Jim Tully and John GilbertI don’t know if Robert E. Howard ever saw the 1930 movie Way for a Sailor, but if he had a chance to see it, I’m sure he didn’t let it pass by. The leading stars were John Gilbert, who Howard enjoyed very much in The Cossacks, and Wallace Beery, who he had once referred to as “a hard-boiled hairy chested egg.”

But what really would have gotten his interest would have been the chance to see one of his favorite writers—Jim Tully—in a supporting role as Ginger. A few months back, I tuned in to Turner Classic Movies and watched this almost forgotten movie, and I was able to see for myself why it is usually not ranked with Citizen Kane.

Not much of a show, whatever value it does have comes due to the pairing of Beery and Tully. They keep the movie rolling along, playing the part of two sailors belonging to the United States Merchant Marine. Beery is Tripod, and is his usual colorful and “hairy chested” self as a sailor who would give anything to own a concertina, and he has a few comedic adventures because of this desire.

Tully also shows a slight flare for comedy. At the very beginning of the movie he, along with Beery, watch one of the “working girls” wander the dock, and she is putting an awful lot of toil into her strut, causing her shapely backside to become the most noticeable part of her anatomy. Tully grins at Beery and says “that’s what I call sea-food!”

John Gilbert is Jack and Leila Hyams plays Joan, as his love-interest, and this part of the movie didn’t do much for me. Gilbert is after Hyams simply as a one-night stand and of course she is a “good girl” and won’t fall for that sort of shady business. Jack eventually marries Joan to get what he’s after but then when he tells her he’s going back to sea she runs away, saying she doesn’t want to see him ever again and that he’s quite the heel. Of course by the end of movie they realize that they were meant to be together and Jack picks Joan up and carries her off, presumably going to get what he’s always wanted since their very first meeting.

John Gilbert and Leila HyamsAuthors Paul J. Bauer and Mark Dawidziak, in their masterful biography of Jim Tully, relate that Tully once said that Way for a Sailor was the worst movie ever made and that he was the worst actor. It’s not that bad; one of the high points for me was being able to watch a writer I admire act on the big screen.

It’s pretty cool to watch Tully move and to hear him talk—imagine how great it would be if we had home movies of Howard available to us. We could watch Howard as he shadow boxed, or we could hear him loudly reciting his yarns as he banged them out on his typewriter. It would really be cool if someone would ever discover a film showing Howard beating the hell out of a foe at the ice house—a modern Conan in action, no doubt. But all that is not to be and that’s a sad thing. But I can still watch Tully, and that’s a huge plus.

One other item of note is this movie is based upon a work by Albert Richard Wetjen, whose yarns were probably known to Howard. Wetjen had around three dozen stories published in Adventure during a thirty year period, from 1922 to 1952.

Writing to his agent, Otis Adelbert Kline, on January 8, 1936, Howard mentions the status of three spicy yarns:

Hope “Guns of Khartum” clicks. I’m enclosing another Spicy Adventure herewith. I’d intended also enclosing a Breck Elkins yarn, but after writing it I was dissatisfied with it, deciding that it didn’t have enough action and plot complication, so I’m re-writing it. I’ll probably get it to you early next week. Yes, I can re-write “Daughters of Feud” from the carbon, but I hope the ms. shows up. I’d like to read the criticism included in the letter from the editor, so as to be guided in future stories. If any criticism accompanied “Ship in Mutiny” please have it forwarded to me also.

Concerning Thrilling Adventures, my yarn, “The Trail of the Blood-Stained God” recently rejected by Margulies was an effort to write one on the order of “Gold From Tartary”. I seem unable to sell him more than one story to each magazine. And most of his magazines haven’t bought the one yet. However, I’ll rewrite “Ship in Mutiny” with Thrilling Adventures in mind.

As you can see from the above excerpt, Howard had failed to sell “Daughters of Feud” and “Guns of Khartum” was soon rejected as well. The reason for the rejections was the same as for “Ship in Mutiny” — Howard strayed too far away from the spicy formula.

“Daughters of Feud” was written and submitted in December 1935. Howard later reflected that this tale was “too hot for them to handle,” and it was probably the strong sadomasochistic strain that runs throughout the story that again proved too much for Editor Armer. This yarn is also markedly different than Howard’s other spicy stories. 

The protagonist in this spicy yarn is Thomas Braxton Brent, the new schoolteacher in the rural backwater town of Whiskey Run in some unnamed southern state (Howard refers to the location as being Kentucky in a February 1936 letter to Novalyne). Brent teaches in a one-room schoolhouse which children all ages attend — from tots to teenagers. Among his students are two nineteen-year old daughters of rival feuding families who seek to tear each other to pieces in a catfight during class. The two girls, Ann, a brunette and Joan, a blonde, really go at it, tearing blouses, etc. uncovering eye-popping views of fresh young flesh and shapely thighs. The new teacher breaks up the wrestling match, and to show the other students that he is in charge, he has to administer corporal punishment to the unruly pair. Each girl is taken to the woodshed after school, which really stirs up both feuding families. Brent’s situation gets worse when he falls hard for the beautiful Joan.

Of course, feuds between rival clans or families were among Howard’s favorite topics of discussion and feud themes were also incorporated into some of his stories, namely “The Feud Buster,” “The Valley of the Lost,” and the granddaddy of them all, “Red Nails.” For “Daughters,” he decided to use this theme for his new spicy non-Clanton story. Again, as was the case with “Desert Blood,” a school teacher plays a key role in the story. We really don’t know if the school teacher/schoolhouse angle is a harmless plot device or Howard – with their relationship on the ropes – subtly sending a message to Novalyne Price

However, Howard goes over the deep end with the spanking and self-flagellation, and crafts a story that would please the most jaded of fetishists. The hot and heavy sex between Brent and Joan, coupled with the detailed description of the whipping of Ann with a leather strap and Joan’s own self abuse with a switch, not to mention threats of castration and gang rape, proved to be way too much for Editor Armer who rejected the story.

