Friday 31 August 2012

Harold Lamb's sense of humor

[On Harold Lamb's birthday today, here is an interesting story about his sense of humor. After the break.]

Tuesday 28 August 2012

The rise and fall of the pulps - a timeline

This posting was prompted by Walker Martin's comment on an earlier post:

This is a very interesting question that you present. Can we really say that the pulps were dying in 1942? True ARGOSY ceased as a pulp around this period and became a sort of slick mens magazine. Many pulps decreased their page count and ceased publication because of the war time paper restrictions.
But were they dying in 1942? I would put the date into the postwar period. After WW II I think it became obvious that the readership wasn't there in the high numbers anymore. Certainly by the early 1950's the pulps started to die off and by the end of 1955, just about all were dead except for a few like RANCH ROMANCES, TEXAS RANGERS, AND SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY.
By then the digest era was in full bloom. RIP the pulps.

I went back and did some unscientific research on the subject. I took a sample of 37 pulps across different genres - general/adventure, detective, western, love, science fiction, weird, spicy and hero and counted how many pulps were published each year from 1896 to 1972.

The results can be seen in this chart:

The rise and fall of the pulps , a timeline
The rise and fall of the pulps, a timeline
As you can see, the pulps started declining around 1943 (so Walker was right, and I was off by a year), and went into a tailspin in the 1950s. Probably something you already knew, but the exact dates were new to me. If anyone's interested, the data's shared here as an Excel file.

Comments welcome.

Monday 27 August 2012

Terrible Lady - Short story by Theodore Roscoe

This short story by Theodore Roscoe originally appeared in the American Weekly, in 1942. At the time the pulps were dying, Roscoe was looking for other markets, and he was doing a series of articles on real crimes for the American Weekly. Looks like he also managed to sell them this story.

This story of Haiti and voodoo could have been a Thibaud Corday story - it has a similar structure. There's some wartime flavor to this, too.

Download the story here.

Friday 24 August 2012

Theodore Roscoe - Traveller, Historian, Pulp Writer

[Theodore Roscoe was a popular and prolific writer for the pulps, in addition to being a historian. He was famous for his French Foreign Legion tales and dabbled in other genres as well. Most of his tales were set in remote places which he travelled to. He was a very popular writer for Argosy, where many of his tales were published. More after the break.]

Theodore Roscoe
Theodore Roscoe

Theodore Roscoe was born on 20 February 1906 in Rochester, New York, to Harvey and Alice Roscoe. His parents were missionaries. His mother was born in 1865 in India, the daughter of an American missionary, and grew up there. She went to Beaver College in America and went back to India subsequently, where she worked in the Bareilly region, being in charge of the mission schools there.

She met Harvey Roscoe there; he was a missionary as well. They married in 1895; and came back from India to bring up their family in America. Theodore was the youngest of four children, with two brothers and a sister. He went to East High School in Rochester, NY, where his parents had settled. Even as a young boy, he used to write stories and sell them to his family for a cent.             
He completed school in 1925. He was on the school band and the assistant editor of the school magazine, The Clarion.  He played chess as well. I was able to locate a picture of him in the school yearbook for that year.

Theodore Roscoe c. 1924
Theodore Roscoe c. 1924
His school yearbook says that he had decided to go to Columbia University. He took odd jobs and kept writing stories, trying to break into the pulp market. He took a course in short story writing in Columbia University, but did not recommend it. One of his jobs was as a mail-carrier; it was an inspiration for one of his first stories. Once he had sold his first stories, Gloom of Night to Action Stories and The Duelto Northwest Stories, he quit college. His parents had travelled around the world, and he was bitten by the travel bug as well.

