Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, January 31, 2016


Eighty-five years ago today, 3M began marketing Scotch tape.  Although Scotch tape is a registered braand name, the name has been generally applied to all transparent cellophane tape.  And it all began with a banjo player.

Banjos may actually have very little to do with tape, but Richard Drew was a 22-year-old banjo player for an "Athletic Orchestra" in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, when he spotted a job ad from the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company. ( I assume he applied because banjo playing just didn't pay the bills.)  Drew's application touted his banjo playing, along with the fact that he had a year of studying mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota and was currently taking a correspondence course in machine design.  Drew also mentioned that he could drive a truck.  I'm not sure which  qualification got him the job.  At the time, 3M was a small local company that produced sandpaper.

A couple of years later, Drew was at an auto repair shop testing sandpaper samples when he noticed the shop's workmen were having a difficult time with the plastic tape they were using:  the tape kept lifting paint when it was removed.  As many banjo players in the past have thought (I'm sure), Drew knew there had to be a better way --  so he set about inventing one.  It took quite a bit of work and more than a few failed attempts, while his 3M bosses first approved, then disapproved his efforts, but banjos players never give up!  By 1925, Drew had invented (and 3M marketed) MASKING TAPE!

3M began to grow and leave sandpaper in its dust.  Not one to rest on his laurels, Drew went on to invent the first transparent cellophane tape in 1930.  The rest is history.

From the 3M website:

"Practical and convenient, pressure sensitive tapes soon found applications in homes, medical facilities, construction and business settings worldwide.*  The tape protected the Goodyear blimp from corrosion.  It patched cracks in turkey eggs so that chicks could survive until hatching,  It repaired everything from fingernails to lampshades to dollar bills.  Drew's products served as a classic example of American ingenuity and an opportuniity for 3M to re-define itself as a major research and development company."

Next Thanksgiving, as you sit down to a sumptious turkey feast, thank your lucky stars that, had it not been for a banjo player, instead of turkey you may have had to put stuffing into a mere cracked egg.

* 3M is an engineering and manufacturing company.  They apparently know nothing about the Oxford comma.  Banjo players, however, surely do.


Sam Cooke.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


From 1972, here's Jose Feliciano.


Captain Marvel, Golden Arrow, and Ibis the Invincible headline this issue of "real whizzin' action stories."  Methinks if that description were used on a magazine today it would be a whole different type of publication.


Friday, January 29, 2016


Lady Day.


The Feather Merchants by Max Shulman (1944)

Once upon a time one of the best-selling humorists was a guy named Max Shulman and this guy was really funny.  How he came to write so many books is a mystery to me because he to had to have been spending most his time burning the midnight oil with Bennett Cert, Clifton Fadiman, and Faith Baldwin correcting papers for the Famous Writers School.  Sadly, few people remember Max Shulman today or, if they do, they confuse him with the butcher down the block when they were growing up, or with some other person who appeared to be worthy of a name like Max Shulman. Max Shulman was the man who gave us Dobie Gillis and Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys and so many others.  (But, then again, who remembers Dwayne Hickman or Tuesday Weld nowadays?)

Anyway, feather merchants is a term once used by soldiers to describe civilians and the hero of The Feather Merchants meets a lot of them during a ten-day leave.  Sergeant Danny Millar finds himself in a non-glamorous, non-combat job as a paper-pusher on an Oklahoma army base during World War II.  He had joined up expecting to be trained as a pilot but fate worked against him.  He's taking his ten day leave to go back to Minneapolis to win back the heart of his one true love Estherlee McCracken.  On the eve of Danny's departure for the army, Estherlee, knowing that her boyfriend might die in combat and throwing caution to the winds, gave up her virginity.  After finding out that Danny was never going to see combat (and certainly never going to die in combat), Estherlee felt betrayed and cut all ties to Danny.

The only person who is not a feather merchant that Danny runs into is his childhood friend Sam Wye, who is actually due ro ship out for combat in a few days.  Sam has always been a mischievious troublemaker and in the past his antics have gotten Danny in trouble.  Sam is also a great fabulist and loves spinning tales that (incredulously) people are apt to believe.  One evening on the town, Sam starts making up a story about Danny being a war hero and blowing up an enemy bridge.  this is overheard by a would-be reporter and blank verse poet who is currently working the advertising desk at the local paper.  Danny's fictional deeds (highly conflated from the original lies Sam told, mind you) appear on the front page, written (very poorly) in free verse.  Suddenly Danny is the greatest hero in Minneapolis and feted by the rich and powerful.  And, since Estherlee realizes that Danny's story of a desk job was merely a cover for a covert and brave exploit, she pledges her devotion to him and allows him once again to taste her charms.  How can Danny refute the story and risk losing Estherlee again?

Things come to a head during a city-wide celebration for Danny where Danny is expected to blow up an old bridge.  (There just happened to be one handy that needed blowing up.)  Things do not go well.

That's the story of The Feather Merchants and -- as a guess -- it takes up about a third of the book.  The rest of the book is about the civilians Danny meets along the way, each with their own wild and wacky story.  Shulman shines at this sort of thing which allows him to skewer just about anything and everything.  This is the sort of book that makes you smile at every page.  Although written in the Forties, you don't need to know some of the once-household names mentioned in passing (John Gunther, Walter Duranty, John Lewis) to enjoy Shulman's whimsy.

An extra bonus is the many illustrations by Eldon Dedini whose wonderful cartoon of zoftag women graced many a Max Shulman book as well as the pages of most major magazines.

Recommended.  (And for those who miss the old days, highly recommended.)

Thursday, January 28, 2016


Our extended clan has grown by one.  My son-in-law Walt has finally received his Christmas present:  a female Argentine Giant Chacoan Tegu.  For those unfamiliar with tegus, it's a damned lizard!  Not just a lizard, but one that will grow to about five feet long.  Walt (whose a nice guy in every other way) has wanted one for a while but had to wait until this one had gotten to a certain age -- the Jurassic Age if you ask me.  The tegu, whom they named Mango, was due to arrive this past Tuesday -- Tegu Tuesday -- but was delayed because of the mid-Atlantic blizzard, so it came today (forever after to be known as Tegu Thursday).

Walt spent several weeks building a cage for Mango, a giant wooden structure that spans the l;ength of their dining room.  They may now have to get a smaller dining room table.

When Mango arrived, Walt was beside himself with happiness.  She was still cold from the journey and was very docile when he picked her up.  Although just a young 'un, Mango is already larger than their bearded dragon, Messi.  Anyway, after warming up, Mango raised hersself up on all four legs, swelled her body, and started hissing loudly when approached.  In the meantime, they expect a lot of scratches and tail whippings.

I have to admit that, for a damned lizard, Mango is very beautiful.

So, welcome to the family, Mango.  You will never be lonely because your new home also has two adults, three kids, three dogs, three cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, a turtle, and a hedgehog.

And to celebrate your first weekend here, Erin is having six or seven teenage girls over for a sleepover for her fourteenth birthday.

Expect a lot of screeams.


Peter La Farge (1931-1965) is probably best known for his song "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," about the Pima Indian marine who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima and who ended his life as an alcoholic drowned in a ditch.  La Farge, the son of Pulizer Prize winnning author Oliver La Farge, inherited a strong sympathy for the American Indian from his father.  Despite medical problems that threatened to take his hearing, La Farge learned to play the guitar from Josh White when he was a teen and became a fairly popular folk singer, working with White, Big Bill Broonzy, and Cisco Houston.  Houston became a mentor to the young La Farge.  La Farge wrote the words to the song "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow" to music written by Bob Dylan.  He released five albums during his short lifetime.  He specialized in cowboy songs, songs about indians, and love songs.  He most likely died of an overdose or, perhaps, a stroke.  His New York neighbor Liam Clancy once said that La Farge had commited suicide by slashing his wrists but there is little evidence to support that claim.  Whatever the cause, a great career was cut terribly short with his death.

