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Back to the Books for the Theater of the Mind

Back to the Books for the Theater of the Mind

Johnny Dollar tradeI came to Old Time Radio late in life. My parents were born in 1940 and 1942, respectively. They remembered radio shows from their childhood, but the advent of television made more of an impact on them. During my teen years, one of our local UHF stations briefly picked up reruns of the jazz noir detective series Peter Gunn (1958-1961) in the mid-1980s and I was instantly hooked. A set of Peter Gunn episodes on VHS followed in 1989 from Rhino Records. Before long, I was hunting for Henry Kane’s well-written paperback tie-in and the goofy Dell Comic (where Pete tracks down villains trafficking in counterfeit collectible postage stamps). 2002 would bring the first DVD sets of Peter Gunn. By the time the entire series was on DVD, so was its companion series, Mr. Lucky (1959-1960); and then I discovered the imitation series, Johnny Staccato (1959-1960) which successfully blended concepts from both series before adding a healthy dose of angst-ridden method acting to the mix.

I couldn’t stop there of course, not with gray market sets of Peter Gunn‘s progenitor, Richard Diamond (1957-1960) and Mr. Lucky‘s successor, Dante (1960-1961) circulating among collectors. Eventually, I discovered a terrific, but nearly forgotten television adventure series, Hong Kong (1960-1961) and reached back to find Dante had actually preceded Mr. Lucky via an earlier series, Dante’s Inferno (1956). Having reached the end of the line for the uniquely sophisticated and stylish Golden Age of Television detective and adventure series that appealed most to me, I decided to venture into the largely unknown waters of Old Time Radio.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Erle Stanley Gardner’s “The Shrieking Skeleton”

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Erle Stanley Gardner’s “The Shrieking Skeleton”

Gat_GardnerSkeletonEven the best-selling Erle Stanley Gardner struggled to break into the better markets early in his career. Of these early days, Gardner said, “I wrote the worst stories that ever hit New York City. I have the word of an editor for that, and he hadn’t seen the worst stories because the worst ones I wrote under a pen name.”

Gardner sold his first two stories to Breezy Stories and they were published in 1921. Then we have this bit of fun…

In 1923, under the name of Charles M. Green, he submitted a novelette, “The Shrieking Skeleton” to The Black Mask (‘The’ was dropped for the May, 1927 issue). Gardner said that “It was a major opus as far as I was concerned, and looking back on it, I guess it must have been a dilly.” George Sutton was the editor at this time. While Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw is given credit for making Black Mask the leading institution of the hardboiled school, Sutton published the first detective stories of Carroll John Daly and Dashiell Hammett and was at the helm when Race Williams and The Continental Op debuted. He played a big part in the development of the genre.

Upon receipt of the story, somebody thought it was so bad, they sent it on to circulation editor Phil Cody (who would succeed Sutton as editor). They told him it was to be the lead story and they wanted a publicity campaign to promote it. Oh, those scamps!

Cody blew his top and sent it back to the editorial department. He wrote that the story gave him a pain in his neck and it was pretty near the last word in childishness. The characters talked like dictionaries and the so-called plot had whiskers on it like unto Spanish moss hanging from a live oak in a Louisiana bayou (???). He foresaw the end from the beginning and the story was puerile, trite, obvious and unnatural. He begged that the story not be used.

The joke having succeeded, the story was sent back to Gardner with the usual rejection slip (which Gardner was receiving by the dozens). The slip stated that just because the story was returned, it did not necessarily imply that there was any lack of literary merit, it simply did not fit in the schedule. Gardner (who later became good friends with Cody) knows this because Cody’s note was inadvertently included with the returned manuscript.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — Spring, 2017

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — Spring, 2017

BlackMask_Spring2017“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

In the Fall of 2016, Altus Press revived the legendary Black Mask magazine, reprinting stories from the old pulps with a mix of new hardboiled tales; including a cover story from my talented friend Paul Bishop. Altus also relaunched two other classic pulps: Argosy (which only lasted one issue) and Famous Fantastic Mysteries (just two issues). However, the fifth issue of Black Mask will be out this Fall (with an essay from yours truly).

Today in A (Black) Gat in the Hand, we’re going to look at each of the entries in the second issue of the new Black Mask, from the Spring of 2017. And this issue starts big!

Carroll John Daly’s “Murder for a Stuffed Shirt” is a previously unpublished tale!

