EDitorial Comments

An Important Announcement for Murania Press Customers

Posted in Murania Press on November 9, 2018 @ 4:17 pm

As we write these words, Murania Press has arrived at a turning point in its 11-year history.

Those of you who’ve been loyal customers since we published The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Collecting Pulps in 2007 know that we’ve subscribed to the POD (Print On Demand) model of small-press publishing, which obviates the necessity of maintaining large inventories and printing books in quantities of 500 or 1000 copies to get a feasible unit cost.  We began with a printing company then called Lightning Source but in 2009 transferred our allegiance to an outfit named CreateSpace, which offered cheaper unit costs and had the added benefit of being allied with Amazon.

That year we brought Blood ‘n’ Thunder to CreateSpace as well, and since then every Murania Press publication has been printed by them. Our books and magazines, with rare exceptions, were produced at and shipped from their South Carolina plants in Charleston and Columbia. While there have always been delays in processing large orders (such as our shipments to wholesale customers), for the most part we were able to fulfill single-copy orders expeditiously.

Last year we began noticing delays in single-copy shipments, and this year the situation has gotten steadily worse. It’s currently taking CreateSpace an average of ten business days to print and ship one book. We’ve complained repeatedly but to no avail. Things took a turn for the worse following September’s Hurricane Florence, which pounded the Carolinas and flooded the areas where CreateSpace’s plants were located.

The rollouts of our two most recent publications, Behind the Mask and Those Sexy Serial Queens, have been close to disastrous as a result of CreateSpace’s snail-like service. We deserve some of the blame for delays in early shipments of Mask, which had to be recalled to address a serious copyright-page omission regarding current ownership of The Lone Ranger. But even after processing the corrected files we sent, CreateSpace dragged its feet on fulfilling the initial batch of orders, resulting in month-long waits for customers.

Being now owned by Amazon (which is in the process of folding it into Kindle), CreateSpace has naturally been more prompt fulfilling orders for our books placed with Amazon. Of late there have been whispers among small-press publishers that this is a deliberate strategy to drive more business to that corporate behemoth at the expense of marginal operators like us. Apparently Jeff Bezos and his underlings don’t have enough money already.

We are keenly aware of dissatisfaction among those who purchase Murania Press books via our website. All year long we’ve fielded your e-mails. Most people have been understanding, some have not. We’re acutely aware Amazon has made rapid shipping so easy, and for no extra cost to Prime members, that customers don’t want to wait two weeks for a book from us when they can get it from Amazon in two or three days.

The problem is that we can’t survive on Amazon royalties, which return to publishers significantly less money than they can make by selling their wares directly via website. That’s why, even though fully aware of the inconvenience involved, we’re asking you to keep purchasing Murania Press products directly from us — even though you’ll have to wait longer to receive them.

We’ve established a reputation for non-fiction books that are well researched, well written, and well edited. We provide the handsomest editorial packages our limited budgets will allow. But it requires enormous investments of time and effort to turn out products of the quality we maintain, and unless we can meet a certain profit threshold we won’t be able to continue.

In recognition of the current difficulties, we’re taking steps to guarantee better service during the upcoming Christmas shopping season. Even though it runs contrary to the POD model, which was supposed to free us from the necessity of fronting money for inventory, we’re already ordering quantities of the books on which we intend to run holiday-season sales. Come early December we’ll have them on hand and will ship directly to you without relying on CreateSpace for short-order fulfillment. Obviously, if we run out of stock early on certain items, we’ll have to reorder and keep our fingers crossed for timely shipments from the plant.

What happens in the future? Well, we’re already looking for viable alternatives to CreateSpace. Unfortunately, the most likely is also vastly more expensive: our unit costs would practically double, forcing us to raise prices or accept greatly reduced profit margins. So we’re still looking.

During this difficult period we’re asking that you stick with us, even if it means longer wait times. Otherwise we’ll have to close down — and we don’t want to do that.

Watch this space for future announcements about future developments at Murania Press.


Collectibles Update

Posted in Collectibles For Sale on October 12, 2018 @ 4:41 pm

Two weeks ago we added approximately 30 new items to our Collectibles for Sale section but forgot to post anything here about the update. Well, consider yourselves informed. A number of choice items have been sold but many remain. And we dropped prices on a few that have been lingering in that space for some time now.

