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 The story remained unpublished long after Howard’s death.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.]

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.

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

Good Ol’ Boys

2018 09-24 Chambers0McCowan
[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted September 9, 2007 at thecimmerian.com.]

The fans who participated in the bus tour at Howard Days 2007 received a special treat. Not only did they get to hear some great stories by the tour guide, long-time Cross Plains resident Don Clark, they also heard some great color-commentary by Alton McCowen (above at right) and Norris Chambers (at left), a man who actually knew the Howards. Those of us who were seated near the front of the bus even got to eavesdrop while these three chatted between tour stops. The trio seemed to know everything about the local area and quickly assimilated each other’s knowledge. One would say, “Did you know so-and-so?” and all the relevant details would follow from one of the others. “Didn’t so-and-so live there?” and so on.

As we passed the little-used dirt roads in the Cross Cut vicinity, Mr. Chambers said, “Boy, I went down that lane a lot.” And another conversation ensued. I tried my best to stay out of their chat, but couldn’t resist a few questions. Alton McCowen told me that he knew someone who had helped build the road from Cross Plains to Brownwood, and that he’d been paid .56 cents an hour for his work. Mr. Chambers piped in, “They built this big road after the war. It wasn’t paved then, and was awful muddy.”

At the bridge into Burkett, the bus stopped. Under the bridge is the Pecan Bayou—covered with shrubs and trees, all green from the heavy spring rains. Don Clark told us all that there used to be carnivals and dances in the Bayou. “After the fair stopped coming,” he said, “there was a lot of ‘parkin’ and sparkin’’ down there.”

At one of the stops—a no-foolin’ Texas ranch, complete with Longhorns—I cornered Misters Chambers and McCowen for a longer conversation, while the rest of the crowd went to get a close-up look at the steers. Mr. Chambers told me that Doc Howard wasn’t the best driver around: “Once we were driving to Brownwood and he’s got the car stuck in 2nd gear. I told him, ‘You might want to put it in high.’” He also told me about taking Robert’s Chevy “down to get the bullet hole fixed” after the suicide, and that Doc Howard used that car for a good while after.

Mr. McCowen answered my questions about Cross Plains, telling me where the movie theater was located (“Next to the tax office by the library”) and that there was no radio station in town; the closest was in Brownwood.

While not the best of drivers, Mr. Chambers had no doubts about Doc Howard’s medical skills. He told me about a minor car accident that he was involved in, saying that one of the girls passed out. He took her straight to Doc Howard to get “patched up.”

About this time, Mr. Chambers’ wife ambled up and listened as her husband said, “When we were first married, we lived with my folks in Cross Cut. Doc Howard would come by sometimes.”

This brought a chuckle from his wife who said that Doc Howard was always hungry. When he came calling, “We had to start the fire in the old stove and cook things—from scratch!” When she didn’t feel like cooking, she told me, she’d just whip up some scrambled eggs.

We started to discuss Dark Valley Destiny as the rest of the crowd returned. Mr. Chambers remembered talking with de Camp and that “He said he would give us a copy, but he never did. We had to buy one.” And then the tour was back on the road and I had to content myself with eavesdropping once again.

Back to School

BHS 1920s

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted August 18, 2007, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

The school district that I work for has been fiddling with the calendar for a couple of years now—the end result has arrived: gone are the post-Labor Day start-ups of a traditional school year; they have been replaced with a mid-August return to books and homework and lunch lines. I won’t comment on the wisdom of sending kids (and teachers) back to school in the middle of August—the hottest month of the year in California’s High Desert. The “pre-game” meetings and scheduling, the lesson planning and room organizing have kept me away from the blog for a few weeks now, but my return to school got me thinking . . .

Robert E. Howard’s opinion of school is no secret to the fans who have studied his correspondence. In one of his most often published letters, Howard told Wilfred Blanch Talman (ca. September 1931):

I got through high school by the skin of my teeth. I always hated school, and as I look back on my school days now, I still hate them with a deep and abiding hatred. Outside of mathematics—at which I was a terrible mug—I didn’t particularly mind the studies, but I hated being confined indoors—having to keep regular hours—having to think up stupid answers for equally irritating questions asked me by people who considered themselves in authority over me.

