Friday, April 30, 2010

The Fund Raiser

Last night Max Allan Collins was at his finest. I've always said that Al (Max) could be a very successful politician. He can hold a room with his mixture of serious and humorous comments.

Al's lovely wife Barb and my lovely wife Carol accompanied us to a winery where we answered the answers of fourteen people who bid on us at the Iowa City Library fund raiser. Traveling from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City/Coralville is like traveling to a different planet. I lived in IC twice and every time I go there I remember why I liked it so much. A different, hipper, freer atmosphere.

The winery was a cool place and so were the people who worked there. The men and women from the fund raiser were bright, quick and funny. Writer John Kenyon organized it and did a great job. I was glad to meet his father, too. As I told John, he lucked out in the Dad pool.

As always, Al kept everybody laughing, including me. The four of us had a fine old time. Thanks again to John Kenyon.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Collected Stories of Ernest Hemingway

If you grew up in the Forties or Fifties it was impossible to imagine that the literary luster of Ernest Hemingway would ever dim. I've never known of a writer as imitated (usually badly) as ole Papa.

He loved it. He carefully crafted the public persona of adventurer and man's man the press and the people loved. Novels such as A Farewell To Arms and For Whom The Bell Tolls outsold the books of his contemporaries.

But time and taste caught up with him and we now see that Hemingway's novels weren't quite as good as we once thought. He certainly had no Gatsby to brag of nor even a Grapes of Wrath by the despised Steinbeck; Papa believed he was a terrible writer. For me the only novel of his worth reading now is The Sun Also Rises. It's not a great novel but it's fascinating one and much truer to the real Hemingway than the novels he wrote afterward.

But then there are the short stories. Back in the day his collected stories were referred to with great reverence as The First Forty-Nine. Many of them were reprinted dozens if not hundreds of times around the world, textbooks included. They still deserve the reverence paid them back then.

From his story of death and dying ("A Clean, Well-Lighted Place") to his sad and ironic tale of a soldier who came back from the First World War too late for the parades ("Soldier's Home:) to the stories set in Upper Michigan this is American literature at its finest. This was Hemingway before he became Papa--the confused boy-man who went to war and then set himself up in Paris to write.

In numerous stories here he proves himself the equal of Faulkner (whom he saw as his main competition--he'd already arrogantly written off his old friend (and the guy who got him his Scribner contract) Fitzgerald) in experimenting with point of view. The line, as several critics mentioned at the time, went from Stephen Crane to Mark Twain to Hemingway, that pure American voice. If you read Crane's The Blue Hotel before you reading Hemingway's Collected Stories you'll hear the echoes throughout start the book.

For readers and writers alike, this is one book that should be in every serious collection. There was no more vital and powerful voice than Hemingway's in his early stories (and I don't include The Old Man And The Sea which I never much liked; way too self-consciously Important). Today they're just as pure and perfect as they were when first published. All hail Hemingway.

I'd pick this up as soon as possible.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stupid and proud of it

We hear a lot about the dumbing down of America. If you want evidence of this you need look no further than TV beer commercials. Since I don't drink, hate sports and consider most macho guys to be clowns, I come to beer commercials with a lot of prejudices. Most of them are stupid enough to be forgettable but the current Bud Light commercial where the geek decides to sit down and listen to his wife's book club because there's Bud We're supposed to identify with this scurvy-looking bastard? Yessir not only do I wanna be like him--I want my son and grandson son to be like him too! Who wouldn't want their own to smirk at the thought of reading a book? I'm sure I'm in a minority here (as usual) but this is an offensive spot to most people who regard reading as a pleasure. Tough guys from Marcus Aurelius to General Patton to Ernest Hemingway to Mickey Spillane partook and any one of them could kick this dirtbags ass in under thirty seconds..

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

History is the lie we all agree to

On his show the other night Bill Maher ran through a list Dwight D. Eisenhower's accomplishments as president of the United States, everything from imagining and building the freeways to his famous falling out with (and warnings about) the military-industrialist complex. He was making the point that Ike was one of the few presidents we've ever had who was willing to say fuck you and get something done, pissing off both sides if he needed to. He wasn't perfect but he was a giant compared to the presidents of the last half of the century and the first decade of this one.

Actually my favorite Ike story is when (according to famous left journalist Murray Kempton (whom Ike enjoyed--they kidded each other all the time and sometimes drank together)...when Ike was in the hotel room at the GOP convention of 52 trying to decide who his running mate should be somebody said "Ike, How about Dick Nixon?" According to the story (and God please say it's true) Ike looked up and said `Who's' Nick Dixon?'" Ike was a Dem but they wanted Adlai Stevenson. Good call.

When Voltaire said "History is the lie we all agree to" he sure wasn't exaggerating. This story is distressing in many ways and is becoming more and more familiar to those of us who have grown leery of certain historians.

From The Guardian UK

Band Of Brothers author accused of fabrication for Eisenhower biography
US academic world shocked as respected historian is said to have 'made up' meetings with 34th US president

His book Band of Brothers – which chronicled the exploits of one company of US airborne troops in second world war Europe – was turned into a highly praised TV series.

But now American historian Professor Stephen Ambrose, who was President Dwight D Eisenhower's official biographer and wrote or edited more than a dozen books about him, is embroiled in a posthumous controversy. It is alleged that he invented many meetings he claimed to have had with Eisenhower, and even fabricated entire interviews with him. The revelations have sent shock waves through the scholarly community in the United States.

The books written by Ambrose, who died in 2002, brought him popular acclaim, and director Steven Spielberg used him as a military adviser on his 1998 Oscar-winning film Saving Private Ryan. Band of Brothers became a cultural milestone when it was turned into a TV series on which Ambrose was a producer. It was hailed for educating an entire generation about the sacrifices of their forefathers. But it appears that Ambrose indulged in some sort of fantasy about the extent of his relationship with Eisenhower. In TV interviews, he claimed to have spent "hundreds and hundreds of hours" with the former president. He even once said he would spend two days a week working with Eisenhower in his office.

However, recently studied records of Eisenhower's meetings contradict the notion that the pair had any lengthy face-to-face contact. "I think five hours [in total] is a generous estimation of the actual time they spent together. I personally would push it back to less than two or three," said Tim Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas.

for the rest go here:

Travis McGee; All About Eve

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Big Bang by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins: The Big Bang
Penzler/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00

Ed here:

As I've mentioned before, it was Jack London and Ray Bradbury whose stories inspired me to start writing in the fourth and fifth grades. But it was reading four novels by Mickey Spillane in seventh grade that taught me how to put scenes together. Reading him also showed me how important it was to create an atmosphere for the scenes. I was terrible of course but Spillane gave me my first inkling of how fiction really worked. I still reread my two favorites of his, Kiss Me, Deadly and The Long Wait, every few years. Because of the violence (tame by today's standards) and politics he was dismissed as a goon. It took decades for his considerable talents to be identified and appreciated. He was a master of the hardboiled; his vision of post-War America was every bit as serious as other writers preferred by the literary establishment. Most of those writers have long been forgotten of course.

So, needless to say, I'm happy that the Spilllane name is once again on the cover of brand new novels, this time shared with that of Max Allan Colllns.

The Big Bang, the second novel produced in the collaboration, takes me back to the dark and gritty first novels of Mike Hammer. The narrative urgency, the world viewed as a corrupt hellish sink-hole, and the single most important rule of the road--neither believe nor trust anyone.

Here we have Hammer on the mean streets of the city breaking up a mugging. But what kind of mugging involves three men beating a bicycle messenger? Hammer doesn't have time for questions at this point. Collins is a good as Spillane at creating bravura fight scenes. The thugs die for their trouble.

But as Hammer soon learns the mugging was no isolated incident when somebody tries to stab him. And there's a gung-ho assistant D.A. dogging Hammer's tracks. Why? What has Hammer stumbled into?

All this is classic Hammer as he penetrates the midnight secrets of a corrupt city. Collins keeps the Spillane legend fresh and lively with his consummate craftsmanship. This was a two-sitting book for me. I couldn't wait to get back to it. And you won't either.

This should be a book club selection. Those of us who grew up reading (and learning) from Spillane are glad to be back in his definitively rnumber one bestseller world wide.


Max Allan Collins (from his blog Friends/Family/Fans of Max Allan Collins)


Jon Breen reviews The Big Bang in Ellery Queen:

*** – In New York of the 1960’s, Mike Hammer confronts the counterculture and battles the drug trade. The tough private eye is sent on an unusual journey late in the going. This one is vastly better than the first posthumous Hammer, The Goliath Bone (reviewed here in March/April 2009), probably because Spillane’s part was written when he was closer to his prime and collaborator Collins was left with more to do. There’s a clever concept at the center of the plot, a fine finishing twist, and plentiful humorous examples of the older writer’s influence on his younger acolyte, a far superior writer.

