Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's October - Time for GHOST STORIES!

October is here! To me, that means crisp air, a reprieve (hopefully) from the heat, fires in the fireplace and the changing of the leaves. And best of all, it means Halloween and all that entails: the horror movie marathons on television, the decorating of front yards, taking tours of haunted houses, and the fascination with the occult. For some it means parties and dressing up in costume. If that floats your boat, great. I'm perfectly happy watching Frankenstein on TCM.

To celebrate October, here are some covers from GHOST STORIES. But before we go there, let me tell you I have in my hand a copy of GHOST STORIES: THE MAGAZINE AND ITS MAKERS, VOLUME 1, edited by John Locke of Off-Trail Publications - the same fine person who brought us THE OCEAN and GANG PULP and PULPWOOD DAYS. John has released 2 volumes of GHOST STORIES, and now that my required reading is out of the way, I can dive into Volume 1.

Here's some info on GHOST STORIES, taken from the back of John's book:

In an era of odd magazines, Macfadden's GHOST STORIES (1926-31) was a standout of the strange. It tapped into occult interest by presenting haunted tales that may or may not have been true. If they were true, then GHOST STORIES was testament to the presence of spirits in every exciting arena, the Western Front, gangland, aviation, the Klondike, the circus, the theater: not coincidentally, all the varied settings that pulp stories employed.

The personnel that created GHOST STORIES, though not well remembered today in most cases, were an uncommonly talented and fascinating group. They include poets and scholars, war heroes and war correspondents, adventurers and Bohemians. A few were titans of magazine publishing and editing. A few developed into prolific pulpsters; a few became bestselling authors; a few went Hollywood; one garnered a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. And because it's GHOST STORIES, a few led haunted lives: within these pages are two murderers, a murder victim, a suicide, and several casualties of tragic accidents.

John is known for his excellent biographies, so the stories about the authors sound to be just as thrilling as the stories themselves.

If you want to get your own copy of GHOST STORIES: THE MAGAZINE AND ITS MAKERS, or any of the other anthologies they've done, you can go to Off-Trail's Publications web page here.

Here are some covers of GHOST STORIES, courtesy of Galactic Central. Happy October, everyone!

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Big Sky Over Santa Clarita

Taken this morning at a park up the hill from my house.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Evening in Santa Clarita

I am going to be spending the next few evenings trying to get caught up on all those projects that have been sneaking up on me. So my blog posts are going to be sparse for a few days.

In the meantime, here are some photos I took tonight on our walk once it cooled down. It's beautiful out here, even with all the power lines.

That tower in the photo above on the left is part of the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park. I'm not sure what the tower is; I'm sure it's some kind of roller coaster ride. I still haven't been there. Magic Mountain is the landmark around here and has been for the past twenty-five years, maybe even more. When people ask where Santa Clarita is, the stock answer is "where Magic Mountain is." Twenty years ago, before the city was built up and industry came in, Magic Mountain was the only place in town to work. Now that there are 200,000 people out here, the employment landscape has changed somewhat.

And here's some photos of my newest family member. Although they've been flitting around the flowers for a few weeks, it look a while before the hummingbirds came around to the feeder. This feeder is right outside the living room window and underneath the overhang and in shade, the reason why the bird's a little dark in the photo. When I went outside to try to take photos of him/her with better light, it got wise and quit coming around.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

An Update for Hamburger Heaven

It's gotten to the point that I cannot keep up with all the pulp-related blogs out there. This is a good thing. Pulp Revival is here.

Will Murray is interviewed at length over at All Pulp today. It's a good one, especially for us who came onto the pulp scene late in the game and really don't know the whole story behind the mysterious Mr. Murray.

Update on Xena: She had her follow up with the vet this morning. The bad news is that the tumor has grown. The good news is that it is now growing in a direction that does not interfere with her "bodily functions." Meaning she can still, at least for the time being, continue to be the champion pooper that she is. We don't know what will happen in the future, but for now things are good for Xena, and she can continue to do what she does best: chase squirrels, cats, and rabbits and destroy my garden in the process. And pretend-fight with Annie like in the pictures below.

Because it's been such a rough month with the kitty disappearing, good news about at least one of my animals is something I really needed to hear. When the vet told me this news this morning, I burst into tears, out of exhaustion more than anything. The vet, confused, said "but this is good news," and I said, "I know, but you don't understand..." But I think she does.

Thanks for all your good thoughts.

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Black Mask Hamburger Heaven

It's all about BLACK MASK today on the Internet, in honor of the release of the BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF BLACK MASK STORIES.

Walker Martin has written a fine piece that appears over at the Mystery File on his experiences collecting a complete run of BLACK MASK.

