Tour: 3 Sundays in October

For anyone who wants to just show up by noon near the revolving “L” sculpture with 20 bucks and four hours to kill, take your pick from Sunday October 15 or Sunday October 22 or Sunday October 29 — the tourist season goes out with a bang, as the warmer months give way to winter, and possible rains, maybe even monsoons sweeping in.

In short, if you want to do the tour this year, jump on one of those dates.

Otherwise, you can pull together a group by appointment and do the walk other days and other times. You can select a date that might get rained out, no harm no foul, or you can hoof ahead in the squalls if you’re a tough guy.

Images show the Sisters in Crime tour by appointment conducted on Saturday August 5, as we roll up to the plaque marking the Sam Spade apartment building in 891 Post.

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Rediscovered: FLIVVER GAME (!!!)

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Operatives of the Mean Streets scour the country, looking for clews. I know it. I trust you know it.

Agent Paul Herman just sent in a report after he “went to a collectible ephemera show in Hartford last weekend.” Naturally, when he saw a Flivver Game from Milton Bradley on the block, he snapped a few frames.

Paul clearly followed the dust-up here over the word “flivver,” which ended up being declared The Robert E. Howard WORD OF THE YEAR last year. You may remember that some outlandish boobs were suggesting that a flivver could have been any kind of old car in the 1920s, while I — expert enough in the era — said, nope, a flivver is a Ford.

Paul notes, “This game only mentions FORD in the instructions. I thought this will finally put to rest the deniers out there.”

Yeah, you’d think so, but anyone who doesn’t know that a flivver was a Ford just might be too dumb to be swayed by any kind of evidence. Even the Flivver Game.

(Cool as hell. Flivver Game. Wow.)

Thanks, Paul — if you see him set-up as a dealer at the various pulp shows, you can thank him yourself. Paul’s been out to Frisco on the tour, and he’s the real deal — here’s how real: he’s got almost all the Hammett issues of Black Mask. “I still need five issues to finish my run, all from the 1920s — pre-Cap Shaw.”

A gumshoe-wearing Eye watching over the Mean Streets. . . .

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NONPAREIL: The Robert E. Howard WORD OF THE YEAR

For some of us, Robert E. Howard is nonpareil — which my India paper copy of Webster’s Third says is “Something of unequaled excellence; a nonesuch; a paragon,” and, while you might not think of it, is a word “often used as a name.”

(I picked up my copy of Webster’s Third when I lived in St. Paul, after Donald Wandrei mentioned it was his preferred dictionary — sometime later, back in San Francisco, Fritz Leiber told me that he preferred Webster’s Second. I haven’t scouted out one of those as yet, but those slight differences between reference volumes indicates the subtlety of word usage and potential depths such writers explored.)

Howard collector Kevin Cook and I have been batting around points of greatness about the author and his editions. We have agreed that the only Howard collection published by the Donald M. Grant Company that you really need is The Sowers of the Thunder, in part for the content and largely for the Roy Krenkel illustrations. All the many other Grant editions can be tossed aside, if you’re shooting for a best of the best — the artwork in general is horrible, Grant did some PC-style editing in books such as Red Shadows that otherwise might have made the cut. I think that the Arkham House collections Skull-Face and Others and Always Comes Evening are milestones worthy of inclusion, and Kevin added the last Howard Arkham, The Dark Man and Others, because you have to have the nonpareil yarn “The Dark Man” in some book in your collection.

No, said I, to get “The Dark Man” what you need is the Dell paperback Bran Mak Morn with the definitive Frazetta cover.

You can pare the ideal shelf down to the highpoints, though I suppose most Howard collectors of our era have pretty much everything they’ve ever picked up.

Then we got off into the idea that we’d both hit Howard with some of his best stories — me with a book containing both “Red Nails” and “Beyond the Black River,” Kevin with the paperback Bran Mak Morn with “The Dark Man” and “Worms of the Earth.”

We agreed that if we’d encountered REH with some of his worst efforts, but kept going, the magic would have worked — as it turned out, that was the experience of both of us when reading H.P. Lovecraft. Dud, dud, heyyyyyyyy. . . .

And yet there are many self-proclaimed fans of REH who can’t seem to tell the difference between the great and the misses, between REH and his imitators. Between nonpareil and something else altogether.