From the blog Friends/Family/Fans of Max Allan Collins

Max Collins:

I have to point out that Jon Breen is not a Spillane fan. He has been a huge booster of mine, for many years, but he has never, ever warmed to Mickey and Mike. Getting a three-star review out of him for THE BIG BANG means that both Mickey and I did something very, very right. Or that I have finally worn him down….

While I like THE GOLIATH BONE (the previous Collins-Spillane collaboration) a lot, I agree with Jon that THE BIG BANG is much better – it is probably the best ‘60s Hammer after THE GIRL HUNTERS (I exclude THE TWISTED THING, because it was written in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s and withheld for publication until 1966). But I also think KISS HER GOODBYE (the third posthumous Hammer, the “lost” ‘70s novel, out sometime next year) is probably the best of the trio. This shocked me, because I was so happy with THE BIG BANG. But ultimately I think KISS HER GOODBYE is even better.

It’s very important that anybody caring enough to read this update buy THE BIG BANG, and if you haven’t picked up THE GOLIATH BONE, please do so in August when it hits mass-market paperback. It’s crucial that you support these books, and encourage others to buy and read them. I make this plea because there are three other substantial Hammer manuscripts that need completion, and for me to be able to finish those three remaining Hammer novels, these first three have to sell very well. Right now we’re doing okay, but just okay…bewilderingly, foreign publishers have not picked up on GOLIATH BONE or BIG BANG (with the exception of the UK). Considering that Mickey was the most widely translated American author of the 20th Century, that one has me shaking my head.

I’ve discussed this several other places, but here are the three remaining, as yet-to-be-completed Hammer novels:

COMPLEX 90 – a cold war thriller, a sequel to THE GIRL HUNTERS, started around 1964. Mike Hammer goes to Russia and kills lots of Rooskies. Amazing stuff from Mickey in his prime.

LADY GO DIE! – the second, never-completed Mike Hammer novel, written between I, THE JURY and MY GUN IS QUICK (and the postponed TWISTED THING). Mike and Velda vacation in a small town, where a killer is slaying left and right, and Velda gets kidnapped. Written in 1948, the year I was born! A major discovery in the Spillane files.

KING OF THE WEEDS – a book begun in the ‘80s by Mickey, a sort of response to the TV show. It’s a serial killer novel and deals with the impending retirement of Pat Chambers. Mick intended this to be the final Hammer, until 9/11 inspired him to set this book aside and start THE GOLIATH BONE. The lost ‘80s Mike Hammer novel.

All three of these are substantial manuscripts – 100 finished pages or more, with plot and character notes. Some people have the idea that I am writing these by myself, maybe working from scraps of paper or something. Bullshit. These are novels that were well under way when Mickey (for various reasons) set each aside, in every case intending to return to them.

Why is this so important? So what if Spillane left half a dozen half-finished Mike Hammer novels in his files?

Mickey’s first seven novels were the bestselling American mystery novels of all time. In the 20th century, he outsold everybody – from Erskine Caldwell to Stephen King, from Jacqueline Susann to Dean Koontz. In mystery fiction, only Agatha Christie has outsold him worldwide. In America, during Mickey’s heyday, only Erle Stanley Gardner came close.

But the difference is this: Christie wrote 33 Poirot novels and 54 Poirot short stories; Gardner wrote over 80 Perry Mason novels and stories. The great Rex Stout wrote 33 Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin novels and dozens of Wolfe/Archie novellas.

Mickey wrote no formal Mike Hammer short stories (there are a couple of exceptions that I helped find their way into print) and a mere 13 Mike Hammer novels.

For a fictional detective of Hammer’s fame, popularity and influence to have appeared in such a relative handful of books is remarkable in itself. That another six stand to be added to the canon – completed by the writer Spillane chose himself, in his final weeks – is unique in the genre.

It’s particularly interesting (if merely coincidental) that Spillane made his fame and fortune based on six Mike Hammer novels, published between 1947 and 1952 – I, THE JURY; MY GUN IS QUICK; VENGEANCE IS MINE!; ONE LONELY NIGHT; THE BIG KILL; and KISS ME, DEADLY. The entire private eye novel revival of the fifties and the TV show craze it spawned grew out of the success of those half dozen novels.

Now we have six more to add to the canon. Three are a done deal. Three more will not happen unless readers step up to the cash register and sign up as Mickey Spillane’s favorite kind of human: customers.

As a postscript to the above, I must note that there are a number of smaller Hammer fragments in Mickey’s files. I have already turned one of those into a short story, “The Big Switch,” for The Strand Magazine, and just fashioned another Hammer story for The Strand, “A Longtime Dead,” plus the audio Hammer novel in progress, ENCORE FOR MURDER, derives from a one-page novel outline of Mickey’s.

I have four or five potential Hammer novels beyond the six mentioned above, but these would be based on a chapter plus plot notes, in most cases. Not the truly substantial half-dozen manuscripts mentioned. There are several other interesting manuscripts in the files – a rough draft of a Mike Danger novel from the ‘80s; one hundred-plus pages of a second Morgan the Raider novel; a third young adult novel about his Josh and Larry kid characters; and several completed screenplays (all non-Hammer) that could be novelized.

So if Spillane got hot again, there could be ten or fifteen years of wonderful new/old material. But making that happen is not my primary goal.

Adding six more real Mike Hammer novels to the canon is what this effort is about. Three have been done. Readers, help me build enough support to get the other three finished, as well.


Pro-File: Bev Vincent

Pro-File: Bev Vincent::
Bev Vincent is the author of The Road to the Dark Tower, the Bram Stoker Award nominated com panion to Stephen King's Dark Tower series, and The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, which was nominated for an Edgar Award and a Stoker Award. His short fiction has appeared in places like Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Who Died in Here? (mystery stories set in bathrooms!), From the Borderlands and the MWA anthology The Blue Religion. He is a contributing editor with Cemetery Dance magazine and a member of the Storytellers Unplugged blogging community. He also writes book reviews for Onyx Reviews.

1. Tell us about your current novel (or project).

My most recent project is a book commissioned by Barnes and Noble as part of their "readers' companion" series. It's called The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, and was published by B&N's Fall River Press imprint last fall. This profusely illustrated coffee table book uses King's biography as a lens through which to explore some of his more popular works. As an added bonus, King gave us access to his literary archives and photo albums, so the book has numerous envelopes containing reproductions of documents, including first draft manuscripts (some holographic, some handwritten), revised proof pages, juvenile works of fiction published in his high school newspaper, snippets of writing journals containing unpublished works or drafts of manuscripts that differ significantly from the published versions, etc. The attention to detail in these reproductions is gratifying--they look almost like original documents. The book is only available at B&N and, due to high demand, it will go into a second printing this summer. There will also be an Italian translation released later this year.

2. Can you give a sense of what you're working on now?

After clearing my desk of most short-term commitments, I'm back at work on a novel. I completed the first draft some time ago and showed it to my agent, who agreed that it had promise but needed work. I'm currently re-plotting the book and preparing to tackle the second draft, which will be essentially a complete rewrite. The main character is a private detective who works as a bounty hunter and also participates in a reality TV show where cheating partners are exposed for all the world to see. His main case involves a mobster who skipped bail.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Hearing from readers who take time out of their busy lives to tell me personally how much they like something I've written. Award nominations and glowing reviews are one thing, but this personal contact does wonders for the writer's soul, I think.

4. What is the greatest DISpleasure?

Not having as much time as I'd like to write. I'm not a full-time writer, and I don't resent the day job, which I've been working at for the past two decades, but if there were more hours in the day I think I could get a lot more done!