"The Ballad of Ira Hayes":

"Iron Mountain" :

"The Crimson Parson":

"White Girl":

"Marijuana Blues":

"Don't Tell Me How I Looked Falling":

"Coyote, My Little Brother," a powerful environmental song, sung by Pete Seeger:

"Johnny Half-Breed":


"The Cowboy's Lament:":

"As Long as the Grass Shall Grow," sung by Johnny Cash:

"I Ride an Old Paint":

"Look Again to the Wind":

"Strawberry Roan":


Par Boone was never one of my favorite singers.  (My sister, however, worshipped him when she was in junior high school.)  Too many of Boone's hits were white-bread rip-offs of other artists with a different shade of skin.  Then, too, the guy used to baptize folks in his swimming pool.  And now he's fear-mongering folks in commercials on cable teleision.  Sheesh.

Anyway, here's one of his hits from 1957.

And now Mr. Penniman shows us just how it should be done.


Bulldog Drummond -- that's Captain Hugh Drummond to his friends -- ws a gentleman adventurer and World War I veteran created by H. C. McNeile writing under the pseudonym "Sapper."  Xenophobia was fairly common among British (and other) writers of the Twenties, but McNeile elevated it to an art form near to A. E. W. Mason (popular author of The Four Feathers and other stories) heights.  Drummond became highly popular and McNeile wrote ten books about the character; following McNeile's death, his good friend Gerald Fairlie continued the Drummond sage until 1954.  (Fairlie had claimed that he was the model McNeile used used for Drummond -- well, he and McNeile's idea of what an English gentleman should be.  The fact that Fairlie was a schoolboy when McNeile first created Bulldog Drummond did little to deter Fairlie from making that claim.)

Anyway, Drummond was a large success in print, on the stage, in film, and on the radio.  Along the way he became more palatable, in some of the media at least.  The character also influenced other writers:  W. E. Johns' airman Biggles owes a lot to Bulldog Drummond, and Ian Fleming said that James Bond was Bulldog Drummond from the waist up (and Mickey Spillane from the waist down).

Bulldog Drummond hit the radio waves in 1941 on the Mutual Network with George Coulouris in the title role.The show went into syndication in 1948 and ended in 1954.  In addition to Coulouris, Drummond was played by Santos Ortega, Ned Wever, and Cedric Hardwicke over the years.  Throughout the show's run Drummond was accompanied by his manservant Denny, but some changes were made to the Drummond mythos:  the setting quickly moved from England to America and Drummond eventually got a wife.

In the January 17, 1947 episode, "Claim Check Murders," Drummond  come into possession of a claim check and a thousand dollar bill, leading to several murders and the discovery of one hundred thousand dollars worth of radium.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016


From 1943's Stormy Weather, here's Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.  Extra bonus: the fabulous Nicholas Brothers!


Tom Mix, one of the first great western stars, plays government agent Grant Newbury in this 1922 silent which the movie posters called "a hurricane of thrills, action, and excitement."  Mix is sent to investigate and stop a gang that is smuggling Chinese illegals from across the Mexican border.  There's a girl (Estelle Halloway, played by Eva Novak) to add a bit of romance to the Mix (please note the clever pun there; gosh, I'm clever!), and to add a dash of angst-y complication, she's the ward of the big baddie.  But the film is mainly about the adventure, the stunts, and the locale.  Filmed in the Grand Canyon, Sky High features the first aerial footage eve of the canyon.

Tom Mix, of course, was a real cowboy.  During one scene his horse takes a nasty (and unintentional) fall.  Undetered, Mix gets up, mounts the horse, and continues his chase.  No cuts -- just one continuous take.  We also see that Mix knows his lassos almost as well as he knows his horses.
I have to admit the plot isn't much but the action, the scenery, and Tom Mix as a straight as a rail contemporary cowboy add up to make this a worthwhile use of your 49 minutes, evern if the 94 year old footage is a tad grainy and washed.


Monday, January 25, 2016


Sweethearts of the Rodeo.


Just one book this week.
  • Arthur W, Bahr, Certifiably Insane.  Not -- as one might expect -- my biography, but an Edgar Award nominee for Best Novel.  "The police found Janice Jensen bathed in blood, sitting on the floor, calmly munching grapes.  Her family lay dead by her side and Janice seemed unaware of the carnage around her."  As far as I can tell, this 1999 novel was the author's only mystery novel.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Dr. Miles Russell debunks the Indiana Jones/Lara Crofts view of archeologists.  In this field, skeletons may be worth more than treasure.


The Statler Brothers.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Zora Neale Hurston -- anthropologist, folklorist, and writer -- was one of the major influences in the Harlem Renaissance.  The 27th annual celebration of her life and work starts tomorrow and runs through the end of the month in Eatonville, Florida.


Here's a real gem:  a comic book edited by Hugo Gernsback!  Who knew that Uncle hugo had a comic book?  I didn't.

Suprworld Comics ran for only three issues from April through August of 1940.  True to Gernsback's marketing philosophy, this oversized comic vowed that all features were "based on present-day science" and were of "an educational trend."  Yep, "nothing will ever be printed in this magazine that is downright impossible."

And check out some of the contributors.  The first story, "Mitey Powers and Zagar-/x, The Madman of Mars" was drawn by Frank R. Paul (!) and written by Charles Hornig, the science fiction wonderkid who became the managing editor (hired by Gernsback) of Wonder Stories when he was seventeen.  During his brief stint at Wonder Stories he published Stanley G. Weinbaum's first story, "A Martian Odyssey."  (One of Hornig/Paul's Mitey Powers stories was reprinted in 2012's Frank R. Paul:  The Dean of Science Fiction Illustration.)

This story is followed by the announcement of a contest asking kids to think of new uses for rubber bands.  I kid you not.  Gernsback offered $100 in prizes split among 61 winners, with first prize being $10.

`1The next story was also by Hornig, writ/////////////////////ng under his "Derwin Lesser" pseudonym, with artwork by R. A. Burley -- "Buzz Allen -- The Invisible Avenger."  Buzz is a "humble radio amateur" who has "discovered the secret of invisibilty through an accidental connection with his transmittor."  He vows to use this ability to avenge his father, who had been murdered by gangsters.  Following Gernsback's dictum, we know this story is downright possible.

Hornig also wrote the next story, featuring Hip Knox, the Super Hypnotist.  Knox was trained by his father to have a superbrain, capable of hypnotizing any living thing.  Working with the govenment, Knox hunts down criminals.  His bete noir is Eric Mac Fadden, who had developed a wire net mask that deflects Konx's hypnotic abilities.  Knox wears a strange hair net and a full red body suit with an eye emblazoned on th chest.  Good times.

"Smarty Arty" is a know-it-all kid in green shorts  who comes up with humerous inventions.  Written and drawn by John  Macery.

Which leads us to another contest with a dollar prize for every invention accepted from the Junior Inventors.  Example:  sandpaper glued to the inside of a clothes pin can be used as a pencil sharpener.

Gernsback himself contributes a two-page artile on learning while you sleep.

Next, Detective Crane solve "The Case of the Sleeping Death" in a story written and drawn by Homer Porter.  An evil scientist has discovered a way to put people into a "sleeping death" in order to rob them.

