An interview with Ted Lee, stepson of Gil Brewer

How old were you when your mother Verlaine married Gil, and what was it like growing up with him?

I was 15, and was not very happy that my mother and father divorced. I lived with my father, so I only saw Gil when I went over to their house about 2 or 3 times a month.   When I got out of the Navy and started college, Gil gave me a portable typewriter and once, encouraged me to write a humorous reply to a letter in the college newspaper.

Did Gil talk about his writing much to his family?

As I recall, he discussed his writing and what he was thinking with my mother and she always filled me in on what he was doing.  He may have discussed his writing with his younger sister, Nancy, since she was often visiting with them at that time.

Who were his biggest influences as a writer?

His father, Jack Kerouac, Day Keene, Harry Whittington and others.  He read constantly, (books, newspapers, etc ) and usually had about 50 library books in the house at all times.  He was continually purchasing books for his own collection also.

What are your memories of other writers like Harry Whittington, Talmage Powell and Day Keene, who were good friends of Gil’s?

I knew Harry Whittington personally and thought he was a great guy.  I didn’t know Powell or Keene.  Powell’s son, Dion, attended college at the same time I did.  I also knew Day Keene’s son, Al James and his wife, very well.  Gil was the best man at their wedding.  Howard Whittington, Harry’s son, and I are still friends.

Have you read all or most of Gil’s books, and if so, what are your favorites and why?

Yes, I have read just about everything Gil wrote.  Each time a new book or short story came out, I was given a copy.  While I was in the Navy, (54-56), my mother would send me a copy of the books and short stories and after I  read them I would then pass everything around to all the guys on the ship.

Actually, I enjoyed all of his writings and especially “The Red Scarf”, “So Rich so Dead”, and “13 French Street”.

How did Florida as an area influence Gil’s writing?

He used  St Petersburg, its beaches, the Tampa Bay area and all of Florida as locations in his writing.  As I read  the books or stories, I could picture in my mind where we were and what was happening.  He researched all of the locations to be sure he described them correctly.

What was your favorite memory of Gil?

He was sitting in a cold,(he had the air conditioning turned down in the 60’s) dark house, playing his trumpet while listening to records.  He was self taught and quite good.

Once, he and mother were babysitting our two young children and were accidentally locked out of the house.  They were trying to convince the kids to open the door for them when we arrived home.  To say the least, Gil was not happy.  He was always very generous, but his drinking was a problem.  We had them over for dinner quite a lot and Gil was always very charming with us and also with my wife’s relatives.  He had a great sense of humor and could converse on any subject being discussed.

Besides the movie Three-Way, based on Wild to Possess, have you gotten any film offers on any of Gil’s books?

Yes, “13 French Street” which was made in France, “The Red Scarf” an offer from Australia and the “Vengeful Virgin”  just recently an offer from England.

Where do you think Gil Brewer’s writing fits in with big names in the mystery noir field like Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, James Cain and Dashiell Hammett?

Pretty close to the same level.  If he had been able to write seriously, and not just for the money, he would have been on the same level as they are.

How did Gil happen to ghostwrite the Harry Arvay men’s adventure series?

Scott Meredith, his agent, suggested it.  Gil took the outline of the stories from Arvay and wrote terrific books.  Arvay’s daughter just recently contacted us and threatened to sue us for saying Gil had ghost written the stories.  We forwarded copies of the contracts to her to prove Gil had written them.

Are there any other major Gil Brewer novels, like A Devil For O’Shaugnessy, that have never been published and should?

There are quite a few manuscripts in the Heritage Section at the University of Wyoming that have not been published yet. “Angry Arnold” is one of them. I haven’t had a chance to read them myself, since my mother donated all of Gil’s works to them after he died.

How would you sum up Gil Brewer’s books for someone who has never read them?

It is interesting that other writers recommend him, writers like Bill Pronzini, who wrote “Brewer’s prose is distinguished by raw emotion genuinely portrayed and felt.”  Ed Gorman said, “At his best, he hooked you in the first paragraph and never let you go.”

Lynn Munroe said, “Gil’s style pulses through his best books, that backwoods amalgam of Caldwell, Hemingway and Cain with shades of Whittington and Keene.”

