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Friday, 29 June 2012

W.C. Tuttle - Western, short story and movie writer, humorist and detective fiction author



[W.C. Tuttle, like B.M. Bower, Walt Coburn and Dan Cushman, was an authentic westerner from Montana who became a writer. He wrote westerns, naturally, but not the usual sheriff-rides-into-town-and-cleans-it-up stuff. Rather, he wrote humorous stories and detective fiction, creating characters who were always looking to find what was over the next hill, and would never stick long in one place.  He had a fondness for alliteration, naming his characters Hashknife Hartley, Sleepy Stevens, Sad Sontag, Cultus Collins and Hilarious Henry. He was also a cartoonist and an artist, sharing with Frederick M. Blakeslee the distinction of having contributed stories as well as cover illustrations for Adventure magazine. More after the break.]



W.C. Tuttle c. 1930
W.C. Tuttle c. 1930

W.C. Tuttle was born in Glendive, Montana, on 11 November 1883, on what he called the coldest day of the coldest month of the coldest winter. He was the son of Henry and Anna Tuttle, the first of at least four children. Henry was from Connecticut, and Anna was from Germany. Henry had a job as a sherriff, and Tuttle was born "in jail", where the sheriff’s quarters were in the same building as the jailed men.
His full name was the dark secret of his life, it being Wilbur Coleman Tuttle. Glendive, Montana, is an agricultural hub with charming weather (cold winters and hot, humid summers) and pleasant scenery – the local chamber of commerce describes it as “good people surrounded by badlands”. It was like the Des Moines Bill Bryson describes (“I was from Des Moines, Iowa. Someone had to be.”)
The family seems to have moved around a little, at the 1900 census, we find them in Ravalli, Montana, a place that exists only so that the Census authorities have something to put against the place of residence. I looked up the place on Google Maps, and the nearest thing that looks interesting is a feature of the landscape called the Ravalli Potholes. [I swear I am not making this stuff up.]
It was a bleak place that Tuttle grew up in, with limited facilities for education even now. It is hard to imagine his childhood in this place, but he makes fun of it.
Grew up normally, giving my parents and the neighbors plenty of grief, keeping out of jail by the grace of God and a friendship with the sheriff. Went to what was known as the toughest school on earth, where I did not add any soothing influence, it seems. General appearance was a split lip, one black eye and a torn shirt.
I was one of 60 kids in a one-roomed school. We had five readers and different sized desks. When a youngster got too big for the primer class desks he was promoted to a higher reader and a bigger desk. When he got so even the biggest desks left corns on his knees he was graduated.
Expelled four times during final term.  The first three times it did not take. Fourth time I found out that the Board of Trustees  was not kidding me, so I went away, deciding to be a travelling salesman.
No diploma. In fact, there were no diplomas given. It wasn’t even a graded school, except we had featherweight, lightweight, middleweight and heavyweights.
He was medium tall (5’ 10”), with blue eyes. Once he quit school, he drifted further westward, taking a variety of jobs. He claimed to have been a sheep herder, a cow herder, harness and saddle salesman, cigar salesman, streetcar conductor and driver, railroad man, picture seller, poker game organizer, accountant, cook, prospector, miner, forest ranger and trapper. He didn’t think that cowboy life was as attractive as it was made out to be by some authors:
“What a job! Forty-a-month plus frostbite. Out of the sack about five o’clock in the morning, the temperature about zero in the bunkhouse, outside ten or twelve below, and a wind blowing. You shiver into frozen overalls,  fight your way down to the stable, where you harness a team of frosted horses, take’em out and hitch them to a hayrick wagon. . . . Man, it was romantic!”
He also spent some time as a cartoonist in Montana:
“I’d always liked to draw, just for fun. In the heat of a political campaign a little daily paper in Montana needed a cartoonist. I was out fishing and the fellow who came after me had to pack in three days to find me. I drew cartoons for five months and made every Democrat in Montana hate me, because I drew what the boss wanted and he wanted the bitterest and most insulting stuff he could get. After he was elected the paper couldn’t afford a cartoonist, so I drifted out to Tacoma, and became mining editor, cartoonist and staff photographer on a paper there.”
This was in 1907, and he moved again the same year, this time to Tacoma, Washington, where he became a cartoonist on the Spokane Chronicle. He was staying with his uncle in Tacoma. This was the beginning of a more settled life for him, and he spent the next ten years with the Spokane Chronicle. He got married sometime between 1910 and 1914 to Bertha M., with a son, Gene Edward Tuttle being born 15 March, 1914.
He used to read many magazines, including Adventure.  In 1915, he saw a statement by Arthur S. Hoffman on the cover of Adventure to the effect that a particular story was the best humorous story that he, Hoffman, had bought. Tuttle decided that he could write better than that, and sent off a story to Adventure. Hoffman bought it and paid Tuttle more for the story than he was earning per week on the staff of the Chronicle. He continued working at the Chronicle for a couple more years before deciding to quit and become a full-time author.
In 1918, he moved with his family to Hollywood, California, trying to break into the movies as a writer. He succeeded, with Universal Studios making more than twenty short movies based on his Piperock stories and characters. He continued to write for the pulp magazines, writing at least ten stories a year for Adventure alone from 1917 to 1924. He also wrote for Short Stories and Argosy, pulps aimed at a similar readership.

W.C. Tuttle c. 1918
W.C. Tuttle c. 1918

A lifelong lover of baseball, Tuttle also served as president of the Pacific Coast baseball league from 1935 to 1943.
W.C. Tuttle (sitting on the left) getting re-elected as President of the Pacific Coast Baseball League in 1936
W.C. Tuttle (sitting on the left) getting re-elected as President of the Pacific Coast Baseball League in 1936

He kept writing, publishing more than fifty books and a thousand stories in his career. One of his last books was his autobiography, Montana Man. He also wrote the scripts for the radio show Hashknife, based on his characters, Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens. He passed away on June 6, 1969. His son, Gene Tuttle, was also a western writer, with more than a hundred books to his credit.
Bonus: W.C. Tuttle’s signature
W.C. Tuttle's signature
W.C. Tuttle's signature

Bonus question:
What's W.C. Tuttle's connection with a Nobel prize winning author's books? Answer in post on Monday. Your replies in comments.

1 comment:

  1. W.C. Tuttle is another favorite of mine, especially because of his Hashknife and Sleepy western detective stories. But I also like his Cultus Collin and Sad Sontag series in SHORT STORIES and WEST.

    I even like his slapstick comedy stories about the crazy citizens of Piperock. He must of been a big baseball fan because the Pacific Coast Baseball League was big stuff before the Major Leagues expanded out west. I've run across his funny drawings in The Campfire letter section of ADVENTURE.

    Robert Sampson in one of his YESTERDAY FACES volumes has an excellent chapter on the Hashknife series. Tuttle has been unjustly forgotten.

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