Archive for March, 2010

I was checking out the new Paradox website last night when I came across a webpage labeled “Entertainment.” On that page were a number of proposed and/or upcoming Robert E. Howard projects. To say I was shocked at what I found there is an understatement; it was more like a feeling of pure horror.

The movie and other media projects listed for characters and stories included (in addition to Conan): Almuric, Dark Agnes, El Borak, James Allison, John Kirowan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, “Pigeons From Hell,” Cormac Mac Art and “The Vultures of Wahpeton.”  Some of these projects I was aware of, but most were new to me. While I’m very happy with what Paradox is doing with Howard in print, the movies are a different story altogether. Moviemakers have always mangled Howard’s work and will likely continue to go so. In order to keep my head from exploding, I will only address two of the proposed projects here, but you can check them all out at Paradox’s website.

Here is the blub for the Francis X. Gordon movie:

Untitled El Borak Project (Action /Adventure New Media Series)

Jason Bourne meets Lawrence of Arabia. Disillusioned after years of U.S. black ops, lethal CIA operative Francis Gordon disappears. Years later, he resurfaces as a mercenary for Afghani warlords and seeks to keep U.S., Russian, and British influence out of the region. In their quest for power, these nations bid for the services of shadowy gun-runner “El Borak,” once known as Francis Gordon.

Okay, first of all you know you are in trouble when the blurb for a movie begins something like: “think Godzilla meets The Parent Trap.” Summing up the entire plot of a movie in this way must mean the money guys who are pitched these movies have the attention span of a gnat, which also calls into question the intelligence of those pushing the concept.

Second, the CIA wasn’t around during the time of El Borak’s adventures. It was created in 1947 and by that time Gordon would have been a senior citizen.

Thirdly “mercenary; shadowy gun-runner” to me spells “criminal element” and the El Borak I know is far from a criminal. He is a good guy adventurer, not shady at all. Also, it appears, Gordon has discarded his real name and become simply “El Borak.”  So, assuming they cast Matt Damon in the role of El Borak, he will doubtless be a highly-skilled chop-socky jockey instead of a master swordsman and deadly gunfighter like the real El Borak.  In other words, more of the same old watered down pap Hollywood has been feeding us for years.

Fourth, judging by the description, this mish-mash of a plot takes place during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979 -1989). Also, the British left Afghanistan in 1919, so other than returning after 9/11, they have no real interest in the country. The whole premise of this movie makes no sense at all, which is par for the course.

Fifth, I’ve seen this move before – it’s called Rambo III.

Moving on to the second project in my sights:

Pigeons From Hell (Gothic Horror)

Stephen King called Robert E. Howard’s tale “one of the finest horror stories of the 20th century.” Tonally like The Shining and The Others. When a construction crew is hired to renovate a dilapidated mansion in post-Katrina New Orleans, they become trapped when the basement collapses and releases an unspeakable evil. The mansion holds the grisly legend of its previous owners, an influential family who performed grotesque experiments on their servants before a revolt sent them into hiding. One of the construction workers becomes possessed and sabotages all means of escape. The group must then survive the night while being hunted by the wraith of the former owner.

While it is unclear what type of project “Pigeons From Hell” is, I assume it is a movie.

Okay, for starters they threw out 90% of the plot, leaving only the “dilapidated mansion” part.  The traveling friends became construction workers and the “horror” moved from the upper floors to the basement.

This is actually sounds more like a famous New Orleans ghost story than “Pigeons From Hell,” so why not just tell that story and leave “Pigeons” out of the equation altogether?

Again, I’ve seen this movie before – it’s called Session 9.

So the $64,000 question is will these concepts become movies? Perhaps, but this is one moviegoer who is holding out for the real deal. Something tells me I am going to be holding out until Delhi the cow comes home.

This entry filed under El Borak, Howard in Media, Howard's Fiction, News.

I’m posting this as a follow-up to Brian’s earlier post on Thriller and the “Pigeons From Hell” episode.  Brian also wrote extensively on the subject of “Pigeons From Hell” in “Lovecraft’s Southern Vacation,” which was published in vol. 3, no. 2 of The Cimmerian.

