If you’re a film buff who spends a fair amount of time watching the Turner Classic Movies channel, you’re probably familiar with Flicker Alley. Originally a small boutique DVD label that offered rare and obscure silent films to hard-core collectors, they have broadened their activities to include full-scale restorations and marketing of archival gems sourced from around the world. Many of their efforts appear on TCM. Their latest project is an English-titled release of La Maison du Mystère (The House of Mystery), a 1923 French silent serial directed by Alexandre Volkoff and starring the distinguished Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine. Like many chapter plays produced in France during the silent era, Maison du Mystère eschewed the American model of fast action and daredevil stuntwork, preferring instead to tell its melodramatic story — which unfolds over an 18-year period— at a more leisurely pace. It’s a remarkable film, perhaps not blood-n-thundery enough for some tastes but extremely fascinating in its own right.
Flicker Alley asked me to be their most recent guest blogger and I’ve just filed a piece on silent serials,which you can read here under the title “Careers, Cliffhangers, and Commerce: The Serial’s Place in Film History.” I’m looking forward to their upcoming DVD release of Mystère, which will be previewed later this year at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention.
I’ve just added a slew of terrific pulp-related books to the Collectibles for Sale section, among them some avidly pursued Arkham House/Mycroft & Moran first editions. Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror and Others, Seabury Quinn’s The Phantom-Fighter, and Carl Jacobi’s Revelations in Black are just a few of these books, most of them in high grade and some like new.
I’ve also listed a pristine copy of Mysterious Press’ 1984 hardcover The Shadow and the Golden Master, which reprinted the first two Shiwan Khan novels in facsimile with the original Edd Cartier illustrations and a new introduction by Walter B. Gibson.
You’ll also find a gorgeous copy of the definitive Hugh B. Cave collection, Murgunstrumm and Others, which reprints Hugh’s very best stories from the horror pulps. This copy is one of a limited number containing a bookplate signed by Cave and illustrator Lee Brown Coye.
Additionally, I have several unopened Girasol facsimile reprints of Terror Tales priced at $20 each; these sell for $35 from the publisher. If you’ve been curious about these great issues from the magazine’s sex-n-sadism phase, you can get them now for little more than half what they normally sell for.
Of course, I still have quite a few nice pulps and related items left from previous updates, and if you look carefully I wouldn’t be surprised bu that you’ll find something you’ve just got to have. Happy hunting!
Exactly 100 years ago today, a fiction reader scanning the magazine rack at his local newsstand might very well have seen the February 1915 issue of Blue Book, one of the classic pulps. That particular issue was an important one, because it contained the debut story of a contributor whose name would become synonymous with the magazine’s title.
Today’s pulp-fiction devotees, born during the Baby Boom years (1946 to 1964), are too young to have bought rough-paper magazines on the newsstands and therefore gravitate primarily to those characters whose life spans were extended by Sixties paperback reprints and frequent appearances in other media: Conan, Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow, and so on. Lester Dent, Walter B. Gibson, and Robert E. Howard are lionized in the fan press, and justifiably so. But they were not pioneers; they trod paths already well worn by the generation of pulpateers that preceded them. And of those, one loomed larger than most of his contemporaries.
Born in 1887, Henry James O’Brien Bedford-Jones spent his early months in Ontario, Canada, the family moving to Michigan when he was barely a year old. The future fictioneer showed an aptitude for writing as a public-school student, and he matriculated at Toronto’s Trinity College but dropped out after one year to pursue a career in journalism. As H. Bedford-Jones, he contributed to newspapers in Detroit and Chicago before turning his hand to fiction. His earliest short stories appeared in Frank A. Munsey’s pioneering pulp magazine, The Argosy, during 1909. He was not quite 22 years old when editor Matthew White purchased them. Published under the pseudonym “H. E. Twinells,” these initial efforts revealed him to be a born storyteller, if not a literary wunderkind.
Over the next few years Bedford-Jones threw himself headlong into full-time fiction writing, placing additional yarns with The Argosy and its sister pulp, The All-Story (later All-Story Weekly), as well as Street & Smith’s People’s Magazine, Top-Notch Magazine, and New Story Magazine. In a 1914 Argosy two-parter, “The Gate of Farewell,” he created what would become his most popular recurring character: John Solomon, the outwardly amiable, innocuous-looking Cockney who was actually a capable covert operative of the British government.
Of Bedford-Jones’ early output his biographer Peter Ruber had this to say: “His writing style during those years was remarkably fluid and polished; his imaginative storytelling ability far superior to many of his contemporaries, and a significant number of those stories are not as dated, nor the dialogue as stilted, as might be expected.”
Late in 1914 Bedford-Jones submitted a book-length novel to The Blue Book Magazine, an up-and-coming sheet published by Louis Eckstein’s Story-Press Corporation. Edited by Ray Long with the assistance of young Donald Kennicott, Blue Book was finally hitting its stride after several years of relative mediocrity. Long purchased the yarn from Bedford-Jones, beginning the author’s decades-long relationship with the magazine that would become his most reliable market. A rousing adventure set in early 19th-century America, The Wilderness Trail saw print in the February 1915 issue alongside tales by such popular fictioneers as H. Rider Haggard, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Ellis Parker Butler, and Albert Payson Terhune.
