Frisco Beat: Tenderloin is the Night


Figuring I could kill a couple of birds with one speaking appearance, I told Bill Arney (left) and Mark Murphy (center) — a former and a current inhabitant of 891 Post Street — about the talk in the Tenderloin Museum, where I gave a fairly quick intro to The Maltese Falcon. Bill even got to jump in as a Guest Star speaker.

As soon as they wandered through the museum doors, however, I asked them if they really wanted to stay for the movie — since we’ve all seen it thousands of times. Or if perhaps it might be more fun for us, since we don’t get together that often these days, to head off into the Tenderloin night and find a bar. . . .

I didn’t even hear the brittle sound of an arm twisting before they agreed.

And I figured we did our duty by the Museum, coming in early and chatting with people in addition to the intro. Close to two hours of accessible expertise on display. And the Museum did its job by us, with complimentary food and drinks.

Our first thought was that we’d hit the longtime TL dive bar The Brown Jug, only a block away — almost the last of the classic dives at this moment. The Trapp, Club 21, others — long gone. The Ha-Ra under new management (they’ve spiffed it up, but it’s still okay).

Mark was mentioning how he was hoofing along a couple of months ago and spotted none other than Mike Humbert in the Jug. Apparently Mike had heard that the Jug might be closing up (this is not news, just rumor, in terms of what I know about it). Mike wanted to hit the seats before the end, if that was the case, when he rolled into town to continue his photo documentation of every building on Market Street.

Damn. The hobbies some of these guys come up with. . . .

But the Jug was pretty packed, so we moved on another couple of blocks to Emperor Norton’s Boozeland in Larkin Street — frequently enough on the tour I mention the days of yesteryear when the walk began and the place was known as Orontes, and the old lady who ran the joint was found murdered inside one night.

Bellying up to the bar in Boozeland, we proceeded to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition.


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Sinister Cinema: Voice of Noir


How about a few more pics from the gig in the Tenderloin Museum?

I was supposed to talk for 30 or 40 minutes about Hammett living in the TL, the 1941 film of The Maltese Falcon and so forth — not too hard, by my standards, which are conducting walks on the sidewalks of the modern TL with various interruptions in the form of often times crazed, screaming denizens of the underworld.

But to give the audience an extra thrill I brought in no less than Bill Arney, former Inhabitant of Sam Spade’s Apartment in 891 Post.

You want to know more about the room where Hammett wrote the novel which was adapted for the movie you are about to see? Then Bill makes for a swell Guest Star.

Hey, two legends of the Mean Streets for the price of one.


As Bill was describing the whole 891 Post experience, he got to the part where living in the room led to him meeting various people, which got him his longtime gig doing voiceover narration for the annual noir festival in the Castro Theatre.

I realized he needed a more specific intro to this crowd, gathered to see the 1941 Bogie. So I said, “By the way, you guys may know Bill better as The Voice of Noir in the Castro.”

Know him they did. Almost everyone in the audience began clapping.


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Frisco Beat: Reeling in the History


Did a couple of groups by appointment yesterday, got lucky with the brutal winter rains holding off. . . .

On one of them the mysterious CitySleuth came along and tossed in some tidbits of film/Frisco history — one was that the current club venue Ruby Skye in 420 Mason Street used to be a movie theatre, but more so it was the movie theatre where the world premiere of Vertigo was screened, with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak in attendance.

The guy knows his stuff — one of my fave bits was his post about The Pickwick Stage Terminal of The Maltese Falcon fame.

I happened to meet CitySleuth just recently, at the showing of the Falcon for the Tenderloin Museum on October 27.

Couple of shots from that event featured here. Top image, at left Bill Arney foreground and Mark Murphy, veterans of residencies in 891 Post Street — on right, keeping CitySleuth mysterious with a backshot as he and I are chatting in the lobby.

Bottom shot, more CitySleuth and me (I’m sporting most of my Heisenberg makeup and outfit from Halloween). Probably early next year he’s planning on doing his shot-by-shot history of another movie filmed in San Francisco — one of my longtime favorites — Lon Chaney’s The Penalty from 1920.  You know, the movie I think inspired Hammett to write The Big Knockover.

