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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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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dime Detective – August, 1939

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Dime Detective – August, 1939

Gat_DimeDetectiveAugust1939

“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)

Dime Detective hit newsstands in November of 1931. The pulp would become Black Mask’s most enduring competition. In fact, Black Mask would be bought by Dime Detective’s publisher and the latter would outlast the legendary magazine. I’m a big fan of Dime Detective and I’m working on a post about the magazine for Todd Vick’s excellent pulp blog, On An Underwood #5 (I’m sure you deduced that it’s Robert E. Howard-centric!).

Editor Kenneth S. White was given marching orders to lure as many Black Mask writers as he could, offering an extra penny a word – a palpable pulp inducement! Most pulps paid one (or even less!) cent per word. Two cents was a desirable wage, which is why so many of the successful pulpsters turned out such prodigious word counts. They needed to just to make a living. Black Mask paid three cents a word, indicative of its status and quality. Dime Detective offering an extra penny a word was significant bait.

Many of Black Mask’s writers jumped ship: Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick Nebel, Carroll John Daly, T.T. Flynn and Frederick C. Davis among them. Norbert Davis, whose hardboiled humor wasn’t to editor Cap Shaw’s taste, flourished at Dime Detective. Davis is one of my favorites, which you surely know because you read this A (Black) Gat in the Hand post a few weeks ago!

When Shaw was relieved of duties in 1936, Raymond Chandler would quit Black Mask and write for Dime Detective.

Billing itself as “twice as good for half the price” (Black Mask cost twenty cents), Dime Detective lasted until August, 1953, by which time the paperback revolution had killed the pulps. Black Mask had packed it in after the March, 1950 issue.

The August, 1939 issue of Dime Detective screams out ‘Quality!’ It included Raymond Chandler’s “Trouble is My Business,” featuring his Philip Marlowe-ish John Dalmas. It effectively marked the end of his writing detective stories for the pulps. There would be one more mystery in Detective Story, but with The Big Sleep coming out in 1939, followed by Farwell My Lovely in 1940, he worked the detective novel going forward. In the lexicon of hardboiled, it’s Hammett, Chandler and everyone else (Some are inclined to make it a threesome with Ross MacDonald, but I’m not in that camp). Chandler wanted to write literary hardboiled stories. He succeeded. Sometimes, his prose is beautiful. Other times, it is overly pretentious. His plotting is…complex. I used to dislike Chandler’s works, but I’m warming up to him.

Carroll John Daly’s Race Williams (present here in “Gangman’s Gallows”) was massively popular in the pages of Black Mask in the twenties and early thirties – even though editor Joseph Shaw did not like Daly’s writing. Williams came to Dime Detective with Daly and appeared in 21 stories; three more the author’s rather ridiculous Vee Brown  (I’m not a big fan of crusading employees of the District Attorney who write Brill Building-type smash hits in their off time, making them wealthy).

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: D. L. Champion’s Rex Sackler

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: D. L. Champion’s Rex Sackler

Gat_SacklerDeath

“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)

Only T.T. Flynn (80), Frederick C. Davis (73) and Carroll John Daly (53) appeared in Dime Detective more often than D’arcy Lyndon Champion, who was in 47 issues. Twenty-nine of those were Inspector Allhoff stories (behind only Frederick Nebel’s Cardigan and John Lawrence’s the Marquis of Broadway).

Allhoff was an unpleasant, kind of psychotic, legless former cop who still worked with the police. Bill Pronzini wrote that Champion “took the Nero Wolfe formula and gave it a perverse twist.” You can find a collection with several of the Allhoff stories from Altus Press. A second volume will be released at PulpFest this summer.

The Phantom Detective was the second pulp hero magazine star, after The Shadow, appearing one month before Lester Dent’s/Kenneth Robeson’s Doc Savage. Champion was the primary writer of the early stories under the name Jack D’arcy. He had many other series characters, including hypochondriac Mexican PI Mariano Mercado (another Altus collection) and penny-pinching detective Rex Sackler.

I’ve only found one Rex Sackler tale, “Death Stops Payment,” which is included in the Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. Sackler appeared in three issues of Detective Fiction Weekly before moving to Black Mask for twenty-six more. There haven’t been any Sackler collections at all; even in electronic format. Which is a SHAME! Sackler brings to mind the humorous stories of the vastly under-appreciated Norbert Davis (who, of course, you read about here…).

Sackler is so cheap he makes Scrooge look like philanthropist (the pre-ghosts Scrooge). He hates paying Joey Graham, his street-smart assistant, his hard-earned wages. And knowing Graham’s weakness for gambling, he entices his employee into losing part of his pay right back to him. Graham knows what’s happening, but he can’t resist the lure.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ Ben Shaley

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ Ben Shaley

Gat_DavisDime

“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)

Like many pulpsters, Norbert Davis wrote for several different markets, such as westerns, romance and war stories. But he was at his best in the private eye and mystery field. Davis could write standard hardboiled fare, but he excelled at mixing humor into the genre, and many argue he did it better than anyone else.

Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, legendary editor of Black Mask, didn’t feel that Davis’ hardboiled humor fit in to the magazine and the writer only managed to break into Black Mask five times between 1932 and 1937.  Davis had success in other markets, however, with eighteen stories seeing print in 1936, for example. And several stories appeared in Black Mask after Shaw departed.

