Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, August 18, 2017


Tex Ritter.


The Baron in France by John Creasey writing as "Anthony Morton" (1953)

British writer John Creasey (1908-1973) was one of the most prolific and popular writers of the mid-twentieth century.  He produced over 600 books under 28 pseudonyms, sometimes publishing as many as 17 novels in a year.

Creasey toiled seven years trying to break into publishing while gathering a large number of rejection slips.  He published his first book in 1930 and his first mystery novel in 1932.  Creasey was not by any means a great writer, but he was a competent and fast writer.*  Some of his books were very good.  I am partial to his Commander Gideon novels (as "J. J. Marric") and I also like his Inspector (later Commander) Roger West series.  Many of his other series are certainly readable; I've read about forty of his novels and enjoyed them all, and have about twenty more lurking around the house somewhere.

Creasey wrote 47 books (published from 1937 to 1979) about "The Baron,"** a sophisticated, Robin Hood-like jewel thief who reformed and under his true name, John Mannering, now owns and operates Quinn's in London -- an exclusive antiques store that that does much trading in precious gems.  Of course no one knows that Mannering was The Baron, although several -- including police officers -- suspect it.  As The Baron, Mannering is a master of disguise and a daring athlete with a large knowledge of the criminal arts.  A number of Creasey's earlier books were slightly revised and updated for a US audience.

The Baron in France starts with a daring burglary in a London flat.  The thief gets the fabulous Gramercy jewels but is interrupted by the owner, jewelry dealer Bernard Dale.  The thief shoots and kills Dale and attempted to kill Dale's 12-year-old daughter.  Circumstances point to Dale's junior partner Tony Bennett, who is arrested, tried, and sentenced to hang.  Mannering is convinced Dale is innocent but is stymied in trying to find the real murderer until ten days before Bennett's execution date when Dale's ex-wife shows up at Mannering's door.

Stella, the ex-wife, is remarried and living in France.  She overheard a conversation between her brother-in-law and his father, indicating that the father now had possession of the stolen jewels.  Stella's father-in-law is the wealthy Comte de Chalon, a monomaniac collector of stolen art and gems.  With time running out for Tony Bennett, Mannering travels to France to see if the Comte actually has the jewels and, if so, to discover where he had got them; the person who sold the jewels to the Comte was the one most likely to be the real murderer.

Ah, but the best-laid plans...There's another murder and Mannering is framed as the killer.  Mannering's wife is kidnapped.  An attempt is made on Mannering's life.  Worse, Mannering gets nowhere in solving the mystery.

The Baron in France is a fast read, a mere 190 pages.  The pace does not let up.  On the negative side, there are a lot of awkward sentences and a few nonsensical sentences.  The plot is ridiculous and Mannering, despite his daring and his athleticism, galumphs idiotically through the story.  Some characters are well-drawn while others are mere pasteboard.  Worse yet, the killer exposed at the end was basically revealed in the book's jacket copy. Final grade has to be either a C or a C+.

Nonetheless, I'll continue to read Creasey's minor works such as his The Baron series.  It's a guilty pleasure.

* There's an apocryphal story about Creasey, who knew next to nothing about the American West, starting one of his western novels with a "coyote soaring overhead."  No one has been able to find such a passage among Creasey's 30 westerns, so it either never happened or a sharp-eyed editor caught the flub in manuscript.  Either way, it didn't stop Creasey from claiming the tale was true..

** In the US editions, the first eight titles gave Mannering the title "Blue Mask" instead of The Baron.  By the ninth volume this seemed sort of silly.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


Let's travel back to 1962 with Dell Shannon and an echo chamber.


The Mysterious Traveler was an anthology series on the Mutual Network from December 5, 1943 to September 16, 1953.  A mixture of mystery, suspense, science fiction and horror, the show was narrated by the titular character, played by Maurice Tarplin.  Created and written by Robert Arthur and David Kogan, the show produced almost 400 episodes.  Sadly, only about 75 episodes survive.  The show did spawn a magazine and a one-shot comic book, as well as two similar shows, The Sealed Book and The Strange Dr. Weird.

