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Monday, September 27, 2021

Cantor and Color Make Whoopee

 When Apostles of Pep Were Among Us

Parts of Whoopee! are really funny, as is creaky underpinning and whole show that is Eddie Cantor, 20’s conception of what clicked in comedy derived from stages, this his overall best, with two-color Technicolor poured over dance numbers by early applier Busby Berkeley. I read Richard Barrios' expert coverage in A Song in the Dark and was guided to thirteen-year-old (!) Betty Grable (Didn't they check birth certificates at Goldwyn Girl round-up?) as chorine to give voice for an opener that will transport us close as anything to Broadway as it was in 1928-29 when Whoopee! did 407 performances at the New Amsterdam on Broadway, 12/28 to 11/29. Ticket sales averaged $40K a week, stellar for legit if smaller spud beside what movies by then could realize, especially with new-arrived talkies speeding up turnstiles (The Cock-Eyed World at the Roxy drew $173,391 for its opening frame). Whatever the comparisons, Whoopee was Broadway’s top earning musical during 1928-29, so clearly there was more than just Marx Bros. getting live laughs in those days, Cantor more-so a favorite for headlining the Ziegfeld Follies. Whoopee! on disc has strongest whiff of “live” performing from vanished epoch, my “creaky” applied only in filmic sense, but even at that, Whoopee! vaults ahead of much that came out during 1930. Warner Archive's DVD seems juiced at times, unless two-color Technicolor really was able to capture blues, which I always understood it could not. A still OK disc, if not an altogether accurate one. There must be overpowering temptation to "fix" old movies where easily done so at modern transfer desks.

Cantor Cavorts as The Kid From Spain

was meeting of minds between Samuel Goldwyn and Florenz Ziegfeld, the latter eased aside by stronger will of the former. The musical-comedy was transposed more-less as was, though songs we’d like are missing, Love Me Or Leave Me less comedic than others of the score, omissions including also I Faw Down and Go Boom, while Eddie’s signature tune, Makin’ Whoopee, stayed evermore in his repertoire, as familiar perhaps to 50’s TV viewers as it had been for showgoers in 1928-29, Eddie inevitably reviving it anytime, anywhere, he was invited to perform. Part of ongoing Cantor charm was his association with silly songs, a balm to fans looking back from the 50’s to times that were simpler, and many thought, better. He truly was the “Apostle of Pep.” Colgate’s Comedy Hour used Cantor, would have continued doing so, but for health collapse that foreclosed strenuous comedy, which Eddie’s always had been. Still, the old routines could be managed so long as he stood relatively still, not the Eddie his public had known, but necessity that had to be met. He had been among first to do “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” kept on right to a point where he no longer could. There was comfort in Cantor taking a tune most saw as weird artifact (look at Bananas treatment by Sabrina), but embraced anyway, just because no one pretended it to be anything other than absurd, and besides, hadn’t the fifties given us “How Much Is That Doggy In the Window”?

A Tab Version of Whoopee Goes On Tour, "Supervised" By An Absent Eddie

Spending was demonic, a cool million when most features got done for a quarter or less of that, but Whoopee! plus Eddie Cantor was considered a surest thing around, which it was, provided you knew vaudeville and Cantor's domination of it. But 1930 was before Eddie got firm hold of radio millions (as in listeners), so his public was an urban one, as was approach to humor recognized less by hix/stix that Goldwyn/UA had to serve. Eddie sings his ribald songs, the title one lyrically tamed for tenderer stub-holding sensibilities. Reviewer of the play Robert E. Sherwood, for Life, pointed out verse as in “It’s not the chorus girl’s voice that gets her the big Rolls Royce --- It’s making whoopee!” This and spray of verbal naughties were pared, bow to provincial crowds not accustomed to Cantor’s freewheeling. Latter was among secrets of his live-performer success, for no two renditions of Whoopee were the same, Eddie following own dictates as to what to say or do on a given night. His stage commenting even on events that may have happened that very afternoon made jibes play like a late edition just on streets outside the New Amsterdam. You could, and many did, go see Whoopee multiple times to hear what was on Cantor's mind, a technique others, like Will Rogers, famously used, but Eddie’s was all the funnier by breaking often free of “book” portions, him nonconformist in addition to being funny. Outsiders got the flavor of New York and certainly Broadway from ultimate insider that was Cantor. He had been raised in Gotham (Lower East Side), took the town for his own, reflected it better than virtually anyone on any stage. If his act was at times “clubby,” well that was OK too, for Eddie was exotic in his ethnic displays, and to heck with pleasing, or even being understood by, everybody, though fortunately he was magnetic enough to pull all beneath his big tent.