Within a year, he was selling many stories and he began travelling. He would travel, come back to Rochester, write short stories and get back to travel whenever he wanted a break. He set his stories in the places he visited, and took his characters from the people he met on his trips.
I have only managed to find out about a few of his trips that were reported in the Rochester newspaper of the time. In 1929, he visited France and Algiers.
Be there a man with soul so dead that it didn't tingle a trifle when his ears heard mention of the Foreign Legion of France! La Legion Etrangere! The Hell Battalion! The Army of the Damned! The Stepsons of Madam Republic! The sun-bitten, war-smitten corps that has carried the Tricolor from Casablanca to Hanoi, Dahomey to Somaliland, the English Channel to Madagascar. The outfit known to French regulars as “cavalry on foot’’ because it can march so fast and far. The Legion!
Early in 1928 an editor asked me to concoct a series of Legion yarns for his fiction magazine. After considerable research I enjoyed doing these, and published a few more in other magazines. Stories of the Legion were getting across to a romantic reading public, and more were wanted. A little authenticity would not be a bad idea. One magazine could use a longer series, and I could use more authenticity So in early January of ‘29 I set out for Morocco and Algeria with an empty notebook, a camera, an Arab dictionary, and a grammar school romance idea of Africa,
The Summer before I had met (and used) an ex-Legionnaire on the P. L. M. flyer running from Paris to Marseille. He was the train conductor and six years out of the service. He told Legion yarns in a French accent difficult for a casual knowledge of the tongue, and I learned he was an Albanian, or something, automatically become a French citizen after five years’ service in the Legion. He had the actual goods, all light: gossiped all the way from Dijon to Avignon, and insisted on having me poke a finger into a deep shrapnel scar sunk in his shoulder.
But he was too much of a vicarious soldier, and the local color was missing. So I landed in Casablanca. Morocco, intent on finding an army of escaped criminals and expecting to see sand dunes and Arab sheiks and all the rest of the glamor.”
Theodore Roscoe c. 1924
Theodore Roscoe c. 1924
Hollywood wasn’t so accurate, though. He found the Arab sheiks weren’t Valentinos (“The Arab sheik is no trim, brunette gentleman with patent leather hair, a charming taste in ladies and eyes haunted by the starlight of the Sahara.”) and the women wore the veil to conceal their features (“They are grandmothers at 30. Even at 16 they could not have been magazine covers”). Only the Legion and their opponents lived up to their reputation.

In 1930, he made a  trip to London with no return ticket and only fifty dollars in his pocket, and returned with more money than he started with, having sold the British rights to his stories.
In 1931, he visited Cuba and Dutch Guiana. Cuba was having a revolution at the time.
“Former President Menocal planned recently to overthrow President Machado. His plans were nipped in the bud when the administration learned that he had ordered 4000 ham, cheese and chicken sandwiches from the Havana Club to supply his soldiers with rations. So they threw Menocal in jail, and ate the sandwiches themselves.
 In 1932, he visited Burma and Somaliland.
"Recently I visited the Somaliland, a place where the wind is extremely high and has great velocity. While there a native told this story, which he claims to be true. The native said that one day while seated in front of a last, part of a colony of a hunting expedition, he noticed the flag which flew at the head of the tent was blown out straight and stiff – so much that a crow came and perched on the flag.”
In 1934, he made a trip to South America on a freighter and visited Colombia. The freighter was carrying 200 tons of bombs for the Colombian army. In 1936, he made a trip to Mexico by car.
He wrote daily, carrying a portable typewriter with him in his travels. He was modest about his writing.
It’s just a trade. You learn the formula and then sit down in front of a typewriter. Sometimes I do two, sometimes three. I have done four stories in a month.
I’m not artistic. Don’t get me wrong. I’m just a workman. What I’m doing isn’t art. I don’t even try to disguise it as such, but it sells – and that’s the important thing. My stuff will probably live just as long as that of some of the highbrows, too. Which is until two days after it is published.
The trouble with most people, when they think they want to write, is that they think they want to be Dickens. That’s all very well – but a Charles Dickens is born only every so often. The rest of us would do better if we went after Bertha M. Clay’s honors, and gradually worked up. You can’t exactly start at the top in any business; and that goes for the business of fiction writing in a double dose.”
He had hundreds of stories published in the pulps. Argosy was his main market, but he did publish three stories in Adventure as well. During World War II, his asthma prevented him from getting into the military, but he ended up getting a civilian Distinguished Service Medal for his work as a naval historian. On 01 Sep 1943, he married Rosamond Gillmore.
Theodore Roscoe with his wife, Rosamond
Theodore Roscoe with his wife, Rosamond
With the pulp market dying, he continued working as a historian. In the forties, he was also turning out articles on unsolved crimes for The American Weekly. He wrote a book, Web of Conspiracy, on Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The book was a best-seller and was made into a TV series. The Roscoes moved to Florida in the early 1980s.
Theodore Roscoe passed away on 29 May, 1992.