With the lonely whistle of a train in the background, The Mysterious Traveler would begin his weekly introduction:  "This is The Mysterious Traveler, inviting you to join me on another journey into the strange and terrifying.  I hope you will enjoy the trip, that it will thrill you a little and chill you a little.  So settle back, get a good grip on your nerves and be comfortable -- if you can!"

The episode linked below first aired on October 7, 1944.  In a crumbling mansion deep in a Louisiana bayou, Professor John Hanson has perfect Formula 397 -- a powerful insecticide.  Unfortunately for the professor, the insects are not happy about his success.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017


From 1966, some people who called themselves The Zombies.


What's green and sits in the corner crying?

The Incredible Sulk.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


It doesn't seem that long ago when she was a smiling, laughing, curly-haired, blonde toddler.

It's been a while since she has turned around.  She now has two amazing daughters who are themselves about to turn around.

Time passes by too quickly.  What does not pass and what does not diminish is our love for her.  We are proud of who she is.  No matter how often she turns around, she will always be our sweet, loving Jessamyn.

Enjoy your day, my darling, as we have enjoyed your continuing presence in our lives.


Teen idol Fabian practices his lip syncing chops.


A decade before The Streets of San Francisco, television viewers got a different look at those streets through the eyes Don Corey and Jed Sills (Anthony George and Doug McClure), who operated Checkmate, Inc., a detective agency which specialized in stopping crimes before they happened.  They were aided by consultant  (and former Oxford professor) Dr. Carl Hyatt (Sebastian Cabot).  Checkmate, Inc. had its offices in Corey's elegant apartment.

The show was created by mystery and suspense writer Eric Ambler.  Produced by Jamco, Jack Benny's production company, Checkmate aired on CBS from September 17, 1960 to June 20, 1962 -- a total of 90 episodes.  The show was a critical success but during its second season it was slotted against NBC's popular The Perry Como Show.  As Checkmate's rating fell so did its chances for a third season; it was replaced by the fish-out-of-water series The Beverly Hillbillies.  (Interestingly enough, Donna Douglas -- Ellie May in The Beverly Hillbillies -- appeared in four 1961 episodes of Checkmate as Barbara Simmons (A girlfriend?  An assistant? A secretary?  Who knows?  I haven't seen those episodes and "Waiting for Jocko" has only a four-person cast.)

"Waiting for Jocko" aired on October 21, 1961.  It was directed by don taylor from a script by Juarez Roberts.  A young John Williams wrote the theme music for the series.  Guest star Jeff Chandler plays a "constitutional psychopathic inferior" (Dr. Hyatt's words) who was denied parole based on Hyatt's professional testimony.  When he is finally released, Chandler's character holds Hyatt captive, planning to blow him up on his (Hyatt's) birthday at the exact hour and minute of Hyatt's birth.  (We did mention "psychopathic," didn't we?)


Monday, August 14, 2017


Last night at Jessamyn's birthday party, she and Christina started singing this song for some reason I can't explain.  My children are weird.

Here's Barnes and Barnes.


