[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted July 21, 2011, at the now defunct REH: Two-Gun Raconteur Blog. This version has been updated.]
Now then, let’s back up just a bit. Following the 1957 publication of Always Comes Evening, Glenn Lord got into contact with Lenore Preece, who supplied him with information and various copies of the surviving issues of The Junto. Lord also got in touch with Clyde Smith, who was standoffish at first, but later warmed up. In the summer of 1961, a milestone, Glenn Lord published the first issue of The Howard Collector. He began by running items obtained from The Junto, and elsewhere, but in the fourth issue (summer 1963), he ran Clyde Smith’s “Report on a Writing Man.” This was the first real glimpse of the man who had created Conan, and while Vinson’s name is not mentioned, Smith’s article makes it clear that Howard wasn’t the isolated loner he had previously been described as.
The next issue, summer 1964, introduced Vinson as one of the three swordsmen shown above. The winter 1965 issue has the first Howard letter that mentions Truett, others would follow. Then, in the summer 1966 issue, Harold Preece includes Vinson in an important circle of friends:
Yet the personal impact of Bob Howard has to be defined in terms of the total influence of that whole little Brownwood group on me and on the work I would do later — Truett Vinson, Clyde Smith, Gladys Brannan, Ottie and Mary Gill. They were my very first intellectual circle anywhere.
Preece further cemented Vinson’s standing in his essay “The Last Celt,” which appeared in the spring 1968 issue:
[Summer 1927] was the apropos season to be excited by a poem, by the turn of a girl’s thigh, or by this and that proclamation of the New Jerusalem delivered by Upton Sinclair in California or Norman Thomas in New York. Fittingly, that year when I was twenty-one, it was a good time to meet, in the flesh, people like Truett Vinson and Bob Howard.
Our first session was held in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel at Austin, my home town. Those two were returning home from a vacation, I believe, in Mexico.
That same issue has Howard’s “Musing of a Moron,” a humorous sketch involving Howard, Smith, Preece, and Vinson. By the time The Howard Collector ceased publication in 1973, Howard fans had a general idea of Vinson’s place in the Howard biography. And that was about all they were going to get for a while.
Following the demise of The Howard Collector, Clyde Smith changed venues. Work by Smith started to appear in Jonathan Bacon’s fan publications, Fantasy Crossroads and Fantasy Crosswinds. Aware of Smith’s personal connection to Howard, Bacon commissioned him (and Harold Preece, too) to write a biography. The first and only installment, “The Magic Name,” appeared in Fantasy Crossroads #10/11 in March 1977 (reprinted in “So Far the Poet”).
It was probably around that time that Smith contacted Vinson, who is without a doubt the unnamed person in this quote from Smith’s article:
Another friend, very, very close to Bob, declined to write a biography. He said, “No, you are the one to write it—you were closer to him than I was.” So, much valuable information will be lost, but I respect this man’s wishes, and will not reveal his name, or keep asking him to do something which he does not wish to do.
Sadly, Smith died before completing the work, but his notes survived and were published as “So Far the Poet” in the Necronomicon Press chapbook Report on A Writing Man in 1991 (also reprinted in “So Far the Poet”). In those notes, Clyde clears up any mystery about the identity of the “friend” above:
My request to Truett to write a biography — Felt he was closer to Bob — he said “No — you are the one to write it — You were closer to him than I was.”
And Clyde wasn’t the only one looking for more information about Bob Howard in the 1970s. L. Sprague de Camp was also writing a biography. He’d found Vinson and written him a letter which, apparently, went unanswered. Later, de Camp acquired Vinson’s telephone number and gave him a call on June 28, 1977.
Probably thinking he’d hit the jackpot, de Camp was disappointed, describing Vinson as “close-mouthed and relatively uncommunicative.” In his short answers, Vinson doesn’t provide any information to support de Camp’s various theses, in fact he debunks a few (of course, that didn’t change de Camp’s mind, but that’s another story). As a matter of fact, Vinson is so tight-lipped that he doesn’t say anything about Novalyne Price, except to agree that she was “lively and attractive.”
The following day, June 29, 1977, Vinson wrote a letter to de Camp. Again, he discusses things in a fairly innocuous way, providing no fuel for de Camp’s fires. While there is nothing “new,” in his letter, he does say that he never really understood Bob Howard and was surprised when he killed himself. He “never detected any sort of animosity” between father and son, though he acknowledged that Bob was closer to his mother, who was “a good cook!”
While it seems clear from his comments in The Junto that Vinson appreciated Howard’s poetry, the same cannot be said of his fiction. In the telephone conversation, de Camp noted that Vinson described Howard’s stories as “trash”; in his follow-up letter, Vinson dialed it back a bit and said that Bob’s stories were not “edifying.” This conclusion, he says, following “a very meaningful religious experience.” He closed the letter with the following:
Now, I do not care to have any part, at this late date, forty years in time, of trying to take Robert Howard apart to find out what “made him tick.” I am opposed to this sort of thing for anybody, whether he be “strange” or not. And so I will greatly appreciate your leaving me out of your “study” of Robert Howard, and please do not ask me any more questions concerning him.
With that, Vinson fades from the record. He died in December 1981, taking whatever he knew about Robert E. Howard with him to the grave. De Camp’s biography came out two years later. While Dark Valley Destiny leaves a lot to be desired, if one can sift through de Camp’s interminable psychoanalysis of his subject, his guesses as to what motivated different people, it does provide a general outline of Howard’s life. Most of the errors of fact can be explained by his limited access to some of the information that has since been unearthed; of course, he did choose to ignore some information, but again, that’s another story. One thing DVD does establish is Truett Vinson’s central location in the life of Robert E. Howard. And we’ll leave it at that.
Until next time . . .