Rediscovered: Fritz Cracks Jeopardy!

The_Wanderer_(Fritz_Leiber_novel_-_cover_art)As I was just reporting, Jeopardy! didn’t have any Hammett clews in March — but they snuck in another Up and Down These Mean Streets favorite that was much more of a surprise.

March 31, snowballing toward Final Jeopardy, with a category in play that I know pretty well: Hugo Award-Winning Novels.

I almost couldn’t believe that none of the contestants could guess Robert A. Heinlein when a clew cited a couple of his Hugo winners, but that’s how it goes.

Back in the 1970s and 80s it seemed as if Heinlein was the great science fiction writer, a rep he’d had since the 1950s. But somehow that position dimmed, and sf guys such as Asimov and Bradbury and Clarke rose higher. Maybe movies at the right moment put them over, but I’d never have believed someone as big as Heinlein was when I began doing litcrit in the field could fall so profoundly.

I remember Fritz Leiber saying that he thought that Heinlein was the great sf writer of their generation. And now he’s not as known by the general public as Asimov. Not even Starship Troopers made him a household name in brainy households. . . .

As the $2000 slot under Hugos popped up — the last one in play before the game moved to Final Jeopardy — I got a start.

“They’re using Fritz! It’s The Wanderer! From 1964!”

One of Fritz’s best, The Wanderer appeared as a paperback original — great book, I’ve long maintained that it would make the best disaster movie of all time. And here it was!

The statement read: “A new planet’s appearance wreaks havoc on Earth in this 1965 winner named for what ‘planet’ means in Greek.”

If, like me, you know the Hugo winners of yesteryear (I pay no attention to what wins today), easy as pie.

They don’t expect you to know Fritz’s name — that would be a bit much, especially if the panel can’t dredge up Heinlein.

The only clew to doping it out — without just knowing what it is — seems to be an understanding of Greek.

In this case, none of the contestants rang in. They didn’t know Fritz or Greek — or enough about the Hugo winners to hazard a guess.

But at least now the unnamed ghost of Fritz Leiber is haunting the Jeopardy! scene. And as far as I’m concerned, Fritz is one of the great science fiction writers. If they make a movie out of The Wanderer, I bet everyone else would realize it, too.

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Hammett: Hard-Boiling Jeopardy!

Remember that just in January I mentioned that the quiz show Jeopardy! seemed to be using Hammett and his works more and more often for clews?

On February 19 they struck again!

Category: Literary Quotes.

The $1000 slot.

Statement: “This gumshoe tells Brigid, ‘When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it.'”

The champion of the moment rang in on it and gave the correct answer (which we all know is Sam Spade, right?).

I didn’t spot any Hammett nods in March but this month, whoa!

Guess future contestants better brush up on their definitive hard-boiled crime fiction.

April 11, first round, the $1000 slot.

Category: “D.H.”

(That means the first name or word begins with a D, the second with an H — like, oh, Dag Hammarskjold.)

Statement: “His 1961 N.Y. Times obituary called him ‘The dean of the so-called “hard-boiled” school of detective fiction.'”

No one guessed — me, I got it instantly.

On April 20 in the category Pulp Fiction, the $1200 slot:

“Chapter 4 of this classic of detective fiction is ‘The Black Bird’.”

No one rang in.

Yeah. These mugs better start studying their Hammett.

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Tour: Four Sunday Walks

012412 tour4

Shot above: a tour of yesteryear looking at the awning signage on John’s Grill in Ellis Street.

Okay, now that the rainy season has swept past the Mean Streets, how about a round of walks where anyone can show up with $20 ready to blow?

You’ll find walks scheduled for Sunday April 24 — and Sunday May 1, Sunday May 15, and Sunday May 29. Put a shine on your gumshoes and come on down, if interested.

These tours begin at noon. Meet near the revolving “L” sculpture. Plan to slide along the sidewalks for four hours, maybe even four hours plus if there are a lot of questions.

No appointment needed.

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Sinister Cinema: Orson

orson in paree

I believe it was sometime in 2010 or so when Matthew Asprey — more recently writing under the longer handle of Matthew Asprey Gear — hoofed These Mean Streets on the Hammett tour. He mentioned the moment in a book of Jack London’s San Francisco stories he assembled. Since then he’s been plugging on various things, notably the magazine Contrappasso, which I’ve mentioned a few times.

But with his book of film criticism on Orson Welles and cities, I think Matthew has jumped into deeper and wider waters. From his home base in Sydney he hit film and paper archives in Munich, Glasgow and Buenos Aires. “I even got to hold his passports.”

For me, one of his most interesting discoveries was made in the Lilly Library in Indiana, and went into the chapter about Welles and San Francisco — which is to say the chapter mostly about the uber noir classic The Lady from Shanghai.

Not long before Welles made Shanghai, he was toying with a movie based on Michael Fessier’s 1934 novel Fully Dressed and in His Right Mind. Matthew notes the book is set in San Francisco and that Welles envisioned it as “a thriller about a cannibalistic killer with supernatural powers who first murders a newspaper editor and then stalks the hero through San Francisco.”