  • Ace Atkins, Dark End of the Street.  A Nick Travers mystery, the third in the series.   "Former pro football player-turned-college professor Nick Travers came of age in a smoky New Orleans bar -- an he owes a monumental debt to its owners, Jo Jo and Loretta, who took him under their wings.  Now Loretta wants Nick to locate her missing brother, the legendary singer Clyde James, who vanished in the sixties after his wife and a band member were murdered.  The Dixie mafia, a blonde bombshell grifter, and an Elvis-worshipping hitman are suddenly interested in the soul man as well, and Nick can't help wondering why.  The answer lies somewhere in Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, where casino money, dirty politics, and old secrets bubble up to the surface of the New South."  I love that this paperback has a quote from Robert B. Parker:  "Ace Atkins can really write."  Atkins, of course has continued the Spenser series after Parker's death.
  • Jemiah Jefferson, Fiend.  Vampire novel.  "In nineteenth-century Italy, young Orfeo Ricari teeters on the brink of adulthood.  His new tutor instructs him in literature and poetry during the day and guides him in the world of sensual pleasure at night.  But a journey to Paris will teach young Orfeo much more.  For in Paris he will become a vampire.  Told in his own words. this is the story of the life, death, rebirth and education of a vampire.  No one else could properly describe the shadowy existence, the endless hunger, the heightened senses or the amazing power of the undead.  No one else could recount the passing of the years and the slow realization of what it mean to grasp immortality, to live on innocent blood, to be a...FIEND"  We are into Anne Rice territory here, folks.  And the Oxford comma be damned!
  • "J. R. Roberts" (Robert Randisi), The Gunsmith #65:  Showdown in Rio Malo.  "Clint Adams' old pal Joe Bags has gone and got himself elected sheriff of Rio Malo, a town trying to turn respectable.  But when the killing starts, Joe learns that there's more to being sheriff than pinning on a tin star.  Suddenly the whole town's turned yellow.  And the only ones with any guts are three misfits who sign on as deputies -- one of them's still wet behind the ears, another old enough to be his granddad, and the third;s just too damn pretty for her own good...But the Gunsmith figures that any help is better than none, as Rio Malo gets ready to explode into a dusty hell of blood and bullets..."  Randisi's productivity and the quality of his work is amazing.
  • Sam Siciliano, The White Worm.  A "Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes," the fourth of (now) five by Siciliano.  "A journey to Whitby heralds the start of a new case for SHERLOCK HOLMES and Dr. Henry Vernier.  Their client is in love, but a mysterious letter has warned him of the dangers of the romance.  The object of his affection is said to be under a thousand-year-old druidic curse, doomed to take the form of a giant snake.  Locals speak of a green glow in the woods at night, and a white apparition amongst the trees.  Is there sorcery at work, or is a human hand behind the terrors of Diana's Grove?"  This is part of a series of both new and old adventures of Sherlock Holmes by various authors published by Titan Books.  Siciliano used Bram Stoker's The Lair of the White Worm as a springboard for this book.  (Two of his earlier Sherlock Holmes books were inspired by other books -- one by The Phantom of the Opera, the other by Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles.)
  • Gore Vidal writing as "Cameron Kay," Thieves Fall Out.  Crime thriller first published as a Gold Medal original in 1953, a time when the author found himself short of enough cash to keep him in champagne.  To solve this problem, Vidal churned out four mysteries:  three under the "Edgar Box" pseudonym and this one as by "Cameron Kay."  (Cameron Kay was the name of Vidal's great-uncle -- his mother's uncle -- and a former attorney general in Texas.)  Vidal didn't think much of the book and didn't want it republished.  Three years after Vidal's death, his agent gave Hardcase Crime permission to reprint the book.  What was it they said about the best laid plans?  I really don't know if this one is as bad as is claimed, but I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, if only because one of my favorite books is Vidal's first novel, Williwaw.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


From 1995, futurist and renowned science fiction writer chooses his own "seven wonders of the world."  Fascinating.


Gene Autry.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Most people are familiar with Claude King's 1962 hit version of this song.  Less are familiar with this one sung by the man who wrote it, Merle Kilgore.  Kilgore also explains how the song came about. 


Tim Holt, a youthful and athletic movie cowboy, was a good choice to have his own comic book.  Holt at one time had the fastest draw of any movie cowboy; he could draw his revolver in five frames of film, or just over one-sixth of a second.  He appeared in several major movies (The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Stagecoach, The Magnificent Ambersons, Stella Dallas, and My Darling Clemintine) but was more comfortable in B movies.  An expert rider, Holt eventually left the motion picture industry (except for rare instances) to own a rodeo.  He also had a dude ranch, was a home builder, a television host, and a radio executive.

From Boyd Magers' Comic Book Cowboys website:  "Just as Tim Holt's RKO post-war westerns were a cut above the other product of the day, so too were his ME (Magazine enterprises) comic books, every one of them drawn by prolific artist Frank Boole (born 1924) who got better as he went along.  Many stories were penned by Gardner Fox who became a fixture at DC."

