Friday, November 29, 2013

Forgotten Books Rerun: Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick & Zorro

When I was 13 I discovered the paperback series of Doc Savage, Tarzan and James Bond, and my reading habits changed forever.

Before that, I read a lot of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, along with other classics of literature like Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. And I remember devouring all the books the school library had by Lester Del Ray (sci-fi) and William Campbell Gault (sports).

But the only books I still have from those days are the Whitman Authorized TV Editions, like those featured here. There are lots of others . . . Bat Masterson, The Rifleman, The Rebel, Wagon Train, The Restless Gun, Cheyenne, but I chose these three because they were among my favorite shows. And of course, they all had first-rate theme songs.

In nice shape, these are truly beautiful books. They were printed on real pulp paper, with pulp-like illustrations, and cardboard covers coated with some kind of celluloid. As a result, they were easily damaged, and most copies around today have dinged corners, broken hinges and gaping wounds where the celluloid is peeling. In bad shape, they are truly hideous.

Anyway, I loved these books back then. But how do they stand up today? Let’s see.

HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL by Barlow Meyers (1959)

“Barlow Meyers” sounded like a pen name created specifically for writing westerns. So I looked him up, and was shocked to learn that most of his books were aimed at girls. Stuff like Annette and the Mystery of Moonstone Bay, and Janet Lennon at Camp Calamity.

This book is OK. Meyers makes use of all of Paladin’s trademarks - the business card, the chess knight holster, the taste for fancy ladies. The problem is that Meyers' prose is merely adequate. Nothing shines, and Richard Boone’s grim wit surfaces only about four times in 282 pages.

The story is a long, less than thrilling chase. An outlaw has snatched a four-year-old girl and taken off. Paladin follows. And follows. And follows. Bottom line: watch the show on DVD instead.

MAVERICK by Charles I. Coombs (1959)

I did some digging on Charles I. Coombs, and was surprised to learn he wrote very little fiction. Most of his books (and there are a lot of them) are kids’ non-fiction on various subjects.

That surprised me because this is pretty good fiction. The story is familiar: When a prosperous rancher dies, his cattle are rustled and his heirs can’t pay the mortgage. Enter Bret Maverick, an old friend of the family, to save the ranch. To complicate things, he’s implicated in a stage robbery, and must battle both the robbers and a behind-the-scenes villain to clear himself.

The only problem is - Coombs didn’t know much about Maverick. The Bret of this book is sometimes lighthearted, but has nowhere near the wise guy personality he should. Not once does he tell anyone, “My old Pappy used to say…”  There’s no mention of him being a gambler. And despite the image on the cover, he wears Levi’s for the entire book. The only tie-in with the Maverick I know is that he has a brother Bart back in Texas.

My guess is that Coombs was shown the first episode of the series - the only one I can think of where Maverick wore Levi’s (at least for awhile). This would have been just enough to give him a hint of James Garner’s character and speech patterns, but not enough to know what he was doing.

If Coombs had been a real western novelist, I’d suspect he’d written this novel about some other cowboy and simply changed him to Maverick.

Walt Disney's ZORRO by Steve Frazee (1958)

Now here’s a guy who did write a lot of westerns, and it shows. But he didn’t have a lot of freedom with this one. This book is a novelization of the first thirteen episodes of the Disney series. The show, you may recall, began like a cliffhanger serial, with a sequence in which a friend of Don Diego’s father has been arrested for treason by the evil Comandante. Don Diego returns from school in Spain just in time to don the Zorro duds and save the day.

The story is nicely told, but I’m curious how much control Disney had over the book. If I could lay my hands on my VHS tapes of these episodes, I’d check to see if Frazee used Disney dialogue or wrote his own.

The Disney series was based, of course, on the pulp novel The Curse of Capistrano by Johnston McCulley. With the release of the silent film version starring Douglas Fairbanks, the book became forever known as The Mark of Zorro, which I recommend highly. The tragedy is that McCulley’s several other Zorro novels and bushel of short stories are dang near impossible to find. Those that have been reprinted are rare and expensive, and many have never been reprinted at all.

The center of the Forgotten Books Universe is, of course, pattinase.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Forgotten Books: WYATT EARP'S TOMBSTONE VENDETTA by Glenn G. Boyer

Author Glenn Boyer (who headed for the last round-up in February) devoted about thirty years of his life to Earp scholarship, writing many magazine articles and four books on the subject. Boyer had a big leg up on other Earp scholars because he sought out and cultivated relatives, descendants and even friends of the people involved.

