Thursday, February 14, 2008

Howard Browne

Over on Rara-Avis there's a letter about the late writer and editor Howard Browne.

If you were an adolescant science fiction-fantasy reader in the Fifties Howard was likely one of your favorite people. He edited both Amazing and Fantastic, the Ziff-Davis publishing twins that offered the kind of adventure sf only a teenager could love. Early in the decade he edited Fantastic when it was upscale with stories by Ray Bradbury, John Collier, Shirley Jackson, etc. But nobody bought it so Ziff-Davis ordered it back to its gaudy past--action stories with purple Venusians, lots of rays guns, hard-boiled interstellar dudes and innumerable lovely interstellar babes. I loved it. For five years those were my two favorite magazines. Later I'd learn that most of the stories I especially liked were by Robert Silverberg. Some of them hold up pretty well today.

Late in my teens I started reading Howard's "Halo" series of mysteries. They owed a lot to Chandler (he insisted they owed a lot to James M. Cain too) but eventually they got rolling on their own entirely. They are well worth reading. He was a good writer line by line and a much better plotter than Chandler.

I mention all this because when I began editing Mystery Scene one of my goals was to get Howard in the magazine. He was somebody I'd always wanted to meet (via phone). He ended up writing three or four pieces of his autobiography for us. He was a great storyteller and a prescient judge of character.

I probably talked to him fifteen times over the years, sometimes at length. A lot of the talk was pretty funny and pretty cynical on both our parts. But then one night he called to say that he wouldn't be finishing his autobiography for the magazine as planned. His wife had died and he said he would never write again. He said that one night he'd gotten out of bed and gone to the bathroom and when he came back a few minutes later she was dead.

He spent his final days in a nursing home. California people put on a big birthday party for him. I'm sure he got a hell of a kick out of it. A great guy, a fine writer.

Here's a long obituary by Jack Adrian no less.

Independent, The (London), Nov 15, 1999 by Jack Adrian
HOWARD BROWNE was that unusual beast, a writer who not only succeeded on both sides of the editorial desk, but who was equally at home in two quite disparate genres, hardboiled detective fiction and SF/ Fantasy. His fantasy, in particular, was of the swashbuckling kind, a million miles - or rather, bowing to the genre, a million light years - from his tales of mean streets, mainly written under his pseudonym John Evans (one of many: others included Lawrence Chandler and Lee Francis).

He successfully jumped media, too, as well as genres, turning, when the pulp magazines began to wither and die in the early 1950s, from writing punchy, riveting prose to creating compelling screen- and tele-plays. And, like all able fictioneers, even at an advanced age he could still turn disaster into triumph - two rejected screenplays, "The Violent World of Jake Lingle" and "A Bowl of Cherries", upon which he had lavished much care and attention, he transformed into a brace of fine late (very late: he was then in his mid-eighties) novels, Pork City (1988) and the hilarious Scotch on the Rocks (1991).

Howard Browne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of a baker, in 1908, and began his education in Lincoln, Nebraska. However, he dropped out of high school and rode the rails (i.e., hid in the boxcar) to Chicago to seek his fortune. He worked as a legman, or stringer, for a local newspaper before, at the age of 21, securing a post as department-store credit manager, a position he held for over a decade and which gave him an unparalleled insight into the psyche of his fellow men.

for the rest go here:


Randy Johnson said...

By a bit of coincidence, I just received a copy of Halo For Satan in the mails this week. I look forward to reading it and to see if I might find the others.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there are any better novels written in the "Chandler style" than those by Howard Browne.
The last, The Taste of Ashes, is good enough to stand right beside Chandler's work.
It's probably my favorite detective novel.
Available in hardcover way back in the day, then refused paperback publication because the author wouldn't cut it. The only paperback appearance to date was a limited run from Dennis McMillan back in 1988.
If there was One Single Title that I could push on Hard Case Crime, this would be it.

John Hocking

Unknown said...

Like you, Ed, I loved those old digests Browne edited, and some of those Silverberg stories remain embedded in my memory. Later on, I discovered the Paul Pine mysteries and enjoyed the highly, too. Thanks for the reminder.

August West said...

I remember that it was by accident that I read my first Howard Browne Paul Pine novel and those kinds of accidents I'll take any day. Created my favorite PI and I'll always hold that close. My favorite was "Halo for Satan," but I can't argue with John about "Ashes." Also wrote one of my favorite PI Short Stories in "So Dark for April" published in Manhunt in 1953. Browne was the "real deal."

Todd Mason said...

FWIW, Browne didn't overlap much with Silverberg (and Lesser/Marlowe, Ellison and Garrett) in the Ziff-Davis magazines, having pretty much checked out in favor of Paul Fairman in the mid 1950s...of course, Fairman was pretty checked out himself during those years, busy writing his own crime fiction while taking in the yard goods from his quartet and letting Cele Goldsmith pull the occasional story from Kate Wilhelm out of slush. I suspect that AMAZING and FANTASTIC had more problems at their publisher than they would've if Ziff liked the fiction magazines the way Davis did. I gather he, and his successors, didn't, and so B. G. Davis went off and managed to buy EQMM and create his own company.

Ed Gorman said...

Hi Todd-

In his collection of 50s pulp Bob Silverberg talks about about how many many stories Howard bought from him. He says he had a great relationship with Howard and was sorry to see him go because he had a rather cold relationship with Fairman.

Juri said...

THE TASTE OF ASHES sure is one of the best PI novels ever written.

Todd Mason said...

Cool...I haven't picked up the Silverberg yet. I see Browne was officially out the door in May 1956, according to Mike Ashley's TIME MACHINES (his history of the magazines), and Silverberg was presumably already picking up serious speed by then.

Anonymous said...

Those "Halo" novels are all very, very good, but THE TASTE OF ASHES is even better - it's really on a whole other level. Simply put, it's one of the best crime novels ever and I'm even inclined to say it's better than anything by Chandler. Oh, the heresy.

Unknown said...

I'd love to read any autobiographical articles Howard Browne wrote. Does anyone know which issues of Mystery Scene they were in?