Mort: Mr. Spock

Mr-Spock-mr-spock-10874060-1036-730Another Icon down, with the passing of Leonard Nimoy today at the age of 83.

While you couldn’t really say I was ever a Trekkie, on the other hand, who the hell doesn’t like Star Trek? Maybe not all of it, you see the clunky elements, but the defining moments that imbed it in the culture? The bits that make it immortal?

Raymond Chandler — yes, Chandler — put it best, I think, in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” where he wrote:

Every detective story writer makes mistakes, and none will ever know as much as he should. Conan Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.

Very early on I understood that Gene Roddenberry and his writers, in collaboration with the actors and what they could provide, had created a template — Kirk, Spock, Bones, Enterprise, voyage — very much equivalent to what Doyle did with Sherlock, Watson, the needle! in a London where it is always 1895.

An attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.


Spock immediately became my favorite of the characters with the first episode I saw as a kid, “Devil in the Dark.” I’m sure I didn’t catch every episode after that, but by now have seen most in one rerun or another. I caught the first film in the theatre but skipped Khan and that Death of Spock, but came back for the whales (that adventure was shot in San Francisco, after all). As I indicated, not a Trekkie, but not averse to strapping on a phaser now and then.

And it was the cast of Star Trek that gave me one of my early pop culture observations circa twenty-five years ago, that: People of my generation will know for a fact that they’re getting old when they hire new actors to play Kirk and Spock and company.

The original crew worked a lot longer than they might have been expected to play those roles, and some people seemed to doubt my idea because it looked as if the Trek moguls were going to handle “new stuff” with spin-off crews. But I waited it out, and sure enough, new actors for the iconic crew came along finally, and the 1960s kids were at or closing in on retirement age.

Had to happen. Kirk and Spock were too good to retire. They’d burned through lots of James Bonds in the meantime. Lots of Sherlocks and Watsons. A few Lone Rangers, but Clayton Moore still has that mask. I don’t think they’ve got Batman yet. And I fully expect other actors to land the roles in another ten years, or twenty.

And a final note, since this seems to be the time and place to mention it. On a visit years ago I took Jo Hammett, daughter of Dashiell Hammett, to 565 Geary Street to meet the fantasy and science fiction writer Fritz Leiber, living there at the time. Fritz had rooms on the top floor, but we also stopped in on his pal Margo Skinner, who lived on the first floor.

Margo was a Trekkie. She had various Star Trek items around, including a model of the Enterprise, which prompted Jo to mention that she loved Trek, too — and that she’d always wanted a Beam Me Up, Scotty bumper sticker.

We all know that feeling, right?

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

Frisco Beat: Adios, House of Fans — or, The Adventure of The Diagraph Stencil Machine


A couple of Thursdays back I did a tour by appointment for a guy who just couldn’t hit the burg on a Sunday, but didn’t seem to mind handing over bigger bucks to pay for wear-and-tear on my gumshoes and closing-in-on-forty-years of expertise.

We got to 891 Post Street, inspected the plaque next to the door, then ducked across the street for a longer view of the building. Every tour group since 1977 has stood there on the sidewalk in front of the House of Fans, directly across Post from The Maltese Arms.

But this time a guy emerged from the office and told us he had something inside we might want to see.

And he gave us the news: after many decades, House of Fans has closed. Mort. A goner. Yet another piece of the San Francisco I like, hitting the road.

They were in the process of cleaning out the joint. A scrap metal guy filling up his box truck. Some rotator fans — with no safety guards — from the 1930s and 40s lined up on the counter.

But the last honcho of House of Fans thought we’d be interested in an antique piece of equipment he’d found from The Diagraph Company, a machine to punch stencils in thin metal — pretty much like the image above I scouted out on the net.

Yep. Cool. If you like history.

We played around with that for a few minutes, swapped yarns. I told the guy how 895 Post across the street once housed a metal weather stripping company, which he hadn’t heard of — all those fabricating businesses are being driven out of town, Fans most recent among them.

The guy owns his house, is close to retirement age anyway, so he won’t be another casual victim of Tech Frisco — and he plans to polish and oil the stencil machine until it works like new, just for fun.

My idle worry is that developers will rush in and tear the building down, muck up what could be (and is, at the moment, for all practical purposes) a Hammett Historic District. If they let the building stand and put in a Starbucks, at least we’d still have the structure you now see from Sam Spade’s windows.