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Don't be too desperate to be published. Let it happen at its own pace. I've seen people do silly things (sign up with disreputable publishers or agents, self publish, etc.) because the burning desire to see their works in print got the best of them. Resist the temptation of the quick solution, because the long period it sometimes takes to get published is usually a much-needed apprenticeship during which time you improve your writing skills.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

I'm not sure if they're out of print or forgotten, but I don't hear much mention of Ellery Queen (beyond the magazine that bears his name) and Rex Stout, both of whom I read avidly when I was young.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

I've yet to sell a novel, but I remember well the circumstances surrounding the sale of my first book, The Road to the Dark Tower. I was flying by the seat of my pants, hoping I was doing everything right, and waiting for the wrecking ball to hit. Novice that I was, I sent my query letter to a person whose e-mail address I guessed (based on similar addresses with the publisher) and ended up directing it to the Vice President of Penguin Putnam! Fortunately, my query intrigued her and she conveyed it to the appropriate editor. After I developed a complete submission package with detailed chapter outlines, I sent it off with crossed fingers, along with copies of some of my Cemetery Dance columns and proof of my "platform," as they call it. The deal came together quickly and all of a sudden they were ready to make an offer, so I did some quick research on a literary agency and brought them up to speed, asking if they would represent me on this deal. Then I went back to Canada to visit my parents--at the time my father was in the end stages of cancer. So it was a surreal experience, fielding calls from my new agent as the offer and negotiations ensued while trying to deal with imminent loss at the same time. The bright moment from that time is that my father knew that I was going to have a book published.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Robert Edmond Alter

Every once in awhile I find an old pulp story that has some real resonance because of its heritage.

Robert Edmond Alter died way too young at age forty of cancer. I saw a letter of his quoted in a piece following his death. He said that he'd spent twenty years writing about men of strength and determination and now he would have to be one of those men himself.

By the standards of Fifties and Sixties pulp he had a successful career. If he was not quite of the first rank his skills, when he was at his best, might have made you think otherwise. His two Gold Medal novels Swamp Girl and Carny Kill (with one of my favorite Gold Medal covers) still have serious cult followings and his short stories frequently sold to the upper end of the pulp market, especially Argosy.

The story at hand is To Catch A Big One, originally published in Alfred Hitchcock and available in the AH Collection Grave Suspicions.

In a page in I saw--or thought I saw--what he was doing. He was writing his version of Ernest Hemingway's famous story The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber in which a beautiful, bitchy woman mocks and finally murders her weak husband. One of Hemingway's best. Alter set his own story at sea and right away we see an interesting confluence of styles, the Hemingway tale crossed with some of the South sea sociology of Somerset Maugham crossed with passages that could have come from one of Charles Wiilliams' own Gold Medal novels set at sea. I'm not exaggerating any of this; all these influences are there on display. They make the tale all the richer. Alter had obviously been a serious reader.

But Alter makes all this his own. His underwater sequences are brutal and terrifying. The way he misdirects the reader from the real arc of the story is perfect. And he gives us an ending as dark as Hemingway's.

When Alter was bad he was bad indeed but he published so many good stories he deserves collecting. I hope somebody will do him--and us--the favor of producing a collection soon.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jason Pinter: Why Men Don't Read

Ed here: Former editor and now bestselling suspense writer Jason Pinter writes an interesting piece called Why Men Don't Read.
He maintains that the big reason is that publishing doesn't market to men. This appears on Huffington Post today. I don't know if I agree with everything he says but it's a fascinating piece and well worth reading completely. Plus I'm a fan of his novels.

Jason Pinter:

Men read. Tons of them do. But they are not marketed to, not targeted, and often totally dismissed. Go to a book conference, a signing. Outside of a Tucker Max event, what percentage of attendees are men?

I thought about this while watching the first television ad for the Barnes & Noble Nook. The ad itself, I think, is quite well done and effective. It tells a story, hits strong emotions. But notice something odd? It markets itself solely towards women. What about the Kindle? Amazon is a brilliant, juggernaut of a company, but the ads for Kindle with their twee music would make any guy groan.

Now look at the ads for the iPad. Cool, right? They catch your attention without alienating off half the consumer population. Why can't we do that? Make a fun, cool campaign that doesn't cut your audience off at the knees?

I'm tired of people saying Men Don't Read. Men LOVE to read. I've been a reader my whole life. My father is a reader. Most of my male friends are readers. But the more publishing repeats the empty mantra that Men Don't Read the less they're going to try to appeal to men, which is where this vicious cycle begins.

Publish more books for men and boys. Trust editors who try to buy these books, and work on the marketing campaigns to hit those audiences. The readers are there, waiting, eager just under the surface. And I promise, if publishing makes an effort to tap it, they'll come out in droves. It won't be easy. They've been alienated for a long time and might need to be roused from their slumber. But as I've always said the biggest problems facing the publishing industry are not ebooks, or returns, but the number of people reading. This is a way to bring back a lot of readers who have essentially been forgotten about.

for the rest go here:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Millard Kaufman; Christopher Rice

Ed here: MIllard Kaufman was a decorated war hero and successful screenwriter. It was Kaufman who took MacKinley Kantor's 300 page script (!) for Gun Crazy and turned it into a usable and classic B movie script. Then in his late eighties he decided to start writing novels...

TUESDAY, APR 21, 2010 13:01 EDT From Salon/McSweeney's
Millard Kaufman: The 90-year-old boy novelist
McSweeney's remembers the boisterous fiction writer, World War II soldier and co-creator of "Mr. Magoo" VIDEO
This story appears courtesy of McSweeney's. (Read more about this new partnership.)

Photos courtesy of Frederick Kaufman
Millard Kaufman published two books with McSweeney’s -- his debut novel, "Bowl of Cherries," when he was 90 years old, and then "Misadventure," his posthumous final novel. Born in 1917 in Baltimore, Millard served in World War II and fought in Guadalcanal, Guam, and Okinawa. He is the cocreator of "Mr. Magoo," and wrote two Oscar-nominated screenplays. He led an extraordinary life, to be sure, and accumulated an impressive list of accomplishments. But the staff at McSweeney’s will remember him more for the stories he told. Endlessly self-deprecating, Millard was always telling stories, never failing to capture our attention with the breadth of his experiences. Below, Jordan Bass, Millard’s editor at McSweeney's, tells a story of his own about coming to know a writer, who, even after ninety-two years, still had much more to offer.

I first heard the name Millard Kaufman in September 2006, when McSweeney's was on the hunt for new books to publish; his agent had passed away, and his novel had made its way to us. Our books editor at the time, Eli Horowitz, sent me a few links as background: an IMDB page featuring Millard reminiscing about Humphrey Bogart ("a wonderful chess player"); an excerpt from "Shade of the Raintree," a history of the film "Raintree County," with a quote from the critic Bosley Crowther calling the screenplay (which Millard had written) "a formless amoeba"; a San Francisco Chronicle article which quoted Millard saying, "I don’t know how Sinatra was with other people, but around me he was very real."

We were dealing, in other words, with a writer who had survived half a century of Hollywood (he wrote a number of other screenplays besides "Raintree County," including the great "Bad Day at Black Rock"; Bosley Crowther liked that one better), a writer who seemed to have known everyone and had the stories to prove it. On top of all that, he had alighted in his late eighties with a finished manuscript for a novel of reckless youth. Eli and I passed the pages back and forth, agreed that it was fantastic, and bought it.

For the rest go here:

----------------------Christopher Rice

Sunday I talked about Christopher Rice's assertion that male crime writers used too many stereotypes and fantasy figures when writing about women. I said I thought the same was true with a lot crime writers writing about men as well. Irrespective of gender.

Well, I gotta give Rice his due. He parlayed his piece into a spot on NPR this afternoon. He did a pretty good job fronting his thesis but I still think it's too narrow. He did say one thing I absolutely agree with, that the great private eye writer of all time is Ross Macdonald and that Hammett and Chandler are now secondary figures.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Ed here: The movie poster for Somewhere in The Night pretty well captures the dark storyline that director Joseph L. Mankiewicz brought to this noir tale set soon after the vets came back from the big war in 1946. Amnesia is the hook here, as its was in many novels and films of the time, but Mankiewicz ups the ante by using several surreal touches to reflect the confusion felt by protagonist John Hodiak.

Hodiak first has to find out who he is and then h find out if he's a murderer. It's a very slick and successful piece of work. One of the many perfectly staged scenes has a young Sheldon Leonard doing his Sheldon Leonard impression as a thuggish husband who may or may not have been cuckholded. Lloyd Nolan is third billed but that had to be his agent's doing because he isn't on screen that often. But when he is he's the pro he always is, slick and wry. Nancy Guild has a really cool voice, can act and is beautiful in a somewhat studied way. Hodiak could have become THE Cornell Woolrich actor the way Jason Robards became the Eugene O'Neill actor. There's a weakness, a panic in him that is common to all of Woolrich's men. He pretty much sweats all the way through the picture and there's a genuine hunted quality to everything he does

There's one especially moving scene when he comes across a somewhat older woman who is still in love with him. She's a very delicate actress and the gentle way he responds to her melancholy and sense of loss show the two to be kindred spirits.