Wyatt Earp's Tombstone Vendetta (1993) was Boyer's last Earp book, and I found it both fascinating and frustrating.  In the foreword, he tells us that because most of his sources have passed on, he is at last free to tell the whole story, sharing the sum of his research, which he was not allowed to do when they were alive. Unfortunately, some of those folks prefered to remain anonymous, either in whole or in part, even after death.

Boyer's solution was to write what he termed a "nonfiction novel," purportedly based on the diary of a man he calls Ted Ten Eyck (admittedly a phony name), who was acquainted with most of the principle players (those being Wyatt and Josephine Earp, Doc Holliday, Johnny Behan, John Clum, Curly Bill Brocious and others) and privy to an astonishing amount of behind-the-scenes information. Then he murkied the waters even further, stating that "in a few instances" he merged what Ten Eyck wrote with what other sources related to Boyer on the same subject.

By the time I finished the book, I was convinced Ten Eyck was a wholly fictional character, a literary device allowing Boyer to present the results of his research in a continuous narrative. In that respect, it's an effective approach. The problem is that very little of Boyer's information can be verified, and has therefore been shunned by most serious historians.

Glenn Boyer in 2009

I can appreciate his dilemma. Boyer had gained the friendship and picked the brains of a great many well-meaning people, gathering a mountain of information. But in most cases those folks were sharing memories of stories they had heard in their youth or had been been passed down through the family. By the time this information reached Boyer, it was double or triple-hearsay. That doesn't mean the stuff wasn't true, but it could hardly be classified as historical record.

I have to give Boyer the benefit of the doubt. I think he was telling what he believed to be the true story of events surrounding Wyatt Earp and the dust-up near the OK Corral. To do that, he chose to process everything he had heard, combine it with his own knowledge and insight, add a few educated guesses, and present it all as fact. Much of the information in the book sounds like it came from family sources, but in a few instances I suspect Boyer was playing detective and offering his own solutions to historical mysteries. The hardest scenes to swallow involve Wyatt Earp telling Ten Eyck who shot first - and at whom - in the Tombstone gunfight, and Doc Holliday revealing the "true" story of the death of Johnny Ringo.

I'd like to believe this is the way it really happened, but - while this approach to history is great fun to read - it does not inspire great confidence.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

AT LAST! The Complete Black Mask Adventures of MacBride & Kennedy by Frederick Nebel

Someone* once called Frederick Nebel "the backbone of Black Mask," and he wasn't kidding. Next to Dashiell Hammett, Nebel was the magazine's most important contributor during the Joe Shaw years, and the ten-year saga of police Captain Steve MacBride and reporter Kennedy of the Free Press was Nebel's masterwork. And now, at long, long last, Altus Press is rolling out the whole shebang - 36 hardboiled novelettes that will soon fill four volumes.

This first volume, which is NOW AVAILABLE, kicks things off in grand style, with five connected stories (that could easily have been published as a novel) and four more adventures that propel Richmond City into the next stage of the series. I was honored to write the book's Introduction, and while doing so read all 36 stories in order. Damn, what a great experience! I got so enthused t it took me ten thousand words to do the project justice. Those ten thousand words appear in the book - and also on the Black Mask website.

I suggest you order the book right now, and read the Introduction RIGHT HERE while you're waiting for it to arrive. But whatever you do, don't stop with Volume 1. This is a series that grows and evolves, just as Nebel was growing and evolving as a writer, and you'll want to be there for the whole journey.

*OK, I admit it was me, back in 1981, but I was right.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Overlooked Films: Shootin' Shell Fanner vs. Fanner 45

When I was a young cowpoke, my favorite shootin' iron was the Mattel Fanner 50 (above), which did not shoot plastic bullets. It just looked cool and felt great in the hand.

Then Mattel developed Shootin' Shell technology and introduced the Shootin' Shell Fanner (video below). Unfortunately, it was smaller (designed for smaller hands, maybe?) and seemed kind of wimpy compared to the original.


What I didn't know at the time was that Mattel also made a Shootin' Shell Fanner 45, which was just as big as the original Fanner - and heavier - and shinier. I'm thinking it was one of the many toys that were, in those ancient times, not marketed on the West Coast. Anyway, I have one now, and it's by far the best of the Fanner family. Here it is in action . . .


Sunday, November 17, 2013

WANTED: Thrilling Detective May 1942

A publisher putting together a Frederic Brown collection is seeking scans of the story "Murder in Furs" (and its accompanying artwork) from this issue of Thrilling Detective. Anyone have a copy?