A couple of years ago, or three — the post is gone now, as if it never existed — I was amused when the “Robert E. Howard Word of the Week” for that week was nonpareil. To demonstrate REH using the word the poem “Jack Dempsey” was quoted, and to illustrate the concept what else but an image of the famous heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey?

Our pal Brian Leno saw the error instantly, and on the side tried to help the clewless Worder out.

Brian, as I often say, is the most knowledgeable guy about the boxing world in REH Studies — in fact, I’m thinking we should start referring to him as The Nonesuch Brian Leno! — and he popped in the correct dope:

Thought I should let you know that the Jack Dempsey that Howard is referring to as the “Nonpareil” is not the heavyweight champ. Different Dempsey — he was thought to be unbeatable so he was nicknamed the Nonpareil. Fought heavyweights like Bob Fitzsimmons, Howard even mentions his fight with Fitzsimmons.

Of course Jack Dempsey the heavyweight champ was damn near unbeatable, but Howard means the Nonpareil.

Brian tells me there were even more guys going by the name Jack Dempsey in the era, I suppose kind of like all the Charlie Chaplin lookalikes flourishing in the teens and twenties. Or the Bruce Lee clones that popped up after his death. Man.

Here’s some Nonpareil identifying lines from the REH poem “Jack Dempsey”:

The lad who held Fitzsimmons

For thirteen gory rounds. . . .

To the name of the first Jack Dempsey,

The wonderful Nonpareil.

Posted in Boxing, REH | Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Two-Gun Bob: Where Are the Words of the Week of Yesteryear?

When I got up this morning to view the solar eclipse through a spaghetti strainer (not the opening words I ever imagined for a blog post), I was happy to see that my eBook LitCrit MegaPack on Texas writer Robert E. Howard had surged up to no.6 on the Amazon litcrit bestseller list for horror and related fiction. 634 digital page equivalency, far and away the largest — and yet the best — collection of litcrit on the creator of Conan, for those select few who go for that sort of thing.

In addition to Hammett and Noir and Speakeasies and Lon Chaney and the usual stuff that occupies my idle thoughts, lately I’ve been thinking of various Howardian or fringe Howardian deals.

One that sprang to mind: Where are all those “Robert E. Howard Word of the Week” posts that once littered the web?

Remember those? Started on The Cimmerian blog in its heyday, jumped over to the REHupa (short for the Robert E. Howard united press association) blog for what seemed like years, and I believe finally ended the run on the old Two-Gun Raconteur blog.

Makes me realize that REH is kind of disappearing, for the moment, from the web. Cycles coming and going — just like REH wrote about with his themes of barbarism vs. civilization, something is poking along for awhile, then pow!, it’s gone.

The Cimmerian blog after a brief resurgence has gone back into sleep mode. When you follow any link to the REHupa blog you get shoved over to a Facebook page, the blog itself in some kind of limbo. Raconteur is dead, unless someone jumps in to revive it. The old Robert E. Howard Forum, a.k.a. the Conan Board, is gone.

If you peruse some of the Howardian posts I’ve done here before, you’ll hit a ton of dead links. I’m not going to attempt to fix any of those. Get the news when it’s hot, when the links go someplace live.

I was curious enough to punch “Robert E. Howard Word of the Week” into Google, and what comes up first is my own Robert E. Howard WORD OF THE YEAR. Last year I selected “flivver.” I’ve got another one to present tomorrow. I was making fun of the Word of the Week, selecting words to re-do that had been totally messed-up in the original presentation. And, man, did they bungle the definition of flivver.

In fact, the only actual Word of the Week I can find currently are the ones Leo Grin did for The Cimmerian.

Leo tells me, “It was my idea — along with other weekly ideas like eBay REH reviews.” Something to kick the blogging action in. “Looking at the site,” Leo says, “apparently I did them for about three months, and then added a few stragglers, maybe a dozen all told.” He believes Deuce Richardson, lately a mainstay of Howardian forums, also “apparently did a few.”

Then someone else took them over and did hundreds over the course of a few years — “but as you say, they are all gone.”

The problem as Leo sees it is that the new Word of the Weeker “chose commonly known words, which completely defeated the purpose — and also posted them at places where they were the only thing getting pubbed week after week, until the whole site became dominated by them like tribbles.”

Week after week after week. . . . Just as well they let that blog die.

The place they took over so completely was the REHupa site, which began with three or four supposedly regular bloggers. You wouldn’t have heard of most of them, but soon they all fell by the wayside — except for Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes, who knows how to blog on schedule. Morgan has been doing each and every Sunday for the Castalia House blog since January 2015.