Broadway was principally about parading its uniqueness, artists like Cantor not inclined to overlap with anyone else’s approach. Look at singularity of him, Will Rogers, Jolson, W.C. Fields, Fanny Brice, Ed Wynn --- you’d not confuse a particle of these with the others, or anybody, question being how specialness might translate someday to movies, where please-all-and-sundry was steadfastly the rule, Broadway as one’s own playpen suddenly a place to confine rather than bask in. Cantor had to be smoothed out for widest consumption, an account well given by Henry Jenkins in his book, What Made Pistachio Nuts?. Eddie could cut loose at the Follies or Roof Garden, ad-libbing near the knuckle of permissive talk, but movies were not of mind to let him perform fully his way, a devil's bargain he recognized and resigned to. There was screen awareness of him from shorts done in a last year and released by Paramount, one reel at most of Cantor plus patter, best sampling a piece called Midnight Frolic, set at one of his Roof Garden shows, albeit Astoria-reconstructed, still close enough to seem authentic. We look at the grey image and wonder if this was as good as Eddie got, hardly a fair comparison to him doing routines when they were freshest, and before live crowds. Midnight Frolic first-ran in tandem (3/29) with The Letter, starring Jeanne Eagels, a heavy dose for which Cantor was welcome relief. To that point, film use of Cantor was a matter of tries to encourage (Kid Boots), but later to fail (Special Delivery). Both were silent features, neither made his job simpler. Eddie headlined one of the early DeForest reels where we hear him speak, also sing, stage-derived material, but how many saw this experimental bit, shown as it was in but few venues, and hardly noticed by a mainstream?

Prolific Eddie Cantor and Family

Eddie had a cameo as himself in Glorifying The American Girl, in fact an extended routine, but the feature came late in a musicals cycle and drew less attention than if it arrived sooner. A lot no doubt assumed Whoopee! was Cantor’s debut on film 
(note the movie’s exclamation point as opposed to the play which went without the !), and for extraordinary effort applied here, it might as well have been. Whoopee!'s value beyond entertaining, which it still does, is giving us Broadway in something like the flesh, pink as piglets per two-color with charm of its narrow range. Eddie Cantor would go merry way of clowning for Goldwyn, a plushest fun-maker of any lead comic during the 30's. You could wish others of the era had half so much money behind their vehicles, and besides, Eddie kept a pretty high standard by his measure, even if viewers find him today as inaccessible as, say, Joe E. Brown, but Brown was enormously popular too for a lengthy vogue, so again, maybe 30’s folk knew something we don’t. Goldwyn was generous to his star hire, a five-year pact from 1930-31, $100K per vehicle with ten percent of profits for sweetener, at rate of one feature per year. If you like Eddie, each serves fine. I looked at Palmy Days and Roman Scandals recently and laughed. Kid Millions has a wrap reel in newly christened Three-Color Technicolor that made 16mm prints a collector grail at one time … Eddie and Our Gang kids loose in a massive deco Ice Cream factory, pure Classic Era pleasure.

