Rediscovered: Understudy for Love/Death

In other Willeford News, Hard Case Crime is poised for the official release of Understudy for Death in about a month — first time Willeford’s 1961 novel Understudy for Love has seen reprint. If you’ve never been willing to fork over the loot to nab a true first edition of this classic Paperback Original, now it’ll be easier to hand.

Check out my review in Publishers Weekly — or, check out the anonymous review which uses some occasional bits of wording from the review I submitted.

One of Willeford’s weakest novels, nonetheless it is loaded down with iconic material he would use again and again — such as having someone else drink the fusel oil off a newly opened bottle of cheap liquor. (I go into greater detail about this novel and the others in my book Willeford, for those interested.)

Shortly before his death, Willeford cut an agreement with publisher Dennis McMillan to do a reprint on this one, and the re-title was the author’s — an ironic comment on the bad shape he was in. After his death, the deal fell through, though not before Dennis had had the card covers for his proposed trade paperback printed off. If you are a Willeford completist, you need a copy of the Dennis cover — flat, never machine folded — by Joe Servello.

One of the things the Hard Case edition does is give Willeford a Gold Medal-style cover — the only time he got one before was on the Gold Medal edition of The Whip Hand, a.k.a. Whip Hand, and if I remember right that was painted by Robert McGuiness, the definitive exponent of the Gold Medal look. (Details on that edition also found in Willeford.)

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Sinister Cinema: Heresy

In February, when I was generally distracted, the publisher Vince Emery passed along a link to a Hollywood Reporter article on the possible or upcoming movie of the Charles Willeford novel The Burnt Orange Heresy.

Who knows if it’ll make it over all the hurdles to the finish line, and if it does, if it’ll do the book some justice or fall kind of flat like the movie very loosely adapted from Manchette’s The Prone Gunman?

They’ve got Christopher Walken signed on, which is good (got to hope he gets another great monolog or two to add to his list), but they’ve changed his character name and moved the action from Florida to Italy. Since the movie is about art (and the novel is about art criticism) I suppose they felt that visually and culturally Italy would shout “Art!” better than the Sunshine State.

Hey, good luck with that. You start making changes. . . .

I wonder if the protagonist of the action will remain Puerto Rican? I have had tucked away in a corner of my brain the idea that John Leguizamo might make solid casting as the art critic (yeah, yeah, he was born in Columbia, but by Hollywood standards that’s reasonably close).

Some years ago I spotted Leguizamo walking past with a pal of his when I had the Hammett Tour standing in Union Square, looking up at the St. Francis Hotel. A short guy, in town for a one-man show in a local theatre.

He could do it, but I’d bet at least a five spot that the ethnic origins will get tossed into the juggling ring.

Maybe the guy will supposedly be French. Who knows?

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Rediscovered: Cowboy Elmore

Our pal Nathan Ward is keeping his hand in with this and that, after knocking out his bio of Hammett way back in 2015.

Mean Streets Up and Downers no doubt will be interested in reading a blurb he just put up covering the topic of Elmore Leonard and the Westerns He Wrote.

Thoughts on hombres from Yuma and so on, sure to divert Elmore’s many fans.

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Rediscovered: John D. Haefele on the Prowl

With the raw bulk of his book on Lovecraft turned in and awaiting editing, our pal John D. Haefele already is poking around on his next book, August Derleth of Arkham House, meanwhile feeding tidbits of his research out to his fans.

He’s got a fascinating little post up on the “Cinderella stamps” Derleth had in hand by 1939 — with the Wisconsin writer fresh off winning a Guggenheim Fellowship (did the Gug send him the sheets of stamps, or did he pay for them out of his award money?) while on the cusp of publishing the first Arkham House title, Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others. A pretty good year for Derleth, a titanic milestone for most other people.

In terms of our mutual hobby of collecting Arkham House ephemerae, which I covered in part in Firsts magazine some years ago (and by now we have discovered so many more items we’ll need to issue a book of some kind to catalog them all), these Derleth stamps are no doubt ephemerae — but more akin to the matchbook covers advertising Arkham that Derleth also had made up.

