Archive for March, 2011

Now in its eleventh year, The Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention will be held in Lombard, a suburb of Chicago, on April 15-17. The event has grown from a single day convention in 2001 to expand into the largest pulp and popular culture show in the country with more than 400 attendees every year. The stated goal of the convention is to bring the fans the best the pulps and popular culture have to offer, and indeed it does. This year Windy City will be celebrating the 80th anniversary of Dime Detective Magazine and Popular Publications.

For the third year in a row, the convention will be held at the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center. The con runs Friday through Sunday, but the con suite will be open on Thursday evening where you pick up your badges and program books early.

If you plan on attending and haven’t booked your hotel room yet, the deadline to get the convention rate, which is a huge savings over the regular rate, is April 1 at 5:00 pm, Central time. You can book online at the website.

Bill Cavalier will be hosting a Robert E. Howard Foundation luncheon for all the Howard Heads in attendance who are Legacy Members at the Westin on Saturday. This event usually attracts a good sized group of Howard fans, so if you can make to the Windy City convention, you’ll have plenty of like-minded folks to hang out with.

This entry filed under Collecting Howard, Howard Fandom, News.

The unique Robert E. Howard tried his hand at quite a few fiction genres, from detective stories to oriental adventure to his humorous westerns about Breck Elkins. He virtually invented heroic fantasy featuring mighty roughneck barbarians, of course, as exemplified by Conan.  His historical adventures with the characters Turlogh Dubh O’Brien and Cormac Fitzgeoffrey (that less than idealistic crusader) are memorable.

He tried his hand at interplanetary adventure at least once, too – with his novel Almuric.

(Damon mentioned in the first “Nemedian Dispatches” for 2011 that “A new trade paperback edition of the often reprinted REH planetary adventure (Almuric) was recently published by Wildside Press, sporting a cheesy computer generated cover.”)

As always, REH gave it his own individual touch. The protagonist, Esau Cairn, the Earthman who finds himself in an alien world, is a misfit on Earth, a powerful throwback to the kind of epoch that produced characters like Niord in “The Valley of the Worm.” This mighty fellow can’t even make a satisfying career of boxing or football — because he’s just too strong and fiercely vital. Without even meaning to, he injures all who compete against him. “Cairn was not a great sluggish lethargic giant as so many powerful men are,” REH informs us, through the mouth of the scientist who introduces the tale; “he was vibrant with fierce life, ablaze with dynamic energy. Carried away by the lust of combat, he forgot to control his powers, and the result was broken limbs or fractured skulls for his opponents.”

Nearly killing a sparring partner finishes his hopes of a boxing career. His license is revoked. Thwarted and restless, he gets involved with a crooked political machine that tries to make him a fall guy, and when the city boss tries to intimidate Cairn, he gets killed by one furious blow. By a typical pulp-magazine stroke of incredible luck, before he’s trapped and shot by the coppers, Cairn meets a scientist with a device that can transport him to a distant planet far beyond the reach of the political machine’s vengeance. Or the law.

Esau Cairn, like some other Howard characters (Francis X. Gordon, or “El Borak,” for instance) was “born in the Southwest, of old frontier stock … whose traditions were of war and feud and battle against man and nature.”  Some of the warriors of the old west described in “Murder Ranches and Gunmen” would have appreciated Cairn, no doubt, and he them. But Cairn was actually born for a much more ancient, savage epoch, and on the world of Almuric he finds an environment that suits him.

His name is significant. Esau, in the Old Testament, was a hairy roughneck of a hunter who was conned out of his true birthright by his smooth-skinned, persuasive brother Jacob – a perfect symbol for the modern civilization that suits Cairn so poorly. In an ironic bit of role reversal, when Cairn arrives on Almuric, the apish Gura males see him as the smooth-skinned freak. The first one he meets asks him contemptuously if he’s a man or a woman. Cairn, typically, socks him on the jaw at once.

Later, captured in the city of Koth, he hears himself described as “a freak, a damned, smooth-skinned degenerate misfit which should not have been born, or allowed to exist.”  By one of the men, naturally. The girl Altha finds him not only interesting, but evidently attractive, from the first. She’s something of a misfit herself, though, in that she longs for a gentler world than the one she knows, something that “is not, and never was,” so far as she’s aware. Cairn, happy for the first time in his life on lusty, crude Almuric, is baffled by this attitude.

It’s an odd world, to put it mildly. It appears to have no history, no development of cultures to compare with the way Byzantine culture, for example, grew out of the fading Roman Empire, or Spanish, Italian and French developed from their common precursor, the Latin language, or the culture of Timbuktu in Africa was imported by Arab conquerors. There’s nothing like that. The race that first attacks and then adopts Cairn, the Guras, inhabit huge plains in crude stone cities they apparently heaped up in a sudden switch from nomadic habits and then never developed further. Cairn says the males evidently did this to protect their women, not because they had any inclination to comfort or shelter from the elements themselves.

Male Guras are massive, apelike fellows with big jaws and receding foreheads. Fighting, drinking and bellowing crude ballads are their chief pastimes. The women, on the other hand, look like earthly women. Physically, they and the men might as well belong to different species.