Ed Gorman discusses Andrew Coburn

Andrew Coburn writes page-turners. A special kind of page-turner.
The problem I have with many so-called “beach books” is that I get tired of everything being so-over-the-top. After I’ve read about a hundred pages of many of them I begin to  realize that here we go again. Unreal people who couldn’t exist doing things that couldn’t possibly happen involved in plots that even The Three Stooges would find dopey.

What I’ve always liked about Andrew’s novels is that while I can’t stop reading them (and I mean I’ve sat up as late as three a.m. finishing a couple of them) his people are always true to life and his plots all the more gripping because they could very well happen. Hell, some of them probably HAVE happened since Andrew was a crime beat reporters for many years and covered everybody from the mobsters to serial killers to high flying Wall Street-types who have little plastic statues of Bernie Madoff on their dashboards. In other words–Andrew has BEEN THERE.

Authenticity matters to Andrew.

I’m sure you’ll agree. In fact I have no doubt you’ll agree. As a fan and admirer of Andrew’s novels for more than thirty years I’m really pleased that Prologue has begun to make them available to an even wider reading public through e-books. For style, depth and PURE ENTERTAINMENT Andrew Coburn is in the front rank of American writers.

–Ed Gorman

Andrew Coburn books available from Prologue

Andrew Coburn

“SO GOOD IT’S ALMOST CRIMINAL.”

Andrew Coburn, born in 1932 in Exeter, New Hampshire, has lived most of his life in the towns outside Boston that figure in his fiction. Following US military service that took him to Frankfurt, West Germany, he joined the Lawrence, Massachusetts Eagle-Tribune, launching a career as an award-winning crime reporter. Granted the prestigious Eugene Saxton Memorial fellowship for young American writers in 1965, he published his first novel in the 1970s. His second was a New York Times bestseller, establishing him, instantly, as one of a kind—master of American prose, riveting chronicler of crimes that play out in home towns we think we know, and don’t.

Nominated for the Edgar for Goldilocks, the third novel in his Sweetheart Trilogy, Coburn has been translated into 14 languages and, in 1987, was awarded with an honorary doctorate of letters for his service to both journalism and the novel. Dedicated Yankees fan, father of five, he lives in Andover, Massachusetts with his wife, Casey, and has recently gathered a collection of the crime stories that first appeared in such quarterlies as the Transatlantic Review.

MAJOR WORKS

From the 1980s: the Sweet Heart Trilogy
Sweetheart; Love Nest; Goldilocks
A legendary trilogy, shaped by the author’s career as a journalist covering towns around Boston in their encounters with the lust for cash and power and land. The last of the Mafia struggles to hang on, then gives way to corporate bankers and real estate developers; newcomers drift in—a girl called Melody; a Viet Nam vet with yellow hair and a taste for women and chicken pot pies. In the old mill town of Lawrence, decent cops and lawyers attempt, with mixed success, to hang on to the light.

From the 1990s: the Bensington Novels
No Way Home and Voices in the Dark
A matched set of novels that map the quintessential American town of Bensington. Located half an hour outside a Boston now dominated by the glossy towers of corporate excess, Bensington is the town we’re glad to go home to: the town green is complete with a war memorial; a white church tower climbs into a blue sky; progress is etched in the new mansions that line “the Heights.” Presided over by police chief James Morgan, Bensington feels safe, even as old sadnesses snap to the surface with a shot from an F-1 sniper rifle and a tramp wearing a Harvard class ring.

FORTHCOMING

Spouses and Other Crimes
A collection of eleven stories with the impact of an American saga–each rendered in Coburn’s signature style of “chilly elegance,” each an excursion into the genre-bending territory Coburn would claim in his novels. Here, in snap-shot form, are the towns circling Boston: the crazy quilt of intertwined lives; the uneasy memories of the past; the disturbances that tilt the equations of love and loyalty that bind neighbor to neighbor, parents to children, husbands to wives.

WORKS BY ANDREW COBURN
In order of publication

The Trespassers
The Babysitter
Off Duty
Company Secrets
Widow’s Walk

The Sweetheart Trilogy
Sweetheart; Love Nest; Goldilocks

The Bensington Novels
No Way Home; Voices in the Dark

Birthright
On the Loose

Novella
My Father’s Daughter

Short stories
Spouses and Other Crimes

PRAISE FOR ANDREW COBURN

From Nelson DeMille:
“…As good as it gets.”

From Robert Cormier:
“A sublime writer…a novelist who writes brilliant novels in which crime happens. Anyone who has yet to discover Coburn has a treat in store.”