Check it out; there are interesting pieces available at excellent prices. And remember, shipping to the continental United States is included in each item.


October Overstock Sale

Posted in Murania Press,Special Sale on @ 4:33 pm

We’re currently overstocked on several Murania Press titles, left over from our exhibits at recent hobbyist confabs. Therefore, we’re offering them at 20 percent off list price as long as supplies last, which we don’t believe will be very long.

The books on sale include Pride of the Pulps (Blood ‘n’ Thunder Presents, #1), Fighting Crime One Dime at a Time (Blood ‘n’ Thunder Presents, #3), Flickering Shadows, and The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Sampler.

The sale price has already been attached to each book’s page here on the site. Again, these are copies that are already on hand and available for immediate shipping.

 

 


2018 Labor Day Weekend Sale

Posted in Murania Press,Special Sale on August 31, 2018 @ 12:41 am

Beginning Friday at 12:01 a.m. and continuing through Monday at 11:59 p.m., all Murania Press books are on sale. Prices have been marked down between 20 and 25 percent, and as always shipping is included for domestic U.S. customers.

What’s different about this sale is that it will be the last one for certain titles in our catalog. I’ve recently been informed by our printer that costs are going up for the first time in nine years. Rather than pay more for books that are marginal sellers I will retire them from the line. So this will be your last opportunity to get some of these books.


PulpFest 2018 Report: Part Two

Posted in Conventions,PulpFest on August 1, 2018 @ 11:38 pm

(All photos accompanying this report were taken by Curt Phillips unless otherwise noted.)

Any hopes I had for getting plenty of sleep on Friday were dashed quickly, as I spent most of the night tossing and turning. I mention this only because it affected my actions late Saturday evening, as you’ll see below.

After breakfasting with pals I returned to the hucksters room for another day of wheeling and dealing. Sales of Murania Press product picked up, and by mid-afternoon I’d sold all available copies of our two most recent books, Blood ‘n’ Thunder Presents #4 and The Wild West of Fiction and Film. I also moved some of the collectable pulps and books on my table. Comics legend and old friend Jim Steranko stopped by for a lengthy chat, as did various PulpFest regulars I’d not yet had a chance to jawbone with. Periodic forays to tables manned by other dealers resulted in many purchases, some of them real bargains.

FarmerCon presentations and New Pulp readings (by Jim Beard, John Bruening, Win Scott Eckert, and Frank Schildiner) ate up the afternoon programming slots, and the day flew by rapidly. PulpFest held its usual Saturday-night dinner in the hotel, although for my evening meal I joined a large group that sauntered down the road to a local restaurant.

We were careful to finish eating in time for the annual business meeting, at which PulpFest committee members Mike Chomko, Jack Cullers, Barry Traylor, and Chuck Welch assembled on the dais to face convention attendees. It was an unexpectedly dramatic session owing to Jack’s revelation that the committee—burned out after years of mounting the con—would be losing Chuck, who is moving with his family to Canada. This loss promised to further burden the already-overworked committee members. Jack then dropped a bombshell: PulpFest has received an offer to merge with a larger comic convention back in Columbus, our original home. Nothing has been decided but the committee is carefully weighing all options. The ensuing discussion was lively but brief due to time constraints.

The business meeting drew a good-sized crowd.

Following the business meeting David Saunders, son of famed pulp artist Norman Saunders and designer of the Munsey Award for distinguished service to the pulp-collecting community, bestowed this year’s award upon William Lampkin, editor of The Pulpster, which doubles as program book and annual magazine. Mike Chomko accepted for Bill—a well-deserved honor, in my view—and read a brief statement.

Tony Davis, long-time former editor of The Pulpster, interviewed the convention’s Special Guest, author Joe R. Lansdale, whose multi-media credits are too numerous to mention here. That discussion was followed by a David Saunders presentation on the art of war pulps and a panel discussing WWI themes in the work of Philip José Farmer, featuring Christopher Paul Carey, Win Scott Eckert, and Paul Spiteri.

Although it’s embarrassing to admit, I skipped most of the Saturday-night programming out of fear I’d fall asleep and start snoring. Instead I mosied out to the Double Tree’s copious lobby and engaged in several lengthy conversations with various friends I’d not spent time with earlier.