His post got me to thinking about the fine article written by Bill Wallace for REH:TGR #4. Bill took an in-depth look at this classic Howard horror tale and its television adaption, both of which had an impact him. It is a very powerful story, one of Howard’s best “weird tale” efforts and one that, thanks to Mr. Karloff, many non-Howard fans are aware of and appreciate.

Of course, any Howard fan worth his or her salt has sought out and viewed the “Pigeons From Hell” episode, which did a damn good job of translating Howard’s prose to the small screen.  While there are some variations, it perfectly captures the brooding, horrific mood of the story.  It just may very well be the best television adaptation of a horror story ever.

Undoubtedly, Howard based this bloody terror tale on ghost stories of the South told to him by his grandmother. It must have also had an influence on filmmaker Alex Turner, because his 2004 movie, Dead Birds appears to borrow heavily from the themes in “Pigeons From Hell.”

There is a great homage webpage devoted to this Thriller episode that has, at the bottom, a jerky, nickelodeon style film of scenes from “Pigeons From Hell” that seems to be scarier than just watching a video of it.   But don’t take my word for it, read the Thriller script.

Needless to say, both the print version and the television version will easily scare the living daylights out of you. And, if you are ever driving through the South and see a dilapidated antebellum mansion off in the distance, whatever you do, don’t stop … it will likely be the last stop you’ll make.

This entry filed under Howard in Media, Howard's Fiction, Weird Tales.

Several months ago, a man I have been corresponding with for the past four years on the subject of Robert E. Howard’s ancestry – he being related to one branch of the family – told me out of the blue that he was about to send me a gift: an original photo of Robert, He added that he would throw a few other items my way in the envelope, to wit: an original of Robert and Hester’s death notice (see The Last Celt, pg. 416), an original of one of the few copies of “What the Nation Owes to the South” that Isaac Howard had had printed circa July 1936 – two extremely rare items in their own right – and a clipping of a 1944 newspaper with an obit for Isaac Mordecai Howard. My correspondent – who shall remain nameless for privacy reasons – is a descendant of a cousin of Robert, so it was not a real surprise to see that these items were in his possession. The death notice and essay were probably sent to his grandparents in around July 1936, when Isaac Howard had these printed, and the photo must have been sent along as well. In the four years of our exchanges, he had never mentioned these to me.

Sending him a link to the REHupa page showing all the known pictures of Robert, he told me it was the one labeled “REH studio – alternate.”

It took ten loooong days for the envelope to reach me, during which time I decided it was high-time to investigate on what is, after all, the most famous Howard photo of all.

Read the rest of this entry »

It was one year ago today that we lost a giant among Howard scholars. On March 23, 2009, Steve Tompkins died of a heart attack, which was a result of complications that began with a simple case of food poisoning.  He was only 48 years old. The sudden passing of Steve reverberated across the worldwide web, shocking everyone who knew Steve and his work in Howard Fandom and fandom in general. Steve was also friend and contributor to TGR.

With his unexpected and premature passing, the prolific Steve left us all wanting more, but we will just have to make do with what he left behind – thousands and thousands of words wonderfully woven together as only he could. Whether it was on The Cimmerian blog or in a number of publications and books, he amazed and delighted fans with his insightful and entertaining wordsmithing.  

I met him in person only once in Austin, at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention and was at first struck by his quiet shyness. However, this facade soon fell away when he got to talking on a particular subject, as he became animated and passionate about whatever topic he was speaking about.

Numerous times during the past year I would find myself thinking what would Steve have said about Avatar, The Wolfman movie, the upcoming Conan film and a myriad of other topics I knew he would have loved to have commented on. I did get a bit of a reprieve last month while reading Steve’s final essay in Del Rey’s El Borak and Other Desert Adventures. It was an essay I never want to have end, but like everything else in this world, it did.

