RARA-AVIS: Swain, Tosches & Fanny Ellsworth

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 21 Dec 2000

Much to comment on in the last Rara, from Fanny Ellsworth to Nick Tosches to Dwight V. Swain.

Juri, I'm curious (but pleased) that anyone would be researching Dwight V. Swain. He was a regular in the pulps during the 1940s writing SF, westerns and mysteries. He had many stories in the Ziff-Davis pulps based out of Chicago such as Amazing, Fantastic Adventures, Mammoth Detective, and Mammoth Adventure. That's how he and Howard Browne knew each other.

One of the editors at Ziff-Davis was William L. Hamling, who left to form his own publishing company based in the suburb of Evanston. Swain wrote many stories for Hamling including "Bring Back My Brain!" in a 1957 issue of Imagination. In the early 1950s Hamling was asked by a young man named Hefner to partner with him on a new magazine called Playboy but Hamling turned him down. Once Hefner became a big success, Hamling began his own magazine Rogue, which published some good fiction, and he also began a paperback house Regency Books, which are highly collectable today. Harlan Ellison was an editor there for a time and Regency published his MEMOS FROM PURGATORY. Hamling also published pornography.

But I digress. Although he ghosted a Nick Carter novel and had a few stories in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, Swain's primary activity for many years was teaching on the faculty of the University of Okaloma. At the Pasadena Bouchercon, Swain told me that whenever Hamling was prosecuted for pornography (which was often) he would call on Swain to testify as an expert on the First Amendment. Dwight said he enjoyed it and the fees.

Eventually Hamling was convicted. Oddly enough, he was convicted over issues arising from his republication of an official US government document, namely the report of the Presidential Commission on Pornography. Hamling's edition was, of course, illustrated.

After his retirement from teaching, Swain made it to several conventions, wrote a few columns for Mystery Scene on the pulps, and eventually sold one last novel. Sadly, Dwight committed suicide not long after that. He was a great old guy and a good story teller.

E. Borgers asked about a Nick Tosches novel, which I have not read. However, I have read many other things by Tosches and he blows me away with his quirky, tough style and nasty humor. His bio of Sonny Liston (called NIGHT TRAIN in the UK) is more about the mob than boxing. His bio of Dean Martin (DEANO) is being filmed by Martin Scorsese. I also like his poems from the point of view of Robert Stack, such as "I, as Robert Stack, Address My God."

But I must get back on topic. Bill asked about Fanny Ellsworth. She took over Black Mask from Joseph Shaw with the December 1936 issue and continued through the April 1940 issue. Before 1936 she had for many years been editor of the very successful Ranch Romances with an office across the hall from Shaw. Frank Gruber in his wonderful THE PULP JUNGLE says Ellsworth was in her early thirties when she took over Black Mask and described her as "an extremely erudite woman. You would have through she would be more at home with a magazine like Vogue or Harper's..."

Apologies for the long post!

Richard Moore

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