Tony Davis (right) introduces Joe Lansdale.

The Saturday-night auction, another 200-plus-lot affair that promised to drag on for hours, got underway more or less on schedule shortly after 10 p.m. The Friday-night sale had been dominated by 12-issue lots of Wild West Weekly; Saturday night’s boasted similarly numerous batches of Western Story Magazine. But there were other interesting items as well, and I had my eye on one in particular: the 1941 issue of Thrilling Adventures that introduced Thunder Jim Wade in a novel credited to Charles Stoddard but actually written by prolific SF author Henry Kuttner. It came up late in the auction, when I was fighting to stay awake.

I didn’t have much competition for the pulp and won it for a reasonable price. Bleary-eyed and somewhat dazed (more so than usual, that is), I shuffled up to the dais to pay for my item. You won two lots, I was told. No, I replied, just the one. Turns out I also won a pulp I couldn’t remember bidding on. That’s what acute sleep deprivation will do to you. After seeing the second item, a high-grade 1945 issue of Jungle Stories, I realized it was indeed something I would have competed for. Luckily, it had only cost me $30. In my zombified state I might have bid considerably more.

At this point I should’ve called it a day and gone straight to my room, but upon passing through the lobby I spotted a large group in conversation. As they were all friends, I pulled up a chair and gabbed with them until the gathering broke up sometime around 2 a.m.

Fortunately, I got just enough sleep to be coherent the next day. PulpFest’s Sunday session is always a short one; no programming is scheduled and dealers begin packing up at noon, even though the convention technically ends at 2 p.m. The worst part is saying goodbye to friends and fellow collectors I only see once or twice a year. The weekend always passes way too fast.

Inscribing a book at my table. Photo by Scott Cranford.

We were back on the road by 12:30 and reached my place in northern New Jersey some seven and a half hours later, at which time the Great White Whale disgorged a tired but satisfied quintet of pulp fans.

So how did this year’s Pulpfest stack up against previous editions? On balance, quite well. It’s true that attendance was down and that dealer-room sales were not quite as robust as we would have liked. That speaks to an ongoing problem which deserves a separate discussion I might undertake here in a future post. Certainly the committee’s work was first-rate; Jack, Mike, Chuck, Barry, and their family members came through once again. I couldn’t detect any problems with the running of the show, although not having attended all the events I don’t know if any started egregiously late or were bedeviled by technical problems. PulpFest’s justifiably celebrated programming reflected the same careful thought and enthusiastic participation we’ve all come to expect.

In the end, we all have to wonder if this admittedly small, specialized hobby is large enough and strong enough to sustain two national conventions. The first PulpFest, back in 2009, nearly tripled the attendance at the disastrous 2008 Pulpcon, which killed off that venerable confab. The second and third saw additional growth, but subsequent years—when we moved to downtown Columbus—found the show leveling off. The 2017 move to this current location was widely heralded for the excellence of the venue, but PulpFest has not had noticeable support from fans in Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities. Hence the decline in attendance.

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know that there is an answer. But like I said above, the issue needs to be addressed. In the meantime, let’s all wish the PulpFest committee members well as they grapple with the tough decisions that lay ahead.


PulpFest 2018 Report: Part One

Posted in Conventions,PulpFest on @ 5:20 pm

(All photos accompanying this report were taken by Curt Phillips unless otherwise noted.)

Last Thursday morning my New Jersey home was the site of a rendezvous with fellow pulp aficionados Nick Certo, Scott Hartshorn, Digges La Touche, and Walker Martin. They arrived shortly before 9 a.m. for our annual trip to PulpFest. We’ve been traveling together for many years now (the same motley crew accompanies me on our trip to the Windy City pulp convention every April), always riding in a rented 15-seat van we’ve affectionately dubbed the Great White Whale. There might only be five of us, but we need a vehicle that big to hold our dealer stock and convention purchases, so the rental agency removes the last two rows of seats for us.

We loaded up in double time and made a quick stop for coffee at my local Dunkin Donuts, as per our usual custom. By 9:30 we were zooming westward on Route 80, once more bound for the Double Tree Hilton Pittsburgh—Cranberry, which despite its name is actually located in Mars, Pennsylvania. Last year’s PulpFest was the first staged in this excellent venue, and we all looked forward to returning.