Clearly, Howard had more than a passing knowledge of sadomasochism and in this excerpt from his “Blood Lust: Robert E. Howard’s Spicy Adventures” essay (The Cimmerian, V2N5), Charles Hoffman reflects on Howard’s interest in the rough and kinky stuff:

The instances of whipping and self-flagellation in this story are no mere matter of happenstance. Howard’s personal library included such volumes as Experiences of Flagellation, A History of the Rod, and Curiosa of Flagellants and History of Flagellation. He also wrote poetry like “Limericks to Spank By” and “Good Mistress Brown,” the latter concerning the spanking of an adult woman. This does seem to indicate that Howard’s sexual interests extended beyond a simple taste for vanilla. These particular interests, however, are by no means rare. The spanking of a grown woman is often part of a “taming of the shrew” scenario in books and movies. Those who share the interest are titillated, with the rest of the audience none the wiser. In the movie McLintock! John Wayne spanks Maureen O’Hara –clad in soaking wet undergarments– in front of the whole town. The film is considered wholesome family entertainment.

Well, “Daughters” was far from wholesome family entertainment and, as Armer discovered, far from appropriate for his audience. After its rejection, Howard never did revise it and it languished in fiction purgatory until Jonathan Bacon published it in Fantasy Crossroads #8 (May 1976).

“Guns of Khartum” did not click with the Spicy-Adventure Stories editor either. With  “Guns,” Howard continues to experiment with the spicy formula, seeking to blend a spicy yarn with a historical adventure. The story takes place in the Sudan in 1885, during the fall of the besieged city of Khartum after a ten-month siege. The attackers were Islamic militants, led by a religious figure called the Madhi, who were seeking to overthrow British rule. One of Britain’s greatest military heroes, Chinese Gordon was killed in a fight to the death with Islamic extremists when Khartum finally fell.

The hero of this yarn is one Emmett Corcoran, a muscular soldier of fortune who finds himself hunting for ivory in the Sudan when the rebellion breaks out. Making his way through the carnage, Corcoran hears a scream, looks through a window and sees a rebellious Somali slave named Zelda about to stab a blonde Englishwoman named Ruth Brenton between “[her] quivering ivory mounds.” Of course has to intervene, punching out Zelda to save the blonde. The Somali slave is promptly kicked out of the room and after some small talk, our hero makes his carnal move on Ruth.

During their conversation, Ruth tells Corcoran that she came to Khartum with her uncle, a merchant, who was killed in the early days of the fighting. She further reveals that a Frenchman, Gerard Latour, who has allied himself with the Mahdi, has been stalking her.

Soon Corcoran’s sixth sense kicks in and he tells Ruth to get dressed. Sure enough, the rebels had broken through the city walls en masse and a group of them were pounding on the door lead by that crazy Frenchman lusting for Ruth’s body (it seems everyone in this story is lusting after poor Ruth). The bloodthirsty Islamists break through the door and flood the room.

The American attempts to get Ruth out of harm’s way, but he is too late as a rush of fighters corner him as he seeks to fight them off and protect the girl. While Corcoran fights valiantly, he is felled by a pistol shot from Gerard Latour as he comes rushing into the fray and then quickly moves in to claim his prize:

Laughing at the revealing whirl of white limbs as she struggled vainly, the renegade lifted her in his arms and strode toward the open gate. Though she fought like a wild thing, she hardly felt his lustful hands on her naked thighs, her bare breasts. She scarcely heard the brutal laughter of the warriors, mocking her nudity. Staring over her captor’s shoulder, her dilated eyes were fixed in frenzied despair on the figure that lay limply in the angle of the wall, amidst a litter of mangled black figures.

When Corcoran regains consciousness from the flesh wound to his head, he realizes the sleazy Frenchman has stolen Ruth and that he must get her back. Zelda comes slinking back and far from being mad at Corcoran for slugging her on the jaw, she seems turned on (go figure!). Even though he is repulsed by her, the American holds his nose and has sex with her.

After some skullduggery and getting sidetracked for five months, Corcoran finally comes to rescue Ruth in a climax of betrayal, flashing swords, and flight through the desert, culminating with Ruth in the arms of our hero being caressed and fondled.

What undoubtedly put this yarn in the rejection stack was the unrelenting physical and emotional violence and very strong sexual content. In addition to an entire city of Anglos being murdered by black Islamic extremists, the “good girl” of the story is enslaved for five months in a harem under the control of a whip-wielding sadist. And with no “jauntiness” in sight, the editor gave it the old heave-ho.

“Guns of Khartum” remained unpublished until 1975 when it appeared in REH: Lone Star Fictioneer #3 as “Guns of Khartoum” (modern spelling).

After these two failures, it was time to toss out the experimentation for good and give Editor Armer what he wanted, namely the formula yarns based on the Spicy line’s guidelines. Soon Howard had two more Clanton stories, “The Dragon of Kao Tsu” and “Murderer’s Grog,” accepted by Spicy-Adventure Stories and he was back on the right track again.

It is interesting that, as originally written, all of Howard’s Clanton stories were far spicier than the versions that appeared in Spicy-Adventure Stories, and consequently in The She Devil (Ace, 1983). Editor Armer had to tone them down considerably in order to publish them. Apparently Howard’s three spicy failures were so far outside of the guidelines Armer could not easily clean them up for publication. Howard knew his readers wanted “red meat” and lots of it and he was more than capable of giving it to them.

To be continued…

Spice up your life with some Spicy Adventures

The REH Foundation Press has already sold half the print-run of Spicy Adventures. The book is due out the end of September with a print run of 200 copies. This 211 page volume collects all of Howard’s “spicys” and is the first time many of these stories have appeared in hardback. In addition to all of the complete tales, this volume contains a large miscellanea section with drafts and synopsizes that allow readers to glimpse Howard’s creative process. A standout cover by Jim and Ruth Keegan completes the package. Pre-orders are now being accepted at the Foundation’s website.