Cantor seems to have mastered all mediums --- recording when it was primitive, and then more developed, a radio program to go the distance, received warmly on television as that newest of forms gave 
even oldest hands from vaudeville new relevance. You could say Eddie was too “hot” for the mellow tube, though circumstances softened his act by the 50’s to incorporate as much nostalgia for his and others’ past peak, recreating hoke with troupers still babies or unborn when he started out (Eddie continued “discovering” young talent, Eddie Fisher among these). Slowdown was made necessary by heart ailment that plagued Cantor from the early 50's to the end that was 1964. This gave him time to regroup and perhaps reflect, as evidenced by another memoir, Take My Life, through spirited dictation of which his stenographer and ghost assist could barely keep up. Energy was slowed, but not Eddie’s enthusiasm, still immense and particularly so when he took account of glory days and personalities he shared them with. He had a room where walls displayed them all. Mention Bill Fields or Will Rogers and he could talk a staccato blue streak. I don’t know of anyone in show business who so appreciated other people’s talent as Cantor did. He never went a scorched earth route, but would spell out friend oddities which, coming from Eddie, sounded like expression of endearment. A for-instance: pal Fred Allen could never click on television because he simply disliked people, said Cantor matter of fact. Well, maybe Fred himself wouldn’t have denied that.

Had he lived longer, Eddie would undoubtedly have been a willing and enthusiastic resource for show-era researchers. Apart from entertaining, he was revered the while (a long while, virtually his entertainer lifetime) for charity work, known well for length/breadth, the March of Dimes his creation. Eddie took that idea straight to Roosevelt’s office, door of which was always open to him. Family members (grandchildren) keep Eddie alive with DVD releases (“Lost Performances”), made up of rare stuff. Admirable effort, if a steep climb to maintain visibility. You Tube is full of him, including Colgate shows, his Person To Person with Ed Murrow, much more. Warner Archive did a nice box of the Goldwyn comedies, save Whoopee! and Kid Millions, which were offered separately. Beyond Goldwyns, the Archive has Show Business, Thank Your Lucky Stars, others, while Fox on Demand offers Ali Baba Goes To Town (but check reviews, several there say it is a lousy transfer).

Monday, September 20, 2021

Where Great Art Was Carved By Hands

Above and Two Images Below, Examples of Wood Engraving from 1842

 Pen and Ink the Master Stroke

Someone’s devoted effort of a scrapbook again lights a way to understanding how movies were sold forever ago. Pen and ink as ad basis would be lost as progress of printing went hand in hand with expulsion of silent filmgoing, high contrast black and white drawings for newspaper promotion given way to photographic rendition of show folk being promoted. “Halftone” broke up an image into black dots on a white background, or white dots on a black background, these to achieve “a credible simulation of a photograph.” Where dots were small enough, they would not register to the human eye, but could be detected where the image was examined close. Reproduction in a newspaper was sufficiently poor for halftones to get by, but none flattered subjects of a so-called photo, certainly not in comparison with pen and ink, dynamism a given where the artist was capable as most were at the time. Pen and ink in hindsight seems a lost art sacrificed for no good reason. There were those who’d say as much for voiceless storytelling, that argument made and lost as amusement choice was made for a public rather than in concert with their wishes.

Pen and ink ads, seen but infrequent after the very early thirties, seem another category of lost art, or so I thought until search for P&I at You Tube found a fresh generation holding torch aloft for what might be thought a technique gone forever. These artists don’t just fan-follow, they apply and instruct, having devoted creative lives to recapture of pen and ink as preferred format of expression. I wound up taking a YT art lesson of my own, made to realize (no surprise) that pen and ink drawing is no cinch. “What I don’t know, I sure as hell can learn,” says William Holden as Pike Bishop in The Wild Bunch, though Pike would surely be let down by my failure to make a go of what they call “representational art.”