Once Morgan moved on to other venues, all you had was one dreary Word of the Week after another.

But from one of those my next WORD OF THE YEAR — perhaps that exercise in futility wasn’t a complete waste, if I can add my touch to the proceedings.

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Frisco Beat: Corpse Reviver

Joe Hagen sent me the shot you see before your eyes — Joe’s part of the secret junto of thinkers and drinkers who meet in and around 891 Post Street.

I’d just mentioned going to Stookey’s for a Corpse Reviver, and Joe wanted to know more.

Well, I told him, Stookey’s is a bar on the corner of Bush and Taylor — and I have no doubt you’ve been there.

Joe lives only a few blocks away, and it’s a bar and the door is open. I had no doubt he’d been inside.

He had. But somehow he hadn’t heard of the Corpse Reviver, so he needed to check that off his Bucket List.

Proof is in the photo, featuring Aaron the bartender and the gleaming backbar framing the main attraction, the cocktail in question.

Aaron tells Joe there are at least eight variants of the Corpse Reviver.

I’d heard there were as many as five, so it appears further sleuthing is in order.

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Hammett: Popping into Stookey’s

A Sunday or three back I was in Frisco, just hanging out, and stopped into Stookey’s for a pop.

I needed a Corpse Reviver No. 2 to keep the old corpse going, and they’ll always shake one up for me, even if it isn’t on the current menu.

Plus there’s the added appeal that by stepping inside Stookey’s Club Moderne I know I am following another footprint Sam Spade laid down in San Francisco.

For Hammett fans, this dope is kind of news.

Brace yourselves.

All I want to make clear up front is that I was going into Stookey’s for at least a year before the news broke among the inner circles.

I was a pioneer.

And I’ll make clear that I wasn’t the guy who figured it out. It was one of the owners and barkeeps you’ll find pulling shifts on the stick who nailed this one. And it was honcho Tim Stookey personally who handed me the ad for Faverman’s you see at the top. They lucked into it.

The barkeep was rereading The Maltese Falcon, as people often do, and got hit between the eyes by a line in Chapter II: Death in the Fog. Read it yourself if in doubt, but just after the scene ends where Spade goes into Burritt alley because Archer has been bumped, there’s a section break — and then the single-line paragraph:

In an all-night drug-store on the corner of Bush and Taylor Streets, Spade used the telephone.

Hey, thought the guy, our bar is at Bush and Taylor. . . .

So, some fast gumshoe work. Stookey’s is on one corner. But there are four corners. And if you don’t check, who’s to say you didn’t have an all-night drugstore on each corner for Spade to chose between?

They’re pretty sure their corner is the corner. So, circa 1928 and after it housed a drugstore. For decades now it has been a bar of some stripe, and currently that bar is named Stookey’s.

As I sipped my Corpse Reviver, I asked the bartender if he wasn’t the one who tumbled to the find. He was.

Are you guys going to put it up on your webpage? I asked.

Yeah, they’re getting to it, but they’re busy.

Since I try to stay as unbusy as possible, I told him I could break the news wide without working up a sweat.

Now, are there any Sam Spade fans not at this moment bolting toward Stookey’s for a pop?

Posted in Dash, Frisco, News, Tour | Tagged , , , , |

Tour: 3 Sundays in September

People have been asking if I was ever going to offer some just-show-up walks again.

I admit, it’s a fair question, this year being my Fortieth Anniversary and all. John Q. Public could reasonably expect some mean streets leadership to celebrate the landmark.

Sure, July and August got away from me — it was almost like I was on summer vacation or something! A couple of weeks ago I did slip on the gumshoes to guide an enthusiastic contingent of the writer’s group Sisters in Crime around as a group by appointment. Shots at the top and bottom show the mob trailing me up North Fifth Street, a.k.a Cyril Magnin Street.

In September, people who have been wanting to walk the walk are welcome to show up at noon, no appointment needed, and slap leather on the sidewalks. You’ll need $20. The tour takes four hours or slightly more, if people get serious with the questions.

So, noon. $20. Pick the Sunday you like best: Sunday September 3 — Sunday September 10 — or Sunday September 24.

And if I don’t blow out a knee or gasket or something, I’m planning for another threefer of Sundays in October.