Over the next 34 years H. Bedford-Jones sold Blue Book an astounding 360 stories, including another five complete-in-one-issue novels and seven serialized novels. He was prolific in every genre but seemed to have a special affinity for historical adventures. Although he had no trouble selling to Long’s successor, Karl Harriman, it was Blue Book’s next editor, Donald Kennicott, who bought the most Bedford-Jones stories—some 280, of all lengths, between 1935 and 1949.
Having gone through a rough patch in the early years of the Depression (the inevitable consequence of failing magazines and reduced word rates), H. Bedford-Jones evolved the strategy of pitching editors not just individual yarns but entire series of stories with a central theme. In 1934 he simultaneously persuaded Kennicott and Short Stories head honcho Harry Maule to let him adopt this approach to the mass production of pulp fiction.
Blue Book’s February 1935 number offered the first installment of “Arms and Men,” a historical series that extended to 28 entries. Bedford-Jones followed this in 1937 with two more skeins, the self-explanatory “Ships and Men” and 17 Foreign Legion adventures collectively titled “Warriors in Exile.” In 1938 he launched what is arguably his best-remembered series for Blue Book. “Trumpets to Oblivion” combined fantasy, science fiction, and historical adventure. The premise involved a wealthy inventor’s perfection of a combination time machine and TV set—a device that reached back into the ether and retrieved images from past history. Each series installment opened with the inventor welcoming an audience to monitor the repeat “broadcast” of some famous event.
Bedford-Jones wrote 19 series for Blue Book, some of them overlapping, and until he died in 1949 each issue contained at least one and often two installments. They were published under his own name and also as by “Gordon Keyne” and “Captain Michael Gallister.” He occasionally turned out novel-lengthers for Kennicott as well, the most memorable of these being They Lived by the Sword, a fictional account of Hannibal’s army crossing the Alps. Remarkably, in addition to pounding out his Blue Book work, Bedford-Jones still found time to contribute regularly to other pulps, placing thematically linked series in Weird Tales and Short Stories as well.
An obituary published in the New York Herald-Tribune stated that H. Bedford-Jones earned more than a million dollars during his 40 years as a fiction writer. In King of the Pulps: The Life and Writings of H. Bedford-Jones (Ontario: The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2003), Peter Ruber estimated that the veteran pulpateer wrote a minimum of 25 million words. The true total may never be known, as Ruber allows that some yarns could have appeared under pseudonyms not yet attributed to the legendarily prolific author.
The Wilderness Trail is a seminal work in Bedford-Jones’ oeuvre. It not only kicked off his 34-year association with Blue Book but also was his first historical novel with an American setting. The author had a deep and abiding interest in the country’s post-Revolutionary War expansion and returned many times to the milieu he describes so well in this yarn. His employment of such real-life characters as Daniel Boone, Zachary Taylor, John J. Audubon, and the Indian chief Tecumseh is particularly skillful; we have no way of knowing if these historical figures ever interacted, but Bedford-Jones weaves the tale so cleverly that it’s easy to believe they did.
The novel is ambitious but never unwieldy. Its plot is straightforward, and seemingly random or divergent events are shown in the concluding chapters to have a critical bearing on the adventure’s climax. The story’s only failing—a minor one—is the awkwardness of romantic interludes featuring hero and heroine. The dialogue in these passages is stilted, which is surprising inasmuch as the exchanges between male characters have a natural ring.
Despite having been written relatively early in the author’s career, Wilderness Trail is a smooth, polished work with the unimpeded narrative drive that was a hallmark not only of H. Bedford-Jones, but of all popular and successful pulp fictioneers. Strangely, no American firm published it in book form, although the London-based firm of Hurst & Blackett Limited issued a British hardcover edition in 1925. Murania Press is both happy and honored to present to American readers this fine example of early pulp fiction, available in this country for the first time in nearly a hundred years. Why not take a chance on it? You can order it right here.
“Imagine a person, tall and lean and feline, high-shouldered with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan—a close-shaven skull, and long magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with the all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present. Imagine that awful being and you will have a mental picture of Fu Manchu.”
The man whose birthday we celebrate today, the creator of the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu and writer of the above words, was born in 1883 as Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward. Raised in a working-class Irish Catholic family, he had a brief career in civil service but gave it up to pursue a life of letters. He wrote songs and comedy sketches for music-hall performers and sold his first short story, “The Mysterious Mummy,” to Pearson’s Magazine in 1903. After ghosting a fanciful 1911 autobiography of famous music-hall star Little Tich he turned to more sinister fare, drawing for inspiration upon his lifelong fascination with the East.