Since his mission is to showcase the city’s history by documenting what was shot then vs. what exists today, he insists that the movies he covers be at least 40 years old — but jumping back to 1920 is a startling move even for CitySleuth. I’m betting he can bring it off.


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Rediscovered: The Eldritch Altar of a Haefele Heretic!

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Hey-hey. Friday the 13th!

What eldritch and unspeakable image or subject would be an apt fit for today, I wonder, I wonder. . . ?

How about the pic above by Michael Moses, who added some Lovecraft idols to a little display of editions of John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos from the private collection of a member in good standing of Haefele’s Heretics? An elite group, numbering six, perhaps seven if we’re generous, standing ready to proofread and comment on each new Lovecraftian roll-out from Haefele’s intellectual vaults. . . .

You can tell the guy is a true Heretic: He has the extremely rare first edition hardback.

Also, I figure I ought to toss this image out there as a show of solidarity with Lovecraft as a totemic figure, since the World Fantasy Convention just decided to replace the bust Gahan Wilson did of HPL for the award statuette with something else, after forty years. I get it, things move on — but do any of the folk pitching a bitch about the situation really think their writing will be in any sense equivalent to HPL’s standing close to eighty years after they are gone? If so, they are dumber than they seem at first glance.

I’ve got one of those Gahan HPL statues, by the way, won by Fritz Leiber during the second year of voting. Very cool. Kind of Easter Island combined with the Innsmouth look.

Iä! HPL!

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Rediscovered: Willeford’s Grandfather


And to keep the Willeford train rolling, Michael S. Chong recently popped me a note as he was waiting to go under the knife for some foot surgery — now there’s a serious Willeford fan for you!

To keep himself busy Michael took along two volumes of Willefordian autobiography, I Was Looking for a Street and Something About a Soldier. “Lying on a gurney in a hallway by a washroom,” he reports, “I began reading from the beginning and came across the Grandfather anecdote that I sent you the clipping about” — regular surfers into the blog may recall the bit about how Willeford’s grandfather was cut down by a shotgun.

In the autobios Michael found “a slightly different story” as told via Mattie, his grandmother:

Before she could get pregnant again, a man came into Ed’s office at the plant and killed him with a shotgun while he was seated behind his desk.

The man claimed that Ed had had an affair with his wife, so he wasn’t tried for the murder. But Mattie never believed the man. He was let off, she claimed, because people in Greenville had it in for my grandfather. He was a stranger who had come into town and made a lot of money, and the townpeople resented it.

“So quite a different reason than Willeford gave in the clipping,” Michael notes, “and not as quirky.”

Hard to say today which version would be more truthful, but if Willeford got the chance to spin a yarn, a yarn he could and would spin.

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Rediscovered: Mean Streets Veteran Cracks The Daily Beast


Veteran’s Day. Lots of Vets on These Mean Streets.

Hammett, two World Wars, interred in Arlington. The late great James Crumley. The great Kent Anderson. Plenty more.

And of course Charles Willefordalso interred in Arlington — who gets a spread today on The Daily Beast courtesy the wordsmithing of Jason Siegel. Nice tribute, in salute to one of this country’s most interesting writers, a career Army/Army Air Corps sergeant — and tank platoon commander in the Battle of the Bulge.

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Rediscovered: John D. Haefele on Fungi from Yuggoth

1764814Remember how John D. Haefele was nudging me to do a reread on H. P. Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth sonnet cycle a few months ago, which led to my micro-essay “Pigeons from Hell from Lovecraft”?

I give Haefele a blurb at the start of that essay.

But he wasn’t asking me to do anything he wasn’t willing to do on his own, and now you can find his latest thoughts on the subjects of fungoid sonneteering and Lovecraftian versifying and how Don Wandrei kicked it all off in a brand new essay under his byline,Fungi from Yuggoth, and Beyond.”

Just went live last night over on The Cimmerian blog. Not to be missed for any fan of Lovecraft and Weird Tales and cosmic — and we’re talking uber cosmic — horror.