“Stupid pigs,” the queen of the demoniacal Yaga race says at one point, of the Guras, and some might agree.

The Yagas are about the only creatures the Gura men fear. They are winged, which of course gives them a huge tactical advantage against wingless victims. Cairn describes them as “tall and rangy in build, sinewy and powerful, with ebon skins. They seemed made like ordinary men, except for the great leathery bat-like wings which grew from their shoulders. They were naked except for loincloths, and were armed with short curved blades.”

They have no inhibitions about eating human flesh. They regard themselves as superior beings, if not gods, so it’s not as if they were eating each other; just the lower orders. When Cairn eventually meets their queen, Yasmeena, he finds she’s the most cruel of the lot, like a combination of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed and Howard’s own immortal vampire princess, Akivasha, in The Hour of the Dragon. She’s also the only female Yaga to have retained her wings. The others all have them amputated when young, in order to keep them in a subservient role, it seems. Nasty people.

“Men and women, the Yagas were open and candid in their evil,” remarks Cairn. “Their utter cynicism banished ordinary scruples of modesty and common decency. Deeming themselves gods, they considered themselves above the considerations that guide ordinary humans.”

They remind me strongly of winged semi-human devils in other REH stories, such as “The Garden of Fear.” It features one of James Allison’s former primitive incarnations, who tracks the last survivor of an ancient, pre-human winged race, because it has stolen his mate. He finishes it off in the “garden” of the title, the creature’s lair. Again, in one Solomon Kane story, “Wings in The Night,” the Puritan rover meets the last survivors of the legendary harpies, in the depths of Africa. They too are fiendish winged raptors with bat-like pinions. Cruel beyond measure, they prey on a peaceful black tribe that Kane fails to protect from the monsters, to his personal anguish.

Come to think of it, the Yagas aren’t unlike Michael Moorcock’s Melniboneans in the Elric stories. Theirs is a “sophisticated, brilliant, and cruel culture.” Returning stealthily to Immryr, the last Melnibonean city, Elric prowls through the thoroughfares, now and again hearing “a frenzied, idiot’s yell as some wretch of a slave died in obscene agony to please his master” (“The Dreaming City“). Such sounds would have been common in the Yagas’ inaccessible hold atop a sheer five-hundred-foot crag, also, the way Howard describes them.

The Yagas steal Esau Cairn’s girl, Altha, and carry her to their city of Yugg on the tall rock Yuthla. (In passing, those names are bloody awful.) Esau follows them, even though it’s an unheard-of thing, on Almuric, to defy the dreaded winged monsters. Esau doesn’t just defy them, he resolves to destroy them. He unites the different, feuding tribes of Guras to that purpose, for the first time in the history of Almuric, and overthrows the Yagas in their own citadel, upon which Yasmeena turns loose her private pet monster and completes the destruction. That’s a climax much like the way John Carter of Mars destroys the degenerate Holy Therns and the “goddess” Issus.

We’re all probably seeing echoes of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom in Almuric by now. The lost city of Opar in Africa, which Tarzan discovered, ruled by the priestess La, had a peculiar race of inhabitants. The men were apish, the women normal, like the Guras of Almuric. Burroughs’ John Carter, like Esau Cairn, is transported to an alien planet by mysterious means the details of which are never explained. From the time he arrives, he finds himself battling monsters and cruel degenerate elitists to save beautiful women. The fierce Black Pirates of Mars (who call themselves the First Born) prey on other races in aerial raids, though they use flying warships instead of natural wings. They too are ruled by a cruel woman (Issus, their living goddess). They too, like their unwitting subordinates the Holy Therns, eat human flesh and maintain that this is allowable since they are divine, a superior order of being. They too have their ancient “divine” order overthrown by the hero.

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Last year when I was lining up the contents for TGR #14, I almost typed up an e-mail to Steve Tompkins.  He had been contributing an essay to every other issue of TGR for several years. Of course, I quickly realized Stave was no longer with us and that got me to reflecting on his untimely death on March 23, 2009.

After eating a meal at a Burger King restaurant, Steve developed a severe case of food poisoning that soon led to hospitalization. A few days later he suffered a heart attack and died.

When the news spread of his death, shock, sadness and grief set in among his family, friends and fans.  Tributes to Steve flooded the internet in the days and weeks following his death. One tribute in particular that comes to mind is Deuce Richardson’s “His Like Will Not Be Here Again” at The Cimmerian blog.

For many years prior to his death, Steve wrote an astounding number of defining essays on Howard and his writing.  He was published in a who’s who of Howard journals and magazines: The  Cimmerian (both blog and journal), The  Chronicler of Cross Plains, The Dark Man, REH: Two-Gun Raconteur and The Robert E. Howard Companion.

His writings appeared in three Del Rey books, Kull, Exile of Atlantis and Grim Lands: The Best of  Robert E. Howard, Volume II, El Borak and Other Desert Adventures, and in two collections of Howardian essays, The Barbaric Triumph and The Robert E. Howard Reader.  He also edited the Bison book titled The Black Stranger and Other American Tales.