Rohmer later stated that his infamous “devil doctor” was loosely based on a Chinese master criminal operating out of London’s Limehouse district under the name of “Mr. King.” This engimatic figure reportedly controlled the opium trade and was backed by a powerful syndicate. Rohmer even claimed to have caught of a glimpse of the mysterious Mr. King one night in Limehouse: “A tall, dignified Chinese, wearing a fur-collared overcoat and a fur cap. . . . He was followed by an Arab girl wrapped in a grey fur cloak. I had a glimpse of her features. She was like something from an Edmund Dulac illustration to The Thousand and One Nights.”
“The Zayat Kiss,” a short story featuring as its villain one Dr. Fu-Manchu (the hyphen in his name was later dropped), was the first in a series of yarns published in England’s Cassell’s Magazine and in America’s Collier’s Weekly. In 1913 the British publisher Methuen collected the ten stories in book form as The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu; later that year the American firm McBride, Nast issued the tome here as The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu. The publication of these books gave Rohmer his first real taste of success. He penned a second series of Fu-Manchu short stories during the fall of 1914 and the winter of 1915—exactly one hundred years ago. These appeared first in the same periodicals and later, in book form, from the same publishers. Methuen titled the second book The Devil Doctor; McBride titled it The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu. A third series was collected in 1917 by Methuen as The Si-Fan Mysteries and by McBride as The Hand of Fu-Manchu.
At that point the author put his most famous literary creation in mothballs. He had tired of Fu Manchu, just as Conan Doyle had previously tired of Sherlock Holmes and as Edgar Rice Burroughs would soon tire of Tarzan. But Rohmer continued to write stories, both short and long, suffused with Eastern mysticism. These yarns exploited his fascination with Egyptology and occult phenomena. Some Rohmer fans actually prefer them to the Fu Manchu tales. There’s no question that such books as Brood of the Witch Queen, The Quest of the Sacred Slipper, The Golden Scorpion,The Dream Detective, Grey Face, Yellow Shadows, and others have plenty to offer readers with a taste for Rohmer’s type of fiction. I love ‘em all but am also partial to his 1930 novel, The Day the World Ended, a bizarre fusion of detective story, supernatural thriller, and science-fictional adventure.
As the Roaring Twenties ended, Sax Rohmer was rich and famous. He traveled to the East with his wife Elizabeth and enjoyed the fruits of his labors. Like many formerly struggling fictioneers who suddenly found themselves wealthy—including Edgar Rice Burroughs, Max Brand, and Edgar Wallace, to name just a few—Rohmer was a spendthrift. The money kept rolling in, but it rolled out even faster.
I’m convinced he was moved to revive the Devil Doctor after the critical and commercial success of The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, a 1929 Paramount feature film starring Swedish actor Warner Oland (the screen’s future Charlie Chan) in the title role. One of the studio’s earliest all-talking pictures, it altered the character’s motivations and strayed considerably from Rohmer’s works but was a top box-office grosser. Previously Fu Manchu had appeared on screen only in a series of popular but undistinguished two-reel featurettes produced by England’s Stoll Picture Productions. I don’t believe they were ever released in America, so stateside audiences got their first look at the good doctor in Paramount’s film. It didn’t matter that paunchy, dough-faced Oland not in the slightest resembled the character as described by Rohmer; he had been playing sinister celestials in motion pictures dating back to 1916 and skillfully exuded the proper malevolence. Paramount quickly threw more money at Sax and had a sequel, The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu, in theaters less than six months later.
The impetus for a new Fu Manchu novel seems to have emanated from Collier’s editors. Rohmer biographer Cay Van Ash claims that their entreaties to Sax were made prior to the release of Paramount’s first film, but I doubt this. The Devil Doctor hadn’t appeared in print for more than a decade, except in A. L. Burt’s popular-priced hardcover reprints of the first three books, and while not forgotten he probably hadn’t been missed until Hollywood picked up on him. Given the 1929 film’s success, the character was now familiar to millions of Americans who’d never read the books, including a new generation too young to have seen the early short stories in Collier’s during the Teens.
Whatever the case, Rohmer complied and the magazine serialized Daughter of Fu Manchu during the spring of 1930; the following year Fu’s first book-length adventure was issued in cloth by Doubleday & Doran. It was ostensibly—but not really—adapted by Paramount that same year as Daughter of the Dragon. Warner Oland was back as Fu Manchu but the screenwriters killed him off early in the proceedings.
As the Depression and profligate spending took its toll on his finances, Rohmer during the Thirties turned increasingly to his most famous creation in a bid to stay solvent. It is this “middle” group of Fu Manchu novels I enjoy most: Mask of… (1932), Bride of… (1933), Trail of… (1934), and President Fu Manchu (1936). A friend of mine once described the key element of such yarns as “The Threat Of Death From Everywhere,” and that to me is their most endearing quality, the thing that makes them compulsively readable. These and other Rohmer books were published under the auspices of Doubleday’s Crime Club, which also was home to such popular fictional characters as The Saint and Bulldog Drummond.
