The Business, Part 13: Conclusion

[Part 12 is here.]

As 1963 began, and as things would continue for decades, Glenn Lord was the receptacle of all things Howard: biographical and publishing information trickled in from Tevis Clyde Smith, E. Hoffmann Price, Lenore and Harold Preece, and others; fanzine editors requested information for their publications; and an ever-growing legion of fans and pulp aficionados traded information, copies, and publications with the god-father of Howard studies. The situation on the business side looked like this: Alla Ray Kuykendall and her daughter owned the rights to Robert E. Howard’s works. These works were offered for sale (or, more likely, requested by publishers who remembered Howard) by Oscar J. Friend, who retained the business name of his predecessor, Otis A. Kline Associates. Business was pretty slow. Besides the Arkham House collection The Dark Man and Others and Glenn Lord’s Howard Collector #4, only one other new publication with a Howard story appeared that year (and not until December).

In a January 21, 1963 postcard to Glenn Lord, Lyon Sprague de Camp says a bit about that last appearance: “The proposed anthology is the one I wrote about in AMRA, of short stories & novelettes of heroic fantasy.” This was the Pyramid Books collection Swords and Sorcery. In his introduction to the anthology, de Camp laid out his view regarding the worth of the material therein: “The purpose of these stories is neither to teach the problems of the steel industry, nor to expose the defects in our foreign-aid program, nor yet to air the problems of the housewife. It is to entertain. These stories combine the color, gore, and action of the costume novel with the atavistic terrors and delights of the fairy tale. They furnish the purest fun to be found in fiction today.” In his preface to the Howard story, “Shadows in the Moonlight,” he presented what would be the standard view of the writer from Texas for decades:

For vivid, violent, gripping, headlong action, the stories of ROBERT ERVIN HOWARD (1906-36) take the prize among heroic fantasies. Howard was born and lived in Cross Plains, Texas [sic: born at Peaster], attended Brownsville College [sic: Howard Payne in Brownwood], and during his short life turned out a large volume of general pulp fiction: sport, detective, western, and oriental adventure stories besides his fantasies. Although a big, powerful man like his heroes, he suffered delusions of persecution and killed himself in an excess of emotion over his aged mother’s death.

Later introductions would add “Oedipal complex” to the mix of Howard’s emotional problems. But let’s get back to the business.

Besides the above, in de Camp’s postcard to Glenn, he added that “Otis Kline Associates is Oscar [Friend] + one lady assistant who mostly types. I don’t know if anybody will carry on the business when Oscar shuffles, but some other agent might buy up the residual business.” Little did de Camp know, but Oscar Friend had died two days before this postcard was typed.

Being ignorant of Friend’s death, Lord wrote to the Kline Agency, again requesting material. This was not the first time; he had made several inquiries in the years since Always Comes Evening—most to no effect. His letter was answered on January 30 by Friend’s daughter, Kittie West:

Dear Mr. Lord:

My father, Oscar J. Friend, passed away on Jan. 19th—peacefully, in his sleep.

My Mother (the Irene M. Ozment on the letterhead) and I (K. F. West) are slowly notifying various clients and catching up on current business.

As yet we have had no time to go through the older files and the stacks of books and manuscripts on hand. When we do, we shall see what Howard material is on hand and inform the estate handling Howard material as to what we have. Meanwhile, please be patient with us, as there are many things which Mr. Friend carried in his head—and which we must slowly piece out and attend to.

Possibly you may obtain the material you want directly from the estate. However, we shall keep in touch with you—and perhaps handle it ourselves. We just don’t know at this point what we are going to do.

Yours very truly,

[Kittie West]

By fall, things were, apparently, still disorganized. A postcard from de Camp to Lord explains that the agency is “carrying on the remaining accounts but not trying to expand the business.” On September 27, 1963, Lord responded to a letter (now lost) from West:

Dear Mrs. West:

Thank you for the nice letter. I can well understand the problems inherent in transferring a mass of possessions from one house to another; a problem that has been familiar with me in the past.

