Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, October 30, 2020

Thursday, October 29, 2020


 In a you-pat-my-back-and-I'll-pat-yours deal, both Tastee-Freeze and Harvey Comics manage to come out on top with this retail store advertising comic.  The ice cream company loaded the book with lots of cute cartoons and propaganda, while Harvey Comics was able to promote their titles, including Dick Tracy. 

The bulk of the issue is "The Case of the Million Dollar Dog," taken from newspaper strips of 1957.  

"A man who did of a heart attack....a homeless prize thoroughbred Boxer odd-shaped man....stolen diamonds worth a fortune....these are the ingredients that went into one of Dick Tracy's strangest adventures....THE CASE OF THE MILLION DOLLAR DOG.

"It began when a neighbor found a lonely man dead in his bed, and guarded by his thoroughbred Boxer.  She called the Police, and DICK TRACY and Sam Catchem sped to the scene.  The Boxer did not let them near the body of its deceased master until Dick Tracy took Sam Catchem's sandwich and offered it to the dog.

"The story picks up here......"

And pick up it does as we meet the villain Pear-Shape, learn how the dog is the key to the stolen diamonds, and watch Sam go undercover in drag.  From a health club to the city zoo, Dick and Sam "dog" a vicious murderer in another great episode written and drawn by Chester Gould.


Hmm.  Somehow blogger decided to post this today (Friday) rather than tomorrow (Saturday) when I had scheduled it.  Oh, well.


The Octopus:  The City Condemned to Hell by "Randolph Craig" (Norvell Page)  (1939)

The Octopus was a one-issue pulp title (dated February-March 1939) from Popular Publications that had taken over the numbering of Popular's The Western Raider, which ran for three issues and featured novels about Silver Trent, the Rio Robin Hood by "Stone Cody" (western pulpster Thomas Ernest Mount).  The title of the magazine came from that issue's supervillain, known only as The Octopus.  The City Condemned to Hell was by-lined "Randolph Craig."  The magazine again changed its title with the next issue (April-May 1939) as The Scorpion, the name of that issue's supervillain; the novel in that issue was Satan's Incubator, again by-lined by "Randolph Craig," which had the hero of the previous issue battle the new super-villain.   And that was it.  Randolph Craig and The Scorpion vanished after that issue, joining Silver Trent and The Octopus in pulp magazine limbo.

"Randolph Craig" was most surely veteran pulpster Norvell Page, who had penned most of the pulp magazine The Spider novels, and also contributed to the Black Bat and The Phantom Detective pulp series.  James Van Hise, however, in Pulp Heroes of the Thirties, places the authorship of the two "Randolph Craig" tales to Edith and Ejler Jacobsson.  Radio Archives Pulp Classics credits all three as "Randolph Craig."  (Ejler Jakobsson was a pulp writer who joined the editorial staff of Popular Publications in 1943.  He briefly served as editor of Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories in the 1940s, as well as the short-lived revived Super Science Stories from 1949-1951.  From 1969 to 1974 he was editor of Galaxy and If magazines during the period between Frederik Pohl and Jim Baen.)

[It should go without saying that "Randolph Craig" is not mystery author Craig Rice, whose real name was Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig.  What the heck?  I'll say it anyway.]

Back to The Octopus, a frenetic mishmash  of hastily written. pulse-pounding action and confusion -- I loved it.  As stated above, The Octopus is the villain.  The hero is Jeffrey Fairchild, a rich man about town, who had studied medicine but was never licensed, preferring instead to devote his time to charity work, such as funding the Mid-City Hospital.  No one realizes that, with a little make-up, a false wig, and some cloth-bound wire in his jaw, that Jeffrey was also the elderly Doctor. Skull, a kindly medico whose skill and compassion has made him one of the most renowned doctors in the city.  But there is also another side of Jeffrey Fairchild and Doctor Skull, he is also the notorious Skull Kill, a costumed vigilante who goes against "those who have no compassion, and who prey upon the defenseless and helpless,"  As the name implies, the Skull Killer has no compunction about killing criminals.  Like Norvell Page's The Spider, the Skull Killer has an acid filled ring that he uses to brand his victims with his mark -- a skull.

As we open, Dr. Skull is treating a young woman, Mrs. Pervins, who had been dragged out of the river and was covered with some sort of malignant cancer-like growth.  Dr. Skull is convinced that he can safely remove the growth, but he is more puzzled by the fact that the woman has no heartbeat and that be blood has been replaced by sea water.  (Yeah, that would puzzle me, too.)   Then Mrs. Pervins suddenly changed into a shiny, inhuman monster that clasped its mouth onto a nurse's bosom, removing a three-inch circle of flesh over her heart.  Dr. Skull pulls the thing that had been Mrs' Pervins from the nurse and the monster leaps out of the window onto the hospital fire escape.  Descending, it reaches the floor of the maternity ward when a long tentacle reaches out and pulls her in.  On that floor a man pulls out a knife and begins to attack Dr. Borden, the head of the hospital.  Dr. Skull pulls out a pistol and kills the attacker.  The dead attacker was Mrs. Pervins husband, who, Borden said, had a reason to hate Dr. Skull because of "what he had done to his wife."  Borden accuses Dr. Skull of deliberate murder.  Skull escapes to the hospital basement, where he enters a secret passage leading to a labyrinth of unknown tunnels hidden under the city.  Phew!

Dr. Skull had noticed that most of the doctors at the hospital -- save for Borden -- had suddenly got purple eyes.  Pretty soon, the city was bathed in a purple light and, perhaps (it's not exactly clear) a purple gas, that renders people slaves.  Too much of the light (or the gas) turns people in monsters like Mrs. Pervins, and the monsters need fresh blood to sustain themselves.  Two such monsters attack Jeffrey Fairchild, blaming him for their condition.  Luckily for Fairchild, about half the monsters -- including the couple that attacked him -- have retained some sense of logic and he convinces them to stand  down (and not to stand up).  Anyway, hundreds upon hundreds of these monsters appear at the beck and call of the supervillain The Octopus.  Who, or what, The Octopus is is never made clear.  Is he a man (as described in part of the book) or an actual giant octopus with a purple eye and tentacles that can grab a man (also as described in the book).  His/its purpose is never really solved.  Is this just a giant extortion scheme (as described in the book) or an attempt to control the city (as is also described in the book?  The death count keeps rising as The Skull Killer goes forth to rescue Dr. Skull's pretty nurse Carol Endicott and Bob Fairchild, Jeffrey's young (and crippled) brother.  Did I mention that Dr. Borden is The Octopus' right hand man?  And that the hospital is destroyed, as well as Fairchild's home and Dr. Skull's office?  Things are looking pretty bleak.

You can drive a truck through the plot holes in this story, but you really don't want to do that because you're having too much fun just reading the story and going along for the ride.  Page knows how to write an exciting tale packed with hundreds (if not thousands) of corpses, even if he does a slipshod job of it sometimes.


 In this age of Trump, Covid, the rise of white nationalism, and the possible demise of democracy, I find is refreshing to look back to the turbulent Sixties, where popular music helped stop a war, bring civil rights to the forefront, attacked bigotry, and pointed out some of our more significant flaws.  Today, we have the late night comedians and the Lincoln Project, as well as Randy Rainbow and other satirists, doing that job for us.  To me, the Sixties were a special time when we could, and did, change the future.  Sadly, many of us lost that zeal as we aged, and greed and self-interest took over.  I still have hope, however, and the younger artists of today are part of that hope.

The link takes you to a compilation of 26 songs from the Sixties.  It's not the greatest compilation, but its a start.  Feel free to link to those songs that inspired you in the comments section.


 David Seville, aka Ross Bagdasarian.


 A little bit of chill for your Halloween week.

"A concert pianist loses his right hand in a car accident.  He is distraught and cannot bear to look at his piano again.  His wife and his teacher/mentor try to cheer him up but it is a difficult task.  His career seems to be over, the insurance company is balking at the large payout when the accident seemed to be his fault, and he is losing interest in living.  His mentor tries to get him to see hope:  that he can still teach.   She even has a pupil in mind, they go to see him in performance and see a remarkable sight:  the student's right arm is drawn away from the piano and he plays the entire piece with only his left hand.  The disfigured pianist is convinced that it was his own right hand that took over."

As an additional bit of frisson, it turns out that the amputation of the hand was unnecessary.

Directed by Himan Brown and scripted by George Lowther, this episode features the voice talents of Mandel Kramer, Marian Seldes, Carol Teitel, and Russell Horton.  E. G. Marshall is your announcer.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020


 Screaming Jay Hawkins.


In high school, my math teacher called me average.  That's mean.


 "Master Zacharius" by Jules Verne

In old (very old) Geneva lived the famed clockmaker Master Zacharius, the most esteemed and most ancient citizen of the city.  Zacharius had advanced the art and science of clockmaking to new heights and his work was prized throughout the continent.  His house was set on posts on an island over the Rhone and the river rushed under parts of his home -- specifically, under his bedchamber and workshop on the lower floor of the house.  When his day's work was done, he would often lift a trapdoor on the floor and spend a long time gazing at the roaring river and inhaling its scent.

