The Kline Connection

OAK header

[by Rob Roehm. Originally published May 1, 2011, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version lightly edited.]

Born in Chicago on July 1, 1891, and author of at least thirteen novels (most appearing as serials in the pulps), not to mention all the short stories, articles, letters, and even poems, Otis Adelbert Kline is perhaps best-known to readers of the Two-Gun blog as the author of The Swordsmen of Mars, and as the one-time agent for Robert E. Howard. In the 1920s, Kline hobnobbed with Farnsworth Wright and E. Hoffmann Price at his Chicago home. A successful pulp writer himself, Kline started agenting for others in 1932 or 1933. At the suggestion of Price, himself a client of Kline’s, Robert E. Howard joined the stable of authors that Kline served.

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The earliest Kline-Howard connection that I’m aware of is Kline’s May 11, 1933 letter to Howard. In that missive, Kline mentions having at least four Howard stories already on hand: “The Yellow Cobra,” “The Turkish Menace,” “The Jade Monkey,” and “Cultured Cauliflowers.” Not only did Kline attempt to place Howard’s fiction in different markets, he offered tips and strategies to more effectively produce those stories.

According to the Kline Agency ledger, “Wild Water” was received on June 15, 1933. The very next day Kline returned it, saying that while it was loaded with “excellent local color, powerful characterizations and fast action,” he was afraid he couldn’t sell it “because the plot is not powerful enough to support a story of this length.” While I don’t agree with Kline’s assessment, he apparently knew what he was talking about at the time. Howard rewrote the story and sent it back that October. It was shopped around by V. I. Cooper, who sent it to Fiction House, Wild West Stories, and others, to no effect. The story remained unpublished long after Howard’s death.

And so it went; Kline continued to place, or not place, Howard’s work. In 1935, business must have been going well, as Kline enlisted the aid of Otto O. Binder. Binder went to New York late in 1935 to be closer to the publishing scene than Kline’s Chicago offices allowed. And he had some success, placing several of Howard’s “Spicy” stories with Trojan Publications, as well as other items, like “Black Wind Blowing” and “The Curly Wolf of Saw-Tooth.” After a rough start in New York, when things started picking up, Binder wrote the following to his brother Earl on June 7, 1936:

The business is beginning to pick up a bit at that, though. I wish all our authors were like Robert E. Howard. Since I’ve been here, I’ve sold $700 worth of his stuff, getting him into Argosy, and into Star Western, and Complete Stories S&S. He’s thirty years old and has sold 22 different magazines and over 125 stories altogether. I’ve seen his picture—he’s a rough and ready Texan and claims he wears no underwear because there’s no sense to it!

Howard’s suicide a few days later certainly negated that “wish.” Binder sent a postcard to Richard Frank, a friend in Pennsylvania, mentioning the suicide. Rich responded in a July 9, 1936 letter:

Give me more dope on the suicide of ROBERT E. HOWARD. Funny thing about my hearing of the tragedy. Your card arrived telling me of the suicide and while I was waiting at the post office I saw a magazine thrust into my box. I pulled it out and it was the July issue of WEIRD TALES with Howard’s latest story, “Red Nails,” featured on the cover. It gave me a peculiar feeling to hear of an author’s death and then, in the same mail, receive his latest tale.

And while there would be no new Howard items to show, Kline Associates got first crack at the fabled trunk, and Kline continued to represent Howard through his father, Doctor I. M. Howard. During this time, A Gent from Bear Creek was published, and the foundations for Skull-Face and Others were laid. This stormy relationship would last until the doctor’s death in November 1944, but that was not the end of Otis Kline Associates’ relationship with the works of Robert E. Howard.

OAK Letterhead

In his will, Doctor Howard left “all property, both real and personal” to his friend Doctor P. M. Kuykendall. This included the literary rights to Robert’s work. And, while the actual items—typescripts, clippings, letters, etc.—were shipped off to E. Hoffmann Price in California, Dr. Kuykendall received royalty checks from Kline. Business was slow.

Kline died in October 1946, but his agenting business lived on. His daughter, Ora Rossini (later Rozar), took over the practice for a year and a half, but when her husband was transferred to Texas, of all places, she “turned over everything to Oscar Friend, including material published and unpublished, records, files, etc.” Oscar Jerome Friend was a veteran writer himself, as well as editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories from 1941 to 1944. Upon purchasing Kline’s business, he set out to fatten it by contacting various authors, including Binder and British science fiction writer Eric Frank Russell, and asking them to let him represent them. The Howard items were probably not very high on his priority list. Things change.

In 1950, a small specialty publisher purchased the rights for Howard’s The Hour of the Dragon—Gnome Press. Conan the Conqueror, as the novel was re-titled, was the first in a series of books covering the Cimmerian’s exploits. From all accounts the series wasn’t exactly lucrative, but it did show some possibilities. Enter L. Sprague de Camp.

According to de Camp’s introduction to Gnome’s King Conan (1953), he had been acquainted with Oscar Friend and, when he learned from Donald Wollheim that Friend had “a whole pile of unpublished Howard manuscripts,” he rushed right over. This was November 30, 1951. Upon his arrival, he met Harold Preece, and then Friend “hauled out the carton of manuscripts—about twenty pounds of them.” Among the stash, three Conan tales were discovered, and “it was agreed that [de Camp] should rewrite these stories—not, however, to turn them into typical de Camp pieces, but to create as nearly as possible what Howard would have produced if in his later years he had undertaken to rewrite them himself with all the care he could manage.”