Last year a collection of special tributes to Steve was published in TGR #13. You can read those tributes here and as you read what his friends and colleagues have to say about him, just try to imagine what could have been.

Steve’s blog postings are archived at The Cimmerian website and his writings can also be found in the pages of The Cimmerian, The Dark Man, The Robert E. Howard Companion, The Chronicler of Cross Plains, TGR, The Barbaric Triumph, Kull, Exile of Atlantis, The Best of Robert E. Howard, Volume 2: Grim Lands and El Borak and Other Desert Adventures. He also edited the Bison book titled The Black Stranger and Other American Tales.

The February 15, 1923 issue of Brownwood High School’s student newspaper, The Tattler, introduced readers to one of Robert E. Howard’s very first (maybe, the first) series characters, Hawkshaw the Detective. With the Colonel, his blundering sidekick, Hawkshaw appeared in three stories: “Unhand Me, Villain!” “Aha! or The Mystery of the Queen’s Necklace,” and “Halt! Who Goes There?”; this last published in The Yellow Jacket, Howard Payne College’s newspaper, in 1924. For those not familiar with the tales, they are detective parodies along the lines of the Fu Manchu spoofs that appeared in some of Howard’s letters, though these poke fun at Sherlock Holmes and Watson, instead. At least I thought that was where the idea came from.

I was thumbing through an old copy of the Comic Book Price Guide the other day, looking for comics I used to have, when the following title caught my eye: The Adventures of Hawkshaw. “Huh,” I muttered, and then read the following note: “See Hawkshaw the Detective.”

First published in 1917, Hawkshaw the Detective is a 48-page collection of “Sunday strip reprints” by Gus Mager. In 1994 it was worth $160 in near mint condition. A print-on-demand version of this is available at lulu.com.

Robert E. Howard would’ve been eleven years old in 1917, seventeen in 1923 when his first Hawkshaw story appeared in print. I don’t doubt that Howard was reading things in 1917, but would he have remembered a comic book six years later? Well, he didn’t have to. According to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, Hawkshaw the Detective, the newspaper strip, ran from 1913 to 1922; so, if Howard had access to one of the newspapers that ran the strip, he’d easily remember it a few months later.

The term “hawkshaw” was fairly prevalent in the 1920s and was synonymous with “detective,” so it would be easy to write these two Hawkshaws off as a coincidence, but when you throw in the sidekick Colonel, it becomes unlikely. Have a look and see if the comic strip posted here doesn’t match Howard’s description of the duo from “Unhand Me, Villain!”: “One was a tall, thin man and the other a short stocky man.”

I think it’s safe to assume that Howard, as well as readers of The Tattler, were familiar with the characters from the comic strip long before they appeared in the stories mentioned above. Add Gus Mager to the list of Howard’s influences.

Oh, and Hawkshaw’s fame is enduring, apparently. Hawkshaw the Detective: A Morally Uplifting Melodrama by Tim Kelly was published in 1976 by Hanbury Plays and was recently performed at the Golden Chain Theatre “in scenic Oakhurst,” California.

The fairer sex has always had an interest in the weird, the unknown — albeit the more romantic side of these.  Witness today’s popularity of “love story” vampire books, movies (the Twilight series) and television series (Moonlight, True Blood).  I know my wife loves the weird stuff – she is always on the lookout for movies on cable and in theaters that will scare her to the point where she has to cover her eyes.

Back in the day, there were many women fans of Weird Tales as well, some of them even joining the Weird Tales Club, a feature the magazine began in the 1940s.  I suspect there were a lot of women, who perhaps out of boredom, would pick up their husband or boyfriend’s Weird Tales to read and find themselves drawn into those strange worlds and horrific situations. Of course, the covers may have gotten their attention first.  They were meant to be enticing, exotic, and shocking; many of them featuring femmes fatales, damsels in distress, and women as objects of either desire or torture.