Arriving just before 5 p.m., we unloaded luggage and stock and made a beeline for the 13,500-square-foot ballroom that doubles as the con’s exhibit space. I dumped my boxes on the table assigned to me but didn’t bother setting up, preferring to canvas the room for bargains.

Long-time collector Walter Albert scans the dealer room.

Almost immediately I spotted an eye-popping display of high-grade, dust-jacketed editions of Chelsea House books reprinting stories from early Street & Smith pulps. Dozens and dozens of them. For more than 15 years I’d been seeking a copy of Cherry Wilson’s Stormy, originally serialized in Western Story Magazine. And there it was, right in front of me! I snatched up the book only to be informed by dealer Scott Edwards that fellow dealer and uber-collector Rich Meli had just that second purchased the entire lot. I was crushed. But at a table just down the aisle from Scott’s exhibit, my long-time friend Sheila Vanderbeek had just laid out another batch of Chelsea House first editions. Lo and behold, she too had a copy of Stormy! It lacked the wrapper and wasn’t quite as sharp as Scott’s, but I grabbed it nonetheless. My long search was over. O frabjous day!

I joined a bunch of friends and fellow attendees for dinner, which took longer than anticipated and caused us to miss the show’s first programmed event. This year’s PulpFest celebrated the 100th anniversary of World War I’s conclusion, with the Philip José Farmer centennial a sub-theme being explored at Farmercon, PulpFest’s satellite gathering. Sai Shankar, whose Pulp Flakes blog is a treasure, discussed the life and output of Leonard Nason, a treasured contributor to Adventure who specialized in stories about the Great War. Sai’s presentation was followed by one from Burroughs Bulletin editor Henry Franke covering the War’s impact on ERB’s work. Michelle Nolan brought up the rear with an exploration of war comics. Fairly exhausted from my preparations for the trip and the long drive I retired early and was sound asleep by midnight. But I woke up at about 1:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep.

Friday’s session opened promisingly as bargain seekers hurried from table to table, but within a few hours the pace slowed and it occurred to me attendance might be down somewhat. (Later on, PulpFest chairman Jack Cullers confirmed that to me.) Quite unintentionally, pulp-convention huckster rooms often have their own theme—being dominated one year by hero pulps, the next by detective pulps, and so on—and this time around PulpFest was surfeited with Westerns. The two auctions, being made up primarily of material from three estates, fairly teemed with them. I had quite a few in my 20-percent-off Bargain Box. And even dealers who normally don’t stock the things, like Connecticut’s Paul Herman, were offering them in large quantities.

Dennis Harford making a box-by-box search for treasure.

Afternoon programming mostly featured readings from New Pulp authors, per usual. I heard good things about Christopher Paul Carey’s recitation from Swords Against the Moon Men, his authorized sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Moon Maid. (Artist Mark Wheatley was also on hand to display his gorgeous illustrations for the book.) Chris and Mark, joined by Mike Croteau and PulpFest Special Guest Joe Lansdale, discussed the influence and legacy of Philip José Farmer in one of the prime-time sessions. That was followed by a presentation by Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle on war-themed material in men’s “sweat” magazines. Next was a panel on air-war pulps featuring pulp historian Don Hutchison, PulpFest’s own Mike Chomko, and Age of Aces principals Bill Mann and Chris Kalb. After that Bob Gould, son of prolific Popular Publications illustrator John Fleming Gould, entertained con attendees with an account of his dad’s career.

Auctioneers Joe Saines (left) and John Gunnison.

The Friday-night auction featured a variety of items but was dominated by heavy bidding on nearly innumerable 12-issue lots of Street & Smith’s long-running Wild West Weekly. I didn’t compete for most of them—wouldn’t bid against good friends who had already expressed interest—but managed to win a dozen from 1936 and a dozen from 1943, the magazine’s last year. One lot set me back $50, the other $45, for a per-issue cost of four dollars. Not bad. Regular PulpFest auctioneers John Gunnison and Joe Saines did their usual top-notch job keeping things moving and disposing of more than 200 lots in record time. Even so, it was past 1 a.m. when they brought the gavel down on the last, and having gotten less than two hours of sleep the previous night I staggered back to my room for what I hoped would be deep, lengthy slumber.