As a story, it's relentless and just about perfectly wrought. Well worth seeing.

FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA Comicbook Artist Storyboard Artist Illustrator

He's illustrating Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett and it's knockout work. As is everything else on his two websites. Check him out..

-for the rest go here:

Author vs. author

You bet authors hate/envy each other. The Chicago Examiner published a list of the 50 Greatest athor vs. author put-downs. Enjoy!

Mark Twain hates Jane Austen:
One man's Shakespeare is another man's trash fiction.
Consider this pithy commentary on the Great Bard's work:
With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare....
But, of course, there must be SOME writers we can all agree on as truly great, right? Like Jane Austen. Or not:
Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Hemingway: writer of bells, balls, and bulls
1. Ernest Hemingway, according to Vladimir Nabokov (1972)
As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early 'forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.
2. Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote, according to Martin Amis (1986)
Reading Don Quixote can be compared to an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies. When the experience is over, and the old boy checks out at last (on page 846 -- the prose wedged tight, with no breaks for dialogue), you will shed tears all right; not tears of relief or regret but tears of pride. You made it, despite all that 'Don Quixote' could do.
3. John Keats, according to Lord Byron (1820)
Here are Johnny Keats's p@# a-bed poetry...There is such a trash of Keats and the like upon my tables, that I am ashamed to look at them.
4. Edgar Allen Poe, according to Henry James (1876)
An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.
5. John Updike, according to Gore Vidal (2008)
I can't stand him. Nobody will think to ask because I'm supposedly jealous; but I out-sell him. I'm more popular than he is, and I don't take him very seriously...oh, he comes on like the worker's son, like a modern-day D.H. Lawrence, but he's just another boring little middle-class boy hustling his way to the top if he can do it.
6. William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, according to Samuel Pepys (1662)
...we saw 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.
7. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, according to Nathaniel Hawthorne (1851)
Bulwer nauseates me; he is the very pimple of the age's humbug. There is no hope of the public, so long as he retains an admirer, a reader, or a publisher.

Charles Dickens writing something rotten, vulgar, and un-literary
8. Charles Dickens, according to Arnold Bennett (1898)
About a year ago, from idle curiosity, I picked up 'The Old Curiosity Shop', and of all the rotten vulgar un-literary writing...! Worse than George Eliot's. If a novelist can't write where is the beggar.
9. J.K. Rowling, according to Harold Bloom (2000)
How to read 'Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone'? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do.
10. Oscar Wilde, according to Noel Coward (1946)
Am reading more of Oscar Wilde. What a tiresome, affected sod.
11. Fyodor Dostoevsky, according to Vladimir Nabokov
Dostoevky's lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity -- all this is difficult to admire.
12. John Milton's Paradise Lost, according to Samuel Johnson
'Paradise Lost' is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.

for the rest go here:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My friend Rich Chizmar's interesting life

Small Maryland publisher nabs Stephen King deal
Cemetery Dance owner, like author, has a passion for his work

Cemetery Dance Publications has been chosen to be the exclusive publisher of Stephen King's latest niche book, "Blockade Billy." Shown in his office is Richard Chizmar, founder and owner of the company. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / April 12, 2010)

Stephen King is what got Richard Chizmar, owner of Cemetery Dance Publications, into the business of publishing horror and suspense books.

Now King is his business.

Chizmar read one of King's short stories in high school — "The Monkey," about a cymbal-banging toy possessed by an evil spirit — and became an instant fan. When he started his company in 1988, Chizmar would send the author copies of magazines and books he published and slowly developed a professional and personal relationship with him.

That connection led King to choose Chizmar's firm of five employees to publish his latest book, "Blockade Billy." Though not the first book by King that Chizmar has published, the deal is being described in the book world as major coup for such a small company.

"It's a wonderful piece of news for an independent publisher to get a deal with a very high-profile author," said Tina Jordan, a spokesman with the Association of American Publishers.

Chizmar said the deal is opening new doors for the company. Employees of the small publishing house in Forest Hill, received word it was chosen last year, but they had to keep the news to themselves until recently. "It was a hard feat, given how passionate King's fans are," Chizmar said.

For the rest go here:,0,1017707,full.story

Monday, April 19, 2010

Forgotten Books: Danse Macabre

There are certain books you open up with a feeling of coming home. I'm not sure how many times I've read Stephen King's Danse Macabre but it's probably five or six times all the way through. And numerous times when I've opened it to read a specific arc or chapter. I started reading it when I was going through my latest series of radiation sessions and, as always, it made me happy. It's just one of those books.

Ostensibly the book deals with the traditions and tropes of horror fiction, movies, television, radio and comic books. But in the course of discussing horror from its inception to 1981 when the book was first published, King gives us a cultural, intellectual, and sociological overview of both our society and his own life. You're propelled through the book quickly because King has stocked it with so much information, discussion and smart-ass asides. The section on the terrible movie Robot Monster makes me laugh out loud no matter how many times I read it. And yes, there's even a picture of the guy in the gorilla suit and diving helmet. And I still can't believe that Elmer Bernstein, one of the truly great composers of movie music, wrote the music for it.

One of the pieces I was especially taken with this time--maybe because I'd just finished rereading Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser--is King's comparison of Bradbury-Dreiser. Huh? But he makes his case very well--I imagine King was a hell of a good teacher--noting that he's not saying they're alike in theme or style but in the way they frequently overplay their hands.

King has some occasional fun with science fiction fandom, remarking on its frequent complaint that science fiction novels rarely get much respect from the mainstream press. But as King points out, science fiction reviewers can be pretty savage on their own writers. I remember as a teenager not liking Damon Knight's reviews because of their meanness and, in the case of Richard Matheson, what I felt to be envy. According to Knight Matheson was a hack who could do nothing right. I'd say Richard's had a pretty good run despite Knight's opinion of him, wouldn't you?

The final segment, Horror and Morality, could stand alone as a lecture worthy of a semester's study if you coupled it with reading six or seven of the novels King mentions his discussion of horror's relevance to the culture at large.

Stephen King's written a lot of books. This is one of his best. It demonstrates that he's not only a first-rate storytellert but a first-rate thinker as well.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stereotypes the public seems to cherish

Sarah Weinman provided a link today to a piece by Christopher Rice (in The Daily Beast) who notes that many male writers don't do very well by their female characters. He cites four particularly fallow stereotypes:


Except for Michael Connolly and Michael Black and a few others I don't read much cop fiction so the cop's wife who doesn't get it is lost on me. The rest are all too familiar. In fact I once used the Babe Assassin in one of my own long ago books.

I take his point but I think the same thing could be said about male stereotypes. Except for the very best writers, neo noir and hardboiled is just as loaded with male stereotypes. As I've said before these males come not from experience but from other neo noir and hardboiled books. And movies.

One of the reasons I still read traditional mysteries--and I know many of you will disagree--is because the good traditional is generally the only sub-genre of the crime novel that still deals with the everyday existence that most of us share. For all her ironic and sometimes horrific effects Ruth Rendell remains a sardonic judge of everything from life in the suburbs to Viagra-besotted sixty-five year olds contemplating affairs.

Nothing against neo-noir or hardboiled. I still read and enjoy a good deal of it. But as crooked, depressing, violent as existence is in this country there is still a vast segment of everyday life that needs to be covered as Simenon covered his Paris with Maigret. Of course Simenon was a genius.

So while I agree with Rice in the main I think what he really should be criticising crime novel stereotypes whatever the gender.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Act of Violence

I watched this again last night and thought I'd reprint this to reming you to watch it, too.
Wednesday, July 20, 2006

Mary Astor in ACT OF VIOLENCE.

I usually eat lunch around twelve thirty, catch the news and then go back upstairs to my office to write again.

Yesterday I happened to be channel surfing when I saw the billboard for a Turner Classic movie called ACT OF VIOLENCE. I’d never seen it but as soon as I realized Robert Ryan (my favorite noir actor) was in it l knew I’d watch the whole thing.

I’m going to be lazy and let a reviewer from the Internet Movie Database do the heavy lifting for me but I do want to remark on Mary Astor’s performance. Astor is famous for two things, being in THE MALTESE FALCON with Bogart and having her diaries admitted as evidence in a divorce case. She certainly got around.