From Stanley Ellin:
“Flawless…”

“Compulsively readable…so good it’s almost criminal.”
Publishers Weekly

“One of the best..”
Newsweek

“Coburn is as good on sad women as bad men, his prose so flexed and edged as to make paranoia fashionable.”
London Sunday Times

Writing “in a brilliant style of chilly elegance, [Coburn] is merciless in probing tormented characters who live—and lie and lust.”
New York Times

“Spellbinding…”
New York Newsday

The “dialogue is perfect, sometimes acidic, and always intelligent.”
Chicago Tribune

“Beautifully realized…thoroughly satisfying…”
Los Angeles Times

“There’s a Hitchcockian flavor to Andrew Coburn’s thrillers…” These are “page turners, [rendered with] a good eye and a great ear.”
Boston Globe

“Taut…fast as the rat-a-tat-tat of a mobster’s machine gun.”
Boston Herald

“Tense, cool…first rate. Highly recommended.”
Library Journal

His “characters…are alive, unpredictable and emotionally complex… revelations of character and emotion as absorbing as the twistings of the revenge-laden plot.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Coburn goes from strength to strength.”
The London Observer

James Reasoner’s Introduction the Prologue Western Line

PROLOGUE BOOKS WESTERN AUTHORS

by James Reasoner

Not content just to bring back some of the best hardboiled crime fiction of the past 75 years, the good folks at Prologue Books have also assembled a fine line-up of vintage Western authors.

MAX BRAND, whose real name was Frederick Faust, is one of the best-selling and most influential Western writers of all time. Beginning shortly after World War I, Faust dominated the Western field in the pulps for more than two decades, producing hundreds of novels and stories under his best-known pseudonym, Max Brand, as well as more than a dozen other names. There’s a pulp legend that on occasion Faust filled up entire issues of WESTERN STORY with a short novel, a couple of serial installments, and an assortment of short stories, all under different names. In all likelihood that claim isn’t true, but there’s no doubt that Faust supplied more than half the fiction in many individual issues. One of three authors who were dubbed “the King of the Pulps” (the other two being H. Bedford-Jones and Erle Stanley Gardner), Faust wrote many mysteries, thrillers, and historical novels in addition to his Westerns. He is also one of the most reprinted authors in history, both in hardback and paperback, and now in e-book form. Prologue Books offers new editions of some of his finest novels.

After selling his first novels in the mid-Thirties, NELSON NYE was also a major force in the Western field for many decades, writing for the pulps, for hardback publishers, and for a number of different paperback publishers. Most of his work is set in his native Southwest, an area he knew well from first-hand experience. Nye is unusual in that after a lengthy stretch of retirement from writing, he returned in the Eighties and Nineties with more than a dozen new novels in which he demonstrated that he hadn’t lost his touch in connecting with Western readers.

Like Nelson Nye, RAY HOGAN is also a native of the Southwest, having been born in New Mexico. His father was a frontier lawman, so writing about sheriffs, marshals, outlaws, and bounty hunters came naturally to him, although his scores of novels encompass virtually every sort of Western story ever created. As a veteran paperbacker, Hogan was most prolific in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, although he continued to produce well-received Western novels into the Nineties. Hallmarks of his work are a fast pace, tough, laconic prose, and an undeniable authenticity in the people and landscapes about which he writes.

GORDON D. SHIRREFFS is another writer who rose to prominence in the Western genre during the 1950s, although he first began selling to the pulps in the late Forties. Much of his work also takes place in the American Southwest. He was one of the best novelists to chronicle the long, violent struggle between the U.S. Cavalry and the Indians. Another area in which he specialized is stories of lost mines and treasure hunting, as well as manhunting. (His best-known series character, Lee Kershaw, is a bounty hunter.) But no matter what the subject matter or where his novels are set, Shirreffs is noted for producing some of the best Western action scenes ever written.