I have often wondered what teaching practices were like in the 1920s, when Howard attended Cross Plains High School, and later Brownwood High—I’m sure that things were much stricter than they are now—but what could have caused Howard’s intense dislike for school? Was it as simple as what he told Talman? More than a year after his spring 1923 graduation from Brownwood High, Howard still had a bad taste in his mouth, as evidenced by a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, dated January 30, 1925: “I see you are still as madly, passionately devoted to school, as blindly loyal to the faculty as ever. Ah, yes, I wish I were back in good old Bnwd. High—with a couple of bombs.”

Part of the reason, I’m sure, that Howard disliked school was the shenanigans of his schoolmates. I’ve seen for myself the ridicule that can be heaped on bright students by their less scholastically inclined brethren, but Howard doesn’t have much to say about bullying in his correspondence. He does, however, have a few things to say about students in general. In a circa January 1931 letter he explains to Lovecraft:

Take the average high school. Ten, or perhaps fifteen percent of the pupils go in for the grinding grill of competitive athletics; the rest do nothing in the way of building their bodies, or dissipating their natural animal spirits in wholesome ways. No wonder drunkenness and immorality are so prevalent among students. To the average boy or girl the accumulation of knowledge isn’t enough to spend their energy on—they can learn only so much, anyhow, and the Devil himself couldn’t teach the average pupil, with his undoubtedly limited capacity, very much, anyway. They must have a physical outlet, and since systematic sport denies this to all but a chosen few, the rest naturally turn to amusements less wholesome. This seems to be the trend of modern life, to me.

While Howard is largely silent on the subject of his classmates, he does, however, have something to say about his instructors. In a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, September 22, 1932, Howard describes his walk to school on a snowy winter morning. After having walked some distance in the snow, which caused his shoes and socks to be soaked, he hoped to warm himself by the stove, but such was not to be:

When I got to school, the teacher, who was enveloped in a fur coat, wouldn’t let us go to the stove to warm, because we generally got into a fight if we did. I sat there until noon, at the back of the room where the heat couldn’t reach, and I want to say that it was about as lousy a morning as I ever spent, viewed from a purely physical standpoint. It’s a wonder my feet hadn’t been frost-bitten.

Earlier that same year, May 24, 1932, Howard described another instance of teacher indifference to Lovecraft:

One day the teachers came out of the school-house to watch us play—a rare event. I happened to be wrestling with a friend of mine, and they stopped to watch us. I wished to make an impression on them—to show off, in other words. I wished for a worthier opponent—since I had thrown this particular friend forty or fifty times. And while I was wishing, suddenly and stunningly I found myself thrown! It never happened before, and it never happened again—at least, with that boy. I was shocked, humiliated, well-nigh maddened. I urged a renewal of the strife, but the teachers laughed mockingly and withdrew into their sanctum. I withdrew from public view, and broodingly contemplated my shameful defeat.

But the teachers weren’t the only thing about school that Howard disliked; the content of his courses also left a little something to be desired. In an August 21, 1926 letter to Clyde Smith, Howard berates the reading selections made for him by a nameless English teacher: “when one considers the confounded balderdash handed out to us as students, in grammar school, under the name of poetry! Shades of the creator of Mother Goose. I’ve about decided that the only American poets worth much are Sidney Lanier, Poe and Viereck; they are equal to any England ever produced.” One can only assume that these names did not appear on Howard’s course syllabus.

One thing that we know did appear was The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith. Howard’s book report on this title has been published, and it’s clear that he wasn’t fond of the novel. He remembered the book, and his school experience with it, to Lovecraft in a letter dated November 2, 1932:

I read this abomination [The Vicar of Wakefield] as a part of my high-school work, and in writing my report, I let myself go the only time I ever did in school, and gave my own honest opinion in my own honest words, allowing myself the freedom of frothing at the mouth. I expected to flunk the course, so many teachers being slaves of the established, but that particular teacher was a black-headed Irish woman who evidently entertained similar ideas on the subject to mine, and she gave me a good grade instead of the tongue-lashing I expected.

Despite his attitude toward school and his teachers, Howard did what was necessary to receive passing marks. He told Lovecraft, circa January 1934, “In high school I showed something of a knack for biology; certainly my science grades were infinitely higher than my English and literature grades. I have reason to believe that I had more capacity for biology than I have for literature. My teacher—who detested me as a human being but seemed to appreciate my laboratory work—suggested that I take up biology as a career.” But Howard wasn’t interested in Biology, he wanted the freedom that a literary career would provide.