ACT OF VIOLENCE is hijacked in the middle of act two. Previously the picture belonged to Van Heflin and Ryan. But Astor, who figures prominently in the action far into act three, walks off with the picture. TCM ran several movies of hers a while back and she was great as a giddy spoiled heiress or somesuch in glitzy comedies. She was always approriately irritating (the movies encourage us to hate giddy spoiled heiresses) as in the screwball comedy masterpiece Midnight. In drama she was flawless. Hard to think of another actress of that time who could have played the role she did in Dodsworth with Walter Houston.

But in VIOLENCE we see a side of Astor that is, to me at least, astonishing. As a middle-aged hooker, she manages to be a decent person and a con job at the same time. Her faded looks are spellbinding. She’s got those great facial bones and the still-slender body but she plays against them with a weariness that makes her the most interesting character in the movie. I couldn’t stop looking at her. She’s every bar floozie you ever met and yet she transcends the stereotype by having a kind of hardboiled street intelligence. And at least a modicum of honesty. And at odd moments there is real sexual charm in her weary looks.

This is one of those movies you enjoy because you soon realize that you have no idea where it’s going. It’s the standard three-act structure but the writers and director Fred Zinnemann aren’t afraid to introduce new plot elements right up to mid-way in the third act. That rarely works but it sure works here.

The only melancholy part for me was knowing how bitter Ryan was about playing psychos. He needed the work but considered it his jinx. He was among the finest film actors of his time but never really got his due. It’s his savaged face (he was dying of cancer at the time) that haunts the final moments of THE WILD BUNCH. Grim Sam Peckinpah knew what he was doing. Of course if you read much about how Ryan had to put up with--and finally push back against--Peckinpah's drunken directions, you see that his performance turned into a chore.

From IMBD:

Zinnemann again looks at the aftermath of war, 17 November 2003

Author: clore_2 from New York, New York

In SEVENTH CROSS director Fred Zinnemann depicted the isolation of a concentration camp escapee (Spencer Tracy) with MGM studio sets stepping in for actual locations – that would have been impossible at the time. In THE SEARCH he made use of a ruined Berlin to tell the story of a very young concentration camp survivor – a young boy separated from his mother – using the ruins as a metaphor for the many ruined lives.

In ACT OF VIOLENCE Zinnemann returns to the aftermath of war – this time telling of two prisoner-of-war camp survivors, one of whom was a Nazi collaborator, the other one a vengeful fellow prisoner who takes it upon himself to track down and kill his former friend. Cinematographer Robert Surtees makes great use of Los Angeles’ seedier parts of town – I was reminded of how his son Bruce Surtees made similar effective use of San Francisco in DIRTY HARRY –this is noir at its best, not only in cinematic terms, but with those “only come out at night” characters you expect in a top notch thriller.

Mary Astor is most effective as the barfly (couldn’t make her a prostitute, though it is more than obvious) – and after her performance in the garish DESERT FURY it’s nice to see her in black-and-white again. We first meet her in a pub in which Van Heflin runs for sanctuary, the lighting there has us admiring the way she has held up, but when we move to the harsher lighting of her apartment (the lamp hanging on a cord is unshaded), we realize that the first impression was too kind. It’s a magnificent performance – perhaps the best that I’ve seen of her.

Barry Kroeger, whose altogether too infrequent appearances included such noir classics as CRY OF THE CITY and GUN CRAZY, makes the most of his few moments as an underworld “enforcer” who would be quite willing to kill Ryan for a price. While Ryan seems to be a man who is on the verge of violence at any second, barely able to restrain himself, Kroeger is even more chilling. His calm, rational demeanor puts him in a different class of predator – he’s good at what he does and he’s used to doing it, like Alan Ladd’s character in THIS GUN FOR HIRE we can be sure that when committing murder, he feels “Fine, just fine.”

Janet Leigh appears as Heflin’s wife – it’s an early turn for her, and while it is a most stereotypically written “wifey” role, she invests it with all that she has, but the ending is such that we have to wonder just how she will react. Right before that we have a taut scene with Heflin about to confront Ryan while Kroeger is watching. The tension is almost unbearable, all done through editing and camerawork and not one line of dialogue.

Zinnemann would continue to look at war’s effects on those who came home in THE MEN as well as TERESA and in HATFUL OF RAIN – the man may be the most unheralded of classic film directors, but his resume includes Oscar winners such as HIGH NOON and A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS as well as such nailbiters as this film and the original DAY OF THE JACKAL.

Friday, April 16, 2010

...worth a thousand words

With so many sites devoting themselves to pulp art these days, I thought I'd nominate my choice for hardboiled perfection. This is a R.A. Maguire painting for a very good Harry Whittington novel. It seems to me that it includes just about every trope the form offers--the babe, the gun, the threat (in this case a sinister car), the night and upping the ante, some treacherous territory.

What cover do you think is particularly telling about hardboiled?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cast in Dark Waters

On Pulp Serenade tonight Cullen Gallagher reviews as short novel that Tom Piccirrilli and I did back at the start of this decade:
Thanks, Cullen.

Cullen Gallagher:

"Cast in Dark Waters" by Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli (Cemetery Dance, 2002)

Released by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2002, Cast in Dark Waters is a collaboration between Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli that fluidly and creatively combines two genres: horror and sea-faring adventure. It also features artwork by Keith Minnion. Set in a dingy, 16th century Caribbean port, the story is about a female pirate by the named Crimson whose swashbuckling prowess and high-seas exploits have made her a legend in her own time. Her reputation has spread so far and wide that Trevor and Eileen Maycomb have taken leave of their home in the Virginia colony to hire Crimson to find their missing daughter, Daphna. The trail leads Crimson to an ominous island that is rumored to be haunted by vampires, but that doesn’t scare her as much as the possibility that one of the undead might, in fact, be her deceased lover.

A brisk 100 pages, Cast in Dark Waters is an undeniably enjoyable read, and it is clear that not only do Gorman and Piccirilli’s individual styles merge together cohesively, but that the two writers are also having a blast. A damp, grimy atmosphere settles on every page: bodies hanging from ropes; bar fights; muggy steerage compartments inside ships; foreboding jungles; and the rotting flesh of the restless undead. Bits of action alternate with scenes of nightmarish macabre, and the vampires aren’t the only demons adrift in this story: Crimson and the other characters carry with them plenty of their own personal demons.

for the rest go here:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Doris Day (honest)

Ed here: Cinema Retro links to an interesting interview with Tom Santopietro author the book Considering Doris Day. A portion of his conjecture applies to Teresa Wright, too, a fine (and to me lovely) actress who went abruptly out of fashion after the war was over and America tired of "good girls." As he piiunts out Day was a different kind of good girl--robust and optimistic. I grew up watching Doris Day movies. I liked them well enough even though they were invariably corny love stories. Santapietro makes some solid points about perception versus reality and how success is often defined by the time in which a given person appears on the scene.

"Tom Santopietro: Doris was the biggest movie star in the world because she was equally appealing to men and women. Men found her sexy but also wanted to marry her, and women wanted to be like her, especially in the late '50s and early '60s. In those pre-feminist days, she played career women with great jobs in New York City. Doris Day had the rare ability to be equally believable as a career woman (Pillow Talk) and as a mother with children (The Thrill of It All). She was forthright, independent, aggressive yet utterly feminine. She was a symbol of the post-World War II optimistic and idealized America that was to be the world's "good guy." What I say in the book is that her like will never be seen again.
Laurie: Are there stars who have a similar appeal today?"

Tom Santopietro: I think the closest to Doris Day today is probably Renee Zellweger, who also has a wide range, from musicals like Chicago to dramas like Cold Mountain. Interestingly Renee and Ewan McGregor made Down with Love, in 2004, which was a direct homage to Doris and Rock but it didn't work; it was too self-conscious. They were too self-conscious, and we've changed too much as a country. We view everything through the lens of irony now.
Laurie: How does she compare with other successful actresses of her time?
Tom Santopietro: Doris was one of a kind. She wasn't the voluptuous beauty that Elizabeth Taylor was, nor did she possess the sylph-like elegance of Audrey Hepburn. She was, however, the biggest all-around talent of them all. She really was the idealized girl next door - idealized because no girl next door is that great a singer and such a terrific actress (not to mention being sexy in an understated way)."
for the rest go here:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Stories of Ray Bradbury

For many writers my age, and I mean writers of all kinds, Ray Bradbury was responsible for our first encounter with stories as rich with language as they were the telling itself. The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man became high school staples throughout the country. Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Ways Comes became novels accessible and appreciated by young readers of every taste. He became sui generis for high school English departments looking for a good writer students would enjoy reading.