You can see strain on the formula beginning in The Drums of Fu Manchu (1939) and continuing with The Island of Fu Manchu (1941), which varied the locales of the Doctor’s activities but lacked the sparkle of earlier series entries. Rohmer abandoned Fu Manchu for the duration of World War II but brought him back, now something of an anachronism, in The Shadow of Fu Manchu (1948), a weak installment novelized from an unsold play and dutifully published in magazine form by Collier’s and in book form by the Crime Club.
The atomic age found Sax Rohmer pretty well written out. During the Fifties he penned a series of mediocre novels (with occasional flashes of his old brilliance) featuring a female villain named Sumuru. He failed to interest Doubleday in these stories and they were published by Fawcett as paperback originals, as were his last two yarns featuring the Devil Doctor, Re-enter Fu Manchu (1957) and Emperor Fu Manchu (1959). They sold well, although the Sumuru books owed their success as much to the sexy covers as to the prose inside. Rohmer died on June 1, 1959.
Fu Manchu fared well on the silver screen, although filmmakers frequently took liberties not only with the doctor, but also his nemesis Nayland Smith and such supporting characters as Dr. Petrie, Inspector Weymouth, and especially Fu’s daughter, Fah Lo Suee. The Stoll shorts and Paramount features were followed by The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932 M-G-M) with Boris Karloff in the title role and Myrna Loy as Fah Lo Suee. Uncharacteristically lowbrow for a Metro production, it tinkered with Rohmer’s narrative and added elements of horror and science fiction not present in the original. But it’s great fun just the same. The characters returned in a 1940 Republic serial, Drums of Fu Manchu, which didn’t adapt the novel of that title but, rather, returned to Mask for its principal plot thread: the search for Genghis Khan’s tomb and the doctor’s subsequent representation of himself as the reincarnation of that leader. The serial, which starred Henry Brandon in the title role, also incorporated gimmicks and situations from earlier books in the series and was remarkably faithful to Rohmer’s vision. Its only transgression was the unnecessary killing-off of Fah Lo Suee. Drums was quite profitable and Republic contemplated making a sequel, only to pass when the U.S. entered World War II and China became our ally.
In Hollywood the character remained dormant throughout the Forties. An unsold 1952 TV pilot starred John Carradine as Fu Manchu and Cedric Hardwicke as Nayland Smith. Three years later Republic brought Rohmer’s Devil Doctor to the small screen in a short-lived (12 half-hour installments) and not terribly well done series titled The Adventures of Fu Manchu. The somewhat charismatically challenged Glenn Gordon played the eponymous evildoer, with Lester Mathews in support as Sir Nayland.
A full decade later, peripatetic producer Harry Alan Towers revived Rohmer’s creation is a series of color feature films with international casts and locations. British actor Christopher Lee took the role and made it his own; the sensuous Chinese actress Tsai Chin played Fu’s daughter, inexplicably renamed Lin Tang but every bit as venomous as Fah Lo Suee. The first Towers entry, The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), was undoubtedly the best. It co-starred Nigel Green as Smith and Howard Marion-Crawford as Petrie. In a brilliant bit of casting to capture the German audience, Towers cast Joachim Fuchsberger and Karin Dor in supporting roles. They were regulars in Germany’s krimi films adapted from the works of Edgar Wallace, whose thrillers shared many of Rohmer’s melodramatic plot devices. Face unreeled at the pace of an entire serial rolled into 90 minutes.
The immediate sequels, The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) and The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967), didn’t quite reach the mark set by the series opener, but they delivered more than their fair share of thrills and lived up to Fu’s promise, “The world shall hear from me again.” The latter film had a plum supporting role for Towers’ wife, the lovely Austrian actress Maria Rohm, who also appeared in the fourth entry, The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). This film saw Richard Greene (former 20th Century-Fox contractee and TV’s Robin Hood) as Nayland Smith. He reprised the role in Towers’ last crack at the character, The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969). Both Blood and Castle were directed by Spanish filmmaker and current cult favorite Jess Franco, who had done several fine films for Harry Alan Towers. Sadly, his two Fu Manchu offerings were not up to the level of the three previous Towers-produced series entries, but Christopher Lee and Tsai Chin were still in fine fettle and one wishes the series had not ended when it did. (Towers also produced several Sumuru films, the last one released in 2003).
Herman Cyril “Sapper” McNeile, a British military engineer who saw combat during the First World War, turned to writing after the conflict and in 1920 began chronicling the exploits of one Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, who would become one of pop culture’s most enduring heroes. Perhaps an idealized version of his creator, Drummond was the first of fiction’s many well-to-do WWI vets who, having become accustomed to action and danger during the War, found themselves bored and listless after returning to civilian life.
Like most vigilante heroes, Drummond is an unapologetic patriot with immense respect for the established order but equally immense impatience with the niceties of law enforcement and British jurisprudence. He’s inclined to favor direct action over legal wrangling and sees no problem in killing ruthless villains without due process. A born leader, he has gathered around him a group of like-minded friends—most of them also veterans of the Great War—who cheerfully match their wits and courage against a succession of crooks, traitors, and Bolsheviks operating to bring down Mother England. Drummond’s nemesis is the arch-criminal Carl Peterson, whom he bests for the first time in Bulldog Drummond, a 1920 novel received with equal enthusiasm on both sides of the Atlantic.