Use of this city would have been underscored with a definitive scene: “There’s a nice sketch of a sequence on a cable car that would have used multiple reflections” — anticipating the hall of mirrors sequence from Shanghai.

What can I say? If Welles had shot Fully Dressed, he probably wouldn’t have made Shanghai. You know me, I love this stuff — pondering the coulda/wouldas. With someone like Welles, with so many classics, any project he considered is worth some rumination, especially one as intriguing as Fully Dressed. 

Matthew tells me he isn’t the first Welles scholar to undercover the info, that nod goes to Bret Wood in his 1990 Bio-Bibliography of Welles — but “Wood didn’t connect the Welles script to the novel it was based on.” Yeah, the Fessier connection is kind of important.

And he gives me another tidbit for Frisco fans: one episode of an early unfinished film would have had one sequence set in San Francisco, that sequence scripted by none other than John Fante.

If interested, you can grab copies off Amazon, Amazon U.K., B&N, etc. & etc.

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Rediscovered: Stretched in Space

spectreCouldn’t help but think of Fritz Leiber when I noticed the article about astronaut Scott Kelly growing two inches taller after not quite a year in space.

Instantly conjured up Fritz’s 1968 novel A Spectre is Haunting Texas, whose protagonist was raised in “the Sack” in orbit around the moon. He is tall, thin (in fact, a “Thin”), and can only move when he gets to earth by means of an exoskeleton.

Man, Fritz knew his science (he was an editor for Science Digest out of Chicago for years, so it’s no big surprise).

And science is proving his science fiction right. Or his fiction did right by science.

Or, he snuck in a prophetic insight here or there. . . .

Dug out my Walker hardback of Spectre to look it over. In a 1980 inscription Fritz blurbed it as “This tale of a cloaked skeleton & other weirdoes. . .”

By the time we get to Mars we’re going to need stretch pants, that’s all I have to say about it.

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Rediscovered: Further Pontine Ephemera

Pons eph

Remember that cache of Arkham House ephemera I landed the other week, anchored by a TLS by August Derleth on a Solar Pons greeting card he had had printed up?

I thought just having the little signed note by Derleth was a main attraction, but then I was chatting with my ephemera collecting pal John D. Haefele about it and thought to ask:

Have you ever seen this Solar Pons greeting card before?

His answer: No.

Suddenly, I was on the hunt.

Wait a second. Have you ever seen ANY Solar Pons greeting cards before?

His answer: No.

Now, Haefele may or may not be the ultimate authority on Solar Pons stuff, but he knows more about Derleth than anyone I have ever encountered — and if he didn’t know about the card, I felt sure I had landed something very cool.

Obviously Derleth had the cards printed up, perhaps for specific correspondence related to either Pons in general or the forthcoming collection The Chronicles of Solar Pons. But then Derleth died before that book would appear.

How many were printed?

How many used?

Do I have the only one in existence today?

Or are there another dozen, or half-dozen. . .?

Our talk got Haefele thinking Pontine thoughts, so he took a brief break from working on Lovecraft: The Great Tales (he’s sending me sections as he works them up, terrific stuff) to do a post on the origins of Pons on the Allied Authors site. Old School Bookman thoughts invoking Robert Bloch and sf editor Ray Palmer — hop on over and read it.

Best part was that Haefele pulled another piece of rare Solar Pons ephemera from his private collection, as shown at the top: a centennial Best Wishes from Pons to Sherlock Holmes, signed by Derleth and additionally notarized by Mycroft Holmes and Col. Sebastian Moran, namesakes of the Pontine publisher Mycroft & Moran.

I presume this item is genuine ephemera — which is to say, a printed item even if signed personally by Derleth (and Mycroft & Moran). Not a lone note mocked up by Derleth to send to some individual Sherlock Holmes nut like, oh, good old Vincent Starrett.

You can tell if the item is printed or typed, because Derleth’s forceful keystrokes indent commas and periods through the back of the paper. My Solar Pons greeting card, when viewed from the back, kind of looks like Brail.

Yeah, I guess the ephemera collecting game is once more afoot. . . .

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Rediscovered: Solar Pons


Dove back into one of my favorite hobbies recently, when I landed a ten item trove of Arkham House ephemera. Ordered them mostly blind, though I had the sense that an item I needed might possibly be in the lot.

Sure enough, my gamble paid off and I got a copy of Item 87 from the collector’s checklist I did for Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine back in October 2002. I’ll presume anyone interested in assembling the ephemera has that issue, since I do a history of the items along with the list. One hundred items in total, although since then I think we have scouted out another ten to twenty items not on that list (and from the Classic Era only — I’m not interested once you get past the years when August Derleth was both Arkham publisher and Arkham promoter, turning out these little gems of sales propaganda wizardry).

