Two-Gun Bob: Breaking News in Brownsville

Brian Leno has unleased a flood of breaking news stories on the suicide of Robert E. Howard, who shot himself in the head and lingered for hours before death.

Scott Connors just popped in the notice above, which he found credited to the Heraldo d Brownsville — and also dated June 11, 1936, like the ones Brian turned up. I suspect the name might translate into the Brownsville Herald, but whatever.

Brownsville is the large city at the southernmost tip of Texas, on the gulf, so the REH news was spreading far beyond his own section of the state.

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Hammett: The Too Big Book of the Op

While the appearance of The Big Book of the Continental Op late last year was a boon to Hammett readers, who had been unable to easily get their paws on texts for the stories — much less pure texts derived from the early pulp appearances — the book did prompt some complaints.

Biggest complaint of course was the format as a “Big Book” in that series of footcrushers, when more serious collectors would have preferred a hardcover edition, maybe two or three volumes.

In the It Is What It Is category, I didn’t mind the Big so much — frankly, it is kind of pulpy, a modern cousin to the now rotting pulp magazines where the stories first saw the light of day. Yeah, the book is too big with too many pages and is going to fall apart before you finish reading it (unless you are very, very careful), but finally all the Op is out and about, so what the hell.

But people do complain, and here are some comments that have drifted into my inbox.

First, Tenderloin Terry Zobeck, the Prince of Pure Texts here on the Mean Streets, reacting when he initially heard about it, before seeing any kind of notice: “What is the title? 750 pages in softcover can be an awkward read. I worry about creasing the spine.”

Then Terry saw a notice: “The Big Book of Continental Op Stories. Yech!”

Next I heard from another pal who is a major collector of books and pulps, Kevin Cook, who wrote:

I am terribly disappointed with The Big Book of the Continental Op, not in the least by the fiction it contains, but in the very format of the book. I dislike floppy trade paperbacks to start with, and this one is especially awkward to handle and hard to read. I would guess that the best way to read this book would be to lay it flat on a table and hunch over it, not at all the way I like to read, while sitting back in a chair. In any case, I quickly gave up the idea of reading the complete Op in order in this book and instead I am just reading the stories not included in Crime Stories, and the serializations of the two novels. Don’t get me wrong here: I am extremely pleased that the unedited unabridged Op is finally available, but I really wish there had been at least a limited hardcover edition.

This fat book almost beat Kevin down: “I have just about given up on The Big Book of the Continental Op. The thing just keeps flopping around when I try to read it. I think that my frustration with the packaging is affecting my opinion and enjoyment of the writing. I struggled through the pulp version of Red Harvest, but only started The Dain Curse before I gave up on the book.”

Kevin kept plugging, however, and ultimately reported: “I did finish reading The Big Book of the Continental Op and I found that I liked The Dain Curse better in the pulp version than I remembered liking the book version.”

And just yesterday my fave comment so far rolled in from Hank Carstensen, a long time pal of the Hammett Tour, who liked that all the stories are grouped in order of publication since his early “acquisition and reading was certainly not in order as written.”

And then Hank added: “Only thing, it’s somewhat difficult holding and paging thru a phone book with only 2 hands.”

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Two-Gun Bob: Breaking News in Brownwood, Too

Continuing to poke around in the Texas newsprint of yesteryear, Brian Leno found another notice that Robert E. Howard had shot himself in the head, but remained alive, to go along with the one he found the other day.

“Just to let you know I found a Brownwood Bulletin from 6/11/36 that says Howard is in critical condition, front page actually,” Brian reports — breaking news and front page news.

Obviously REH had his fair share of local fame. Worldwide fame would take a bit longer to manifest.

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Two-Gun Bob: “Suffering from a pistol wound”

In the course of researching his book on the boxing world of Robert E. Howard, Brian Leno keeps tumbling to interesting tidbits — such as the news item above.

Brian notes, “As far as I know, this is a first — printed at a time when Howard was still alive after shooting himself, and his body was fighting to keep him alive.”

Yeah, there are a number of obits, but this one is what they now call “breaking news.”

Brian found it in the Coleman County Chronicle — Texas, of course — for Thursday, June 11, 1936.

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Hammett: And Wandrei

John D. Haefele’s blurbage on Creeps by Night nudged me to get my copy of the Belmont paperback The Red Brain off the Donald Wandrei/E. Hoffmann Price/H. Warner Munn shelf where it lives, to look into once more. The Don/Ed/Harold shelf houses my collection of books by my pals who wrote — back in the day — for Weird Tales, and many of the editions are inscribed.