TGR #13 features a collection of eleven special tributes to Steve — you can read those tributes here. Also, Steve’s blog postings are archived at The Cimmerian website and you can read his final contribution to TGR, “Black Stranger, White Wolflord or Not Out of the Woods Yet” here.

At age 48 Steve was still a young man, with many more years left to be lived. While there will be no more insight on a number of topics from Steve, he did leave behind a huge body of work that will live on both on the web and in print.

Since his death life has gone on, as has Howardom. New scholars have emerged and old Howard hands have continued to expound on REH and his writings via the internet and in print. But there is still that huge, unfilled void left when Steve passed away — a void I dare say will always be with us.

This entry filed under Howard Scholarship.

There’s not a lot of talk about Robert E. Howard’s time in the classrooms at Howard Payne in his letters or semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. About all we get in the latter is this:

Steve took up a bookkeeping course under the same old man who had sought to teach him shorthand. He started in hard and conscientiously and later slumped and lost interest. He studied bookkeeping in the morning and was supposed to practice on the typewriter in the afternoon, but this he often neglected to do.

Very similar statements are made in Howard Biographies Blood and Thunder, by Mark Finn, and Dark Valley Destiny, by L. Sprague de Camp. De Camp adds a name for the “old man”: James Edward Basham. This appears to be an error.

The first Basham I’ve found is from the 1916 Howard Payne yearbook, The Lasso. On its page for the “Business Department” (pictured above) is listed one “Lizzie Basham.” Lizzie was a student, and I haven’t found a connection between her and J. E. other than their association with the business school at Howard Payne.

The next Basham is on the Faculty page of the 1918 Howard Payne yearbook, The Hooverlasso. “Ed. R. Basham” is listed for the “Business Dept.” There is no accompanying photo, but a note in a 1924 HP catalogue suggests that this might be a typo (see below).

We get a hint of Basham’s personality in the 1919 yearbook, again The Lasso, under the heading “Just Imagine.” There is no photo, but following “Just Imagine” is this: “Mr. Basham leading a pep-meeting.” I’d say Mr. Basham was pretty low-key.

The 1920 Lasso finally has a picture of Basham, listed under “Commercial Department.” The catalogue issued in June 1920, under the “Academy” heading has “J. E. Basham, B. Accts., Bookkeeping.” This could very well be de Camp’s “James Edward,” but let’s keep looking. A very similar note appears in all the catalogues from this date until 1928, none providing names instead of initials. The June 1924 catalogue does provide a little extra information: “J. E. Basham, Bookkeeping and Commercial Subjects in Howard Payne College since 1918.” If that is the case, is this Basham the same Basham listed as “Ed. R. Basham” in the 1918 yearbook? One would think that “Ed. R.” started work in 1917 since he is mentioned in the 1918 yearbook; yearbooks typically cover the school year, in this case 1917-18, but it seems odd that the Business Department would be run by two different gentleman with such similar names.

Anyway, we know that “J. E. Basham” was running the Commercial/Business Department of the Howard Payne Academy when Robert E. Howard showed up in the fall of 1924. Lindsey Tyson described Basham as “a kindly old man,” and said that he “operated the business part of the college.” Howard didn’t stay long during his first enrollment, probably only from September 1924 to just after Christmas or the New Year. He would not return until the fall of 1926.

In the Yellow Jacket for November 3, 1926, under the headline “FIRST MEETING OF HOWARD PAYNE FACULTY CLUB,” we get another glimpse of Basham’s personality, but still no name:

Dr. and Mrs. Godbold invited the Faculty Club to meet at their home for the first meeting, Tuesday evening, October 26th. The first part of this meeting was spent in a serious intellectual program, while the remainder of the evening was given over to real fun.
[. . .]
The other discussion of the evening was in the form of a very carefully constructed paper, written and read by Mr. Basham, the head of the commercial department. This paper dealt with the value of commercial training, under the general heads of the utilitarian and cultural values to be derived from such a course of study. Many interesting examples of prominent business men who had started with a humble position were cited by Mr. Basham. Also the great opportunities for growth and mental development and character building, afforded by the commercial course, were pointed out. In fact, Mr. Amis’s and Mr. Basham’s [missing word?] were so forceful that the faculty was almost ready to turn the attention of the entire school to athletics and business training.
[. . .]

In February or March of 1927, Howard has the measles and leaves school. He finishes up his courses in the summer and graduates. Less than a year later, his instructor is dead:

