The Business, Part 1: 1944-47

[I did a bit of reporting on this topic in 2011’s “The Kline Connection“–since that time, a wealth of new material has come to light. What follows is the first installment of an expanded version of “The Kline Connection.”]

Some time in the spring of 1933, Robert E. Howard enlisted pulp-writer-turned-agent Otis Adelbert Kline to help place his stories in markets other than Weird Tales. Upon Howard’s death, Kline continued to market Howard’s stories for his father, Dr. I. M. Howard. Doctor Howard sent Kline the contents of his son’s trunk and Kline removed those items that might interest a publisher—many of these ended up in the files—the rest he returned to Doctor Howard. When the good doctor passed away, November 12, 1944, he left the rights to his son’s stories to his colleague, Dr. P. M. Kuykendall. All the details of this little history can be found in The Collected Letters of Doctor Isaac M. Howard (REHF Press, of course). Our story begins here.

Following the death of Doctor Howard, Doctor Kuykendall sent out notices to those he thought should know, including E. Hoffmann Price and Otis A. Kline. Price responded by sending Kuykendall a box of cigars; Kline responded with condolences and the following, dated November 18, 1944:

I’ll appreciate it if you will let me know who I can contact as his successor to the estate of his son, Robert. As the doctor may have told you, I was negotiating the publication of a book of his stories, and the present heir or heirs will no doubt want these negotiations completed.

Kuykendall responded with the requested information on December 19:

Under the terms of the will of the late Dr. I. M. Howard I have been made independent executor of his estate. Since I am not at all familiar with the status of the affairs pertaining to his son’s stories, I will have to depend upon you to furnish me with this information.

The early 1940s were not very good years for Howard publishing. Several yarns had been reprinted under house names in both Fight Stories and Spicy Adventures, a few poems had been reprinted in Canadian issues of Weird Tales and a couple of fan magazines, but the only real sale had been to Masked Rider Western, who published “Texas John Alden” in its May 1944 issue. That, and “The Black Stone,” reprinted in Sleep No More, are the only stories published in 1944. On December 28, Kline brought Kuykendall up to speed:

The only deal I have pending at present is the collection of Robert’s stories being assembled for publication in book form by August Derleth. The doctor not only authorized this, but I understand it was the dearest wish of his heart that a collection of stories and a collection of poems be published in book form.

And these weren’t the only details that Kuykendall had to attend to; Doctor Howard’s will states unequivocally that Kuykendall was to receive “all property, both real and personal,” which left Kuykendall with a lot of sorting to do. In a February 7, 1945 letter to E. Hoffmann Price, Kuykendall explains that all of Doctor Howard’s “personal effects, car, clothing, etc., were sent to his nephew Wallace Howard. The only thing to dispose of now are Robert’s stories; some of which were published and others in manuscripts (all).”

There are a few suggestions in the surviving correspondence that Doctor Howard had attempted to place some, if not all, of this material at Howard Payne College in Brownwood. He certainly donated Robert’s library and pulp collection. The story goes that when he saw the treatment his son’s pulp magazines were receiving there, he withdrew everything but the books, which could handle rough treatment, but there is mention of other documents perhaps being housed there, including letters, which may have been lost in the shuffle. Other letters from the period indicate that some of REH’s papers were burned when Doctor Howard moved from Cross Plains to Ranger, and that Dr. Howard may have sent little items of his son’s to various people.

Whatever the state of Howard’s trunk upon Doctor Howard’s death, Kuykendall had no use for it. In his February letter, he tells Price:

There is a large trunk full of these [REH “manuscripts”]. I thought perhaps you might like to have them. If you do want them, let me know and I’ll send them prepaid to you and you can just throw the old trunk away—it is strong [enough] to send them in.