Haefele is kind of loosening up his writing arm before heading for the plate, where he’ll be hitting for the fences in Lovecraft: The Great Tales.

I predict a series of litcrit home runs in that baby.

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Hammett: That White-Hot Burst in 1925


Image at top: holding down a table at the Mechanics’ Library talk while Nathan Ward merrily signs a copy of his new bio of Hammett.

Image at bottom: before we start the proceedings (clew: my wine glass is loaded) we gear up for some fun; left to right, longtime Frisco cicerone Don Herron, longtime Frisco detective David Fechheimer, visiting writer Nathan Ward.

One point of disagreement I have with Nathan in his The Lost Detective is that while he likes the Op stories by Hammett that were hitting print in Black Mask in 1925, he thinks they build up to a little masterpiece in the November issue with the appearance of “Dead Yellow Women.” Me, I think what you have that year was a run of little masterpieces. One after another. Hammett at white heat.

I have said, so, too, in the intro titled “Hard-Boiled in Texas” that I did for Steve Harrison’s Casebook by Robert E. Howard back in 2010. To quote myself:

In San Francisco in 1922 and 1923 an ex-Pinkerton’s detective named Dashiell Hammett began writing crime fiction for the pulp Black Mask, soon centered on the casework of a short fat nameless operative for the Continental Detective Agency. By 1924 average enough outings featuring the Continental Op such as “One Hour” published in the April 1924 issue of the Mask were followed by a full-fledged masterpiece titled “The Girl with the Silver Eyes” in June. In 1925 Hammett’s talent reached white-heat as he saw into print “The Whosis Kid,” “The Scorched Face,” “Corkscrew,” “Dead Yellow Women,” and “The Gutting of Couffignal” one after the other, a series run that would be hard to equal in the history of pulp fiction — to get close, you would have to cherry-pick five of the best Conan stories and pretend they appeared back-to-back, say, “The Tower of the Elephant,” “Queen of the Black Coast,” “Rogues in the House,” “Beyond the Black River,” and “Red Nails.” In that year Hammett raced ahead of his fellow contributors to Black Mask and became the modern master of the detective story, with his Continental Op series the Gold Standard of pulp sleuthing action.

Need I say more? It took Hammett less than two years to figure out how to punch it.

Robert E. Howard knew how to punch it, too (he hit it several times before creating Conan, but that series unleashed him).

Which is why we read and reread their fiction today, while stories by the guys who never achieved white-heat are hard to plug — yeah, sure, they’re good enough sometimes. But they’re not great.


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Rediscovered: A Mil Plus Will Get You Boucher Central

people-dana-2643-anthony-boucher-studyWooden crates house the library of William Anthony Parker White — better known by the penname Anthony Boucher to the mystery-reading world — in the upstairs office area of his longtime Berkeley home.

D. S. Black of the Bancroft Library just popped me the news that the Boucher house is going on the block, tagged at over a million. Hop over to the listing for more photos old and new, some home history — and word that they plan to place a plaque on the house to denote its historic literary status.

I cover the residence in my Literary World of San Francisco. And now I’m making a note against any future edition to check to see if they have installed a plaque.

If so, mention plaque.

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Rediscovered: Leno Cracks Big Book of Bronze

BronzeOur occasional Guest Blogger Brian Leno, hot off the release of his first book — Lovecraft’s Southern Vacation, slugging it out to keep a toehold in the Top Ten and Twenty of the Amazon Horror Litcrit Bestseller list — continues splashing the field with an article in the new issue of Big Book of Bronze, devoted to all things Doc Savage.

I believe Leno details his own discovery of the iconic pulp hero. Got to love those Shock of Recognition articles.

Plus you’ll find items from other names that have been dropped on These Mean Streets, such as Rick Lai and Will Murray — both fellow panelists during PulpFest where we tackled the weighty issues of the Cthulhu Mythos and the bizarre editing Farnsworth Wright was doing for Weird Tales.

Will Murray, of course, has even assumed the house name “Kenneth Robeson” to keep Doc trucking in a new series of novels. I sometimes wonder if it is possible, if he keeps going and lives long enough, that Murray might eventually rack up more Doc credits than Lester Dent. . . .

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