J. E. BASHAM DIED TUES. MORNING

The students of Howard Payne College and the people of Brownwood were grieved to learn of the death of Mr. J. E. Basham on Tuesday, May 8, 5 A.M., who until a few months ago served as Head of the Commercial Department in Howard Payne College.
     Mr. Basham had been in ill health for several years, but his condition did not become critical until last December, when he was forced to forfeit his position as a teacher here.
     Joseph Edward Basham was born December 1, 1860 at Kingston, Arkansas. He was married in 1881 to Jean Sanders.
     He had been a citizen of Texas for 39 years, twenty of which were spent in Brownwood and 12 as a teacher in Howard Payne. At the age of 18 Mr. Basham became a teacher in Arkansas University. After several years of service there he accepted a position with the Metropolitan Business College at Dallas. Later he [missing word] Trinity University at Waxahachie and Farmers Commercial College at Brownwood.
     Mr. Basham was for many years a faithful member of the Baptist Church. During his life in Brownwood he was [. . .]ed with [. . .] First Baptist Church of this [. . .]
     Besides the [. . .] friends who morn his death are his wife, Mrs. Jean Basham, his daughters, Mrs. G. C. Harper and Miss Winnie Basham, his son Mr. Ed Basham, and several grandchildren all of Brownwood.
     The funeral services are to be held at Howard Payne Chapel, Thursday May 10, 3 P. M. The active pallbearers have been chosen from the Howard Payne Faculty and his former students. They are: Dean Thomas H. Taylor, Messrs. G. A. Brooks, I. A. Hicks, Ralph Fisher, Cecil Brown and Winfred Edgar. The honorary pall bearers are to be the other members of the student body and faculty of Howard Payne.

Yellow Jacket, May 10, 1928

And we finally get a name: Joseph Edward Basham. However, given the frequency of errors in student publications, we’ll need to check that. Using the information above, I used a free preview at Ancestry.com to see what they had. They have no records for a James Edward Basham born in Arkansas in 1860; they do, however, have a Joseph Edward Basham, married to Jennie (which is how her name is listed at Greenleaf Cemetery, where husband and wife are burried). And that’s all the free preview would disclose. Good enough for me.

(By the way, Basham’s daughter Winnie graduated from Howard Payne in 1922. Born on September 11, 1900, she died a few months shy of her 44th birthday. She too is burried at Greenleaf.)

UPDATE: Thanks to Rusty Burke and his subscription to Ancestry.com, here are a few details from the census records:

Joseph E. Basham was born in Kings River, Madison County, Arkansas, probably on December 1, 1859—not 1860 as reported above, since the 1860 census, enumerated in August of that year, has a six-month-old “Jasper E” in the Basham household. Ten years later, the name is recorded correctly as “Joseph E” along with his four siblings and mother, Elizabeth, and father, John, both of Tennessee.

The 1900 census has Joseph and wife, Jennie, living in Justice Precinct 7, Collin County, Texas, with their children: Eddy (born April 1882), Lizzie (born Feb. 1894), and Winnie (born March 1900).

The whole family is recorded in Brownwood for the 1910 enumeration. They lived at 1210 Austin Ave. “Joe” is listed as “Teacher, public school.”

1920 has the family reduced by one, with Lizzie (mentioned at the top of this post) gone from the house and probably married. The home is now located at 504 W Anderson St. “Eddie,” now 36-years-old, is still living at home and works as a “gas fitter.”

In 1930, after the death of Joseph, the family has moved again, this time to 1217 Ave A. With Joseph gone, “Edward” is the man of the house and works as a “street foreman.” Sister Winnie has followed in her father’s footsteps and is listed as “Teacher, public school.”

The weather in West Texas brings its share of violent thunderstorms and high winds as Howard Heads can attest to.  Seems like every four or five years violent weather pays Cross Plains a visit during Howard Days. The weather also swings to the other extreme, with long periods of drought, coupled with high winds and low humidly, which can lead to grass fires when a spark or carelessly discarded cigarette ignites the dried vegetation.

This was case on December 27, 2005 when a massive wildfire swept through the small town, destroying over 100 homes and resulting in the deaths of two of its citizens.  The Howard House was nearly a casualty as well if not for the efforts of a neighbor who kept the small frame house wet with a water hose. The fire got so close it singed the grass surrounding the house. The valiant effort of this gentleman, other citizens, the Cross Plains Volunteer Fire Department and volunteers from across the county saved many a structure and prevented a greater loss of life.

This past December was the fifth anniversary of the fire and similar weather conditions were present when the citizens paused to reflect on the disaster for a local television station. And the same wildfire conditions exist today — Callahan County firefighters are currently fighting several grass fires as noted in this March 17 story from the Abilene Reporter-News:

Forest Service, VFD’s battling Callahan County wildfires
By Celinda Emison
March 17, 2011

Fire fighters are battling several wildfires that started overnight in Callahan County.

The first fire sparked around 11:45 p.m. south of Putnam, according to officials at the Callahan County Sheriff’s Department. Fires were reported on FM 880, FM 3265 and County Road 482, officials said.

The Texas Forest Service is assisting with the three fires, cumulatively dubbed the “880 Complex” fire. No structures are threatened at this time, officials said.

“Volunteer fire departments contacted us at 2:30 a.m. for assistance,” said Marq Webb, public information officer for the Texas Forest Service.

Volunteer departments from Putnam, Cottonwood, Cross Plains, Baird, Cisco and Rising Star have been on the scene along with TFS personnel and equipment.

“The winds are pretty bad, this is going to create difficulty in suppression efforts,” Webb said. “We just want to remind everybody that today is not a day to be doing anything with fire.”

So the people of Cross Plains and Callahan County must remain ever vigilant and make every effort to prevent another disastrous wildfire. The December 2005 fire was one that the Texas Forest Service and Texas A&M took note of as they did an in-depth study of the event, which is available online. You can also find online a large collection of photos showing the aftermath of the massive wild fire.

