The Business, Part 2: 1948-50

[Part 1 is here]

At the beginning of 1948, Ora Fay Rossini was running the business of her deceased father, Otis Adelbert Kline, but she likely already knew that she wouldn’t be doing it for much longer. Some time in February, probably, she wrote to the Kuykendalls to inform them that she was moving to Texas with her husband, Pierre L. Rossini. On March 4, Dr. P. M. Kuykendall responded: “I am glad to know that you and your husband are coming to Texas in the near future.” He goes on to explain some of the difficulties they will encounter in finding housing “in and around Grand Prairie.” He also thanks Rossini for a royalty payment from Arkham House.

Before June 17, 1948, Rossini recalled, she “turned over everything to Oscar Friend, including material published and unpublished, records, files, etc.” On June 17, the new owner of the Kline Agency sat down and wrote a letter to Kuykendall, informing him of a forthcoming reprint of “The Cairn on the Headland” and explaining himself:

For your information, I have purchased the Otis Kline agency from the Kline heirs—being an old friend and client of Mr. Kline’s myself—and am handling all of the business details of unfinished affairs in the name of the Klines without disturbing anything. Please feel free to write and ask me for any information at any time. I have the complete Howard file and records in my office.

On September 5, 1948, Friend informed his client of another sale: “We have just sold the anthology one-time reprint rights to Ralph [sic!] E. Howard’s short story, ‘Queen of the Black Coast,’ to Avon Publishing Co., for $25. We enclose herewith our check drawn in your favor in full payment to cover this transaction.’ This and “The Cairn on the Headland” were the only Howard stories published in English in 1948; a note in Friend’s archives dated December 17, 1948— “Sent royalty check to Dr. Kuykendall. No letter, only royalty statement.”—rounds out the year.

There was only one Howard appearance in English in 1949: “A Witch Shall Be Born” appeared in an issue of the Avon Fantasy Reader; “Shave That Hog” was probably on the stands in December ’49, but the edition of Max Brand’s Western Magazine in which it appeared was dated January 1950. But in a May 5, 1949 letter to Kuykendall, Oscar Friend let his client know that things were going to change:

I am arranging a nice deal with another publisher to do a complete collection of the Conan stories. I will keep you informed as to matters. Things move slowly many times in the publishing world, and especially during the present period of recession. I haven’t got around to reading the heretofore unpublished Howard material I have on hand, and can’t say just when—or what, but I will keep you apprised of all developments.

But things were moving fairly quick. On May 9, Martin Greenberg, top dog at Gnome Press, wrote to Friend: “Here is the list of the Conan stories. So far it is set up for four books. I understand we may include more stories and make it five books.” This is followed by his outline of the contents for four books to be published by Gnome: The Coming of Conan, Conan the Barbarian, The Sword of Conan, and Conan the King. Greenberg hopes to “do one of the Conan books this fall,” and tells Friend, “I get more enthusiastic every day when I contemplate what a terrific deal this is going to be.”

On September 17, Friend dropped Kuykendall a line to tell him of the sale of “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” to Avon (appearing as “The Blonde Goddess of Bal-Sagoth” in a 1950 Avon Fantasy Reader) and to apprise him of the situation with Gnome: “The Conan the Barbarian project is taking rather ambitious size and has grown to a set of four volumes in uniform binding, to be brought out as rapidly one after the other as possible. However, it looks more like a 1950 project.”

In a January 17, 1950 letter, Friend explains the breakdown of Kuykendall’s Arkham House royalties and provides another Conan update: “The new publishing deal on the CONAN stories is to start this year and will consist of four or five volumes in uniform binding, taking two years to get the entire set on the market.” On April 21, Friend tells the doctor of the sale of “The Voice of El-Lil” (which appeared in one of that year’s Avon Fantasy Readers bearing the god-awful title of “Temptress of the Tower of Torture and Sin”!) and another update on the Gnome series:

The plans are slowly maturing on the Conan the Barbarian collection of Bob’s stories to be published in not less than three volumes (perhaps four or five) and I will send you copies of the contracts as they are now executed—and royalty advances as they begin to come through. I have been definitely promised action by the publisher (Gnome Press) before the end of this year.

Conan wasn’t the only Howard property receiving attention in 1950. On May 22, 1950, Harry Widmer, managing editor of Popular Publications, wrote a letter addressed to Robert E. Howard in Cross Plains:

Dear Mr. Howard:

     We are planning to use in Max Brand’s Western stories which have stood the test of time and remained high in the memory of the readers and in the opinion of our editors.
Your story “Vulture’s Sanctuary,” which originally appeared in the November 28, 1936 issue of Argosy, has been selected. We are planning to include it in a future issue of Max Brand’s Western.
Although our records show that we purchased all serial rights to this story, we will pay for it at our prevailing second serial rights rate. On this basis, we can offer you $20.00 for the second serial rights.
Will you be good enough to verify your present address, so we can mail your bonus check to you.

Sincerely,
Harry Widmer

With no Howards left in Cross Plains, the letter was forwarded to Dr. Kuykendall in Ranger, who forwarded it to Friend on June 1, 1950, the same month and year as the cover date on the magazine in which the story appeared. On June 13, Friend responded to Kuykendall with more Arkham House royalties and $15 for “Vulture’s Sanctuary”; he had taken $5.00 as his “minimum commission.”

Friend’s August 10, 1950 letter to Kuykendall is all Conan:

I am happy to report that at last we have got the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard moving again. As I wrote previously, I have arranged with Gnome Press to publish all the Conan stories in about five uniform volumes as a set (although the books will be printed only one at a time at the approximate rate of two volumes per year) with the same binding and with end maps in both front and back of each book—maps of the world in which Conan lived and roamed. There will also be an introduction by Dr. Arthur C. [sic: John D.] Clark, a friend and admirer of Robert Howard. All in all, the project promises to be a fine piece of work and should net the estate a tidy sum over a period of several years. At least, I earnestly hope so.

Friend goes on to explain his check for “the first advance royalty” on the first book, coming in the fall, to be entitled Conan the Conqueror, adding that “in the event that you are familiar with the Conan stories and wonder as to why they will appear as they do, let me explain that they are not being put out in chronological order for several reasons. However, when the set is complete, any possessor of the works will be able to arrange the books in precisely the right order on his library shelf.” Friend assures Kuykendall that he is “taking care of all details concerning this publishing project” and will himself “read final proof on the job.” He closes his letter with the following:

The other Howard material I wrote you about last year (the heretofore unsold stories) I shall start going over with Gnome Press (who want to publish all Howard material that is not utterly hopeless) and I shall attend to the re-writing of such material as can be whipped into shape for today’s market.

Besides the stories mentioned above, a reprint of “Texas John Alden” appeared in the fall 1950 issue of Hopalong Cassidy’s Western Magazine. Of course, the real news for that year was Conan the Conqueror.

[Part 3 is here.]