Item 87 was reported in Firsts as “Unseen at this time.” It had been described in a sales list from L.W. Currey, that’s how I knew about it. New and Forthcoming Books by August Derleth was the title. I figured it was separate from other pieces of ephemera because it was only eight pages — same exact title as Item 88, but 88 was 12 pages.

Yep, that’s the level of arcane detail you get into in the ephemera game.

Also got another item I didn’t know about — an Order Blank on orange paper — but it turned out my ephemera-collecting bud John D. Haefele had it already, so it was not completely new to us. Just to me.

The rest of the stuff I had in hand. Dupes. Lucky for Haefele, he needed three of those items, so the score really paid off, item for item.

Even if all the items turned out to be dupes, the risk was balanced by the main offering, a TLS from Derleth to the arch-collector Adrian Homer Goldstone. Given added poignancy by the date, March 2, 1971 — Derleth would die July 4 of that year.

Typed on a greeting card Derleth had printed up, with an image by artist Roy Hunt of Solar Pons and his associate Parker in the doorway of 7 Praed Street.

Pons is Derleth’s knockoff of Sherlock Holmes, Parker his Watson, Praed Street an echo of 221B. . . .

While I’m not sure the greeting card quite fits into a list of Arkham ephemera — though it might, I guess — it was worth having, plus the fitted envelope it came in with the Mycroft & Moran logo (M&M was the mystery fiction arm of Arkham House).

And personally, I also liked the Goldstone connection. Bay Area guy, huge collector and bibliographer of John Steinbeck and Arthur Machen, in his last years he began assembling a collection of mystery and detective fiction. When it went to auction after his death in 1977, it broke sales records — propelled writers like Dashiell Hammett from the $800ish range for a first edition such as The Maltese Falcon more toward $5000 — soon to be $10,000, and beyond.

Goldstone died a hero’s death, trying to stop a runaway car on one of San Francisco’s hills that had pulled loose from the brake.

(And just the other day Brian Leno popped in a note about how he “was dinking around on ABEbooks and came across the information that Adrian Homer Goldstone’s brother, M.B. Goldstone, had a copy of The Great Gatsby that sold at auction for over $100,000. That t’ain’t bad, McGee.” I told Leno that when it came to the world of books, those Goldstones were serious babies, they didn’t mess around.)


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Hammett: Hey-Ya, Hey-Ya, Who’s Got a Black Boid?

Nathan Ward just sent along a link to an article in Vanity Fair on the subject of falcon statues — from the 1941 Bogie flick or the George Segal The Black Bird or anywhere else you might grab a falcon statue from. . . .

Has a lot of “experts” questioning why — Why, God, WHY??? — would the props department have made the props out of metal so that the metal ones weigh so much?

Gee, I don’t know — maybe because the fake one the Russian switched out in the novel was made of lead, so the weight would fool anyone thinking it was the real treasure, made of gold.

Lead. Gold. Heavy.

Oh yeah, and a theory is floated that the guy who may have designed the 1941 statue could have been involved in the Black Dahlia murder. . . .

What the hell, why not?

Check it out, if interested. I am always amazed when anyone claims that a plaster version of the Black Bird is the real Hollywood deal. Accessories to Murder manufactured those babies for years, and I don’t think I have ever met a big Hammett fan who doesn’t have one.

Or two, like I do.

Just to be clear, I firmly believe that the two metal statues — lead, I think it is, with a golden bronze patina — are authentic. Which is why one sold for over $300,000 years ago (to the Harry Winston jewel heir) and the other jumped four million not long ago. I have seen both — even pulled a shoulder muscle lifting the case with the Winston bird from the back seat of a limo one time when it rolled through the burg.

And while I haven’t seen it in person, I accept that a much lighter bakelite version (or two) exists after Bogie dropped one of the lead ones on his foot.

But plaster?

Remember some years ago when the falcon statue in John’s Grill supposedly was stolen? Some guy from the press called me up to ask what I thought about it. I wasn’t that concerned.

“Hey,” I told him. “If necessary, I can give them one of mine.”

I’ve got two. Made of plaster.

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Hammett: Some Tough Nights


Eighty-six years ago today Knopf did the official release of a sweet little love yarn titled The Maltese Falcon.

You know, the one where it looks like your girlfriend is going to prison. May be hanged.

Tough break.

Sure, you’ll have some rough nights. But you’ll struggle through.

Put a match to another smoke. . . .

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Tour: Sunday February 28

012412 tour11

Shot above — I assemble the tour group for a gander at the Geary Theatre, where Joel Cairo had tix to see a play in The Maltese Falcon.

With the brutal rains of winter pounding down, I’ve been doing only select groups by appointment on the side, but some people hauling into the burg — including, potentially, a guy from Italy — have requested a walk on Sunday February 28.

Okay. What the hell. Anyone who wants to show up at noon with twenty bucks in hand to join in is welcome to wear the gum rubber soles down on the mean streets.

I’ll be there, even if it’s raining like a monsoon.

If it is lashing down like a monsoon, however — if it is an actual monsoon — you don’t then have to show up. There will be more tours later, especially as we hit May and the end of the rainy season.

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