But, in fact, they were immensely popular and the launching pad for many a fine writer and popular novelist such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rafael Sabatini, Cornell Woolrich, even Tennessee Williams.
I don’t really collect Pulps….despite their obvious attractions -- great yarns and wonderfully evocative illustrated covers. But between my lack of storage space, my lack of time to read their wonderful contents, and pragmatic concerns like their fragile condition and brittle paper, I’ve only ever just cracked the lid of this Pandora’s Box and reached in to pull out a few desired treasures before slamming it firmly back down lest temptation get the better of me.
Whatever forays I have ever made into Pulp collecting have been because I collect authors. So occasionally if I’ve found a Burroughs tale in Amazing Stories or a reprint of a Rider Haggard novel in Famous Fantastic Mysteries or an excerpt of a Talbot Mundy serial in Adventure and the price is right, I’ll make the leap. Once fifteen years ago, at a book fair in California, a dealer sold all his Weird Tales for ten and fifteen bucks. For that ridiculously low bargain price, I managed to pick up several issues containing Conan stories by Robert E. Howard and Jules De Grandin tales by Seabury Quinn; and, perhaps more importantly, adorned with the provocative cover paintings of Margaret Brundage (below).
Anyway, I love exploring the world and a chance to gaze into its wonders for a weekend appealed to me. I also knew there would be book dealers, movie posters, artwork, and other such peripheral wares that I occasionally dabble in on display.
After having been based for years in Dayton, Ohio, the venue moved to Columbus this year…but it was still roughly only a three hour drive from my old Kentucky home. I tried to entice pal, Roger Leasor in going up with me and making it a collecting- guy’s weekend, as he has more than a passing interest in this stuff as well. And, though enticed he was, work kept him pinned down.
So I soloed it with my usual off-the-cuff planning…which meant a couple hours on the internet, printing off maps of the Hotel and surrounding hotels and a few bookstores that piqued my interest and might require visitation, should the Pulpfest turn out a dud. I didn’t even make a reservation anywhere, though I priced a couple of places. Also having lived in Columbus when I was a wee sprig of a twig of a lad until midway through the second grade (the earliest memories I consciously retain are from my days there), I mulled a vague idea about visiting the old haunts.
Thus armed, I started out a little after noon on Friday, figuring to get there before rush hour. Though rain had been predicted, I encountered none and had sunshine all the way. As I crossed the Kentucky border and tooled up Interstate 71 through Cincinnati, I realized I had forgotten all my printed internet maps. This was hardly dire, because I had studied the info carefully the previous night and knew that, if I stayed on 71 north of Columbus, the Ramada Inn venue was right off the freeway. I even remembered the street.
Nonetheless, I figured I’d better purchase a map just to confirm my memory and to locate those other bookshops. After another hour driving through non-descript scenery at a sedate 65mph…the speed limit in Ohio…I stopped on the outskirts of the oddly named Washington Courthouse. I had forgotten how rural Ohio is…really nothing between Cincy and Columbus but farmland. Which made it even more odd, when going into a travel center to pick up my map, I noticed down the road, THE LION’S DEN, an adult sex shop—apparently part of a rather large franchise in Ohio. Guess those farmers no longer have rendezvous with their sheep.
Anyway, the map confirmed my memory and I arrived in Columbus without incident, found the Ramada Inn where Pulpfest was located and booked myself a room across the street at something called the American Best Value Inn.
I enjoy luxury as well as the next fellow, but when traveling alone, I can occasionally rough it – which for me means no mint on my pillow. Since I knew I’d only be in the room to sleep, my only requirements were a bathroom and a bed and both be clean. While the furniture was knocked about a bit, it met my requirements and, with my AAA discount, only cost me 47 dollars. I called The Lovely Wife to inform her I had arrived and of my thrifty room rate to which her only reply was, “I hope you didn’t get one of those places where bed-bugs are running rampant.” I assured her I hadn’t…but, of course, now that she had planted the idea, it made me suspicious of any little itch I had and probably made me imagine far more than I actually had. I mean it wasn’t glamourous -- no hair dryer, six channels on the TV (one WAS HBO) -- but it was hardly the Bates Motel…or if it was, I wasn’t in room one and my tits weren’t as lush as Janet Leigh’s.
Divesting myself of such speculation for the nonce, I strolled over to the Ramada to get the skinny on the Dealer Room -- the primary reason I had come. They were just closing it up for the night and wouldn’t open until ten tomorrow…which was fine with me and had been anticipated. I had plan to spring for my $15 dollar day pass on Saturday when I’d have all day to browse, if necessary. But I had wanted to scope out everything and see if anyone I possibly knew was hanging around. Collecting is a small world.
Since there was no one, I took off to find a Half-Price Books nearby. Enroute, I came across two better used bookstores -- the good old musty kind of shops that bespeak of forgotten treasures. Alas, it was near closing time for both, so I had to sleuth the stacks against the clock. But I swept up a few goodies -- collection of plays by Bjornstjerne Bjornson who I believe was an inspiration to and a rival of Ibsen’s, a play (originally a radio play) of Tom Stoppard’s I’ve never heard of called ALBERT’S BRIDGE, a nice hardbound copy in dj of SOLDIERS, a controversial play be Rolf Hochhuth that was banned by the Lord Chamberlain in Britain, and a Classics Illustrated adaptation of KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES, which it turned out I already had, but for the three bucks it cost, why not another? In fact, all the books were a bargain and very cheap.