Here, and Samples Below, of Pen and Ink Art That Was Photo Engraved

Photoengraving enabled pen and ink to spread through magazines and newspapers during the late 1800’s, having crowded out wood engraving, a hands-on and labor-intensive process not to last beyond a turn of the century. Photoengraving wasn’t easy either. You had to draw the ad or image, then trace it onto a metal or copper plate (those seeking a cheapest way chose tin), apply wax, ink, felt-like cloth or soft pads under heavy rollers. An engraver generally took over for these steps, as they required levels of expertise and repeated application of technique that artists for the most part lacked time or inclination to master. To draw an ad seems effort enough … but what came after daunts me more. I’ll not ask to be reincarnated as a printer, let alone an engraver. Precise work that, complex and exacting from start to finish. Nothing so requires patience and an eagle eye, not even the initial creation of an image. One could as easily transfer a restaurant menu to the head of a pin. Even explanation as given by the videos confound me. Were I not so enamored of pen and ink art, I would probably give it up as a bad job, or one completely beyond me.

One thing’s sure: distance between executing an ad and seeing it published was flush with hazard, two dozen ways to see work spoiled by a careless engraver, mishap printing, art shaved off for theatre policy or to promote another show at the expense of whatever you drew for. Long as a man got paid, then no worries, for it was all tomorrow’s fish wrap, and who ever confused movie ads with art? (Me, that’s who). There’s a chapter in The Art of Selling Movies about pen and ink ads. I called it lost art then and my feeling since is more so, especially as increased number turn up in album searches and amusement sheets yellowed with time. So much precise application of infinite gradations of pencil, then “color” that was black ink as realized in newspapers before fuller color could be reproduced on pages. Black-and-white for ads made a same argument for artistic primacy as movies using the same process. You got more mood and effect from those stark contrasts than any alternative proposed, deep-etched portraiture of star favorites more dramatic than dot depictions to diminish most if not all of them. The You Tubers made pen and ink look doable, if not simple. You have but to master line shading, hatching and cross-hatching, “scribble-doodle,” contour and cross-contour, and stippling --- and from there split atoms for an encore. Anyone might learn given talent, patience, concentration, proper tools, and did I say talent? This is where I stumble, kind of like last year when I tried to take up “Pickleball,” a venture I’d recommend to anyone who’d like to recapture joy of ninth-grade P.E.

I used to draw at school … comic strips, monster heads, flip books. My desktop was briefly a mural celebrating the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, which surely our sexton regretted having to wipe over. There was then a spark for art if latent and put aside since. Real drawing is one tough nut it seems. Tricks of pen and ink are spice on essential course that is composing a face, mission I’ve accomplished but for eyes, nose, mouth, jaw, and overall shape of the head. Way to live best with yourself is not to take up drawing unless there is ability, instinctive or otherwise bred-in, to build from. My effort was applied upon John Gilbert as he appears in His Glorious Night. I know not the most basic tenets of portraiture as demonstrated by a first pencil draft, then a next done on reflection of the failed first. Pen-ink artists knew what I clearly do not, pity being they aren’t here to guide me. Does one begin by shaping the head, or doing the eyes, then setting the hair and jawline? A chicken or egg argument, and I can’t figure which is correct. Maybe it comes down to individual style, and I’ve not found mine.

Contrast Milky, Dot-Driven Halftone at Left on this Ad, and Vivid Pen-Ink Rendition
 of Emil Jannings at Lower Right

Back in elementary, there were those that took art lessons from a lady up the street from school, pupils wanting to be there but slightly more than for piano instruction also thought necessary by parents wanting to raise offspring proper. I never got the lessons thanks to predisposition to draw Batmen, werewolves, what not, though piano did claim me, if briefly, and best forgot since. An artist is born, not made. Those who illustrated for a livelihood came by it on their own initiative, so says ninety-five percent of bios I see of those who became career artists. I’m inspired by magic woven from pen and ink ... Franklin Booth, Joseph Clement Coll, Charles Dana Gibson, each aware from beginnings of what they were put on this earth to do. We could all hope to duplicate them, but such gift comes to but precious few. Just trying, even if it’s to realize you haven’t got the stuff, is help toward appreciating the remarkable skill these artists had, and what the rest of us might aspire to, or maybe just enjoy the more for realizing how easy it isn't to draw well.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Boris Karloff Presents ...