To celebrate Bradbury's long and imposing career Knopf has published The Stories of Ray Bradbury in its Everyman's Library series. Essentially the books gathers stories from each of Bradbury's various collections over the years. Thus we have some of his finest stories ever gathered from his first collection Dark Carnival as a starting point and follow him through the stylist changes he made over the years.

As much as I like Bradbury--I still have Martin Chronicles and Illustrated Man on my the shelf next to my desk--when A Medicine for Melancholy appeared I saw the first tonal and stylistic changes immediately. So did my friend Doug Humble. I still remember the gist of our conversation after we'd both finished the book. We didn't much care for these new stories. They seemed self-conscious--written. Say what you will about his pulp days, the graceful writing, the striking Thomas Wolfeian images, came natural and supported the tale at hand. But these stories...

I didn't give up on Bradbury. As this collection demonstrates he remained a fine storyteller his entire career. There are pieces here from the eighties that are just as dazzling as many of his tales from the fifties. But it's always seemed to me that he decided that he was a poet and that that interfered with his natural process. To me too much of his poetry is posy.

There's an introduction by Christopher Buckley that offers no new information or insight so we are left with the book itself. And not only is it beautifully made but just about every story here honors the Bradbury legend. In a very real sense he's been a key writer to writers and readers of at least three generations and this collection is the ultimate tribute.

One more thing: I wish people, Bradbury included, would stop saying he's not a very good novelist. Anybody who wrote Death is A Lonely Business and A Graveyard For Lunatics after a three-decade career as a fantastist is a FIRST-RATE novelist. And a major contributor to the noir canon as well. Don't forget one of his favorite writers has always been Cornell Woolrich.

Thanks for a lifetime of great reading, Ray.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A very cool dude

Punching Out
[Apparently a young tech analyst at Credit Suisse returned to the office drunk and left this messy present for a co-worker. He's since been fired, not surprisingly. Image via Dealbreaker]

Ed here: The pic and copy comes from Gawker today. Man just staring at that photo reminds me of my own days of working in an office and how much I wanted to do just what this guy did. To my own cubicle. This is a brilliant starting point (or end point) for a novel or film script.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bobby Driscoll; Marty Greenberg

The blog The Night Editor posts today about my cousin the child movie actor of the Forties and early Fifties Bobby Driscoll. He was said to be Walt Disney's favorite employee for years before teenage acne ruined his chances for going before a camera for several years and he let heroin take over his life. My other cousin Terry Butler, whom some of you know as a writer of fine noir fiction, and I were both beneficiaries of Bobby's very pricey clothes as he outgrew them. Jackets, trousers, shirts in very good condition and fitting perfectly. Bobby's father was my mother's brother so we saw Bobby a few times over the years. Terry saw him once (I think) in LA and got to know a number of people who'd known Bobby. All any of us could do was watch from afar as Bobby self-immolated.

The Night editor talks about Bobby's story being familiar by now--"but my research led me to a blog by a writer named Don Brockway called Isn't Life Terrible. His piece, Bobby Driscoll 1937-1968, is largely a reprint of an article by Florence Epstein which first appeared in Movie Digest in 1972. Give it a look. The tragedy of this forgotten actor makes for compelling--if heartbreaking--reading."

for the rest go here:
--------------------Marty Greenberg

I talked to Marty this morning and he was 65% his old self. He laughed when I told him a story I'd picked up about one of our favorite topics, The Three Stooges. He even said "I think we've turned the corner." Roz sounded very up and happy, too. Made my day

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New Books: 21 Tales

A New Books Piece by Dave Zeltserman


The year of the short story

Well, with Killer due out in May and The Caretaker of Lorne Field out in August, as well as Outsourced out in the UK and other European countries this year (US next Feb.), it's also going to be the year of the novel for me. But I've got 29 stories so far this year that are going to be coming out in print, 21 of which will be in my collection, '21 Tales', three scheduled later this year for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, 'Julius Katz' will be reprinted in Ed Gorman's and Martin Greenberg's best mystery stories of the year anthology, 'Hook or By Crook', a reprinted story in the first edition of Needle Magazine that has just been released, and 3 more new stories in assorted anthologies.

So what about '21 Tales'? These are 21 of my best short crime fiction stories (well, 20 anyways, one story is a lighthearted fantasy), each one with surprise endings and twists to leave the reader dizzy. New Pulp Press will be publishing a paperback version of it later this Fall (estimated date, Oct. 15th), but I've also added low-priced ($1.49) ebook versions today at the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords

By 21 Tales now at the Amazon Kindle store.

By 21 Tales now at Smashwords.

Smashwords store supports just about every format that eReaders use, even Kindle.

If you like twisty, dark, hardboiled crime fiction, I think you'll like the stories in this collection.

I'd like to give a big thanks to Kenney Mencher for the brilliant cover art that he did for this, and of course, New Pulp Press for arranging it.

Update on Marty Greenberg

Dear Friends of Tekno Books,

Please excuse the form e-mail. This message is to a select group whom we are keeping appraised of Marty’s condition on an ongoing basis. We will most likely be making a more general announcement regarding this news early next week, but wanted to let you know what is happening as soon as possible.

Due to an overall lack of improvement (but fortunately no further decline either) Marty is being transferred to an excellent tertiary care hospital in Milwaukee this afternoon. Roz will be there for the next few to several days. We will update everyone as the situation develops.

Apologies for the brevity—more details will be made available shortly. Thanks again, and please let me know if there is anything else we can do.

All best,
John Helfers, Senior Editor
Tekno Books

Friday, April 09, 2010

Richard Basehart

Richard Basehart in Federico Fellini's classic film La Strada

Over the past year I've seen four or five Richard Basehart films, early ones, and they reminded me of what a fine actor he'd been before-- I was in a hospital bed the first time I ever saw Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea. I hadn't been warned. Here was Basehart of the great range and the great voice playing some sullen Navy dude in one of THE worst shows that's ever been on TV. Remember when they'd jerk the camera back and forth to indicate that the submarine had been hit. What the hell was Basehart doing on Voyage? Thanks to Cinema Retro columnist Herbert Shadrak recently speaking to Stephanie Kellerman, a friend of the Basehart family and webmaster of The Talented Richard Basehart shrine--we now have the answers

CR: Why was this great actor so unappreciated during his lifetime – and perhaps even now, 25 years after his death?

SK: I think that happened because of two reasons. One, he moved to Italy for a decade and was out of the public's eye in the USA. And two, he accepted the role of Admiral Nelson in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, with which he will be forever identified. If he had stayed in the U.S., I believe he would have become a greater star here. He is considered a much greater star in Europe. Also, I have received several comments over the years from people who emailed me at my Richard Basehart tribute site that they had no idea he had such range as an actor because they only knew him as Admiral Nelson, and were astonished when they went back and watched some of his old movies, which by now most everyone has forgotten about.

Incidentally, we wouldn't have had Richard as Admiral Nelson if he hadn't needed money to pay off Valentina Cortese after their divorce. She agreed to one last payoff and Voyage was his chance to get out of making any more payments to her. That means if he didn't have that expense, he wouldn't have taken the role and the roles he would have taken otherwise would probably more closely reflect what he had done in the past.

Richard Basehart did not want to be typecast. He just wanted to act and he picked roles that interested him, whether he thought they were good for his career or not. He wasn't really interested in becoming a star. I would think, if anything, he was really a private person and didn't want his life to be fodder for the magazines. If you compare the number of articles written about him to others who were considered stars, you won't find as many. Val had a more established career in the early fifties so Richard chose to go to Italy to be with her. The stress of both of them trying to keep their careers going and never seeing each other because of all the traveling finally drove them apart. They split up around 1958 and Richard had pretty much moved back to the States by 1960. He rarely saw his son Jack after that. Jack stayed with his mother in Rome. Richard missed him terribly.

CR: In the late forties, were the studio bosses trying to build Basehart up to be a big star? If so, his versatility would have been seen as a drawback, no doubt.

SK: Yes, they were expecting him to become a great star… and yes, I think his versatility would have been a drawback because the studio heads would be unable to pigeonhole him into a certain type of role. Richard wanted to stretch himself and he wouldn't have been able to do such a wide variety of roles.

for the rest go here:

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Day Keene

Day Keene was the pseudonym of Gunard Hjerstedt who was born on the south side of Chicago, the son of a paving contractor, in 1903. Keene became an actor in repertory theatre in the early 1920s. When some of his friends, such as Melvyn Douglas and Barton McClain, decided to try movies, Keene, who had already had some success writing plays for the group, flipped a coin to decide between acting and writing. Writing won.

