Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Stephen Haffner, of Haffner Press, suggested that bloggers use this day to honor Robert Bloch.  Patti Abbott (who has links to over a dozen contributions at, and Todd Mason are among those who rose to the challenge.  My humble piece follows.

One hundred years ago on this date, the writer Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was born in Chicago, where, when he was ten, two formative things occurred:  He saw Lon Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera and began a lifelong love of horror, and he discovered the puilp magazine Weird Tales.  Soon his favorite writer became H. P. Lovecraft.   When he was 17 he wrote a fan letter to Lovecraft and soon began regular correspondence with the writer.  Lovecraft encouraged Bloch's writing and gave him advice on his fiction writing.  Bloch's early published efforts were heavily influenced by Lovecraft and many were set within Lovecraft's Mythos universe.  Bloch and Lovecraft once famously and playfully killed each off in a pair of stories that were published in Weird Tales.

In 1935 Bloch became a member of the Milwaukee Fictioneers, a group of writers who included Stanley G. Weinbaum, Ralph Milne Farley, Raymond A. Palmer, and Gustav Marx.  Marx gave Bloch a job in his advertising company, which perversely allowed Bloch time to write his own fiction.  Bloch also continued his interest in theater (which had developed while he was in high school) and wrote and performed  in his own skits, as well as selling jokes to several radio comics.  He became active in local politics when asked to manage a campaign for a city attorney who was running for mayor.  Bloch and his partner for the campaign , Harold Gauer, formed an unusual, and original campaign, which included the first time ever of dropping balloons from a ceiling, so the next political convention you watch, you'll know who to blame for all those damned balloons.

Bloch moved away from Lovecraftian stories and began to develop a unique style, often walking the thin edge between comedy and horror and relying more on psychological aspects.  He created the Runyonesque character Lefty Feep, often imitated but never equaled, for his friend Raymond Palmer's Fantastic Adventures.  He wrote 39 episodes of the radio horror program Stay Tuned for Terror, often basing the scripts on his own stories, "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," which has become a modern classic.  Bloch's first novels were paperback original crime thrillers, The ScarfSpiderwebThe Kidnapper, and The Will to Kill -- each of which rose far above its contemporaries with its deft use of psychology, and all remain immensely readable today.  It was Bloch's novel Psycho that cemented his reputation.  The Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of that novel opened many doors for Bloch.  He moved to Hollywood and began a long career as a screen and television writer.

Robert Bloch was one of my gateways to reading, as he was for many teen-aged and pre-teen boys (and girls, too, but mostly boys).  His writing style, imagination, and combined sense of humor and shock were perfectly fitted for those insecure years.  His television work -- especially for the Boris Karloff anthology series Thriller, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (an episode of the earlier Alfred Hitchcock Presents was pulled when both network and sponsor felt the ending was too gruesome; the episode, "The Sorceror's Apprentice" was later aired in syndication), Star Trek, and Tales from the Darkside -- were memorable.  His short story collections, starting with his early Arkham House edition of The Opener of the Way, through later pun-filled titles such as Out of the Mouth of Graves, Tales in a Jugular Vein, Fear Today -- Gone Tomorrow, and Such Stuff as Screams are Made Of, to the thick posthumous collections assembled in his honor, contain a plethora of thrill, chills, and smiles.  His story "That Hellbound Train" was the first pure fantasy story to win the science fiction Hugo Award for best short story.  Throughout his career, Bloch kept up his activities in science fiction fandom, penning articles and appreciations and becoming one of the most sought after toastmasters in the field, and publishing several books of his fannish writings.

I don't think anyone has ever said a bad word about Robert Bloch.  He was a kind and supportive man.  In his last months, with the full knowledge that he was dying, he penned an article about his oncoming death for Omni magazine.  It was one of the most powerful pieces I have ever read.  I never met the man, nor have I corresponded with him (in his later years he would answer correspondence with a brief postcard, which was all his writing schedule would allow -- but he would answer), but that Omni article brought me to tears as I realized that I was losing a friend I never met, a man kind enough to sign a book on the west coast sent by a man on the east coast -- something I have always appreciated.

He published 26 novels and hundreds of stories.  These, along with his film, television, and radio work, all the smallest part of his legacy.  His major part was the man himself and the effect he had on his many friends and admirers.


  1. Thanks, Jerry...
    He really packed his postcards, when he was of a mind to. Getting one from him, as I did, was a great thrill.

    As it happens, his friend Samuel Peeples greased his path into a writing job on THE LINEUP tv series, iirc, even before the PSYCHO sale to Hitchcock (though the film didn't hurt once it was out), which agent Harry Atshculer signed away all film rights in perpetuity for a song. And soon became Bloch's ex-agent.

  2. Harry Altshuler, Writer, 77
    Published: June 4, 1990

    Harry Altshuler, a former New York newspaperman, died of Parkinson's disease on Saturday in a San Antonio nursing home. He was 77 years old.

    Mr. Altshuler, who was born in Philadelphia, joined The Newark Star-Ledger in 1947. He moved to The New York Mirror as a rewrite man in 1955 and later was a feature writer for The World-Telegram and The Sun. At the end of his career, Mr. Altshuler, who was also a literary agent, worked for The National Enquirer and The Globe.

    He published a novel in 1968 entitled ''She's Crazy, You'll Love Her,'' under the pseudonym Joe Bruns.

    He is survived by two daughters; Jean, of San Antonio, and Anne Sulman of Madison, Wis., and three grandchildren.