Stories To Go Bump In The Dark

Occasion was Wally and Beaver wanting to go downtown for a horror combo, their having enjoyed Hot Rod Cuties and Rope Justice the previous week. Leave It To Beaver writers clearly had no respect for Saturday stuff as followed by children in the late 50’s, but a line of Ward’s stuck with me as what a then-generation of fathers had themselves grown up on. Ward at least understands basis for his boy’s enthusiasm, his having “seen Dracula four times and had a subscription to Weird Tales magazine” during long past youth. The line struck me for what it revealed not only of fictional Ward Cleaver, but also series staff. So there were grown men in the fifties and early sixties who once enjoyed chiller movies and scary mags. And here we thought such decay was our generation's alone. Someone went to Dracula in 1931, in fact, throngs did. My father even admitted to having been there at advanced age of twenty-four when surely vampires would not impress him unduly. I grew up assuming no grown-up but Forrest Ackerman cared about monsters. Others thought them silly, regressive, a bad influence. I might have looked askance upon any adult professing to like horror films. Hollywood did not help by making chillers childish and silly. Exception of The Haunting in 1963 was for me like eating off fine China at my aunt’s house on Thanksgiving. Surely a few past adolescence saw The Haunting too, but none acknowledged it to me. Horror could enter however, through a back door that was literature, enjoyment to be had in private, stepped up from pulp that once was Weird Tales and like kind. To this came Boris Karloff as surface Bogey Man, but erudite scholar beneath, dispensing spooky but tasteful tales we’d not be ashamed to be caught reading.

Karloff was a cultivated man. He attended public schools in England, King’s College in London. These I suspect offered more rigorous instruction than could be had from Ivy Leagues selling degrees today. Karloff enjoyed the company of others who read prodigious as he, among them Edmund Speare, an editor for Knopf, whose The World’s Great Short Stories --- Masterpieces of American, English, and Continental Literature had been a considerable success when first published in August 1942, five more printings by June 1945. It occurred to Speare that a collection of goose-bumpers, so-called Tales of Terror, might click if vetted by Sultan of Scares Karloff, credited as editor and penning an introduction in addition to helping with story selection. He and Speare drew on material dating from the nineteenth century forward. There was Poe, Joseph Conrad, Faulkner, Bram Stoker, plus others of less renown, each thought by the pair to merit inclusion. Fourteen tales in all, which I read because Boris Karloff recommended I read, a strongest of incentives (“Full marks,” he might say upon my completion --- why did I not curry such favor with instructors at school?). Karloff as connoisseur of fright fiction was known to me far back as when a series of comic books used his name and image for monthly cover art and as “host” to open stories. Tales of Terror appeared in 1943, obviously early for me, so a copy was latter-day got, distinctly second-hand and sans a dustjacket, but for a low price. The Karloff intro at five plus pages reminded me that here was a man seasoned in the arts and a more than capable guide to fiction worth reading. The yarns being short meant gratification was had within thirty to forty-five minutes, a best kind of reading for one restless as I sometimes can be (check e-mail, investigate noise in the carport, what makes the neighbor dog keep barking?).