Evan Lewis over at Davy Crockett's Almanack has posted a couple of BLACK MASK covers.

Last Thursday, The New York Journal of Books posted one of the first reviews on the Black Lizard book.

On to other topics...

Buddies in the Saddle has posted Part 2 of his report on the Republic Pictures party.

David Cranmer over at The Education of a Pulp Writer has a wonderful photo posted of an upcoming arrival, and probably has the modern record of number of people that have commented on it. Go on over and check it out and leave a comment.

Paul Brazill over at You Would Say That Wouldn't You was recently featured in the Hartlepool Mail paper because he has been named one of Britain's best crime writers.

Randy Johnson over at Not the Baseball Pitcher has posted one of the first reviews of BEAT TO A PULP, ROUND ONE.

That's it for now. I take Xena back to the vet this morning for a check-up. Hopefully that tumor has decided to disappear - stranger things have happened.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Republic Pictures 75th Anniversary - Recap

The Republic Pictures 75th Anniversary was yesterday and it was a great time, despite the 100+ degree heat. I can say, without exaggeration, that I was able to sit in triple digit temperatures for over 6 hours and lived to tell the tale. I can now cross that off my bucket list.

I felt like a wimp because at the last minute I decided to wear my nice cool linen pants and sandals, thinking I would be cooler that way, only to find that everyone at the festival was either wearing blue jeans and boots or was in full 19th century costume. But everyone was in great humor even if they were melting underneath.

After the first couple of hours, it was apparent that turnout for the event was probably extremely affected by the heat. While we had crowds, they weren't what I expected. But the panels did very well and played to packed houses (but then, the rooms were air conditioned, too!). I was happy to see that the trick horses weren't asked to do too much in the heat.

People just seemed to take the heat in stride and everyone seemed to be having a great time. People were extremely friendly and nice, I was able to meet many new people, and I even got some interested in the good ol' blog.

Some of the folk I met were Ron Scheer over from Buddies in the Saddle - we had a great time chatting for a long while and had lunch together; C. Courtney Joyner, screenwriter, film historian and Black Horse Western novelist; musician John Bergstrom, who will be playing at Out West next Friday night; Bill Cunningham from Pulp 2.0 Press and many others.

I want to thank Bobbi Jean and Jim Bell for inviting me to sit at the OutWest table and sell copies of PULP WRITER. Like always, Bobbi looked out for me and made sure I met everyone who stepped into their booth. And that was a lot of people.

I didn't take many photos, but Ron did and he has posted them over at Buddies in the Saddle along with a great blog report, and I recommend you go over and check them out. As for me, I'm going to take the day off and get caught up after the Republic Pictures marathon on Thursday and Friday. By the way, I will be posting a Table of Contents for the series at some point today. THEN I'll take the rest of the day off.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

BEAT TO A PULP: Reviews are Coming Out

The anthology BEAT TO A PULP that includes the Paul Powers' new short story "The Strange Death of Ambrose Bierce" is almost out, and there's already been one review over at Randy Johnson's blog Not the Baseball Pitcher. (As a baseball fan and a Randy Johnson fan, I've always loved the title of that blog.) And he mentions the Powers story. Go over and check it out.

Some of Laurie's Wild West's regular readers and commenters have stories in this anthology, like Evan Lewis, David Cranmer, Patti Abbott, James Reasoner, and Chap O'Keefe. I want to say congratulations to all of you and I can't wait to read your stories!

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Thank you! Phew!

That's it for the Republic Pictures marathon - at least for now. Other folks have expressed an interest in contributing to Why I Love Republic Pictures, and I know Ed Hulse has said he might contribute more (please, please). So this will probably be continued on Sunday or even into next week. I LOVE finding these old serials on YouTube and posting them - I'm getting introduced to a lot of these myself so I'm getting something out of this too.

Thank you to ALL of you who contributed - you really came through at the last minute and I am so appreciative. Plus I know everyone is enjoying reading these too.

For those of you in the Los Angeles area, come on over to the Republic Pictures 75th Anniversary tomorrow (Saturday, September 25) at the CBS Studios in Studio City. I'll be at the OutWest booth selling copies of PULP WRITER, and if you're extra nice and don't make fun of my cowboy hat, I'll even sign a copy for you.

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Why I Love Republic Pictures: Bob Napier and MANHUNT AT MYSTERY ISLAND

Here's Bob Napier's (otherwise known as Cap'n Bob and author of the Toyman series) contribution to Why I Love Republic Pictures. Bob wrote this at the last minute for me even though he had a terrible cold, and I am truly grateful for his generosity.