Meanwhile, Doctor Kuykendall had decided that he’d had enough of the literature business and made Friend an offer: “We would consider a sale price of three thousand dollars for all rights, and a complete release of any claim to future royalties that might accrue.” Friend responded on March 14, 1954, saying that the property wasn’t really worth that much, and offered $1,250, instead. The reasons for this reduction in price seem quite reasonable, for the time. There was, after all, no guarantee that the Conan name would take off.

Friend described his efforts to continue the Conan series, and the amount of work that would entail:

Now let us consider the future prospect of a continuation. In the first place, I have to guide, cajole, help plot, supervise, etc., the future books, and keep a firm rein and control—or the project would go completely haywire and finally bog down in complete ruin. There is one rather smart writer now who has been doing some work for us in rewriting several Howard stories, and he keeps pressing for a larger cut and keeps slipping in side remarks to the effect that if he wants to he can and will go ahead on his own and write about Conan as the author is dead, etc., etc. And I’ve warned him that I’ll sue the pants off him if he makes one silly move of this nature before the CONAN material runs out of copyright (56 years).

We all know how that worked out.

Sometime later, Kline’s daughter recalled that “Oscar moved to another place and I suspect disposed of practically all OAK material, records, and files.” This may be when the Howard items listed on the Kline lists disappeared. Items like “The Phantom Tarantula” and “Footprints of Fear,” which are listed on the list, but no copies have ever turned up.

Young GL

Friend enlisted the aid of his wife, Irene M. Ozment, as vice president, and his daughter, Kitty F. West, as early as 1955, with West acting as secretary for Kline Associates and sending letters to the above-mentioned Eric Frank Russell. Around this time, also, a young Howard fan named Glenn Lord secured the rights to Howard’s poems and published Always Comes Evening (1957) with Arkham House. Friend’s health began to fail in the early 1960s, and he died on January 19, 1963. His wife and daughter continued the agency through 1964. In the interim, Dr. Kuykendall had also died, leaving the rights to Robert Howard’s works to his wife and daughter. With the Kline agency closing up shop, the heirs were in need of a new agent.

In Costigan #7 (REHupa mailing #9, May 1974), Glenn Lord explains what happened next: “The Howard heirs asked Mrs. West to find another agent to handle the Howard material, and L. Sprague de Camp was asked, but turned it down due to his own writing. De Camp suggested that I might be a good possibility.”

The Kuykendalls apparently agreed and, in the winter 1965 issue of The Howard Collector, Lord made the announcement: “Otis Kline Associates, the agent for the Howard Estate, went out of business at the end of 1964. I have accepted the handling of the Howard material for the Estate.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

[Note: Most of the information used to write the above came from the forthcoming collection from the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, The Collected Letters of Doctor Isaac M. Howard. Ora Rozar’s information is from OAK Leaves #2, Winter 1970-71, edited by David Anthony Kraft. The letters to and from Otto Binder are unpublished; copies were provided by the Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A&M. Binder’s list of sales appeared in OAK Leaves #5, Fall 1971. Letters from Kline Associates to Erick Frank Russell are unpublished; they are housed at the University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives.]

The House that Leo Built

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[by Rob Roehm. Originally published May 30, 2010, at rehtwogunraconteur.com.]

The Cimmerian Blog Calls It Quits

Over at the TC blog Deuce Richardson has announced that they are closing up shop. Love it or hate it, the passing of the Cimmerian blog marks the end of an era.

Anyone doing the history of Robert E. Howard fandom in the new millennium will have to start with Leo Grin. The first few years of the 2000s saw the expansion of Wandering Star’s publishing program into the Del Rey trade paperbacks and the birth of Wildside Press’ Robert E. Howard series, but on the fandom frontline these years were pretty much business as usual. Other than the triumphant return of Damon Sasser’s REH: Two-Gun Raconteur in 2003 (its previous issue had been published in 1977), REH fans had the same things to look forward to as usual: maybe an issue of The Dark Man would come out, maybe Dennis McHaney would do something, maybe Joe Marek would do another Howard Reader, maybe . . .

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Leo Grin changed all of that with The Cimmerian Volume 1, Number 1, dated April 2004. Scholarly, but without being scholarly, TC quickly became THE journal of Howard Studies. Informative, entertaining, timely: no other Howard publication could come close. And no longer would Howard fans have to wait, sometimes years, for a publication devoted to their favorite Texan, now they would receive a bi-monthly dose. And Leo remained true to that schedule for the life of the magazine, except in 2006 when he actually increased its frequency to monthly. True, sometimes issues were delayed, but never for long, and certainly not for years.

As if editing and publishing a serious, bi-monthly journal wasn’t enough, in 2005 Leo introduced The Cimmerian Awards. The awards honored the best and brightest in Howard scholarship from the preceding year. Presented at Howard Days that June, the awards were a big success. He also started The Cimmerian Library that year. This series of chapbooks featured items that didn’t quite fit in the regular publication. And Mr. Grin wasn’t finished yet.

After having my first article published in The Cimmerian (“Howard’s Ruin,” February 2005), Leo and I became fast friends; I was still new to fandom and Leo was kind enough to show me the ropes. It was during one of our initial email exchanges that I first heard of The Cimmerian blog, August 1, 2005, almost a year before it actually appeared. Leo had been telling me about his plan to get Howard the recognition he deserves and, completely off the cuff, mentioned that “one of my projects is going to be to revamp The Cimmerian’s website, put up a blog,” etc. At the time, I barely knew what a blog was and pretty much forgot about it.