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

Tour: Late for Oscar


Viewership for the Oscar ceremonies dropped way down this year, according to news on the net — a trend I got in on. People had requested a Hammett tour for the 22nd, so I gumshoed up and hit the mean streets for a few hours. Didn’t get back in front of the TV screen until the show was more than half done.

Per norm, I hadn’t seen any of the films up for major awards. Since they’d never give J.K. Simmons a statue for his spot-on J. Jonah Jameson, I’m glad he nabbed one off Whiplash.  Otherwise, whatever. Wake me if they ever shoot the Aliens sequel starring Michael Biehn. . . . He’s getting older every year, but that’s the one movie I’d really like to see.

I did notice that my post last year on the Jimi Hendrix flick with André 3000 came true — yeah, I would have been surprised if that one got an Oscar of any kind. Stunned, actually.  No Oscar. And of course I haven’t watched that one, either.

If the sequel to Aliens they should have filmed decades ago gets made, though, it could nab some technical Oscars. And I’ll definitely see it.

If it’s good, I’ll see it more than once.

Posted in Film, News, Tour | Tagged , , , , , , |

Hammett: On This Day

valentineEighty-five years ago today Alfred A. Knopf published a novel titled The Maltese Falcon — as I always say, the sickest Valentine’s Day novel ever.

If they hang you — some pretty sweet talk. . . .

Posted in Dash | Tagged |

Hammett: KALW and the Mystery of the Black Bird

Maltese Falcon_LeadThe Maltese Falcon presides over San Francisco — the novel, the film, a thousand and one statues made of plaster, the two or three (or more?) figurines wrought out of lead with a golden bronze patina — the lead ones from the Bogart flick are the ones worth the big bucks. Who doesn’t have one or two made of plaster?

On February 2 at 5p.m. KALW 91.7 FM aired a segment investigating the haunting presence of the Black Bird — in Frisco, it’s kind of like Poe’s The Raven, isn’t it?

Ninna Gaensler-Debs recorded and edited the bit, and if you missed it when it hit the airwaves you can head over to this post which blurbs the project, with a link to the audio. I interviewed for it, there should be on scene stuff in Burritt alley and 891 Post.

Keeping the darkling feathers of the legend flapping. . . .

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

Rediscovered: Joe Memoli, Made Man

Heading up for Xmas dinner with Floyd Salas reminded me that a little over a year ago I promised to correct something else on the website. Now I’ve just been back up to the Floyd lair last weekend for his 84th birthday party, so maybe I’d better get this one done before another year sneaks past. . . .

The contested info appears in my article “Collecting Floyd Salas,” specifically the bit that mentions Joe Memoli:

At one point Joe Memoli, a Mafioso type who owned a place in Oakland called The Fat Lady, wanted Floyd to write up his life story for him, but Floyd preferred to cover his own experiences and managed to wiggle out of the project. Floyd was acquainted with Memoli from when his brother Al used to sell him stolen suits, and figured it would be better to take a pass.

And a year ago I heard from Iris Odonata, who told me, “Given that I am Joe Memoli’s daughter, I know for a fact, that he never owned The Fat Lady. AND, he wasn’t a ‘Mafioso type,’ he was the real thing. A made man. Capiche?”

As I explained to Iris, the info in the article in large part comes from the POV of Floyd, so “Mafioso type” is just how Floyd phrased it in the notes I took — and he was the one who remembered Memoli as owner of The Fat Lady. In short, I was just channeling info from Floyd over into the article. The article is Floyd on Floyd, with incidental characters making the scene from time to time. As someone once noted, “The only movie playing behind Floyd’s eyes is The Floyd Movie.”

But never let it be said that Up and Down These Mean Streets has anything against giving a Made Man all due credit. I did a little checking to see if Iris actually is related, mostly found dragonfly stuff, so without further confirmation offer her comments on Joe Memoli, his businesses and pastimes:

“For accuracy,” Iris wrote, “he owned, Joseph Memoli’s The Piazza, Crabby Joe’s, and Clancy’s, after Clancy and his partner, Joe Martin sold it. The time frame you were referring to, most likely was The Piazza.

“Joe Memoli was also a patron of local boxers and the boxing community, having been an amateur one himself, post WW2.

“Please adjust your blog to reflect what is true. Thank you.”

But then Iris added two corrections, reminded by her sister: “Dad boxed Golden Gloves b4 WWII. He trained at Sinatra’s gym in Hoboken.

“In between Piazzas, he owned Joseph Memoli’s, a bar, club and restaurant across the street from Piazza 1 and Piazza 2 (this became, The Square Apple, where Tower of Power was house band for awhile).”