Charles Hornig returns with a story about Marvo 1-2 Go +, the superboy of the year 2680.  We learn that only ten people in the world are allowed the "+" designation added to their name -- the same as in the world of Hugo Gernsback's novel Ralph 124C 41+.   In this story, Marvo and his friend investigate unseasonable weather in Pennsyvania.  We may need them to look into our current weather conditions.

Another filler shows us how to do seemingly impossible things.such as cutting glass with a pair of scissors.  A trick like that is sure to come in handy some day.

Next up:  four pages of Winsor McCay's classic Little Nemo in Dreamland.   Just a little lagniappe to help make this a great issue.

"Alibi Alice" is a little girl in Ruth Leslie's brief and humerous contribution.  Alice saves a little lion who does a little lyin'.

Winsor McCay closes out the comic book with "Dreams of a Mince Pie Fiend" as by "Silas."  This appears to be a reworking of some of his "Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend" strip which ran under the Silas pseudonym beginning in 1904.  I cannot find any reference to Winsor's using the mince pie motif instead of the rarebit one in the comic strip so I assume that Gernsbach altered the strip for reasons of his own.  (There is a cartoon reference -- not by Winsor -- of mince pie dreams that appeared in the Omaha Sunday World in December 1900.)

On top of all this, there's also a 25-question test on this issue.  Fail it at your own risk

All in all, a darn good issue for your 1940 dime.

Friday, January 22, 2016


Jimmy Preston's 1948 song is considered by some as the first rock and roll song, but  trying to pinpoint the first rock and roll song is like trying to nail Jell-o to a wall.  It's much better to sit back and enjoy.


Strangers in Town by "Ross MacDonald" [Kenneth Millar] (2001)

Edited by MacDonald biograapher Tom Nolan, Strangers in Town contains three "newly discovered," unpublished mysteries found among Macdonald's papers, as well as a lengthy introduction by Nolan that takes up a fourth of the book.  The stories, one each from a different phase of MacDonald's career, provide an interesting look at his development as a writer.

The earliest story, "Death by Water," was written in 1945, while MacDonald was serving in the navy aboard the troop transport Shipley Bay.  Critic and mystery writer Anthony boucher had suggested to both Macdonald and his wife Margaret Millar that they submit a story to a contest sponsored by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.  Margaret Millar did not submit a story* but her husband wrote two stories for possible submission, both featuring the same character -- Santa Barbara private detective Joe Rogers.  He sent the stories to his wife, asking her to check on one detail in "Death on Water" and to adjust the last paragraph in the story accordingly, then to send what she felt was the better story to their agent to be submitted to the contest if it was worthwhile.  Instead, Millar, who liked both stories, sent the two directly to the magazine, where one of the stories took fourth place (and a $300 prize). Unfortunately, neither Millar nor MacDonald were told which of the two stories won.

It turned out "Death by Water" was not the winner, the story MacDonald had titled "Death by Air" won.  It was subsequently published in EQMM as "Find the Woman" and was later revised to change the character of Joe Rogers to Lew Archer for inclusion in MacDonald's collection The Nme Is Archer.  "Find the Woman" was originally published under MacDonald's real name Kenneth Millar, as was all of the author's early work; it the was only later that far more famous name Ross MacDonald came into being, and then after a series of name changes.

"Death by Water" reads like an early work, although the characterization and dialogue are strong, as is the author's sense of place.  The important clue stuck out like a sore thumb to me, although it may have not been as obvious to a reader in 1945.  A wealthy older man is found dead in a hotel swimming pool. Accident or murder?   If murder, was it his much younger invalid wife, her nurse, his stepson, one of the stepson's navy buddies, or someone else?

MacDonald's publisher, Alfred Knopf, hestitated to publish the author's third novel, feeling it was weaker than his two previous ones, both published under the Kenneth Millar by-line.  Millar told his agent to then submit the book (The Moving Finger) elsewhere under the name "John MacDonald."  Meanwhile, Knopf reversed its decision and agreed to publish the book as by "John MacDonald."  The Floirida mystery writer John D. MacDonald objected to the use of thaat name, so Millar became "John Ross MacDonald" for his next six books.

It was as John Ross MacDoald that the next story in the collection was written.  "Strangers in Town" was written as an entry for EQMM's 1950 competition but was withdrawn by MacDonald when he decided to use it as the framework for his next novel, The Ivory Grin.  (And, according to Nolan, MacDonald, incorporated parts of this story into his 1953 story "The Imaginary Blonde," a.k.a. "Gone Girl.")  "Strangers in Town" shows a more confident author.  The plot is more complex, there's a wider and more distinctive cast of characters, the author is delving into social issues, and the story itself speed along smoothly.  Here we find Lew Archer hired by a woman whose son has been accused of murder.  The victim, who had rented a room from Archer's client, had her throat sliced open by a Phillipino bolo knife.  A good story, well told.

The final story in the book, "The Angry Man," deals with an escaped mental patient who comes to Lew Archer for help.  The man is paranoid and easily set off...and he has a gun.  The gun isn't needed when he suddenly decides that Archer is an enemy.  He drops the gun and begins to strangle Archer with his strong hands.  He then drops Archer and leaves.  The man, it turns out, had been institutionalized after strangling his father, the owner of a successful family lemon farm. He feels his brother, who now owns the business, had cheated him and now he wants vengeance.  Archer travels to the farm hoping to stop a murder.  He encounters a truly disfunctional family, a trigger-happy and lovelorn sheriff, and (as is often the case in MacDonald's works) deadly secrets in the past.

'The Angry Man" had too much going for it as a short story and MacDonald realized this.  It eventually became the backbone of his 1958 novel The Doomsters.

The three stories, taken in order, display the maturing of one of America's finest writers of detective stories.  Highly recommended.

* Both Millar and MacDonald submitted stories to EQMM's 1953 contest; MacDonald's won third place while his wife's won aecond place

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Billy Grammer.


Rex Stout's famous one-seventh of a ton sleuth has hit the radio waves four times.  First, in 1943-4, ABC Radio presented The Adventures of Nero Wolfe with three separate actors portraying  theorchid-loving detective:  J. B. Williams, Santos Ortega, and Louis Van Rootan. Then, in 1945, the Mutual Broadcasting System aired The Amazing Nero Wolfe, with silent film star Francis X. Bushman playing the title role.  In 1982, the Canadian Broadcasting System introduced Mavor Moore as Nero Wolfe.  The program that most people associate Nero Wolfe with the radio, however, is The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, which was on NBC in 1950-1.

This was the series that Rex Stout liked best.  The program fleshed out the characters far better than the previous show.  Produced by Edwin Fadiman and directed by J. Donald Wilson, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe cast a great actor to play a great detective.  Sidney Greenstreet, so memorable in such movies as Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and The Woman in White, made the character of Nero Wolfe his own.  It also helped that the showwas scripted by the talented Alfred Bester.

During its brief run, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe cast six different actors in the role of Archie Goodwin:  Gerald Mohr, Herb Ellis, Lawrence Dobkin, Harry Bartell, Lamony Johnson, and Wally Maher.  In the episode linked below, Harry Bartell did the honors as Archie.  Also in the cast are William Johnson, Don Stanley, Victor Rodman, Louise Arthur, and Hal Gerard.  The announcer was Don Stanley.

Here, from March 2, 1951, is "The Case of the Hasty Will."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


From 1937, here's Sophie Tucker.


[According to the internet, this joke is very popular in Belgium.  Somehow I can't picture Hercule Poirot laughing very hard.]

Why do ducks have webbed feet?
     To stamp out forest fires.

Why do elephants have flat feet?
     To stamp out burning ducks.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Little Richard, from 1957.