(Part Two will follow shortly.)


The Latest from Murania Press

Posted in Blood 'n' Thunder Presents,Murania Press,Pulps,Western Movies on June 22, 2018 @ 12:02 am

Our newest release is The Wild West of Fiction and Film, a 286-page, 146,000-word tome that concentrates on the nexus of American popular fiction (especially pulp) and Western movies produced during Hollywood’s Golden Age. It contains 16 essays, some of which first appeared in issues of Blood ‘n’ Thunder, some in other publications, and one written just for this book. That piece extensively covers the 1932 George O’Brien vehicle Mystery Ranch, a classic exercise in Western Gothic adapted from Stewart Edward White’s 1919 novella “The Killer,” which is reprinted in its entirety. The other 15 essays have been revised and reedited, with significant wordage added in some cases. Accompanying them are two 20-page picture galleries featuring rare pulp covers and a mix of original stills, posters, lobby cards, and advertisements for the individual films under discussion.

To be honest, we compiled The Wild West of Fiction and Film for genre devotees not especially interested in pulp history, but in our opinion the book features a good balance between coverage of rough-paper magazine stories and their celluloid adaptations. And, of course, it’s always nice to have so much thematically linked material in one volume for handy reference. You can check out The Wild West here.

While you’re at it, by all means take a look at the listing for Pulpourri, the fourth volume in our Blood ‘n’ Thunder Presents series. Released last month, this 220-page book collects nine meaty essays along with a photo feature and two pulp-story reprints. With one exception (“Mates for the Morgue Master,” a 1939 Arthur J. Burks weird-menace story) none of this material previously appeared in BnT. And the Burks yarn dates all the way back to our second issue, published in Fall 2002. So it’s practically new.

For more information on Pulpourri, check out the listing here.

 

 

 


June 2018 Collectibles Section Update

Posted in Collectibles For Sale on June 21, 2018 @ 9:55 pm

It’s been a while since our Collectibles for Sale section was last updated, so we’ve just freshened it up with a couple dozen new items: pulps, pulp reprints, and pulp-related books. As usual, there’s a nice assortment of high-grade items, including some unread copies in As New condition. There are also a few bonafide rarities, including a beautiful first edition of Harold Lamb’s historical novel Nur Mahal inscribed by the author. Signed copies of books by this Adventure and Argosy favorite seldom turn up, especially in good shape. Also listed is the nicest copy we can remember seeing of Five Sinister Characters, a 1945 Avon pulp digest that reprinted for the first time a quintet of Raymond Chandler stories originally published in Dime Detective. It’s a fairly common item, but not in Fine condition with nice paper.

There’s a nice variety of material in the two dozen new items. Check ’em out. Below are a few samples….

 

 


Happy Birthday, Iris Meredith!

Posted in Birthday,Serials,Western Movies on June 3, 2018 @ 4:14 pm

Back for another go-round is one of the most popular and frequently commented-upon articles in Blood ‘n’ Thunder history: “My Dinner with Nita,” a tribute to Iris Meredith, the lovely actress who played pulp-fiction heroine Nita Van Sloan in a 1938 Columbia serial, The Spider’s Web. It first ran in issue #15 (Summer 2006) and was later reprinted in Blood ‘n’ Thunder’s Cliffhanger Classics. Several years ago it appeared as an interstitial piece in one of Sanctum Books’ Spider pulp-reprint volumes. Since Iris would have turned 103 today, I’m giving the piece another airing. Below you’ll find the complete text of “My Dinner with Nita.” I hope you enjoy it….

Iris Meredith as Nita Van Sloan in THE SPIDER'S WEB

Iris Meredith as Nita Van Sloan in THE SPIDER’S WEB

In the summer of 1976, I had an experience most serial fans could only dream of. I actually met, interviewed, and broke bread with the Spider’s paramour, Nita Van Sloan!

Not the real Nita, of course. That would have been impossible, because there wasn’t any real Nita. No, I attended a dinner with the reel Nita, the beautiful actress who played opposite Warren Hull in The Spider’s Web (1938), first of two fast-action Spider chapter plays made and released by Columbia Pictures.