Links to books in print:

Altus Press are reprinting his Thibaud Corday stories from Argosy. All of those I read have the same structure – Thibaud sits in a cafĂ©, telling an implausibly tall tale, or so it seems – and then he lifts the curtain, showing what really happened. And there is a plausible explanation for what happened. The stories I read were about Alladin’s lamp (The Wonderful Lamp of Thibaut Corday),  a talking statue (The Wonderful Lips of Thibong Linh) and the magical seven league boots that could cover seven leagues in a single step (Corday and the Seven League Boots). I’m looking forward to getting all four books in the series.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Bandit Lawman - novelette by Luke Short

[This story by Luke Short appeared in Big Book Western, in the March 1937 issue. Link after the break.]

Friday 17 August 2012

Luke Short - Western story writer

[Luke Short was a prolific writer of western stories, penning over fifty novels and hundreds of short stories. He was a good craftsman, and his stories had action, mystery and good dialog. He passed away on this day, thirty seven years ago, and i thought it would be a good thing to remember him today. More after the jump.]

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Everett, Commissioner of Justice - short story by Gordon MacCreagh

[The following short story by Gordon MacCreagh was originally published in the Illustrated Sunday Magazine. It was collected in Greatest Short Stories, vol. 4, published by P.F. Collier and Sons in 1915. Link after the break.]

Monday 13 August 2012

The Jade Hunters - short story by Gordon MacCreagh

[This is a tale of three white men in the jungles of Burma. Plenty of excitement and action, you can see that MacCreagh knows the area well. Download link after the break.]

Friday 10 August 2012

Gordon MacCreagh – Adventurer, Explorer, Big game hunter, Writer

[Gordon MacCreagh might have been the real life inspiration for Indiana Jones. Born in Indiana, he went on an expedition to find the lost Ark of the Covenant in Abyssinia, explored the Amazon jungles, collected big game animals for a circus and was a writer and lecturer. Read more after the break.]