Here is an excerpt from “Chapter 3: Weird Sisters” from Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction (1926-1965) by Eric Leaf Davin (most of the book is online at Google books) on women and the Weird Tales Club:

In the 1940s the magazine launched the “Weird Tales Club.” If readers submitted a stamped self-addressed envelope, along with their names and addresses, they would be sent an official membership card and their names and addresses would be published in the magazine as new club members. I chose six issues at random – one from 1943, two from 1947, two from 1949, and one from 1952 — and did a gender analysis of the listed club members.

Of the 448 club members I could gender-identify from these six lists, 118 were female, almost exactly the same gender breakdown as revealed by an analysis of all the letter writers to the magazine. Nor were the female club members skewed toward any one period. The percentage of female club members hovered around this level for the entire decade I examined 1943-1952, although the percentage was 26.8 percent in 1943 and 31.3 percent in 1952. Three of the six issues reveled female club memberships of over 30 percent with only September 1949 female club membership falling below 26 percent. As the club memberships lists and the letters reveal, women, although a monitory, were nevertheless a major, vocal, and crucial part of the Weird Tales readership.

Even during Howard’s lifetime, female readership was around 25 percent, based on letters sent to the magazine.

In addition to being readers and letter writers, women were also important contributors to the magazine. At least 114 female authors were published in Weird Tales before one of the magazine’s best known female writers, C. L. Moore, had her first story published in 1933. Of course, Margaret Brundage painted nine Weird Tales covers featuring Conan the Cimmerian and gave the world its first color depiction of the legendary barbarian. In fact a woman, Dorothy McIlwraith, was the editor of Weird Tales for nearly half its lifespan (1940-1954).

Who knows, perhaps likeminded men and women corresponded and met through the information published in the Weird Tales Club section of the magazine.  And future Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner certainly knew where to find women —  he was a Weird Tales Club member too.

This entry filed under Howard Fandom, Howard's Fiction, Weird Tales.

howardhouse

With Howard Days just around the corner, I thought I’d provide a little history and  information on the Howard House. While the exterior of the house has remained virtually unchanged, thankfully the inside has been improved with the addition of central air conditioning, a must have during the scorching hot summer days in West Texas. 

In 1919 Dr. Isaac Howard purchased the house from Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Coffman for $1500; he paid $500 in cash and the remainder in promissory notes. The wood frame house was apparently built by the Coffmans for their granddaughter and her husband, a Dr. Boomer. However, one source indicated the house was new when Dr. Howard bought it. Either before or shortly after they moved in, Dr. Howard added a bathroom and a rear L- shaped enclosed porch. A portion of the porch served as a small bedroom, used at first by Dr. Howard or by a cousin who lived with the Howards briefly, and, later, as Robert’s bedroom and office, and the remaining portion as a sleeping porch.

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Here are excerpts of a description of the exterior of the house from the National Register of Historic Places Narrative, which was written in 1993 by Howard fan Steve Mitchell:

Robert E. Howard House, Highway 36 west, Cross Plains, Callahan County, is a one-story, roughly T-shaped single family dwelling of box, or board-frame, construction. The vertical boards which serve as the structural system are sheathed in weatherboard, and the house rests on brick piers with brick infill. The intersecting gable roofs are covered with asphalt shingles. Turned posts with decorative spindlework support a shed roofed porch on the facade, or north elevation. Despite a shed roofed addition on the rear elevation and interior alterations, most of which are reversible, the house retains its original form and design and its floor plan has been essentially preserved. It retains integrity of design, materials, workmanship, location, feeling, and, especially, of association. (…) The intersecting gable roofs are covered with asphalt shingles. A single brick chimney pierces the ridge near the eastern end of the shorter, east-west axis. There are returns in all three gable ends.

The gable end of the longer north-south axis projects on the facade, or north elevation, and, with the north elevation of the shorter axis, forms a truncated ell. A shed roofed porch supported by turned posts with spindlework shelters the front entrance to the house, located nearer to the projecting gable end, and a single one-over-one double-hung window. The door opens into a central hall which runs the length of the house. Paired one-over-one double-hung windows are centered in the gable end and open into the parlor. At an unknown date, a concrete slab replaced the original wooden porch floor.