Her name was Iris Meredith, and she had come to Nashville, Tennessee as a guest of the Fifth Annual Western Film Fair, a movie-buff confab sponsored by Western Film Collector magazine. Over the course of this four-day convention, some 160 feature-length films and a couple dozen serials—among them The Spider’s Web—unspooled in six makeshift screening rooms outfitted with 16mm projectors manned by bleary-eyed collectors. Movie showings began at 10 a.m. every day and continued until the wee hours of the next morning. The hucksters’ room included well over a hundred tables, some of them covered with boxes of vintage-movie memorabilia, others sagging beneath the weight of film cans containing 16mm prints. Film Fair attendees could screen themselves blind or spend themselves poor. Some, like me, did both.

Much-needed diversions were provided by panel discussions (in which the many guest stars reminisced about filmmaking in the Good Old Days) and the Saturday-night awards banquet, when actors long forgotten by the public at large accepted handsome plaques and standing ovations from True Believers who still cherished the Saturday-matinee movies of their youth.

Nita surveys the Spider's grisly handiwork.

Nita surveys the Spider’s grisly handiwork.

I had already attended several such events and would likely have returned to Nashville even if Iris Meredith hadn’t been among the dozen or so performers invited to this year’s convention. But her presence was the icing on the cake for me. To think I’d be meeting the silver screen’s one true Nita Van Sloan! (Those of us who had seen both Spider serials rarely spoke of The Other, that brassy, garish floozy so obviously miscast in the 1941 sequel, The Spider Returns. As far as we were concerned, Iris Meredith was Nita. Period.)

Born on June 3, 1915 in Sioux City, Iowa, Iris Shunn didn’t have an easy childhood. By the time she was 10 her family had moved twice, first to Minnesota and then to southern California. By the time she was 13 both parents had died, leaving her to support three younger siblings with a Depression on the way. She attended school in the morning and toiled as a theater cashier in the afternoon and evening. Legend has it Iris was discovered by a talent scout while working at the Loew’s theater in downtown Los Angeles. Still just a teenager—albeit a beautiful one—she briefly joined the fabled Goldwyn Girls and first appeared on screen with them in a 1933 Eddie Cantor vehicle, Roman Scandals.

Iris worked as a chorus girl in several movie musicals before landing her first substantial part: an ingénue role in The Cowboy Star (1936), a better-than-average “B” Western in which she played opposite Charles Starrett for the first time. (This film was the first in which she received on-screen billing, and for it she assumed the Meredith surname.) Starrett, scion of a wealthy northeastern family, had taken up acting while attending Dartmouth College. He never really caught on with adult moviegoers and in 1935 began starring in low-budget horse operas released by Columbia. He spent 17 consecutive years making Westerns for that studio, appearing exclusively as The Durango Kid from 1945 to 1952.

When Iris landed a Columbia contract, she was initially assigned to the unit cranking out Charlie’s pictures, and she co-starred with him in some 19 Westerns released between 1937 and 1940. The Starrett vehicles of this period maintained a fairly high standard, but their strict adherence to formula made one virtually indistinguishable from another. The Sons of the Pioneers, a Western-music group to which Roy Rogers once belonged, worked with Charlie and Iris in every picture. The supporting casts nearly always included Dick Curtis as the principal heavy and silent-screen veteran Edward Le Saint as either Starrett’s or Meredith’s father. Even the bit players were the same from picture to picture, and they almost always wore the same clothes. For that matter, so did Iris: She generally showed up in an ensemble consisting of plaid shirt with vest and split skirt.

Iris (right) with Warren Hull and Beatrice Curtis.

Iris (right) with Warren Hull and Beatrice Curtis.

Iris lobbied for parts in better movies but rarely escaped confinement in the Western and serial unit headed by producer Jack Fier. When she did, it was only temporarily and usually in a thankless role. In late 1940, after appearing in 22 Westerns and three serials, she left Columbia. For the next couple years Iris freelanced, finding it difficult to land roles outside of Hollywood’s Poverty Row. By 1943 she had married director Abby Berlin, himself a Columbia contractee; shortly thereafter she had a daughter and settled into domestic life.