In the 1930s he began writing scripts for radio soap operas. He was the principal writer for the “Little Orphan Annie” radio program. In 1940 he started contributing to pulp magazines specializing in crime and detective fiction. His first stories were published in Ace G-Man Stories and Dime Mystery and later he graduated to Black Mask and Dime Detective.

Tired of the pressure and the grind, Keene moved to the sparsely populated west coast of Florida, where he became one of the first, best, and most prolific writers to make the transition from the pulps to the newly emerging paperback originals in the late 1940s. He also befriended young writers who had moved there, among them Talmage Powell and John D. MacDonald.

Courtesy of the Maureen Moran Literary Agency

Ed here: Many of you probably own some of the fine collections of Fredric Brown pulp stories published by Dennis McMillan in the 90s. Now I'm told that virtually if not literally all of Day Keene's pulp stories will be collected in similar fashion--running to twelve volumes over the years. I've always liked Keene's stuff. He's never less than readable and sometimes he's almost a genius.

And anybody who roomed with Melvyn Douglas (one of my favorite actors) can't be all bad. What a trio--Keene, Douglas and burly Barton McLain..

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Sweet Smell of Success

Ed here: There is no other film quite like The Sweet Smell of Success. I still remember the afternoon I saw it. I was fifteen and I realized that I was seeing a movie that was real art. Parts of it reminded me of Norman Mailer's novel The Deer Park, which I'd read recently. But not even the psychotic darkness of Mailer's book could compare with the snake pit that the creators of Sweet Smell had concocted. These are two brief excerpts from a very long article appearing in Vanity Fair. If you have any interest in how a classic film managed to get made, read this. Some of the portraits of the principals are unforgettable--Burt Lancaster, who apparently enjoyed beating up women; his business partner Harold Hecht who was long sick of Lancaster getting all the press;; Clifford Odets, old, broke, sitting in the back of a freezing prop truck banging out scenes on a typewriter because Lancaster and the director could never agree. And Odets afraid and ashamed of being back in NYC after all these years because the serious people there felt he'd sold out--first by going Hollywood and living a glitzy life; and then cooperating with HUAC. He was terrified of seeing them. If there's a hero here it's Tony Curtis, who's quoted at length and whose appearance in the film changed his life forever. I hope the piece wins some kind of magazine journalism award for its writer Sam Kashner. It's a masterpiece in its own right.

Sam Kashner:

The Sweet Smell of Success—the story of an unethical press agent named Sidney Falco and a power-mad gossip columnist named J. J. Hunsecker—does for New York what Sunset Boulevard did for Hollywood. It was conceived as a short story called “Hunsecker Fights the World,” published in 1948 in Collier’s by Ernest Lehman, an unhappy press agent who wanted only to be a novelist and a screenwriter; it was Lehman’s attempt to expiate his guilt for being one of the little guys feeding the big columnists the stuff that made Walter Winchell more powerful than presidents.

Among the film’s many pleasures is James Wong Howe’s chiaroscuro cinematography, which unerringly captures the look and feel of postwar New York City. Howe shot his subjects from low angles so they always seemed to be “knifing up through the air, poised for the kill,” as critic and screenwriter Stephen Schiff put it. The city is awash in brilliant shadows—everything shines, seemingly drenched in acid rain: the enormous neon signs above the great buildings, even the newsstand holding down its corner of the sidewalk in front of Nedick’s. At one point, after Hunsecker watches a drunk being bounced from a nightclub, he turns away and says, “I love this dirty town.” Sweet Smell of Success is a corrosive valentine to New York, embracing its energy and its clashing ambitions. But what cineasts really love about this film is its biting dialogue, written by Lehman and that most miserable of urban geniuses, Clifford Odets. Where else would you hear a sinister cop utter the words “Come back, Sidney. I want to chastise you”?

For the rest go here:

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Living with Norman Mailer

Ed here: In my youth I had three literary heroes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac and (most obsessively) Norman Mailer. I still revere all three of them today. By far Mailer was the most fun. As a drunkard I watched his numerous high-wire acts with a mixture of amusement and embarrassment. For all the seeming fun in Mailer though there was great darkness and pain; maybe true madness. Maybe that was why he wrote so well about America's own madness. He was our Dreiser. He probably would have been more acceptable to the establishment if he hadn't provided such great tabloid copy over the years. In the latest New York Observer Christian Lorentzen reviews A Ticket To The Circus--the new memoir by Norris Church Mailer, sixth wife and widow to Norman Mailer. Here's an interesting segment of the lengthy and very well done review:

Phone bills showed her he had placed calls to mysterious numbers all over the country. When Mr. Mailer gave her the keys to his writing studio, “I went straight to his desk and opened the drawer,” Mrs. Mailer writes. “It was crammed full of letters and pictures and notes from other women. … He had obviously been cheating on me for a very long time with a small army of women.”

So Mrs. Mailer issued her husband an ultimatum: stop seeing anyone else, or she would leave him. Mr. Mailer offered a novel excuse: He had been faithful for years, until he started research on Harlot’s Ghost, his epic 1991 novel about the C.I.A. “I suppose it could even be true,” Mrs. Mailer writes.

“All the clandestine talking on pay phones, making secret plans, hiding and sneaking around, were perfect spy maneuvers. He said he needed to live that kind of double life, to know what his characters were going through.”

A bigger surprise for the tall, gorgeous, then–42-year-old Mrs. Mailer was that many of the other women “were older than I was, some were older than he was.” (A few were also short and overweight.) As Mr. Mailer explained to her, “sometimes he needed to be the good-looking one.” (Mrs. Mailer also admits to infidelities of her own: one before and one after her husband’s confession.)

“Why had I been so consumed by this old, fat, bombastic, lying little dynamo?” Mrs. Mailer asks. The rest of her book answers that question. In Mrs. Mailer’s clear and graceful storytelling, Mr. Mailer’s immense personal charisma acts as a controlling force.

for the rest go here:

Monday, April 05, 2010

Marty Greenberg's condition

Dear Friends of Tekno Books,

Please excuse this mass e-mail, as we would like to inform everyone about
how Marty is doing. Many of you already know that Marty has been fighting
pancreatitis (an inflamed pancreas) for the past few weeks. However,
recently his health situation took a serious turn.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic pseudo-cysts that required draining. His
condition deteriorated to hemorrhagic pancreatitis, which necessitated
surgery to stop the internal bleeding. The operation was successful‹however,
it has left Marty physically very weak, and he has been in Intensive Care
for the past eight days. Therefore, he will be working from the hospital and
home for some time (the most recent estimate for his recovery is 2-3 months)
until he regains his physical strength. Mentally he¹s as sharp as ever, and
cannot wait to get back into the office, and is in touch with John, Larry,
and Denise there daily.

Marty asked me to pass along his heartfelt thanks for all of your good
wishes and support for his speedy recovery.

All of us at Tekno Books expect the best possible outcome, and appreciate
all your good wishes and support. Cards may be sent to the P.O. Box address
(P.O. Box 8296, Green Bay, WI 54308). At this time we are unable to accept
floral arrangements, as they are not allowed in the ICU.

All projects currently underway and future projects will continue at the
Tekno Books office. Please feel free to contact us with any questions at
920-437-6711 or via e-mail at

Thank you for your understanding and support at this time. We will be
sending updates periodically.

All best,
Rosalind Greenberg and all the staff at Tekno Books

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

I scored the publishing coup of the decade..and then I blew it.

Ed here: This was published in New York magazine..

Betraying Salinger
By Roger Lathbury Published Apr 4, 2010

The first letter I got from J.D. Salinger was very short. It was 1988, and I had written to him with a proposal: I wanted my tiny publishing house, Orchises Press, to publish his novella Hapworth 16, 1924. And Salinger himself had improbably replied, saying that he would consider it.

Hapworth is Salinger’s great mystical not-quite-lost work. It takes the form of a digressive 26,000-word letter sent home from summer camp by the breathtakingly precocious 7-year-old Seymour Glass. The novella took up more than 50 pages of The New Yorker in the issue of June 19, 1965; I was 18 then, and I still have my copy. It’s the last writing that Salinger released to the world, apart from court documents blocking assaults on his privacy, and it never appeared again.

I had the idea that Salinger might find my company attractive for its smallness. (Orchises is based in Alexandria, Virginia, and at the time had about 50 titles in print, mostly poetry and reprints of classics.) I had addressed my pitch to “J. D. Salinger, Cornish, NH,” figuring that the post office would know what to do. They did. Two weeks later, a short note arrived, signed “J D S,” and saying that he’d consider my proposal. I was ecstatic, even if I doubted that he’d proceed. And then, silence.