As a reminder that the dry conditions can occur all year round, the Howard Days 2011 page at the REHupa website has a statement regarding the rules for smoking at Caddo Peak. Common sense dictates this advice should be followed at all the outdoor events during the celebration as well.

Cross Plains is a very resilient community, having made an amazing comeback from the brink of disaster. Even though visible scars of the fire remain, the city has healed, rebuilt and is a stronger community for having survived the fire. Indeed, Howard’s hometown has a lot to celebrate this year — a successful comeback from the devastating wildfire and the centennial of its birth.

Cross Plains Resident Tom Stephenson begins the daunting task of cleaning up after the fire destroyed the First United Methodist Church.

Cross Plains resident Tom Stephenson begins the daunting task of cleaning up after the fire destroyed the First United Methodist Church.

This entry filed under Howard Days, Howard Fandom, Howard House Museum, News.

Like the thunder of horse hooves in the distance, the sound of hyperventilating Conan fans who believe the Cimmerian originated in the comics and the 1982 movie can be heard as August 19 draws nearer and the hype ramps up in anticipation of the premiere of the “rebooted” Conan the Barbarian movie. In the past few weeks, a motion poster and a regular one-sheet have been released, along with a teaser trailer and the announcement of the novelization of the movie. Stills from the movie are also all over the web. (Is it just me or does Stephen Lang as Khalar Singh look like Kenny Rogers, post-plastic surgery?) Meanwhile, like so many yellow cockroaches, lower-evolved Conan fans have crawled out of the woodwork to make insane comments about the movie on various blogs and websites. The comments run the gamut from sexist to racist to homophobic to psychotic and everything in between. The best place to get a sane take on the film is at the Conan the Movie Blog, hosted by Al Harron.

As more and more details of the film leak out I am less and less optimistic.  Conan isn’t about big muscles and nearly nude babes; it’s about the saga of a Cimmerian who moves through the pre-cataclysmic Hyborian Age fighting and thinking his way up the ladder from thief and adventurer to rise up to be king of Aquilonia, the most powerful nation of his time. As in the past, this is lost on clueless filmmakers.

The appearance of Conan in the comics has been both a blessing and a curse. The comics put forth the theme that a “superhero” needs an origin – even though Roy Thomas stuck with Howard’s vision and did not kick off Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comic with an origin. This new movie with Jason Momoa as Conan features an origin theme. If I have seen the “baddies killed my mommy and daddy so I have to kill them” theme in a movie once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. The director and writers should have stuck with the source material — I mean, born a battlefield and participating in a raid on an Aquilonian outpost just past puberty – that is not exciting enough for Hollywood? If there is a second movie, hopefully it will it move toward using Howard’s original stories now that the obligatory “origin of Conan” is out of the way. I seriously doubt it.

Despite my major reservations about this movie, I will see it and I expect to see a diverse crowd in the theater: pimple-faced fanboys with asthma inhalers in their shirt pockets, old hippies who still have the Frazetta Lancer cover painting posters pinned to their bedroom walls, White supremacist skinheads, heavily tattooed bikers, wanna be MMA fighters, etc. There will be some wimmen there, but most not of their own free will. I only hope I can make through the whole film — I walked out 20 minutes into the Kull movie.

This entry filed under Howard in Media, News.

During his lifetime, Howard traveled widely thoughout Texas, visiting both large and small towns. The two largest cities in north Texas are Forth Worth and Dallas and Howard spent time in both of them. The cities are located next to each, but possess vastly different personalities and dynamics as Howard details in a letter to August Derleth dated July 3, 1933.

After returning from San Antonio, I spent a short time in Dallas and Fort Worth, and was again impressed — as always — by the contrast between the country to the east and the west of the latter named town. Fort Worth boasts that there “the West begins” and while this is not true geographically, it certainly is true politically and economically. Dallas is only thirty miles east of Fort Worth, yet the feeling of the city is definitely of East Texas, while the feeling of Fort Worth is definitely West Texas. Somewhere between the towns runs the semi-mythical, imaginary, yet immeasurably important line that divides East and West Texas. It is not suprizing, the contrast between the towns, after all. Dallas has always looked toward the rich black land farming country and pine woods of East Texas, to which she owns the greater part of her prosperity. Fort Worth, on the other hand, owes her growth and her very existence to the West; it was as a shipping point for cattle the town got its start; and Fort Worth as definitely looks westward as Dallas looks in the opposite direction. The highway between the towns is almost like the main street of a city, dotted with small towns, and lined with small, prosperous farms, in the most thickly settled part of the state (379 people to the square mile.) But leaving Fort Worth and going westward, abruptly one comes into open rolling country, thinly settled, made up of ranches and big farms, with towns few and far apart. Of all these northern cities, I like Fort Worth best, though for color and historical glamor none of them can compare to San Antonio and other towns of the south.

As Brian recently noted, Texas just celebrated its 175th anniversary.  In 1936, Texas was getting geared up to celebrate its centennial. After the battles at the Alamo and the decisive win at San Jacinto, Texas became an independent nation in 1836, and ultimately joined the United States in 1845 as the 28th state in the union.