JACKSON COLE and BRADFORD SCOTT share an interesting relationship: they’re the same person, at least in the case of the novels published by Prologue Books. Alexander Leslie Scott was one of the most prolific authors in the Western pulps, his work appearing in hundreds of issues of various titles from the 1920s to the 1950s. He’s best known for two series featuring heroic, iconic Texas Rangers, Jim Hatfield and Walt Slade, both of which he created. The Jim Hatfield stories originally appeared in the pulp TEXAS RANGERS under the house-name Jackson Cole. A number of different authors contributed Hatfield novels during the magazine’s run, but Scott was the first. Meanwhile, over in the pages of THRILLING WESTERN, under the name Bradford Scott, he was also chronicling the adventures of Texas Ranger Walt Slade. But as if that wasn’t enough to establish Leslie Scott’s reputation as a leading Western author, as paperbacks came to dominance in the Fifties he moved his talents to that arena, penning original Jim Hatfield novels for newly-established Pyramid Books, two of which have now been made available again by Prologue Books. Following a successful run of Hatfield paperbacks, Scott also revived Walt Slade in an even longer, more successful series of full-length novels that were bestsellers for the next fifteen years. Prologue Books has reprinted several of these Walt Slade novels. In all of his novels, Scott was known for his vivid descriptions of the Western landscape, his larger-than-life heroes, and his fast-moving action scenes.

LOUIS TRIMBLE was an academic specializing in linguistics. During the Fifties and Sixties he put that specialty to good use by turning out a number of well-written mystery, science fiction, and Western novels. It’s long been known that Westerns and hardboiled crime fiction share a number of similarities, and Trimble is one of numerous authors to achieve success in both fields. Writing primarily for the paperback publisher Ace in the legendary Ace Double series, Trimble produced some of the finest hardboiled Westerns of the era, short, tough novels of men pushed to the brink, and Prologue Books has made several of them available again.

William Ard, who wrote under the pen-name JONAS WARD, is also an example of an author who was an important figure in both mystery and Western fiction. As Ard, he wrote popular novels featuring private eyes Timothy Dane, Danny Fontaine, and Lou Largo. As Jonas Ward he produced his most successful work, half a dozen novels featuring a drifting Texan named Tom Buchanan. The first novel in the series, THE NAME’S BUCHANAN, was the basis for the Randolph Scott movie “Buchanan Rides Alone”. The Buchanan novels were major entries in the paperback Western field in the Fifties and early Sixties, dominating sales and influencing a number of other Western authors. Ard’s early, untimely death brought the series to an end (although it was continued later by other authors writing under the established Jonas Ward name), but his Buchanan novels form one of the highlights of the Western genre during the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and Prologue Books, thankfully, has brought them all back.

Despite the difference in their work, the one quality all these authors share is that they were great storytellers. A good Western novel is one of the most purely entertaining things you can find. Prologue Books has rounded up a bunch of them.

On Collecting Westerns

By Bill Pronzini

When some people first learn about my extensive collection of Western fiction, they wrinkle their noses and ask me why I collect that sort of thing. As if Westerns were a kind of inferior and alien art form.

These scoffers and sneerers, these snooty types who look down their snouts at Westerns, all seem to have one thing in common: None of them has ever read one. Nor do they know anything about Western fiction.

As far as I’m concerned, such ignorance is not bliss. So I sit them down and educate them.

In the first place I tell then, the Western story is a uniquely American art—one of the relative few this country can call its own. It was born more than a hundred years ago with the dime novels of such writers as Ned Buntline and Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, and was later refined and given permanent literary stature by Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and O. Henry, among others. During this century, Western fiction has functioned as a symbol of all that America stands for: freedom, justice, self-reliance, the pioneer spirit. And in a century that has produced two world wars, dozens of localized wars and “police actions,” the Great Depression, and other tragedies large and small, Americans have needed— still need—that spirit to sustain them.

In the second place, I tell these unenlightened  folk, the popular image of the Western as mindless horse opera, as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry juvenilia, is so much bunkum. There are as many good, intelligent Western novels, or mysteries, or any other type of fiction. And the best of them not only have high literary and entertainment value; they are rich in authentic history, providing the reader with little known facts about, and insights into the lives and accomplishments of, the men and women who settled the western half of these United States.
In the third place, I say, speaking from a collector’s point of view, Westerns are scarce arid getting scarcer. Relatively few copies were printed of 99 percent of all hardcover Westerns, and nearly all of any title’s print run was (and still is) sold to the public and lending libraries. Therefore, copies in good condition, and in dust jacket, are difficult to obtain—a challenge for any serious book collector. But more than that, as a collector of Westerns I am performing something of a public service by rescuing fragile old titles from secondhand bookshops or junk dealers. If it weren’t for collectors many titles would be lost or destroyed. And eventually certain ones, certain little segments of American popular culture, would be lost forever.