Read: Part I / Part II / Part IV / Part V

Since the dust has settled down a little, I thought I’d post some random thoughts on the new Conan movie, because while it seems that some Howard fans fear that the “End of Days” has come upon us, it should be not forgotten that Howard has done his share of weathering storms in the past, and I feel this cinematic cloudburst will be no different.

It’s been a few years since I even set foot inside a theater and so when I came out from a Saturday afternoon matinee of Conan the Barbarian I was pretty excited. That 3-D was cool, although I admitted to myself that it was pretty blurry doing the fight scenes, and some of the characters were just superfluous—for instance, Conan asking aid from a thief when he was a pretty fair example of one himself. Didn’t understand that, probably never will. Conan purposely getting thrown into prison so he can keep tabs on a guy whose nose he cut off was just plain silly—but I did think it was funny when he stuck his finger in the bastard’s nasal cavity, and then twisted it. The Sand Demons were the coolest thing in the show, I thought, especially in 3-D, pretty scary. Rose McGowan was a dream for all people with a domination fetish, but a nightmare for the “normal” ones. Stephen Lang was a pretty cool villain, and was a pretty good adversary for the Cimmerian. Seemed like there was some sort of shenanigans going on between father and daughter there but it really wasn’t spelled out for certain. “Little Conan” was pretty cool when he killed the Picts, although it came as no surprise when he finally did spit out the unbroken egg, and Ron Perlman is always a plus to a movie.

The plot was about as thin as store-bought gravy and made me wonder why they just didn’t use the storylines from “The Tower of the Elephant” or “Rogues in the House.” I did like Jason Momoa, though; for what he was given I thought he did fine.

I’ve been hearing the movie was a flop and that it is in contention for worst movie of the year and while I certainly didn’t think it was that bad, that news is not good news for Robert E. Howard, or his fans. But think how amazed Howard would be to realize that almost 80 years after creating Conan some people are willing to invest millions of dollars into a movie dealing with his most famous character. Lots of writers have died and nobody has ever even had a vague idea of doing movies on their writings, but here we have a pulp writer from Texas whose heroes are a hot commodity in Hollywood. Or, at least, were. Maybe Howard’s main characters should be left alone and movie makers should start concentrating on his horror stuff, like “Pigeons From Hell” or “The Horror From the Mound.” Either of these would make a great scary movie, and would probably bring the teenagers in like cattle.

It’s not the worst thing that Howard fans have ever had to contend with—everybody remember the de Camp days? Here we had a man who was actually changing the words in some of Howard’s Conan, and non-Conan, stories and then inventing some pretty crappy new tales featuring our favorite barbarian who, in de Camp’s hands, had suddenly become unrecognizable. You couldn’t pick up a Conan book for a number of years without some de Camp or Carter reference contained within; even the first Conan movie had de Camp’s fingerprints on it.

If anybody seeing the new movie likes it well enough to wander down to their bookstore they’ll find pure Howard and that will hook them like a fish—back when the Arnold movie came out the chances were they’d come across the Conan series as added to by de Camp and Carter and just continue on with other names until you’re really nauseated.

So come on Howard fans. Conan withstood the depression, World War II, the de Camp years, a rotten television series, a rotten Saturday morning cartoon show, four or five completely rotten movies and he’s still standing, along with his creator. You don’t know Robert E. Howard if you think his storytelling ability isn’t a match for what lies in the years ahead. There’s a fire in his writing that will draw Hollywood directors to his stories like moths to a flame. One of these times that’ll be a good thing.

Oh, and the movie, I enjoyed the hell out of the experience—didn’t match up to what I had hoped, but I thought it was still a neat theatric joyride. It’s always cool to see Howard’s name lit up on the big screen—like I said earlier, he would be amazed.

One of my duties for the Robert E. Howard Foundation is monitoring the email account. Besides the usual questions about when something will be printed or where a particular story or poem has appeared, we get a lot of requests for copyright information and contacts. Every once in a while we also get little nuggets of information provided to us.

This morning the Foundation received an email from Manuel Barrero in Spain. He wanted to let us know about a book he wrote, Conan: La Imagen de un Mito. That’s Conan: The Image of a Myth for us Anglos.

The book is only available in Spanish, but Barrero tells us that it is “about the image of the Cimmerian warrior created by Robert E. Howard and its perversion and manipulation over the years by others (authors and artists, illustrators and film makers). Of course, it is also a book about the image of heroic fantasy in film, from Cabiria to Nispel’s Conan the Barbarian.”

I haven’t heard of Barrero and can’t read Spanish, so I have no opinion to offer on this book. Anyone interested can look here for more details.

This entry filed under Howard in Media, Howard Scholarship, News.

Howard often wrote proudly of his beloved Texas in his correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft. Here, in a letter dated February 11, 1936, he tells HPL about one of his favorite Texas towns:

San Angelo is a likable town of about 25,000 people, on the bank of the South Concho, amongst vast, rolling prairies. It is the biggest mohair market on this continent, and much more Western in air and viewpoint than the hill-towns in this vicinity, as well as more cosmopolitan. This phrase, used in connection with such a small town, may seem incongruous. But it must be remembered that a town of 20,000, 30,000, or 40,000 in the West is much more important in the pattern of things than an Eastern town of the same size. San Angelo is the largest town between Fort Worth and El Paso, and draws from an enormous trade territory extending for hundreds of miles in every direction, including vast, rich areas of farming land and cattle country. The streets are broad and straight, everything modern and up to date, the attitude of the people friendly and good natured, typically Western. Technically and mechanically West Texas is more highly developed than East Texas (of course excepting the cities of East Texas, such as Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, etc.) and it seems to me that general standards of education are higher — higher than in this Central hill-country, too, I believe. The contrasts of costumes on San Angelo streets are interesting: suits and dresses such as you would see on the streets of San Antonio or New Orleans contrasted with ten-gallon hats and spurred boots. San Angelo is, by the way, famous for its hat-shops and boot-shops. People living in San Antonio, Saint Louis, Santa Fe and other distant points often have their boots made there. I got just the sort of a hat I had been looking for, and unable to find, for some time. It’s a fast stepping town, and comparatively wide-open. As in any typically West Texas town there is plenty of drinking, fighting and love-making going on all the time. I believe you would find much of interest in the museum in the administrative building of old Fort Concho, established, as I remember, in 1868 and abandoned as a post in 1889. A public school now stands in the middle of the parade-square, but many of the old buildings are still standing, some of the officers’ houses now being used as residences.