Tim Holt #1 (actually numbered A-1 #14) appeared in April 1948.  (The A-1 numbering continued for another two issues; the fourth issue was tagged #4 and regular numbering was used in subsequent issues.)  In issue #20, Tim Holt took on the persona of Red Mask, who soon became more and more popular as a "western quasi-superhero."  As Red Mask began taking over the storylines, Tim's original sidekick Chito faded away.  By issue #42 (June-July 1954) the title of the comic book became Red Mask, which lasted thirteen issues, ending in #54.

In issue #36, Tim has to have a shooting contest with Redmask*.  How can he do that without revealing that the two are the same man?

In "Death Ride of the Iron Horse," Redmask risks his life to save a train from destruction.

And, "when a posse corners Redmask and a dozen bullets rip him apart -- whose is the grim, scarlet figure that comes riding across the plains to avenge 'The Killing of Redmask!"

Also, in "No Law in Little Bend," Marshal Rex Fury is acting oddly and letting lawlessness rule the town.  Turns out that owlhoots have changed his personality using "a special sorta drug, sumpthin' like marijuana.  It's drunk with coffee most times.  Taken in small steady doses, like you've been gettin' it, it makes fer lethargy.  Thuh user doesn't give a hand about what's happenin' about him..."  Now knowing what has been happening, Fury comes back as The Ghost Rider to catch the bad guys.  (This Ghost Rider, although he pretends to be supernatural, is not the later Marvel Comics Ghost Rider, who is.)


* In this issue Redmask id one word instead of two.  don't know why.

Friday, August 11, 2017


Sugar Pie Desanto.


My reading week has been spent on Stephen King's massive 1100-plus page It, so I did not get around to picking and reading a "forgotten" book.

Rather than let you go away empty-handed, here's a brief poem by Robin Robertson -- "Trumpeter Swan."

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Roy Orbison.


To understand the convoluted history of the The Falcon, one must go back to Leslie Charteris' famous character The Saint, that daring rogue and adventurer who first appeared on the printed page in 1928.  In 1938, The Saint made the leap to films with Louis Hayward playing the character; one year later Haywood was replaced by George Sanders for the second film.  The series with Sanders proved to be a great success, but the studio was having difficulties with Charteris, who was apparently upset with some of the liberties RKO had taken with the character.  Soon, Charteris and his character parted ways with the studio and RKO set about finding a replacement character for a new "Saint-like" series.  They settled on Gay Stanhope Falcon, the protagonist of a single story, "Gay Falcon," published by Michael Arlen in 1940.  The studio bought the rights to the story and the character and went on their merry way.

Like the Saint, The Falcon was an adventurer who gets caught up in murder.  To play The Falcon, the studio hire George Sanders, the actor who had played The Saint.  Gay Stanhope Falcon's name was changed to Gay Lawrence and -- as far as I can tell -- no reference was ever given as to why the character was nicknamed The Falcon.  (Need I mention that this was back in the days when the name Gay had only heterosexual overtones?)  Charteris, of course, fumed and threatened to sue.  (He also took the time to pan the new series in a "meta" bit in one of his novels.)  The Falcon movie series eventually ran to sixteen films, and when Sanders dropped out of the role his real-life brother Tom Conroy took over as Gay Lawrence's brother Tom Lawrence.

But there was another, earlier, literary Falcon -- Mike Waring, nicknamed "The Falcon," who first saw print in 1936's The Falcon's Prey by "Drexel Drake" (Charles H. Huff).  Waring appeared in two further novels and a short story.  To confused matters, this Falcon appeared in a short series of movies and, later, a short-lived television series starring Charles McGraw.  (One can assume that RKO bought the right's to Arlen's character rather than Drake's character because they did not want another repeat of an author complaining about the treatment of his series character.)