Posted in Lit, News | Tagged , , , , , , , |

891 Post: The Scorched Face


And today Mark Murphy pops in a photo showing off exactly how close the fire came to his windows — top floor, at right — leaving scorch marks on the south face of 891 Post. I think you’ll be able to distinguish them in this shot.

If not, I’m willing to take Mark’s word for it, and I did hear reports on the radio as the incident was taking place. And how often, if ever, do you get a gander at the south side of 891?

Otherwise, the news didn’t make much of a splash, because of the much larger fire earlier that evening at 22nd Street and Mission — and earlier that same evening the dismembered apparently headless body found in the suitcase on a sidewalk on 11th Street off Mission. No one else seems to have noticed that a major American literary landmark was in danger, but I guess we’ve got our thumb on the cultural pulse, and they don’t.

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

891 Post: Threatened by Fire — Again

Post under fire

The title on the email just received from Mark Murphy, a current inhabitant of 891 Post:

Major Fire at 642 Hyde almost spreads to 891 Post

On the car radio around midnight I heard about a fire near the corner of Post and Hyde, but figured, Naw, the Hammett/Sam Spade building can’t be that unlucky. We had the Buddhist temple fire on the top floor a few years ago, and before that the building right across Hyde Street blew up, but another one. . .?

Mark tells me, “Came home about 11:00 last night, and half an hour later I hear loud crashing noise outside my back windows. I look out the window and there are major flames licking out one of the windows in the 642 Hyde building behind me.

“I can literally feel the heat and some of the flames are just inches away from my window. Had to evacuate the entire building for about an hour.

“Fortunately Sam’s place escaped any damage, far as I can tell, and they let us all back in about an hour later.

“Will the drama never cease?”

If you stand facing the front of the building — as in the shot above — you can see Sam’s Place top floor right. Mark is on the same floor but in the rear, kitty corner. The fire equipment is dodging around 891 to get at the flames raging in the building in back.

Close one. Always a close one.

Posted in Dash, Frisco, News | Tagged |

Rediscovered: “Lost” Lovecraft in the Ransom Center

And just in time to serve as additional background for the Weird Tales panel planned for PulpFest — the panel to cover the editorial policies of longtime WT editor Farnsworth Wright, but of course concentrating on how those often bizarre policies impacted the writers who have emerged triumphant from those pulp pages, notably birthday boy H.P. Lovecraft.

Brought to light from the extensive Ransom trove in the Humanities Research Center in Austin — where the last unpublished Hammett stories and fragments and Including Murder have been housed — the letter is from Lovecraft to WT’s publisher dated February 2, 1924, at a moment when the first editor for the magazine is preparing to leave and they kind of want Lovecraft himself to take over the editorial reins.

Instead, they got Wright.

Must reading, needless to say, especially if you plan on witnessing the panel at PulpFest. And it is actually a typescript for the most part, rather than Lovecraft’s squiggly holograph, so you can breeze through without any translating-the-hieroglyphs pauses.

Lots of good stuff, including a plot synopsis for the “lost” HPL novel Azathoth — which by one turn of imagination or another obviously became The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.

Posted in Lit, News | Tagged , , , , |

Rediscovered: Lost Books of the Amazon

Amazon DonAfter who knows how many years of goofing off, I finally got around to getting my Author Page on Amazon looking pretty.  Some photos, a basic blurb, updates fed in from this blog — and a few but by no means all of the books with some connection to me scrolling across the top.

It’s odd what the techno hoops you jump through will allow vs. what they won’t. At the moment, the only link they’ll do for the current edition of the Hammett Tour book is for the Kindle — but there is a main page for that item that offers the options of hardback, paperback or eBook. Obviously that would be the page to send people to, but Noooooo. . . .

And I checked some of the other books to make sure the Author Page was presenting with them — and what did I discover? Only that a page for the second edition of The Literary World of San Francisco — which has been out-of-print for, what, twenty years? — listed the overall sales rank as 2,781,588 (like I said, it has been o.p. for decades) but that it still managed to crack the Top 100 in sales for travel books about San Francisco.

Yeah, yesterday it was logging in at no.97.

I perhaps will never understand the complexities of the Amazon bestseller sub-lists, but I’m guessing enough copies are out there moving around on the used book market to keep it in the game. Somehow.

And more power to those used copies. I’ll be lugging one along tonight for backup as I conduct a literary walk around North Beach, by appointment with the Alfa Romeo Club. I hardly ever do those walks any more, but the public asked for it, so why not?

Posted in Frisco, Lit, News | Tagged , , , , , |