Another enjoyable Howard Days has come and gone, and it is safe to say that any who attended were glad they did. The number of attendees on June 10th and 11th seemed to be a bit above average, reflecting a trend toward straining the capacity of current venues and program formats. The panel audiences are already larger than could be served by formerly used facilities like the Cross Plains Library and the Howard House Pavilion. Panels this year were held at the CP High School and the CP Senior Center. Many new faces were evident at the banquet in the Community Center. The weather was hot but otherwise pleasant, though mosquito repellent was sometimes required.
The day before the festivities began, the staff of the Cross Plains Review newspaper kindly offered a tour of their old facilities, complete with antique printing press and other equipment. Original copies of editions containing articles about or by Robert E. Howard were on display.
On Friday, following the bus tour of the CP area hosted by Project Pride veteran Don Clark, a panel composed of Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, and Susan McNeel-Childers discussed the first 30 years of Howard Days celebrations. REHupans Burke and Vern Clark made an initial foray to Cross Plains in 1985. Impressed by the wide open spaces of Texas and even more by how imaginative Howard must have been to have envisioned stories in such settings, Burke thought that other serious fans might be lured to visit Cross Plains, and so organized a trip there the next year by ten REHupans, including Cavalier and Glenn Lord. The Friends of the Library, headed by Joan McCowen, gave a gracious reception to those they called international scholars on June 6th, which the mayor proclaimed to be “Robert Howard Day.” Those the visitors talked to included Cross Plains Review editor Jack Scott, head librarian Billie Ruth Loving, REH heirs Alla Ray Kuykendall and Alla Ray Morris, and Charlotte Laughlin of Howard Payne University in Brownwood. Laughlin would act to preserve what remained of REH’s personal book collection that his father had donated to HPU and which now resides in the Howard House. Seeing the commercial possibilities in attracting more such visitors, the founding members of Project Pride (originally created to spruce up the downtown area of Cross Plains) bought the Howard House in 1989, which Project Pride then renovated and operated as a museum with the aid of donations. Alla Ray Morris contributed $10,000 to Project Pride just before her death in 1995. The money was used to install central heat and air conditioning and to remodel the inside of the house. Project Pride also received a portion of Alla Ray’s estate and that money was used to build the pavilion next to the house and finish the remodeling. The pavilion was completed in 2000 and dedicated to Alla Ray. By that time Howard Days had become an annual 2-day event organized by Project Pride and REHupa, who have done so much to welcome and educate fans of the Texas author and to change the once-low opinion of many of the residents regarding Howard and his admirers.
Guest of Honor Michael Scott Myers spoke at the banquet and was interviewed by REHupan Mark Finn at a Friday panel marking the 20th anniversary of the film The Whole Wide World, which Myers had adapted from the memoir One Who Walked Alone, written by Howard’s sometime girlfriend Novalyne Price Ellis. Myers was a speech student of Ellis during her last years at Louisiana State University. As a movie publicist, Myers saw the potential in making a small independent film based on her book, but many individual factors have to align before such a movie can be made. Myers optioned the book for $20 and wrote the script between 1989 and 1994. Director Dan Ireland and the actor portraying REH, Vincent D’Onofrio were on board early on. Replacing actress Olivia d’Abo, who had become pregnant, in Novalyne’s part was Renee Zellweger in her first major role. TWWW was filmed over 3 and a half weeks in the summer of 1996 for $1.2M. While it did well at the Sundance Film Festival, an unfavorable release date held the film back until positive reviews led to its success on home video and cable TV. It served as many people’s introduction to REH, and the film helped to bring a less narrow, more nuanced, and very human portrayal of the author to the fan public. Ellis did see and enjoy the movie. After the interview, TWWW was screened in the high school auditorium.
The Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards were bestowed Friday afternoon. The winners are spotlighted elsewhere on this blog.
REHupans Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeffrey Shanks staged another of their always entertaining “Fists at the Ice House” presentations outdoors at the site where Howard boxed with his friends and locals. This sport, REH’s part in it, and his boxing fiction were the subjects. Experts on these stories, the speakers recommended them highly to all. Even if one is not into the sport, the surprisingly good humor of the yarns will be enough to get one through them. And Howard’s enthusiasm and versatility shed light on important aspects of the author’s personality that one might have no clue about if one is familiar only with his fantasy tales. Howard’s boxing and boxing stories served as vital releases for the pressures and frustrations that were dogging him at the time.
The first panel on Saturday concerned REH and artist Frank Frazetta, who painted the covers of most of the Lancer Conan paperbacks of the late 1960s which did so much to attract readers to Howard’s fiction. The panelists were REHupans Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Gary Romeo, and Jeff Shanks. Cavalier called the publication of Conan the Adventurer the single most significant event in the history of Howard publishing and the one that drew him in personally. Shanks noted that this was the 50th anniversary of that event. Frazetta had illustrated comic books, but it was his covers of Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks that got him noticed. Frazetta’s artistic resonance with the material made for an impressive product that was greater than the sum of its parts. Burke said that the Conan stories had come out earlier in book form as Arkham House and Gnome Press hardbacks. Writer L. Sprague de Camp was a fan of REH and, working with agent Oscar Friend, took on the editing of the Conan reprints. Romeo explained that de Camp assiduously shopped the stories to publishers, finally hooking Lancer’s Larry Shaw, as well as Frazetta by letting him keep the ownership of his art. Romeo thinks that Frazetta’s art was a big part of Conan’s appeal, but not as much as the prose itself. Burke added that, though you can’t judge a book by its cover, the cover can be important in providing an essential good first impression of and introduction to the character. Shanks observed that, even though the images were static, Frazetta’s dynamic, exciting poses were a game changer for fantastic art.