In that same letter, Howard described his recent trips there to attend to his mother who was in a sanatorium and a hospital in San Angelo. Since he was spending a considerable amount of time there, he took a few breaks to do some sightseeing. One of the places he visited was a former frontier outpost known as Fort Concho.

Fort Concho was established in 1867, along the banks of the Concho River, the location was then at the junction of the Butterfield Trail, Goodnight Trail and the road to San Antonio. The site itself was chosen for its strategic location at the junction of the North and Middle Concho Rivers and because of the major trails in the vicinity. By March 1, 1870, several buildings had been completed, including a commissary and quartermaster storehouse, hospital, five officers’ quarters, a powder magazine and two barracks – all built of limestone. In 1873 units of the 10th Cavalry Regiment began relocating to the Fort to help quell the Indian uprisings.

The 10th Cavalry Regiment was formed as a unit of the United States Army. It was a segregated African-American unit and one of the original “Buffalo Soldier” regiments. In April of 1875, the 10th Cavalry moved its regimental headquarters to Fort Concho. Other Companies (later called Troops) were assigned to various Forts throughout the west Texas region. At various times from 1873 through 1885, Fort Concho housed 9th Cavalry Companies in addition to the 10th Cavalry Companies; some infantry Companies were stationed there as well.

There are a number of stories floating around about how the Buffalo Soldiers go their name — here is one:

In September 1867, Private John Randall of Troop G of the 10th Cavalry Regiment was assigned to escort two civilians on a hunting trip. The hunters suddenly became the hunted when a band of 70 Cheyenne warriors swept down on them. The two civilians quickly fell in the initial attack and Randall’s horse was shot out from beneath him. Randall managed to scramble to safety behind a washout under the railroad tracks, where he fended off the attack with only his pistol until help from the nearby camp arrived. The Indians beat a hasty retreat, leaving behind 13 fallen warriors. Private Randall suffered a gunshot wound to his shoulder and 11 lance wounds, but recovered. The Cheyenne quickly spread word of this new type of soldier, “who had fought like a cornered buffalo; who like a buffalo had suffered wound after wound, yet had not died; and who like a buffalo had a thick and shaggy mane of hair.”

The 10th’s mission in Texas was to protect mail and travel routes, control Indian movements, provide protection from Mexican revolutionaries and outlaws and to gain knowledge of the area’s terrain. The regiment was very successful in completing their mission. The 10th scouted 34,420 miles of uncharted terrain, opened more than 300 miles of new roads, and laid over 200 miles of telegraph lines. The scouting activities took the troops through some of the harshest and most desolate terrain in the nation. These excursions allowed the preparation of excellent maps detailing scarce water holes, mountain passes, and grazing areas that would later allow for settlement of the area. These feats were accomplished while the troops had constantly to be on the alert for quick raids by the Apaches. The stay in west Texas produced tough soldiers who became accustomed to surviving in an area that offered few comforts and no luxuries.

Santa Angela, or San Angelo was a village across the Concho River from the Fort and had established itself as place for “whiskey and sin” to separate the soldiers from their monthly pay. One of the Buffalo Soldiers stationed at Fort Concho was a young cavalryman named Ellis, who was prone to crossing the river and going into the town to enjoy these illicit pastimes, especially imbibing copious amounts of liquor. Indeed, the young soldier had a problem knowing when to quit and frequently over indulged.

On one of his drinking binges, Ellis passed out in one of San Angelo’s many saloons. His friends quickly gathered him up and carried him back to the barracks, Exhausted from dragging his carcass back, they threw him on his hay-stuffed mattress before calling it a night themselves.

When the sound of reveille echoed through the barracks early the next morning, the hung-over soldiers reluctantly climbed out of their beds, dressed and assembled on the parade ground. Everyone was present except Ellis.

Enraged at his absence, the company’s sergeant went looking for the wayward soldier. Ellis’ sergeant was ready to kick the drunken trooper out of his bed and escort him to the stockade. But upon finding Ellis and discovering he was non-responsive, his rage turned to concern when the sergeant noticed Ellis had gone rigid. He was still warm, but did not appear to be breathing.

Word was sent to the post hospital to for a surgeon. The doctor soon arrived and examined the unconscious trooper. Unable to find a heartbeat or pulse, the surgeon pronounced Ellis dead from alcohol poisoning and ordered his body be removed to the small white frame house behind the hospital, a structure known as the Death House.

Remember, this was before refrigeration and the common practice of embalming, so the death house was a standard ancillary structure at most hospitals. Bodies went to the death house to be prepared for burial, a process on the frontier that did not amount to much more than cleaning up the newly departed and placing the body in a pine box for burial in the post cemetery the following day. The only other thing the post surgeon could do for Ellis was complete the necessary paperwork so that his family could learn of his demise while in the service of his country.

Ellis had several good friends, most of them having been present on his drinking spree the night before. In a final gesture of respect, his soldier pals gathered in the death house to sit with his body. To allay their sense of loss, his comrades took turns drinking from a jug of whiskey somehow slipped past the guards whose job it was find and confiscate contraband from those who passed between the Fort and San Angelo.