By March of 2006 the blog was in its embryonic stage, with Leo using it to test posts and host information about old REHupa mailings that he was selling on eBay. Not many paid much attention to it though, especially considering that the print Cimmerian had gone monthly for the Howard Centennial. So, besides the monthly production, the annual TC Awards, a series of chapbooks, and a HUGE project he’d undertaken for the 200th mailing of the Robert E. Howard Amateur Press Association (ask a REHupa member for details), Leo still had one more trick up his sleeve.

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Above: Mark Finn, Leo Grin, Steve Tompkins and Rob Roehm at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention.*

One week after Howard Days 2006, Leo sent the “keys” to his blog to Steve Tompkins, Mark Finn, and me, with the following instructions:

You are free to start whenever you want. No rules or regulations, just go for it. Any news items that crop up on the lists should be posted, as well as any new Howard projects or gossip. You can comment on your new REHupa, can muse a bit about some story or letter you’ve read recently, can review new books and products from others. Any other fantasy, Texan, or other related writers can be discussed, keeping in mind that Howard should at least ostensibly remain the focus of the blog.

The blog “went live” and on June 17, 2006, Leo posted the official announcement: “In an effort to improve the experience of Cimmerian readers and to further Howard studies on the Net in general, I am making some changes at the website for The Cimmerian that I hope will make a difference. [. . .]”

Then the instruction began. Only Leo knew the magical language of the blog. He patiently explained all of the ins and outs of posting to Mark, Steve and me: how to upload pictures, remove code from our text, and so on. And then we were off and running. For two and a half years the four of us posted on all manner of esoteric Howard nuggets. Good times.

When the print version of The Cimmerian ceased production at the end of 2008, the blog, also, was scheduled to end. But Steve Tompkins, by far the most active blogger of the bunch, petitioned Leo to leave the blog to him, and a new era of the TC blog began. With the exception of Tompkins, the original bloggers retired—even host Grin drastically reduced his frequency of posts when he turned the management over to Tompkins—and were replaced by an ever growing cast of bloggers: Steve Trout, Deuce Richardson, Brian Murphy, Al Harron, Barbara Barrett, Jeffrey Shanks, and several others.

With Steve’s unexpected and untimely death in 2009, Deuce Richardson took over the maintenance of the blog. And, while the Howard content has become more and more secondary, there was always something new to read at TC, and, if Al Harron’s information is accurate, its readership has been on the rise. That all ends on June 11.

The passing of the TC blog will erase the last public outcropping of Leo Grin’s involvement with Howard studies, but his and its impact will remain. No Howard fanzine produced today can ignore TC’s five year run; because of Leo, Howard fans expect a little more for their hard-earned cash than the pre-TC publications provided. And both this blog and the REHupa blog [now also defunct] are direct results of the TC blog, with Grin himself helping to update them and bring them to the modern generation.

Hopefully, the end of the TC blog will reinforce Howard’s presence on the internet, with the current host of TC bloggers being absorbed elsewhere, starting their own websites, or continuing the conversation in other forums. As Leo frequently told me: One can always hope.

*Thanks to Mark Finn for having the wherewithal to get a picture of the four bloggers while we were all in Austin—the first and only time we all met together.

REH in Classic Cars

Cars of the Classic 30s

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted June 19, 2006, at thecimmerian.com.]

On one of the bus tours of Cross Plains that took place during Howard Days, my dad asked me about Robert E. Howard’s car. I didn’t know much, so I asked Rusty Burke, who was our tour guide. He said that Howard owned a ’31 Chevy first, and then upgraded to a ’35 Chevy. I thought that was the end of it.

About a week later and I’m still unpacking boxes from my recent move. My dad calls and asks about pictures of Howard with cars. I tell him that I don’t know of any. Then, on Father’s Day, I go over to his place for our usual Father’s Day six-pack in his Ham radio shack, and what does he do? He gives me a dissertation on the differences between the 1931 Chevrolet and the 1935 Chevrolet; he elaborates further on the differences between the “standard” and “master” models of the ’35 line. Very interesting. Of course, I wanted to know how he’d found all of this information. With a twinkle in his eye he pulls down a book, one in a series, called Cars of the Classic ’30s (© 2004, Publications International, Ltd.). We look at the pictures, he talks some more, and then, just as we’re getting ready to go inside, he says, “Oh yeah.”

On page 243, the first page of “Chapter 7: 1936,” he shows me this quote:

The great British author Rudyard Kipling died this year. Death also took philosopher Oswald Spengler; writers G. K. Chesterton, Maxim Gorky, and Conan creator Robert E. Howard; playwright Luigi Pirandello; physiologist Ivan Pavlov; and aviation pioneers Billy Mitchell and Louis Bleriot.

REH shows up in the strangest places.

Footnotes #2

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Now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, the old Baylor College for Women in Belton, Texas, ran an annual high school poetry contest starting in 1922. When they opened the contest up to boys in 1923, Robert E. Howard submitted “The Sea.” I wrote about this contest a few years ago in “The Poetry Contest.” For that article, I had to rely on community newspapers for the bulk of the information regarding the contest in which Howard won an Honorable Mention. Now I’ve found a better source.