The west elevation faces Avenue J, an unimproved dirt street which connects Highway 36 and an alley which runs parallel to the highway; in Howard’s lifetime, this alley may have served as the Howards’ driveway and may not have extended through the east-west alley which now runs along the rear of the property. Asymmetrically arranged in the west elevation are five windows. The northernmost window is one-over-one double-hung and opens into the parlor. Paired one-over-one double-hung windows are located near the center of the elevation and open into the dining area. The remaining pair of windows, also one-over-one double- hung, open into the kitchen and are smaller than the other windows on the elevation.

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Descriptions of the interior of the house during Robert’s lifetime are hard to come by. In 1934 Novalyne Price Ellis unexpectedly paid Robert, the purpose of which was to discuss writing. This is how she described her first visit to the house:

The house was average. A white frame house in need of paint. The walk was average. The yard was average, no better kept than the yards next door. Nobody here had done anything spectacular about the place he lived in. She was unimpressed with the interior. Ushered by Dr. Howard into the parlor to wait, she assessed the furnishings: I looked around the room. It wasn’t impressive, but it was the feeling it gave me that was important…. This was the kind of unfashionable living room you might find in a house where there wasn’t much money and people were more concerned with their feelings than with beauty.

The divan was old, and the side where Mrs. Howard had sat didn’t stand up as high as the middle. The other furniture was nondescript too. A rocker or two and a straight chair, a table or two. A double door led into a dining room. A white cloth was on the table and books and papers [where Robert had been writing].

After the deaths of Robert and Hester, Dr. Howard led a lonely life, he kept the house for six years, living there off and on, before selling it:

In 1942, Dr. Howard sold his house for $1050.00 to Mrs. Nancy Elizabeth Grisham. [Being in poor health, he had been living in Ranger with a colleague, Dr. Kuykendall and his family since 1940, where he worked at the West Texas Clinic & Hospital until his death in 1944.] Some interior alterations and the expansion or replacement of the rear porch probably occurred shortly after the house was sold.

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In 1989, the Howard house was purchased by Project Pride, Incorporated, a community service organization “intent on keeping Cross Plains a clean, attractive and developing community and in preserving and documenting the history and heritage of the area.” Since that date Project Pride has operated the house as a museum dedicated to the works and life of Robert E. Howard. The museum is open by appointment and once each year on the anniversary of Howard’s death and has hosted visitors from all over the world. The organization has undertaken the maintenance and restoration of the house.

A few years ago, Norris Chambers, a friend of Robert and the Howard family, attended Howard Days.  He was interviewed in the house by Leo Grin and provided some insight to life in the Howard home and on the Howards themselves.  Video and additional commentary by Ben Friberg.

Today as you wander through the house, you try to imagine what it was like living there in the 1920s and 1930s.  If you listen real closely you can almost hear the tapping of Robert’s fingers on the keys of his battered Underwood typewriter and hear Hester talking to him through the window between her bedroom and his.

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Just a few raw factoids this time:

According to Novalyne Price Ellis’s introduction to Report on a Writing Man, she moved to Brownwood when she was in the 7th grade. By the time she was a freshman in high school (which was the 8th grade back then, high schools only running to the 11th, or “senior” year), she was already winning awards. The April 10, 1922 Brownwood Bulletin reports that “Miss Novaline [sic.] Price of the Brownwood High School won in the declamation contest” put on by the interscholastic league.

In the 1923 Brownwood city directory, “Novalene [sic.] Price” is listed as a student at Daniel Baker College. She was also a sophomore at Brownwood High School that year, simultaneously taking classes in Daniel Baker’s “Oratory” department. She did well enough there to take part in a “Fine Arts recital” held on March 5, 1923. The Brownwood Bulletin reported on the 10th that the “program displayed the work being done in the Piano, Voice and Expression Departments.”