Upon receiving the above, Price wrote back to Kuykendall (this letter appears to be lost) and appended a few paragraphs onto another letter that he was writing to August Derleth, then in the final stages of preparation on Skull-Face and Others. [Note: this letter appears in The Collected Letters of Doctor Isaac M. Howard, but it is misdated “circa December 1944.” It clearly belongs after February 7, 1945.] Price relayed the news that he was to receive the trunk, but predicted that it would contain nothing but “Duds—juvenilia—miscellanea—from [Derleth’s] viecrovwpoint, nothing worth considering for the REH book.” Price had visited REH in Cross Plains twice before, so he may have heard Robert’s opinion of it, or seen the contents then himself.

Upon receiving Price’s letter, Doctor Kuykendall’s wife, Alla Ray, responded with the following, dated February 21, 1945:

Received your letter last week, are glad you wanted Robert Howard’s papers. We did not go through them and are sure many of them are useless, but are sending you all we can find. Sent you four rather large boxes today by parcel post[;] hope they reach you in good order.

Mrs. Kuykendall also asks if Doctor Howard had already sent “a steel trunk or box of Robert’s papers” which the Kuykendalls had “not located” since Dr. Howard’s death. This “steel trunk” remains a mystery, but Price did receive the other items sometime before March 11. On that day, he wrote to Derleth:

Four boxes of REH relics arrived: tear sheets of published yarns, weird, western, adventure, etc.; some high school themes, several bales; carbons of mss; rejected originals; half-finished yarns; a bound ms of 81,500 words, Gent from Bear Creek, made up of Breckinridge Elkins yarns threaded into a continuity, and put on offer by Otis Kline, and presumably returned by Kline as unsalable. There is also a scrap book of the kind popular with women in the 1880s-90s, my mother had one, years ago, I vaguely remember it. Colored pictures, sentimental occasion cards; news clippings, verses, etc. pressed flowers after the manner of the times. Mrs. Howard’s, without doubt.

With Doctor Howard’s possessions distributed, the Kuykendalls got on with their lives. The Howard material, and ownership of the copyrights, did not interrupt again until November 17, 1945. On that day, Otis Kline wrote to P. M. Kuykendall:

I am very pleased to be able to tell you that I have now been able to close the deal for the collection of my late client’s, Robert E. Howard’s stories, to be issued to Arkham House, which will be titled Skull-Face and Others, which deal I reported to you as pending on December 28, 1944, as previously authorized by Dr. Howard.

Copies of the contract, which Kline suggested was “a very good” one, were included with the letter. Already signed by Derleth and Kline, all that was required was Kuykendall’s OK, which he supplied. 1945 was a bad year for Howard publishing, and this was the first time Kuykendall had been called upon to approve anything–a few Howard items had been released in the amateur press (E. Hoffmann Price’s issue of The Ghost and William Crawford’s booklet containing “The Garden of Fear”), but other than a few poems in the Canadian Weird Tales and an Armed Services reprint of Sleep No More, nothing had appeared by a “real” publisher.

Skull-Face and Others was released in 1946. It is the only Howard publishing that occured that year, though Doctor Kuykendall would receive a small payment for an upcoming item, as explained in this September 1 letter from Otis Kline:

I take pleasure in enclosing check to cover remittance just received from Arkham House for the sale of the reprint rights in “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune” by Robert E. Howard, by them, to Avon Books, for inclusion in a volume to be published in paper bound form this fall, to be titled The Ghost Reader.

Doctor Kuykendall received $11.25 for this sale. Otis Kline died the next month, October 24, 1946. His daughter, Ora Fay Rosinni, carried on the agency. The Ghost Reader never materialized, but Avon used “Mirrors” in its Avon Fantasy Reader #2 in 1947. This would be the only Howard story published in English that year.

Luckily, August Derleth was still game. 1947 brought the first big publication of Howard’s verse. The Arkham House collection Dark of the Moon contains 13 of Howard’s poems. In his introduction to the volume, Derleth described it as “a representative collection of the best poetry of the macabre and fantastic in English.” Of the Weird Tales authors included therein–Lovecraft, Smith, Howard, Wandrei–Derleth conceded that they “deserve some modest recognition.”

By the end of 1947, Ora Fay had just about had enough of the family business.

[Go to Part 2]