If Fate had dealt Howard a better hand in the summer of 1936 and his mother had managed to rally one more time, Howard might have taken notice of the state sanctioned Texas Centennial Exposition, which opened in Dallas on June 6, 1936 — just five days before he died. A competing event, the unofficial Frontier Centennial Exposition, opened in Fort Worth about six weeks later on July 18. Both events ran well into November. Being a proud Texan, I can easily see Howard attending one or both of the dueling celebrations, though he might have found the Fort Worth with its heavy western theme more interesting. And given his penchant for writing about scantily clad ladies, he probably would have taken in the western themed show hosted by Sally Rand.

The chief architect of the event was Amon Carter, a Fort Worth newspaper publisher and city booster. He brought in Broadway showman Billy Rose to be the promoter and director of the extravaganza. In order to provide contrast the staid affair in Dallas, the pair decided to go with a more entertainment oriented theme for Fort Worth’s celebration. Rose convinced Carter that Sally Rand could provide the type of draw they were looking for to bring in big crowds. However, her reputation preceded her, prompting outrage by some people and curiosity by many others — her “Nude Ranch” was a far cry from a “Dude Ranch.”

Ms. Rand was a burlesque dancer who hated being called a stripper. During the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair she was arrested four times in one day for a Lady Godiva act she performed on horseback in the city streets to bring attention to Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch at the fair. The charges were dropped because authorities could not actually prove that she was nude, and she insisted she was not. Perhaps coincidentally or perhaps not, the Chicago World’s Fair was one of the very few that actually made a profit during that time.

Though she had no way of knowing it, Ms. Rand soon became part of the heated rivalry between Fort Worth and its more sophisticated neighbor, Dallas, with its edifying affair celebrating the centennial of the birth of Texas. Carter and Rose were up against a formidable foe — the Dallas exhibition, was well funded and heavily advertised. Being a shrewd promoter, Rose created a billboard that read “Go Elsewhere For Education, Come to Fort Worth For Entertainment.” Rose spread the word of the competing exposition by putting up thousands of these billboards across several neighboring states featuring the slogan, along with scantily clad young women cavorting about in a western setting. The advertisements had their desired effect; even roping people so intrigued by the billboards they’d change a road trip itinerary to pay a visit to Fort Worth. One such person was Ernest Hemingway, who after seeing the roadside signs, deviated from his route from Wyoming to Memphis and made a beeline for the Nude Ranch.

Author Jerry Flemmons described the scene at Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch this way: “Each girl wore boots and hat, a green bandana, skirtlet, tights, and the brand ‘SR’ rubber-stamped on each fleshy thigh. The ‘show’ consisted of girls lounging on swings and beach chairs. Some played with a beach ball. Others shot bows and arrows. One or two sat on horses.”

After getting off to a shaky start, the Fort Worth locals quickly warmed up to Ms. Rand. Soon she was throwing out ceremonial first pitches at citywide baseball games, speaking to service clubs and PTA meetings, buying memberships for the civic music season, traveling on behalf of the centennial celebration, and even gaving a pep talk to the TCU football team. (I’m guessing they were inspired enough to win the game.) In appreciation of her efforts, the city proudly declared November 6, 1936 as “Sally Rand Day” where she was praised for her “graciousness and consummate artistry” and officially thanked for bringing “culture and progress” to the city.

In addition to the attractive Sally Rand and her girls, there were a number of other exciting attractions at the exposition as outlined at the Handbook of Texas website:

The Texas Frontier Centennial, Fort Worth’s special observance of the Texas Centennial, was planned to portray the culture and atmosphere of the old frontier. It was sponsored by Amon G. Carter and a board of control and financed by a local bond drive. Billy Rose of New York was employed to stage the entertainment. The spectacle covered 162 acres and cost $5 million. The Old West lived again in Frontier Village, in which Sunset Trail was lined withlivery stables, general stores, an old church, and other buildings typical of the 1870s to 1890s. A railroad train with wood-burning locomotive and wooden coaches demonstrated transportation of the same period. Exhibits included Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch, Jumbo (a musical circus), the Pioneer Palace (a restaurant and dance hall for presentation of burlesque shows and square dances), and a replica of Will Rogers’s den on his Santa Monica, California, ranch. The West Texas Chamber of Commerce exhibit presented modern West Texas. The most publicized part of the celebration was Casa Mañana, “the House of Tomorrow,” in which seats and tables to accommodate 3,500 spectators faced a revolving stage on which Billy Rose presented his musical show. The musical show’s theme was the historical development shown in four world’s fairs: the St. Louis Fair of 1904, the Paris Fair of 1925, the Chicago Fair of 1934, and the Texas Centennial of 1936. So popular was the celebration that it was presented again in 1937.

In addition to her Nude Ranch, Ms. Rand performed a “Ballet Divertissement” in exposition’s showcase, Casa Mañana. She alternated between balloons and fans for a certain amount of discretion. She always said, “The Rand is quicker than the eye” in explaining how she managed to keep audiences from seeing anything she didn’t want seen. In many ways she was more of an illusionist than a burlesque performer. One Texan, George Lester, has fond memories of the Frontier Centennial Exposition:

The year was 1936 and I was ten. We traveled out west in one car to meet our two brothers that lived in Wink, Texas. In the car were the other three brothers (including me), two sisters, one with a baby and my dad making the arduous trip long before the days of air-conditioning.