Anyway, when the Blue Network premiered The Falcon on April 10, 1943, it was the Drexel Drake character who was featured.  The similarity between the two Falcons (and with The Saint) was not coincidental; most listeners apparently felt RKO film character and the radio character  were the same guy but with a name change.  (A view that the radio show did nothing to dispel.)  The Adventure of the Falcon ran until November 27, 1954, moving from the Blue Network, to NBC, to Mutual.  Waring was at times an adventurer, a private eye, an insurance investigator, and an Army intelligence officer.  In both films series and in the radio series, The Falcon was basically whoever the writers and producers wanted him to be.  His job description may change but his character -- the wily adventurer with a dash of derring-do and a dab of humor -- does not:  a Saint clone.

"The Case of the Neighbor's Nightmare" was aired on February 4, 1951.  Michael Waring -- played by Les Damon, the fourth actor to take the radio role -- meets up with a man who thinks he's a lady killer and Waring must make sure he doesn't become one.  Brought to you by Kraft Foods.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017


R.I.P. Glen Campbell.


So there were these three women who died in an automobile accident and all three show up at Heaven at the same time, where St. Peter met them at the gate.

"Welcome to Heaven!"  St. Peter said.  "Now, before you enter, understand that we have only one firm rule here in Heaven:  Don't step on the turtles!"

Somewhat surprised at this admonishment, the three women enter Heaven and see turtles everywhere...billions of billions of turtles covering most of the ground!  There were so many turtles that one of the women immediately (and accidentally) stepped on one.

There was a sudden clap of thunder and a flash of lightning and St. Peter reappeared before the three.  In one hand he had a chain and in the other he held the hand of the ugliest man any of the women had ever seen.  He chained the poor offending woman to the ugly man, saying, "Because you stepped on a turtle, you will be chained to this man for eternity!"  Then --  poof -- he vanished, as did the woman and the ugly man.

The remaining two women were stunned.  For an entire day they moved carefully around Heaven, taking care not to step on any turtles.  But, you guessed it, one of them eventually stepped on a turtle.  St. peter immediately appeared with the clap of thunder and flash of lightning, with a chain and a very ugly man.  If the first man was the ugliest they had ever seen, this guy was uglier to the tenth power.  He chained the second woman to the truly ugly man, saying, "Because you stepped on a turtle, you will be chained to his man for eternity!"  Suddenly, the third woman was left alone.

She took a deep breath and vowed never to step on a turtle.  Over the weeks and months she traveled carefully over Heaven, never stepping on a turtle.  Except for the strain of trying not to step on a turtle, she found Heaven to be more delightful than she had imagined.  Finally, after a full year, St. peter appeared before her.  With him was the most gorgeous man she had ever seen; compared to this man Adonis would have been a leper.  St. Peter chained the woman to this absolute hunk of maleness and, without a word, vanished.

The woman was amazed and (truth to be told) very grateful.  "Wow," she said, 'What did I do to deserved this?"

The man said, "Well, I don't know about you, but I stepped on a turtle."

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Sham the Sham and the Pharaohs.



A missing archaeologist...

A lost city...

A priceless treasure...

An Indian cult...

A hint of the supernatural...

The Whistling Skull...

And the Three Mesquiteers!

All this, plus lots of action intermixed with humor, as Stony, Tucson, and Lullaby (Robert Livingston, Ray Corrigan, and Max Terhune) help pretty Betty Marsh (Mary Russell) search for her missing uncle while facing off baddies Rutledge (Roger Williams) and Otah (stuntman extraordinaire Yakima Canutt).

Directed by Mack Wright from a script by Oliver Drake and John Rathmell, Riders of the Whistling Skull is one of the best "Poverty Row" oaters of the 1930s.


Monday, August 7, 2017


Chase Webster with his original version.