Sometime after midnight, some 24 hours after Ellis’ death, the mourners heard what sounded like a low moan coming from their departed friend’s coffin. Dismissing the noise as the prairie wind, the soldiers continued drinking and heard the sound again. It was a moan, no question about it. While readily prepared to fight hostile Indians, the soldiers had no interest in taking on inhabitants of the spirit world.

The troops dove through the nearest window or door, not caring how they got out as long as they exited that house and got away from Ellis’ ghost as quickly as possible. But, as the old saying goes, reports of Ellis’ death had been greatly exaggerated. In truth he had only been dead drunk, not dead.

Ellis’ friends had found the situation no less terrifying than Ellis, whose blood-alcohol level had finally dropped low enough to allow a return to consciousness. Realizing he lay in his dress uniform inside a wooden coffin just a few hours away from being buried alive, the soldier jumped from the box and crashed through a window to catch up with his fleeing friends.

The newly resurrected Ellis and his comrades soon recovered from their fright and returned to the barracks. The post commander ordered the formerly “dead” soldier to pay for the damage to government property and spend some time in the stockade as punishment for his drinking binge. But he also gained a nickname that lasted the rest of his long life: “Dead” Ellis.

Fort Concho was abandoned by the military in 1889, with the last company of soldiers marching off to San Antonio. The military reservation reverted to private property and the hospital was converted into a rooming house. Later, it became a hay barn. Due to the sturdy construction of the limestone buildings, most of them were re-purposed as residences for the locals.

By the late 1920s there had been several efforts to save the fort as a memorial to the 19th-century U.S. Calvary and pioneers. Ginevra Carson, an educator and businesswoman, started the Fort Concho Museum in the old Headquarters Building, which opened to the public in 1930. It was this museum Howard visited and referenced in his letter to HPL.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961, Fort Concho includes most of the former army post and includes twenty-three original and restored Fort structures. Today the old frontier army post is a historic preservation project and museum which is owned and operated by the City of San Angelo.

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard's Texas, Howard's Travels.

Encouraged by his first sale to Spicy-Adventure Stories, Howard was soon at work on another spicy adventure. Like “She Devil” (aka “The Girl on the Hell Ship”), “Ship in Mutiny,” Howard’s second spicy effort was set in the South Pacific and featured Clanton’s love interest, Raquel O’Shane from the first yarn. However, “Mutiny,” written as a sequel to “She Devil,” was doomed from the start.

In “Mutiny,” Howard really turned up the heat, literally bringing the sexual tension to a boil. Howard used the device to build-up the overall suspense of the story and it worked, perhaps even too well. Remember that “jaunty’ style Editor Armer wanted? With all the tension, the jauntiness went out the window. Indeed, the story was so grim Howard could have easily rewritten it into a Conan story.

In the story, Clanton enjoys the sexual “charms” of an island princess named Lailu, but he returns to the arms of Raquel, violating one of the main edicts of the spicys – thou shalt not be monogamous. His bringing Raquel into the story surely raised Armer’s eyebrows and helped the story along toward rejection. Howard learned his lesson and forever banished Raquel from the Clanton stories.

The villain of the yarn is Tanoa is a half-breed who possesses both European and barbarian characteristics. At one point in the story, Clanton is in the clutches of Tanoa, who boasts: “We’ll find the girl and make her watch while I skin him alive! I’ll make a garment of his hide and force her to wear it always about her loins to remind her how her lover died!” This outburst of male-on-male sadomasochism may have been a bit much for Editor Armer to stomach. As I said above, pretty grim stuff.

When “Ship in Mutiny” didn’t sell, Howard kicked around the idea of reworking the story for Thrilling Adventures, but never got around to it during the short amount of time he had left to live. Thus, “Mutiny” remained the only unpublished Clanton until its appearance in The She Devil (Ace, 1983)

But as a professional writer, Howard did not dwell on the rejection and soon had another Clanton yarn ready for submission. With “Desert Blood,” Howard returned to the jaunty style that made “She Devil” a success. The story is also much lighter fare than the failed “Ship in Mutiny.”

Written in November 1935, “Desert Blood” is set in Tebessa, Algeria where Clanton is pursuing a local temptress Zouza while he waits for the sale of a cargo of rifles he has in his ship’s hold to be completed. While Zouza successfully rebuffs the advances of Clanton, she manages to convince him that only a man who has killed a lion is worthy of her “charms.” Clearly thinking with the wrong head, Clanton falls for this malarkey and agrees to go on a lion hunt in the middle of the desert. Leaving Zouza’s quarters, he runs into an American school teacher (Novalyne, is that you?) he has seen in his travels. The vacationing teacher, Augusta Evans, is somewhat snooty and quickly rebuffs Clanton’s advances. After striking out twice, the burly brawler hits the nearest dive to drown his sorrows.

Soon a drunken Clanton is riding off into the desert on the back of a mule, all part of a plot hatched by the scheming Zouza, a desert sheik Ahmed ibn Said, his henchmen and yet another seductress, Zulaykha. It seems the group is after that load of guns Clanton has on his ship.

This is certainly one of Howard’s spicier tales, featuring four different women for Clanton to woo. Clearly his favorite of the foursome was Aicha, a concubine of Ahmed ibn Said, one of the yarn’s villains:

He had forgotten Zouza; this girl had everything she had and more; she was vibrant with that intangible quality some call glamour, which sets the natural artist apart from the willing worker, however skilled and lovely.

All his life Clanton had been following his impulses, and now there was no revisiting the peremptory urge of his primitive nature. He saw in this girl’s eyes the same light he knew burned more fiercely in his own, and that was enough.

“To hell with Ahmed!” In sudden savage hunger he crushed her to him, found her red hot lips, until she caught fire from his ardour and her arms locked in equal fierceness about his neck, as she gave him kiss for kiss. There was a profusion of silk pillows in one corner. She yielded meltingly in his arms as he lifted her from her feet and carried her across the tent. The soft white gleam of her flesh in the mellow light made his head swim. Then for a time, Time stood still in the little striped tent.

