Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday's "Forgotten" Magazines: Dorothy McIlwraith, ed.: WEIRD TALES (March 1948); Howard Browne, ed.: FANTASTIC ADVENTURES (July 1951)

There were two booksellers set up at the NoirCon, a biannual convention wherein I managed (between work obligations, social obligations, and simple exhaustion) to catch about a third of the planned events, at least those at the Society Hill Playhouse. Happily, I did get to meet, non-virtually, Patti and Phil Abbott, Scott Cupp, and Cullen Gallagher, as well as a small slew of other writers and fans (Howard Rodman, the younger, was startled to see me, as I apparently strongly resemble a lifelong friend of his; my response to this was to say, in regard to his friend's regard, "Poor bastard!"). I dropped some change with both sets of booksellers, a number of items, including the promise of Damned Near Dead II, from the new-book vendor, Farley's (based in New Hope), and found myself gravitating toward some decent-condition pulps with the used-book dealers, slightly overpaying for a couple of Weird Tales issues and a Fantastic Adventures.

(As I write, a bulletin comes across NPR noting the merger of Newsweek and The Daily Beast..."Newsbeast" will be all over search engines by midnight.)(Tina Brown has become the first female editor of Newsweek...which at this late date seems a bit odd, particularly as it was under the control of Katherine Graham for quite some time. Certainly, all three of the major US fantasy-fiction magazines on the stands in 1950, Weird Tales, Fantastic Adventures, and Famous Fantastic Mysteries and its stablemate Fantastic Novels, were under women's direction at least in part, between McIlwraith at WT, FA and Amazing managing editor and primary editorial writer and letter-column conductor [Ms.] L. E. Shaffer, and editor Mary Gnaedinger at FFM and FN. But, then, of course, literature has always been More Trivial than Rilly Important Badly-Written news analysis, no? And pulp-magazine fantasy literature...I mean, infra-dig.)

And the two I choose to consider here are among the best issues the two magazines published...the 25th Anniversary issue of WT and the FA featuring Robert Bloch's novella "The Dead Don't Die!" and Theodore Sturgeon's "The Travelling Crag," along with decent or better stories by notable writers, including the best (by some distance--with the possible exception of editor Howard Browne himself) of the Ziff-Davis group of space-fillers, Philadelphia's own William P. McGivern.

Perhaps not so oddly, both magazines feature notable contributions by Bloch and Sturgeon, two of the more revolutionary writers in fantasy and horror, among other forms, of the day. The anniverasry issue of Weird Tales did its best to favor shorter work, so as to cram as many of the notable contributors to both the Farnsworth Wright (Dorothy McIlwraith's predecessor, who was mostly responsible in his cantankerous way for highlighting the work of Seabury Quinn, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Edmond Hamilton, Carl Jacobi and Clark Ashton Smith; Wright resigned for health reasons in 1940 after sixteen years) and the current regime (McIlwraith was mostly responsible for the prominence given the mature or post-slavishly-Lovecraftian work of Robert Bloch, and for featuring Manly Wade Wellman, Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, and such now-underappreciated contributors as Alison V. Harding and, in the last years leading up the magazine's first folding in 1954, Margaret St. Clair and Joseph Payne Brennan). Algernon Blackwood and H. Russell Wakefield being examples of horror-fiction writers, already well-established outside the magazine, who were drawn to contibute to WT throughout its original run. August Derleth, already well-established as regionalist and historical-fiction writer, became the most thoroughly enmeshed of this group of writers, as the greatest champion (and arguably also greatest corruptor!) of Lovecraft's legacy, but also a great friend of many other WT writers, through his and his partner Donald Wandrei's small press Arkham House.