Carroll John Daly was the biggest star at Black Mask in the twenties and thirties. Putting Race Williams on the cover guaranteed increased sales. When he fell out of favor at Black Mask, Daly took Williams to Dime Detective, where he also created Vee Brown (I have a tough time buying into Brown, a hardboiled special DA operative and also a wealthy composer of hit sentimental songs. I wrote about Daly’s creation of the hardboiled genre with “Three Gun Terry Mack” here.

But this issue of Black Mask contains a never-before-seen Daly story, uncovered by his grandson. It feels very much like a pre-hardboiled piece and not one person is shot! It’s different than any other Daly story I’ve read and I liked it.

“Mr. Detective is Annoyed” by William Robert Cox originally appeared in the March, 1938 issue of Captain Satan. Cox had over 130 stories published in the pulps under his own name, plus more using various pseudonyms. He wrote eighty novels, many westerns and was the creator of Cemetery Jones and the Maverick Kid.

The story is one of four to feature Donny Jordine, who doesn’t like to sit around and wait for the machinery of justice to creak along. He makes things happen on his own. “Mr Detective is Annoyed” isn’t a bad story, but it didn’t leave me wanting more Jordine.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandlers’ The Big SleepGat_NebelCardigan

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Over on Facebook, I frequently post tidbits related to my research for this column. There’s usually a picture included, and all of this happens on my back deck. So, I call it Back Deck Pulp! Well, there’s a lot of stuff coming out of Back Deck Pulp. So, last month, I collected a bunch of those FB posts and Back Deck Pulp #1 appeared here at Black Gate. Well, there have been a LOT more of them, so here’s Back Deck Pulp #2. I’ve already got #3 ready to go! Friend me on Facebook and see the posts as they go up. This is a collection of posts over time, so it doesn’t necessarily flow perfectly. Live with it…

FREDERICK NEBEL – CARDIGAN

And it’s another Office Desk Pulp. Last week, A (Black) Gat in the Hand was about Donahue of the Interstate Agency. That series was written by Frederick Nebel for Black Mask.

Nebel is one of my favorite pulpsters and I’m a huge fan of his Cardigan of the Cosmos Agency stories.

Cardigan appeared 44 times in Dime Detective – more than any other character.

Altus Press has issued the whole series in four volumes. And only $4.99 per ebook! With a great intro by Will Murray. I’ll be doing a post on this series. Highly recommended!

HORACE MCCOY

This Saturday’s back deck pulpster is Horace McCoy, best known for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

A WW I pilot, he wrote a series of air adventures featuring Jerry Frost of The Texas Air Rangers. The group, known as Hell’s Stepsons, were a Texas Rangers special ops aerial team. And Frost was hard boiled.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — October, 1933

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — October, 1933

BlackMask_October1933

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

October of 1933 featured yet another solid issue of Black Mask under Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw’s direction. The cover art was by J.W. Schlaiker, who had about fifty covers from 1929 to 1934. I don’t know why he abruptly stopped drawing for Black Mask. He served in France during World War I and was the War Department artist during World War II. He did portraits of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton.

With “Murder in the Open,” Race Williams made his forty-second appearance in Black Mask, dating back to June 1, 1923. For several years, Williams on the cover had guaranteed increased sales, but Carroll John Daly would be gone from Black Mask in just over a year and he was already regularly appearing in Dime Detective.

Daly was the first author to write in what became the hardboiled style with “Three Gun Terry” (which, of course, you read about here…) in the May 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask. Williams would follow in “Knights of the Open Palm in June, with Dashiell Hammett introducing his famous Continental Op in “Arson Plus” in October of that year. Daly’s writing style was far less polished and developed than Hammett’s, though I feel that it did improve over the years.

W(illiam) T(odhunter) Ballard was Nero Wolfe creator Rex Stout’s first cousin (which would explain why they shared such an unusual middle name). Ballard, who went on to become a very successful western author, wrote extensively for the detective pulps in the thirties and forties. He explained that he was struggling to sell to the lesser pulps when he saw The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez. Hammett’s terse prose spoke to him and he bought an issue of Black Mask. He stayed up all night, wrote a story and sold it to the magazine. He would go on to a long career in the pulps and as a novelist.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Day Keene

Gat_KeeneGander“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

“The Bloody Tide” appeared in the June, 1950 issue of Dime Detective. John D. MacDonald (my favorite writer) also appeared that month. Both men had stories in the May issue as well, with JDM scoring the cover.