With Zacharius lived his daughter Gerante, his apprentice Aubert Thun, and his elderly housemaid Scholastique.  While all three were deeply religious, Zacharius had an almost mystical approach to his work, finding his immortality in the quality of his watches and clocks -- which would surely live on after his death.  But now Zacharius has been greatly bothered by something.  Unusually quiet and remote, he has stopped eating and has been spending more time in his workshop.  It turns out that all of his watches are being returned for repair -- they have all stopped working and Zacharius has been unable to repair them or to find a reason why these finely-tuned instruments have stopped.  Springs from the inner works, when released from pressure, do not uncoil.  Replacing the springs does not make the flywheels or the pendulums work.  It is as if the clock watchmaker has been cursed, perhaps because of his near mystical approach to his craft and his belief that his work was the true melding of soul and body.  Life, to Zacharius, is "only an ingenious mechanism." and in his vainglory declares the God had invented eternity but that Zacharius had invented time.

The monomania of Zacharius is slowly draining his life and the trio who loved him most seem able to do nothing about it.  Gerante spends time taking her father out, away from his workshop, while Aubert tries vainly to repair the watches that more and more are being returned.  Aubert himself fears that he will soon go as mad as his master.  Also, rumors were spreading through the city that Aubert and Gerante were to be wed -- something neither of them knew about these rumors although Aubert was very fond of Gerante and she, in her turn, cared for him.  One person who said the marriage would not happened was a newly arrived stranger, an ugly, short, wide man whose voice was metallic and whose teeth resembled the cogs of a wheel.  This strange person appeared obsessed with Zacharius and followed him everywhere.  When spying him, Zacharius said he was not a man, bur a clock.

Be he man or clock or devil, the stranger approached Zacharius with an offer to help, but only if gerante weds him.  Zacharius rebuffs the offer and the man repeats that Gerante and Aubert will never wed.

Zacharius threw himself into trying to repair the watched to  no avail.  Customers were getting very upset, some calling him a fraud, and Zacharius them offered to buy back the watches in order to maintain his reputation for scrupulous honestly.  Soon, Zacharius had expended all his wealth and his health continued to fail him.  Some time before, the watchmaker had stopped going to church and Gerante hope that a return to religiosity might help save her father.  The church service Gerante brought her father to did not sway him; he felt no sense of religious awe.  The church clock reached the noon hour and refused to strike, throwing Zacharius into a fit of despair.  

Now dying, the old man gives his blessing to the marriage of Gerante and Aubert.  Then suddenly, a thought strike him.  He rises from what had been assumed to be his deathbed and goes to his records.  There was one clock -- just one -- that he had made that had not been returned to him, a clock he had sold years ago.  If it had not been returned, then it must still be working, was his reasoning.  He leaves at once to find this clock which was located some twenty hours from Geneva.  Realizing where he had gone, Gerante, Aubert, and Scholastique follow in hopes of returning him home.

The clock is at the chateau of Signor Pittonaccio, a man who had forsaken the church for some unnamed evils.  Pittonaccio is also the ugly stranger who had been following Zacharius in Geneva.  He tells the clockmaker that he will not rewind that last working clock unless he pledges Gerante to him, for if the clock stops, so will Zacharius.  The clock itself, originally inscribed with pious sayings, now has irreligious writings on it instead.  Just as the hour struck for Zacharius to sign the marriage contract, he realized that his soul was forfeit.  He lunges to the clock. The clock's spring bursts from the clock.  Pittonaccio seizes it and "uttering a horrible blasphemy, ingulfed himself in the earth."  Zacharius falls backward, dead.  Thus the two lovers were able to wed and spend the rests of their long days praying for the soul of the clockmaker.

Science v. religion.  The sin of pride.  A fairly straightforward moral argument, tinged with decent writing and a hint of the demonic.  "Master Zacharius" is a Faustian tragedy, easily readable.  The story was first printed in the April-May 1854 edition of Musee de families; and was included in Verne's collection Doctor Ox (1874), translated by George Makepeace Towle.  A different translation of the collection also appeared that year, this time the story was translated by Abby L. Alger with the title "Master Zachery." It is available online at a number of different source; let Google find it for you.  In 1961, the story was adapted almost beyond recognition for a one-hour episode of  Shirley Temple Theater, with Temple in the role of Gerante and Sam Jaffe as Zacharius.  That same year, an uncredited adaption which remained (just a bit) closer to the original story was aired on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  An opera, Maitre Zacharius, by Jean-Marie Curti premiered in 2008.

The author of this tale, Jules Verne (1828-1905), needs no introduction.  His imaginative works of science fiction, romance, and adventure have stood the test of time and will continue to do so far into the future.


 The Holy Modal Rounders.

Monday, October 26, 2020


 I hope Laverne & Shirley is not forgotten.  Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams were perfect as two single girls working at Milwaukee's Shotz Brewery as bottle cappers in the late 1950s.  The casting of Michael McKean and David L. Landers as their somewhat off-kilter neighbors Lenny and Squiggy was brilliant, using characters that McKean and Landers created while attending Carnegie Mellon University (reportedly while under the influence of marijuana).

Happy Days creator Garry Marshall introduced Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney in a November 1975 episode of that show.  The characters moved to their own show the following year. while also making occasional guest shots on Happy Days.  Penny Marshall as Laverne also appeared in the premier episode of Mork & Mindy, another Happy Days spinoff.  Laverne and Shirley also became animated cartoons in Laverne & Shirley in the Army (14 episodes) and in the Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour (8 episodes).

This episode has the girls wanting to buy a new couch.  A furniture sale is being held in a house that Laverne thinks is haunted.  Nonetheless, they and Lenny and Squiggy head off to buy the couch.  Strange things happen.  Could the house be really haunted?  I think you know the answer but, hey, it's Halloween week.



 The pandemic...since January...argh!...this is my song now

Sunday, October 25, 2020


 Openers:  Business was being done as usual in the big outer office of the Ryan Importing Company.  Calls came over the switchboard for various department heads.  Men and girls bent over desks, reading and checking order blanks, typewriting, performing the thousand and one duties of big business.

Yet over the office hung a hush, more sensed than consciously felt.  The typewriters seemed to make less than their normal chatter.  Employees talked in low tones, when they had something to communicate to one another.  The office boy showed a tendency to tiptoe when he carried a fresh batch of mail in from the anteroom.

The girl at the switchboard pulled a plug as a call from the secretary of the big boss, Arthur B. Ryan, was concluded.

The office boy looked inquiringly at her as he passed.  "How's the old man?"

The girl shook her head a little.  "I guess he's worse.  That last call was important, but he wouldn't take it himself.  He had Galdys take it for him."

Paul Ernst, "Doctor Satan" (Weird Tales, August 1935)

So what is bothering the Old Man?  Was it something more than the pounding headache that had struck him only two hours before?  Then, suddenly, a "shriek of pain and horror" comes from Arthur Ryan's office.  Ruching in, his employees find their boss dead, with a tree growing out of his skull, "like a plant cracking a flower-pot it outgrows, and sending roots and branches through the cracks."  It's definitely not a typical day at that office.

Ten minutes later, in his mansion on Long Island, the same fate came to Samuel Billingsley, a retired merchant.  Threats had been made to Billingsley and, two days before, he had hired armed bodyguards.  And yet he died...horribly.

Super-wealthy Ballard Walstead was the next to get a threatening letter.  It demanded one million dollars or he would suffer the same fate.  The letter was signed Doctor Satan.  Walstead brought the letter to Ascott Keane, a rich dilletante who also happened to be the world's greatest criminal investigator.  But Walstead was doomed; Doctor Satan had already infected him with this strange, unholy curse. 

Ascott Kane takes on the challenge of the mysterious Doctor Satan in a battle of wits that lasted through eight stories in Weird Tales, from August 1935 to September 1936 -- making Doctor Satan the longest lasting pulp villain.  The readership of Weird Tales did not take kindly to this villain, feeling that the stories did not fit well into the magazine.  Doctor Satan was dropped.

[It should be noted that these stories were clearly of their time: viz., the reference to "men and girls," the spelling of  "dilettante," and the numerous typos in the original Weird Tales editions (which I have cleaned up in the paragraphs cited above.] 

The late Robert Weinberg issued five of the stories in his book Doctor Satan in 1974 as number 6 in his series of  "Pulp Classics."  The complete series was issued by Altus Press in 2013 as The Complete Tales of Doctor Satan; the series was repeated in The Complete Stories of Doctor Satan from Fiction House Press last year.

Paul Ernst (1899-1985; not to be confused with the writer of the same name, b. 1886, who wrote detective novels) produced over 400 stories, including the 24 original novels about Richard Benson, The Avenger, under the house name "Kenneth Robeson."  Ernst's other series characters (Seekay, Constable Carey, Russ Tildon, Bill Risk, Philip King, and Tiger Teague) each appeared for a few stories only; Ernst (and, perhaps, his editors) seemed to be more comfortable writing stand-alone tales across the genres.