One of the best satirical programs to hit television was That Was the Week That Was which aired on BBC television in 1962 and 1963. The brainchild of Ned Sherrin, the series was presented by David Frost.  Millicent Martin sang the theme song, which lambasted that week's current events. The sharp-edged satires were written by such notables as Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Frank Muir, Dennis Potter, Roald Dahl, Kenneth Tynan, Keith Waterhouse, and Peter Cook.  The BBC chose not to air a third season in 1964, the stated reason being that that was an election year and political material could mar the BBC's impartial image

So in 1964 the show crossed the Atlantic to America.  This version of the show ran in 1964 and 1965 and was aired by NBC.  David Frost crossed the Atlantic with the show; other featured players included Henry Morgan, Buck Henry, Alan Alda, and (singing the theme song) Nancy Ames.  Tom Leher, Gloria Steinem, Gene Hackman, and Calvin Trillin were among the regular contributors.  Guests included Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Woody Allen, and Steve Allen.

Future shows, from Monte Python's Flying Circus and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to Saturday Night Live and Mad TV, owe a debt to TW3, which led the way.

Most of the American shows do not survive on film, but many were available on LPs.  The link below will allow you to time travel to the week that was on June 12, 1964.


Monday, January 18, 2016


Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz (2016)

You know you are in Dean Koontz territory when a miraculous golden retriever appears in the first chapter.

A blurb on the inside fly leaf of Ashley Bell calls this Koontz's "most personal novel yet."  Perhaps so, but mainly this is a story about a valiant girl and the power of imagination.

Bibi Blair, a twenty-three-year-old surfer girl and budding writer with several important sales to her credit, has suffered great torment in the past, even though she cannot remember them.  Those memories have been erased from her mind through a means she cannot fully understand, but allowing her to continue through her life unscathed.

One day, her body turns on her.  She imagines terrible smells,  Her limbs stop working and then start again.  At times she loses the capacity to speak.  A trip to the emergency room revveals that her has a large cancerous, spider-like growth in her brain, an advanced and extremely rare form of cancer for which there is no cure.  She has perhaps two  months to live -- a year at most with aggresive radiation and chemotherapy treatments.  But since she was six-years-old, Bibi has lied her life as a valiant, make that a Valiant girl with an upper case V; a determined girl who was "plucky, intrepid, and lionhearted -- a girl who knew that life was never easy but you faced challenges head-on with the power of goodness and knowledge.  Valiant girls do not give up.  They may lose but they do not give up.  When given her dreadul diagnosis, bibi said, "We'll see."

That night in her hospital bed, after her cancer had made several debilitating attacks on her body, she sees the figure of a man entering her room from the corner of her eye.  With the man is a dog, a golfden retriever.  The dog goes up to Bibi and nuzzles her, then the man and the dog leave.  The next morning when Bib wakes up a burden has been lifted.  She instinctively knows that her cancer is gone and subsequent tests prove this.  Hospital security cameras show that a man and a dog had walked the cameras that night and were recorded entering and leaving Bibi's room, but there is no record of them ever entering or leaving the hospital.

How was Bibi cured and why?

Later, a psychic tells Bibi that she was cured in order to save the life of someone named Ashley Bell. This begins a dangerous search to find Ashley Bell, a search that pits her against a murderous neo-Nazi and his far-spread murderous cult.  Along the way she faces inexplicable events, supernatural beings, and a twisting of reality.

At 560 pages and more than a hundred chapters with alternating viewpoints, Ashley Bell is one of the author's longest books -- a twisty, winding, teasing novel that pulls the reader along, cheering for Vliant girls everywhere.


In honor of Martin Luther King Day, here is the great Mavis Staples.


  • Kelley Armstrong, Bitten, Industrial Magic, Haunted, and Broken.  Urban fantaelks in the bestselling series.  Werewolves and demons and ghosts and witches, oh my!
  • Mike Ashley, editor, The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries.  Mystery anthology with 30 stories from 1910 to 2006.
  • Lawrenceblock, editor, Blood on their Hands.  The 2003 Mystery Writers of America anthology with 19 original stories,
  • Marc Cerasini, AVP:  Alien vs. Predator.  Movie tie-in novel.  Two franchises collide!
  • Peter Haining, editor, The Mammoth Book of 20th Century Ghost Stories.  Horror anthology with 30 stories (at least one of which is a novel exerpt).  As usual, Haining has gathered an assortment of familiar and unfamiliar stories from the usual and a few unusual suspects.  Some good stuff here as well as what looks to be some trivial stuff.
  • Rick Hautala, Moon Walker.  Horror novel.  Unexplained disappearances plague the small New England farming community of Dyer and now there are strange, shambling figures harvesting the potato fields.  Hmm.  Are potatoes really harvested that differently in Idaho?
  • James P. Hogan, Out of Time.  SF novella.  Time is out of whack in New York -- hours pass by in minutes in some places, time speeds up in others, and is perfectly normal elsewhere.  As quantum uncertainty rages on, cop Joe Kopensky and his fellow officers have to find out what's causing it and stop it.
  • Stephen Jones, editor, The Mammoth Book of New Terror. Horror anthology with 26 stories from 1971 to 2004.
  • Jonathan Maberry, Ghost Road Blues.  Horror novel, the first in the Pine Deep series.  In the thirty years since a serial killer haunted the quiet village of Pine Deep, the Pennsylvania town has become cheerfully known as "The Spookiest Town in America."  Now Pine Deep is living up to its nickname:  bodies are being desecrated and insanity is spreading throughout the community.
  • Sara Paretsky, editor, Sisters on the Case.  Mystery anthology celebrating 20 years of Sisters in Crime:  20 stories, all but four original to this volume.
  • Ruth Rendell, Wexford:  An Omnibus.  Collection of three Chief Inspeector Reginald Wexford mysteries:  From Doon to Death, A New Lease on Death, and The Best Man to Die, the first, second, and fourth books in the long-running series.  I like Rendell's Wexford novels far more than I do her standalone novels -- whether as by Rendell or "Barbara Vine."
  • Nick Stone, Mr Clarinet.  Mystery novel, the first in the Max Mingus series.  Mingus is hired to find a rich man's kidnapped son in Haiti, land of voodoo, black magic, and Mr Clarinet -- a mysterious figure responsible for spiriting countless children away from their families.  This book won the 2006 Steel Dagger Award, the 2007 Macavity Award for Best First Novel, and the 2007 Thriller Award for Best First Novel, as well as being a finalist for the 2007 Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel.
  • J. Michael Straczynski, Superman:  Earth One.  Graphic novel.  The alien force that destroyed Superman's home planet now threatens mankind.  Art by Shane Davis.
  • Robert Wilson, The Vanished Hands.   An Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon mystery, the second in the series.  An apparent suicide pact in one of Seville's most exclusive neighborhoods raises Falcon's suspicions.  More "suicides" follow, as do threats from the Russian mafia.  Originally published as The Silent and the Damned.
  • Daniel Woodrell, The Maid's Version.  Novel about a 1929 explosion at a Missouri dance hall which killed 42 people.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Maggie Bell, the Princess of Gospel.

Saturday, January 16, 2016


The original Dukes of Dixieland.


The path of true love is never easy, especially in the romance comics.  The same heartbreak and angst found in young high school and college girls or in young women starting to find their way in the workplace in the comics of the 50s and 60s are the same heartbreak and angst found on the western frontier, although sometimes with a bit of added danger.  Case in point, Western Hearts.