The story opens with Charlie White being released from a Florida prison after serving three years for smuggling. He’s given some advice by another inmate on Death Row to go straight and stay on the outside. Get back to working on the water, even if it’s a menial job. Wouldn’t be much of a story if that’s how things go, though, would it?

White’s lover (not his wife) is waiting outside for him and drives him to a secluded beach cabin. He’s going to get back into that fast life again. While he was in jail, $1,000 had been deposited monthly into his bank account, presumably by the ‘big man,’ who he felt had cast him to the wolves.

‘The Devil came up behind me and pushed. To hell with Beth [his wife]. To hell with everything, I thought. To hell with trying to kill Senor Peso. In his way the guy had played square with me. Why should I try to goose into his grave an egg who laid so many golden pesos?’

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Phantom Crook, Ed Jenkins (Erle Stanley Gardner)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: The Phantom Crook, Ed Jenkins (Erle Stanley Gardner)

Gat_GardnerPic“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Erle Stanley Gardner is well-remembered as the creator of Perry Mason, star of over eighty novels, radio and tv. The famed defense attorney (portrayed by Raymond Burr) started out as something of a hardboiled PI in the first ten or so novels before settling into ‘lawyer mode.’

And Gardner also wrote thirty novels featuring Bertha Cool and Donald Lam (who you know ALL about from reading this post and this post here at Black Gate!). Gardner was the definition of a prolific pulpster, writing over one million words a year for over a decade: while working as a lawyer!

After many rejections, Gardner finally made the pages of Black Mask (under the name of Charles M. Green). in the December 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask with “The Shrieking Skeleton.” His seventh story to make the magazine was “Beyond the Law” and it featured Ed Jenkins, ‘The Phantom Crook.’

Jenkins appeared seventy-two times from 1925 to 1943 and made Gardner one of the Black Mask mainstays, alongside Dashiell Hammett, Carroll John Daly and Raoul Whitfield. He brought Jenkins back in the sixties for the short novel The Blonde in Lower Six in Argosy, which was owned by his old friend, Harry Steeger.

Jenkins almost didn’t make it to print. In early drafts, Jenkins committed a cold-blooded murder. Assistant editor Harry C. North wrote to Gardner that heroizing such a man wasn’t the sort of thing that he felt the magazine should be publishing. The author responded accordingly.

“Hell’s Kettle” was the second of a linked trilogy and appeared in the June, 1930 issue of Black Mask. “The Crime Crusher” was included in the May issue and “Big Shot” wrapped things up in July. The June issue also included the fourth and final installment of what became Dashiell Hammet’s novel, The Glass Key, as well as Carroll John Day’s “Tainted Power,” which featured Race Williams and The Flame.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — May, 1934

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — May, 1934

BlackMask_May1934

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Last week, we looked at an article on writing from famed Black Mask editor, Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw, which appeared in the May, 1934 issue of Writer’s Digest. What? You didn’t read that post? Well, click on over, do it, and then come back here and continue! Yeesh..

Done? Okay, let’s continue.

May, 1934 featured yet another solid issue of Black Mask under Shaw’s direction. The cover art was by J.W. Schlaiker, who had about fifty covers from 1929 to 1934. I don’t know why he abruptly stopped drawing for Black Mask. He served in France during World War I and was the War Department artist during World War II. He did portraits of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton.

Carroll John Daly carried the cover with Race Williams’ “Six Have Died,” which became part of the novel, Murder in the East. There were two more stories in this serial, which featured  The Flame. There would be one more story (“The Eyes Have It”) in November, and then Race Williams was no more in Black Mask. Williams would appear twenty-one times in Dime Detective but his successful career was in decline by May of 1934.

George Harmon Coxe’s Flashgun Casey was the subject our the very first post in this column. The hardboiled newspaper photographer was in the midst of appearing in seven consecutive issues; this story being “Two Man Job.” I like Casey, who was replaced by the more genteel Kent Murdoch.

From 1927 to 1934, Horace McCoy wrote thirteen stories about Captain Jerry Frost, leader of a group of Air Texas Rangers nicknamed ‘Hell’s Stepsons.’ They were basically a special ops team and Frost was a hardboiled problem solver. “Flight at Sunrise” was the second-to-last Frost story. I don’t believe that McCoy’s air tales have every been collected.