Two other posthumous collections of Ernst's stories have been published.  The Red Hell of Jupiter and Other Tales from the Pulps (2010) contains five stories from Astounding Science Fiction (1930-1932) and one from Popular Detective (September 1936).  Twelve Who Were Damned and Other Stories, published last year, has twelve stories, eleven from Dime Mystery Magazine (1935-1938) and one from Horror Stories (February 1935).

Several of Ernst's stories have been reprinted several times in science fiction anthologies:  "The Microscopic Giants" (Thrilling Wonder Stories, October 1936), " 'Nothing Happens on the Moon' " (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1939), and "The Thing in the Pond" (Astounding Science Fiction, June 1934).

Paul Ernst's prose may be clunky, but it is eminently readable.  For a good taste of what the pulps were like in their glory, you can't go wrong.



  • Lloyd Biggle, Jr., Monument.  SF novel.  "To the paradise world of Langri comes H. Harlow Wembling, a ruthless billionaire promoter.  He looks at the sparkling seas, magnificent, beaches, and fascinating plant and animal life and envisions a world-wide vacation resort that will be the financial coup of his life.  Langri's human population is no match for his deft manipulations, and the charter he obtains makes Langri virtually the private property of Wembling and Company."  The natives of Langri follow a plan to oppose Wembling, a plan devised by Obrien, a long-dead prospector who had crashed on the planet and had grown to love it.  Wll the planet become a monument for Webling, or Obrien?  Biggle was a popular and readable author who was most active in the science fiction field in the 60s and 70s.  Always competent but seldom outstanding, Biggle then moved on to mystery fiction.  I've always liked his writing.
  • Scott Ciencin, Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Sweet Sixteen.  Television tie-in novel. one of a gazillion about Buffy and the gang.  "Buffy's younger sister, Dawn, knows how it feels to be different.  So when she overhears her classmates teasing a new girl, Arianna, she steps in, and the two become friends.  But when Buffy comes home one afternoon to find her sister and Arianna hanging out, she's surprised -- she encountered Arianna one night on patrol.  A demon had been attacking her, but Arianna fought back on  her own.  What's that about?"  I still miss the television program.
  • Ed Gorman, Martin H. Greenberg, and Larry Segriff. editors, Cat Crimes Through Time.  Historical mystery anthology with 21 stories about cats.  One of a series of Cat Crimes anthologies.  Good reading with stories from Doug Allyn, Bill Crider, Tom Piccirilli, Jan Grape, Gary A. Braunbeck, Jon L. Breen, Elizabeth Foxwell, Carole Nelson Douglas, and others.
  • Nora Kramer, editor, The Ghostly Hand and Other Haunting Stories.  Juvenile ghost/horror anthology with 19 stories and poems.  By coincidence, I pick this one up at a thrift store the same afternoon Todd Mason had mentioned this book on his blog.  For grades three through five, I reckon.
  • Otto Penzler, editor, The Mighty Johns.  Football-themed mystery anthology with thirteen short stories, plus David Baldacci's title movella.  Authors include Lawrence Block, James Crumley, Brendan DuBois, Dennis Lehane, Mike Lupica, Brad Meltzer, Carol O'Connor, Anne Perry, Gary Phillips, and Peter Robinson.  There's enough good stories here to satisfy even a non-sports fan like me.

Get Ready for Halloween:  Try these audio stories from Libravox to get in the mood.  Best to listen at night, with the lights off, in front of a crackling fire, with a cup of hot chocolate (or maybe a fine brandy), and someone special to hug.

"Afterward" by Edith Wharton.

"The Shunned House" by H. P. Lovecraft

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" by M. R. James

"The Old Nurse's Story" by Mrs. Gaskell

"The Room in the Tower" by E. F. Benson

Or If Comic Books Are Your Thing:  Here's a few from the thousands that are available online:

Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #1 (August 1956) first a radio show, then a magazine, then this comic book

Weird Comics #1 (April 1940)  A mix of horror, science fiction, and adventure

Weird Thrillers #1 (September-October 1951)  lots of monsters here; bonus --a photo of the late horror actor Rondo Hatton on the cover

Amazing Ghost Stories #14 (October 1954)

Frankenstein #1 (no month given, 1945) we can't forget everyone's favorite monster; this title ran for 33 issues, ending with the October-November 1954 issue after changing its title to The Monster of Frankenstein

Background Noise:  And some ambient Halloween sounds from a haunted house to set the  mood...

Halloween Treats:   Here's fifty easy halloween treats for the non-discriminating eaters you may know.
  Warning:  irritating slide show ahead.

Pranks:  Pranks can be tricky.  You don't want to cause any damage or harm.  (Well, most of us don't.)  These ten pranks come to you via Parade magazine, that staple in many of our Sunday newspapers, so I figure they can't be too bad.

YUK!   And here's a real-life Halloween horror story to unsettle your stomach:

Today's Poem:
All Hallows

Even now this landscape is assembling.

The hills darken.  The oxen

sleep in their blue yoke,

the fields have been

picked clean, the sheaves

bound evenly and piled at the roadside

among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness

of harvest or pestilence.

And the wife leaning out the window

and her hand extended, as in payment,

and the seeds

distinct, gold, calling

Come here

Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

-- Louise Gluck





 It's Christmas, 1913...a great time (however briefly) to spend with New Zealand's famous crime writer.


 Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers.

Saturday, October 24, 2020


 Today is Bill Wyman's 84th birthday...can you believe it?  The oldest of the Rolling Stones has said that this song was released as a single after the band members voted 3-2 to release it.  Wyman, Charlie Wattsm and Brian Jones voted to release the song and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards did not want to do it,  believing the song was not commercially viable.  Wow.

Friday, October 23, 2020


 "As free, as keen, as deadlyand as true as a well-aimed lance flying toward its target is that mysterious, daring will-o'-the-wisp known as Freelance!  So it is that this valiant adventurer ever marks his deeds with this "signature"...a little man on a flying lance...that no other shall pay any penalty for his never-ending battle against the sinister forces of destruction.  A man without a country, reared by an Indian tribe in a tropical valley hidden in the far north, Freelance is gifted with all the skill, craft and prowess of a native hunter...yet, trained in a great institute of learning under an assumed name, he is master of the arts of modern science[,] but it is the fate of this modern adventurer never to reveal his true identity to any man...always must he walk life's path alone...truly a Freelance!"

Created by Ted McCall and Ed Furness, Freelance has, in the opinion of Canadian comic book collector and fan Ivan Komarek, an essential Canadian quality and is a Canadian superhero in all senses of the word.

1n 1940, the Canadian government banned the import of American comic books and McCall saw an opportunity.  He owned the both the copyright and the plates for a comic strip he had started in 1935, Robin Hood and Company.  The strip proved popular and moved from one newspaper to more than 80 papers internationally.  The strip ended in 1939 when the artist joined the army.  Now, with the War Exchange Conservation Act, a niche became open for Canadian comic books.  Robin Hood and Company became the first title from Anglo-American Publishing.  After the original strips had been used, McCall brought in artist Ed Furness.  The two then created Freelance, "a daring guerrilla battling the Axis powers."  Freelance ran from 1941 to 1947, when Anglo-American closed up shop.  McCall, noted for his deft writing and well-rounded scripts, never worked in the comic industry again.

The August-September 1946 issue contained three slam-bang adventure of Freelance:  "The Mysterious Prisoner," "Underground Rockets," and an untitled story.



 The Newbeats.

Thursday, October 22, 2020


 The Diamond Lens and Other Stories by Fitz-James O'Brien (1858)

So first a little background.

It was fairly late one night last week when there was a knock on my door.  When I opened the door, there was a superannuated old man, all bent over, his face and hands were covered with liver spots and what hair he had left was dirty and scraggly.  His appearance was almost skeletal and I gathered he had not had a decent meal in quite some time.  I did not recognize him and feared he might some type of lunatic.  His first words lent credence to my supposition.  "Hello me," he said.

I stared and tried to stammer a reply.

He chuckled in that wheezy old man way and said, "Yes, Jerry, it's me...I mean you."

I continued to stare as he explained that he was me from 40 years in the future and that he travelled back in time to ask me a question.  "I'll prove you're me, or that I'm you, whatever.  What if I tell me -- I mean you -- something that no one else knows,"  He leaned close and whispered in my ear about something that had happened in 1965.  I blushed.

"Okay," I said, "you're me from the future.  But you must be 114 years old!"

"113.  It's only June when I came from."

"But you're so old.  And decrepit.  That's not how I pictured my future self," I protested.

"Hell, I'm one of the lucky ones.  Things really went downhill in...What year is this anyway?


"Oh shit!  I'm am so sorry."

"That's when everything hit the fan, starting with Trump's election."

I stopped him right there. "No, no, no.  Trump is going to lose this one.  There's no way he can win."

He -- me -- chuckled, and the sound was horrific.  "That's what everybody thought and then those gangs of Proud Boys raided every polling place in the Blues states and put flamethrowers to the write-in ballots.  Still, he lost the popular vote by 136 million, but, you know,"  he shrugged.  "Electoral college."