In at least one instance the stamps appear on a genuine item, the postcards Derleth sent out to those who had pre-ordered The Outsider to let them know the book was on its way. That postcard will appear in any revised list with its own Item Number, so the tireless Arkham ephemerae collector can know what he’s looking for — and I think any copy of the card isn’t quite complete if someone along the way has steamed off the stamp. . . .

So, for those interested in arcane bookman lore, surf over and soak up the info.

And you’ll find a Haefele article on Derleth and Colin Wilson (and even Joyce Carol Oates) in issue 110 of the resurrected Crypt of Cthulhu (a magazine is not dead which comes back from the grave. . .), if you want to check that out.

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Hammett: The Clew Pile Hit Again

They just wrapped up the annual Teachers Tournament on Jeopardy! and what do you know, eased yet another Hammett puzzler into the action.

On May 15, Double Jeopardy! Round, $2000 clew under the banner of Mysteries & Thrillers:

“The Thin Man” by this author is about a former detective & his rich wife solving a murder amid high society

Yeah, for you or me, not a moment of cogitation required. So, I was kind of amazed that not one of the three teachers up at bat rang in to try at least a guess. You don’t get it much easier.

I did notice that Alex Trebek — usually a master at pronouncing all manner of exotic words — went with Dash-ULL rather than the correct Dash-SHIEL, but they can correct that next time. I’m presuming there’ll be a next time. Probably within a month or two.

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Tour: No Walks in May, and June Looks Shot, Too

You know how it goes, you go in for a checkup, one thing leads to another, and you find yourself under the knife for triple bypass surgery. Ouch.

Anyway, I survived, but it looks as if it’ll take two, maybe three months to get back in shape to do any tours.

My apologies for missing out on May especially after all these years, but circumstances dealt the cards.

Posted in Tour |

Rediscovered: A Couple of Footnotes

Yesterday, when I mentioned the death of Stan Sargent on March 6, I definitely was thinking what a fatal month March often is — so much so I plan on keeping my head down in an attempt to squeak through until April.

I even did a Memorial March bit back in 2012, citing deaths such as Lovecraft, Willeford, Edgar Rice Burroughs, plus noting the three-year anniversary of the passing of Steve Tompkins on March 23. Just noticed that Jim Cornelius jumped in this cycle to commemorate the nine-year anniversary — he encountered Tompk via some of his online scribblings and involvement in the once active blog for The Cimmerian magazine.

Anytime Tompk’s name pops up I usually think thoughts of mortality, because it was Tompkins who voiced the idea that Robert E. Howard fan and critical circles were bound to see a Great Extinction Event, where the huge numbers of people who came into play in the 1960s inevitably age out and fall by the wayside.

Not one or two every few years, but a sweeping of the windrows, a dozen, two or three dozen and more, within a few months!

And statistically I’m standing in that group, waiting to see How Many Go Before Me.

Thanks, Steve.

Tompk himself came in later than the herd we’re contemplating, and I’m not sure his early death could be considered as any kind of outlier. But the foretold Extinction Event has got to happen — there are a few specific fat guys in REH circles who have enormous rolls of lard on the backs of their necks, and no one’s betting on them beating the odds.

And by the way, The Cimmerian editor Leo Grin popped in a note that Stan Sargent sent him (Stan cracked the pages of TC with a poem back in the day) that has some interesting details about his 1979 sojourn in Iran:

When I was in Iran (3 months or so before the hostages were taken and the incident the film “Argo” is based on happened), most of the people didn’t care that I was American or [they] wanted to know if I had any disco records they could buy in secret. Heck, my friend and I even met Ayatollah Khomeini at his compound, and they all knew I was an American. But there were a few cities in which people would look at blue-eyed me too closely or ask if I was an American. At that point, I jabbered all the German I could remember from high school.


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Frisco Beat: Stanley C. Sargent

Counting down to the showing of Lon Chaney’s The Penalty in the Old Mint next Thursday — which I chalk up as one of the successful ideas I pitched to the Tenderloin Museum when they were asking what other programs we could do, above and beyond me just coming in and talking about Hammett. (Even so, I can’t give myself too much credit. Yeah, I had the idea, but the Museum and now the Old Mint are doing the heavy lifting.)