If you couldn’t take Karloff word as to what chills, then no one was reliable. My second-hand Tales of Terror arrived by mail, worse for the wear, pulpwood paper the necessary wartime option, as it would remain for Karloff's next anthology, As The Darkness Falls (1946). Add intervening years and pages flake apart just for looking at them too hard. I made a pencil note and the point sank right through the yellowed parchment. A lot of copies must have sold because both books are common on used terms. With a dust cover, however, let alone intact and unworn, cost can run higher. I went to Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC for a faithful reproduction of what wrapped both books when new. You can’t tell them from originals, an enhancement for my time reading. Editor Karloff says he gave “help in compiling” the collection, but “major job of reading” went to Speare. Still, “stories literally rained on me by the hundreds," recalled Karloff, "for weeks on end I regaled myself at this wonderful feast and was a mass of delicious goose pimples.” Karloff had wit himself as a writer, enjoyed authority to pick out the best and weed out the rest, a “fine frenzy of egomania” he wished could “last forever.” The process took place during Karloff’s road tour for Arsenic and Old Lace, as he refers to conference and correspondence with Speare through a period of constant travel. Timing was perfect for Tales and Darkness, as Karloff had never enjoyed such prestige as he would for the extensive run of Arsenic. I bet every library and book stall in the country snatched up these volumes soon as they came available.

Panelists on Information Please: John Kieran, Franklin P. Adams, Boris Karloff, and Oscar Levant

Karloff as editor and interlocuter for these stories made sense, his intellect familiar to listeners of Information Please, a radio panel where never-easy questions were posed to regulars and guests, BK frequent among latter. I played an episode (2-20-42) where John Carradine joined the group, he and Karloff visiting “monsters” whose acumen was put to the test. As both occasionally recite from Shakespeare, Grimm Fairy Tales, Arabian Nights, or Joseph Conrad (a writer pet of Karloff’s), it seems unlikely they were briefed as to mere answers in advance, since their responses often amount to spontaneous performance. How humbling to hear those of past time who were broadly educated, knew folklore, the classics. A lot of radio was frivolous, not shows like this. You’d think Information Please was a sustaining program, but then comes the Lucky Strike announcer and we know theirs was a mainstream audience. Karloff had definite ideas as to what made scary storytelling, distinction between “horror” (repels) and “terror” (un-eases) one he would often point out to interviewers. His was a thinking man’s appreciation for fiction dealt dark. As would later be the case with Christopher Lee, Karloff was fascinated by chilling aspects of literature, realized his own contributions on film were seldom what he hoped for, but ray of hope did come with his three for Val Lewton at RKO, who Karloff credited with “rescuing him from the living dead, and restored, so to speak, his soul.” Must have pained Karloff to perform in what he knew were inferior films, even if final tally did reveal worthy work, law of averages to permit a fair number turning out well and sometimes exceptional.

Karloff maintained that power of suggestion was what frightened best, and yes, some of writers in the anthologies served this end nicely. Much of text on the other hand goes way more explicit than movies could dare in the forties, graphically descriptive of mayhem, rotted corpses, varied “putrescence” let loose to prey on man. Radio dramas in which Karloff appeared were often as morbid. Did parents oblige Junior to switch off sets where graves were dug too deep? Separate picture from words and you’d go places a visual image was forbade to enter. We could argue that rawest chilling Karloff or anyone did was through a microphone, broadcast censorship laxer on horror than oversteps re sex. Did rawest meat on radio come courtesy chill broadcasts such as Karloff and kin supplied? License at least for a while extended to comic books, an EC line peaking, if that’s a right word, with content senate investigators would call deleterious to mental health of youngsters. Imposition of a “Comics Code” took ginger out of dime mags for a generation to come. Karloff’s own Tales of Mystery pulled its punch with the title alone, the stories thin milk beside wild-wooly EC efforts of not-so-distant yore. My interest was served in the 60’s by Creepy, a Warren publication where art was spun not in color as with comic books, for to do so on horrific terms would violate the Code, even late as 1964, so what we got was gore denuded of blood reds. Some of outlaw artists and writers from EC past again plied trade, Creepy and its sister success Eerie a newsstand presence I eventually got along without, for how many times could you tell essentially a same story?