We open with "Lasso Round My Love."  Janet Farrell has inherited her father's house in the cmining town of Hobart and hopes one day to convince her fiance, Clyde Pembroke, to leave his job as a stagecoach driver and turn the large house into a hotel.  In the meantime, in order to make ends meet, Janet has not only opened a candy shop in her front parlor but has rented out her side cabin to Gladys Hawkins, a dancehall girl "all painted like an indian out for her evening ewar dance."  One evening when Clyde was supposed to be on a stagecoach run, Janet spots Clyde pitching woo to that brazen hussy Gladys.  Heart-broken, Janet soon becomes engagement-broken and refuse to listen to any explanations Clyde may offer.  Janet should  listened to her heart rather than her eyes -- Clyde's intentions were honorable and Gladys a part of a gang of neer-do-wells.  Janet and Clyde rescue each other, Clyde traps the gang, Janet rescues Clyde, and all is well -- to the sound of wedding bells.

In "Dancehall Bride," Constance Selby returns to her early childhood home, hoping to surprise her sister.  The elder Selby's had split up when Constance was three, her mother taking Clonstance with back east and her father keeping Vicki at the family ranch in Las Palomas.  With both mother and father now dead, Connie is looking forward to reuniting with her long lost sister.  Vicki, however, is not pleased.  She calls Connie an imposter, slaps her, and kicks her off the ranch.  Heartbroken, Connie wanders into town, where she is taken in by kind-hearted Rosa at Nick's Hotel,a honky-tonk on the wrong side of town.  Connie begins to work at the saloon as a piano player and singer while Vicki releases her venom by spreading the word that Connie is a loose woman, a fraud, and a conniver.  Vicki sends handsome Deputy Sheriff Ryan Blane to kick Connie out of town, but being captured does not sway the path of true heartsn falls in love with Connie.  Turns out Vicki is not Vicki.  The real Vicki had died in an accident years ago.  Ryan and Connie are captured, but being captured does not alter the path of true love.  In the end all is well and there are happy trails ahead for Connie and Ryan.

Lillian Hunt's father's ambition was to rebuild his Lazy-T ranch into a working farm once again in "Sweetheart Ranch."  She falls in love with Mike Vinson, a traveller with a mysterious job who is staying at the ranch.  This doesn't sit well with Jerry, the ranch hand who has always carried a torch for Lil,  (Why, o why is the loser in love always named Jerry?  'Tain't fair, I tell you!)  Turn out Mike is a government man sent to survey the area to find a location for a proposed dam.  The dam would flood a few ranches in the area -- including the Lazy-T.  Rather than quit her father's dream, Lil and her father refuse to sell despite Mike's warning that a violent storm would one day destroy the low-lying area.  A disappointed Mike goes back to Washington, a hopeful Jerry thinks that Lil might turn her eyes to him, and a lovelorn Lil harbors a grudge toward the "traitorous" Mike while vowing never to commit to another man until she has the same feelings that she had toward Mike.  You know what happens next.  The rains come, the ranch is destroyed in the flood, Lil's father is trapped in the ranch house, and Mike appears almost miraculously to save him.  Lil's father admits the error of his ways and sells his ranch to the government.  Lil admits her love for Mike as the two look forward to a future of bliss.  And Jerry (who should have been the hero because of his noble name, dammit) is left twiddling his thumbs.

Interspersed in this issue are three fillers telling (or making up of whole cloth) well-known love stories:  Hiawatha and Minnehaha, Ulysses S. Grant and Julia Dent, and Sacajawaya and the French guide Charbonneau.  There's also a two-page text story in which Joan Carter helps Sheriff Dan Lancing capture the Lone Bandit, Buck Nelson.  In true western style the story ends with the outlaw saying (disgruntedly), :Aw, kiss her and let's get started for jail.  If there's one thing I can't stand is this love stuff."

All this and a photo cover of Irene Dunne and Fred MacMurray from Never a Dull Moment.


Friday, January 15, 2016


A very unsycopated Canned Heat.  Watch them try to coordinate their moves.


Kill Him Twice

This week I've been feeling my mortality.  First, David Bowie dies at age 69.  Then, Alan Rickman dies at age 69.  There's an old superstition that death comes in threes -- something I vigorously deny; death comes in ones.  So when Celine Dion's husband passed away yesterday, people who had been happily reminding me that I was 69, now began saying, "There's the third," while ignoring the fact the Rene Angelil was several years older than Bowie or Rickman.  Naytheless, when people your age (or close to your age) begin dying it's time to take stock.  Which I did and I came to an inescapable conclusion:  I'm getting older, perhaps not total geezerdom older, but older.

Which brings me to Richard S. Prather, creator of the popular Shell Scott detective stories of the Fifties and Sixties.  Reading Kill Him Twice made me feel old.

Shell Scott, the tough, white-haired, horny L.A. private eye who likes tropical fish and thick, juicy steaks, was created to be a softer alternative to Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.  Hammer had served in WWII and prowled the dark streets of New York City.  Scott, appealing to a slightly younger generation, served in Korea and worked the sunny clime of Southern Californa.  Hammer's humor wasgritty; Scott's was light, somewhat snaky, and often concentrated on various aspects of the female body.  Both were products of their time but Scott, to my now old (but not quite geezer-like eyes) comes off as a sexist.

When I was in high school, I was Shell Scott's number one fanboy.  I gobbled up every book by Prather I could find, whether they featured Shell Scott or not.  I thrilled and laughed and vicariously ogled the beautiful women that Shell encountered while battling mobsters and other neer-do-wells.  I was not alone.  Many of my (male) classmates, most of whom seldom opened a book, were addicted to Shell Scott.  Looking back to that time, I do not recall a single female who read these books.  After high school I dropped the Shell Scott books for some reason.  Prather had changed publishers, for one, moving from the glorious Gold Medal to the more sedate Pocket Books.  I was in college, for another, studying and drinking and rather mild debauchery began to take precedence and brighter and shinier books were catching my attention.  Also, Prather seemed to change with the times.  He seemed to try too hard to be hip and current.  The sexual revolution had caught him off guard.  Breasts were now passe, so, in an error of epic proportions, Prather and Scott tried to breathe a ribald new life into fannies,  Politics were now being skewered in a blunt and awkward way.  The theme of one book was flouridation.  Really?  Long before Fonzie jumped the shark, Shell Scott did.

As for Kill Him Twice, girls and women (often the same thing) are called "tomatoes."  I don't recall that off-putting term being used in the earlier, fast-paced books in the series.  Perhaps it was and it floated past my teenaged sexist self unawares, but now, it sure does grate on this not-quite-a-geezer.  The humor was forced and weak; again, something that I do not remember from the earlier books.  Forced humor is sometimes acceptable.  But weak?  Never!

Prather would almost always open his books with a bang.  From chapter one, Shell Scott would be in dire straights, most often with a barely clad or nothing clad zoftig beauty beside him.  The reader would have no idea what is going on because the scene came from later in the book.  Chapter two would start the story and we wouldn't catch up  the hook until a quarter or a third of the way through the novel.  Kill Him Twice's first chapter has little of what we usually expect from Prather.  The hero is not in danger.  The few beautiful women are in the background and not clinging to the hero as he faces down bad guys.  Rather than being hooked by excitement, the reader is left with a ho-hum feeling.

Anyway, the plot is this.  Scott receives a call from Gordon Waverly, publisher of a popular Hollywood scandal sheet, asking his to come right over.  Scott does, and is given a retainer of a thousand dollars by Waverly's secretary.  Waverly, however, is not there; he had gone rushing out of the office yelling, "Finley Pike!  I'll fix that Finley Pike!" Pike is one of the magazine's vice-presidents and the writer of several of it's columns.  Scott gets Pike's address and heads over there, only to find the place surrounded by police and ambulances.  He also is almost hit by a car containing four thugs and hitmen for gangster Al Gant; the car reverses direction and races away when they spot the police.   Pike, of course, is dead, battered by a figurine.  Waverly is next to the body and is arrested.

