Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stephen King and Max Brand

If I ever get organized this planet is in for trouble...Fortunately for humanity I can't find any of the doomsday weapons I created decades ago.

Looking for some old stories of mine today I plowed through a box of books and came across, among many other old things, acollection of interviews with Stephen King called Feast of Fear. I'd interviewed hims back in the mid-Eighties for Mystery Scene. He's a great interview subject, smart, flip, wise and passionate about many different things.

I was thumbing through the book and I came across a bit that reflects Duane Swierczynski's very cool Legends of The Underwood on his Secret Dead Blog. I was especially happy to see that King once again praised western-thriller-detective writer Max Brand who for me is one of the great pulp storytellers of all time. When he's at his best his narrative skills are unmatched and he has a range of characters that are the pulp of equivalent of Erskine Caldwell (whom I, like Faulkner, think is one of the great American short story writers).

"I love Max Brand (Frederick Faust)..Frank Gruber tells a fabulous anecdote about him in his book The Pulp Jungle. He says Brand worked at one of the major studious as a "grind" rewriter. Every day, the co-worker who told Gruber the story said, Brand would arrive with a very large steel thermos filled with pure vodka. He would open it, pour a cup into the red top, and begin to write. He wrote all day without stopping except to the bathroom (and to refill his Thermos. from some source in his car, apparently at noon). He never exhibited symptoms of drunkenness. He wrote with hardly a single strike-over. He would finish a quart or two of straight vodka each day, the writer who shared Brand's office said, and he would finish his "grind-work" by 1pm or so. For the next four hours he wrote (his own stuff) either Dr. Kildare or Westerns. And some of those Westerns are damned good stories. You can't put `em down, because the characters actually seem real.

Here's bit of his bio from Wikipedia:

Faust was born in Seattle to Gilbert Leander Faust and Elizabeth (Uriel) Faust, who both died soon after. He grew up in central California, and later worked as a cowhand on one of the many ranches of the San Joaquin Valley. Faust attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he began to write prolifically for student publications, poetry magazines, and, occasionally, newspapers. He did not attain a degree, as he was deemed a troublemaker, whereupon he began to travel extensively. He joined the Canadian Army in 1915, but deserted the next year and went to New York City.

During the 1910s, Faust started to sell stories to the pulp magazines of Frank Munsey, including All-Story Weekly and Argosy Magazine. When the United States joined World War I in 1917, Faust tried to enlist but was turned down. He married Dorothy Schillig in 1917, and the couple had three children. In the 1920s, Faust wrote extensively for pulp magazines, especially Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine, a weekly for which he would write over a million words a year under various pen names, often seeing two serials and a short novel published in a single issue. In 1921 he suffered a severe heart attack, and for the rest of his life suffered from chronic heart disease.

His love for mythology was a constant source of inspiration for his fiction, and it might be that his classical influences, as well as his literary inclinations, are part of the reason for his success at genre fiction. The classical influences are certainly noticeable in his stories, many of which would inspire films. He created the Western character Destry, featured in several filmed versions of Destry Rides Again, and his character Dr. Kildare was adapted to motion pictures, radio, television, and comic books.

Beginning in 1934 Faust began publishing fiction in upscale slick magazines that paid better than pulp magazines. In 1938, due to political events in Europe, Faust returned with his family to the United States, settling in Hollywood, working as a screenwriter for a number of film studios. At one point Warner Brothers was paying him $3,000 a week (at a time when that might be a year’s salary for an average worker), and he made a fortune from MGM’s use of the Dr. Kildare stories. He was one of the highest paid writers of that time. Ironically, Faust disparaged his commercial success and used his own name only for the poetry that he regarded as his true vocation.

When World War II broke out, Faust insisted on doing his part, and despite being well into middle age and having a heart condition, he managed to become a front line war correspondent. Faust was quite famous, and the soldiers enjoyed having this popular author among them. While traveling with American soldiers as they battled in Italy in 1944, Faust was mortally wounded by shrapnel. He was personally commended for bravery by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.i


Gonzalo B said...

Max Brand is indeed a great writer. Some of his poetry is pretty good as well. BTW, I once read that William F. Nolan was preparing a biography of Brand. Did anything ever come out of that?

David Jack Bell said...

In THE DEAD ZONE, the protagonist tutors a kid and gives him a Max Brand novel to read.

Ed Gorman said...

I'm not sure about the Brand biography but Bill Nolan has certainly written many articles about Brand-Faust.

Jerry House said...

Nolan's book is Max Brand: Western Giant: The Life and Times of Frederick Schiller Faust (Popular Press, 1985, 0879722916, 978-0879722913).

I believe it was a follow-up to Darryl Richardson's biography.

Interesting reading, it also has a fairly complete year-by-year bibliography.

Nolan, of course, has edited a number of "Best of" collection's of Brand's westerns.

WV: bioggest (somewhat apt, I say)