My lips started making little gulping noises like a fish out of water.

"Anyway, what with Covid-19 and Covid-21 and Covid-22...Well you add the climate crisis and the fires and the riots and the food shortages, the population got pretty well decimated.  The middle class was basically killed of in the 1% Revolt of the Elite in 2025.  Then things got pretty much worse."

I said, "But even is Trump was reelected he could serve for another four years.  Surely we could have begun to right things then"

I/he looked at me/him with sad, sad eyes.  "You poor naive child.  Trump went on to serve another 13 years.  He'd still be president if Don, Jr. hadn't shot the jar that held his brain with an elephant gun.  Cant' really blame Don Jr. though, he was going through one of his syphillic bouts."

"Ga, ga, ga," I replied.

I/me/him continued.  "So that left Eric as acting president until they could locate vice president Ivanka, who was at an undisclosed location having her ninth breast implant.  By the time they found Ivana, well, who knew that silicone in those amounts would reach a toxic and fatal level?  So then we had president DeVos, whose one accomplishment was eliminating public education on her first day in office.  The rest of her term was spent funneling federal dollars to her brother's soldier-for-hire business.But none of that really mattered because by then Vladimir Putin had had so many parts replaced by various mechanical thingies that cyborg Putin changed his name to Skynet.  And...brrr."

I held up my hands.  "No more. No more. You said you can to ask me a question.  What was it?"

"Yes.  What was it?"

"I don't know.  You're asking the question.  What was it?"

"That's what I said!  What was it?"

After a half hour of this jolly interchange, I discovered that his question concerned Fitz-James O'Brien's short story "What Was It?"  It turns out that my future self had a lot of holes in his memory, what with his bouts with Covid-25, Ebola, and general malnutrition due to the collapse of the food supply.  He remembered liking the story but, for the life of him, he could not remember the plot.  So he came to me because, he said, "You -- me, my younger me -- was known as a repository of totally useless facts about various books and stories no one had ever heard of."

Then I was able to explain to him that the story, which some consider O'Brien's best, was about an invisible being which dropped on the narrator while he was sleeping and placed its hands upon his throat.  (It should be noted that this first happened after the narrator partook of opium.)  The thing is naked, strong, and had long sharp teeth.  The narrator manage to overcome his attacker and bound him with his sheets.  On turning the light, he discovers that his attacker is completely invisible.  The thing, human in form, has been definitely weakened and can barely move.  The invisible being, still tied to the bed, becomes a creature of interest.  A plaster cast reveals that the being has a human-like form, "distorted, uncouth, and horrible, but still a man."  For two weeks the thing got weaker and weaker, refusing any food.  Finally, it dies and is buried in the garden.  We never know what it was, or where it came from, or what its motivation was.

"That's it!  That's it!  Thank you, me!  Now, where can I find a copy of the story?"

"Well, its in an old collection of stories by Fitz-James O'Brien.  The title is The Diamond Lens and Other Stories."

"It sound interesting," I told me.  "Are the other stories as good?"

"I think it's a pretty neat collection.  The title story is almost as well known as "What Was It?"  It's about a man's discovery of a microscopic world within a drop of water.  He falls in love with the beautiful Animula, a woman of this tiny world, but can never meet her.  Another story, "The Wondersmith." is about a mad toymaker who creates demonic simulacrons to kill those he perceives to be his enemies.  "The Golden Ingot" is a tale of love and good intentions gone wrong.  "The Pot of Tulips" is an earlier adventure of a character in "What Was It?"  It mixes science fiction, fantasy and horror in a tale of lost treasure and a message from beyond the grave.  There's another eight stories in the book, all interesting but perhaps not as powerful.  Perhaps the best of these others is "The Dragon Fang," a Dunsanian dark fantasy set in China."

With that, my visitor left, vowing to find a copy of the book.  I then went to bed and in the morning, feeling a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge, decided the night visit was merely a dream, perhaps a bit of undigested beef.

I don't know what brought Fitz-James O'Brien to mind.  He was born in Ireland and educated at the University of Dublin.  Within four years after graduation he had gone through his entire inheritance of 8.000 pounds.  Changing his name to Fitz-James (he was born Michael O'Brien in 1826) and emigrated to America, where he began selling articles, stories and poems.  In 1861, he joined the New York National Guard and was wounded in battle the following year.  Technically, the wound didn't get him, but the tetanus did.  He died four months later in Cumberland, Maryland.


Two popular singers were born on this day in 1942 and I thought I would honor each of them with this somewhat odd pairing.

First, Bobby Fuller (1942-1966), with The Bobby Fuller Four:

Then, everyone's favorite Mouseketeer, Beach Party actress, and Skippy peanut butter shill, Annette Funicello (1942-2013):


 Of all the actors to portray Brett Halliday's Michael Shayne on film, radio, or television, certainly the most hard-boiled and closest to Halliday's original character was Jeff Chandler.  This particular syndicated series was produced by Don W. Sharp and directed by Bill Rousseau (who also served as program announcer).  Because of the nature of syndication, this episode may have run a few days before or a few days after the date above in some markets, but it typically aired on Saturdays between 5:00 and 5:30 pm.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020


This 1982 song by Bruce Springsteen is about the true-life murder spree of Charlie Starkweather and Caril  Ann Fugate.  It is not everyone's cup of tea.  It made Rolling Stone's list of 25 Most Terrifying Songs.


 (first, some Election Day advice)

Remember:  Voting is just like driving.  D to go forward, R to go in reverse.


(and here's a bit of liberal bias from the fake news)

A man at the zoo, enjoying the sun and the animals when he spots a little girl getting to close to the lion enclosure.  Suddenly a hungry lion jumps up and grabs the little girl by her shirt and pulls her down into the enclosure.

The man jumps into action, hops into the enclosure,and give the lion a powerful punch in the face before the girl could come to any harm.  The lion rushes back into his den, whimpering.  The man lifts the girl out of the enclosure and then hops out.  Another man rushes to them and says, "That was the most fantastic, bravest thing I have ever see!"  The hero replies, "It was nothing.  anyone would have done it."  "I disagree," said the other man.  "In fact, I'm a reporter and I'd like to write up this story for tomorrow's newspaper.  Can you tell me a bit about yourself?"  "Well. I'm a marine, a proud Republican, and I'm voting for Donald Trump."

The next day, the hero opened up the newspaper and saw this headline:  MARINE ATTACKS FOREIGN IMMIGRANT AND STEALS HIS LUNCH.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020


"The Gods and Ritter Tanhuser" by Vernon Lee

What happens to gods that no longer have believers?  In the case of the Olympians, they his to the realms of nowhere, which is located beyond space and time, and enjoy an eternal existence free of the petty concerns of mankind.  There they live as ideas (albeit somehow retaining their physical constructs) and spend the ages discoursing on intellectual subjects.  Well, most of them do.  Aphrodite, however, has returned to Earth to live on a hilltop abode with the mortal Tanhuser, a High Dutch (German) man who considers himself a poet.  This arrangement had been going on very satisfactorily for Aphrodite for about a year, when Tanhuser becomes obsessed with entering a poetical contest to be held in Wartburg, the prize being a used gloved from the aged (and ugly) wife of a tyrant.  Aphrodite is distraught that a mere human would forsake her for a poetry competition.  Weeping, she flees back beyond space and time to the Olympians, where she describes her plight.

Despite being gods, the Olympians are remarkably human in their emotions.  Apollo, the god of poetry, volunteers to go to Earth and bring Tanhuser back to Aphrodite.  (Aphrodite, herself, is supposed too upset to step foot back on Earth).  Athena than volunteers to go with Apollo, in part because she does not trust him, fearing he would enter the competition himself.  Zeus, being Zeus, lays an unnecessary condition upon the adventure -- If Tanhuser utters Aphrodite's name three times, the goddess must forsake him and have nothing ever to do with him from then on.  This is the type of mythical catch that Zeus enjoys.promoting.

So Apollo and Athena travel to Earth to accompany Tanhuser (who resents the intrusion) to the competition; the gods take the form of a Greek grammarian (Apollo) and a Moorish necromancer (Athena) who are the last of Tanhuser's retainers who had survived a supposed "shipwreck" on the way back from Tanhuser's "heroic" adventures in the Holy Lands.  (A much better excuse, Tanhuser thinks, than spending a missing year shacking up with Aphrodite.)  Just before they reach Wartburg, Tanhuser speeds ahead, wearing a magic helmet of invisibility given him by Aphrodite, and leaving his two-god entourage in the distance.  By the time Apollo and Athena reach the gates of Wartburg, Tanhuser is nowhere to be found.  And Apollo and Athena find themselves in a country that speaks no Greek or Latin and where they do not speak German.  (Sigh)  Communications becomes a problem.