I suppose I could wedge my collection of Carl Jacobi in there, too, but while I met Carl on a few occasions I didn’t get to know him well enough to claim he was a pal.

And of course Fritz Leiber wrote for Weird Tales — he noted that after a number of rejections, the capricious editor Farnsworth Wright finally accepted his first story for the magazine. I guess you might consider that one of Wright’s last decisions, because he was removed from the job and the story — “The Automatic Pistol” — appeared in 1940 in an issue under the reign of the new editor, Dorothy McIlwraith.

I was in closer proximity to Fritz over a longer period of time, and he wrote many more books than Wandrei/Price/Munn. Fritz takes up about two shelves just on his lonesome, and a good chunk of that collection is inscribed.

I knew the paperback of The Red Brain was inscribed, too — when I handed it over to Wandrei, he said he had never seen this reprint or heard of its existence before that moment.

Wandrei got a good chuckle out of the typography on the cover, which says the stories were selected by “Dashiell Hammett and other creepy thrillers.” All those years later Wandrei was still ticked off about the chintzy $25 payment he and the other contributors got for appearing in the book.

If Hammett had been made to look kind of stupid, Don considered it a form of payback.

I opened the book up and began scanning the front pages, looking for the inscription. Nothing.

Finally, on the inside of the back wraps I spotted Wandrei’s spidery holograph:

For Don Herron — who first brought this Red Brain to my attention — Donald Wandrei/St. Paul, Minn. May 13, 1975

I think Wandrei had selected that position to sign so he wouldn’t put a crease in the front cover. He was a major book collector, and after his death his trove filled many catalogs — he knew better than to crease the cover, because of that collector’s blood.

The outer wraps on the paperback still look bright and sharp, but the interior pages are browning — worse, the text block against the interior wraps are browning them out, even where Wandrei put in his John Hancock.

The peril of collecting pulp paper items, whether it be a pulp magazine like Weird Tales or a paperback like this one from almost sixty years ago.

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Hammett: And Derleth

Yesterday we had a guest post from Brian Leno, and today John D. Haefele drops back into the action.

Want to find out what August Derleth of Arkham House had to do with Creeps by Night, the anthology of weird fiction edited by Hammett?

Read on:


You may not know, but way back in 1931, the up-and-coming Wisconsin writer August Derleth teamed up with the newly famous detective novelist Dashiell Hammett to edit a collection of supernatural horror fiction titled Creeps by Night: Chills and Thrills.

Over the next forty years, Derleth would become one of the most prominent figures promoting the literature of horror, not only with the many anthologies and collections issued by his small press Arkham House, but with a baker’s dozen of his own mainstream anthologies, beginning with Sleep No More in 1944.

While Hammett’s fame as an author would only increase from that point on, Creeps by Night would be his single significant brush with the weird tale.

Only Hammett was credited as the editor, of course, but he had lots of help rounding up the contents — an effort initiated by M. B. Lawrence on the staff of the John Day Company, the individual most likely to have recognized the upside of enlisting Hammett a year after the Valentine’s Day release of his famous novel, The Maltese Falcon.

Help from Derleth and other ad hoc consultants.

In the end, 21 tales comprise Creeps by Night, notable for including mid-twentieth century literati Stephen Vincent Benet, William Faulkner, and Conrad Aiken, among others. Today, Creeps is still well-known and has been often-reprinted — a major landmark in modern horror, on the way to the massive omnibus published by Modern Library in 1944, edited by Herbert A. Wise and Phyllis Fraser that included more than 1,000 pages, more than 50 stories: Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural.

Creeps may be most famous because it included one of the first tales to appear in hardcovers in America by a new horror writer named H. P. Lovecraft.

The first had been “The Horror at Red Hook” in the 1928 anthology Not at Night! —  the contents of which were essentially pirated by Herbert Asbury for the Vanguard Press from the original Not at Night collections that were being published annually in England. As a result of several stories that appeared in the series, Lovecraft experienced slightly earlier acceptance and more success in the United Kingdom.

Despite HPL’s having three starred stories listed in Edward J. O’Brien’s annual Best Short Stories volumes, and two others mentioned in O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories, only one other American anthology before Creeps used his fictionthe seminal tale “The Call of Cthulhu” appeared in the 1929 anthology Beware After Dark, prepared by T. Everett Harré for the Macaulay Company.