I suppose that you might call Robert E. Howard my hobby, much like one might say H. P. Lovecraft was a “hobby” of August Derleth. I have made several trips to the area of Texas where Mr. Howard lived and know several of his cronies. One of them [Clyde Smith] was an occasional writer and collaborator with Howard and claims to have a couple of mss. that they wrote. Again the problem is the unearthing of said items!

The titles in your possession came from a listing that Mr. Derleth kindly made for me last year after your father sent the Howard mss. to him for examination for possible use in the Arkham House volume of Howard stories due later this year. The descriptions also came from Derleth. He wrote me that he had placed the mss. in some 6 kraft envelopes with a listing on each of the contents. According to my records, “Kelly, the Conjure-Man” and “The Last White Man” are in envelope #3 and “Knife, Bullet and Noose” in envelope #6. That may be of little help in your task however.

I suspect that Donald Grant of Grandon: Publishers will contact you shortly on the matter of a volume of Howard’s Oriental adventure stories. That will be a sort of cooperative venture between Mr. Grant and myself—I seem to have “inherited” the role of “Howard expert” though such is not exactly the case!

In your filing of the material in your possession, would you kindly note if you have a novel by Mr. Howard entitled Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. Supposedly a “modern” novel, this was written in the late 1920s and may have been destroyed later. Also if you come across the letters from Howard to Mr. Kline, would you be willing to loan these to me for possible use in a Selected Letters volume that I hope to edit and compile some day. I say some day as locating old correspondence is a difficult task. I realize I am being a lot of trouble but the agency seems the last bastion of interest in Howard, as Mr. Friend once put it.

Enclosed check for $27.40 for the use of the Howard material.

Best wishes,

[Glenn Lord]

And that wasn’t the only place Glenn was looking for Howard letters. He also wrote to de Camp asking about the material in Friend’s archives, to which de Camp replied in a February 8, 1964 letter:

No, there were no Howard letters in that pile of mss at Oscar Friend’s house. The letters were probably filed separately, and I don’t know if the files still exist. The only personal piece was the little handwritten note from Lovecraft to Howard, which is printed on page 8 of King Conan.

At some point in 1963-64, West completed at least four deals for the Howard heirs, all of which appeared in 1964. From the Kline stack of typescripts, Arkham House published “The Blue Flame of Vengeance” in its Over the Edge anthology. The story is listed as “completed” by John Pocsik, but the typescript was complete as is, and the story’s appearance here was “drastically rewritten,” as de Camp told Lord in a June 8, 1964 letter. The Pyramid anthology Weird Tales has “Pigeons from Hell,” as does the Panther Books reprint of the 1944 Sleep No More anthology. Finally, West closed a deal with Ace Books which resulted in the first paperback appearance of Howard’s novel Almuric. And there were more paperbacks being envisioned.

On August 22, 1964, de Camp told Lord that “SWORDS & SORCERY did well enough so that Pyramid has authorized a successor” and also that he was “trying to promote a deal for reprinting all the Conan stories in paperback,” but this deal wasn’t far enough along to give details. On September 24, de Camp gave West a glimpse of his plans, saying that he spoke to her “of a projected deal for republication of Howard’s Conan stories in paperback, with me as editor[.] Well, it looks as if that were going through.” He explains that he will be in New York soon and “may want some of the old Howard mss in your collection,” and offers to swing by her house to pick them up. He then adds, “please look through the collection of Howard mss and extract from it any Conan stories, especially ‘The Frost-Giant’s Daughter,’ ‘The God in the Bowl,’ and ‘The Black Stranger.’” An October 24 letter goes into more detail regarding the project, but, unfortunately, we only have the first page of it. That page ends cryptically with de Camp saying: “I don’t see that it is at all necessary for you [West] to prepare a formal contract in standard form, other than the letter I wrote [. . .]”

A postcard from de Camp to Lord, written January 27, 1965, provides an update on the former Kline Agency: “Kittie West is trying slowly to liquidate the Kline agency, but this is a long-drawn-out process that may take years.” Four days later, de Camp wrote to West, paying the last installment of fees for his use of “Shadows in Zamboula” in the Pyramid collection The Spell of Seven (June 1964). That anthology contains Howard’s story, “Shadows in Zamboula,” as well as de Camp’s thoughts on the author:

Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, was a Texan and a prolific writer of pulp-magazine fiction in the early 1930s. Despite certain literary faults, Howard was one of the greatest natural story-tellers the genre has produced. Nobody has excelled him in constructing a fast-moving, smoothly-flowing tale of headlong, violent, gripping action. His stories are not only readable but also endlessly rereadable. Unfortunately, Howard was also maladjusted to the point of psychosis. In 1936, at the age of thirty, he ended a promising literary career by suicide.