Apollo manages to meet the Mitred Abbess of Mulda, who is thrilled to be able to use her monastic Latin, an idiom that Apollo understands only vaguely (it is not classical Latin, is it?).  Aphrodite meets the Cardinal, a necromancer who has made a deal with the Devil to ultimately become Pontefex Maximus.  Tanhuser has his turn at the competition and unknowingly uses Aphrodite's Latin name three times in his poem.  This, per Zeus' dictate and an oath he made Aphrodite swear on the Waters of the Styx, puts the goddess permanently out of his reach.  It also violates a rule of the competition that (Tanhuser did not know) that does not allow mention of mythical figures; if this rule is violated three times, an angry mob will descend upon the violator, bind him to a chair, and dunk him into the moat where tadpoles will invade his body.  While Tanhuser is being taken off to his punishment, Apollo takes his turn at the competition.  The god picks up Tanhuser's broken harp (pretty much destroyed by the angry mob) and begins his "poem."  His fingers strum the air above the harp and images and sounds of nature appear; Apollo does not have to recite a thing -- the spellbound audience "feels" his piece through sight and emotion.  Apollo then assumes a godly form and arise to the sky.  Athena, having out-magicked the necromantic Cardinal, leaves him drooling and gap-jawed as she also flies through the air back to the Olympians.  The devil will never be able to honor his deal.

Much of this tale is presented in over-flowery language that heightens the satirical content.  All is fair game here for the author:  art, religion, love, politics, human foibles...

A witty and enjoyable fantasy by Violet Paget (1856-1935), who wrote under the pseudonym of "Vernon Lee."  Paget/Lee is now best known for her supernatural stories, including the classic "Oke of Okehurst;" she was also major literary figure whose essays on aesthetics, travel, and literary criticism were much appreciated in her time.  An avowed lesbian, she remained a very private person while also espousing progressive politics.  Paget scholar Phyllis Mannocchi notes, "She wrote on p[olitics and was very progressive for her time.  She was a supporter of women's suffrage, she was antivivisectionist and antiwar, and she belonged to a group investigating the psychology of sex."

"The Gods and Ritter Tanhuser" appeared in her 1927 collection For Maurice:  Five Unlikely Stories under the title "Tanhauser and the Gods."  It is available to read online at, the online arm of The Sybil -- A Journal of Vernon Lee Studies.


 Ivory Joe Hunter.


 Based on a Jackson Gregory novel, Desert Valley features Buck Jones, one of the greatest "B" western movie stars with over 160 credits, is Fitzsmith, a stranger who comes across a dead cow and a barely alive calf near a water pipe.  It is obvious that the cow died of thirst and that the calf will soon die, so Fitzsmithe shoots some holes in the water pipe for the calf.  The dastardly Jeff Hoades (Malcolm Waite, The Gold Rush, The Whole Town's Talking, Kentucky Pride) has piped the water to try to drive ranchers out.

Fitzsmith ambles on his horse Silver (no relation to that other horse) when the smell of fresh-cooked pie wafts toward him.  When there are pies cooling on the window sill, what's a poor cowpoke to do?  So he swipes a pie and is hunted down for it.   Fitzsmith is captured and jailed, but not for long.  He tricks the Deputy (Eugene Pallette, one of my favorite character actors) and escapes.  

He shelters in a shack from a dust storm and manages to save lovely Mildred Dean (Virginia Brown Faire, Broadway Billy, Trails of Danger, Breed of the West) from the clutches of Malcolm Waite.  Fitzsmith then has to ride to town to save Mildred's father (Jack W. Johnson, The Virginian, Rob Roy, The Land of Promise) who is on trial on a trumped-up charge.  

Chases, fights, yadda yadda...

Scott Dunlap, a prolific silent film directed who moved on to producing movies after talkies were introduced, helmed this one.  It's pure entertainment with some decent production values, but the transfer suffers some decomp.


Sunday, October 18, 2020


 In his last public recording, Sir Arthur greets the International Year of Planet Earth and calls "humanity to listen to the planet's distress call, and respond with knowledge, understanding and imagination."

This recording aired on February 15, 2008, when Clarke was 90.  He passed away a little more than a month after on March 19, 2008.


 A little bit of bluegrass gospel for your Sunday morning...

Saturday, October 17, 2020


He would have been 82 today.  In his honor, here's The Road Vikings.

Friday, October 16, 2020


 If you were a kid in the 50s it was hard to avoid Tom Corbett, the fresh-faced space cadet of television, books, radio, comic books, and comics.  Not to mention the gazillion tie-in merchandise foisted on the youth of that decade -- coloring books, costumes, lunch boxes, records, play sets, a Viewmaster, and the cardboard cutouts on boxes of Pep cereal.

The character was created by Joseph Green, who was inspired by Robert A. Heinlein's book Space Cadet.  Green had written a radio script in 1946 which was never produced.  After Heinlein's book came out, Green took the old script, polished it, and worked the script into a daily comic strip, which also was never produced.  The third time, though, was the charm, and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet in 1949 with adventures adapted from Green's unpublished comic strip.   Frankie Thomas, Jr., played Tom Corbett, Al Markim was cast as the Venusian cadet Astro, and Jan Merlin was the smug and sometimes overbearing Roger Manning.  Eye candy was provided by Joan Garland as Dr. Joan Dale.  Willy Ley served as technical advisor.  The series ran from October 2, 1950 to June 25, 1955, bouncing back and forth from CBS to ABC to NBC to Dumont and Back again to NBC.

From 1952 to 1956, Grosset & Dunlap produced a series of eight juvenile novels under the house name of "Cary Rockwell."  Once again, Willy Ley was the technical advisor.  Tom Corbett finally made it as a newspaper comic strip from 1953 to 1955, drawn by Ray Bailey.  For six months in 1952 Corbett also appeared as a twice-weekly half hour radio program with a two-part story arc appearing each week.  Tom Corbett also appeared in 26 comic books from four different publishers in the 1950s -- Dell Comics, K.K. Publications, World Distributors, and Prize Comics.  Reprints of the comic books and comic strip have been published more recently, possibly with some new material.

Tom Corbett's one excursion into the Wonder Books of short, heavily illustrated juveniles came in 1953 with Tom Corbett's Wonder Book of Space.  Here, siblings Johnny and Jamie are staring out their window at the moon, wondering what it would be like there.  Of course there was no way to do that:  they didn't have wings and airplanes could not fly that high.  But one  night as they were getting ready for bed, a tall young man with black curly hair appeared before them.  (Remember this is 1953 and creepiness had not been invented yet.)  It's Tom Corbett and he was about to take his rocket Polaris to the moon and would Johnny and Janie like to come along?  (Remember this is 1953 and accepting a ride from a stranger in a nice car wa a level of creepiness that had not been invented yet.)  Boy, o boy!  Would they!  Tom then outfits the two children in space suits, complete with communicators for their belts.  (Remember this is 1953, and having space suits handy that would fit little kids perfectly was just not creepy.)  So off they go to the moon, see many marvelous sights, and jump around in the low gravity.  Then they return to Earth and their bedroom.  It is still night and there is nothing creepy about a stranger removing two young children from their bedroom and then returning them later without their parents' knowledge.  It is, after all, 1953.

The story was written by Marcia Martin and illustrated by Frank Vaughan.

Enjoy this little dollop of juvenilia and try not to think creepy thoughts.


 Just because today (October 16) is National Feral Cat Day...

Thursday, October 15, 2020


 Death of a Flack by Henry Kane (1961)

Henry Kane (1918-1988), a lawyer turned mystery author, wrote over sixty books in his career, thirty of them novels about private eye Pete Chambers.  Kane's first books were published in hardcover but, beginning in 1954, his books were all paperback originals -- popular enough in their day but basically light-weight, easily forgettable stuff.  There is a possibility that the early Pete Chambers influenced television's Burke's Law and Peter Gunn (Henry Kane did write a paperback tie-in to the Peter Gunn series).  Kane tried to keep Chambers fresh for his time by using some pretty tortured verbiage.  Chambers began by describing himself as a "private Richard," eventually settling on "private dick" when it became obvious that the former was no longer cute or in vogue.  As late as 1961, in Death of a Flack, Kane peppered his book with tortured beatnik phrases and words, you dig?  Kane's unique style (a cross between Robert Leslie Bellam and Harry Stephen Keeler, perhaps) could be off-putting, as witness the very first few sentences in Death of a Flack, narrated in the first person by Chambers:

Oh ho, the private eyeball!  Poor, prosaic, wretched eyeball.  als, alack, woe and whoa!  Harder nd faster they chain him to the stone of stereotype -- more and more he cannot earn his daily bread without conforming to the curious standards so stringently set out for him.  Once upon a time he had to talk out of the side of stiff-lipped mouth in accents clipped and surly, and there was the bleak butu sheer necessity of constant sexual acrobatics with each and every lady who entered within earshot of the case, no matter how casually.  And by any chance the case was not a "caper," it was no damned case at all...[This goes on for a page and a half before transitioning into a similarly-phrased long exposition theater about the main characters in the book.]