This issue, once one is past the handsome cover by Lee Brown Coye (and the Listerine as scalp tonic ad on the inside--bacteria as dandruff-instigator...hmmm), one finds the editorial column largely given over to reminisces by Derleth and Quinn (the latter the most popular writer in the magazine in the Wright years, largely unread today except by pulp fans). I've just started Edmond Hamilton's story, but it feels so far like the kind of thoughtful, often even morose "weird-scientific" fiction of which he was the star provider for WT...though certainly both HPL and CA Smith would skirt that area often enough, and not they alone. (Hamilton saved most of his world-wrecking adventure mode for the more purely sf magazines.) Wakefield's "Ghost Hunt" is the first at least midly famous story from this issue, perhaps less for its own sake than as the source of a rather influential episode of the CBS Radio series Suspense, and in turn as perhaps at least partial inspiration for any number of "documentary" explorations of haunted houses, "live" on radio or television or in the surviving found footage from missing student filmmakers. The most widely-read and, in adaptation, -seen stories from the balance of the issue include what's probably still Bradbury's best suspense story, "The October Game," which is followed immediately by a solid Bloch story, "Catnip"--both widely reprinted, and "Catnip" adapted for the good television anthology series Darkroom; the Bradbury was included in the one early volume of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Random House book series not ghost-edited by Robert Arthur so much as by NBC censors, Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV. Lovecraft's contribution is a minor, rather sing-song, but not terrible, poem; Smith's unusually late story involves sinister crabs (an inspiration for Guy Smith?). Sturgeon's "The Professor's Teddy Bear" is another rather widely-reprinted story, and with good reason, as it packs an remarkable amount of unease into its few words; the Blackwood wraps the magazine (one of his BBC reading stories?) and is handsomely illustrated by Boris fact, Coye, Dolgov and John Giunta are consistently impressive throughout.

Three years later, and for five cents more (over thirty more but less-text-heavy pages), Fantastic Adventures offers a rather less well-composed cover (Robert Gibson Jones could certainly paint a woman figure to the cheesecake standards asked of him, but his women characters tend to seem midly suprised or a bit put out by the supernatural menaces that have snared them). But this issue offers an even better Robert Bloch story, this one a long novelet about latter-day zombies (well before the creatures were beaten back up out of the ground), and the superior illustrator Virgil Finlay has a bit of fun, as well, in portraying the protagonist as Robert Bloch, himself. This story has been collected several times, including fairly recently in Stephen Jones's The Mammoth Book of Zombies, and was adapted for a 1975 television movie, title dropping the exclamation mark (Ziff-Davis magazines in those years loved exclamation points) Romero, and post the great success of The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler as tv movies, among a few others. The Sturgeon, a shorter novelet, is not quite up to his best, but is still readable if a little too easily jocular at first (the kind of exercise a writer doest to get himself going at the keyboard, and this story does date from a period in which Sturgeon was fighting out of his first great writer's block. I've not yet had an opportunity to read the Clifford Simak or Walt Sheldon stories, but their presence in this issue, when surrounding issues are full of contributions from the usual Z-D stable under the usual set of pseudonyms, most issues lightly sprinkled with "outsider" contributions but rarely so much as in this issue, makes me wonder if the famously casual editor Howard Browne wanted to make a few genuinely good issues, in part as illustration, for office-planning/argument's sake, of what he would eventually do with the semi-slick, well-budgeted and fitfully impressive new magazine Fantastic Z-D would first offer in 1952. Ziff and Davis had briefly considering upgrading the packages of Fantastic Adventures and sfnal stablemate Amazing in 1950, perhaps in part in response to the greater sales other competing upgraded established sf titles were seeing, and the mild splash made by the new Magazine of Fantasy (which added "and Science Fiction" to its title witht he second issue), particularly the smashing commercial success of the upgraded Startling Stories and the new Galaxy in 1950-51. But also notable in this issue is that the best of the Z-D stable, young McGivern, not yet ready to strike out on his own with such novels as The Big Heat and Odds Against Tomorrow, and the reliable and occasionally impressive Rog Phillips, along with the ubiquitous and tolerable Paul Fairman (who would succeed Browne as an even more casual editor of the Z-D fiction group, and then move on to a stint as managing editor at Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine after B.G. Davis quit Z-D and bought EQMM to start his new Davis Publications with), are the only "regulars" to contribute fiction, as distinct from the usual many notional filler articles...and while Phillips's is a pleasant, unremarkable bit of whimsey (and the Fairman unsuprisingly less than that), the McGivern is an engaging and slightly haunting bit of surrealism that neatly foreshadows the early major story by Thomas Disch, "Descending" (in Cele Lalli's consistently interesting Fantastic in 1964)...only in the latter, the central metaphor is a protagonist coping with a Kafkaesque array of endlessly descending escalators, while in the McGivern, the protagonist is trapped in a building where the elevator will only go, endlessly, upward...a no more cheering prospect, if less freighted with literary reference in this story than is the Disch. The illustrations in the issue are all professional and usually amusing enough, albeit except for the inside-joking Finlay not as distinctive as the WT doubt in response to editorial policy.