  • "Philip DeGrave" (William DeAndrea), Keep the Baby, Faith.  Mystery novel.  "Harry Ross is a mild-mannered TV listings editor for a great metropolitan newspaper.  He makes a decent living, and has a terrific apartment, but aside from that, his life is less than super.  Harry is lonely and bored and wants a little adventure in his life, a little romance.  When a childhood friend of his sister's shows up outside his building one night, very rich and extremely pregnant, and asks for help, Harry's wish begins to come true in spades.  Before he knows it, Harry is tangled up in a tussle over the will of a man who is not yet dead, gets involved with a society blonde with a secret past (and a husband), acts as unwilling host to two dramatic but mysteriously inefficient murders, fights for his own life, and falls in love.  Pressed by an unorthodox police lieutenant, dogged by a ruthless killer, hiding things from the newspaper that employs him, and nagged by his mother, Harry sets a trap designed to learn who is -- and who is not -- doing what to whom, and why."  Philip Degrave is one of the cutest pseudonyms since "Sue Demin," and DeAndrea was one heck of a novelist taken much too soon.

Sunday, August 6, 2017


This is the story of a book that didn't exist, then it did.

Long John Nebel was the host of a popular radio talk show host from the mid-1950s until his death in 1978.  The all-night show included as many "way out" topics that could fit into the time space (ufos, witchcraft, conspiracy theories, mind control, voodoo, Fortean phenomena, and so on), as well as interviews with a wide selection of guests, including comedian and flying saucer skeptic Jackie Gleason, SF writers Lester del Rey and Frederik Pohl, and magician James Randi.

Jean Shepherd was a radio and television personality and well-known writer, perhaps best known for the perennial television favorite A Christmas Story.

Ian Ballantine was an influential paperback publisher.  In 1939, he began the distribution of Penguin Books in American.  In 1945, he one of those who began Bantam Books and served as its first president from 1945 to 1952.  He and his wife started Ballantine Books, which became one of the earliest major publishers of original science fiction books.

Theodore Sturgeon was...well, Theodore Sturgeon.  A damned fine writer.

And this is the story of how I, Libertine came to be.

From 1968:


The Boston Children's Choir and The Chicago Children's Choir.  Just lovely.

Saturday, August 5, 2017


From 1954, Jim Reeves.


The original Cat-Man (as opposed to the Johnny-come-lately DC character) was David Merryweather, an orphan raised by a she-tiger in Burma.  As an adult, he returned to America, donned a costume, became Cat-Man, and enlisted in the army.  The extremely agile Merryweather is disgustingly rich, an expert in unarmed combat, and has super hearing, super sight, super smell, and super healing; he's also a pretty nifty escape artist.  His first two outings (in the last two issues of Crash Comics in 1940) were successful enough to earn him his own comic book, Cat-Man Comics, in 1941.  There, he was joined by his orphaned niece, 11-year-old Katie Conn, who becomes his sidekick Kitten.  Kitten matured rapidly to fill out her costume.

 Cat-Man Comics lasted for 32 issues.  Cat-Man and Kitten languished in comic book limbo for years until they were revived by AC Comics, first, and Dynamite Comics, second.

In issue #14, Cat-Man and a (still pre-pubescent) Kitten are on a passenger plane that is hijacked by Nazis.  Big mistake.

Filling out the issue are:

  • an adventure with the Deacon (a two-fisted, collar-wearing, mighty champion of democracy) and his young sidekick Mickey
  • an adventure of Rag-Man (who wears a suit of rags made from the clothes of evil-doers) and his dialect-talking black assistant Tiny
  • a tale of the Little Leaders (Kitten and Mickey from the above crime-fighting teams) as they battle -- you guessed it!  -- Nazis
  • and speaking of Nazis, Blackout (the head of a secret underground society in Naziland), Takes the battle to the Nazis home turf
  • air ace the Phantom Falcon battles Nazis in the skies over war-torn France
  • air aces also come from the enemy side and Baron von Tug vows revenge after he is defeated and his hand crushed in battle ( it's amputated and replaced with a vulture's claw "with talons like steel"); the newly-christened Vulture's Claw sneaks into America to wreak havoc but doesn't count on FBI agent Craig Williams, a.k.a. The Hood
  • and two "true personal adventures" -- "Rip van Winkle Tried to Kill me!" and "Wolves Nearly Got Me!"
Please note that, despite the cover illustration, Cat-Man, Kitten, and all the various heroes and super-heroes in this issue are fighting Nazis, not the Japanese.  At least in this issue.


Friday, August 4, 2017


Warren Smith.