The characters?  The main characters form a party at the ballet.  They include Chambers (along for the promise of a client-in-waiting), his drinking acquaintance Jefferson Clayton (a prominent stockbroker), Cobb Gilmore (a very wealthy jeweler with a ticky heart; think Tiffany's or Cartier), Henry Martell (the public relations flack soon to die in the middle of the book, and a very nasty piece of work), Gilmore's sullen but beautiful daughter Lori (presently a poetess trying to find herself and ga-ga over Martell),  Sherry Greco (Martell's voluptuous mistress, prone to sleeping with anyone to get her way), and Sophia Patri (also voluptuous, a belly-dance who owns the successful Club Athena).   Clayton is infatuated with with Lori Gilmore, a situation which has himself and Martell glaring saggers at each other.  Both Clayton and Cobb Gilmore are occasional clients of Chambers.

Nothing much happens then except for Chambers bedding Sophia Patri (in tortuous terms) and wanting to bed Sophia Patri (who teases him along).  In fact, nothing much happens for the first third of the book.  Another private investigator (sleazy but surprisingly ethical) is beaten to death by Henry Martell.  Chambers goes after Martell only to find him shot dead, with Lori Gilmore standing over the body with a gun in her hand.  Soon, the reader finds himself up to his (or her) neck with pornographic blackmail, false identities, stolen Nazi loot, payoffs, betrayals, and confusion.  And there's another murder -- actually two but one of them is offstage.

It is a hodge-podge that surprisingly comes together.  You have to overlook a lot of flaws to find the relatively fast-paced action.  As a series character, Pete Chambers ranks below others of his ilk, far below Michael Shayne, Scott Jordan, Chet Drum, Shell Scott, or even Honey West. 

 Recommended only if you have a couple of hours to kill and you are not the discriminating type.


 Gene Vincent.


Henry Kane's New York private eye Pete Chambers had a brief (five months -- April to September 1954) radio show on NBC.  The series was written, directed, and produced by Kane.  Hollywood tough guy Dan Clark played Chambers pretty well.  Bill Zuckett served as  Chambers' pal, police lieutenant Louis Parker.  the dialogue could be funny, but the plots were weak, and the show failed to find an audience large enough to continue.

Here's the first episode, from April 6, 1954.  It opens with a beautiful girl entering chambers' office, brandishing a pearl-handled gun.  God help me, but I kept thinking of Garrison Keillor's Guy Noir while listening to this.  Perhaps you will, too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020


 From 1957, Bobby Day.


 A cowboy asked me if I could help him round up 18 cows.  I said, "Yes, of course.  That's 20 cows," -- Jake Lambert

Tuesday, October 13, 2020


 During the pandemic, a lot of people have been reading shorts stories -- a lot of them.  So Patti Abbott (or. She Who Must Be Obeyed) suggested a weekly meme in which various bloggers report on a short story they have read, starting today.  So here's my first contribution.


Dr. O'Brien, a slightly overweight medico well into middle age, is returning from a week away from home.  It is a dark night and there is a mighty windstorm.  Suddenly the headlights in his car die.  Unable to safely see the road to continue his drive, he seeks shelter at a large home on a nearby hill.  He is greeted by an elderly man who inexplicably calls him by his name and says that he has been expecting him.

The man, we learn is Robert Lockleaven, the last of his line, and known to local villagers as "the Daft Laird of Lockleaven," famous for the profligate antics of his youth.  O'Brien and Lockleaven settle down with a welcome drink before a comfortable fire.  There is a scratching in the wall.  Mice, thinks O'Brien.  No, replies the Laird, Listen they're singing.  And Robert Lockleaven begins to narrate his story...

Until he was eighteen, he lived in the house with his Uncle Peter, a mean-spirited miser who kept Robert in rags and nearly starving as Peter chortled over the wealth lock away in his chest.  Uncle Peter took ill and was dying; Robert was told to stay by his uncle's bedside while the only servant remaining fetched a doctor.  Dozing, Robert was startled awake to find his uncle dead.  On closer look, there was something in his uncle's beard -- some with two beady little eyes.  Robert fainted.  Perhaps he had imagined it.  Robert then locatd his uncle's chest, broke it open, and spent the next twelve years living a wild, dissolute life until the money ran out.

Then, twenty years ago to the night, on All Soul's Night, Robert said, he was dozing on a chair when he spied a loose gold coin on the floor.  There was a scurrying and Robert spied a very small man sneaking up to the coin and trying to carry kit away.  A fairy, perhaps?  Scottish lore has it had if you capture a fairy, he must grant you a wish.  So Robert quickly placed a clear glass tumbler over the little man, both trapping and enraging him.  Then, a sudden surprise:  Robert recognizes the little man as his dead Uncle Peter and not  fairy.

We learn that the little is and is not Uncle Peter -- it is Uncle Peter's soul.  Every person has an identical (albeit much smaller) person inside him that is one's soul.  Upon death, the soul escaped the body and runs toward heaven or hell, both of which are located inside the walls of the house.  Uncle Peter, as well as all of his ancestors, are damned to hell and cannot enter heaven (located in another wall).  Also, there's a little bit of hell inside Uncle Peter's soul, which is why Peter is so enraged and wanting to get back to hell.  The only thing that can block that bit of hell from the soul is with green glass -- not with the clear glass tumbler that is currently trapping the soul.  

Robert still wants a wish granted and his wish is to know the secrets of life and death.  Uncle Peter can give him a limited view of the afterlife, one that is only restricted to hell (he is barred from heaven, remember?)  So Robert continues his narration as a Dante-like tour of the hell that is inside the wall.  (This particular hell and this particular wall are exclusive to the Lockleaven family.)  Strange and fitting horror upon horror is revealed during the tour -- a hunter is forever being chased by giants rat, people trying to convince unhearing ears about things that are important to them, and so on.  Some of these fates may not seem so horrific, but to the souls being tortured, they are.  Uncle Peter also shows Robert the place reserved for him after he dies, the Pleasure Hall.  Robert refuses to tell O'Brien what was in that particular hell, but it is clear that Robert had been shaken to the core.

His story told, Robert then tells O'Brien that he has just taken poison.  When he soon dies, Robert wants O'Brien to help the aging servant locate and capture his soul before it escapes to hell.  By having his soul placed in a green bottle, Robert would then be able to escape the horror of his particular and pre-ordained hell.  Will Robert's plan work?  Read the story and find out.

An amusing and somewhat disturbing tale, "Who Wants a Green Bottle?" was originally published in All-Story Weekly for December 21, 1918.  It was included in Robbins' collections Silent, White and Beautiful and Other Stories (1920), Who Wants a Green Bottle? and Other Uneasy Tales (1926), and Freaks and Fantasies (2008); the first collection is available online at the Online Books Page from UPenn.

Robbins is best known for his short story "Spurs" (which was filmed by Tod Browning in 1932 as Freaks), and for his novel The Unholy Three (filmed twice, once by Browning in 1925 and featuring Lon Chaney, and then in 1930, directed by Jack Conway and again starring Lon Chaney).


The Chiffons.


 Science Fiction Theater ran for two seasons in syndication from April 9. 1955, to February 8, 1957, the brainchild of producer Ivan Tors (Flipper, Daktari, Sea Hunt) and Maurice Ziv.  Cashing in on the science fiction boom and flying saucer craze, the anthology show was unusual in that the first season was in color and the second in black and white (Tors thought color television would take off earlier than it did).  the show's host was Truman Bradley, a rather bland actor whose roles included minor or uncredited appearances and forgettable B movies.  It was not the most stirring or sophisticated show, but for a certain eight-year-old kid it was magic.

"Y..O..R..D.." was the fourth episode aired in the series.  It featured Walter Kingsford, a British actor perhaps best known for his role as Dr. Walter Carew in the Dr. Kildare movies, as as Dr. H. J. Lawton, and Rachel Ames, a versatile actress best known for her long running role as Audrey Hardy in General Hospital (348 episodes) and Port Charles (235 episodes), as Edna Miner.  Also featured were Kenneth Tobey (The Thing from Another World, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Ring of Fear), a young DeForest ("It's worse than that, Jim...He's Dead!) Kelley, Louis Jean Heydt (The Hungry Soldier Holding Beau Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, The Tourist at the Robbery in High Sierra, and The Man Watching Dice Throw in The Glass Key), John Bryant (Doctor Spaulding from television's The Virginian, and The Marlboro Man in 50s and 60s television commercials), and Clark Howat (Dr. Petrie in The Adventures of Fu Manchu)

The crew at a polar weather station have become psychic, each receiving the telepathic message "Y..O..R..D.."   The world's leading expert on telepathy (Kingsford) and his assistant (Ames) are rushed to the scene.  They discover that "Y..O..R..D.." is a "S.O.S." from aliens in Earth's orbit.

This episode was directed by Leon Benson, who also co-wrote the script with George Van Marter from a story idea from Tors and Van Marter.

It's time to adopt your eight-year-old persona, as I did, and enjoy this episode.

Monday, October 12, 2020


 Damita Jo.