Things get complicated when Scott goes to interview a woman who might shed some light on the case -- beautiful Black actress Natasha Antoinette, the star of a highly anticipated film.  While on the set, Scott sees Natasha fall forty feet into a lake covered with fiery oil.  Scott dive in to rescue her, but Natasha is dead, shot through her ample chest.

(Slight aside here:  Prather (and Scott) handle the racial aspects of the book well.  Kudos to  the author.)

Turns out that Natasha was being blackmailed by someone who apparently got the information from Finley Pike's secret stash of information on Hollywood VIPs, leaving the possibility that a number of big-wags and almost big-wigs are also being blackmailed.  It also turns out that Al Gant, the gangster, provided the funds through an intermediary for Waverly to start his magazine.  The same intermediary owns the property where Natasha was killed.  And one of Gant's thugs was killed in a shootout with the police at Pike's place shortly after Waverly was arrested.  Did I mention that Gant has a very good reason to hate our white-haired hero?

Kill Him Twice is more of a disappointing book than a bad book.  Prather was a talented writer and glimpses of the show here and there.  Perhaps Prather was just feeling old and tired when he wrote this one.  Or perhaps he just did not move with the times that well.  Or perhaps it's me.  I'm not the eager kid I once was.  Although this is open to debate, I know more now than I did then and my critical senses have been sharpened.  Or perhaps, as Danny Glover said in the Lethal Weapon movies, "I'm too old for this shit."

So, yeah, I'm becoming aware of my mortality.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


From 1914, here's an old British music hall song by Will Terry.


Just the facts, ma'am.

Well, this one aired on June 24, 1949.  And Jack Webb plays Sergeant Joe Friday.  Those should be enough facts for you.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016


So sad...


What's the difference between a poorly dressed man on a tricycle and a well dressed man on a bicycle?


Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Ol' Blue Eyes.


Roy and Gabby whitewash history with the help of Calamity Jane (Sally Payne) as they foil a foreign plot to take over territory in the wild west.  Rounding out the cast are Julie Bishop (sometimes known as Jacqueline Wells), professional villain John Milan, Archie Twitchell, silent film leading man Monte Blue, Hal Taliaferro, Ethel Wales, professional henchman Jack Ingram, and another Monte (Montague this time).  Roy sings.  And there's horses!

Written by Norton S. Parker and Olive Cooper and helmed by Joseph Kane, this 1940 programmer is a pleasant time waster.


Monday, January 11, 2016


Cowboy Copas.


  • Max Allan Collins, Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo, & Jo Duffy, Batman:  Second Chances.  Graphic novel  collection of twelve Batman stories from 1986-7, eight of which were written by Collins, three by Starlin, and one (uncredited on the coer and spine) by Duffy; Aparo (a penciller on  just three of the stories) presumably got cover/spine credit because his name was better known, or maybe because someone at DC just liked him.  Anyway, I believe this collection includes the entirity of Collins' work on Batman comics, including the story that made him throw up his hands and toss in his cards.  Collins didn't know this book was inthe works until after the fact.  Ah, the life of a freelancer!
  • Anna Dewdney, llama llama red pajama.  Children's picture book.  It's no secret that I like llamas (and alpacas and vicunas).  Over the years, I have amassed a number of Dewdney's llama llama books, reading them aloud to grandchildren and anyone else who might be within range.  I'm sure the Kangaroo will like my reading this one to him.
  • "J. R. Roberts" (Robert J Randidi), The Gunsmith #327:  The Golden Princess.  Adult Western.  Clint Adams is sent to negotiate with Geronimo but first he must prove his worth the a new female Apache leader -- the Golden Princess.  It's amazing that Randisi wrote one of these entertaining novels a month along with all his other work.  Are we sure he's not a robot?

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) is recognized as one of the greatest writer of ghost stories in the English language, as well as being a noted medievalist scholar.  He wrote one children's book, a tale of magic and talking animals, of fairies and gnomes, and of man's desires for forbidden things.  For those used to the quiet and growing uneasiness of the author's' ghost stories, The Five Jars presents a different M. R. James -- one I hope you will appreciate.

The story is read by Peter Yearsley.



Red Allen with a bit of bluegrass gospel.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


From 1933, here's Ruth Etting with Victor Young & His Orchestra.


Big Shot Comics was a monthly anthology comic published by Columbia from May 1940 to August 1949 -- a total of 104 issues.  (The title was shortened to Big Shot in 1942.)  It featured a mix of original adventure, superhero, and humerous stories, along with popular newspaper reprints from the McNaught Syndicate.  The comic book was originally intended to be anchored by the science fiction adventures of Skyman; although this character remained in the book, he turned out not to be as popular as the humorous Sparky Watts.

Issue # 86 includes Boody Rogers' Sparky Watts (with Slap Happy and Hattie), J. P. McEvoy's Dixie Dugan, Lank Leonard's Mickey Finn and Uncle Phil, Renny McEvoy and Jim Pavian's Hollywood Johnny, Marty Marion's Brass Knuckles, Ogden Whitney's Skyman, Don Dean's Cranberry Boggs, and Frank Beck's Bo, while Mart Bailey's Tony Trent interrupts his honeymoon to catch a pair of murders and start him on another adventure.  Trent, as well as Skyman, Dixie Dugan, and Sparky Watts, had stories that were continued to the next issue.

All in all, issue #86 had 70 pages well worth your dime.


Friday, January 8, 2016


Al Stewart.


Batman:  Second Chances by Max Allan Collins, Jim Starlin, & Jo Duffy (2015)

I'll let others argue whether a book published last year could be considered forgotten.  Published by DC Comics, Batman:  Second Chances collects a dozen stories from 1986 and 1987 -- eleven from Batman #402-403 and Batman # 408-416 and one from Batman Annual #11.  Max Allan Collins wrote eight of the stories, Jim Starlin three, and Jo Duffy one.  (Duffy, received no credit on the book's cover or spine; instead Jim Aparo, who drew three of the stories, is credited.)

Understand that this does not appear to be a major release from DC comics.  No hardcover edition, no coated paper, no 8 1/2 x 11" dimensions, and (evidently) no major publicity paush.  Instead we have a paperbound edition, 6 1/2 x 10 1/4", with regular uncoated comic book stock paper.  Collins himself did not know of the book's release until after the fact -- something I find strange because this is his collection, or would have been had there not been a kerfluffle between DC and Collins.

There will be some spoilers in the next few paragraphs.  My apologies.

We start off with two tales from issues #402 and 403.  Tommy Carna, the youngest cop to make detective on the Gotham City Police Department had been fired after he went off the rails following a car bombing that killed his wife and child.  Upset at the number of criminals who got off due to legal technicalities, he begins tto picture himself as a vigilante.  Not just any vigilante, mind you, but Batman himself, Tommy Carna's childhood hero.  Donning a Batman costume, Carna prowls Gotham at night and begins killing criminals.  Batman stops him.  Carna goes to Arkham Asylum.  Carna, still believing he's Batman escapes and stumbles onto a secret entrance to the Batcave, steals the Batmobile, and goes after the gangster who had ordered the bombing that killed his family.  This is a well-written and strong arc by Collins that explores how character affects motivation in a there-but-for the-grace-of-God manner.

However...and here I get confused...Robin appears in this arc, and Robin is Jason Todd.  All well and good, because I knew Jason Todd took Robin's place Dick Grayson moved on to become Nightwing.  But in the next story (from five issues later) in Batman:  Second Chances, Robin is still Dick Grayson.