Of all the pulpsters, none may have had greater pretensions to greatness than McCoy. He’s best remembered for his novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, which became a successful film after his death. McCoy was a member of ‘The Fictioneers,’ which was an informal social club consisting of southern California pulpsters, including, at various times, Raymond Chandler, Norbert Davis, William Campbell Gault and W.T Ballard.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox

Gat_DetectiveDragnet_BallardOne of the authors that I’ve ‘discovered’ while working on A (Black) Gat in the Hand is W.T. Ballard. I had read a story here and there in various anthologies, but nothing stuck with me. I knew he was a Black Masker and had been successful as a writer of westerns. But I’ve just read a couple stories of his Hollywood ‘fixer,’ Bill Lennox and I was sold!

Ballard, who wandered out west when the Depression hit, had been trying to sell to the New York pulps with minimal success. He saw a Detective Dragnet Magazine with one of his stories in a store window (December, 1930). As he walked away, a man called out his name: it was Harry Warner, who he had known a little back in Cleveland, where the family had been making movie trailers for local organizations.  Warner asked what Ballard was doing in Hollywood. A bit embarrassed, the latter exaggerated a bit, bought that magazine and gave it to Warner, saying he was a freelance writer.

Warner and his brothers had just taken over First National Studios, and impressed with Ballard, Harry W. hired him as a screenwriter at a good salary. That gig lasted eight months until Ballard made a crack about Warner, not knowing the man was standing behind him. Fired!

Ballard was picked up by Columbia Pictures, who hired him to produce B-films for $10,000 each. To hit that target, Ballard had to write the script, direct and produce, and even move scenery for shoots. He endured this exhausting assignment for six months – but the two studio jobs gave him an invaluable inside knowledge of the industry.

In 1931, Ballard was trying struggling trying to write and sell to Detective Story Magazine, which favored Agatha Christie/Mary Roberts Rinehart types of mysteries. At his uncle’s house (where he was living), he heard a radio ad for The Maltese Falcon, a movie starring Ricardo Cortez (Bogart hit gold in the third adaptation). He went to see the movie. As Ballard said in an excellent interview conducted by Stephen Mertz. “Hammett’s ear for words sounded the way I thought criminals and detectives should talk. It rang true, the way I wanted mine to do.”

The radio ad had mentioned Black Mask, which Ballard was unfamiliar with. After the movie he went around the corner, bought the latest issue and read it on the streetcar ride home. He was hooked.

Ballard didn’t want to write about the typical newspaper reporter. His friend Jim Lawson worked at Universal Studios and was often called on to get stars out of trouble. Ballard liked the idea, knowing he had the studio experience to write realistically.  Using the phone book to help with names, that very night, around midnight, he started writing. About five in the morning, he had a 10,000-word story featuring Bill Lennox. He mailed the manuscript off and went to bed.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #1

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #1

Gat_GooseDavis

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandlers’ The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Of course, we’re all friends here at Black Gate. But if you’re my friend on Facebook, you have probably seen at least one of my Back Deck Pulp posts (I mean; how could you miss them?). I am reading a TON of pulp stories and also reading info on pulpsters for A (Black) Gat in the Hand. And when the weather permits, I’ve been sitting on my very nice back deck and taking a picture with the story of the moment. I include a bit of info on the picture’s story or author or magazine issue. Thus, ‘Back Deck Pulp.’

I think they’re neat, myself. And most of the topics I cover will end up being A (Black) Gat in the Hand posts. Friend me on FB and see what I’ve been writing about.

Well, I started collecting all those posts and discovered that I’ve already done enough for at least two Black Gate essays. So, here’s the first. It’s very informal, and it doesn’t read like a normal post: think of it like an anthology of short stories. There’s no continual narrative – But there’s some good pulp info! I made very minimal changes and most read exactly as the original FB post did.

NORBERT DAVIS/BEN SHALEY

Today’s Back Deck Pulp is Norbert Davis’ “Red Goose,” the first of his two Black Mask stories featuring PI Ben Shaley.

When Raymond Chandler began writing for the pulps, he said that “Red Goose” impressed him more than any other tale he had read. Years later, he said he had not forgotten it.

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