In his June 22, 1923, letter to Clyde Smith, Howard doesn’t mention the Honorable Mention, but he does describe the fate of his poem:

I got a letter from the assistant editor of The Campus, S.M.U. He said he saw my poem “The Sea” in The Baylor United Statement [sic.] and he asked me to contribute to The Campus. I sent him a poem.

Moved to action by this reference, several years ago I spent an afternoon in front of the microfiche reader at Southern Methodist University in Dallas looking through old issues of their newspaper, The Campus. I didn’t find any Howard poems. I have also been on the lookout for issues of The Baylorian and The United Statements, especially the issue containing “The Sea,” which, as far as I know, no one has ever seen. If Howard hadn’t mentioned it to Smith, we wouldn’t know about that appearance. Not long after visiting SMU, I contacted the library at Mary Hardin-Baylor and learned that they did have some issues of those papers, but not the ones I was looking for. So, I put those papers on the back burner and moved on to the next thing.

Not long ago I reopened the investigation and discovered several digital copies of the college’s publications from the right time period, including the issue of The Baylorian that contains the rules for the 1923 poetry contest. At the bottom of that page, partially obscured by their “Courtesy of . . .” watermark, is the following publication information:

Announcement of the awards, together with the publication of the poem winning first place, will be made through the press of the state; and all poems winning prizes or honorable mention will be published in the May issue of the Baylorian.

1923 03-00 v8n2_Page_45

The May 1923 issue of The Baylorian is available, and it does contain a lot of poetry, but none of it is from the poetry contest. So, it seems that at some point it was decided to publish the poems in The United Statements, instead. News of the contest winners started appearing in state newspapers as early as May 9, 1923. Presumably, “The Sea” must have appeared in The United Statements around then. There are two 1923 issues available at the website, but neither the March 31st nor the May 19th edition has a poem by Robert E. Howard.

And the search continues.

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The Missing Mexico Trip

1928 06-00 REH to HPa 1-web

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted November 30, 2012 at twogunraconteur.com. This version slightly expanded.]

One of the items found in the collection of Glenn Lord (1931-2011) was a postcard, seen above, from Robert E. Howard (who signed with his X-triple bar brand) to Harold Preece. In the picture, the last words above the doorway, partially obscured by the tree’s branches, are “Piedras Negras,” which is a Mexican town just across the river from Eagle Pass, Texas. This is a picture of the border customs house. The flip-side of the card is below.

1928 06-00 REH to HPa 2-web

With the stamp long gone, and with it some of the post mark, the date is not known. So, when was Robert E. Howard in Eagle Pass and/or Mexico? None of the standard biographical material mentions Mexico much. Howard’s 1934 trip with Truett Vinson—through New Mexico, El Paso, and over the river to Juarez—is about it. Howard’s July 5, 1934 letter to Robert Barlow explains that he has been on “a sojourn in the extreme western part of the State, and into New and Old Mexico.”

Howard also mentions Mexico in at least two letters from 1935: his March 6th letter to Emil Petaja (“As for Old Mexico, I’ve been across the Border a few times but haven’t spent enough time in the south to learn much of the language”); and a circa July letter to H. P. Lovecraft (Santa Fe, New Mexico, is “much like towns I have visited in Old Mexico, with the exception that it is much cleaner and neater”). The above quotes indicate that Howard had been to Mexico on more than one occasion. So what do his pre-1934 letters have to say?

Howard’s earliest trip to Mexico appears to have been in 1924 when the whole family visited the Rio Grande Valley, way down on the Texas-Mexico border. In an illustrated letter/poem from Weslaco dated September 7, 1924, Howard tells his friend Clyde Smith, “I went across the Rio Grande / And viewed the great Tequila land. / The Rio Grande I went across, / It cost just fifty centavos. / There is a bar on every street. / You get quite thirsty in the heat.” Their return was noted in the Cross Plains Review for September 19:

1924 09-19 CPR p05

Another reference to his being in Mexico comes from a January 1932 letter to Lovecraft: “I’m no gambler. I don’t like to risk money I worked hard to get. I was never a very welcome guest in the gambling houses of Mexico, for I was merely a looker-on.” Later that year, circa July 13, 1932, he tells Lovecraft, “My entrails have been insulted with so many damnable concoctions for so many years, that I fear I may have lost the ability to appreciate good liquor—though on my pilgrimages to Mexico I find that knack unimpaired so far.” And on November 2, “I’m in favor of the open saloon; and legalized prize-fights and horse-races, licensed gambling halls and licensed bawdy-houses. I wish I was in Mexico right now.” Howard’s late-December 1933 letter to August Derleth has more:

I’ve drunk only Prima, Budweiser, Pearl, Old Heidelberg, Schlitz, Rheingold, Savoy, Sterling, Blue Ribbon, Fox, Country Club, Atlas Special, Jax, and Superior. None of it was as good as the Sabinas I used to drink in Old Mexico. I understand that company is going to move their brewery to San Antonio, and I hope they do. That was mighty good stuff.

Shortly after his trip with Vinson, circa July 1934, Howard tells Lovecraft that Juarez “was just as dirty and lousy as any border town I ever saw—more so than Piedras Negras, for instance, and swarming with the usual pimps and touts. We drove around awhile, made a brief exploration of what is politely known as ‘the red light district,’ and of course imbibed some.” Around the same time, Howard told Carl Jacobi: “I prefer Piedras Negras, which lies across the river from Eagle Pass, and is somewhat cleaner and more progressive. The main charm about those Mexican towns to most people is, of course, the liquor, and El Paso is now just as wide open as anything south of the Rio Grande.” These are not Howard’s first mentions of Piedras Negras.