In the fourth place, I tell those poor ignorant souls, again speaking from a collector’s point of view, the dust jacket art on old Western hardcovers is marvelously colorful and evocative of their times. These dust jackets are mini art forms in the own right, and it would be just as much of a shame if some of them, too, were to be forever lost through neglect and ridicule.

By this time, the more intelligent and perceptive among my listeners have begun to look thoughtful, if not downright enthusiastic. To these folk I give reading copies (I never allow first editions out of my house) of books by A. B. Guthrie, Jr., Jack Schaefer, Dorothy Johnson, Ernest Haycox, and others, and send them on their way. Those who read just one good Western usually stop being skeptics; and those who read more than one usually become converts.

So if you other Western-fiction collectors have the same sort of problem with the people you know, you might try my approach. It works so well that I’ve even invented a slogan for it:

Don’t apologize, don’t temporize—proselytize!

 

–Reprinted by permission of the author from the

Western Writers of America Roundup

 

 

 

 

Ed Gorman interviews Barry Malzberg

Barry N. Malzberg’s science fiction career began an agent for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in New York in 1965, and he has seen the field from many angles, as reader, writer, editor, agent, and critic. He began publishing short stories in 1967, novels in 1970, and became known as a prolific writer of fiction that took a sardonic view of the meaning – or lack thereof – in individuals’ lives and undertakings, to the point of occasionally being labeled anti-SF in his outlook. Notable novels include Beyond Apollo (1972), winner of the first John W. Campbell Award; Herovit’s World (1973); Guernica Night (1975); Galaxies (1975); and The Remaking of Sigmund Freud (1985). His many short story collections include The Passage of the Light: The Recursive Science Fiction of Barry N. Malzberg (1994) and In the Stone House (2000). His collection of critical essays The Engines of the Night: Science Fiction in the Eighties (1982) won a Locus Award.

“I have long maintained that Malzberg’s portrayal of The Lone Wolf is one of the most brilliant in the genre. The slow build-up over the series more than pays off in the shattering finale. I’d give just one bit of advice to anyone reading the series from the beginning: Malzberg knows exactly what he’s doing.” —Jerry House

“Since my so-called career, like that of most commercial writers, is little more than a function of what I could write and where I could sell it…” —Barry Malzberg

An Interview with Barry Malzberg

You wrote what you could write and sold it where you could…It’s telling that at around the same time you were writing The Lone Wolf you were creating one of your finest most nuanced masterpieces Guerenica Night. I know you were a hard working pro…but that had to be quite a literary leap.

No, I felt that Guernica Night was no “literary leap”. Same writer, same urban decay, same obsession with death-as-purgation and for that matter same style. I wrote the first 10 Lone Wolf novels between January and October of 1973, then right on to Guernica Night. Felt seamless.

I’m not sure whether you or your agent came up with the idea to do a Mac Bolan-type series but what did you make of the genre after you read a few examples of it?

As I wrote in NOTES ON THE LONE WOLF (collected in Breakfast in the Ruins) I had never read an Executioner novel prior to signing the contract on Lone Wolf. I found one at the local candystore (paperbacks were sold in candystores, bus terminals, drugstores, gas stations in those roseate days) and spent an hour with it. Absolutely terrible, I thought, but added in the spirit of Schmeling viewing clips of Joe Louis before their first fight, “I see something.” By the way my editor George Ernsberger approached me; I had no thought of doing this series and was shocked at his solicitation. He saw something, obviously, that I had not seen in myself. (And also they wanted this series on the stands at the earliest instant to take advantage of the market trend and I was the only writer living or dead who could be counted upon to deliver ten novels in eight months.)

Did you consciously decide to basically turn the genre on its head? Wolfe and his vision are nihilistic. He sees that he is trapped in two hells–himself and what America has become. Nothing like this would ever occur in the avenger series by other writers.

Jerry House’s quote is dead-on; I knew exactly what I wanted to do before I typed the first line and I proceeded with conscious intention. Burton Wulf got ever crazier by intention.

What always fascinated me about The Lone Wolf Books was not the violence-which is considerable–but about the running commentary on how the American Streets were fighting a war parallel to that of the battle in Viet Nam. This gave Wulf a gravitas and harsh poetry none of the other avenger series had. You were serious.