But Lovecraft’s stateside stature among readers of the now-iconic Weird Tales magazine where “The Call of Cthulhu” first appeared was growing, due to his fresh approach to traditional horror. HPL’s appearance in Creeps was the tip of the iceberg in recognizing the new school of horror brewing in that particular pulp magazine. Hammett’s anthology also featured stories from Weird Tales by Donald Wandrei and Frank Belknap Long, young protégés of HPL, integral figures in this literary movement.

When scholars of the history of horror look to the past, it is this early, representative appearance by members of the Weird Tale crew that should be of greatest interest — they made Creeps more modern than retrospective. Truly cutting edge.

Of course, the editor and his helpers might’ve taken this action further. Two of the more important Weird Tales writers are not in the collection: Robert E. Howard, who learned about Hammett’s book for the first time in a letter dated September 12, 1931, and Clark Ashton Smith, who two months after that wrote to HPL in a letter circa November 1931: “Creeps by Night doesn’t sound any too ‘hot,’ apart from the contributions by yourself, and Long, Wandrei and Suter.”

As for the Weird Tales writers who did make it, Australian scholar Leigh Blackmore in the zine Manticore no. 38 shared the following inscription, written years after publication in his personal copy of Creeps by Frank Belknap Long:

This rare first edition of a book which has largely vanished from library shelves, was an anthology-inclusion high-water mark for several writers at the time, including HPL, Donald Wandrei and the present writer, whose work had previously appeared only in Weird Tales.

In the biography of Lovecraft I Am Providence, S. T. Joshi calls Creeps by Night a book “worth pausing over” because it “represented one of those fleeting occasions in which [HPL] — or, in this case, his work — came to the attention of an established literary figure.” However, Joshi also notes that Hammett’s introduction “makes no mention of Lovecraft’s story” — but then it doesn’t mention any other particular story, for that matter.

Plainly, the book’s importance had even less to do with money — remunerations were nominal and slow in coming, as HPL indicates in a letter to J. Vernon Shea for October 13, 1931:

Haven’t seen Creeps by Night yet — nor have I received the 25 fish supposedly due me. Congratulations on your 10-spot. Derleth thought $50.00 was due him, but anticipations on the part of others probably whittled the sum down.

Shea, like Derleth, had submitted favorites of his own — while authors with stories accepted would be paid $25 and receive a copy of the book, whoever was first to recommend one of these tales would receive $10.

In case you are wondering, Lovecraft informed Derleth on October 23 1931,“Creeps & the 25 duly came at last.”

In the 2009 edition of The Dashiell Hammett Tour, Don Herron includes the following personal remembrance:

Today researchers debate how much Hammett contributed as “editor,” figuring an in-house editor may have done most of the story selection for the book, but there seems to be little doubt that Hammett wrote the appreciative introduction for the collection. I talked with Don Wandrei about this issue once, and he said he never had direct dealings with Hammett, only with an editor at John Day.

When Derleth was paid for only two of the five stories he had suggested that made it into the contents, Lovecraft offered this opinion in a letter for September 30, 1931 to soothe his young friend’s ego: “With five of your choices adopted, I think Hammett ought to have set you down as a full-fledged co-editor — & most certainly you ought to get the fifty bucks due you according to schedule.”

In a follow-up letter to HPL for October 12, 1931, Derleth said:

I finally got $20.00, which is something. As routine, I shall protest, mildly, for a letter this morning informs that a second volume will definitely be published in the fall of 1932, to which I also hope to contribute. Keep this under your hat, please.

Unfortunately, a second collection never did happen, which is too bad, because what is worth pausing to consider is the apparent lift in sales Hammett’s name helped provide the book.

John Day Company published the first edition of Creeps in 1931, then Tudor Publishing, also a New York company, reprinted the book in 1932. Next, London-based Gollancz Ltd. added to HPL’s popularity in the United Kingdom in 1932, issuing an abridged Creeps edition titled Modern Tales of Horror — omitting S. Fowler Wright’s “The Rats” and Harold Dearden’s “The Strange Case of Mrs. Arkwright,” but retaining Lovecraft’s “Music of Erich Zann,” and the two by Long and Wandrei.

Presumably HPL senses this “Hammett” effect when he makes this remark in a letter to J. Vernon Shea for October 13, 1932:

Oddly, this anthology seems to have succeeded better than any of its predecessors. A British edition … has just come out — & the London agents have just written me that some editor wants to purchase the periodical rights of ‘Erich Zann’. . . .”