Some time later the girl squirmed blissfully in Clanton’s arms, stretched her white arms luxuriously above her head and then threw them about his thick neck, laughing with pure joy. She kissed him with a gusto still not satiated in the slightest.

This encounter is only a brief respite from Clanton’s life and death predicament, with Ahmed and Shaykh Ali ibn Zahir after his shipment of guns meant the Berber chiefs and their fighters battling the French for control of Algeria. In El Borak-like fashion, Clanton’s sympathies lie with the Berbers fighting the imperialistic French.

The story concludes with Aicha saving Clanton by taking and wearing Augusta Evan’s garments as a disguise to distract the bad guys while Clanton makes good his escape.  The haughty schoolteacher gets her comeuppance by being put on a donkey and sent riding though the countryside wearing only a pair of eyeglasses.

An argument could be made that Howard was having a bit of fun at Novalyne Price’s expense by having his attractive schoolteacher character humiliated in such a way. No doubt Howard was still smarting from the betrayal by his best friend, Lindsey Tyson and his girlfriend, who were dating behind his back.

“Desert Blood” appeared in the June 1936 issue of Spicy-Adventure Stories – it is not known if Howard saw it in print before he died.

After writing “Desert Blood,” quickly started writing another spicy story, “The Purple Heart of Erlik.” The story centers around a pretty young woman who is blackmailed by a scoundrel named Duke Tremayne into stealing a valuable jewel. For this outing, Howard makes his spicy hero a real bastard. While he does not actually rape Arline Ellis, the story’s heroine, he sure seems to be giving it his best shot.

Clanton runs into Arline in Shanghai – again. It seems he’s been following her across the globe and tells her “…I came to Shanghai just because I heard you were here…” It sounds like Clanton has been stalking his lovely prey. He further states:

If I didn’t think you were so good-looking, I’d smack your ears back!…Now are you going to be nice or do I have to get rough?…Nobody interferes with anything that goes on in alleys behind dumps like the Bordeaux…Any woman caught here’s fair prey.

Apparently not a big believer that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, Clanton attempts to take her by force. In the ensuing struggle, Arline crowns him with a water pitcher, momentarily rendering him senseless as she makes good her escape.

It is interesting that in hiding behind the Sam Walser pseudonym, Howard could channel all his frustrations and negative thoughts into the character by pretty much making Clanton a bastard. With his problems collecting money he was owed from Weird Tales and his mother’s failing health, coupled with the stress of his failing relationship with Novalyne, he certainly needed some outlet for his anger.

Getting back to our heroine, who jumps from the frying pan into the fire when, impersonating an English noblewoman, she meets with Woon Yuen, yet another of Howard’s Oriental villains, who possesses the “Purple Heart of Erlik,” the jewel she has been sent to Shanghai to steal. Yuen, it seems, is a bigger bastard than Clanton, and after figuring out her game, he promptly rapes Arline and tosses her into an alley. Regaining his senses, Clanton comes to her rescue, deals with Tremayne and Woon Yeun, and gets his reward in the arms of Arline.

“The Purple Heart of Erlik,” along with “Desert Blood,” were quickly scooped up by Editor Armer for Spicy-Adventure, and with the year winding down, Howard accomplished his goal of breaking into new markets. He mentions the new markets he’s cracked in a December 17, 1935 letter to Robert H. Barlow:

In the past few months I have made three new markets, Western Aces, Thrilling Mystery and Spicy Adventures. In addition to the magazines above mentioned my work has appeared in Ghost Stories, Argosy, Fight Stories, Oriental Stories, Sport Stories, Thrilling Adventures, Texaco Star, The Ring, Strange Detective, Super-Detective, Strange Tales, Frontier Times and Jack Dempsey’s Fight Magazine.

However, after successfully selling “Desert Blood” and “The Purple Heart of Erlik,” Howard falls off the spicy wagon again with two rejected non-Clanton spicy stories.

To be continued…

Don’t Dilly-Dally Around – Place Your Order Today!

The REH Foundation Press has already sold half the print-run of Spicy Adventures. The book is due out the end of September with a print run of 200 copies. This 211 page volume collects all of Howard’s “spicys” and is the first time many of these stories have appeared in hardback. In addition to all of the complete tales, this volume contains a large miscellanea section with drafts and synopsizes that allow readers to glimpse Howard’s creative process. A standout cover by Jim and Ruth Keegan completes the package. Pre-orders are now being accepted at the Foundation’s website.

Read: Part I / Part III / Part IV / Part V

Conan: “Lucius has no nose.”

Artus: “How does he smell?”

Conan: “Awful!”

That pretty much sums up the new Conan movie.

By now you’ve seen the movie and read the reviews, perused the discussion boards, seen the dismal box office numbers. Reviews have run the gamut from Leo Grin’s short and to the point review to Dennis McHaney’s favorable review to Al Harron’s extensive deconstruction at the Conan Movie Blog and everything in between. Online discussions have been hot and heavy. As for the box office, well Conan the Barbarian finished fourth with $10 million behind Richard Rodriquez’s Spy Kids 4 that features an android dog that fires large ball bearings out of its arse.

After reading the early reviews I went into the movie with low expectations, still I nearly came out of my seat a few times early on to rail at the screen with raised fist. Thankfully my wife managed to calm me down and the restraints she brought were not needed. I had to literary switch off my brain, turning the grey matter between my ears to oatmeal, in order to make through the entire movie.

As I sat there in the dark watching a disaster unfold before my eyes, I got to thinking why should I have to lower my expectations? Why can’t Hollywood make a decent Robert E. Howard movie? Given the amount of source material, they could have easily adapted a story or several stories instead of doing a ham-handed remake of Milius’ Conan. Yes, I know that I am like Charlie Brown attempting to kick the football, but thwarted every time by Lucy pulling it away at the last moment. I guess I hope just one time the football won’t be pulled away.