Yes, I was quite serious. I had at that time what I took to be a Social Vision. Synchronous to the composition of those first ten novels was the passage of the insane and insanely punitive Rockefeller drug laws in NY State which more or less mandated life sentences without probation or appeal for those convicted of selling drugs in any amount. Millions of lives were destroyed. The laws remain largely in effect almost four decades later. Rockefeller died – in the saddle with a girlfriend I would like to remind all – 33 years ago but his legacy for those under the penumbra of the drug laws is eternal.

Did your publisher fight you for using the pretext of a men’s action for a somber look at the grim unraveling of our country’s tenuous grasp in civilization?

My editor fought me on nothing. George Ernsberger, a renegade, knew exactly what I was about and left me entirely alone. The publisher was unhappy with the first three books; the characters murdered were depicted too vividly and sympathetically he thought and their deaths went beyond cartoon deaths…he wanted to stop the series. But for one reason or another he relented – my editor fought for me – and gave the greenlight for #4 and its successors and never bothered me again.

I agree with you about drugs (I exempt marijuana). Tune in, tune out, right on bro etc—my generation’s gift to the world was the utter destruction of the inner cities as well great damage to every other aspect of American culture. But you were saying this when it was unfashionable in the kinds of circles you and I traveled in. Did you get flack for it?

I got no flack for the series. I was a fat kid living with spouse and two young daughters in a suburban house, living in camouflage. The gap between the ferocity of those novels and the pallor of my daily life might have been astonishing if I had given it some thought but I didn’t, not on a conscious level anyway.

Wulf’s world view is at times almost misanthropic. I think of what Eugene O’Neill said when first told about the Atomic bomb: “Maybe we deserve it.” Or am I wrong?

Wulf’s view was of course misanthropic. He was Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd half a decade before the musical. “This world is full of shit and we are not out of it: you all deserve to die.”

Did you get much flack for the series?

I received one letter. Sic. A Sp4 in Texas mailed me the cover of #5, Havana Hit, with a brief note: “You can tear this into quarters and you know where you can stick it.” My response: “You’re a paying customer and beyond that you’re a noncom in the US Army, you have my undying respect.” I enclosed a copy of #6 Chicago Slaughter “As a way of thanking you for expressing your opinion.” I did meet few people at NYC paperback conventions who expressed appreciation. One asked me if the series was based on actual events.

Did you get many reviews?

To the best of my knowledge, no contemporaneous reviews. Nice mention in Bill Pronzini’s/Marcia Muller’s Thousand and One Midnights but Pronzini is my, um, collaborator. Very nice mention too in Encyclopedia Mysteriosa by the Edgar winning novelist William DeAndrea who died young so long ago.

Are you ever invited to men’s adventure meetings or conventions?

Other than those 3-4 NYC pulp Conventions I attended (brief signings) I’ve never been invited to any mystery-related function.

How do you feel about having the books available in e book form on the great website Prologue Books?

I’m gratified to feel that they are still alive and available in however perilous a fashion more than three and a half decades after I typed FINIS to the series.

I’d like to end this by asking you what was it like free landing full time in the years you did it? You produced an enormous amount of work, a good share of it that has not only endured but also been influential on succeeding generations. Does knowing that make your memories of all the long hours and scrambling ins search of work worth it?

That’s an embracing question and difficult to answer. Ten years ago I would have responded flatly” Not worth it. In the words of Harry The Flat from my 1974 novel Underlay “The fucking you get is not worth the fucking you take.” Now I am not sure. The work is honorable because it emerged from an honorable perspective. The money was essential but it wasn’t ultimately the money which was driving those books or anything else. I had big plans. Top of the world, Ma.

Touch of Evil’s Literary Roots – An interview with Eddie Muller

Prologue Books’ crime fiction curator, Greg Shepard of Stark House Press interviews noted noirchaelogist Eddie Muller about Whit Masterson’s Badge of Evil and the movie it inspired, Touch of Evil. (Photo by Craig Merrill)

Where does Touch of Evil fit in with the classic noir of the 40’s and 50’s?

For me, it’s something of a “go-for-baroque” finale to the classic noir era. At least it’s convenient to think of it that way. In Citizen Kane Welles fostered many of the stylistic flourishes associated with film noir, and in Touch of Evil he sort of brings the cycle to a big, bold conclusion. Nothing subtle about it; the style borders on the berserk.

