Thursday, December 18, 2014

Evermore: The Persistence of Poe


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GALLERY REVIEW
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E D G A R   E V E R M O R E :
A Quaint & Curious Collection
of Poe Paraphernalia
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by
GILBERT COLON
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“It is not altogether a breach of confidence to admit that his interest in Poe did reach the point of an obsession, and perhaps eventually of an absolute mania.”  
—“The Man Who Collected Poe” by ROBERT BLOCH

In 1951, Psycho author Robert Bloch authored the short story “The Man Who Collected Poe,” which appeared in Famous Fantastic Mysteries (vol. 12, no. 6).  The autumn exhibition at New York’s Grolier Club, “Evermore: The Persistence of Poe; The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane,” might easily be called “The Woman Who Collected Poe.”  

Enter, stage right – a manuscript of certificate, First General Meeting of Edgar Allan Poe Club in Philadelphia, 1930, with signatures including Poe collector Richard Gimbel …

The Grolier Club (47 East 60th Street, New York, NY 10065) is a private Manhattan gentleman’s fellowship, open to the public, with a mandate to promote the book arts, and the treasury on recent display came courtesy of Susan Jaffe Tane, a Poeist collector for a quarter of a century who lives for the “thrill of the hunt and pride of ownership” of original manuscripts, letters, popular merchandise, and anything else pertaining to America’s Master of Mystery and the Macabre.



The only complete manuscript of “Epimanes” …

First editions of Poe’s major works …

Two daguerreotypes of Poe …

A fragment of his coffin …

One of only two privately-held copies of Tamerlane and Other Poems

“…Once a truly unique collection has been assembled,” Ms. Tane explains, “there comes an opportunity for an even greater kind of thrill: that of sharing one’s collection with the world.”  And for free – there is no admission to any Grolier Club exhibit, including “Evermore: The Persistence of Poe” which ran from September 17th to November 22nd.  Ms. Tane, brimming with philanthropic enthusiasm for her obsession, has been known to personally conduct guided tours from time to time, one at the club for a senior citizen group.  Another event was a Library of America-sponsored screening of The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price, on Oct. 22nd, all in time for Halloween.  (The prestigious Library of America publishes a two-volume Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe which includes Poetry and Tales and Essays and Reviews.)  Inaugurating the collection’s premiere was an October lecture delivered by Poe scholar Richard Kopley, Professor of English at Penn State, editor of Poe’s Pym: Critical Explorations, and author of Edgar Allan Poe and the Dupin Mysteries.  

On prominent public view was the only known manuscript copy of “The Conqueror Worm,” never before shown and thought lost until last year’s rediscovery, and that was not the only first.  Also newly discovered a year ago, and making its debut appearance, was a previously unknown Poe cut-paper silhouette, the work of artist William James Hubard, and an autograph letter from Poe submitting “The Tell-Tale Heart” to author and editor of Boston’s The Pioneer, James Russell Lowell.  An engraved engagement ring given by Poe to childhood sweetheart Sarah Elmira Royster, unknown to scholars until 2012, could be viewed in a curio table (“Case 11: Women in Poe’s Life”) along with letters and artifacts pertaining to the many loves of Poe, several of whom were convinced they were his “Annabel Lee.”  One relic displayed was a locket of hair of Poe’s mingled with that of his wife Virginia’s.



How to explain Poe’s enduring popularity and legacy across the varied media is best summed up in Tane’s own words: “No other author of the 19th century is so fascinating or complex, and the materials in this room show why Poe has persisted so strongly over two hundred years after his birth.”  

Poe persists.  And not only in Providence where he was a frequent visitor, or Richmond which, as the city of his childhood, claims him as its own, or Boston, his birth city, or Baltimore, his death city, but here in New York, where he spent more than a decade of the happiest and saddest years of his life with his wife and lifelong love Virginia Clemm.  (All this, despite the fact that, as pointed out in this exhibit, “a physical altercation with Thomas Dunn English, editor of the Aristedean, ended with Poe’s virtual expulsion from the New York literary scene.”)  