After this delightful detour, I located the Half-Price Books which was a bit of a let-down, compared to others. I remember Half-Price before it became a nationwide chain -- one store in Dallas on McKinny Avenue around the corner from where I lived. The store in Dallas (no longer on McKinny) is still a impressive and certainly the crown in the chain, but even it has lost the charm of the original, where I spent many happy hours.
I left Half-Price empty-handed, ate dinner at a Chinese Buffet, returned to my minimalist hotel room, watched Bill Maher, turned out the lights, imagined bed-bugs and had my nodding off disrupted by about five trains (the hotel abutted the tracks), but finally drifted off to a sound sleep.
I awoke too early on Saturday, checked out, ate breakfast at the Ramada buffet, then took a drive to kill time until ten. I scraped the idea of visiting my old neighbourhood, as it was off the beaten path and I suspected that after over fifty years nothing looked the same or remained anyway. Nor do I confess any overwhelming nostalgia for the place.
Returning to the Ramada, I purchased my day pass and entered into wonderland. It was like the California Book Fairs of old before they became affairs where the same old tired stuff was trotted out, usually grotesquely overpriced, only for dealers to buy off other dealers, nothing for the general punter.
Here we had wonderful, fresh-in-its-antiquity stuff to look at. Now maybe it was not so for everyone, but I was a Pulpfest virgin and most of this was stuff I had never seen or hadn’t seen in years.
At one of the first booths I stopped at, I was recognized by my name tag…by one Bill Maynard, author of the new estate-authorized Fu Manchu pastiche. He knew me by my Conan/Kull script (not the disastrous movie made from it) and was a fan. We had a nice chat about our mutual work, our mutual interests, and mutual friends. I bought his book and he graciously inscribed it, “To Charles Edward Pogue, an inspiration and kindred spirit, Best Wishes, William Maynard”.
I think it’s one of the reasons I came; I don’t know how many more years this sort of cultural diversion has to thrive. I looked around the room at the greying heads, mostly male, and wondered where the new blood was coming from…or if there was going to be any? I kept seeing my father’s generation, but then realized most of these folks were my age, ten years either side…and, man, was that scary! I don’t see myself as that old. But then I don’t characterize myself with the few younger folk that attended either…most of that geeky variety you envision dissecting the minutia of every STAR TREK episode, the type of guy to whom you want to say, “Get a life!” I somehow…very snottily, no doubt…assume I am more well-rounded than the very folk I am jostling out of the way to get a closer look at some obscure 1933 edition of WEIRD TALES.
Actually, as much as I would have loved to have plopped down and spent the day going through various boxes of plastic-sealed pulps, I pretty much stuck to books. There are several specialty publishers, like Black Dog Books and Girasol collectables that are printing up rare and, in some cases, never collected pulp materials by a lot of my favourite authors. I picked up THE SKULL OF SHIRZADAD MIR by Harold Lamb and IN A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE by Talbot Mundy in handsome quality paperback editions by Black Dog. I also paid a buck for a little magazine called SCREEN FACTS, half of which featured an article on the 1935 movie SHE and the other half on Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors, a favourite from THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN. Oddly enough, it is autographed by her. I suspect it’s authentic because there is also an autographed inscription in the same pen, but different hand by the editor of the magazine.
Speaking of SHE, I saw a poster of the 1935 movie for $130 and figured I had to have it …but, as the dealer brought it over for my closer inspection, I realized I had missed a zero – it was $1300. Probably well worth it, linen-backed too. I was also tempted by a more reasonably-priced small poster of Kirk Douglas’ THE VIKINGS. But I already have three variant editions of this poster on the wall of my TV room…An American, an Italian, and a Polish. So I passed.
It is amazing how much of this merchandise has increased in value over the years have increased in value. I saw some WEIRD TALES and SHADOWS going for $300 or more. There were also plenty of reasonably priced pulps…I saw several ADVENTURES going for 20-25 bucks with stories and serials by authors I collect like Mundy and Sabatini. But, frankly, I just don’t have the room or the inclination to jump at this stuff…besides which, I usually have it in book form.
(a pulp I do own)
Finally my eyes blurred and crossed at all this overwhelming stimuli and I staggered out at about one in the afternoon, hitting the road for an uneventful trip home.
POGUE’S MEDIA CHECK
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939) …Charles Laughton gives one of his greatest performances with a terrific ensemble cast (Edmond O’Brien in a romantic lead before he got paunchy a few short years later) in the best version of the story. A wonderful film with lots of layers, about the Dark Ages stumbling into the Rennaisance.
ENGAGED…W.S. Gilbert’s (of “& Sullivan” fame) play that was a precursor to Wilde’s IMPORTANCE OF BEINNG EARNEST. Amusingly and ably performed by the tight ensemble of The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.
PLATONOV…a BBC televised Chekov play with Rex Harrison, Sian Phillips, and Clive Revill. This was an early play of Chekov, which, if uncut, would run six hours. This one ran a sensible two. Michael Frayn did a translation of it called WILD HONEY which played quite successfully with Ian McKellen back in the eighties, which I saw at the Ahmanson in LA.
THE TERROR OF FU MANCHU…William Maynard’s Sax Rohmer pastiche. Just started it, but so far he seems to have captured the style and essence of the original novels.
THE WEEK…the best news weekly around. We finally renewed our subscription.
POGUE’S LISTENING TO:
AL HIBBLER…and his unique vocal stylings…
LA THEATREWORKS…radio versions of classical and contemporary plays. In the last couple of weeks have listened to ORSON’S SHADOW and LA BETE.