How does the book differ from the movie?

The basic structure is the same, the same through-line—the search for the killer of Rudy Linneker—but Welles really bolstered the ethnic angles, more than Paul Monash did in his original draft of the script. There’s not a strong Mexican presence in the book, and it was largely Welles who brought that to the film, especially by switching the nationalities of Mike and Susan Vargas. It so much stronger to have Mike be the Mexican, rather than his wife. To me, that’s the best and most significant change from the novel. It also explains how Charlton Heston ended up being cast as a Mexican— which he wasn’t in the original script. But it was Heston (who’d just won an Oscar) who had the juice to get Welles cast as Hank Quinlan, and it was Heston who championed him to direct the picture, as well. It would have been better with Ricardo Montalban as Vargas, but no way was that going to happen.

The movie Quinlan is actually the character of Loren McCoy in the novel—and the character of Hank Quinlan from the book becomes Pete Menzies in the movie. You following? Their relationship remains the same, they just changed the names for some reason. Rightly, I think. “Hank Quinlan” fits Welles perfectly. Can’t see him playing a character named “Loren McCoy.”

Susan Vargas is much more prominent in the film than in the book—the series of scenes at the Mirador Motel were created out of whole cloth by Welles; they’re not even in Monash’s draft. I’m not sure how much they add to the story; Wade and Miller have Consuelo (the wife’s name in the novel) talk about the attack she’s endured, but they’d never have detoured the plot for the sake of pure salaciousness. Welles, however, wallowed in it. He created the night watchman (Dennis Weaver) as comic relief, and gave Mercedes McCambridge that bit as a dyke biker chick—none of that was in the book.

More significantly, Welles created the character of Uncle Joe Grandi, mainly so his old pal Akim Tamiroff could have some scenery to chew. He’s a vivid character, but you can tell he’s an add-on; Uncle Joe has very little bearing on the plot, other than to have somebody for Quinlan to kill on-camera to display to the audience how venal this dirty cop really is.

Tana, the fortune teller (Marlene Dietrich) is also a character conjured up by Welles. She’s brilliant, carrying the weight of Quinlan’s backstory in her few scenes. All that guilt and regret. Her scenes are pure Welles, in the very best sense.

What element from the book makes the strongest presence in the film?

The plot is pretty much intact, as is the relationship between the two cops (McCoy and Quinlan in the novel, Quinlan and Menzies in the film), which to me is the best thing in both. I think Joseph Calleia, who plays Manzies in the movie, gives the strongest performance in the film. That character is really the emotional heart of the piece; he loves his colleague, loves the great man he once was—but now he has to see him for the monster he’s become, and betray him in the end. That’s the real drama in an otherwise carny-like crime movie.

Was Badge of Evil an influence on Welles, or had it already been turned into a screenplay by then? Was Welles directly influenced by the book, or the treatment?

Welles claimed to have never read the book. It was typical of him to be disdainful of source material. I guess it wasn’t great until seasoned with his genius. But comparisons of Paul Monash’s first draft with Welles’ own rewrite show that Welles went back and reclaimed ideas, and a lot of dialogue, right from the novel.

How does film noir differ from lit noir?

One of the things that characterized a lot of classic film noir was how it subjectively explored aberrant psychology. In other words, it made the losers the leads, and tried to make the audience empathize with them. But it never really did it as well as novels could. That’s why no one has really been able to capture writers like David Goodis and Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford on film. They have a voice on the page that has proven elusive on film. There have been terrific adaptations, of course, like Dark Passage, The Grifters, and The Woman Chaser—but none of them quite capture the authors’ unique tone and style.

How does Whit Masterson/Wade Miller fit in with the lit noir of the 50’s?

Wade and Miller wrote pretty straight-forward crime novels, and they’ve been adapted with varying degrees of success: Touch of Evil is the best, by far. Guilty Bystander is a better book than movie. Where Welles’ direction elevated the book, Joseph Lerner’s direction, which is at times startlingly inept, sinks an otherwise fairly interesting film version of Guilty Bystander. Cry In the Night is a better book than movie; the film is pretty clumsy in crucial spots. Kitten with a Whip—well, I haven’t read the book so I can’t compare, but the movie is pretty awful in a vastly entertaining way. Ann-Margret as a delinquent nymphomaniac—it’s hard to screw that up.