His March 2, 1932 letter to Lovecraft has the following: “I don’t know whether they’ve run the Chinese out of Piedras Negras or not. When I was there a few years ago—it’s the town opposite Eagle Pass, Texas—it was largely dominated by Chinese. They owned small irrigated farms along the river, and ran most of the best cabarets and saloons in the town.” And there’s one more mention, but we’ll look at that one a bit later.

1928 06-04 back-web

All of the above indicates that Robert E. Howard was in Piedras Negras at least, as he told Lovecraft, “a few years” before 1932. We need a little more help to pin this down. Luckily, Harold Preece moved around quite a bit in the late 1920s due to his work on the city directory crew. In January 1928, Howard told Tevis Clyde Smith to write to Preece at “905 Main Street, Dallas.” In February, we learn that Preece is “now in Wichita Falls.” A postcard (above) postmarked June 4, 1928 is addressed to Preece at the same Fort Worth address as the Piedras Negras postcard that heads this post. Preece’s July 26, 1928 letter to Clyde Smith is addressed from “202 Provident Bldg. / Waco, Texas,” and mentions a prize fight Preece and Howard “attended together in Ft. Worth.” In October, Preece was back home in Austin. All of this suggests that Preece was living in Fort Worth for a relatively short time in June and possibly July 1928. None of his other surviving letters, nor those of his sister Lenore, nor the surviving envelopes (the ones I’ve seen, anyway) or letters from Robert Howard—none of these suggest another time that Preece was in Fort Worth “a few years” before 1932; however, 1929 is pretty sketchy, with big holes in all of the correspondence, but the Junto mailing list for July and August don’t have him anywhere near Fort Worth, either. So, with 1929 a remote possibility, given all of the above, I date the Piedras Negras postcard to circa June 1928. And that unlocks another little mystery.

In volume 3 of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard is an undated letter to Tevis Clyde Smith that begins, “Not even a movie in this god forsaken town.” That letter has the final reference to Piedras Negras that I mentioned above:

I didn’t see such a hell of a lot of Eagle Pass but I saw Piedras Negras—and the hottest girl I’ve seen in many a day—a skirt in a Mexican whore house away out of the polite section. Also I learned several new vulgarities in Spanish. Some nice looking strumpets in what they name The Reservation across the border and most of them brazen as hell—five dollars [which is 67.64 in 2012 dollars].

Looks like circa June 1928 will work for this one, too. I love it when things come together.

Sick Days

HPU1

[by Rob Roehm; originally posted March 6, 2011, at twogunraconteur.com. This version slightly edited.]

Since beginning my research into Robert E. Howard’s college experience, the exact date of his bout with the measles and absence from school has intrigued me. A surviving medical record says only, “Measles, 21,” indicating that Howard had the disease when he was 21 years old, sometime between January and December 1927. Not too helpful. So I decided to lay out all the pieces of information at my disposal in chronological order, plugging in other relevant information where it seemed to fit best. Maybe that would yield a definitive result.

The first mention of measles in the Howard record comes, of course, from his mom. Hester Howard’s January 4, 1927 letter to Bob states, “There are some cases of measles in Brownwood, and if you begin to feel bad, ache or feverish or anything, go to Dr. Fowler, Bailey or Snyder, or any of these men, & let them go over you to see what your trouble is. Try to be sensible about yourself & keep fit.” Like many young people, Howard appears to have done the exact opposite of what his mother wanted.

1926 Lasso - HPU-cu

Howard’s friend and roommate at the time, Lindsey Tyson (above, from the 1926 Howard Payne yearbook), related the measles event to L. Sprague de Camp in an October 10, 1977 letter:

While I am on this Main Street place [the pair’s boarding house] I would like to tell about one thing that amused me. While we were there an epidemic of measles got started; the Powells we were living with had a baby girl who got the disease. The Howards heard about the epidemic and came to take Bob home as he had never had the measles. Bob said this time I damn sure will have this stuff; he did not want to go. He went into a bathroom that the little girl had been using, picked up a glass that the child had probably been using, drank out of it, rubbed a towel over his face that he thought she had probably been using; well, he sure did have the measles, missed school for some time, but came out without any bad effects.

Howard tells a condensed version of the story in his autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs: “The measles hit Redwood [Brownwood] and Steve [REH] was struck down, taking the disease from the Powers’ [Powells’] baby who died.” Since the source of the disease for Howard appears to have been the Powell baby, any information regarding her sickness might prove useful.

The first mention of the Powells’ daughter that I’ve been able to find is in the February 12, 1927 edition of the Brownwood Bulletin—just a quick note in its “Little Items of Local Interest” column: “Nelda June Powell, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. O. L. Powell, is quite sick at the family home, 1214 Main Avenue.” Being “quite sick,” she probably picked up the illness somewhat earlier than the February 12 date of publication.

Another “Little Item” on March 1 pins down the date a bit: “The condition of Miss Nelda June Powell, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. O. L. Powell, 1214 Main Avenue, who has been seriously ill for the past four weeks, is reported more serious today.” If the child had been “seriously ill” for four weeks, that means she had been sick since at least the beginning of February, and possibly not so sick as early as late January, the same month Howard’s mom was warning him about the measles. Time for a little medical research.