Now we enter a four story arc.  In a battle with the Joker, Robin (Dick Grayson) is shot and a news helicopter gets footage of Batman carrying Robin's body away from the scene, leaading the press to wonder is Robin has been killed.  He hasn't, but the incident has a profound effect on Batman.  He decides it is time for Robin to call it quits, a decision that Robin doesn't like.  As P. G. Wodehouse said in a different context, his huff drove up and he departed in it.  Batman goes it alone.  But then, while patrolling Crime Alley -- the very location where Bruce Wayne's parents were killed years before -- he finds a kid stripping the tires of the Batmobile.  The kid, nervy and streetwise, is Jason Todd.  Jason's father is long-gone and presumed dead, his mother passed away several month's before, and the streets made a better home for Jason than a foster home.  The one supposed bright spot in Crime Alley is Ma Gunn's Home for Boys, a place that appears to have a positive effect on the displaced youth of the area.  Batman, concerned for Jason, places him in Ma Gunn's care.  Sadly, Batman does not realize that Ma's first name is Fay, or that names (such as Fay Gunn) carry a lot of weight in Comicbookland.  Yep, this Fagin is using the Home for Boys as a criminal training ground.  With Jason's help, Batman takes down the gang, and (in an uncharactertistic move for him) Batman actually clocks a lady -- if Fay Gunn can be considered a lady.  In the end, Batman and Jason ride into the sunset in the Batmobile and Batman calls Jason "Robin."

Continuing the arc, Batman is immersing Jason in training for his role as Robin.  Jason, being a nervy street kid, is impatient.  He makes a major mistake by letting his emotions get sontrol of him after he discovered that Two-Face was responsible for his father's murder.  All ends well. The new Robin learns a valuable lesson and Two-Face is suitably captured.  Another well-written and nuanced Collins arc.

Now we turn to the kerfluffle story where Collins introduces Camilla Cameo, the Mime, a criminal who abhors noise and packs an electrified punch.  During a line-up scene, the artist, completely went against Collins script, perverting the scene and negating Collins' intent.  It's unclear to me whether the decision was one by the artist, by the editor, or by someone else in the DC labyrinth.

The next story, by Jo Duffy, is about an attempted robbery at the Metropoplitan Museum of Gotham and involves an ancient Japanese exhibit.

The next three stories are written by Jim Starlin.  The first fits into an arc started in that month's Millenium comic book and then continues in the following Millenium and Detective issues.  Robots and aliens, oh my!  Doesn't make much sense inluding itin this book, IMHO.

The next two stories bring back Dick Grayson as Nightwing, resolving the issues Dick had with Batman and allowing Jason to become more comfortable with his new role.  Not only do we learn a little bit more about those two, but we get a deeper insight into Batman's psychology.

The final story, a throwaway by Collins from Batman Annual, is a love story between the Penquin and Dovina Partridge.

All in all, Batman:  Second Chances is a darned good read.

Now for the bad part.

DC evidently couldn't decide on an artist to use for this run.  Starlin himself drew the first story, and was then followed in rapid order by Denys B. Cowan, Chris Warner, Ross Andrau & Dick Giordano, Dave Cockrum (for three issues), Kieron Dwyer & Mike DeCarlo, Jim Aparo (for three stories), and -- for the final story -- Norn Breyfogle.  All theese artisits give the book a schizophrenic appearance.  In one story the ears on Batman's mask are large enough to be laughable (making me wonder why the Caped Crusader wasn't called Antelopeman in this story).  Batman's cape is sometimes long enough to be trippable, or at least to be caught in the wheels of the Batcycle.  Jason Todd in his Robin costume at times comes up to Batman's waist, offering a grotesque picture of an eleven-yeaar-old fully-formed midget.  Ptah!

Read this one for the writing.

Thursday, January 7, 2016


The great Mississippi John Hurt.


This episode of Suspense (June 14, 1955) featured Jeanette Nolan in an adaptation of the classic Ray Bradbury story.  .William Conrad narrates.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016


The great Guy Van Duser with Parker Hastings.


"Every time I get on a ferry boat it makes me cross." -- from a Rogers Brothers vaudeville routine, circe 1902

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


It must have been 1965.  I was in a diner in Tewksbury. Massachusetts.  The Hollies were playing somewhere in the area and had booked into a local motel.  Two men in the diner had seen the band members going into the motel and were laughing at their appearance.  "Gawd, look at their hair!  Can't tell 'em from girls!"  Ah, the days of a generational divide.

Instead of looking at their hair, perhaps those men should have listened to their music.


Today's assignment:  for my money Buster Keaton was as talented a comedian as Charlie Chaplin.  Discuss.

To help you in this assignment, here's a visual aid.

Monday, January 4, 2016


Today, my younger brother takes one additional step to old-poopdom.

Don't ever tell him this, but Kenny is smart and talented, of kind heart and quick wit, good-looking and much thinner than I.  His wife is lovely and his two girls giggle -- a lot.  (And, yeah, Lizzie and Julia are also breathtakingly beautiful.)  Kenny has a strange fascination with goats, banjos, and folk music, so he can't be all bad.  When we were kids, he broke my nose and I broke his toe.  I'm lucky to have him as a brother.

So have a great day, Kenny, and an even greater year.  But just remember:  I'm older and wiser.  And always will be.


Boz Scaggs.


They did it again!  Someone snuck a holiday smack-dab into this past week. The weather, we've been told, has been unusually cold and rainy for the Florida Panhandle.  These, as well as very welcome company over the holidays, led to an absolute dearth of new books this past week.

All was not lost, however.  My daughter and her girls gave us some sort of gizmo that allows to watch Netflix, Hulu, and several other services.  (An absolute blessing since the cable companies in our area (and we have a bunch to choose from) are all minor ones and seem to be equally piss-poor. I never thought I'd miss dear old Comcast with its rapacious attitude and its lack of decent customer service.  I'm a grump and a curmudgeon, so sue me.)

Anyway, we know have this gizmo (I'm sure that's the technical term for the thingy) and that puts us in binge-watching heaven.  And what have we binge-watched?

Longmire.  The very next best thing to Craig Johnson's superb novels.

Jack Taylor.  A series of six British television movies (2010-2013) based on the novels by Ken Bruen.  These gritty shows capture just some of Bruen's magnificent prose and are somewhat faithful to the books.  Iain Glen (probably best-known as Ser Jorah Mormont in Game of Thrones) does a great job as Jack Taylor.  The Jack of the television series is not quite as hapless as the one of the books, but this series is still a pure delight.

Dr. Who.  We're catching up on the Capaldi years.

Madame Secretary.  Our latest guilty pleasure.

I feel 2016 will become our year of binge-watching.  All suggestions will be most welcome.

Meamwhile, new books are likely to appear over the next week.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


Forget about big change in the new year.  You should think small and start with a tiny habit according to B. J. Fogg.  Fogg runs the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University and has been named one of the ten new gurus you should know by Forbes Magazine.


Jim and Jessie with "Where the Soul of Man Never Dies."

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Belle Baker.


Shades of the Dread Pirate Roberts!

Tom Moore, shanghaied onto the Black Narcissus, a deadly modern ship disguised as a sailing ship -- a modern day pirate ship preying on ocean liners and leaving no survivors.  The Black Narcissus is captained by the murderous Captain Death, assisted by his first mate Black-Jack.  Tom, sickened by the deprivations of Captain Death and his pirate crew, tries to fight back but is hit from behind by Captain Death's belaying pin.  The captain decides to make an example of Tom, keel hawling him.  Before Tom is ripped apart by the screws, however, he is rescued by his friend Redbeard.  The two form a mutiny and capture Captain Death and his pirate crew.  Unable to return to port lest they be prosecuted as mutineers, Tom and Redbeard set Captain Death afloat near a deserted island and -- with the few crewmen who were loyal  to them -- vow to sail the seas determined to "rid the sea of crime and corruption" with Tom captaining the Black Narcissus -- renamed the Mutineer -- as the newly born Captain Mutiny!