All this was only the beginning. . . .

Wandrei informed Derleth on October 20, 1932 that “The John Day Co. says negotiations are under way for a French edition of Creeps by Night, but the pay would be infinitesimal.” (I’ve been unable to establish if such a book ever materialized.)

Reprint-publisher Blue Ribbon books issued their own complete Creeps edition in 1936 (often cited “1931” because it reused the first-edition plates). After that, the World Publishing Company, a genre press, released the collection in 1944 as part of its Forum library series — two printings — the first in blue cloth and the second in red.

Eventually the mass-market, paperback book industry took up issuing Creeps — Belmont Books printing in 1961 the full contents of the original Creeps in two separate volumes, Creeps by Night, and The Red Brain and Other Creepy Thrillers. Belmont’s in-house editors wisely chose Wandrei’s provocative title (and story) to headline the second volume.

To be expected, a leading UK paperback publisher — New English Library, Ltd. — released both titles multiple times beginning in 1968, first under the Four Square imprint and later the NEL imprint.

With all of the above in mind, what is truly worth pausing over is August Derleth’s linch-pin role. Only twenty-two years old, it was already his habit to be crossing pens (more often than paths) with authors on both sides of the Atlantic — Arthur Conan Doyle in 1928, for example, as Derleth in A Praed Street Dossier (1968) recounted in “The Beginnings of Solar Pons” — Pons being Derleth’s variant on Sherlock Holmes.

Derleth, avid fan and future writer of staid Solar Pons deductive-type fiction. Hammett, already pioneering his stock and trade hard-boiled action.

More to the point, Derleth had been corresponding with HPL since 1926, a period during which both men were reading widely in the genre of supernatural fiction, both were selling their own stories to Weird Tales magazine, and both had recently prepared nonfiction treatises on the subject — Lovecraft a few years earlier penning his celebrated “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” and Derleth (with Lovecraft’s help) his 1930 college thesis “The Weird Tale in English Since 1895.”

Having just wrapped this survey, it was only natural that Derleth responded to the John Day solicitation when it appeared in Spring, 1931 — probably in Popular Publication’s Black Mask magazine where Hammett was an established contributor, or another of their many newsstand titles — which asked readers to suggest stories they would like to see in their “modern” anthology.

Day’s Lawrence was quick to respond  in a note to Derleth for June 27, 1931:

Thank you for your long letter of June first, and for the many suggestions for Creeps By Night … Would it be possible for you to go over your list of suggestions and … send us the stories — or the magazines? … It would be of tremendous help to us if we could borrow your copies. As these must be first registered in this office, and then sent out of town to Mr. Hammett, it would be just as well to eliminate such stories as are not really top-notch.

A couple of months passed before the company contacted the authors, including Lovecraft who wrote to Derleth immediately — thus Derleth found out and wrote back to HPL on August 21, 1931: “Your most welcome letter brings me the first good news since I last wrote you … And that news is the acceptance of “Eric [sic] Zann.”

Included among the recommendations submitted by Derleth were (at least) three by Lovecraft: “The Outsider,” “The Colour out of Space,” and “The Music of Erich Zann,” which Derleth helped along by opting to “type the whole thing out and send it to Day rather than send the magazine with the story in it,” as he informed Lovecraft in the August 21 letter.

Others from Derleth’s list also made the cut, including Frank Long’s “A Visitor from Egypt.” HPL wrote on September 30, 1931, “So Sonny Belknap & Grandpa H P are in ‘Creeps’ after all! … I am sorry that none of your stories was included, but glad that Wandrei’s ‘Red Brain’ got in.” Bittersweet news, given Derleth’s “He Shall Come” didn’t make it past the final cut — Derleth explaining later that Hammett had planned to use it — type was set — but it was cut after the book grew too large.

Plainly, Derleth’s original list included more suggestions than he discussed with HPL. All we know is that Lawrence requested in his June 27, 1931 note that Derleth trim his recommendations to include only stories that are “very weird and unusual.”

In the end, Derleth was paid for Lovecraft’s “Zann” and Wandrei’s “Red Brain,” though from among the others we know about, the book included not only Long’s “A Visitor from Egypt” (Shea was paid for that), but Paul Suter’s “Beyond the Door” and (a Derleth favorite) William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”

Ads began to appear in September — publication was imminent. As Derleth told HPL on October 12, “I shall protest mildly. . . .”

