copies I’m selling, while well read, are perfectly sound, eminently collectable, and—in my opinion—fairly priced given their scarcity these days.
The April 1, 1936 issue of The Shadow Magazine carries one of the most memorable novels in the history of this long-running pulp. Reportedly, “The Salamanders” was commissioned by editor John Nanovic as a reaction to the action-packed adventures of the Spider, whose Popular Publications magazine was giving The Shadow some stiff competition. In my view, Walter Gibson was simply incapable of emulating Spider scribe Norvell Page, and while “Salamanders” was well received by faithful fans—ranking high in the first poll of reader favorites taken in 1937—it was by and large a one-off. Perhaps for that reason, and for the striking George Rozen cover, the April 1, 1936 number remains quite desirable. The copy I’m offering is a high-grade beauty marred only by a small chip in the front cover.
There’s still lots of good stuff available in the Collectibles section; check it out.
- A Lost Serial Found (And Screened): Pearl White’s THE HOUSE OF HATE
- Now Available: THE ISLAND
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- Collectibles: Spring Cleaning Sale
- Silent Serials Book Set: Just Two Left!
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