Mary Gnaedinger (1897-1976), a one-time society reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle, edited what was possibly the most successful reprint pulp magazine of all time, the Munsey corporation's Famous Fantastic Mysteries, drawing from the vast number if back issues of Munsey's magazines, most notably Argosy in its various incarnations. From 1939 through 1953, there were 82 issues of Famous Fantastic Mysteries published somewhat erratically, especially during the war years. In addition, she edited two companion reprint magazines: Fantastic Novels (25 issues from 1940 to 1951, with a gap of seven years between 1941 and 1947) and the short-lived digest A. Merritt's Fantasy Magazine (5 issues, 1949-1950).
Pulp fiction magazines were rife during FFM's lifetime, but they were ephemeral. Most copies were tossed shortly after reading. For the science fiction and fantasy fan this created a quandary. In little over a decade, these fans became semi-organized. They wrote each other, organized clubs, published fanzines, swapped books and magazines, and recommended stories. Science fiction and fantasy had broken into book publishing only marginally and short stories were seldom collected. For many fans books and older magazines were just not available. The was a need and a market and FFM went a long way toward filling both.
The first issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, with its cover proclaiming the authors and stories within, must have provoked excitement for the fan. Here were legendary authors: A. Merritt, Ry Cummings, Tod Robbins, J. U. Giesy, and others. Here were some of the stories that fans talked about in hushed whispers. And here, emblazoned in scarlet, were one-word descriptions of each story: AMAZING! THRILLING! STRANGE! ASTOUNDING! WEIRD! STARTLING! EERIE! And all for just 15 cents! And each story had the blurb and illustration from its original appearance!
- A. Merritt - "The Moon Pool" (from All-Story Weekly, June 22, 1918) "Three times the Moon Door had swung close on the prey of the Moon Dweller. Could science save the fourth victim from that ancient curse?" This novella, combined with its sequel "The Conquest of the Moon Pool" comprised Merritt's best-known novel, The Moon Pool (1919).
- Manly Wade Wellman - "Space Station No. 1" (from Argosy, October 10, 1936) "A vivid tale of Martian conquest" Chosen by Wellman to be reprinted in the Leo Margulies and Oscar Friend anthology My Best Science Fiction Story (1949).
- Tod Robins - "The Wimpus" (from All-Story Weekly, October 25, 1919) "If you are a militant materialist, with no belief in anything but that which you see with your own eyes or touh with your own hands, this story is not for you. But, 'There are more strange things hidden away in the sea than ever man heard tell of.'" That includes the whimpus, a particularly feral mermaid. This story had been selected for a volume in the legendary Creeps Library, Nightmares (1919). Robbins also wrote the source material for two classic creepy films: Freaks and The Unholy Three.
- Robert Neal Leath - "Karpen the Jew" (from Argosy, September 3, 1938) "Around the great table in that impregnable room were gathered the four the ambassadors of the four magnificoes of the world -- and with them, unseen, sat the envoy of an even Greater One" The one story in the issue I had not heard of. An interesting blend of magic, pacificism, the Wandering Jew, and Machiavelli. This was the only American reprinting of the story.
- Ray Cummings - "The Girl in the Golden Atom" (from All-Story Weekly, March 15, 1919) "The super-magnifier showed that there was a whole world within the Chemist's ring, and he meant to find out what went on in it." This novella comprised the first eight chapters of Cummings' The Girl in the Golden Atom (1922); the remainder of the novel was first published as "The People of the Golden Atom" in 1920. The basis of the story was the theory that other worlds and universes existed in the microcosm, that these worlds were our atoms. A specious (but entertaining) idea, to be sure, but the story is considered a classic and has been reprinted many times, most recently in Otto Penzler's Big Book of Adventure Stories (2011).
- Donald Wandrei - "The Witch Makers" (from Argosy, May 2, 1936) "His body was about to die -- so they put his mind in the body of a panther -- and turned the panther loose" This story has been reprinted only twice in America -- and the only in Wandrei collections from small press specialty houses: The Eye and the Finger (Arkham House, 1944) and Don't Dream: The Collected Horror and Fantasy of Donald Wandrei (Fedogan & Bremer, 1997).
- J. U. Geisy - "Blind Man's Buff" (from All-Story Weekly, January 24, 1920) "Now you see it -- now you don't: Officer McGuiness was not a drinking man; but the vagaries of Professor Zapt were on too many for an honest Irish cop" Professor Zapt, a slightly mad scientist, appeared in four stories by Giesy from 1915 to 1925. This story has only been reprinted one time each in Canada and France. Geisy, a popular writer of the time, is best known in the SF field for his "Palos of the Dog Star Pack" trilogy (magazine serials from 1918 to 1921; first book publications from 1965 to 1966) and for (with co-author Junius B. Smith) a series of 34 stories about occult detective Semi-Duel (1912-1931).
All seven stories are interesting reads. Some are even good reads. Begiining with the August 1940 issue, Famous Fantastic Mysteries began reprinting "complete" novels from the Munsey backlog. Eventually, the magazine began reprinting other novels, including those by Sax Rohmer, Talbot Mundy, and other well-known and lesser-known writers, with issues padded out with more reprints and an occasional original story. By the time the magazine ended in June of 1953, it was reduced to reprinting the lame Ayn Rand short novel Anthem. But in between the magazine published some great and -- dare I say it? -- fantastic stories.
All 82 issues of Famous Fantastic Mysteries can be viewed online at Internet Achive -- as are all 25 issues of Fantastic Novels and three of the five issues of A. Merritt's Fantasy Magazine.
To get you started, this link takes you to the September-October 1939 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.