Why mildly? Because there’d be a sequel, one was in the planning stages. Only this sequel never happened. With fame spreading, it is likely that Hammett chose to move on — which is too bad, because any follow-up collection assembled by Hammett — especially if Derleth became involved — would undoubtedly have built upon the ground-breaking trend previously established.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Derleth began contemplating a massive weird tale anthology of his own. The earliest mention of that project survives in a letter written on behalf of Arkham House on January 11, 1943 by an individual, Ethel Birchley, who either volunteered or was paid to help Derleth, to Mrs. Miles Becker: “After the war we hope … also to publish an anthology of best shorts from Weird Tales. . . .”

Dated June, 1944, Books from Arkham House, one of his fabulously rare Arkham House Stock Lists, shows Derleth had everything set into motion:

The projected omnibus of best weird tales, largely from Weird Tales, has been broken down into three smaller volumes — again, to circumvent paper-rationing difficulties — and the probability is that, though Arkham House will distribute to our patrons, the books themselves will be published by another publisher. The initial collection, Sleep No More, will come in late September from Farrar & Rinehart of New York.

Interestingly, an interim event underscores the inevitability of Derleth’s bent towards promoting Lovecraft and company. Even as he was planning this book of his own, he helped author-journalist Phil Stong with The Other Worlds: 25 Modern Stories of Mystery and Imagination — published in 1941 by Wilfred Funk, Inc. — another ground-breaking anthology with emphasis on early American science-fiction. In his introduction, Stong acknowledges “August Derleth, who has given me assistance on this book.”

Random House’s Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural — destined to become one of the more influential and most widely read anthologies of supernatural fiction ever — was also published in 1944. Here again, to his credit, Derleth is part of the story, having given the editors permission to include two tales he held the rights to, which were written by the virtually unknown and by then deceased Lovecraft: “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Dunwich Horror.”

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Two-Gun Bob: The Late Clyde Keith

Brian Leno was the first ever Guest Blogger on this site courtesy his Jack the Ripper expertise, and he’s back today talking about another of his interests, the Texas writer Robert E. Howard. You’ll find some of Brian’s excellent litcrit on REH in his eBook Lovecraft’s Southern Vacation — a must-read for any fan of the creator of Conan.

Currently Brian is poking along on his long-planned book on the boxing world of REH, diving ever deeper into the fight scene in the four-cornered rings and the ice houses of Howard’s day, when pugilists such as Kid Dula were smacking gloves.

His research in the forgotten newspapers of yesteryear led Brian to a nice little discovery about REH, and — reminded by the Independence celebrations a couple of days ago — he popped the dope toward the Mean Streets.

Take it away, Brian:


It wouldn’t engage a flight of fancy to say that Robert E. Howard was known to have exaggerated a bit in his correspondence. Whether he thought he needed to impress his friends by inventing — or improving upon —  fights or marathon drinking binges he had either participated in or had been a witness to is something that most likely will never be completely uncovered by any Howard scholar.

But I’ve got one for you.

A 4th of July letter to future Arkham House co-founder, and Howard’s fellow contributor to Weird Tales, August Derleth has always attracted my attention.

Written on the holiday in 1935, Howard relates stories of many friends who had died violently. There are quite a few of them. For the particulars of how most of these pals moved into the next world, turn to the third volume of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard and browse the annotations after each death event.

Not the ending for Clyde Keith, though. The footnote reads: “No information has been located on this individual or incident”.

Here’s how Howard describes the murder of this acquaintance to Derleth:

And there was Clyde Keith, another schoolmate. It was a fight on a lonely road, and he had his man down, feeling for his eyes. “A fight is a fight,” said the other, “but I’ll not go through life with my eyes out; let go, or I’ll do you a mortal hurt.” But the liquor was on Clyde, and he said: “I’ll gouge the eyeballs out of you like rotten grapes.” So the man below him reached up with his knife and ripped the life out of him at one slash.

For verification that this battle really happened I am happy to report that we can turn to The Breckenridge American, Wednesday, January 16th, 1929. Under the heading “Knife Wounds Fatal” it reads:

Clyde Keith, 21, died in a hospital today of knife wounds received Saturday night. Robert L. Parker, 21, who had been at liberty under $1000 bond was rearrested and charged with murder, and his examining trial was set for Saturday.

While the Texas pulp writer may have indulged in a little hyperbole it’s clear that, a scant 34 years after John Wesley Hardin was shot in the back by John Selman in El Paso, the Lone Star State could still be a dangerous place.

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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 McGinnis, 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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