Gordon MacCreagh c. 1935
Gordon MacCreagh c. 1935

Gordon MacCreagh was born on 8 August, 1886 1889 (see comments for discussion on birth date and other details)  in Perth, Clay County, Indiana. He was the son of Scottish parents; his father was a naturalist and historian who had come to America to study the American Indians. Gordon did his initial schooling in Perth and was sent to his grandfather in Scotland, who was a deacon. He attended school at Aldenham and Glenalmond, and went to study at Heidelberg University.
While at the university, in 1905, he got into a sabre duel with a German student, which he won. Believing the German to have died, he fled to India. (Later he learned that the German student had survived.)
He had been in correspondence with a man in Calcutta, who offered him a job at a salary of 200 rupees per month. He took the job, but was not paid and left at the end of a month.  Another more romantic version of the story has it that one day he woke up to find that the barge was deserted except for seven dead crew members, who had died of the bubonic plague. He jumped over the side and got in touch with his firm, who advised him to go back to the barge and await fumigation. As this was a virtual death sentence, he left Calcutta. Either way, he landed in Darjeeling, where he got a job on a tea plantation as a coolie overseer.
He started collecting Himalayan butterflies and insects for a museum collector. This led to his collecting bigger animals as well, and he went into this business, selling animals to Jamrach’s Menagerie and Hagenbeck’s Circus. He claimed to have covered India, hunting leopards and tigers. Given the road conditions then prevailing, he drove his car from Bombay to Calcutta over the rail route, straddling the rails. He had a removable grille across the back of the front seat, and covered many miles with a tiger in the back seat. He also collected animals in the Malay islands and Borneo. His specialty was big snakes and orangutans.
He got restless and decided to go to Africa, still doing the same job. He collected more animals than the circus could buy, and spent all his money taking care of the animals. Broke again, he went back to India, this time to work for British Intelligence, then part of the Post Office. He held this job for five years. It was here that he first started writing. His first effort was a play, with Indian actors as princes and princesses. It had local success, and was seen by a New York producer, Mike Leavitt, who encouraged him to bring the show to New York. It opened on the Amsterdam theater in New York, but was shut down by the authorities on the grounds of offending public morality with excessive nudity. 
MacCreagh was stranded in New York. He was a roommate of Captain A. E. Dingle, who was also trying to break into the fiction business at this time. (I’ll add more on this in a later article on Captain Dingle). At this time, he joined a music band as a bagpiper, to make some money. He was successful breaking into the fiction market, making his first sale to Adventure, the short story The Brass Idol, in 1913. By 1914, he was selling his fiction to a variety of markets from newspapers to magazines. (I have managed to get a scan of one of these stories and will share it sometime this week.)
He did serve in World War I, though I could not find out in what branch of the services. His autobiographical sketch in The Argosy mentions the Navy, but is contradicted by his entry in Who’s Who that talks about his joining the Air Force.
Two years after the war, MacCreagh, who by then had gained a reputation as an Oriental scholar, joined the Mulford Expedition on a trip to the Amazon. The expedition was led by Dr. Henry H. Rusby, dean of pharmacy at Columbia University, and was trying to find new medicines for tropical diseases and collect specimens, among other goals. The expedition was poorly planned, and within a short time most of the members were bickering among themselves.
In 1922, MacCreagh was the last member of the expedition to return. All other members had returned earlier due to sickness and other reasons. He wrote a hilarious travel book, White Waters and Black, about his experiences on this expedition. This book is a classic of Amazon exploration.
The most interesting experience on this expedition was his participation in the Caapi ritual dance. The Caapi dance is a ritual dance to frighten devils away, and as part of this, the Indians consume a certain drug, caapi, which is the juice of a boiled vine. MacCreagh had no intention of joining in the dance, but he took a drink of caapi, and then proceeded to dance for a day before the effect of the drug wore off.
Gordon MacCreagh c. 1922 in Indian makeup before Caapi dance
Gordon MacCreagh c. 1922 in Indian makeup before Caapi dance

Returning to New York, he met Helen Komlosy, who was herself a traveler and expert rifle shot. They married sometime in June, 1923.
In 1927, the MacCreaghs set off on a trip to Abyssinia to find the lost Ark of the Covenant. This trip was funded by Adventure magazine, in which periodic articles about the expedition appeared. Other aims of the trip included capturing specimens of the local fauna (lions included) and track down the Falashas, a legendary lost African tribe of Jewish descent.
The MacCreaghs were travelling in Abyssinia in 1927 and for the most part of 1928, encountering a herd of man-eating hippopotami on the way. They met the Emperor, Haile Selassie, and Gordon MacCreagh was created a Knight of the Golden Star of Ethiopia.
He published his experiences in his book, The Last of Free Africa, which was a bestseller and ran into multiple editions and printings. The book was highly critical of the attempts by the European powers to colonize Abyssinia, which was the last remaining free country in Africa (hence the title).
The MacCreaghs returned to New York, and went back to Abyssinia for a return trip. They followed this up with return trips in the 1930s, going deeper into Africa. Gordon must have been busy going around on the lecture circuit, because he wasn’t writing much at this time. On one of their trips, they came back via Japan, and from there to Seattle. From Seattle, they drove across the States in a used car, covering the tourist spots.
In 1933, he won a Chevrolet for his essay on why he liked his new Chevrolet. He related an anecdote of his Abyssinian trip on this occasion. A crazy Arab driver, just graduated from camels, smacked into a native and killed him. The Abyssinian law hanged him in public as a warning to other drivers. “And a damn good law it is too,” he concluded.