Edmund Wilson in 1944 wrote a blanket review of the ghost anthologies. He could be severe upon books the rest of us call good, did not hesitate to pan even The Maltese Falcon for a column where he said mystery novels were largely the bunk. Maybe it’s no surprise that Wilson took a dim view of scare stories and said none could discomfit any reader over age ten, notion of ghosts having been product of a candlelit era “killed by the electric light.” As darkness was what bred spooks, all you need do to rout them is throw a switch and “flood every corner of the room.” Outdoors as site for haunting was undone by flashlights with which we could ferret out ghosts. Here was why such resolute product of a past century was best left behind as we entered a wired world. But how to account for recent slew of the supernatural? Wilson said it was “real horrors loose on the earth,” fantasy a means to cope with “periods of social confusion,” and come to terms with the madness of war via pleasure got from imaginary horror. The stories themselves “do not pretend to a literary standard,” said Wilson, most of them “trashily or weakly done.” He cited some authors who should have been included in the collections, but weren’t. Wilson having limited himself to elevated prose was not of mind to embrace “the phantom fringe which has been exploited by these anthologies,” even as he recognized that readers of such appetite would ignore his advice to seek more enlightened pastime.

The two Karloff collections were rivaled by Random House’s Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, which beat both for thickness and wider selection. Yet more was Dashiell Hammett introducing over 500 pages of “Chills and Thrills,” none having been published in book form previous. His was to-the-point entitled Creeps By Night, first appearing in 1931, back at half its original length in 1944 (so much for the 500 pages), a response to wartime demand for C's&T’s. So how chill/thrilling by today’s measure? The Hammett picks were of more recent origin, many having debuted in Weird Tales, which was why they were new to hardbound printing, Weird Tales down-market and regarded as anything but worthwhile literature. Future writers of note, however, began with pulps: Sinclair Lewis, Tennessee Williams, Louella Parsons (!), numerous others. Buyers could rely on 200,000 words in each issue, all pulps cut along same or similar pattern. Covers alone were enough to call out riot squads in response, lurid beyond what any Barnes and Noble would display in timid times we know. Never mind movies … pulps were where horror was most horrific. Did children do the buying, or sick-minded adults? Price varied from dimes to fifteen cents to two bits … depending on survival skills or cunning of your competitor. I could delve into and read the whole of pulpy lot, Horror Stories, Strange Tales, Dime Mystery Magazine, plus what was done with westerns, romance, war themes, but how to live long enough to fulfill such commission? I expect most fans read history of pulps rather than pulps themselves, few claiming merit in literature hurry-up generated at vast quantity. Adventure magazine during its peak came out three times a month, so how could minimum of 600,000 words, served every ten days, maintain any sort of standard?

I got through twenty or so stories from the two Karloff volumes and Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. But one needs to know when to quit, too many a route to numbness.  Some are plain nauseating, others an escort to slumber’s portal. “Just four more pages and I can say I read it,” but say to who? Thing is, I like ghost stories, because, well, there’s always going to be a ghost, and I like ghosts, in fact believe firmly in them. I am further of opinion that most everyone has had some sort of supernatural experience but are loathe to admit it. The Random House book says in its intro that our fascination for such content arises from “fear of the human dead.” Think of sitting in a group of say four or six and telling them you once encountered a spirit. It would be all over town by tomorrow that you were nuts. A moment when I know I’ve won someone’s confidence is when they tell in sotto voice of having seen/heard something not of this earth. Consider advantage in a ghost, preferably someone you knew of course, popping by to explain what awaits on the other side. Poof would go mystery of life and death, let alone “fear of the human dead,” provided of course that no malign entity shows up to haunt sleep, meals, or leisure. Deep thoughts pulpy tales inspire! For the record, writers whose contribution I enjoyed: Somerset Maugham, W.W. Jacobs (how about that Monkey’s Paw?), Ambrose Bierce, E.A. Poe (who turns up in virtually all collections). Him what gave me most willies was H.P. Lovecraft, distinctly not someone I would have wanted to trade lives with, or accompany for barbecue, as here was a weirdest guy to have written weird tales.