The story was reprinted in the 1953 Top Detective Annual, which I have, but I'm pretty sure the type was reset and the illos changed, so that doesn't qualify. Good story, though. I'll be looking forward to the collection.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Forgotten Books: DON'T CRY FOR ME by William Campbell Gault (1952)

Damn. There’s a lot to like to about this one.

When I was a kid, William Campbell Gault was my favorite author. I lapped up every one of his hot rod and sports adventures at school and local libraries. So when I grew up (sort of) and got into hardboiled mode, I was glad to discover he’d also written a bunch of mystery novels. Since I was mostly into detectives, I read all his Brock Callahan and Joe Puma books, and simply accumulated the non-series books.

So I’m pretty sure this was my first reading of Don’t Cry for Me, and my reaction was Geez, what took me so long? Gault’s writing here is more adult, more literary and more creative than I remember from his detective series. His narration is consistently fresh, and kept on surprising me - even late into the book. Don’t Cry for Me is so good on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin.

Our protagonist is Pete Worden, once a star tailback for USC, now a down-on-his-luck gambler and an embarrassment to his respectable brother John. Though now in his thirties, Pete has never grown up and apparently never held a job. He has the love of a smart, patient and smokin’ hot woman, and isn’t quite sure what to do with it.

As the story begins, Pete’s gambling connections get him into even more trouble than usual, as he finds a dead drug dealer in his apartment and becomes a murder suspect. So yes, this is a mystery, but it’s much more like a mystery that could win the Edgar for Best First Novel today than back in 1953, when it did. The major characters are complex and unpredictable - just like real people - and drive the story in unexpected directions.

One of those characters seems to be a stand-in for Gault himself - a pulp writer who reads great literature and aspires to write it. He’s first mentioned thusly:

    My neighbor and occasional friend, Tommy Lister, writer for the pulps. Science fiction and sports and murder and the range; you name it, he’ll write it. Three months of champagne, Tommy had had, at MGM and how many years of beer? Good boy.

Lister is throwing a party, and the talk sounds like something out of Will Murray’s book Wordslingers (reviewed HERE):

    The murmur next door rose and fell, pulsating, in cadence - the pulps will never die, the pulps are dead, the pulps will never die, the pulps are dead, the pulps will never die, di da da da, di da da da, di da da da - 
    In tune with the universe, in cadence with the infinite, together and alone.

When his girl asks what Lister has written, Pete responds:

    “Oh, This Way to Mars and Deadeye Dick’s Last Dish of Prunes and Tinsel Tailback. He’s prolific and varied, a real master.”

And Pete describes him like this:

    He was about five feet high, and thin. He had big brown eyes and the complexion of an infant and mind like Einstein, though he peddled it at two cents a word. Tommy Lister.
    His heroes are big and strong and fear no living or dead thing.

I met Gault once, and though he no longer had the complexion of an infant, the rest doesn’t sound far off.

Another character in this book, Art Shadow, writes for western pulps. Makes me wonder: Did Gault write for them too? I have at least one science fiction pulp with one of his stories, but never thought to look for him in westerns.

There’s a good deal of literary name-dropping here, guys like Saroyan, Fitzgerald and Capote, and Gault can’t resist having fun with it. At one point, one of the earthier characters asks a literary snob if he thinks the Bears will beat Detroit. After an uncomfortable silence, Gault delivers this line:

It was seconds before they got back to the lighter air, to Kafka and Gide and Roney Scott. 

I had to smile. “Roney Scott” was an obscure pen-name of Gault’s, employed occasionally in pulps and on at least one novel (reviewed HERE). This was an extremely private joke.

There's a lot of lower-brow name dropping too, such as Buck Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Ellery Queen and Raymond Chandler. And Gault frequently takes time out to comment on the problems of his times - everything from politics and racism to the encroaching evils of television. I may have the social conscience of a cockroach, but I can still admire it in others.

What all of this adds up to is a great read. You should read it yourself.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Davy are I are pleased near to burstin' to be included in this fine new collection from BEAT to a PULP Press. These are all authors we admire and respect, and we're both itchin' for our copy to arrive in the mail.

The ebook is only $2.99 and the paperback $7.13. Cheap!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Overlooked Films: Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955)

I was mighty surprised to find this film on YouTube, but as long as it remains, it bears watching. This theatrical release was pieced together from the first three episodes of the Disneyland mini-series. Most of the footage is from "Davy Crockett Indian Fighter" and "Davy Crockett at the Alamo," with just a touch of episode 2, "Davy Crockett Goes to Congress." Too bad. Davy Crockett is exactly what Congress needs right now.