Eight years went by. In 1996, Harold Ober Associates, which represented Salinger, asked for a catalogue and some sample books. It had been so long, I didn’t make any connection, but I now see that I was being vetted. That May, I came home from vacation to find a letter from Phyllis Westberg, Harold Ober’s president. She began, “It might be wiser to sit down before reading the rest of this … ”

For the rest go here:

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Fog

Just after Stephen King created the horror industry back in the Seventies U.S. publishers began importing British writers who walked the same streets as the master. One of those was Brit superstar James Herbert. While he never quite found the audience he deserved over here, a number of his novels have stayed with me long after the more successful imports have faded completely from my memory.

My favorite Herbert is titled The Fog and it continues the long and heralded tradition of the British disaster novel. Sometimes the disaster is an alien invasion as with H.G. Wells and sometimes the disaster is unworldly seeming yet of our world as with the great John Wyndham.

In Herbert's novel a yellow fog begins moving across England causing much of the population to go insane and begin committing atrocities on family, friends and anyone else they can get their hands on. Even animals go insane; pets become killers. A group of scientists in a bunker race to learn why one of them is immune to the effects fog.

What raises this story to the level of a classic is not just the shock effects--Herbert can jolt the most jaded of readers--but the portraits he draws of his people. He cuts across all ages and all classes. Unlike most Big Bestsellers he makes us care about them and in so doing he gives the reader the race-against-the-clock story with the scientists and the anxiety of seeing real people face their fates.

Centipede Press has just issued a collector's edition of the novel complete with a beautiful cover homage to the U.S. paperback edition and a long, fine introduction by horror legend Ramsey Campbell.

Thought it's a lengthy novel, I read this new edition in two sittings. It's a thriller that truly belongs on the same shelf as H.G. Wells, the early catastrophe novels of J.G. Ballard and the classic work of the late John Wyndham.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm rereading Missionary Stew by Ross Thomas. You want brilliant dialogue? Here's brilliant dialogue. The protagonist Draper Haere, a cunning political op, runs into a ww two friend of his father's named Replogle. He learns that Replogle is near death with inoperable cancer.

Replogle says he's already had Thanksgiving.

"It's still two weeks away" says Haere.

"Not at my house. At my house they had Thanksgiving last Thursday on account of they don't think I'm going to last through Christmas, which sure as hell won't bother me too much."

Replogle paused and put his cigarette out in the car's ashtray. "Well, they're all there, Maureen's family, gathered around the table--her three brothers, already half in the bag, and their godawful wives, and maybe half a dozen assorted nephews, all of them nine feet tall and out of work, and Maureen's old man who's ninety-two and barking about how he's not going to eat any fucking turkey because what he really wants is Salisbury steak. That's what they always call hamburger in Maureen's family. Salisbury steak."


"So there we all are, the pot smoke so thick you can cut it, my brothers-in-law- shitfaced, my sisters-in-law arguing about what TV show they're going to watch, Maureen's old man complaining about his goddamn Salisbury steak being too rare, and suddenly Maureen announces that we're going around the table so everybody can say what they're got to be thankful for--starting with me."

"Norman Rockwell."

"Exactly. Well, they're all looking at me and I just sat there and I didn't say anything for awhile. And then I said `What the fuck have I got to be thankful for? I've got cancer.' Well, you should've seen their faces." Replogle chuckled at the memory and then said, as if repeating a favorite punch line, `What the fuck have I got to be thankful for? I've got cancer."

After that he started to laugh and he went on laughing until Draper Haere joined in out of what he later decided was self-defense.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Say it ain't so..

Ed here: I've always thought that Ira Levin was one of the true Great American Storytellers. I read A Kiss Before Dying first when I was in high school and have read it ten times since and it's still beautifully plotted and written. If it has a flaw I can't find it. Then there's Rosemary's Baby and The Boys From Brazil and one of my favorite plays Dr. Cobb's Garden are among other fine Levin pieces. And Roman Polanski did him the enduring favor of taking Rosemary's Baby seriously and turning it into true cinematic art. The thought of Michael Bay even reading anything by Ira Levin makes me want to puke.

Michael Bay will deliver new 'Rosemary's Baby'
(from SF Gate)

Cult horror "Rosemary's Baby" is set to be reborn -- a revered film critic has confirmed Michael Bay is bringing the spooky classic back to the big screen.

It was rumored in 2008 that the "Transformers" director would remake Roman Polanski's 1968 movie, which saw Mia Farrow play Rosemary, a young woman who is pregnant with the Devil's baby.

Now respected critic Roger Ebert has taken to his page to tells fans that the film is in the pipeline.

He writes, "Michael Bay is remaking Rosemary's Baby. O... kay."

Bay's production company Platinum Dunes is overseeing the making of the movie.

Read more:

-------------------Sword and sandal
Ed here: Leah Rozen is one of my favorite columnists in movieland. Here she deals with one of my least favorite genres, sword-and-sandal stuff.

Leah Rozen:

Sword-and-sandal epics by their very nature tend to be cheesefests, and this action-heavy remake of “Titans” — the original appeared in 1981 — is no exception.

Along with biblical epics, such movies always strike me as poor man’s Shakespeare. Invariably, the dialogue is wannabe highfalutin, the acting self-important and irredeemably campy, the costumes an uneasy mix of heavy ornamentation and strategic scantiness, and the hairstyles embarrassing. (Bangs flatter no man, though the braided cornrows that turn up on Argosian warriors in “Titans” are not necessarily an improvement.)

When great actors appear in these movies, few cover themselves in glory. Paul Newman barely survived his film debut in 1954’s “The Silver Chalice,” even taking out an ad in the trades apologizing for his performance. And an aging Sir Laurence Olivier, who was at that point pretty much jumping at any Hollywood role that offered a cashable paycheck, well, he wore his beard well as Zeus in the original "Titans."

There are exceptions, of course, the rare sword-and-sandal movies that shine. Those would be 1959’s “Ben-Hur,” 1960’s “Spartacus” and 2000’s “Gladiator.” Each benefited from having a strong-willed director and a talented male star boasting appealingly rough edges—well, maybe not Charlton Heston in “Ben-Hur.”

The embarrassments in this category are legion (Roman, and otherwise). Consider 2004’s lackluster -- other than Brad Pitt’s glistening abs -- “Troy” and 2006’s videogame-like “300.” Would anyone ever want to sit through either of those films a second time?

Well, yes, millions of guys would. And have. Especially overseas. “Troy” grossed nearly a half billion dollars worldwide and “300” speared just a little less.

Clearly, these movies speak to men, or maybe to the boy still lurking in every man.


I tells ya Orrie Hitt is taking over the mystery sites. In the new and as usual excellent Paperback Parade (#74) there's a long and well documented story on the life and work of Mr. Hitt. Among several other solid items are pieces on Ted Lewis of Get Carter fame, Geoffrey Holmes, restoring paperbacks and a selection of covers from the Avon Fantasy magazine from the forties. I'm not sure I knew what lurid meant until I saw these. :) Well worth your money and time.

--------------Movie star, MD,

Over the past eight years I've had the same doctor oversee my radiation sessions. She's very easy going and bright and we have a lot of laughs together. Yesterday after I finished the ole sizzle and glow I waited in her office to see her. She was fifteen minutes late, unusual for her. When she came in she looked a bit frazzle and I asked if she was all right. First she told me that so far things looked good with me and that we'd continue on course. Then she told me about the patient meeting she'd just come from. A family doc had sent this woman to see my doc hoping that my doc could convince her she needed to have radiation. She said the woman was very pleasant and very matter of fact when she said that radiation was poison and that she'd be better off without it and that she had this book that told her about an alternate course to surviving breast cancer--yes, she'd read a movie star's book about health and cancer. And the star was still alive so she must be right, right? I was laughing not out of meanness but because somehow this folded into teabaggers, deathers, birthers, yada yada and yada. We've become a nation of conspiracy nuts. My doc wasn't laughing. She's very worried about this woman. She'd walked the woman through the history of radiation as a tool against cancer, gave her the stats on the hundreds of thousands of lives it's extended and/or saved and finally convinced her to think about it a few days and then call my doc again. Alternate medicine is well worth exploring but I'm sorry this movie star ain't exactly Jonas Salk.

--------------Spinetingler Awards

Thanks to those of you who wrote to congratulate me on being nominated for Best Novel in the Legend category of the Spinetingler Awards. I'm really in august company and I'm appreciative that my Mom was able to swing the deal.