(Indices courtesy of ISFDb)
Title: Weird Tales, March 1948
Editor: Dorothy McIlwraith
Year: 1948-03-00
Publisher: Weird Tales (Short Stories, Inc.)
Price: $0.20
Pages: 98
Binding: Pulp
Cover: Lee Brown Coye
Notes: Vol. 40, No. 3.
Interior art credit for "The House" per Jaffery & Cook The Collector's Index to Weird Tales
2 • Weird Tales (masthead) • (1941) • interior artwork by Hannes Bok
3 • The Eyrie (Weird Tales, March 1948) • [The Eyrie] • essay by Dorothy McIlwraith
3 • 25th Anniversary Issue • essay by August Derleth
3 • Weird Tales, a Retrospect • essay by Seabury Quinn
4 • The Might-Have-Been • novelette by Edmond Hamilton
5 • The Might-Have-Been • interior artwork by Lee Brown Coye
16 • Ghost Hunt • shortstory by H. Russell Wakefield
16 • Ghost Hunt • interior artwork by Lee Brown Coye
19 • Ghost Hunt • interior artwork by E. J. Beaumont
20 • The Leonardo Rondache • [John Thurnstone] • shortstory by Manly Wade Wellman
20 • The Leonardo Rondache • interior artwork by Boris Dolgov
27 • The House • (1920) • poem by H. P. Lovecraft
27 • The House • interior artwork by Boris Dolgov
28 • The Coming of M. Alkerhaus • novelette by Allison V. Harding
29 • The Coming of M. Alkerhaus • interior artwork by John Giunta
38 • The La Prello Paper • (1948) • shortstory by Carl Jacobi
38 • The La Prello Paper • interior artwork by John Giunta
44 • Something in Wood • shortstory by August Derleth
44 • Something in Wood • interior artwork by Boris Dolgov
52 • The October Game • (1948) • shortstory by Ray Bradbury
52 • The October Game • interior artwork by Lee Brown Coye
57 • Catnip • (1948) • shortstory by Robert Bloch
57 • Catnip • interior artwork by Boris Dolgov
64 • The Master of the Crabs • (1934) • shortstory by Clark Ashton Smith
64 • The Master of the Crabs • interior artwork by Lee Brown Coye
72 • The Professor's Teddy Bear • shortstory by Theodore Sturgeon (aka The Professor's Teddy-Bear)
72 • The Professor's Teddy Bear • interior artwork by Lee Brown Coye
78 • The Merrow • (1948) • shortstory by Seabury Quinn
78 • The Merrow • interior artwork by Lee Brown Coye
87 • Roman Remains • shortstory by Algernon Blackwood
87 • Roman Remains • interior artwork by Boris Dolgov