Photos of Lovecraft, all of them, more than faintly disturb. Suffice to say, there are none of him basking at the shore with Carole Landis balanced on his shoulders. Lovecraft lived with Mom, theirs a “pathological love-hate relationship” --- sounds like the home life of 16mm collectors I knew. Then was an aunt, and another aunt, each with sufficient pathology to carry on Mom’s spirit-breakage of Lovecraft. A wife-in-brief was run off by the aunts. Mom had already died when he met the wife, not that she could have made things worse than they were. Lovecraft was said to have been second only to Voltaire for prolific letter-writing. One missive ran to 20,000 words. He spent a lifetime burying nuts for fame he would not live to enjoy, a talent far ahead of his time and most of readership. Lovecraft was prominent within a circle that understood him, these for sure no part of any mainstream. He was on the one hand anti-social, but helped young writers who sought his counsel. Lovecraft and readers who rubbed him wrong would feud for months in correspondence addressed to, and published by, Weird Tales. One of his sparring partners was a young Forrest Ackerman. Some said Lovecraft was good only for bottom-feeder pulps, but do please compare numbers with what was called serious literature. Weird Tales sold a half million or more copies per issue --- Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby moved but 25,000 units in the author’s lifetime. How soon we forgot that pulps had an enormous following. More people read them than most anything in print. Trouble is, few if any left behind thoughts or analysis, pulp the very definition of ephemeral. Like newsprint, pulps were not designed to last, so why would thinkers or critics pay heed to them? An Edmund Wilson did not address himself to stories like Satan Is My Lover or Cult of the Lusting Carcass. I doubt Lovecraft expected to be appreciated in his time, for who of genius was, or is, unless they discover some new digital realm?

Lovecraft had friends who came to his legacy’s rescue soon after he passed, two of them starting a firm called “Arkham House” to publish his works. Arkham was the fictional Massachusetts site of varied horrors Lovecraft invented, a cursed place we assume was based on Salem of the same state, where twenty so-called witches were hanged. Arkham may have been Lovecraft’s supreme creation. This place unlike Salem had real witches … goblins … fiends … among populace. Was Salem cursed for its prosecution of faux witches? Indeed, they might still be cursed, mutant children born in succeeding generations, or folks spontaneously combusting in streets perhaps. 1963’s The Haunted Palace, based on Lovecraft (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward) and set in Arkham, got dose of these. Famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne had a granddad who was one of the hanging judges, by name “Hathorne,” so shamed by posterity that Nathaniel chose “Hawthorne” to go by. Lovecraft’s cult was wide by the 60’s when first I heard of him. 1965's Die, Monster, Die derived from The Color Out of Space by Lovecraft, which I read and found harrowing, then watched the bled-white movie again to steady nerves. Lovecraft books Arkham House published now demand $4000 and up. Did Lovecraft see that much from totality of stories he sold to Weird Tales and spots elsewhere? Pulps overall have been ennobled by fans. There are oodles of books about them, inspired mostly by garish, grisly covers that could never have got through the door of Rhodes' Newsstand on my Main Street. What made pulps finally go away? There were over 200 of them in mid-Depression. Cheap Thrills by Ron Goulart (agreed to be a best history of pulps) put blame on the rise of comic books, Goulart saying these were “somewhat like buffered aspirin, (and) cut down the time it took for the action to get from the page to the brain --- and they took away much of the pulp’s audience.” Thing is, pulps still lasted, if limping, into the seventies. Ones who still care hold conventions. Video from these are at You Tube. Gatherings seem composed of boys that never grew up (not a knock, for who am I to talk?), with an occasional college professor to ruminate on the meaning of it all as he/she bargains for a Weird Tales or Horror Stories. I am fascinated by pulps, but thankful not to have been lured by siren call of collecting them. Do we still care as did those who knew pulps when they were current? Like with old-time radio, you wonder how much longer the party can last.
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