Price continued this “moonlighting” for three years; she is listed in the college’s registration lists, under the name “Novalene Price,” as an Oratory student for the 1922-23, 1923-24, and 1924-25 school years. At the end of the 1924 year, she took part in the commencement program. According to the Brownwood Bulletin for June 3, 1924, the “school of expression” offered several readings, including “Novalene [sic.] Price in a poetical reading, ‘The River of Stars’ by Noyes. This last was done in Indian costume with special lighting effects and was a delightful number.”

After graduating from Brownwood High in May of 1925, Price enrolled full time at Daniel Baker. She had a long history there.

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The catalogue for the 1925-26 school year appears to be misplaced, but the yearbook for that year, The Trail, shows how enthusiastic Miss Price (above) was to be a full-time college student. Listed as a freshman, Price was a member of the Coggin Literary Society and the Home Economics Club, as well as secretary for the Footlight Players (a drama club). Tevis Clyde Smith was also a freshman at Daniel Baker that year.

The following year, 1926-27, Price became the president of the drama club, and, at the end of the year, received her diploma in Oratory (below). But she had her sights set on the Literary degree as well, so she’s back for the 1928-29, 1930-31, 1932-33 years and receives her degree in May of ’33.

Despite having two diplomas, she’s listed again in the 1934-35 registration lists. She taught full time in Cross Plains that year, so the listing is probably for a summer course taken in 1934 before starting work. Miss Price taught in Cross Plains for two years, dating a certain local writer, then went to Louisiana State during that fateful summer of 1936. She returned later and taught at Baird High School during 1937 and ’38 where she took her students to Waco for various performances and awards.

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At some point before the summer of 1945, she married and became Novalyne Price Robarts, and that is how she is listed for the summer 1945 session at Daniel Baker, where she turns up as an instructor of Home Economics. Finally, the last item I’ve turned up comes from the 1946-47 school year, where it appears that her first marriage didn’t last too long as she is listed as Novalyne Price Ellis and is pictured in the Daniel Baker yearbook as the director of the “Varsity Players” and a teacher of Speech.

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Visitors to the Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom, located on the former grounds of Daniel Baker, can view a “walk of fame” type monument that includes Miss Ellis.

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Hot on the heels of the publication of El Borak and Other Desert Adventures, the Keegans have a new blog, Jim & Ruth’s Two-Gun Blog.  The name is a great play on words: “Two-Gun” Bob, “Two-Gun” Blog.

Howard fans have been reading and enjoying Jim and Ruth’s The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob comic strips in Dark Horse’s Conan, Solomon Kane and Kull for years. The Keegans also illustrated the two Del Rey “Best of Robert E. Howard” volumes, Crimson Shadows and Grim Lands. Recently, the Crimson Shadows volume was published in a luxury hardcover edition, with vibrant color plates, by Subterranean Press. Later this month, The Early Adventures of El Borak will be published, which features their great cover art, which is very reminiscent of an old-time movie poster. This June they will be the Guests of Honor at the annual Howard Days. The theme for this year’s celebration of Howard will be “The Illustrators of Robert E. Howard.”

So mosey on over to their blog and see a beautiful painting that was inadvertently left out of the El Borak volume.  While it would have appeared in grayscale in the Del Rey book, you can see it in full glorious color, just as it was meant to be seen.

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The Robert E. Howard Foundation has just announced The Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards for REH scholarship. These awards will pick-up where The Cimmerian Awards left off when Leo Grin ceased publication of The Cimmerian journal at the end of 2008. This first year the Foundation will sponsor the awards, we will get a “two-fer.” Awards for both 2008 and 2009 will be awarded.  The actual awards will be based on the categories Leo created for The Cimmerian Awards.

Voting will be limited to members of the Foundation, with Supporting Members allotted 10 votes for each nominee they wish to vote for, Friends of REH getting 20 votes and Legacy Circle Members receiving 30 votes.  As was the case with The Cimmerian Awards, the Foundation’s awards will be given out each year during the annual Howard Days celebration, which is held the second weekend of  June.

You can find a list of nominees for 2008 and 2009, along with voting instructions at the Foundation’s website.

This entry filed under Howard Days, Howard Fandom, Howard Scholarship, News.