Unlike some of her contemporaries, Iris never attempted a comeback when television series production created new opportunities for technicians and performers used to working at top speed on short budgets. She never dreamed that people still remembered her fondly, or that she had won new fans thanks to TV reruns of her old movies and the proliferation of 16mm dupe prints of the old Westerns. By the mid Seventies, however, word had gotten out. The “B”-Western stars, starlets, and supporting players were very much in demand at nostalgia-oriented film festivals, and Iris eventually accepted an invitation to appear at one such event.

Of course, those of us who attended that 1976 Western Film Fair had no way of knowing what hell Iris Meredith had been through. Some ten years earlier she had been diagnosed with oral cancer. She endured 14 operations, ultimately surrendering part of jaw and tongue in her fight against the disease. None of us expects our film favorites to withstand indefinitely the ravages of time, but we weren’t fully prepared for the severely disfigured, prematurely aged woman who courageously greeted her fans.

However shocked Film Fair attendees may have been, they never let on. Iris bravely met and talked with all of us, laboring mightily to make herself understood. Losing part of her tongue made it impossible to clearly articulate certain words, and her slurred speech was reminiscent of someone who’d had way too much to drink.

But this didn’t matter to us, and our outpouring of love plainly lifted her spirits. As the convention progressed Iris seemed demonstrably happier; by the second or third day one could see a twinkle in her rheumy eyes. Initially reluctant to speak, she pushed herself to engage fully with fans who approached her with questions as well as stills and lobby cards for her to sign.

She was accompanied by her grown daughter, who occasionally sat with her mom when Iris elected to watch one of her old movies. About halfway through a screening of The Spider’s Web—all 15 chapters in one marathon session, interrupted only by the projectionist’s reel changes—the daughter excused herself, leaving Iris alone. The screening rooms were sparsely attended at that moment; my recollection is that another guest-star panel was just getting underway. Only a dozen or so people remained to see the Spider battle his arch-foe, the Octopus, to a standstill.

The Spider and Nita confront their arch-foe, the Octopus.

The Spider and Nita confront their arch-foe, the Octopus.

A few rows behind and to the right of Iris, I stared at the erstwhile actress as the next episode began. She sat very still and straight, apparently transfixed by the flickering image of a younger, beautiful version of herself. I couldn’t help but wonder what might be going through her mind. Having already seen the serial several times, I left after one more chapter to attend another screening. As I eased through the screening-room door I shot a glance back at her. She was still riveted by the adventures of Dick, Nita, and the others.

On the third day of the convention, I persuaded Iris to sit for an interview. We adjourned to a small meeting room down the hall from the massive ballroom that housed dealers and other stars. She briefly stiffened when I brought out my portable cassette recorder, but after a few seconds—just as I was about to stuff it back into my briefcase—she relaxed again. “What would you like to know?” she asked.

Naturally, I was most eager to hear whatever she had to say about The Spider’s Web. “You know,” she said, “a year ago I couldn’t have told you anything about it. But now that I’ve seen it again, little things come back to me.

“Those serials were very hard to do. With the Westerns, you worked for a week or two and then you had time off. But those damn serials went for four, or five, or six weeks at a time. And we worked very long days, sometimes 12 or 14 hours. So every night you came home exhausted. It was all we could do to remember our lines the next day. The directors had it bad because they had to keep track of everything, all those little things that happened in the chapters.”

I asked her what she remembered about her castmates.

“Well, of course, I knew Richard Fiske already. We worked together on some of the pictures I did with Charlie [Starrett]. Warren Hull was a dear. Between takes he was a great kidder. And he loved to sing. He had a lovely voice. But then we would get in front of the camera and he would get so serious and squint, you know, and start shooting at people.

“I remember we all thought it was funny that Kenny Duncan was playing this Hindu [Ram Singh]. He was Canadian! And they gave him some of the craziest lines to say.” (I imagined Iris was referring to Ram Singh’s snarling threats, like my favorite: “Dog with a pig’s face! If I had my knife, I’d carve my name in your heart!”)

“The other thing I enjoyed was that I got to wear nice clothes. I only had a few changes of wardrobe, but it was so much fun to wear nice dresses after doing all those Westerns in that damn split skirt. And of course, in the Spider film I didn’t have to deal with horses.”