The Plant, Book One:  Zenith Rising by Stephen King (2000)

The time is 1981.  Zenith is a small, struggling paperback publishing house that publishes books of questionable merit, none of which would ever make it to a bestseller list.  Zenith is about as low as you can go in the publishing field without hitting the purely pornographic, Nazi apologist, or terrorist instruction manual demographic.  Its offices take up one quarter of the fifth floor of a run-down building.  The only employees are the managing editor, four editors (three male and one female) who serve mainly as slush-pile readers, a Stepin Fetchit-talking janitor who also runs the male room, and a part-time receptionist.  Zenith stays barely afloat with a blood and guts action series, a poorly written line of bodice-busters, and a series about various insects feasting on humanity.

Even an organization as low as Zenith is, would-be writers -- almost all of questionable merit -- send in their manuscripts with the naive assurance that their works are truly special and important.  Some of these wanna-bes are certifiable.

One such writer is Carlos Detweiller, who has submitted a screed titled True Tales of Demon Infestations, a "scary and all true" manuscript which includes recipes for potions (which can be edited out if Zenith feels they are too dangerous).  Detweiller is willing to sell rights except movie rights, which he will write himself.  Editor John Kenyon makes the mistake of considering the manuscript which turns out to have some very authentic photographs of a human sacrifice.  Zenith informs the authorities who, upon investigating, see the so-called victim appearing to be very alive (he isn't) and moving about.  Detweiller is incensed and begins to send Kenyon illiterate, rambling threatening letters.

Another editor, Bill Gelb, found himself the target of another would-be writer, Major General Anthony R. Hecksler (ret.), who did not take kindly to having his book Twenty Psychic Garden Flowers rejected by a man he described as the "designated Jew."  Hecksler's campaign of threats against Gelb and Zenith eventually got him locked up in an insane asylum.

What with psychotic authors and marginal profits, Zenith also finds itself under the gun from their corporate owners, who are threatening to close the publishing house if it does not soon release a best-seller.

The Kenyon gets a letter and a small gift from a supposed admiring reader.  The gift is a small plant.  The sender's last name on the letter is Solrac -- Carlos spelled backwards.  Kenyon thros the plant into his waste basket, where it is later retrieved by the janitor, who places it in his office.  And we're off and running.

The plant starts growing.  Its true growth can be seen only by a few people and is invisible to any one else.  Each person going near the plant smells something different, something pleasant and meaningful to that person alone, a scent from their childhood, for example.  The plant is also psychic and telepathic -- the staff at Zenith soon become a gestalt, a linked family.  They begin to perform better at their jobs.  They are brimming with positive ideas.  The plant appears to be a godsent rather than a Detweiller-send.

Zenith's two wackiest rejected authors begin plotting to kill their hated editors.  Each is plotting on his own but have a vague telepathic understanding that the other is out there, somewhere.  General Hecksler has escaped from the asylum, murdering several orderlies while doing so.  Detweiller has been psychically causing fatal accidents for those who have slighted him.  The General breaks into a crematorium, kills two workers, and then supposedly immolates himself in the crematoriums oven, allowing him to stalk the Zenith offices without suspicion.  Each acting on their own, Detweiller and the General break into the Zenith offices and hide, waiting for their victims to show up at work.  In the meantime the plant is growing ever larger but has not yet tasted blood.

The history of this little-known book by Stephen King is worth mentioning.   The Plant began as a series of chapbooks that King wrote and published through his own publishing house Philtrum Press and sent out as gifts to friends instead of Christmas cards in 1982, 1983, and 1983, after which the project was aborted.  (King evidently saw The Little Shop of Horrors at that time and felt his serial novel might seem too derivative.)  The booklets soon became collector's items, demanding high prices as more and more of his fans learned of them.  In 2000, as an experiment in alternative publishing, King began releasing the story on-line, available to anyone and asking each reader to contribute a dollar per episode; if the response was below 75%, King would discontinue the project.  (King had already had great success with his first e-Book, Riding the Bullet, and would soon try releasing original stories in audio format.)  After six episodes, reader participation fell and King closed the project.  Those six episodes, 270 pages, formed this book, which remains available online in a pdf.  King may or may not eventually get back to the story.