According to eMedTV, the measles has an eight to ten day incubation period when the afflicted are not contagious, further: “A person is mildly contagious when he or she first experiences symptoms, and is most contagious about four days before the onset of the measles rash. Some risk of measles transmission lasts until about four days after the rash starts.” And, despite Howard’s drinking out of the Powell baby’s glass and using her towel, he probably didn’t catch the sickness that way: “The virus is rapidly inactivated by heat, light, acidic pH, ether, and trypsin (an enzyme). It has a short survival time (under 2 hours) in the air, or on objects and surfaces.”

measles

So, if the Powell baby’s infectious period began with her symptoms, and the Brownwood Bulletin reported that she had been “seriously ill” since the beginning of February, it seems likely that Howard picked up the virus late in January, possibly early in February. He would then go through his own eight to ten day incubation period and start exhibiting symptoms in mid to late February.

In its “Mortuary” section of March 2, 1927, the Brownwood Bulletin has one last mention of Nelda June Powell:

Nelda June Powell, sixteen months old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. O. L. Powell of 1214 Main, died at the family home Monday night. Little Nelda June came to bless the home Nov. 3, 1925, and since that time has been a bundle of sunshine to the hearts of her fond parents. Many of the friends and neighbors who had learned to love little Nelda June in her short life on earth will join with the parents in mourning the untimely death of the baby.

The funeral services for little Nelda June were held at three o’clock this afternoon at the Church of Christ and were conducted by Rev. U. R. Forrest, pastor of the church. Immediately following the services in the church the little body will be laid to rest in Greenleaf.

Pall bearers for the funeral services this afternoon are J. Claude Smith, Harvey Jones, O. P. Latta, and Bruce M. Francis.

Post Oaks describes what happened after Howard contracted the disease:

Steve [REH] went back to Lost Plains [Cross Plains] and had as bad a case as any man ever had and lived. He found difficulty in “breaking out” and finally succeeded, after filling his hide with prescription whiskey. He missed some two months of school and spoke as follows of Gower-Penn [Howard Payne]:

“—and when I says to the bursar, I says, ‘I’m goin’ home to have the measles and likely won’t be back for a couple of weeks, do I get a refund on the money that I paid just the other day as tuition for the new term?’ ‘Oh no,’ says she, ‘we don’t refund money for just a few weeks.’ ‘But maybe I’ll be out for months,’ I says, and she says, ‘Oh no, we don’t refund money for just a few months.’ ‘Then will you extend the tuition over into the spring term?’ ‘Oh no,’ says she, ‘we don’t do such as that.’”

So, what records are available from Howard Payne? According to their catalog, the winter term at HP ended with the term examinations on February 26, 1927. The spring term began on March 1st. There are no grades recorded for either of these terms on Howard’s transcripts. This makes sense. If, as it appears, Howard missed the end of the winter term and the beginning of the spring term, there wouldn’t be any grades; however, his claim to have paid tuition on the winter term “just the other day” is problematic. That term began on November 29, 1926. Perhaps he was paying in installments.

Further evidence of Howard’s absence comes from the Yellow Jacket, the school’s newspaper. After a string of Howard yarns, it published “Cupid Vs. Pollux” in the February 10th edition; no stories after that date carry Howard’s byline, though two—“From Tea to Tee” (March 17) and “The Reformation: A Dream” (April 21)—are possibly his. Patrice Louinet is confident that “Tea” is not Howard’s. If that is the case, there are no Howard contributions from February 10 to April 21, which would confirm his alter-ego’s statement that he “missed some two months of school.”

There are a couple of pieces of information that place Howard in Cross Plains, rather than Brownwood, during the month of March. The first is a letter to Robert W. Gordon, who ran the Adventure section “Old Songs That Men Have Sung”; Howard had been sending Gordon old song lyrics for a while. The March 17, 1927, letter with “Cross Plains, Texas” at the head, includes the following personal information: “This time I have an excuse for not having answered your very welcome letter sooner. Measles! Can you feature a grown man being put into retirement for two months by measles?” March 17 was a Thursday in 1927.

The second piece of information comes from Post Oaks:

Steve [REH], as soon as he was convalescent, wrote many rhymes, all of which were rejected. He heard nothing from either Sebastian [Truett Vinson] or Clive [Clyde Smith] until he returned to Redwood [Brownwood].

“Oh yes,” said Sebastian as they walked along the street, “I was intending to tell you—Clive’s married and vanished.”

1927 Trail - DB Yearbook - Echla Laxson

According to the marriage certificate found at the Brown County courthouse, Tevis Clyde Smith married Echla Laxson on March 17, 1927—the same day that Howard was in Cross Plains writing a letter to Robert W. Gordon. The scene described above must have occurred later that month.

And there you have it. It appears that Howard contracted the measles in late January or early February of 1927. His parents came to take him home and he missed school from mid-February through at least late March, and possibly the entire spring term, for which he received no grades and which ended on May 24.

Out in the West Texas Town of El Paso . . .

Aztec Bar 1946 Improved

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted July 28, 2011 at twogunraconteur.com]

Back in February of 2010, I wrote about my search for the Aztec Bar in El Paso, a bar Howard and Truett Vinson stopped at during one of their trips out west. It seems I’m not the only one interested in the place. Last Saturday I received a letter in the mail from a gentleman who is even more curious about the bar than I am—his grandfather ran the place, and may have even served the pair from Texas their drinks. He was hoping there was more information about the bar in the portion of Howard’s letter that I didn’t quote in my post. His letter gave me an email address, so I sent him the rest of the passage, which, sadly, didn’t have any new information for him. Despite my inability to help, he was kind enough to bother his family for a picture of the bar for me.