Ben Shaley appeared in the February and April, 1934 issues of Black Mask and represent two of the five Davis stories that Shaw chose to print.

Shaley was a Los Angeles PI introduced in “Red Goose.” I like Davis’ description: ‘Shaley was bonily tall. He had a thin, tanned face with bitterly heavy lines in it. He looked calm; but he looked like he was being calm on purpose – as though he was consciously holding himself in. He had an air of hardboiled confidence.’

The humor that Davis is best known for is pretty much absent from this story, but that proves he could hold his own writing ‘straight’ hardboiled. Though Shaley’s exasperation with the nerdy museum curator, as the detective tries to lay the groundwork for the case is amusing.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — January, 1935

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — January, 1935

BlackMask_January1935

“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)

Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw was still at the helm of Black Mask in January of 1935, when Raymond Chandler’s “Killer in the Rain” scored the cover. But this issue also included stories by Frederick Nebel, Erle Stanley Gardner, George Harmon Coxe and Roger Torrey. All that for fifteen cents!

“Killer in the Rain” featured Carmady. I’m in the camp that feels all of Chandler’s PIs: Carmady, Ted Carmady, Ted Malvern and John Dalmas were all essentially Philip Marlowe with slight differences. Carmady appeared in six stories – all in Black Mask.

The story was heavily cannibalized for Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep. Carmen Dravec became Carmen Sternwood, played memorably by Martha Vickers in the HumphreyBogart film. Two other Carmady stories, “The Curtain” and “Finger Man,” were also used. I think that “Killer in the Rain” is a strong story on its own and is definitely worth reading. I’m tinkering with ideas for a separate post on this story.

Frederick Nebel, whose Tough Dick Donahue (subject of an earlier post in the series) would replace The Continental Op when Dashiell Hammett left the pulps, provided Black Mask readers with the twenty-eighth adventure featuring Captain Steve MacBride of the Richmond City Police and newsman Kennedy of the Free Press. MacBride is a tough, by-the-book cop, while Kennedy is a hard-drinking smart aleck reporter. However, both are committed to justice and cleaning up corrupt Richmond City.

Except for one story (“Hell on Wheels” – Dime Detective), the entire series appeared in Black Mask. The collection has been reprinted in a three-volume series from Altus Press.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Walsh

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Thomas Walsh

Gat_WalshDiamonds“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)

Eighteen years after writing his first story, Thomas Walsh’s 1951 debut novel, Nightmare in Manhattan, won an Edgar Award. Twenty-seven years later in 1978, he picked up another Edgar for the short story “Chance After Chance.” That is impressive! Walsh wrote a half-dozen stories for Black Mask in the thirties and his “Best Man” was included by Joseph Shaw in his prestigious Hard-Boiled Omnibus.

“Double Check” appeared in the July, 1933 issue of Black Mask, which also included stories by Raoul Whitfield (Jo Gar), Erle Stanley Gardner (Ken Corning), Frederick Nebel (Tough Dick Donahue) and Carroll John Daly (Race Williams). How’s that for less than a quarter?!

It’s a buddy cop story – except the two men aren’t buddies. Flaherty is well-dressed, small and the smart detective. Mike Martin is big, rough, not the quickest thinker and looks rumpled. It’s brains and brawn.

A banker named Conrad Devine is being threatened, presumably with death, if he doesn’t pay out.

Flaherty constantly pokes at Martin, annoying the bigger man. More than once, Martin’s exasperation with his temporary partner is expressed as “I’m gonna lay you like a rug.”

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With a (Black) Gat: Frederick Nebel’s Donahue

With a (Black) Gat: Frederick Nebel’s Donahue

BlackMask_August1931(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Carroll John Daly’s action-packed adventures of Race Williams sold more copies of Black Mask than any other author’s stories. But editor Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, who was willing to hold his nose and put Williams on the cover, considered the far more literate Dashiell Hammett to be the magazine’s cornerstone.

In January of 1930, the final installment of The Maltese Falcon appeared in Black Mask. A Continental Op story followed in February, then the next three months saw the stories that would become The Glass Key. But at the peak of his pulp abilities, Hammett left the genre. He was interested in the easy money of Hollywood and the better paying ‘slick’ magazines. He bid adieu to Black Mask in November of 1930.

Shaw had lost his best writer. The irreplaceable Hammett had to be replaced. He turned to Frederick Nebel, whose MacBride and Kennedy stories had appeared over a dozen times. That November issue of Black Mask included the thirty-sixth and final Continental Op story, “Death and Company.” It also featured “Rough Justice,” the first tale of Donahue of the Inter-State agency.

After the phenomenal success of The Maltese Falcon, Shaw had urged Hammett to write more stories featuring Sam Spade. Dash wasn’t interested and not only refused, but he shortly thereafter left the magazine forever. Though, he did write three more Spade stories in 1932 for the slicks. Shaw tagged the reliable Nebel to provide Black Mask readers with a tough private eye to replace the immensely popular Continental Op. The writer most certainly did that.

In “Rough Justice,” the Irish New York City PI, a former cop bounced from the force for being too honest, finds himself in sweltering St. Louis. In August of 1931 Donahue would return to the Arch City in “Spare the Rod.” In between, Nebel wrote a three-story serial of connected adventures that appeared in consecutive issues.

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