Title: Fantastic Adventures, July 1951
Editor: Howard Browne
Year: 1951-07-00
Publisher: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company
Price: $0.25
Pages: 132
Binding: Pulp
Cover: Robert Gibson Jones
Notes: Volume 13, Number 7.
Cover suggested by "The Dead Don't Die!".
Managing Editor L. E. Shaffer initials the editorial with the initials 'LES'.
Interior artwork credited for each story on the table of contents.
Contents (view Concise Listing)
fep • Men Behind Fantastic Adventures: Robert Bloch • essay by Robert Bloch
6 • The Editor's Notebook (Fantastic Adventures, July 1951) • [The Editor's Notebook (Fantastic Adventures)] • essay by L. E. Shaffer
7 • The Moon? Maybe . . . • essay by Henry Bott [as by Charles Recour ]
7 • Beyond the Veil . . . • essay by John Weston
8 • The Dead Don't Die! • novella by Robert Bloch
8 • The Dead Don't Die! • interior artwork by Virgil Finlay
23 • The Dead Don't Die! [2] • interior artwork by Virgil Finlay
54 • The Magic Transformation • essay by E. Bruce Yaches
54 • Too Good to Be Used! • essay by Pearl Miller
55 • The Cancerous Virus! • essay by Carter T. Wainwright
55 • How Deep Is the Ocean . . .? • essay by Merritt Linn
56 • There's No Way Out! • shortstory by William P. McGivern
56 • There's No Way Out! • interior artwork by Frank Navarro
64 • Just Bleed Old Mother Earth • essay by Salem Lane
65 • "You're Crazy, Doc!" • essay by Sandy Miller
65 • The Zeroth Law! • essay by Jon Barry
66 • The President Will See You . . . • shortstory by Rog Phillips
66 • The President Will See You . . . • interior artwork by Murphy Anderson
71 • Law of the Universe • essay by Peter Dakin
71 • Older Even than Methuselah • essay by U. Arteaux
72 • "You'll Never Go Home Again!" • interior artwork by Leo Ramon Summers
72 • "You'll Never Go Home Again!" • shortstory by Clifford D. Simak (aka Beachhead) [as by Clifford Simak ]
87 • The Universe of Hoyle • essay by John Fletcher
88 • Witness for the Defense • shortstory by Paul W. Fairman
88 • Witness for the Defense • interior artwork by Frank Navarro
93 • "Science and Life" • essay by William Karney
93 • Celestial Rock-Crusher • essay by Jonathon Peterson
94 • Mission Deferred • shortstory by Walt Sheldon
94 • Mission Deferred • interior artwork by Robert Gibson Jones
99 • Preview of Creation! • essay by Lee Owens
99 • The Shrinking Planet • essay by Dale Lord
100 • The Traveling Crag • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon
100 • The Traveling Crag • interior artwork by Lawrence
122 • Reader's Page (Fantastic Adventures, July 1951) • [Reader's Page (Fantastic Adventures)] • letter column conducted by L. E. Shaffer; letters from L. Sprague de Camp and several others
126 • Want to Race? • essay by Frederic Booth
126 • Panacea --- or Phoney? • essay by June Lurie
127 • Spoor from Space! • essay by A. T. Kedzie
128 • The Dying Skyscraper . . . • essay by Jack Winter

For more of Friday's "Forgotten" Books, please look to the guest example from Jeff Segal to post above mine later this morning, and to Patti Abbott's blog .

To Read the FANTASTIC ADVENTURES--the Bloch novella, the Sturgeon, the Simak, the interesting if not fully realized McGivern:…/Fantastic_Adventures_v13n07_1951-07


Scott Cupp said...

Todd - It was great to meet you at NoirCon and I am glad those pulps went to a good home. I looked and lusted after them but that was not in the budget. I do still read Seabury Quinn having picked up the three volume De Grandin set from Battered Silicon Dispatch Box a few years ago. I pull out on the volumes and read a story or two and then put it back on the shelf. It will last quite a while that way. I'm always interested in seeing what you choose for FFB and these two are fun.

George said...

Gorgeous covers! Like Scott, I'm fond of Seabury Quinn. Manly Wade Wellman slyly refers to De Grandin in several of his books.

mybillcrider said...