The photo above has “46” written on it, but my dad says the cars are from the ’30s. Of course, since no new models came out during World War II, there would have been quite a few 1930’s cars running around in 1946. Anyway, the picture above is certainly closer to what Howard saw than the scene below, from 2010.

2009 REH 161

The Aztec Bar, er . . . Cafe

2009 REH 162

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted February 22, 2010, at rehtwogunraconteur.com]

I was in Brownwood during my school’s winter break. I’d gone with my dad to tie up a few loose ends from our previous excursions. After crossing most of the “things to do” off our list, we decided to hit the road early, just ahead of some pretty bad weather that was coming in from the north. We spent the first night of our homeward trek in Odessa.

Having shaved a few hours off the trip, the next day we decided to stop in Old El Paso. It was nearing lunchtime, and I could think of nothing better to do than track down “The Aztec Bar” and have a cold one. Why, you ask? In a lengthy letter to Lovecraft, circa July 1934, Howard describes a trip west that he took with Truett Vinson. After visiting the Carlsbad Caverns, Howard and Vinson head for El Paso where they “saw pictures of the Baer-Carnera fight” from June 14, 1934 (below), and then “primed” themselves at, you guessed it, The Aztec Bar.

Baer-Carnera_2a1-530x317

We were still a half hour or so from the city, so Pop suggested that I put my cell phone to use. I pulled out the AAA tour book, found the correct phone number, and called the El Paso Visitors’ Center. “No,” the voice on the other end of the line said, “we don’t have a genealogy library, but there is a Heritage section in the public library.” I got the number and made another call. We were good to go.

We found the library with little trouble; finding a parking spot was another matter. We put an hour’s worth of coins in the closest meter we could find and walked the two blocks to the El Paso Public Library. Once inside, we found our way to the Heritage section. I immediately asked the gentleman at the help desk if they had a city directory from 1934. He asked what I was looking for and, after I explained, he went looking in a cabinet that contained an old-school card system. A few minutes later, he hadn’t found anything, and I repeated my request for a city directory. This time, he led me to a locked section of the library and went inside. A minute later, he returned with the book I’d requested.

Aztec listing

In a matter of moments we found what we were looking for, listed not under “bars” or “taverns”—Prohibition had been repealed in December of ’33—but under “beverages”: 100 San Antonio E. We double checked the address in the street listings and then asked for a 1934 map.

Lucky for us, the library had electronic copies of Sanborn maps. We pulled up the appropriate El Paso map (below) and printed the page that showed 100 E. San Antonio (corner building pictured at the top of this post). We were going to leave so that we could consult our modern map, but when we stopped at the counter to pick up our copy, the gentleman behind the desk gave us directions. It was just a few blocks away. You can type the address into Google Earth and it’ll get you in the right building.

Aztec map

We got back to the car with a couple of minutes left on the parking meter. We checked our modern map anyway, of course, and then followed the librarian’s directions downtown. After navigating the one-way streets, we found a parking spot right in front of 110 E. San Antonio. From there, it was a very short walk back to “The Aztec Bar.” Of course, it’s not a bar anymore. Today, it’s “Sunny’s Accessories” and, man, is it colorful inside.

2009 REH 159

2009 REH 170

Anyway, we took a few pictures of the place, and the old Plaza Hotel that towers nearby, and then hit the road again. We weren’t going to get anything cold to drink there. The downtown area has plenty of old buildings to look at, but I’d recommend visiting in the spring instead of the winter. And it’s always nice to knock another REH location off the list.

2009 REH 164

Or so I thought. It’s never that easy.

Back home, I started sorting through the pile of memorabilia that I’d scored while in Brownwood and, as usual, for every new item that answered one question, it created one or two new questions. Of course, it all started with my dad.

He was browsing around in a newspaper archive and found this:

SHOPPING PLEASURES come with a pleasant lunch or relaxing afternoon drink at the popular AZTEC CAFE, 102 E. San Antonio St. This week there are some special Chinese lunches by a fine Chinese chef for only 35c, besides the good American menus at the same prices. The ever-attractive bar is a popular meeting place for the business men of El Paso.

Aztec Cafe at 102 E. San Antonio? Great. The article above appeared in the El Paso Herald-Post on December 6, 1935, and not sometime in ’34. So, what happened? In 1934 the only listing for “Aztec” is the 100 San Antonio address. 102 is listed as an art shop. I’m guessing that sometime after the 1934 city directory was printed and before the above article was published, The Aztec expanded their business into the adjacent section of the building. This supposition caused me to reexamine the Sanborn map and my photos.

While Sunny’s Accessories is indeed located at 100 E. San Antonio today, based on a comparison of the Sanborn map, my modern pictures, and Google Earth’s satellite images, I’m now pretty sure that in 1934 Sunny’s would be in 102 E. San Antonio. So, the colorful shop I poked my head into was the Aztec Cafe. Oh well, at least I stood in front of The Aztec Bar.

Footnotes #1

Beginning a series of footnotes for Robert E. Howard’s letters. Most are far too obscure for publication.

