The Business, Part 4: mid-1952-53

[Part 3 is here.]

When Oscar Friend discovered Robert E. Howard’s “The House of Arabu” in the Kline Agency files and “reworked” it for Donald Wollheim’s Avon Fantasy Reader, he changed the course of Howard publishing history. Wollheim received the rewrite in the spring of 1951 and later discussed the new Howard tale with Lyon Sprague de Camp. In his introduction to King Conan, de Camp describes the scene:

I was talking on the telephone with Donald A. Wollheim, then an editor for Avon Publications. He mentioned a theretofore unpublished story by Robert E. Howard, of which the original title was “The House of Arabu” but which later appeared in Avon Fantasy Reader No. 18 as “The Witch from Hell’s Kitchen.” And I asked Wollheim if any more like it existed.
“Yes,” he said. “I understand Howard’s agent has a whole pile of unpublished Howard manuscripts.”
“What! Who’s his agent?”
“Oscar J. Friend. Do you know him?”
“Sure I know Oscar! Thanks; g’bye!”
I called Jackson Heights and presently heard Oscar’s rich southern accents.
“Why, yes,” he said. “I’ve got a whole carton full of Howard manuscripts. They were left with Otis Kline, who was Howard’s agent, when Howard died, and Otis left ’em to me when he died. Might even be some unpublished Conan stories among ’em. Why, would you like to look through ’em?”
“You bet I would!”
So on November 30th, 1951, I went to Oscar Friend’s apartment [. . .]

Once there, de Camp met Harold Preece and was allowed to go through the surviving Howard material:

Oscar had hauled out the carton of manuscripts—about twenty pounds of them. Most were outside the field of imaginative fiction in which Howard is mainly remembered. There were sports stories, westerns, detective stories, and oriental adventure tales on the Harold Lamb-Talbot Mundy model. There was an unpublished Solomon Kane story, unlike the others non-fantastic—all swordplay. There was the story which had been announced for the April 1933 Strange Tales, under the title of “The Valley of the Lost,” but which never appeared because of that magazine’s demise. And there were three unpublished Conan stories.

These stories were “The Black Stranger,” “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter,” and “The God in the Bowl.” After examining these stories, de Camp says, “It was agreed that I should rewrite these stories—not, however, to turn them into typical de Camp pieces, but to create as nearly as possible what Howard would have produced if in his later years he had undertaken to rewrite them himself with all the care he could manage.”

By the spring of 1952, de Camp had completed his first revision and placed the story with Space Science Fiction. In a July 2, 1952 letter to Kuykendall, Oscar Friend reported the news and sent a check, saying the money was “for one of the old manuscripts of Robert E. Howard which was worked over. It is called ‘The God in the Bowl,’ and is a Conan the Barbarian yarn which I had L. Sprague de Camp revise. The story will, of course, later go into the complete collection of Conan books being published slowly by Gnome Press. There is another volume (Number two) to the set that is out now—The Sword of Conan.”

“The God in the Bowl” appeared in the September 1952 issue of Space Science Fiction. At the end of that month, September 29, Friend wrote to Gnome Press publisher Martin Greenberg, explaining that the agency was “taking over the subsidiary sales of the first book—Conan the Conqueror.” Friend tells Greenberg that he is “trying to cook up an equitable deal in the British market and, if I do so, I shall consummate said deal as between Otis Kline Assc. and the publisher, rather than between Gnome Press and the publisher.”

On December 24, 1952, Friend sent Kuykendall “another small check to help your hospital work there in Ranger,” and informed the doctor that he had “sold one-time magazine reprint rights to ‘Worms of the Earth,’ R. E. Howard, to Popular Pubs.” The story appeared in the June 1953 Famous Fantastic Mysteries.

In a February 19, 1953 letter, Friend Tells Kuykendall that the Gnome books “should sell for years. The third book in the series, King Conan, is being readied for the press now and should be out sometime this spring.” Also that spring, “The Black Stranger,” de Camp’s second reworking of a Howard Conan yarn,  appeared in the March 1953 issue of Fantasy Fiction Magazine; the August 1953 issue has “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter,” the last of three Conan tales found in the Kline files.