Because The Plant began as a small, non-commercial project for King, he had a lot of fun with it, planting Easter eggs, Tuckerisms, and inside jokes.  The janitor, for example, is named Riddley Walker, the title of a well-known book by Russell Hoban which won the John W. Cambell award in 1980.  Not content with that, the full name is Riddley Pearson Walker, a slight misspelling of suspense writer Ridley Pearson.  The character comes from the southern town of Blackwater; Blackwater is the name of a series of six books by the late horror writer Michael McDowell, whom King once described as "the finest writer of paperback originals in America today."  (Interestingly, King's wife Tabitha would later complete an unfinished novel by McDowell.)  A list of plane crash victims (the plane was brought down through Detweiller's black arts) included someone named Dallas Mayr; Mayr is a WHA Grand Master and the author of numerous suspense/horror thrillers under the name "Jack Ketchum."  These little sly nods are scattered throughout the book and there are probably many that I missed.

While The Plant may be Stephen King at his most playful, it still has all the ingredients that make King so readable:  a disparate set of characters finely honed, a sense of otherness that slowly displaces reality, an urgency that grows unrelentingly, a strong sense of time and place, the mix of humor and honesty, and a narrative that hooks you and doesn't let go.

Some day.perhaps, King will get back to this story so we can learn the final fate of Zenith Publishing and its employees.  Until then, this book remains a solid, interesting read.

Check it out.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


From 1926, Edward "Kid" Ory, the influential New Orleans jazz trombonist:


"...a face that was almost human.  It was covered in hair and there were two great claws with blood on them..."

It looks like everybody's favorite redhead private eye may have bit off more than he could chew when he is hired by an imperious woman in a case that involves half a million bucks and a deadly werewolf.  If Shayne isn't spooked by that, he should be.

From November 6, 1948, an episode directed by Bill Russo, written by Bob Wright, and starring Jeff Chandler as...



Wednesday, August 2, 2017




Kim Jong Un has decreed that North Korea will now have a new system of measurement.  The litre is now called the dear litre.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


A classic from The Five Satins.


Silent movie mega-star Tom Mix stars in this adaptation of Zane Grey's novel as Texas Ranger Jim Carson.  Warner Oland, a future Charlie Chan, plays the evil lawyer Lew Walters.  Carson's sister Milly (Beatrice Burnham) and her husband Frank Erne (Arthur Morrison) are living a hard scrabble life after their move out west with their young daughter Bess.  Walters and his henchmen are about to be kicked out of town and, since Walters is obsessed with Milly, he kidnaps her and Bess, wounding Frank in the process.  Before Frank dies, he tells Jim Carson what has happened.  Jim dedicates his life to finding his sister and niece.  Walters, learning of Frank's death, forces Milly to marry him and hires the head of an outlaw gang to take young Bess away.  Milly searches through the wilderness for her daughter and dies without finding her.

After years of searching, Jim Carson -- now known as Jim Lassiter -- learns of Milly's death.  Walters has also changed his name -- he is now known as Judge Dyer (but is still as crooked).  Carson/Lassiter joins up with rancher Jane Witherstein (Mabel Ballin) in her struggle against a band of rustlers known as the Riders of the Purple Sage.

Will Tom Mix find his niece?  Will he and Jane be able to rid the country of the feared Riders of the Purple Sage?  Will Lew Walters/Judge dyer finally get his comeuppance?  You'll just have to watch this to find out.  Or, you can probably guess the answers to those questions.

Riders of the Purple Sage was directed by Lynn Reynolds, who directed 81 films -- mostly westerns -- before shooting himself at age 35 after an argument with his wife.  Edfrid Bingham, who adapted Grey's novel for this film, appears to have had a less tragic life (little is known about him), having written 37 scenarios from 1916 through 1927; he died in 1930 at age 59.

A good story, decent acting, great scenery, and plenty of action...Saddle up, partners, and enjoy!