1930 03-27 HaroldPreecefrom Lenore scrapbook-crop-sm

Preece’s Nose

Toward the end of 1928, Harold Preece, one of Robert E. Howard’s correspondents, was complaining about a nose problem. In his ca. October or early November 1930 letter, Howard responded:

Well, Harold, I’m sorry to hear your nose is troubling you again. I hope it will get alright. My own nose is nothing to brag about, having been broken several times. Man is a frail and very imperfect piece of nature.

Howard brings it up again in the ca. Dec 1928: “Hate to hear about your nose. What is that—sinus trouble, or septum or what? It must be Hell. Be careful about it.” Little details like this stick in my brain for some reason so, when I stumbled on the following passage from “The Spirit of Old” by Harold Preece, I immediately made the connection:

Within a month [of meeting Hildon V. Collins, a member of The Junto, in Waco] necessity forced me to undergo an operation upon my nose. Hildon went with me to the doctor’s office on the day of the operation. He conducted me back to the hotel and sat up all night with me. In a few days I was able to go to my home in Austin and recuperate. Hildon assisted me in getting my baggage to the station, seeing also that I was comfortably seated on the train. All this kindness to a youth he had known a short time [. . .]”

So the timeline for Preece’s nose trouble goes like this:

On July 13, 1928, Robert E. Howard and Harold Preece attended a prize fight together in Fort Worth, Texas (see “Dula Due to Be Champion” in Collected Letters vol. 1). That August, Howard wrote to Preece in Waco: “Glad you enjoyed our reunion at Fort Worth. I sure as Hell did. Yes, I’d have liked to have been with Truett, Hildon and yourself at Waco.”

1928 12 Lone Indian 00

“The Spirit of Old” appears in the December 1928 issue of The Lone Indian, a “tribe paper” put out by a member of the Lone Scouts of America, an organization to which both Preece and Collins belonged (Clyde Smith, Truett Vinson, and possibly Robert Howard as well). In the article, Preece explains when he first met Collins:

Two months previous to the time of this writing, I came to Waco, Texas, to fill an assignment made by the concern by which I am employed [the city directory crew]. Shortly after arriving, I became acquainted with Hildon V. Collins, LSB, who joined the LSA in 1926. We became quite intimate friends.

If tribe papers came out the month before the date on their covers, we can assume that the “time of this writing” is sometime in October or November, which places the time that Preece first met Collins around August. But in a letter from Waco, Texas, dated Thursday, July 26, 1928, Preece told Tevis Clyde Smith: “I wish you could have been with Truett, Hildon, and myself, the early part of the week. We had a prolonged and interesting session, and nothing was too sacred for the gamut of conversation.” That would place the meeting early in the week of July 23, 1928.

So, putting it all together, Preece tells Howard about his nose trouble sometime in July or August, possibly at the boxing match. A week and a half later, Preece meets Hildon V. Collins for the first time, somewhere around July 23. “Within a month,” Preece has an operation on his nose with Collins taking him to the doctor’s office and then seeing him to the train station to recuperate in Austin, this would be in late August or September. And we can do a bit better than that.

As luck would have it, Preece was a stickler for starting his letters with dates and places. His September 15 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith is from Waco. The September 30 letter is from Capital Station in Austin and begins, “Back home again. It is my intention to attend the State University for the spring term. I think that I can stand Austin for the next nine months, provided I am going to school.” So I’m betting that the operation happened between September 15 and 30.

All of which would end up like this in a footnote:

Well, Harold, I’m sorry to hear your nose is troubling you again 1

1 Preece had an operation on his nose at Waco in September.

And people say I’m obsessed.

1928 12 Lone Indian p29 Preece

What’s in a Name?

2018 09-24 Dead Remember

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted October 25, 2007, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

The process by which Robert E. Howard named his settings and characters has been a topic of discussion since H. P. Lovecraft chided him for using thinly disguised historical names in his fantasies. L. Sprague de Camp disapproved of this practice as well and, in Dark Valley Destiny, added, “Because of his linguistic naiveté, or perhaps because he simply refused to take the time and trouble, [Howard] tends to give his characters names that are often unpleasing and confusingly similar.” Modern scholars give Howard a bit more credit, saying that he was purposeful in selecting vaguely historic names for the connotations they would convey. I’ll leave this discussion to the Big Brains, but I do have some fuel for the fire.

Back in “Curly Elkins of Bear-Tooth Creek” (The Cimmerian V3n4), I discussed the differences between “A Elkins Never Surrenders,” a Breckinridge Elkins tale, and its rewritten form, “A Elston to the Rescue” (aka “The Curly Wolf of Sawtooth,” Star Western, September 1936), starring one Bearfield Elston. The changes went beyond simple Elkins to Elston switches, affecting the characterization of the main character. A simple curiosity, or so I thought.

Recently, I had the opportunity to examine some early drafts of various Howard stories; one of them being “The Dead Remember” (Argosy, August 15, 1936). I received two different typescripts for the story: one was an early draft, the other, stamped “copy,” was almost identical to the published version. Amidst various punctuation changes and minor word alterations was an interesting name switch—Elkins to Elston.

Now, maybe I’m the only Howard-head who finds these little items interesting—probably not, but the discovery that “John Elkins,” the trail boss in the early draft of “The Dead Remember,” had been changed to “John Elston” in the later version was quite intriguing. Was Howard working on “A Elkins Never Surrenders” at the same time as “The Dead Remember”? Did he change “John Elkins” to “Elston” to avoid confusion? What? I guess we’ll never know.