 Openers:  I first met Tom Barclay at my husband's funeral. as he recalled to me later, though he made so little impression on me at the time that I had no recollection of ever having seen him before.  Mr. Garrick, the undertaker, was in the habit of calling Student Aid, at the university, for boys to help him out, but one of those chosen for the day, a junior named Don Lacey, couldn't come for some reason, and his father asked Tom as a favor to go in his place.  Tom, though he'd graduated the year before, did the honors with me, calling for me and bringing me home in a big shiny limousine.  But he rode up front with the driver, so we barely exchanged five words, and I didn't even see what he looked like.  Later, he admitted he saw what I looked like -- not my face, as I was wearing a veil, but my 'beautiful legs," as he called them.  If I paid no attention to him, I had other things on my mind:  the shock of what had happened to Ron, the tension of facing police, and the endless, unexpected glimpse of my sister-in-law's scheme to steal my little boy.  Ethel is Ron's sister, and I know quite well it's tragic that as a result of surgery she can never have a child of her own.  I hope I allow for that.  Still and all, it was a jolt to realize that she meant to keep my Tad.  I knew she loved him, of course, when I went along with her suggestion, as we might call it, that she take him until I could "readjust" and get back on my feet.  But that she might love him too much, that she might want him permanently, was something I hadn't even dreamed of.

-- James M. Cain, The Cocktail Waitress (2012)

James M. Cain, author of such well-known novels as Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity, and The Postman Always Rings Twice, is sometimes grouped in the "Big Three*" of hard-boiled crime novelists with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  I can see why.  He approached his themes of greed, depravity, sex, and tormented  characters in a true noir style, placing murder "back in the gutter where it belonged."  But Cain never had the pulp background of Hammett and Chandler; most of Cain's short stories appeared in a higher class of magazine -- The American Mercury, Liberty, Redbook, Esquire -- and it was only later that he appeared (in reprints) in EQMM and other mystery magazines.  Cain has been out of vogue with many of today's mystery readers (perhaps out of sight might be a better description), much like that other noirish, realistic author James T. Farrell, or, perhaps, Irving Shulman. 

Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai, however, is a big Cain fan and rates his work highly (as he should).  When Cain died at age 85, he had been working on a new novel.  By then, Cain's star had faded greatly, but he appeared determined to produce a novel that would equal his earlier work.  After his death, the novel never appeared and traces of it seemed to go up in smoke.  In 2002, writer Max Allan Collins told Ardai of a rumored book by Cain, The Cocktail Waitress.  Ardai spent nine years tracking down the book and securing the rights to publish it.

It was not an easy task.  Eventually Ardai found a manuscript and soon found a number of manuscripts for the book -- all undated, all incomplete, all contradictory, many fragmentary.  But the book was there, somewhere in this hodge-podge of notes and fragments and many variations of scenes.  It was up to Ardai to piece together the novel that Cain had written.  As I said, it was not an easy task, but Ardai produced an authentic James M. Cain novel, very close to the one he would have eventually published had he lived.

Cain deserves a re-discovery.  Even his later, poorly-received works crackle with his talent.  Sadly, as good as it is, I don't think The Cocktail Waitress had the oomph to bring about a major James M. Cain re-discovery.

* Most reader today consider the Big Three to be Hammett, Chandler, and Ross MacDonald.

A James M. Cain Bibliography:  If you have never read Cain, pick up any of these.

  • Our Government (1930) [short story collection]
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
  • Serenade (1937)
  • Mildred Pierce (1941)
  • Love's Lovely Counterfeit (1942)
  • Three of a Kind (1943) [contains "Career in C Major," Double Indemnity, and "The Embezzler"]
  • Past All Dishonor (1946)
  • The Butterfly (1947)
  • The Moth (1948)
  • Sinful Woman (1948)
  • Jealous Woman (1950)
  • The Root of His Evil (1951) [also published as Shameless)
  • Galatea (1953)
  • Mignon (1962)
  • The Magician's Wife (1963)
  • Rainbow's End (1975)
  • The Institute (1976)
  • The Baby in the Icebox (1981) [short story collection]
  • Cloud Nine (1984)
  • The Enchanted Isle (1985)
  • Career in C Major and Other Fiction (1986) [short story collection]
  • The Cocktail Waitress (2012) [edited by Charles Ardai]

mi-li-tia [/ma liSHa/]:  noun
  1.  a military force that is raised from the population to supplement [emphasis mine] a regular army in an emergency
  2. a military force that engages in rebel or terrorist activities in opposition to a regular army
  3. all able-bodied citizens eligible by law for military service
Which definition do you think those jamooks in Michigan belong?

Our President Incite-Discord-and-Unrest-While-Washing-His-Hands-of-All-Guilt has a lot to answer for.

We Don't Need This:  A tweet from Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA):  "Today at the grocery store, PA's Second Lady @gisellefetterman was subjected to racial slurs and taunts.  As she said:  'This hatred is taught.'  It's on us to teach our children kindness, acceptance and inclusion, and condemn hate whenever and wherever we see it."

While at her neighborhood grocery store, Mrs. Fetterman was accosted by a woman who yelled, among other things, 'There's that [n-word] that Fetterman married.  You don't belong here.  No one wants you here.  You don't belong here."  

Mrs. Fetterman was born in Brazil.  Her parents came to America when she was eight-years-old, fleeing violence in Rio de Janeiro.  For more than ten years, the  family lived in new York as illegal immigrants, fearing any knock on the door.  She received her green card in 2008 and became an American citizen in 2009.  As the wife of Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, she has been an advocate for the arts and in promoting LGBTQ rights.  It's safe to say that she is a much better American than the woman who kept circling her in the checkout line, repeatedly yelling the n-word.

Nobel Peace Prize:  This year, the prize went to The World Food Organization,"for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution for bettering for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict."

Strangely the prize did not go to either Donald J. Trump or Vladimir Putin, both of whom had been nominated.  Why?  Inquiring minds want to know.  Oh.  Yeah, right.

The Guidance Center of the Adult Authority:  Prison reform is an important issue for today, and something we've been getting wrong for a long,  long time.  What is the purpose of a prison?  To penalize?  To reform?  To get certain people off the streets?  And why is the majority of prison population comprised of minorities and the poor?  Prison reform is just one part of the larger problem of justice reform -- including arrests, trials, and sentencing, as well as larger economic and social barriers.

Here's a rather Pollyana-ish look at what California was trying to do in 1945.  The artwork is by a prisoner known only as "Peek."

I Tried.  I Really Tried:  I really wanted to limit my flaming liberal viewpoints this week, but, sheesh!, Trump keeps dragging me back.  He thinks he is cured.  He thinks he is Superman.  (He actually wanted to rip off his shirt on leaving the hospital to reveal a Superman t-shirt.)  But the drugs he has been given have some interesting side effects, such as euphoria, paranoia, muddled thinking, and a sense of invincibility.  In this case, the drugs appear only to compound what is there.  So what we now have is a narcissistic, amoral, egomaniac who now has increased euphoria and paranoia, as evidence by his recent actions and statements.

I weep.

Ouch!:  From Britain's The Mirror comes this sad tale James (last name not given and I can see why), who, after leaving the armed forces six years ago has had a hard time establishing a relationship with a woman.  But needs must.  And so James has been using an escort service for, well, you know.  The service kindly provides photos of their escorts' bodies, but, alas, not of their faces.  So, one evening the doorbell rings and James goes to greet his latest "escort," only to discover it was his best friend's mother.

He thought, "Well, this is awkward."

His best friend's mom, however, took control of the situation and pretended she did not recognize James.  and then...ahem.

James has still not told his friend about the encounter.

If there is a moral to this story, I'll leave you to find it.

Florida Man:  As Florida gains ever ,more Covid-19 cases (think you for opening up the state, Governor DeSantis), Florida Man springs into action.
  • You can't keep a good (?) Florida Man like Demare Barnes down.  He was released after spending four years in prison and, just five days later, was arrested for attempted murder.  Perhaps he missed the cuisine.
  • An unnamed "young" Florida Man punched a a 72-year-old in the head after being asked to remove a Trump flag from his golf cart because it had profanity.  The young man, who had fled in his golf cart, later said he acted in self-defense.  I don't know whether the flag was actually pro-Trump or anti-Trump but civility (?), Florida-style, was maintained.
  • In Lauderhill, an argument Saturday at an indoor-outdoor flea market turned deadly as an unnamed Florida Man shot another in the chest.  Details are sketchy and the shoot is being questioned by the police, but here's a travel tip:  Don't get into an argument in Florida.
  • What is it with Florida Man and graphic videos?  The latest is Eduardo Alberto Montada, 56, of Miami Lakes, charged with cyber-bullying after a woman discovered that he had posted graphic videos of her taken while at the Florida Keys.  She discovered this after receiving disturbing messages on social media from people she did not know.  Needless to say, she never gave permission to have the video posted.  
  • Florida Man Michael Tucker, 48, of Port St. Lucie, has been arrested for drunkenly chasing a friend of his ex-girlfriend off his property with a machete.  The machete is one of Florida's top five weapons of choice.