I saw exactly one serial at the theater when I was a kid. I'm not sure of the year but 1956 is probably right because that was the year this serial was re-released to theaters. We lived on the Norfolk Naval Air Station and one summer the base authorities decided to treat the resident kids to a day at the movies. A bus collected us at various stops and let us off at a huge theater/gym/bowling alley/handball court/pool complex. For the cost of admission we saw a couple of cartoons, a newsreel, a serial chapter, and a movie. The bus was free and the cost of admission was ten cents.

I'd never heard of a serial before, and going to a movie was a rare event for me. When I did go it was usually with my mother in the evening where cartoons were offered but no serials. I remember thinking after the first episode's cliffhanger that I was getting gypped. But when I went back the following week I caught on to the idea that the hero would escape from the impossible, deadly trap, usually in a way that made me feel a little gypped.

The serial I saw was Manhunt of Mystery Island, made by Republic Studios in 1945. The story was about a mysterious man bent on world domination who had captured a professor (Forrest Taylor), inventor of the Radiatomic Power Transmitter, in order to carry out his nefarious scheme. We never know who the evil man is until the final reel, but when he wanted to perform an evil deed he would sit in the Transformation Seat and become legendary pirate Captain Mephisto (Roy Barcroft). The transformation scenes were simply staged. The camera would focus on the antagonist's hand and when the transformation was complete a ring would appear on a heretofore bare finger. The ring would disappear when the pirate returned to his 20th century persona.

Enter the professor's daughter, Claire (Linda Stirling), and her stalwart friend Lance Reardon (Richard Bailey). Each week they'd butt heads with Mephisto and his henchmen--never losing a hat in the process--until the final showdown. Throw in special effects by the renowned Lydecker Brothers, Howard and Theodore, and stunts by Yakima Canutt, and you have a heck of a show.

Republic made 66 serials and this was the 36th. It was also the penultimate 15-chapter serial. After the next title all the serials ran 12 or 13 chapters. In 1966, footage from the chapters was strung together to make a 100-minute movie called Captain Mephisto and the Transformation Machine.

Cap'n Bob Napier

And now, as a special treat for everyone and to thank Bob for writing this, here is Chapter One of MANHUNT OF MYSTERY ISLAND. The sound quality isn't great, so you may need to turn up your speakers.

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The Republic Pictures Story Can Be Yours

....if you still have a VHS player. Barry Traylor says he can't recommend this movie enough - THE REPUBLIC PICTURES STORY, made in 1992. It's for sale here at amazon, but only on VHS, but if you've still got one of those thingys that plays VHS tapes, then you're in business. Kinda makes me wish I still had my VHS player, especially when you see how cheap you can get the tapes.

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Why Laurie Loves Republic Pictures: JUNGLE GIRL!!!

About a year or so ago I started to attend a weekly film forum in Long Beach. Every Friday night the group shows a classic film, accompanied by a few cartoons and sometimes a short movie or a serial. The first night that I attended, I was introduced to JUNGLE GIRL, a fifteen-chapter serial released by Republic in 1941. I haven't been the same since.

JUNGLE GIRL starred Frances Gifford as Nyoka Meredith, a white woman who was raised in the jungle with her father, who had fled civilization for reasons....well, you'll just have to view it. JUNGLE GIRL was officially based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Jungle Girl novel, but it bore almost no resemblance to the novel, which was about an Asian princess, not a white woman living in Africa. JUNGLE GIRL was directed by William Whitney and John Witney.

As the weeks in the film forum continued last year, we all (me included) became totally enamored with JUNGLE GIRL. People clapped when the credits for Frances Gifford appeared and hissed when the villians were shown. Many times we enjoyed the serial more than the headliner movie, whatever it was. When the directors of the forum decided to take a break from JUNGLE GIRL one week, you should have heard the groans of disappointment. We were all truly sad when the last episode aired.

So here's to JUNGLE GIRL, to Frances Gifford and the rest of the cast, and for REPUBLIC PICTURES for again giving us so many hours of pure escape and entertainment.

Here, for your Friday night movie enjoyment, is the first episode of JUNGLE GIRL. It appears to be slightly abridged, but not so much that you can't enjoy it. And talk about a cliffhanger ending!!

You can buy the entire 15-episode series of JUNGLE GIRL. This is one version sold at amazon.

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Why I Love Republic Pictures by Ed Hulse

Here is pulp fiction and film historian Ed Hulse's contribution to Why I Love Republic Pictures. I want to thank Ed (and for all of my contributors) for doing these great essays at the very last minute. Ed sent this to me yesterday, apologizing for the fact that it was very "off the cuff" you will see, this essay is anything but.