Gordon MacCreagh and his wife collecting the free Chevrolet they won
Gordon MacCreagh and his wife collecting the free Chevrolet they won
When World War II came around, he went to work for Douglas Aircraft, and was sent to Africa as a translator and interpreter for the American and British armies there. On one of his flights, he was shot down. Luckily, he escaped with just one bullet wound.
After the war, the MacCreaghs lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, where they were local celebrities. He gave talks and lectures on his travels, and she hosted parties where she talked with the local women about her travels.
He died on August 30, 1953, of abdominal cancer. Helen passed away in 1962. As far as  I could find out, they were childless. The only book of his still in print is Black Waters and White, which I highly recommend. His stories seem to have been based on his experiences, and are highly recommended as well.

Links to his books in print:

Monday 6 August 2012

Prince Sarath Kumar Ghosh - Article on Indian magic in Scientific American, 1918

[Prince Sarath Ghosh had a series of articles in Scientific American on Indian magic tricks. This is from the November 2, 1918 issue. It is about how an Indian magician can produce a fish from the air. Interested? Article download after the jump.]

Friday 3 August 2012

Prince Sarath Kumar Ghosh - Indian writer, traveller, prince?, pulp author

[I came upon the name Prince Sarath Kumar Ghosh when going through the contents of the recent collection from Black Dog Books in the Best of Adventure series. I was intrigued, an Indian connection to Adventure? I'm from India myself, and I didn't know who he was. So I decided to write up what I could find on him. It's an interesting story. More after the break.]

Prince Sarath Kumar Ghosh
Prince Sarath Kumar Ghosh

Prince A. Sarath Kumar Ghosh, aka Prince Sarath Ghosh, claimed to have been born in 1885 in India. He arrived in San Francisco on February 23, 1912 aboard the liner Siberia. This was a decade after Swami Vivekananda had made two tours of America, lecturing on Indian religion and society. He claimed to be a prince of the royal family of Ghosphara, and said that he was making a trip to investigate the social, economic and religious conditions prevailing in the United States of America.  
He said that he also wanted to get away from the influence of his family, who had made arrangements to get him married to a princess. He wanted to get away from them because he believed the princess was too young, and he did not love her. Over time this story grew more elaborate, and he claimed to be a representative of a group of Indian princes, sent to America to find out how to improve conditions in India. 
He said that he had been educated in England, going to Oxford and Cambridge. At the age of eleven, he had read Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life”, following it up with biographies of the world’s famous men of all nations by the age of thirteen, and set up George Washington and Benjamin Franklin as his heroes. At the same age he was thoroughly familiar with the Constitution of the United States and before going to England he had studied the histories of the great nations of the globe.
At Oxford and Cambridge he studied under special tutors, who taught him mathematics, physical science, law, economics, and political science. Then he determined to forego political activities to preach economics to his people. According to him, he became a prominent authority on India, and advised King George and Queen Mary to conduct their coronation in India. He claimed to have organized the grand durbar which was conducted there to mark the occasion, and carried out various other diplomatic missions as well.
At various times, he claimed to be the Maharajah of Patiala, head of the Sikhs, a nephew of the maharajah of Ghoshpara, and descendant of the royal line of Kannauj. At the time, newspaper reporters seem to have believed his stories, or at least printed them without looking too deeply into the matter. What did it matter what they believed as long as people were interested enough to pick up and read the paper?
Who was he really? It’s hard to tell at this distance of time, but there are a few clues. He talks about being a prince of Ghoshpara. Ghoshpara is an area near Calcutta, near the Belur math of the Ramakrishna mission which Vivekananda founded. Ghosh is the name of a prominent family there. The name Sarath Kumar Ghosh, probably an alias, is also interesting. There was a Sarat Kumar Ghosh, who was a student at Cambridge in 1903 and became a lawyer. This Sarat Kumar Ghosh became a member of the Indian Civil Service on his return from England, and was posted in Bengal as an assistant magistrate and collector. So “Prince Sarath” was probably from the same area.
Whoever he was, he quickly started making money by joining the lecture circuit and went across the States, giving lectures on various topics about India. A brochure can be found here. The topics were “The Marvels of India”, “The Romance of India”, “Hindu Occultism” – to name but a few. He seems to have come prepared for this, for the show included lantern slides of various temples, places and Indian conditions, and he used to turn out in different Indian dresses.
A couple of ads for his lecture tour below.
Advertisement for Prince Sarath Ghosh's lecture at the Belasco theatre, Washington
Advertisement for Prince Sarath Ghosh's lecture at the Belasco theatre, Washington