Included in de Camp’s letter to West is his advice on how to deal with Martin Greenberg (of Gnome Press) if he should get litigious. Not long after receiving this letter, West forwarded it to Glenn Lord, writing a short note on the corner and asking, “Is Sprague getting a little greedy?”

On February 5, 1965, word was apparently getting out that West was looking to “liquidate” the Kline files. On that day, Donald A. Wollheim wrote to West, saying, in part, “I recall, many years ago when visiting your father, that he had a stack of these old unsold manuscripts, stories, etc. [. . .] since you have closed down the Kline agency, do you still have any of these old literary files? In Howard’s case, who could you give them to or what could you have done with them? If you still have any of this REH material stored away, would you let me know? This is primarily a personal inquiry as a former correspondent of Howard’s as well as one of his publishers.”

De Camp had news of a different sort that he shared with Glenn Lord in a February 18 postcard:

Mrs. K. F. west, who has been winding up the Otis Kline Agency business, asked me if I should be willing to “take over” the custody and management of the Howard mss in her possession. I said I couldn’t consider it, because of other commitments; and I took the liberty of suggesting your name to her as the person who ought to have charge of them.

In a letter to West that same day, de Camp explained his reasoning:

I’m afraid I absolutely cannot consider “taking over” the Howard material, since I have enough work of my own contracted for and planned to keep me busy for years. If anybody should take charge of it, I should suggest Glenn Lord, Box 775, Pasadena, Texas, 77501. He is the outstanding living idolater of Howard and would, I am sure, do the best he could for Howard’s reputation. Moreover, being a fellow Texan, he could much more easily keep in touch with Mrs. Kuykendall than anybody in the Northeast could.

He added that Greenberg had been “huffing and puffing again, and Lancer Books has been hesitating to go ahead with their first two volumes [of Conan material] for fear of a nuisance suit. In view of this development, I fear I shall have to make my second offer [to prepare the Conan books] a bit less favorable to the estate than the first one I made to you, in order not to end up out of pocket as a result of possible litigation.” In a March 11th letter, de Camp made his case to the Kuykendalls, explaining that “if the complete series is published, the estate stands to make over a thousand dollars from this publication.”

By March 26, 1965, Glenn Lord had accepted the position of agent for the Howard heirs. On that day, Kittie West sent “a box containing tear sheets & mss. Also the old file with Dr. Kuykendall’s correspondence” to Glenn. She also sent a letter to Glenn and Mrs. Kuykendall that explains the state of the Howard property at that time. On April 27, Mrs. Kuykendall wrote to Glenn: “I am pleased and relieved that you have accepted the handling of the Howard manuscripts. I hope that further publications can be arranged.” Kuykendall closed with the following:

Shortly after Dr. Howard’s death, we sent a trunk filled with Robert’s papers to a man in California—Redwood City, I believe. Mr. Kline or Mr. Friend advised us to do so. Do you recognize who it was? I have forgotten. Perhaps Mrs. West will remember.

And so the business of Robert E. Howard publishing continued. In the months to come, Glenn finally found and acquired the fabled Trunk of Howard manuscripts which helped fuel the Howard Boom, but that is a tale for another time. With the Otis A. Kline Agency officially out of business, it was left to Glenn to navigate the mess between de Camp, Greenberg, and Lancer Books. Besides this, West also forwarded a couple of other deals that were in the works, including a new arrangement with Robert Lowndes, publisher of the Magazine of Horror. The June 1965 issue of that magazine contains “Skulls in the Stars.” That same month, on the 22nd, Kittie West sent Glenn Lord the last of the agency’s files related to Robert E. Howard, excepting their accounting books. She ended her letter with a note: “Good luck with the work—and watch out for co-authors, new publishers, etc!”

[Back to Part 1.]