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..


Frank Loose said...

I've read about a dozen Keene's, and you summed things up nicely, Ed, when you said his stuff was always readable and sometimes genius. Hard Case Crime chose wisely when they elected to publish Home is The Sailor. It fits nicely into the genius category. A terrific read. I think it is one of the strongest entries in the entire HCC catalogue. That pivotal scene on the cliff has never been topped, imo, for dramatic intensity.

From what I've read, Gil Brewer was also a close Florida friend. In Brewer's A Taste for Sin, he wrote a scene that had to be a result of having read (or discussed) Home is The Sailor and loved that cliff scene. I believe Brewer even turned a Keene short story into a book. I forget the title.

Both Taste and Sailor are among my favorites from the time period, and anyone looking to read either Keene or Brewer for the first time should consider these two great noir reads. And since HCC published the one, and Stark House the other, new copies are easy to find.

Anonymous said...

Ramble House will be the outfit publishing the volumes, with John Pelan as editor (at least, as of my last understanding of the project).

~ Ron C.

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Peril Press said...

I have a manuscript written while Keene live in Portland, Oregon. Any idea when that was?

Ed Gorman said...

I'm sorry I don't have a clue about his life in Portland. Sorry.