Advertisement for Prince Sarath Ghosh's lecture at a Public School in Brooklyn, New York
Advertisement for Prince Sarath Ghosh's lecture at a Public School in Brooklyn, New York

In addition to the lectures, he was also writing and selling to different magazines – Adventure (one story in 1914, The Queen of the Species, which is included in the Best of Adventure, vol. 2 collection from Black Dog Books), a series of stories about a do-gooding Indian rajah in Pearson’s magazine and a series of articles in Scientific American about the tricks performed by Indian street magicians and jugglers. He also wrote several books on Indian topics, including a few childrens’ books on the Indian Jungle and its animals.
By 1916, he had based himself in New York, and was giving lectures there. In 1917, he sued Pathe Exchange for making a serial, Iron Claw, that he alleged was based on his original scenario “1001 American nights”, which he had offered them. The Authors’ League thought that it was a clear case of plagiarism, but the courts rejected his claim.
He was still lecturing in 1919, when a lecture he gave in Harlem resulted in a riot. Will Durant had been giving a series of lectures in Harlem on the “Philosophy of Art”, and they were popular enough to be “Standing Room Only”. The Board of Education, which was sponsoring these lectures felt that the tenor of his speeches wasn’t up to their standards, and decided to substitute Sarath Ghosh instead. Around a thousand of Durant’s fans were in the hall, and they created so much chaos that it took half an hour to clear the hall. The lecture never happened.
He passed away, suffering from influenza (possibly the Spanish flu), on 11 February 1920, having spent his last years in a boarding house in New York. In accordance with his religion (Hindu), he was cremated. His will estimated his wealth at five thousand dollars in the States, and possibly much more back home in India.
He left his money to three girls who also stayed in the boarding house at the time he was there – two of them were sisters working as artists’ models and the other was a stenographer. He had been attracted to one of the sisters, and proposed marriage to her, but was rejected. He left only nominal sums to his nine siblings in India. There was a struggle between the three ladies and the executrix of his will to possess his ashes and his jewellery. In addition, there was a poetess in Chicago, Nahami Krupp, who claimed that the prince died of a broken heart because she had rejected him. Three years after his death, his ashes remained unclaimed.

His only story published in Adventure, "The Queen of the Species", is collected in The Best of Adventure, vol. 2.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Excerpt from Altar of the Legion - novel by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur and Farnham Bishop

The Altar of the Legion is a novel of post-Arthurian Britain, set in the time the Saxons were invading England (around 400 AD). It is one of the best stories from Brodeur and Bishop. This excerpt contains the foreword and the first three chapters, which include a chase and a battle. If you want more, push Black Dog Books to publish this.

Download it here.