  • Good News:  Nursing home residents with dementia are visited by a miniature horse when other visits are restricted
  • Spinach used to power electric vehicles?  Maybe
  • She raised $85,000 for Covid relief by scaling all 58 of Colorado's mountains
  • Planting a handful of seeds in a bare yard could relieve stress syndromes as much as eight wellfullness sessions
  • Dad builds desks for virtual students who need them
  • Greek athlete fulfills disabled woman's lifelong dream by carrying her up Mt. Olympus
  • After 3000 years, Tasmanian devils are making a comeback in mainland Australia

Today's Poem:
The Vampire

What shape is this who came to us,
With basilisk eyes so ominous,
With mouth so sweet, so poisonous,
And tortured hands so pale?
We saw her wavering to and fro,
Through dark and wind we saw her go;
Yet what her name was did not know;
And felt our spirits fall.

-- Conrad Aiken

(posted in preparation for Halloween)

Saturday, October 10, 2020


Rita Carter -- writer, editor, journalist -- explains in this TEDx Talk what we all know:  that reading, especially reading fiction, can expand our brains.  Still, it's nice to hear this.




 Nat King Cole.

Friday, October 9, 2020


 The original comic book Daredevil was Bart Hill, an American adventurer who wore a one-piece red costume (complete with full arms, legs, and a hood).  To add to the hero vibe, Daredevil also wore blue underwear -- on the outside, natch -- and a mean-looking piked gold belt.  After appearing in other Lev Gleason comics books, he strikes in his own title as he tackles a certain mustachioed German ruler, aided by superhero Silver Streak (and his falcon Whiz).  Besides Adolph Hitler, this tale includes Winston Churchill as well as various well-known Nazis -- Goebbels, Goring, Himmler, Erich Raeder, Walter von Brauchitsch, and Lord Hee Haw.  And Mussolini, can't forget him.  Also making a guest appearance on the villain side is The Claw.

Enjoy this war-time adventure!


 Happy Birthday, Jackson Browne!

Thursday, October 8, 2020


 Terry Carr's Best Science Fiction of the Year, edited by Terry Carr (1985)

First, a word about the title.  It's somewhat misleading because there is no number attached to it.  This is actually Carr's Best Science Fiction of the Year 14, the title that appeared on the British edition of this anthology.  The year before, Gardner Dozois initiated his The Year's Best Science Fiction and Carr's new publisher, Tor, evidently did not want science fiction fans to confuse the two.  Carr had begun his series in 1972 with The Best Science Fiction of the Year, published by Ballantine.  Ballantine carried the series through #9, after which it went to Pocket/Timescape for #10-13.  The series, now carrying Carr's name in the title was published for three years by Tor, ending with Terry Carr's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year #16; not the addition of fantasy in the title of the final edition.

Now, let's talk a little about Terry Carr (1937-1987).  Carr began as a science fiction fan in 1949 and pursued an active career (is that the right word?) in fandom; his fanzine, Fanac (co-edited with Ron Ellik), garnered Carr a Hugo Award in 1959, and Carr received his second Hugo in 1973, this time as Best Fan Writer.  In the 60s Carr began writing and editing.  His fiction output was very small but distinguished, with a number of notable short stories and a very polished novel Cirque:  A Novel of the Far Future.  As good as his fiction was, Carr found his niche as a science fiction editor.  In 1964, Carr went to Ace Books, where he coedited (with Donald A. Wollheim) the annual World's Best Science Fiction (7 volumes, from 1965 to 1971).  He also was editor of the distinguished Ace Special series of novels (both original and reprint) that included such now-classics as Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, R. A. Lafferty's Past Master, Joanna Russ' Picnic on Paradise, John Brunner's The Jagged Orbit, and Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage.  Also while at Ace, Carr instituted his original anthology series Universe (17 annual issues, from 1971 to 1987).  Carr left Ace to initiate his Best Science Fiction of the Year series.  He also edited 19 stand-alone anthologies from 1966 to 1986.  Other anthology series were New Worlds of Fantasy (3 volumes), The Year's Finest Fantasy/Fantasy Annual (5 volumes), and Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year (2 volumes).  In 1980, he returned to Ace to edited a second series of Science Fiction Specials, this time concentrating on first novels; some of the noted books in this series were William Gibson's Neuromancer, Kim Stanley Robinson's The Wild Shore, Lucius Shepard's Green Eyes, and Howard Waldrop's Them Bones.

Carr, as editor, consistently found some of the best writing in the field and consistently coaxed some of the best writing out of the genre's most talented authors.

So what about Terry Carr's Best Science Fiction of the Year?  Here we have 13 stories from 1984 -- four from Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, two from Omni, two from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, one each from Analog and Interzone, and three from various anthologies (including one from Carr's Universe 14).

The contents:

  • "Press Enter" by John Varley (from Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, May 1984)  A science fiction murder story with computers.  This one won five major awards:  the Hugo, the Nebula, the Locus, the Science Fiction Chronicle, and the Seiun.
  • "Blued Moon" by Connie Willis (from Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, January 1984)  A light-hearted story about the laws of probability.  This one was nominated for both a Hugo and a Locus.
  • "Summer Solstice" by Charles L. Harness (from Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, June 1984)  An alien lands in Egypt 2000 years ago and meets the scientist Eratosthenes.  Nominated for a Hugo, a Locus, and an Analog.
  • 'Morning Child" by Gardner Dozois (from Omni, January 1985)  A very usual weapon with a very unusual effect.  Winner of a Nebula award.
  • "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything" by George Alec Effinger (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1984)  Earth is "invaded" by know-it-alls.  Nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Science Fiction Chronicle awards.
  • "A Day in the Skin (or, The Century We Were Out of Them) by Tanith Lee (from the anthology Habitats, edited by Susan Schwartz)  Future humans inhabit bodies not their own.  Maybe it's me, but I thought this story was the weakest in the book of the 13 strong stories in the book.
  • "Instructions" by Bob Leman (from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1984)  An alien contact story written in form of a set of instructions -- obey them and you might die; do not obey them and you will die.  Quirky and disturbing.
  • "The Lucky Strike" by Kin Stanley Robinson (from Terry Carr's anthology Universe 14)  An alternate history examination of of the bombing of Hiroshima from a pacifist point of view.  A powerful and challenging tale.  Nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Science Fiction Chronicle awards.
  • "Green Hearts" by Lee Montgomerie  (from Interzone #10, Winter 1984/1985)  Cloning in the future allows for plant-human hybrids in this semi-romantic story involving the heir of the richest man in the world.  This was the author's first story.
  • "Bloodchild" by Octavia E. Butler (from Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, June 1984)  Humans are slaves to an alien race on a distant planet.  Powerful.  Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Science Fiction Chronicle awards.
  • "Trojan Horse" by Michael Swanwick (from Omni, December 1984) A story of computers, a space station, and the search for God.  Nominated for a Nebula award.
  • "Fears" by Pamela Sargent. From Light Years and Dark:  Science Fiction and Fantasy Of and For Our Time, edited by Michael Bishop)  A nightmare future where women are scarce and second-class citizens.
  • "Trinity" by Nancy Kress (from Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, October 1984.  Another search for God (or something like God) involving twins, drugs, biofeedback, kinaesthetic stimulation, neural transmitters, and a truly frightening question.
A prime example of Terry Carr;s astonishing ability to select varied, literate, and entertaining stories.

Highly recommended.




 If you looked up "B movie" in the dictionary, you'll most likely find this movie listed (depending, of course, on which dictionary you consult).  Sunken treasure, sunken city, a pair of disreputable deep sea divers, underwater photography, a giant squid, voodoo drums, an underwater earthquake, some interesting eye candy...

On the plus side, there are Robert Ryan and Anthony Quinn in a flick directed by Budd Boetticher.  Perhaps even more "plus-y" are Mala Powers (Cyrano de Bergerac, Outrage, Rose of Cimarron) and the beautiful but tragic (she died of cancer six months after she turned 21) Suzan Ball (East of Sumatra, Yankee Buccaneer, Untamed Frontier).  [Unsolicited gossip:  Ball met and fell in love with Anthony Quinn while filming this movie; because Quinn would not leave his wife, their romance lasted less than a year.  Ball then became engaged to actor Richard Long and a month later, her right leg was amputated; three months after the amputation, Ball and Long were married.  Long was a devoted. caring, and loving husband who stayed by her side during her illness.  She died less than a year and a half after the marriage.  One story has it that, just before she died, she saw Long in front of her and uttered one word, "Tony."  Long was a decent man who cherished his wife, but Quinn was vital.] [Not gossip, but an unsolicited fact:  Suzan Ball was Kucille's second cousin.]

Anyway, going after a sunken ship carrying a fortune in gold, Ryan and Quinn stumble (can you stumble underwater?) upon the lost city of Port Royal (not the real city of Port Royal, mind you; in fact, I'm not sure that anyone connected with the film knew there was an actual city by that name).  Miss in some wisecracking and some romancing the female leads and you have the film in a  nutshell.

Entertaining in its way.

Based on the book Port Royal -- The Ghost City Beneath the Sea by Harry E. Rieseberg.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020


 The Heartbeats.


 I saw a sign the other day that read "Watch for Children" and I thought, "That's a strange trade."