The second Drummond-Peterson bout takes place in The Black Gang, second novel of the series, published in the U.S. by Doran in 1922. This time around the action takes a pulpy turn. Although the British government privately applauds the work of Drummond and his cohorts, Scotland Yard takes a dim view of their activities. To safeguard their identities and thus guard against arrest and prosecution, Bulldog and his buddies begin wearing black masks and cloaks as they dash around the countryside. In addition to foiling Peterson’s plans, the black-clad vigilantes have taken to scooping up assorted malefactors and imprisoning them on a remote island off the coast of England. (Pulp fans will note that this predates similar practices later employed by The Shadow and Doc Savage.)
Peterson does not take kindly to this decimation of his ranks and strikes back by kidnapping Bulldog’s wife Phyllis. (Genius of crime that he is, Carl has quickly tumbled to the identity of the Black Gang’s leader.) But Drummond is one of those blokes who’s always at his best when things look worst, and this time is no exception.
I enjoyed The Black Gang a great deal. McNeile’s prose is clean-cut and vigorous, with a total lack of pretension or artifice. He’s a gifted storyteller whose defining trait is continuous forward motion, which is why his later novels were almost exclusively published in pulp magazines before appearing between hard covers. (Bulldog’s adventures splashed across the pages of The Popular Magazine, Detective Fiction Weekly, Mystery Novels Magazine, and Popular Detective.) His only failing is one not uncommon to Brits of a certain age and class: a clear disdain—if not outright hatred—for certain racial, ethnic, and religious groups deemed undesirable in early 20th century England. Russians and Italians are singled out for harsh treatment in The Black Gang, although Jews also take considerable abuse at the hands of Drummond and his compatriots. For this reason some people today find McNeile unreadable, but while such casual bigotry is grating to modern-day sensibilities, I’ve learned to read past the offending language and accept it as reflective of attitudes from a different time and place.
The Black Gang was adapted to the silver screen in 1934 as The Return of Bulldog Drummond, a British production starring Ralph Richardson in the title role. Although Richardson was an odd choice for the role, the movie is great fun—kind of like a 12-chapter serial boiled down to a 65-minute feature film.
The first actor to play Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes in a motion picture was born on this day in 1889 in Rochester, Indiana. Otto Elmo Linkenheit was a burly youth when he left his middle-class home for California. He held several jobs (including one as a longshoreman, where his prodigious strength was a decided asset) before breaking into silent films as an actor. Initially billed as Lincoln Helt, he became a protégé of prominent director D. W. Griffith, who cast him in The Battle of Elderbush Gulch (1913). Elmo got progressively better roles from Griffith in the director’s classic feature films Judith of Bethulia (1914), The Birth of a Nation (1915), and Intolerance (1916). Reportedly, Griffith was the one who persuaded the Indiana native to make Elmo Lincoln his stage name.
Elmo worked steadily over the next several years, eventually becoming a leading man in Might and the Man (1917). He owed his casting as ERB’s immortal Ape Man to a fluke. Producer William Parsons had originally cast an actor named Winslow Wilson to play the title role in his film adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes, which went before the cameras in the summer of 1917. At that time an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Wilson was called to active duty a few weeks after production began. Parsons was forced to suspend principal photography and resume casting in Los Angeles. Elmo’s massive physique and substantial acting experience made him the obvious choice. There was one catch: He was afraid of heights and looked unaccountably timid in sequences calling for him to climb trees and swing from vines. Fortunately, Winslow Wilson had already shot most of the “aerial” scenes needed and Parsons elected to keep his previous star’s vine-swinging footage in the picture.
Edgar Rice Burroughs felt—correctly—that the bulky Lincoln did not accurately represent the lithe, sinewy Ape Man of his popular stories. But Elmo’s imposing appearance and obvious strength made him convincing in scenes where raw power was called for, such as his wrestling match with a lion. And although ERB squabbled with Parsons repeatedly, he wanted the picture to be a success and publicly lent his support to the venture, posing with Lincoln for publicity photos.
Tarzan of the Apes, many months in production, was a sensation upon its premiere in January 1918. The original version was ten reels in length, with a running time of more than two hours. Parsons trimmed the footage by 20 percent and sent the picture into national release that April. Its success made Elmo Lincoln a star. He reprised the role later that year in a hastily turned out sequel, The Romance of Tarzan, undertaken by Parsons as soon as it became apparent that the first picture was a big hit. (Tarzan of the Apes is said to have grossed more than a million dollars, this at a time when movie theaters charged 10 to 25 cents per ticket.)
The following year Elmo was signed to an exclusive contract by the Great Western Producing Company, whose principals, Julius and Abe Stern, were related by marriage to Carl Laemmle, president of what was then called the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. Lincoln starred in three cliffhanger serials produced by Great Western and released by Universal: Elmo the Mighty (1919), Elmo the Fearless and The Flaming Disc (both 1920). Packed with action, these episodic thrills included frequent scenes of the star getting his shirt ripped off so audiences could see his barrel chest.
