RARA-AVIS: Pulp Jungle & Robert Turner

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 14 Feb 2003

In a message dated 2/14/03 3:12:23 PM Eastern Standard Time, owner-rara-avis@icomm.ca writes:

<< What do you recommend of his, Bill? Are the BRASS KNUCKLES
 stories good? THE PULP JUNGLE made FRENCH KEY sound pretty
 good, although it's kind of hard to tell what is hardboiled
 and what isn't. I also have my eye on SIMON LASH: PRIVATE
 DECTECTIVE. There's a series with one title about a goose
 that the rara-avis archive suggested might be good but not
 hardboiled. My preference would be for good AND hardboiled.
 Somebody in the archive mentioned that the book has a "dic-
 tated" feel to it which I wouldn't argue with, but I have to
 say that I found almost every page to be entertaining. I
 got exposed to a lot of new names. >>

I was the one who some time ago said Frank Gruber's THE PULP JUNGLE felt like a dictated book to me. That hasn't kept me from reading it several times with enjoyment and going back to it to dip in for a story or two on scores of other occasions. Whether it was dictated or not, it has a breezy, conversational style that I find charming. Gruber also allows himself to wander like a conversationalist while the core of the story remains his climb in the world of the writer.

Something I really enjoy is going along with him as he scraps and hustles to stay alive in New York until he gets established. One other aspect of the book is at the end when he goes into detail about his eleven-element pulp formula. He was quite serious in his discussion about putting a story together and I learned from reading it although the method he used was by definition "formula." Writers who turned out huge volumes sometimes had their own personalized formulas.

I seem to recall that Erle Stanley Gardner had a wheel gizmo of some type (I think advertised in writer's magazines of the time) that had revolving wheels with plot elements on some wheels and character types on others. I don't remember exactly as it has been years since I read about it but it was a device that old Erle would spin and then take the elements fate decided and write a story from them. I always thought it was probably psychological support more than anything else. If you are turning out scores of stories a year, coming up with that many settings, characters and plots must have very daunting.

Gruber's fiction I find enjoyable in a light sort of way. It has been years since I read one of his novels but I recall them to be entertaining. THE FRENCH KEY was okay but I enjoyed others in that series more, Johnny what'shisname and Sam Cragg. THE HONEST DEALER was one of the better ones. Gruber liked to gamble and that showed as well as his knowledge of the desert setting. That series could be rather funny. The Otis Beagle stories were fun as well.

There is one other book by an old pulpster that is out there. Published by Sherbourne Press, the same publisher as Gruber's THE PULP JUNGLE and BRASS KNUCKLES as well as Goulart's anthology THE HARDBOILED DICKS is Robert Turner's SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE WRITERS BUT I WOULDN'T WANT MY DAUGHER TO MARRY ONE (1970).

After complaining elsewhere that I had never seen a reasonably priced copy, somebody tipped me to a copy for $20.00 and I got it this week. It is a fun book but a bare shadow of the Gruber volume.

Turner began selling to comics and the pulps around 1940, although he didn't hit his stride in pulps until after the war. He was also an agent for a time and an editor with Popular (sharing an office with Damon Knight) for an even briefer time. I'm not sure why this one didn't work as well for me. Gruber was a crafty, ambitious guy who carefully worked his way up the then existing food chain for writers. This is hard to pin down but Turner comes across as William Bendix while Gruber is more of a Brian Donlevy.

The most enjoyable part of the Turner book for me was his account of his TV scriptwriting days circa 1959. One of the shows he worked on was the Darin McGavin series "Mike Hammer." Frank Kane got him the gig, Kane having written over twenty of the episodes. From there Turner did some scripts for ZIV which produced shows for syndication like "Tombstone Territory,"
"Coronado 9" and "Johnny Midnight," shows that I enjoyed as a kid. Rod Cameron was in "Coronado 9" and Edmund O'Brien was in "Johnny Midnight." Can't remember who starred in "Tombstone Territory" but I recall really liking the show. I think the hero ran the newspaper in Tombstone. Maybe Bill will remember if it wasn't on opposite "The Lone Ranger" down in Alvin, TX.

It was interesting to me that of all his writing credits, Turner seemed most proud of selling regularly to the hard-boiled digest "Manhunt." He sold them two stories and then they rejected the next nine (all of which sold to other markets.) "Trying to write for "Manhunt" eventually led to my selling
"Bluebook," "Playboy" and other slicks and semi-slicks. It made me bear down more on being different, on trying to write more smoothly and sparsely," Turner wrote.

Upon reflection, even though it wasn't as much fun as Gruber's, I did enjoy the Turner book and certainly got more than my $20.00 in pleasure.

Richard Moore

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