I remember the highlight of the trip as our stop in Ft. Worth where we spent the night and took in the Casa Manana show at the fairgrounds.

My dad and my adult brother decided see the Billy Rose production called Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch. It was very mild by today’s standards compared to what you now see on television. My brother Sam was only a year older than me, so our dad gave us money for the rides while they went to see the show.

We chose to start with the Ferris wheel. On our first ascent we discovered something the producers of the event had overlooked. From high above we could look down onto the roofless show below and see all the scantily clad ladies. We kept riding until we ran out of money. I don’t think we ever told our dad why we liked the Ferris wheel so much.

Author and popular syndicated newspaper columnist Damon Runyon summed up the event this way: “Broadway and the Wild West are jointly producing what probably is the biggest and most original show ever seen in the United States. If you took the Polo Grounds and converted it into a café and then added the best Ziegfeld scenic effects, you might get something approximating Casa Mañana.” Surely the exposition was a sight to see, depicting life and civilization on the Texas frontier, complete with a rodeo, exhibits on railroads, music and entertainment, with Sally Rand and a little burlesque thrown in for good measure.

This entry filed under August Derleth, Howard's Texas, Howard's Travels.

The list of nominees is up at the Foundation’s website.  The categories have been shaken up a bit, including the addition of The Rankin Award for artistic achievement in the depiction of Howard’s life and/or work. Artwork must have made its first public published appearance in 2010 and The Cimmerian Award for outstanding blog postings by an individual. Here is some additional information posted by Rob:

The Robert E. Howard Foundation is now accepting ballots for the 2011 REH Foundation Awards. Head on over to the 2011 Nominees page and take a look; Foundation members can then fill out a ballot and send it to our Awards’ address: REHFAwards@gmail.com. All ballots must include the member’s name. Winners will be announced at Howard Days in June. Polls close the first week of April.

So do it Chicago-style and vote early and often!

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

Robert E. Howard wrote quite a number of letters to H. P. Lovecraft.  He admired the New England recluse’s work, of course, and he thought one of the most effective aspects of Lovecraft’s tales was the sense of “place” his fictional New England backgrounds, like Arkham, gave the stories. REH brought a strong sense of “place” to the eerie backgrounds of his own stories, notably “Pigeons From Hell,” which some people think was his best, “The Horror From the Mound,” and “Old Garfield’s Heart.” The last two have a Texas setting, and in a letter to Lovecraft of September 1930, after some speculations on the racial type of the Etruscans and the characteristics of the different Semitic groups, he says in passing:

… I have been repeatedly urged to make an article or tale of a certain murder-ranch which lies several miles west of here, and on which, some thirty years ago, a series of unspeakably ghastly crimes were enacted, and on which skeletons are every now and then found to this day. However, I have not the slightest idea of putting it on paper – more especially as one of the men who committed some of those crimes is still living and at large!

In another letter to Lovecraft, about a month later, he expanded on the subject.

As to the murder-ranch I mentioned, such ranches were fairly common in Texas during an earlier day. The owners would keep a cow-puncher working for perhaps a year without pay, then when he demanded his money, he was driven away; if he showed fight, he was shot down and his body thrown into a gully or an old well. This particular ranch lies some miles west of this town and is now in different hands. The old man who owned the ranch, was, I have heard, of particularly repellent aspect and more dangerous than a rattle-snake. His worst crime, at least I consider it was, was the murder of a servant’s baby; its noise irritated him and he dashed its brains out against the ranch house wall. He lived to be very old and was doubtless partly insane in the latter part of his life.

His son now has a ranch some hundreds of miles west of here, and some twelve or fifteen years ago killed a Mexican, sewed the corpse up in a cow-hide and flung it out on the prairie to rot. The Cattlemen’s Association sent out a detective – just why so much trouble was taken about a Mexican I cannot understand, unless he was some way connected with the Association – and this detective, playing the part of a deaf mute, worked for months on the murderer’s ranch and finally got full evidence. No one would have [thought] _ of looking into the cow-hide, for it merely appeared that a cow’s carcass was rotting out there on the plains. The killer was brought into court and got a sentence of two or three years, though I cannot say as to whether he ever served his time or not. The last I heard of him, he was prospering in the western country.

It doesn’t surprise me that REH decided not to record the deeds of characters like these, some of whom were still around and likely to take offense. In Texas in the ‘30s, people who were offended expressed their chagrin with pistols. Well, baling hooks or pick handles if no firearm was ready to hand, but one usually was.

It’s appropriate that REH should have been writing to H. P. Lovecraft on the subject.  The rancher he describes might well have inspired the character of the former pirate in Lovecraft’s own yarn, “The Terrible Old Man.” (Three intruders with robbery on their minds are later found slashed to death by cutlasses – swung by the ghosts of the Terrible Old Man’s perished shipmates, it would appear.)  They resembled each other, as Howard described the rancher — “of particularly repellent aspect and more dangerous than a rattlesnake.”