When the Weiss brothers-owned Numa Pictures Corporation, which had licensed screen rights to ERB’s The Return of Tarzan, decided to make a serial out of the book, Great Western was contracted to produce the chapter play with Lincoln reprising his star-making role. Enid Markey had played Jane in the first two features but was replaced by younger, prettier Louise Lorraine in the serial, which was titled The Adventures of Tarzan. A hectic, action-packed affair, it reached the nation’s screens in December 1921 and was quite profitable, although not as much as Tarzan of the Apes had been.
For reasons still not easily determined, Elmo’s career virtually dissolved in the years after Adventures of Tarzan. By 1923 he was reduced to playing an unbilled supporting role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame with Lon Chaney. He appeared in just a handful of bit parts before securing his last leading role, in the 1927 Rayart serial King of the Jungle. Despite the title, it was not a Tarzan picture; Lincoln played a Great White Hunter type. King was a modest success but did nothing to reverse Elmo’s steady decline. Subsequently he left Hollywood to pursue several business ventures.
Lincoln returned to motion pictures in 1939, making frequent appearance in “B” Westerns starring the likes of Gene Autry, George O’Brien, and Charles Starrett. Ironically, he also won small roles in a brace of later films featuring ERB’s Ape Man: Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942, starring Johnny Weissmuller) and Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949, starring Lex Barker). Publicity materials for both movies played up Elmo’s association with the character.
The screen’s first Tarzan died on June 27, 1952, at the age of 63. He had a heart attack in the middle of a coughing spell.
Western fiction’s most enduring hero was the offspring of a mild-mannered, bespectacled civil servant who spent his leisure hours writing about a mythical frontier from the confines of a modest Brooklyn apartment. The author was Clarence Edward Mulford, and the literary figure he sired was Hopalong Cassidy. Hoppy and his Bar-20 comrades first appeared in a short story, “The Fight at Buckskin,” published in the December 1905 issue of Outing Magazine. Today we celebrate the birthday of that prolific writer, whose work mostly (but not exclusively) appeared first in pulp magazines.
Born on February 3, 1883 in Streator, Illinois, Clarence Mulford grew up in a solidly middle-class household. Small of frame, quiet, and introverted, Clarence was an indifferent student with limited social skills and a disdain for athletics. His principal interest was the Wild West—or, at least, the Wild West depicted in the lurid dime novels of that era. He read in prodigious quantities the almost wholly fictitious exploits of Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, and Kit Carson, living vicariously through their adventures. After graduating from high school he toiled in several humdrum jobs before finding steady work as a civil servant, dispensing marriage licenses in Brooklyn, New York.
As a young man Mulford was animated by two passions: physical fitness and writing. Weight training and roadwork developed his undersized body; putting pen to paper developed his mind. “The Fight at Buckskin” wasn’t the first story he wrote, but it was the first he sold. This 6,250-word yarn introduced Outing readers to the scrappy cowpunchers of the Bar-20, a Texas cattle ranch managed for an Eastern syndicate by foreman Buck Peters. His loyal “waddies” included Red Connors, Johnny Nelson (also known as “the Kid”), Lanky Smith, Skinny Thompson, Pete Wilson, Billy Williams, and a particularly colorful gent known as Hopalong Cassidy.
The Cassidy of Mulford’s early stories is a raucous cowboy whose habits certainly wouldn’t make him welcome in polite society. He’s an inveterate tobacco chewer (and spitter) prone to swearing and fond of concocting creative insults good-naturedly directed at his fellow punchers. Described in an early story as “passably good-looking,” Hopalong sports a thatch of unruly red hair and typically wears the faded denims, chaps, and broad-brimmed sombreros common to working cattlemen. He can be volatile now and then, but for the most part he’s a cool character with a keen mind and a general’s sense of strategy. Like all his comrades at the Bar-20, he puts a high premium on loyalty. “The Fight at Buckskin” revolves around an all-day gunfight occasioned by the killing of one Jimmy Price, Buck’s youngest puncher.
Although Mulford was not a particularly distinguished writer—his prose was often stiff and formal, as per the Victorian style prevalent in the early 20th century—his Bar-20 yarns had the ring of authenticity. His early interest in the Wild West of dime novels had metamorphosed into a fascination with Western history, and he built a reference library that consisted not only of books written about the frontier, but also a library of file cards bearing data he gleaned from countless magazine articles and newspaper accounts. (Eventually he amassed more than 17,000 file cards, the largest such collection ever assembled by a single researcher.)
Mulford’s tales were accurate with regard to history, location, and the minutiae of ranch life, but the principal characters in the Bar-20 saga bore little resemblance to real working cowhands in the late 19th century. From the first, Hoppy, Buck, and the others were mythical figures comparable to Odysseus and his adventurers, or to the knights of Arthurian legend. Hardly perfect men, they nonetheless adhered to a rigid moral code and used violence primarily to achieve rough justice in a region of the country not yet bound by the rule of law.