I did like a few things about the movie. I thought the sand monsters fight scene was well done, sort of homage to Ray Harryhausen’s skeleton warriors scene from Jason and the Argonauts. The scenes of Corin with young Conan were well done, as was the scene with the wheel Tamara was tied to was falling down the well shaft (or whatever it was) with Conan and Khalar Zym fighting on top of it. But overall, the negatives far outweighed the positives.

With the poor showing at the box office, I doubt if we will see a sequel, unless it is a surprise hit overseas and DVD sales go through the roof.  The powers that be had one chance to produce a hit, but they failed and the lackluster ticket sales also dooms other Howard movies on the drawing board.

“Behold and despair” indeed.

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

Invariably when I see a copy of the Lancer edition of Conan the Adventurer my mind takes me back to The Town Crier, the bookstore where I first encountered the works of Robert E. Howard. I’ve already mentioned this act of discovery in a prior post, and even though my neighborhood shop sold big magic it was just a tiny place—in fact, I have more books now in my personal library than that building ever, at any one time, had for sale.

The Town Crier closed down many, many years ago, but it’s still a place I’ll never forget, and believe me I’ve haunted my share of bookstores. Another shop I’ll always remember is The Shadow Bookstore, which was located in Denver. Back around 1973-74 I received catalogs from a company that called itself Dark Eagle. They sold a few books by mail, but mostly they were in the business of selling signed prints by artists like Barry Smith, Frank Brunner, Jeffrey Jones, Alex Nino, and many others. Whenever I ordered I always mailed my check to a post office box, but every so often the flyer would contain a Denver street address for those that might live in the area.

In about 1977 my family and I were on vacation and for some now forgotten reason we were passing through Denver and I figured this was a pretty good time to check out this location and buy some signed prints first-hand. It wasn’t at all hard to find, but I was surprised to see that the place was called The Shadow Bookstore and not Dark Eagle. The only explanation I ever discovered for this was that the great pulp hero, The Shadow, in his identity as Kent Allard, was a WWI ace who was known as the Dark Eagle.

Anyway, the shop sold records and comics, but what I really wanted was some beautiful artwork signed by Barry Smith. My brother (who was also a collector) and I spent some very pleasurable time there and I remember being almost awe-struck upon seeing all the fantastic artwork that lined the walls of that store. Beauty was everywhere—and the people who worked there were extremely helpful.

My brother wanted to buy Smith’s The Ram and the Peacock and he remembers that the sales lady pulled out a stack of prints and paged through them until she found one that was perfect—at one point she told him she wouldn’t sell that one, because the signature was smudged. By the time we walked out of there we had Enchantment, The Ram and the Peacock, and Pandora, all for probably less than forty bucks. We also picked up a signed Jeff Jones and some unsigned Frazetta posters; it was an unforgettable day.

I took a snapshot through the windows of the car as we were leaving and while I reproduce it here I’ll also apologize for the bad quality.

In an April of 1932 letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Howard recounts one of his visits down to south Texas, also referred to as “the Valley” by the locals:

I’m glad you found the South Texas views of some interest. I do not believe that cocoanuts thrive anywhere in Texas. As to the abrupt contrasts in the lower country, you can meet with them driving along paved highways. A great deal of the country is furnished with good roads, and even when they are not paved, as in many cases they are, they can be traversed with comfort most times of the year. Tourists swarm into South Texas by the thousands, and many naturally find their way into the less settled areas. But there’s still plenty untouched, and if you ever get out here to Texas, I’ll show you places no tourist has ever seen — less interesting from a scenic standpoint, but rich in tradition. I’m enclosing a post-card view of a grotto, built in imitation of the famous one of Lourdes, the work of a very interesting character in Rio Grande City — the Rev. Gustav Gollbach, of the Oblate Fathers. I found him a remarkably interesting man, of unmistakable culture and erudition. He is a native of Hesse — a province against whose inhabitants I always had an instinctive prejudice, from memories handed down since the Revolution. I can remember when “that old Hessian” was a term of anathema in the Southwest. But my prejudice — which after all was active only in my extreme youth — did not extend to the Reverent Gollbach. He was dolichocepalic, typically Nordic, with light blue eyes and fair skin. He has thirteen thousand Mexicans under his spiritual guidance, and body and soul they are much the better for his aid. Although the Catholic religion is fast losing power in Old Mexico and along the Border. Ten years ago the priest was all-powerful among our southern neighbors. Now he is as likely to get a bullet in the back as a layman. I have an idea that a priest on this side of the Border really wields more power than one in Mexico.

This particular anecdote deals with Howard’s visit to Rio Grande City, located near the Mexican border. The city is rich in Texas history, being one of the oldest settlements along the river, and is the seat of Starr County. It was once a port for steamboats that worked the river from Brownsville. Rio Grande City is also the home of Fort Ringgold (1849-1944). Many of the Fort’s buildings remain standing and open to the public. Howard did a bit of sightseeing in the town, with one of his stops being Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, which was built to resemble the Shrine of Lourdes in southern France.

As Howard recounts in his letter, the grotto is principally the work of one man, Father Gustav Gollbach, a Catholic priest of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate order. The Father was born in Germany on September 24, 1878, but spent most of his life in Texas. Gollbach served in churches around the state for nearly 20 years after his ordination in 1906, including serving not too far from Cross Plains at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Coleman from 1914-1923. He eventually was assigned the position of pastor at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Rio Grande City where he served for 13 years.

The Oblate order has a long history of work in Texas, especially the Rio Grande Valley between Laredo and Brownsville. The order was founded in France in 1816, and its priests arrived at the mouth of the Rio Grande soon after Texas joined the Union. The stoic, black-robed priests built missions, established schools, and fought for social justice in a rugged land where the six-gun was frequently the law. Often called the “Cavalry of Christ,” the priests’ primary mission was riding on horseback to ranch settlements where they ministered to the poor.