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Hammett: High Ticket

I don’t keep close track, but I am well aware prices on first editions of Hammett’s novels have jumped into the big money — kicked off by the legendary 1981 auction of the Adrian Goldstone crime fiction collection here in San Francisco.

From that moment on, I haven’t noticed any of the major firsts going for cheap when they hit the auction block.

Brian Wallace, always prowling the net looking for Hammett dope, let me know about an upcoming auction in September of the KoKo Collection (gee, and I didn’t even realize gorillas built up libraries!). Check out the blurb for it. You’ll find a first in dustjacket of Hammett’s first published novel Red Harvest estimated to bid up to $30,000, and a copy of The Maltese Falcon estimated to haul it at least $20,000.

And yes, estimates are all well and good, but it is the hard cash or bitcoin that changes hands when the winner is called that clinches the deal.

Most interesting to me when I glanced over the items up for bid is that Hammett is so far ahead of his contemporaries that it isn’t even close. Other writers for Black Mask — Chandler, Paul Cain, Raoul Whitfield — are estimated to haul in $2000-$4000ish per novel. Even Poe with Tales from 1845 is estimated only nabbing $10,000.

No question that at this moment Hammett is Mr. High Ticket.

And you may be interested to know that I was yakking about this auction with Terry Zobeck, who was reminded of

an eBay auction from about ten years ago. It was for a first of Red Harvest in a beautiful dust jacket, the best I’ve ever seen. The book was easily fine condition.

The seller paid $2 for a box of books at an estate sale and it was in the bottom of the box.

She had no idea of what she had. I suggested she withdraw it and work with some reputable dealers — I recommended a few. She ended up selling it for $18,000 to a NY dealer I’d never heard of. I think she could have gotten twice that if she put it on consignment with either of the dealers I suggested.

So, moral of the story I guess is that if you get really lucky, you may stumble across one of these pricey Hammett firsts on the cheap and let somebody with deep pockets pay for it through the nose when it hits the block.

Me, the best deal on a copy of the first of Red Harvest I know of — I’ve held the copy in my hands — is a guy who found one for a dollar at a garage sale. No dustjacket. But it was inscribed on the front flyleaf, “For Bettye, Affectionately yours, Dashiell Hammett” — got to be worth a few thou.

Posted in Dash, Frisco, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Sinister Cinema: Back to the Tenderloin Museum

I’ll be hitting the Tenderloin Museum once again on July 13 — hey, just three days before their second anniversary on July 16 — to talk Dashiell Hammett for awhile.

Hammett, pretty much the most famous writer to have made his name as a resident of the hood.

After the talk they’ll be showing the first of the Thin Man flicks, ever popular — but of course Nick and Nora and Asta are off in New York City for that caper.

To keep it kind of local, as part of my remarks I need to pick out some moments from the first movie version of The Maltese Falcon from 1931. Pre-code stuff. I’m thinking the bed-stripping scene. The one or two shots filmed in town — actually shot on the edge of the TL.

And I guess I’m going to have to pull a few minutes of Dwight Frye being brought in to sell the character of little Wilmer Cook for the first time on screen.

If you’re a regular on the Mean Streets, you’ll remember that Hammett encountered the crook he based Wilmer on — The Midget Bandit — when he was working as an operative for Pinkerton’s right here in the burg.

You can get more info and tix off  eventbrite, and they’ve announced it on Facebook, too. Ought to be fun — well, between me and William Powell and Myrna Loy and Skippy as Asta, I guess it is guaranteed to be fun.

And if things work out, plotting is going on behind closed doors to spring another wild Hammett/Tenderloin treat your way later in the year.

Posted in Dash, Film, Frisco, News | Tagged , , , , , , , |

Hammett: It’s Almost Like Clockwork. . .

Yesterday Jeopardy! dropped Hammett back into their clew stew in the Jeopardy Round, in the “toughest” slot — $1000 — in the category Literary Hodgepodge:

Dashiell Hammett dedicated “The Thin Man” to this fellow writer and longtime love

The contestant named Lisa clicked in and said “Who is Lillian Hellman?” Correct. Lisa had been struggling for most of the show to that point, but hitting the Hammett Voodoo got her on track and she finished the day as the winner of the whole shebang.

I’m kind of surprised that the Jeopardy! folk didn’t finagle the dope even finer and have the clew drop on June 20 — the 112th anniversary of Hellman’s birth. Me, I can’t keep track of stuff like that but I expect no less from Jeopardy!

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