For several years following publication of “The Fight at Buckskin,” the Bar-20 saga unfolded in short stories. In June of 1907, Mulford began writing his first novel-length installment in the series. He discarded two drafts before completing the manuscript in March, 1909. Hopalong Cassidy was published exactly one year later by Chicago’s A.C. McClurg & Co. The novel focused on the feud between the Bar-20 and an adjoining ranch, the H2, with a subplot detailing Hopalong’s romance with Mary Meeker, mistress of the rival cow outfit. Lengthy, episodic, and packed with supporting characters, the book didn’t overly impress critics but achieved considerable success nonetheless; McClurg went through six hardcover printings in the first year alone.
Mulford gradually eased up on short-story production and concentrated on cranking out book-length yarns. Hoppy wasn’t always the focal point of these; Buck Peters, Johnny Nelson, and reformed gambler Tex Ewalt (an early antagonist of the Bar-20) each “starred” in novels using their names in the titles. In 1923 Mulford transferred his allegiance from McClurg to Doubleday, and that house published his subsequent novels in hard covers after serializing most of them in its pulp magazines Short Stories and West. While not blockbuster best-sellers, Mulford’s books attracted a fairly large, faithful following that guaranteed consistent sales for Doubleday. Over the years the New York-based publishing house developed a warm relationship with Mulford, which directly resulted in Hopalong Cassidy being brought to the silver screen. Readers of this blog, Blood ‘n’ Thunder, and my other publications know how fond I am of the Hoppy films, which have been discussed in this space before and doubtless will be again.
A staunch small-government conservative, Mulford hated paying a huge percentage of his earnings in income tax, so after completing Hopalong Cassidy Serves a Writ in 1941 he stopped writing altogether. Royalty payments on his books and licensing fees from Hollywood enabled him to live comfortably, and in fact he became wealthy in the early Fifties from his small percentage of the revenue generated by sales of licensed Hopalong Cassidy consumer products. Ever the prudent steward of resources, Mulford continued to enjoy a modest lifestyle. He died in 1956 at age 72.
Mulford’s fiction shows its age more so than the works of many contemporaries. But he remains readable, and at their best his yarns have about them an almost magical aura. The Hoppy about whom he wrote is a larger-than-life figure despite the author’s efforts to make him seem like an ordinary cowhand with a good head for strategy. In recent years several early Bar-20 books have been reprinted in paperback, and I recommend them to fans of pulp fiction in general and Westerns in particular.
Today we celebrate the birthday of Johnston McCulley, the creator of Zorro and one of the giants of pulp fiction. Born and raised in Illinois, he began his literary career as a crime reporter for The Police Gazette. McCulley turned to fiction writing in 1906 and made his pulp-magazine debut in the June issue of The Argosy. Over the next few years he cracked other Munsey pulps—The All-Story, Railroad Man’s Magazine—sold to Blue Book, and started writing for Street & Smith with yarns in Top-Notch.
In 1915, at the age of 32, he became one of the regular contributors to Street & Smith’s Detective Story Magazine, which evolved from the Nick Carter nickel weekly. The first of McCulley’s many series characters for that periodical was Black Star, a criminal mastermind who wore a cloak and a hood with a jet-black star on the forehead. These stories appeared under the pseudonym John Mack Stone, the first of many pen names McCulley used. (Others included Harrington Strong, Raley Brien, George Drayne, and Walter Pierson.) Although Black Star was a thoroughgoing villain, most of McCulley’s recurring characters in DSM were avenging angels or modern Robin Hoods—always working outside the law but committed to serving the interests of justice. Among them were The Thunderbolt, the Avenging Twins, the Man in Purple, and the unaccountably popular Crimson Clown. McCulley also score with Thubway Tham, a lisping pickpocket whose often-humorous exploits were chroncled first in DSM and later in Best Detective, a Street & Smith reprint title.
To the best of my knowledge, McCulley rarely if ever employed pseudonyms for his submissions to Argosy and All-Story Weekly. It was for the latter magazine that he created his most famous pulp hero, Senor Zorro, who first appeared in “The Curse of Capistrano,” a book-length novel serialized in five parts during the summer of 1919. The basic idea, involving a daring hero who poses as a foppish aristocrat, had already been used by Baroness Orczy in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905), but where her story unfolded in Europe during the French Revolution McCulley set his in Old California during the late 18th century.
The initial Zorro adventure was clearly intended as a one-off, since at story’s end the character was unmasked and (presumably) headed for matrimony. But McCulley struck it rich when popular motion-picture actor Douglas Fairbanks licensed the novel for adaptation as his first self-produced, big-budget swashbuckler. The resulting film, The Mark of Zorro (1920), was an international sensation that boosted Fairbanks into stardom’s top rank. On the strength of its success McCulley quickly wrote and easily sold “The Further Adventures of Zorro” (1922), serialized in Argosy All-Story Weekly. “Curse of Capistrano” was published in hard covers by Grosset & Dunlap in 1924, retitled The Mark of Zorro to capitalize on the film. In 1925 Fairbanks produced and starred in a sequel, Don Q, Son of Zorro, which simply grafted McCulley’s character onto an adaptation of Hesketh and Kate Prichard’s “Don Q’s Love Story.”