Veteran Republic cinematographer Bud Thackery was once asked what he thought had been the key to the studio’s success. Without missing a beat, he shot back: “Undercranking.” (That’s the technical term for filming action below standard speed, making it appear faster than normal when projected at the proper number of frames per second.) Thackery’s glib, flippant reply got a laugh from the audience, which was precisely what he had in mind, but there was more than a grain of truth in his answer. Undercranking, when used with restraint, lent an extra fillip to fights and chases. Overdoing it resulted in skittering movement that called the Keystone Kops to mind, but shooting at 20 to 22 frames per second (24 being the normal speed for sound motion pictures) gave much-desired oomph to action sequences and made the participants seem larger than life.

Republic’s Westerns and serials were legendarily effective because the crews knew how and when to employ such little tricks. What’s more, they were accustomed to working fast; time was money, and money was always tight at the little studio in the San Fernando Valley. But unlike the major studios, which grudgingly produced “B” Westerns to satisfy the demands of their theater chains, Republic took pride in its horse operas and chapter plays. Herbert J. Yates, who created the company in 1935, knew from the get-go that his studio didn’t have the money or talent to compete straight up with M-G-M, Paramount, Warner Brothers, RKO, or even Universal and Columbia. Glossy drawing-room dramas were fine if your roster of contract players included the likes of Norma Shearer or Ann Harding. Republic’s didn’t. Exotic period pieces were fine if your back lot had a wide variety of standing sets that could be dressed to suggest cities in practically any country. Republic’s didn’t. Big-budget spectaculars were fine if your studio had access to near-unlimited capital. Republic didn’t.

Therefore, low-budget melodramas and mysteries with contemporary settings (which could easily and expeditiously be produced in and around the Republic lot) became the staples of Yates’ output, as did Westerns and serials. Republic management reasoned—quite correctly—that the studio might not be able to compete with Metro’s latest Greta Garbo or Clark Gable picture, but it could certainly hold its own in the “B”-picture marketplace. To this end Yates’ operation concentrated on producing films targeted at either the top or the bottom of the double bill, and at the Saturday matinees where whooping kids didn’t give a fig about Garbo or Gable. Early on in the studio’s history, it was determined that Republic’s bread-and-butter product would be low-budget Westerns, melodramas, and serials. And Yates staffed the studio with actors, writers, directors, and technicians who took pride in turning out the best possible pictures of those types.

As one of the newer plants in Hollywood, the Republic studio was outfitted with the latest equipment. Technically, the studio product was miles ahead of the typical Poverty Row films that vied for off-night and Saturday-matinee playdates. Camerawork, editing, sound recording, special effects, musical scoring—all were far above the norm for low-budget pictures. The average Republic picture might not surpass the average M-G-M or Paramount picture in technical excellence, but it left the product of PRC, Monogram, and Grand National (other independent studios of the ‘30s and ‘40s) in the dust. In fact, the rentals of Republic Westerns often outpaced those of Universal and Columbia, at that time the industry’s “mini-majors.”

Republic producers and directors took pride in achieving “A”-picture entertainment quality on “B”-picture budgets. Few Western chases were more thrilling than those shot by Republic crews, often from the bottom platform of the studio’s custom-built camera truck, using a wide-angle lens to make the undercranked horses appear to be charging right into the audience. And these chases would be scored with appropriately thrilling and newly composed music, not the venerable silent-era music cues supplied to other indie producers by such cut-rate operators as Abe Meyer or Lee Zahler.

Let’s not forget the stunt people: Yakima Canutt (who graduated to director while working for Yates), Dave Sharpe, Tom Steele, Dale Van Sickel, Duke Green, Jimmy Fawcett, Cliff Lyons, Carey Loftin…some specialized in fights, others in car and motorcycle work, still others in horse falls and stunt riding. They worked for every studio, but performing “gags” in Republic pictures was a pleasure because they knew they would get the time and resources necessary to achieve the most exciting result at the least possible risk. Fistfights in Westerns and serials were often free-swinging donnybrooks that convinced none but the youngest and most gullible viewers. Beginning around 1938, Republic directors and stuntmen choreographed their fights like Busby Berkeley dance routines. To this day, many fans base their fondness for Republic serials on the effectiveness of the lengthy, set-demolishing fights in such popular chapter plays as Spy Smasher, The Masked Marvel, Daredevils of the West, and Secret Service in Darkest Africa.

I’ve barely scratched the surface. I haven’t even mentioned the stars, writers, and directors. But I can certainly do so in a follow-up post if Laurie and her readers are interested.

Well, I don't know about my readers, but I certainly do! Thanks Ed.

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