Due to the publication of “new” Howard material, Friend started receiving requests from Howard fans, like this one, dated February 23, 1953:

I understand that you are the sole possessor of the unpublished manuscripts of Robert E. Howard. I have been reading Howard since 1932 and wonder if it would be possible for me to have one of these manuscripts. I would be willing to pay any reasonable charge you ask.

On April 7, 1953, Friend sent Kuykendall payment for “The Black Stranger” (retitled by de Camp “The Treasure of Tranicos”), telling him that it was for “a revised Robert Howard manuscript into a Conan story which we have sold to Space Pubs.” He goes on to say that “this oldie [. . .] will later be included in one of the Conan books.” The primary reason for this letter, though, appears to be that Friend is looking for more Howard material. He had apparently received no reply to his prior request (See part 3, July 13, 1951) and again asked Kuykendall to look around:

I would like to know if you know of any Robert Howard manuscripts existing in anybody’s possession at this time. For instance, Otis Kline went carefully through all Howard MSS he could find, and which Dr. Howard sent him in the late 1930s, but do you think you could possibly find any strays anywhere for us? For instance, Robert Howard studied for a time at Howard Payne College there in Texas and is reputed to have left the college some of his manuscripts as a sort of legacy. Do you know, or can you learn if this is true? If so, can you procure a list of the scripts for me?

Friend ends his letter with an idea that would haunt Howard studies to the present day: “Meantime, after we have exhausted all sources of the Conan stories, I am contemplating the carrying on of the Conan series with brand new material.” This idea occurred at the same time that L. Sprague de Camp was becoming more involved with the publication of the Gnome Press series. Introductory material by de Camp appears in both of the Gnome volumes published in 1953: King Conan and The Coming of Conan.

And that wasn’t the only Conan publishing that year. ACE Books came out with one of its paperback doubles containing Conan the Conqueror on one side and Leigh Bracket’s The Sword of Rhiannon on the other. In a June 24, 1953 letter, Friend discusses this publication, but is more interested in unpublished Howard material:

You never did answer my letter regarding the possibility of Bob Howard having left any original MSS to his college, or if you know of any unpublished material of his anywhere. Please do. I am scraping the bottom of the barrel now in having some of Bob’s early scripts which are not even Conan material re-written into Conan stories [. . .]

On July 1, 1953, Friend wrote again:

Pursuant to our recent inquiry of you as to any other extant manuscripts of Robert E. Howard, I know ask you if you can possibly scare up for us a fairly good photo of Bob. The publisher of the Conan books would like very much to print a picture of Robert Howard in the forthcoming volume [. . .]

Kuykendall finally replied on July 13: “I have searched through all of the very meager records that Doctor Howard left and I am unable to find any pictures at all of Robert Howard.” Regarding the unpublished Howard material Friend had been asking for, Kuykendall said this:

When Doctor Howard knew that his death was impending, he disposed of most everything except his real estate, giving to friends and others practically all of his personal effects. I do recall a large box of magazine articles, clipped from different magazines, because I helped prepare it for shipment to a friend of Robert’s in California, but I do not recall the friend’s name nor address, and no record was found in the records left by Doctor Howard.

This friend was, of course, E. Hoffmann Price. But Oscar Friend still had some good stuff in his own files. Besides the three Conan stories, de Camp appears to have found at least two other items in the Kline files of interest to him. On September 22, 1953, Friend wrote to John C. [sic: D.] Clark, editor of the Gnome series, saying that he was “snowed under with paperwork and just couldn’t get at the task of digging through the retired file of material for the herewith enclosed two Robert Howard scripts that Sprague brought specifically to our attention: ‘Men of the Shadows’ [and] ‘Night of the Wolf.’ When you are through with these two scripts please return.”

Both of these stories remained unpublished until 1969’s Dell publication, Bran Mak Morn. But back in 1953, the last Howard of the year was a reprint of “The Black Stone” in the November Weird Tales. In that year’s introduction to King Conan, L. Sprague de Camp had said that the “Conan epic is of course incomplete.” As the 1950s rolled along, he would do his best to correct that.

[Go to Part 5]