Hollywood Beat: Jim Tully

Recent mentions of hitting Hollywood again, plus references to my 1984 book The Dark Barbarian, on Texas writer Robert E. Howard, brought Jim Tully back to mind — a road kid and beggar and circus roustabout who became one of the bestselling writers of the 20s and 30s. His last years spent on the Hollywood scene involved doing lucrative articles on the stars for national magazines — kind of an authentic tough guy turned Ryan Seacrest, but the money was very good.

In preparation for writing the essay “Hard-Boiled Heroic Fantasist” (under the name George Knight) for TDB I read a bunch of Tully’s books. In a December 1932 letter Howard offered the opinion that of living American authors of the day only the writing of Tully and H.P. Lovecraft would endure. Lovecraft has become a standard, and Tully has dug in as a cult favorite. Yeah, he gets a push toward major rediscovery every now and then, but his best novels aren’t going away even if he never cracks the mainstream again. You get pulled into the sphere of Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties, you’re going to encounter this Shanty Irish mug.

One of the books Charles Willeford wanted to do was a major book-length study on Tully. He didn’t get to it, but you can read some pieces he wrote toward it in Writing and Other Blood Sports. I figure if a writer like Tully keeps showing up again and again as an interest of other writers you like, then check him out.

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