Iris insisted, as had so many serial actors before and since, that she barely remembered making the chapter plays. “Really, we were rushing around so much we didn’t know half the time whether we were coming or going. The scripts were as thick as telephone books and every night I only memorized as many lines as I needed for the next day. We didn’t shoot the chapters separately, it was all done according to where on the back lot we were scheduled to be on any given day. Or on which set; we did many scenes on sets that had been built for other movies. I still wonder how the production managers kept things straight [during the making of a serial].”

She did, however, have specific memories of Overland with Kit Carson, the 1939 serial she did with newly minted cowboy star “Wild Bill” Elliott. “We went to Utah to shoot most of it,” she told me. Then she tried to pronounce the name of the town where the company stayed while on location, but I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. Finally she scribbled the name on my note pad: “Kanab.” Several Westerns were made in and around that community, which the town fathers hoped would attract Hollywood producers in greater numbers. A Western street was built in the area to make Kanab a more appealing location for filmmakers; Overland with Kit Carson was the first production to utilize it.

Iris in costume for OVERLAND WITH KIT CARSON.

Iris in costume for OVERLAND WITH KIT CARSON.

Iris was fond of her Kit Carson co-star, with whom she also made three feature films. “Bill Elliott took his work very seriously,” she said. “The first picture I made with him, he wasn’t much of a rider yet. But he always practiced between takes. He got to be very good at it. And you know how he wore his guns, backward in the holsters? Well, he spent hours practicing a quick draw with those guns. I really admired him for working so hard to be convincing.”

She also had kind words for Ed Le Saint, another member of the Starrett stock company. “He was such a dear man. Very kind to me. But, you know, he was so old! I could never understand why they cast such an old man to play my father. Really, he was old enough to be my grandfather.”

By this time Iris seemed to be enjoying herself. She was no longer self conscious about the tape recorder, or about the effort it took to pronounce certain words. But I inadvertently brought our chat to an awkward halt with my next question:

“In 1940 you did your last serial, The Green Archer, for one of your Spider’s Web directors, James W. Horne. What do you remember about that film?”

Her face clouded and the spark went out of her eyes. She seemed more than a little sad as she quietly replied: “I don’t want to talk about that film. Please don’t ask me about it.”

I was stunned. What on earth could have happened during the making of that serial to elicit such a reaction? Fortunately, Green Archer was the last film about which I’d wanted to ask, and with nothing else to say I cleared my throat nervously and mumbled, “Well, I think we’re pretty much covered everything.” I thanked her, she thanked me, and as I got up from the table I could see several dozen fans milling outside in the hall, waiting for a chance to say hello and get her autograph.

That night at the banquet, following the typical rubber-chicken dinner, Iris Meredith was one of a dozen people presented with the inscribed plaque traditionally given to Western Film Fair guest stars. As she made her way to the podium, every person in the ballroom rose to give her a lengthy standing ovation. It was our way of honoring her for the courage and grace she had exhibited during the show. The room fairly crackled with electricity. Even from where I was, some ten feet from the dais, I could see her eyes welling up with tears. When the applause died down, she said just two words: “Thank you.” Then, as it swelled again, she took her seat and stared intently at the plaque, as if embarrassed to make eye contact with her adoring fans.

Subsequently Iris Meredith attended another film festival, but she never became a regular on the “nostalgia circuit” as did some of her contemporaries. She continued her brave struggle with cancer, but the disease eventually overtook her. Not yet 65 years old, Iris died on January 22, 1980.

In 40 years of convention-going, I’ve met dozens of the actors, writers, directors, and stuntmen who worked on my favorite serials, Westerns, and “B” movies. I’ve enjoyed my encounters with all but two or three of them. But none ever affected me quite the way Iris Meredith did. It’s difficult to explain, but even now, decades later, I get a little thrill whenever I revisit The Spider’s Web and gaze at the optical player credits—you know, those glimpses of the principal actors with their names splashed across the bottom of the frame. Iris always stands there, clad in Nita Van Sloan’s flying togs, smiling sweetly and placidly even though she will shortly find herself menaced yet again by the minions of the Octopus.

In those brief moments, I like to pretend she’s smiling at me.