Mutiny and Captain Mutiny lasted just three issues.  It was published by Stanley Morgan's Key Publications under his Aragon imprint.  In an industry dotted with questionable characters, Stanley Morgan stands out.  A Wikipedia entry quotes Lawrence Watt-Evans on the subject of Stanley Morgan:  "His titles often changed publishers from one issue to the next ashe dodged creditors or changed partners, and would sometimes have cover art taken from a story from a different issue if a deadline were missed.  If he came up a story short, he would simply reprint something.  If he couldn't get an artist for a particular slot, he'd have his editor cut and rearrange the art from an old story to make a new one."  Morse has also been quoted as saying, "I don't know what the hell I published.  I never knew.  I never read the things.  I never cared."

Despite this attitude, Mutiny was a pretty good comic book with better than average art.  In this issue, the artwork was most likely by Eugene E. Hughes.  The stories, including the origin tale, pit Captain Mutiny and his crew against the head of an international crime cartel while in the Orient and then against a modern-day slave ship.

It's all good fun, especially for people like me who feel the world needs more pirate stories.

Enjoy, matey!

Friday, January 1, 2016


From 1968, The Seekers.


Into Plutonian Depths by Stanton A. Coblentz (1950)

It's been one of those rare weeks -- one where I haven't finished a blessed book.  Life happens, books don't.  I really wanted to start the New Year off right with a Forgotten Book post full of wit and insight, a post that would have you rushing off to find some arcane tome, muttering, "Gotta have it!  Gotta have it!" strictly because of the brilliance of my review.

Not going to happen this week, dammit.

So let me cheat a pick out a book from Mount TBR, one that I will most likely get to sooner than later.

Unfortunately for you, the book was Into Plutonian Depths.

About Stanton A. Coblentz.  Born in 1896, He studied law at the University of California but his artsy-fartsy side seemed to have gotten the better of him and he switched majors and graduated with an M.A. in English.  (His Master's thesis was privately published as The Poetic Revival in America.  By the early Twenties he was churning out book reviews and poems.  The Thinker and Other Poems appeared in 1923.  He founded the poetry magazine Wings, which ran for 27 years, nd many of his books were published by his own Wings Press.  As a poet he was...well, stodgy.  Modern Twentieth Century poetry did nothing for him and he loudly championed traditionalism.  He began writing science fiction in the late Twenties and became very popular in those early days of SF.  Eager fans did not care about his clunky writing, concentrating instead on his inventiveness and his ability to produce a sense of wonder.  His science fiction was considered "satirical," but (alas!) not funny ha-ha satirical.  It did not age well, a symptom greatly aggravated by heavy editing and revision (by whose hand is not known) when many of his early magazine novels appeared in book form in the Sixties.

About Pluto.  Discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 (remember that date!), Pluto was at one time the ninth planet in our solar system.  Named by an eleven-year-old British schoolgirl, this distant planet and its five moons went merrily along its nontraditional orbit until 2006 when the party poopers at the International Astonomical Union declared Pluto to be a dwarf planet.  Thanks to the New Horizons spacecraft, we now know that Pluto has an atmosphere.  It is suspected that it also has a subsurface ocean layer that is 100-180 kilometers thick.

About Into Plutonian Depths.  The novel first appeared in the spring 1931 issue of Wonder Stories Quarterly, which indicates that Coblentz was quick to get on the Pluto hobby horse after Tombaugh's discoery.  The magazine blurb read:  "Beneath the surface of Pluto, outpost of the solar system [,] dwelt a strange race...and into their midst came two men..."  The novel laid entombed in those crumbling pulp pages until 1950 when Avon Books, under the editorship of Donald A. Wollheim, released it as a paperback original with a noteworthy cover.  Here we had a zaftag blonde bave in a gold lame bikini, her perfectly rounded breasts cupp in a golden half bra with starburst pasties, her fingernails, toenails, and lips painted a deep red, her eyes heavy with mascara, a glowing green orb protuding from her upper forehead, with strands of pearls adorning her right wrist, her hair, and dangling from her bikini bottom.  Her gold sandal literally snake up her calves.  Oh, and she has a blue patterned towel hanging from her backside. She pulling a stalwart hero throught a Neptunian cave while being chased by a horde of blue-skinned natives in gold lame briefs carrying spears (the Neptunians, not the briefs).  A cheesy science fiction cover supreme, matched perhaps only by the cover of Jack Williamson's The Green Girl from the same time and publisher.

The front cover blurb:


Here's the back cover copy:


On the unknown world of Pluto, a maiden's most cherisheddesire was -- to become a Neuter!  Marriage, to a Plutonian miss, was a disaster, and love a catastrophe to be avoided at all costs!

That was why the girl who caught the eyes of the Earthly explorers, Andy and  Dan, did her best to talk them out of any proposals!  Naturally the two men, who had dared the terrors of a two-billion mile journey across interplantary space, were not likely to take a turn-dow like that easily.  They set out to find the answer.  and what they learned was enough to make their heads dizzy with complications of a world that had Three Sexes!

For the poeple who inhabited Pluto did not stop at the conventional two sexes, they had a third -- and that curious Third Sex had the last word on all matters of life, death, and romance.  When the men from Earth and their Plutonian girl friend came into conflict with the laws of the Head Neuter, they had a fight for their lives on their hands that was bound to upset an entire world's crazily balanced standards!

INTO PLUTONIAN DEPTHS will keep you on your toes with its exciting pace, its unconventional satire, and its outstanding fantasy.

And from the inside front cover:

Come to Mysterious Pluto...


Miss Zandaye Zandippar, the beautiful Plutonian girl, who never knew she was good to look at; who was the embodiment of feminine charms, but who thought the highest ideal of womanhood was to join the Third Sex!

Andrew Lyman Stark, the courageous inventor and explorer from Earth, who dared to challenge the mixed-up morality of a weird planet in an effort to win for himself the maiden who captured his heart.

The Head Neuter, brainy ruler of a world that didn't make sense, who determined to "punish" Zandaye for her"'waywardness" by forcing her to remain a woman -- but without Andy Stark!

The Lamp-Heads, the strange race of people who inhabited the inside of Pluto, who had light bulbs growing in their skulls, and who thought that any race without three sexes must be abnormal!

Packed with adventure, romance, and satire, Stanton A. Coblentz's INTO PLUTONIAN DEPTHS is a science-fiction novel that will keep you to the last page as you read of the topsy-turvy world two billion miles away where love is the lost chord in the unearthly symphony of life.

And finally, here's a sample of Cobletz's deathless prose, chosen at random.  From page 66:

"Little did we realize at first how these advantages were regarded by he kin!  For, when we congratulated her upon her form and the color of her eyes, she seemed almost ready for tears; her voice trembled, her head-lamp turned red, and she appeared to believe herself the butt of our jokes.  It was only after long insistance that we learned the reason for her queer behavior:  which was that she was regarded as a sort of freak; that her reddish lips were held to be unnatural; that her blue eyes were condiered a mark of atavism, of degeneracy, since most of the lower animals onPluto also had blue eyes; while her perfectly proportioned form was condemned as ludicrously obese."

As I said above, I will probably read this book sooner than later.  On that day, mes freres, think well of me, for I read so you won't have to.


Once again, our kindly, yet fearless, leader Patti Abbott has taken the day off -- this time to celebrate her birthday* -- and Todd Mason while be collecting whatever New Year's Day links there are at his Sweet Freedom blog.

* Happy Birthday, Patti!