I saw that TV movie of "The Dead Don't Die" back in '75. All I remember is that it was a disappointment.

Todd Mason said...

Very good to meet you, as well, Scott...and sorry I was even more exhausted than I gathered you were. Having sampled a couple of Seabury Quinn reprints here and there (mostly as reprinted in Robert Lowndes's STARTLING MYSTERY STORIES...which he founded in part so he wouldn't have to run Quinn stories in the MAGAZINE OF HORROR much...I can see why you might space them out.)

I'm not saying they're terrible, George...they do have a nostalgic swing, certainly...but I think Scott is suggesting that he wasn't compelled to sit down and tear through the set. I do love the Coye cover, even if it is less distinctive than much of his work, though some might say idiosyncratic instead. Wellman clearly was tipping his hat to another pro (WT was never a stranger to the in-joke), as well as acknowledging that they both did a lot of psychic investigation series stories for WT...the Thunstone and Pursuivant series were not quite up to the John the Balladeer stories, but were their parents, clearly. (I think Wellman's standalones for WT were better.)

Bill, I don't think I've ever managed to catch the tv film; I certainly don't remember it. I've heard mixed things about it, the consensus echoing your lack of enthusiam; most of the most positive from fans of director Curtis Harrington.

TM linking to another RG Jones cover for FA said...

Jones's cover for Fritz Leiber's YOU'RE ALL ALONE in FA was similarly slightly off, in terms of the reaction of the woman in the painting, but it's a better piece of work, I'd say...for another of the best issues of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, itself founded in considerable part as a home for Edgar Rice Burroughs stories and other work that Ray Palmer didn't feel he could run in his AMAZING...FA initally was intended as a less "pulpy" effort, much as FANTASTIC would be.

Hit the link on my initials to see it...

C. Margery Kempe said...

Them's some fabulous covers! There's a move to recapture the lost retro style in some recent mags (and a recent erotica anthology with a pulp cover the name of which is escaping me but Rachel Cramer Bussel mentioned it...).

TM linking Pulp of the Day captioning said...

While I have a sneaking fondness for the YOU'RE ALL ALONE cover, I doubt I'll ever completely warm to the DEAD DON'T DIE...PULP OF THE DAY encourages captioning of pulps at the link:

or hit my initials.

TM linking to another POTD caption contest said...

They did slightly better with the YAA cover:

Paul D Brazill said...

I like the Weird Tales one. Even the logo gives me a tingle, and I've never seen it in the flesh.

BV Lawson said...

Like Paul, I'm leaning more toward the "Weird Tales" option, but it's not just the cover -- I still have "fond" memories of H.P. Lovecraft stories scaring the bejesus out of my pre-teen self, so I'd go for anything with a Lovecraft offering, even a so-so poem. Looks like some terrific tales in there.

Todd Mason said...

Oh, by me, Lee Brown Coye wins head to head with Robert Gibson Jones almost any way it's sliced. And WEIRD TALES was from year to year a better magazine, but I preferred the latter-day WT writers to the first gen of stars...Fritz Leiber, not in this issue, might be the best of them all, a tough call when the other contestants are Bloch, Wellman, and Sturgeon. All four of these guys, augmented by the likes of St. Clair and Bradbury and all, were better than Lovecraft, Howard, Quinn, and even CA Smith, the best writer as writer of the early stars. They still are. The Library of America choosing to honor Lovecraft is more about his influence, and their ignorance of people who have done better, than due to his actual work.

Todd Mason said...

A bit like the Library of America ignoring Chandler, James Cain, Horace McCoy, John MacDonald and/or Ross Macdonald in favor of a set of the selected works of Carroll John Daly.

Evan Lewis said...

Wish I had both of these. Pretty sure I have only one or two issues of each title.

Todd Mason said...

These are two to have, among the run, Evan. Though as Mike Ashley notes, even the most trivial issues of FA tend to be decent reads for pulp fans...and some of the early issues are probably necessary for serious ER Burroughs fans, as his last steady market.