Film noir was directly influenced by the German Expressionist movement. What equivalent literary movement influenced the noir writers? Did they crossover?

I’d say that the German Expressionist film movement influenced the European directors who eventually made crime films in Hollywood. But I don’t think it had any more influence over film noir as a whole than Dashiell Hammett had. And he was clearly influenced, at least in prose style, by Hemingway. The whole Black Mask bullpen was influential, really. Writers like Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Paul Cain—they really influenced the language of noir. Writers like James M. Cain, W. R. Burnett, Cornell Woolrich—they influenced the development of plot in crime stories. Noir is an ethos, really—a way of looking at the world in which crime and self-destruction in endemic—and it’s that world-view, popularized by writers and filmmakers, that really created “noir.”

I think you can argue that the films made in the 1940s from the work of writers such as Hammett and Cain and their brethren had an influence on noir novelists of the 1950s. Willeford was clearly influenced by film, Goodis had direct experience in the movie business, and Thompson—for whatever reason—was the most cinematic writer of them all. And genre writers typically are writing with some notion of a movie sale, so that also influences their approach. There’s definitely a symbiosis between noir on the page and noir on the screen, and frankly, I don’t think writers are given nearly the credit they deserve, especially by proponents of the auteur theory.

What are some of the best noir films of the 40’s and 50’s?

Too many to name, really. But while we’re talking about writers, I suggest that people check out any film with a screenplay by Jonathan Latimer, who wrote a great noir novel called Solomon’s Vineyard. Terrific screenwriter, unjustly neglected. He wrote the first screen version of Hammett’s Red Harvest in 1942, which I’d love to read. Never produced, unfortunately.

Noir books?

All the usual suspects. I’m looking forward to reading more of Wade Miller and Whit Masterson. I’ll probably never get through them all. Those guys were too prolific!

Don’t Cry For Me – Discussion Questions

Don’t Cry For Me: William Campbell Gault
Discussion Questions

  • What was your first impression of Pete Worden? How your perception of him change as the story progressed?
  • In the first chapter, Pete states that he is only good at football and war. How do these two themes play into the plot? How do they affect Pete’s thought processes?
  • There is a definite literary aspect to the book: John and Nick’s matching leather bound book sets, Pete’s fondness for Saroyan, the dinner scene with Professor Arranbee. What have ‘words’ done to Pete’s world?
  • Don’t Cry For Me has two female characters who are both big readers—Ellen and Vicki. How does this make them stand out? How do they compare to the male characters in the story?
  • Dreams are a prominent theme in the book. Think of the American Dream—has it changed since Pete’s day? How so?
  • In chapter 11, Pete asks, “Was I afraid to go home? Would you be?” How would you answer him?
  • How is the title of this novel significant? Who could Pete be talking to, and what would prompt him to say ‘don’t cry for me’?
  • Don’t Cry For Me was an Edgar Award winning book in 1952. What about this book makes it worthy of its prestigious award?

Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo

by Gordon D. Shirreffs

Available for: Kindle | NOOK | Apple | Sony | Kobo

DESCRIPTION

They sent Sergeant Gorse back—lashed aboard his own mount.

They bay carried him—upright and staring—across the parched, hostile wasteland to the very gates of Fort Bellew.

He had six arrows in his back. They had slit him open from neck to thigh, filled him with a stinking, unspeakable mess, and sewed him back together with gut.

This was the savage challenge of Asesino, warrior chief of the Chiricahuas.

Before the sun rose again the gates of Fort Bellew would swing open and its men would ride out after Asesino—down the trail that led to glory—or death!

OTHER BOOKS BY GORDON D. SHIRREFFS

Range Rebel

Range Rebel

by Gordon D. Shirreffs

Available for: Kindle | NOOK | Apple | Sony | Kobo

DESCRIPTION

It was hell with the hide off … But Dave Yeamans had asked for it. His very first day as top kick of the Double-W he had to take on Shorty Ganoe in a bloody fight men were to remember for years. Next day he had a gang of them to take on in a blazing gunfight that was to set fire to the whole valley.

Dave was going to stick it out. Until now he had always been an outlier, a lone wolf who wouldn’t stay with the pack. Now he had something to fight for. Every day the going got rougher but Dave got ornerier and ornerier. He was staying on as Double-W’s top man and he was going to lick hell out of the whole bunch.

OTHER BOOKS BY GORDON D. SHIRREFFS