In a letter received by Harold Preece—who was attending Texas Christian University in Fort Worth—on October 20, 1928, Howard said, “How is the university? Frankly, I know very little about the school and the little I do know is bad. But I’m prejudiced against all colleges—to Hell with them.”

Despite this early opinion of higher learning, Howard would later agree that some college courses might have helped him in his chosen field. He told Farnsworth Wright, ca. June-July 1931, “I have only a high school education, and not a particularly elaborate one at that” and Wilfred Blanch Talman, ca. September 1931, “A literary course in some college would doubtless have been a help to me, but I never felt I could afford it, bedsides, college is too much like school to interest me much” and Lovecraft, March 6, 1933, “A literary college education probably would have helped me immensely. That’s neither here nor there; I didn’t feel that I could afford it, and that’s all there was to it.”

While his admission that college might have helped him is a bit surprising, considering his overall opinion of schooling, Howard’s resentments from his early schooling held strong. In the same letter to Lovecraft in which he makes the admission, he blasts his early experiences:

I might have liked college, but I hated grammar and high school with a vindictiveness that has not softened in later years. I didn’t spend too much time there, anyway; I didn’t start to school until I was eight, and I graduated at seventeen. No record broken there, but no time lost, either. I hated school as I hate the memory of school. It wasn’t the work I minded; I had no trouble learning the tripe they dished out in the way of lessons — except arithmetic, and I might have learned that if I’d gone to the trouble of studying it. I wasn’t at the head of my classes — except in history — but I wasn’t at the foot either. I generally did just enough work to keep from flunking the courses, and I don’t regret the loafing I did. But what I hated was the confinement — the clock-like regularity of everything; the regulation of my speech and actions; most of all the idea that someone considered himself or herself in authority over me, with the right to question my actions and interfere with my thoughts. Some of my teachers I liked, and those liked me; most didn’t. I complied with the rules of the school as well as I could, got up my lessons at least as well as most of the others, and was careful to cause the teachers no unnecessary trouble; beyond that I lived my own life, and fiercely resented any interference or regulation.

Howard continued to express his dislike of school to Lovecraft in July 1933:

Our feelings in school, again, differ. I hated school, not because any particular tyranny was practiced on me—I wouldn’t have stood for it, anyway—but simply because the whole system irked me. Sitting still in one place for hours at time got on my nerves. Having to go and come at certain times irked me; I hated for my actions to be controlled by the ringing of a bell. The fact that these things were necessary had nothing to do with it. School, any way it is looked at, was a restriction of my freedom. I accepted it as a necessary evil, and got through with it as quickly as possible, and I’ll never forget the wild and passionate feeling of relief that surged through me as I bounded out of the building where the graduation exercizes had been held, with my diploma in my hand, and halting on the lawn, expressed my pleasure at being through with school, and my opinion of the whole works in language more picturesque than choice. The passing of ten years has not dimmed that feeling in the slightest. Yet there was a good deal of comedy in my last year in high school; I look back on it, not with any pleasure, but with some amusement. I attended Brownwood High, and it was overcrowded—fairly flowing over with students. Next year they built a Junior High and took care of the surplus, but that year it was like a sardine can. We had to gang up, two or three to a seat in the main study hall. The Senior class was given separate study halls, but they were eventually abolished, because the students didn’t keep order any too well. Some of them were mean as the devil, but most were just exuberant kids, overflowing with a superabundance of vigor and animal spirits. My biology class was the biggest in the school, and all the unruly spirits that could got in there. The teacher was a poor misfit who didn’t know his stuff; that is, he was a good biologist, but he couldn’t handle students. They gave him hell. The very last day of school, for instance, while he was trying to lecture to the class, certain unregenerate spirits kept galloping past the door, firing various objects at him, such as old shirts wadded up and soaked with water, to the hilarious enjoyment of the class. At last he shut the door, and then they locked it from the outside and he had to telephone down to the janitor to come and open it. I had no part in harassing the poor devil; but he never gave me a square deal if he could help it, so I didn’t much give a damn what they did to him. The class in which I graduated was the biggest that had ever graduated from a Texas High School, up to that time.

I was much amused and interested by your account of your tilt with the English teacher concerning your astronomical essay. It was in truth a dramatic situation, and one I wish I’d had a chance to duplicate at some time or other. But the only place my stuff was appearing when I was in school was in the school paper—and some of it was barred from print by the teacher-censors on account of a certain Rabelaisian tang that would creep in in spite of myself.