McCulley wrote other high-adventure yarns with similar settings and Zorro simulacrums, but none seemed to have the same appeal. The original returned in a 1931 novel, Zorro Rides Again, also serialized in Argosy. Over the next few years he popped up in a handful of uncollected novelettes. The author had pretty good luck selling his other pulp stories to Hollywood, but he hit pay dirt again when Republic Pictures licensed the character for a 1936 feature film (The Bold Caballero) and a series of cliffhanger serials: Zorro Rides Again (1937), Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939), Zorro’s Black Whip (1944), Son of Zorro (1947), and Ghost of Zorro (1949). Their mutually beneficial relationship was not affected by the 1940 release of a lavish 20th Century-Fox remake of The Mark of Zorro; Fox had purchased remake rights to the 1920 film from Fairbanks, but McCulley retained his hold on the character and gave Republic free rein to use Zorro in any way the studio deemed useful, as long as it didn’t attempt to adapt “Curse of Capistrano.”
The Fox film, which starred Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone, made Johnston McCulley hot again and he was able to sell one last novel, “The Sign of Zorro,” to Argosy for serialization during 1941, as The Mark of Zorro was playing in the nation’s movie theaters. In 1944 he parlayed the character’s continuing popularity into a series of short stories for the Thrilling Group’s West, which had become a mundane pulp magazine. The Zorro series ran in West for seven years, and during that time McCulley revived his Detective Story Magazine characters Thubway Tham and The Crimson Clown for Thrilling’s detective pulps.
West lasted only a couple more years after dropping the Zorro series in 1951. Pulp magazines were dying, and after nearly a half-century of fictioneering Johnston McCulley was pretty well written out. He made sporadic short-story sales over the next few years but might easily have been forgotten but for Walt Disney’s 1957 licensing of Zorro for a TV series broadcast over the ABC network. Zorro was a huge hit that lasted for three seasons and continued to earn good ratings for years afterward in syndication.
McCulley died in 1958, having lived long enough to see his most famous creation revived for a new generation. I suspect he’d be amazed to learn that, another 50 or so years later, Zorro is still going strong in movies and on television.
On the basis of volume alone Johnston McCulley could be considered a hack. A fair percentage of his output was bland, trite, and/or repetitive. His various Detective Story series abound with familiar situations and character types, and like most high-volume producers who were active for a prolonged period, his later yarns cannibalized earlier ones. But like other pulp writers who enjoyed comparable longevity, McCulley was a natural storyteller whose stories, whatever their flaws, were never unreadable. He never lost sight of the quality that endeared him to editors: his ability to provide the masses with escapist entertainment. Altus Press and Wildside Press, to name just two specialty publishing houses, have reprinted some of his works. I recommend giving them a try.
Having just come across some long-buried photos in the Blood ‘n’ Thunder archives, and with nothing better to post here today, I’m attaching a handful of shots from Pulpcon 27, which was held in July 1998. This was either the last or next to last Pulpcon held at the university in Bowling Green; my memory is a little fuzzy as to which. As I recall, that summer in Ohio was hot and humid, but the convention attendees were nice and cool in the auditorium crammed with vintage pulps, books, and related collectibles. I was still a newbie to pulp fandom but made many new friends that year — folks I still see regularly at PulpFest, the Windy City con, and other events geared to book and magazine collectors.
My friend Rob McKay took the pictures you’ll see below, and many more as well. But the other photos are missing in action. Perhaps I’ll be able to turn them up yet.
To start with, here a bird’s eye view of the dealer room:
I had purchased a dealer table that year but sold all my (limited) wares in fairly short order. The shot below was probably taken on the last afternoon of the show as things were winding down. Jerry Peters (left) and I are listening intently to an unidentified speaker. I’m fairly, but not totally, certain that Joe Rainone is doing the talking.
In the next shot I’m making a trade with veteran dealer/collector Dick Wald, who’s inspecting the quality of my offering. That’s Shadow collector Lisa Kwaterski next to me. As I recall, 1998 was the year that Dick brought a huge stock of recently acquired Shadow pulps. He made the mistake of inviting a friend to his hotel room to check them out the night before the show started. Word got around and before Dick could do anything about it, he had a bonafide feeding frenzy on his hands as collectors swarmed into his room uninvited. I remember forking over $1500 to him that night.
Another bird’s eye view, with me in the middle brandishing my newly acquired treasure from the trade with Dick.
Finally, here’s a shot of my good buddy and Weird Tales/Arkham House specialist Dave Kurzman, looking characteristically mellow behind his table. Dave always brings top-notch stuff to the conventions, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what he’ll unveil at the upcoming Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention.
Hey, this was fun. I’d like to do more “Flashback Friday” posts of this sort, so if you’re willing to share any photos from pulp conventions of the past, please feel free to send me some scans. Meanwhile, I’ll see what else I can dig up….
- Speaking of Serials….
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