If Howard had written the story, as he had been “repeatedly urged” to do, he probably would have picked a forbidding and dreadful locale of his native Texas for its setting. The “plains south of the Llano Estacado” might have done. “Sandy, drab plains with never a tree,” REH wrote, reminiscing about his boyhood, “only tufts of colorless bushes, haunted by tarantulas and rattlesnakes, buzzards and prairie dogs; long-horn cattle, driven in to town for shipping, stampeding past the yard where I played; and screeching dust winds that blew for days, filling the air with such a haze of stinging sand that you could see only for a few yards.”

That would have been an appropriate setting for the old rancher and his hideous deeds, all right. If Howard had ever written the story, he might have made the old man a vicious, hard-bitten character, barn-burner and outlaw as a boy, who had ridden on trail drives and rustled cattle to get his start, an adept at changing brands and back-shooting. After gaining a spread of his own, isolated on the grim plains described above, he would – ultimately – have run it as a murder ranch. REH notes that “such ranches were fairly common in Texas during an earlier day.” It wouldn’t have been a sound idea to work as a cowhand on a remote spread unless you were damned sure of your ability to look after yourself!  An incident in which the old man murdered a servant’s crying baby by dashing out its brains against a wall could form part of the story, to illustrate his nature.

The procedure of hiring hands and letting them work for a year without pay – or at least until they demanded their wages – and then murdering them, would have struck him as sound business. Howard could have written the yarn as a straight western, or he could have added an element of supernatural horror. I’d have preferred him to handle it the second way, myself, considering how effective “Old Garfield’s Heart” and “The Horror From the Mound” were.

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This is the first 2011 post of the online version of Nemedian Dispatches. This feature previously appeared in the print journal until I moved it to the website last year. On a quarterly basis, Nemedian Dispatches will highlight new and upcoming appearances of Howard’s fiction in print, as well as Howard in other types of media.

In Print:

Tales of Weird Menace & Steve Harrison’s Casebook
Orders for these two volumes from the REH Foundation press are in the process of being shipped. The first editions of both books are sold out, however second editions are at the printers and will ship at the end of this month or the early part of April. You can order these great collections through the Foundation’s website.

“So Far The Poet…”
Rob Roehm has assembled a comprehensive volume of material by Tevis Clyde Smith.  This volume is an expanded version of Necronomicon Press’ Report on a Writing Man that adds a ton of additional material, including all the known Smith material from The All-Around Magazine, The Junto, The Tattler, plus a few other publications. All of the stories co-authored by Howard and Smith are also included.

Thrilling Mystery – June 1936
This facsimile pulp is now available from Adventure House. The 128 page magazine features Howard’s weird menace story ”Black Wind Blowing,” plus other stories by John H. Knox, Henry Kuttner, Richard Tooker, O.M. Cabral, Arthur J. Burks, Wayne Rogers and Hugh B. Cave.

Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures
Del Rey’s collection of Robert E. Howard’s historical adventures that features the legendary swordswoman Dark Agnes is now in book stores. In addition to Dark Agnes, Howard’s tales of his grimmest hero, Cormac Fitzgeoffrey are also included in the volume. All the stories in this book have been restored to the earliest, most definitive version available today. Illustrated by John Watkiss.

Almuric
A new trade paperback edition of the often reprinted REH planetary adventure was recently published by Wildside Press, sporting a cheesy computer generated cover.

Conan’s Brethren
After several delays, this volume finally appeared last month. The collection contains a number of PD stories featuring Howard characters King Kull, Bran Mak Morn Solomon Kane and Cormac Fitzgeoffrey. Available through Amazon.com.

Coming Soon:

A Means to Freedom
Due out later this month from Hippocampus Press is a trade paperback edition of the two volume set of correspondence between H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. The hard cover edition, which appeared in August 2009, quickly sold out and is a much sought after collector’s item. This is a limited edition of 1000 copies, edited by Rusty Burke, S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.

Damballa
In the tradition of The Shadow and The Spider, Charles Saunders, author of Imaro has created an African American pulp hero named Damballa. This cloaked avenger stalks the streets of 1930s New York City using both ancient African wisdom and modern science to mete out his own form of justice. Airship 27 Productions is the publisher and the book is due out soon.

The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
We are still waiting for Subterranean Press to publish this luxury hardcover edition of the Del Rey edition. Purportedly the book is back from the printer, but due to a backlog of books to be shipped, it has been delayed. The Subterranean volume will include a number of previously unpublished color plates by artist Greg Staples.

Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #2
The second issue of this comic featuring Howard’s heroes in new adventures and restored, re-colored reprints of classic tales will be available in late May. This issue will feature Conan, El Borak, Dark Agnes, Sailor Steve Costigan, other Howard characters, and Roy Thomas and Gil Kane’s long-out-of-print classic, “The Valley of the Worm.”

Robert E. Howard: The Battle for the Legacy of Conan
This is another volume that has been long delayed, but now slated for July – just in time for the new Conan film.  It covers the fight for the legacy of Howard, who would own Howard’s work and who would profit by divorcing the Texas writer from his most famous creation, Conan the Cimmerian. Featuring a large number of illustrations, the book details the backroom deals, backstabbing, and general skulduggery by de Camp and others.