I had a hell of a time with mathematics. I blundered through algebra, geometry and trigonometry without learning a blamed thing about any of them. The only reason I passed my last year’s math was a combination of luck and a teacher’s laziness. The final exam was split in half, part to be taken one day and part the next, the results to be added on the basis of 100; thus, if a scholar made 100 on the first exam, he was given 50, etc. the results of both exams to be added. I made 60 on the first exam, and came in the next day to take the rest of it. The teacher was there alone, to my surprize, leaning back with his feet on a desk. I told him I was there to take my exam. He asked me what I made; I told him; he said then my grade was really 30, and asked me if I could improve that in another exam. “Hell, no,” quoth I; “I worked the only problem in the book I could work, yesterday.” He then asked me what grades I made in other subjects—they ran something like this: English 80, science 100, economics 85. He allowed that we’d let it go and say nothing; and call my mathematics grade 60, which would pass me.

I never studied Latin much, and disliked it intensely; my old antipathy for anything Roman. The only reason I ever took it up was because I knew it would help me in Spanish; but I never got a chance to study Spanish. I had a short course in agriculture once, which interested me immensely, and I made very high grades in it, as well as in its various branching, such as the grafting of trees, etc.. But I was unable to continue it, and I’ve long ago forgotten all I learned. I’ve also forgotten what elementary science I learned, as well as the business English, commercial law and business arithmetic I learned in the business college. I generally made my highest grades in history and science, though I found the latter of scant interest, as a general thing.

If Howard’s recollections of his scores are accurate, and if he wasn’t bending the truth by saying that he didn’t apply himself to his coursework, he might have made an excellent college student, where he could pick and choose the courses he wanted to take and make his own schedule, which, I’m sure, would not have included a math class. Imagine that for a moment, a college educated Robert E. Howard. Without the benefit of a “literary college education” Howard created works of fiction that have stood the test of time, that have been translated into numerous languages, and that have been increasingly studied for their literary achievement. Would a college education have hurt his accomplishments or helped him to even greater fame? I guess we’ll never know.

Aw hell, I’ve got papers to grade.

A Tale of Two Letters

2018 09-24 REH to Archer

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted August 11, 2006, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

So I’m going through The Last Celt the other day, looking through the letters section in the back, and I see the letter to “Managing Editor Denis Archer Publisher” dated May 20, 1934. This letter briefly explains the genesis of Howard’s one and only Conan novel, and ends by stating “Under separate cover I am sending you a 75,000 word novel, entitled ‘The Hour of the Dragon’ . . .” Fine, I think, Howard sends the letter to the publisher in advance, and later, when he gets around to it, packages and sends the typescript. This gets me thinking, though, and I pull out a copy of Glenn Lord’s Ultima Thule to read the rest of the letters in this series.

On June 15, 1933, Howard sent a letter to Hugh G. Schonfield at the Denis Archer publishing house, enquiring about a collection of his short stories. On January 9, 1934, he got the famous response about there being a “prejudice that is very strong . . . against collections of short stories” in England at the time and a recommendation that he “produce a full-length novel of about 70000-75000 words.” Apparently Howard took that advice; he was ready to send The Hour of the Dragon off to England in late May of that year. We all know that Denis Archer never published the story, however, but that it appeared in Weird Tales, instead.

But I’m getting off my subject. A couple of years ago I found a copy of the May 20 letter on the internet, I forget where; I think it was the Necronomicon Press website. Wherever it was, they had a nice scan of the letter on their page, and I downloaded and saved it. More recently, Glenn Lord sent me a few photocopies of letters when I was preparing to reprint Ultima Thule. Just for kicks, I pulled out the photocopies and leafed through them. When I came across the letter to Denis Archer, something wasn’t right: it was dated May 22.

2018 09-24 REH to Archer 2

That can’t be right, I thought. So I pulled out Ultima Thule and checked the letter: May 20. That’s right, sports fans, Howard wrote two letters to the publisher, but don’t get too excited. Besides the different dates, the only difference in the letters is the beginning of the second paragraph. The May 20 letter starts “Under separate cover I am sending,” and the May 22 letter starts “Enclosed I am sending.” No big deal, I guess.

But I wish I knew how these two letters came about. Did Howard send the one on the 20th and include the other with the typescript on the 22nd? Did he change his mind and decide to send both the letter and the story in the same package instead of separately? Maybe he was just too lazy to go to the post office on the 20th? Who knows?

And people say I’m obsessed.