Howard also mentions how dangerous it was on the border. This was true, particularly in the case of Father Pierre Yves Kéralum, a fellow Oblate priest, who traveled the lawless borderlands for 20 years. The French-born priest built many of the first churches in the valley. Father Kéralum was a model of religious poverty, obedience, and unpretentiousness. At least every three or four months, he made missionary circuits over a vast territory of some 70 to 120 ranches where he preached, catechized, baptized, confessed and married the residents.

At the age of 56, nearly blind and in poor health, Father Kéralum disappeared near the present-day town of Mercedes while out ministering to his flock. Undeterred by his advancing age and failing health, Father Kéralum began what would be his final tour of his circuit on November 9, 1872, ignoring the objections of his fellow Oblates and the people of Brownsville. An exhaustive search was mounted by the local population after his riderless horse, missing its saddle, turned up on a nearby ranch. Mexican vaqueros even volunteered to search south of the border, but the ailing priest was not found.

Ten years later a rancher went into a thicket to rescue two cows that were entangled in the underbrush and found the Oblate priest’s bones and personal property. All his personal possessions were with him, including his saddle; so he did not meet his end at the hands of a bandit. It is believed he stopped to rest and either died from a rattlesnake bite or natural causes. Today Father Kéralum is being considered for sainthood and is known among the Mexican people as El Santo Padre Pedrito.

In later years the Oblate fathers helped organize the first farm workers’ union in Crystal City. They lobbied local growers and ranchers to pay their workers living wages and provide schools.

The story of the shrine of Lourdes in Southern France goes that 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous was approached by the Virgin Mary as she and friends were gathering firewood in 1858. When Bernadette scratched in the ground on the hillside, a spring bubbled to the surface that has run continuously since. The waters are said to be a cure for spiritual and physical infirmities.

The French waters attract more pilgrims than any other Christian shrine in the world. It is almost a certainty that Father Gollbach visited the shrine before leaving Europe and immigrating to America. Famous replicas of the grotto have also been built in New York, Indiana, and Pennsylvania and other locations in Texas.

Beginning in 1926, Father Gollbach built much of the mountain himself. The rocks were collected from around Roma, with petrified wood gathered near Escobares. Concrete posts were etched to look like tree branches. In the center of the grotto, a 7-foot-tall statue of the Madonna in a flowing white gown with a blue sash looks down on a life-sized statue of the little French peasant girl kneeling in prayer. The grotto is 33 feet high and 90 feet wide, with cacti growing from the walls to give it a very natural appearance. The Oblate Father envisioned the grotto as a monument to the hope for a lasting peace following the horrors of World War I. The project was completed in 1928 and was an immediate favorite among tourists and locals alike.

Father Gollbach passed away on December 26, 1955 at the age of 77 and is buried in the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Cemetery in San Antonio. But his tribute to Our Lady of Lourdes lives on and at night the handcrafted hill is bathed in floodlights that give it a soft glow.

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Rio Grande City is across the street from the Starr County Courthouse and behind the Immaculate Conception Church. The shrine is open free of charge to the public, except during church services.

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard's Texas, Howard's Travels.

Last evening, a special sneak preview of the new Conan the Barbarian was screened in Austin at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.  Howard Days videographer Ben Friberg was in attendance and gives us his first-hand report on both the movie and its star, Jason Momoa who was at the screening.

I was lucky enough to see it at a special preview Wednesday night with Dennis, and the Baums.

Momoa showed up. During question and answer after the film, I asked what his favorite Howard Conan story was. He said “Queen of the Black Coast” and “The Frost Giant’s Daughter.” Every other lamo there wasted question and answer time with “when are you running for Governor, and do you have a hot maid?” type of shtick. I think his sequel screenplay that people have been razzing him about is actually based more on Howard’s stories than this film. At least that’s the feeling I got from him. He was wanting to use more of the original material if there is a sequel, and said there was so much material from the original stories he wanted to use.

I also brought my Lancer Conan the Adventurer with me since it’s the only Conan book I could fit in my pocket. He was hanging out talking with the Drafthouse owners after the Q and A and I asked him if he would mind signing it. He paused, and said that I was the first person who had asked him to sign a Conan book. “Man, you’re the first!” And he paused again and said, “Actually, this is kinda emotional to me. This was the first Conan I read too.” He pointed at Frazetta’s cover. “I wanted to do my best to be that guy. These were the first Conan stories I read, and that’s why it was important for me to try and get it right. I don’t want to sign the cover over the art, but I will sign the inside.” He seemed actually very appreciative and moved I had asked him to sign it. He shook my hand. I told him he pretty much nailed Conan. (Which he did. Maybe a bit too cocky, but it was still a great characterization. Almost feral in some instances, which I do believe Howard described him as in his early adventures.) He thanked me, said that meant alot to him, and that he hopes to be having more adventures down the road. “So many more stories to tell.” Pointing again at the Frazetta book. “Though they will take place when Conan is a bit older.” He seems to me to be a very genuine guy. A cool drinking buddy. But you can definitely tell that when this guy goes on a tear, furniture is broken and the cops are called. Ha! He was polishing off a full bucket of beers as the Q and A progressed. Really fun guy.

Though far from perfect, and I still wish they had just sunk all that 90 million into a movie based on one of Howard’s stories, it was still a fun flick. Great popcorn movie. Good action, nice ultra violent battle scenes. Nice amount of humor sprinkled in. Lots of awesome violence. Probably not a classic, but who knows. I would say the same of the Milius film. I hope it’s certainly a starting point for more Howard big budget projects. I will see it again in 2D. Far better than Solomon Kane or the Milius Conan. The Baums and Dennis enjoyed it too. Jack said it just needed to be darker, more scary. But his wife loved the action. Frankly, and this might be going out on a limb, but I think Bob would have thoroughly enjoyed it.

My two cents.

Sounds like it was a blast and this photo just confirms it.

This entry filed under Howard Days, Howard Fandom, Howard in Media, News.