And you may be interested in another idea I pitched to the Museum — one of the first things I thought of back in 2015. A talk on how the Tenderloin intersection of Geary and Hyde somehow — by complete coincidence or the nudging of eldritch forces — became a center for horror writing in San Francisco. In the 1970s Fritz Leiber lived just west of the intersection in 811 Geary Street, where he wrote The Pale Brown Thing — which with an expansion and a few changes became the award-winning novel Our Lady of Darkness.

Just south of the intersection, west side of Hyde, Stan McNail lived in the 1960s — in the period he wrote his Arkham House poetry collection Something Breathing (and also edited the poetry journal Galley Sail Review, and so on).

Just north of the intersection, east side of Hyde, Stan Sargent — or Stanley C. Sargent — was living, and he had a couple of collections of Lovecraftian stories out, The Taint of Lovecraft and Ancient Exhumations. Plus more stories here and there. He seems to have written only in the horror form.

So, I suggested we could do a talk, where I’d blurb Fritz and Stan Mac, and drag Stan Sargent in as a living representative of the idea.

Too late now. I got news that Stan died March 6. Light on details. But he’d been living with HIV/AIDS for years, and believe he mentioned once that he had congestive heart failure under treatment, too. Guess it could have been anything.

(Once, walking along in San Francisco near the Powell Street BART Station with Stan and Dick and Pat Lupoff, a street preacher exhorted us, “Trust in the Lord!” Stan looked at us and said, “I did. . . . it didn’t work out.”)

Seasoned hikers around San Francisco no doubt noticed Stan’s windows, the inner sills stacked with various oddities, but notably a saber-toothed tiger skull.

Shot at the top is of Stan in recent years, looking the way I knew him. Shot below is Stan during a month he spent in Iran in 1979, which shows “me sauntering through Xerxes’ palace at Persepolis, Iran. I have a shot of me standing by the colossal winged-bull statues of the ‘Gateway to All Lands’ somewhere too. I spent two entire days exploring the palaces of Cyrus the Great, his son Darius the Great, and Xerxes at Persepolis, all of which were (accidentally?) burned by Alexander the Great. WONDERFUL PLACE! Also spent a couple days at Khomeini’s compound, which was interesting.”

Stan’s interest in such time-lost antiquities really jumped his weird fiction up, when he finally began to write.

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Frisco Beat: Lon Chaney Hits the Old Mint Again!

If you’ve ever caught the 1920 Lon Chaney silent flick The Penalty, you no doubt remember the sequence where Lon and his mob are looting the Old Mint on the corner of Fifth and Mission. On Thursday March 29 — and, yes, I guess there is some irony involved — Chaney returns to the scene of the crime, as the Old Mint hosts a screening, with some introductory remarks by me before the movie, and then Brian Hollins a.k.a. CitySleuth doing his Then & Now power point on location shots from almost 100 years ago.

You might recall that we recently did these same duties for a showing in the Tenderloin Museum, but the concept proved so popular the crew over at the Old Mint decided they wanted in on the action, too. Why not?

They are adding live music and other stuff to the festivities — and, come on, just getting to see this primo Chaney movie inside the building where the actor is running around on the front steps, what could be better?

I can tell you what the Old Mint has that no other venue will ever have: location, location, location.

Show up if you have the interest. I’ll do my usual thoughts of how I think Dashiell Hammett was inspired by this movie to write his tour de force San Francisco action novel The Big Knockover, and anyone who digs local history will be amazed by CitySleuth’s research — honest, the guy’s the best.

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Hammett: A Clew Pile or a Deck of Cards?

Jeopardy! dealt another Hammett clew into the show yesterday, March 6 — in the Category Facts About Fiction.

The $800 clew:

Dashiell Hammett introduced Sam Spade in this novel

Yeah, an easy one.

One guy got it with the correct response: “What is The Maltese Falcon?”

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