New York City can call itself home to at least two Poe attractions.  In the Bronx there is the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, recently renovated and expanded.  Its location – 2640 Grand Concourse – is in the northward part of what is known as Poe Park. (Every Christmas, a tree bark-roofed model of Poe Cottage, constructed of tendrily twigs, leaves, and other plant material, can be viewed at the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show on 2900 Southern Blvd. in the Bronx.)  Further south, in Manhattan, is the Edgar Allan Poe Room at New York University (245 Sullivan St., near to Poe’s original 85 West Third Street residence) which hosts Poe events and “houses artifacts of the time period of Poe and a comprehensive, illustrated timeline of his life.”  There are, of course, the many walking tours, particularly in the Greenwich Village area.  And, briefly, there was the Grolier Club’s expansive one-room gallery space, a very manageable but dense affair that catered to the highbrow…

An autograph score of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony The Bells, Op. 35, based on the Poe poem of the same name, which in turn was inspired by, according to Fordham University itself, “The bell in the [Fordham University Church] tower, known since as Old Edgar Allan…” 

Poe art, for those who pore over illustrated Dover books like Tales of Mystery and Imagination and The Raven, from masters Harry Clarke, Édouard Manet, Gustave DorĂ©, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, and Aubrey Beardsley …

…and the populist…

“Case 9: Poe in Comics”: First-run issues and even original illustrations – splash page artwork, pen and ink on art board – of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Gold Bug,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Raven,” “Berenice,” “The Fall of the House of Usher” adapted by Paul Laikin, Rich Margopoulos in Classics Illustrated, Creepy, even Mad magazine from Jim Wilcox, Rudy Palais, Mort Drucker, Maxon Crumb (brother of R. Crumb), Isidro Montes, Richard Corben …


“Case 10: From Poe to Pop”: Poe-related novels, books, playbills, stamps, a skateboard, bandages, bookends, a pillow, dolls, tumblers, statues, figurines, toys, t-shirts, bookbags, puppets, Mont Blanc pen sets, playing cards, a desk calendar, a latex mask of the man himself …

…and everything between: 

Fantastic, vol. 2, no. 1. New York: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, Jan.–Feb. 1953. Containing the first printing of Poe’s posthumous fragment “The Lighthouse,” completed by Robert Bloch at the behest of Poe scholar Dr. Thomas Ollive Mabbott who had been duly impressed with his “The Man Who Collected Poe” ... 

With title cards like “Case 5: Poe’s Growing Fame,” “Case 6: The Death of a Poet,” and “Case 7: Illustrations of Poe’s Works,” the collection neatly divided its displays according to subjects and categories to give an overview of Poe’s life and legacy.  

A silent Poe biopic plays on one monitor, and PDFs of various Poe-themed art can be navigated by museum-goers on another ... 

Poe’s legacy extends extensively to the silver screen, as evidenced by “Case 8: Poe in Music and Film.”  Framed for display are a Belgian lobby card and an American poster (and sheet music) for the The Raven, starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff, only one of many Roger Corman filmizations from the 1960s, invariably penned by famed author Richard Matheson, the story of whose work on those Poe classics has been detailed in the largely definitive Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed Works by Matthew R. Bradley.

For those who missed this treasure horde, a handsome 208-page exhibit catalog, titled Evermore: The Persistence of Poe by Susan Jaffe Tane and Gabriel McKee, from Oak Knoll Press, can be obtained for $40, not much more than the price of round-trip train tickets, and certainly less than a night in a hotel that the out-of-towner would inevitably pay.  

A past Grolier Club exhibit, “Murder by the Book,” put on show “manuscripts and first editions of the novel of crime and detection,” and it is a straight line from there to this exhibit dedicated to the man regarded as the Father of the Detective Novel.  

A 1952 Hand-painted ceramic Edgar Award statuette from The Mystery Writers of America …

A first printing of Classics Illustrated #40, containing adaptations of three “Mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe” …

A 1935 Arthur Rackham-illustrated Tales of Mystery & Imagination …  

An 1843 first edition of The Prose Romances containing “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” … 

The logical next step for the Grolier Club would be to mount an exhibition of pulp covers, manuscripts, and correspondence of H. P. Lovecraft, the weird fiction writer often hailed as Poe’s heir who briefly made his home in Brooklyn during a short marriage in the 1920s, along with other pulp material from authors in his orbit as chronicled by Mara Kirk Hart and S.T. Joshi in Lovecraft’s New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924–1927.  However the Grolier Club could afford to cast an even wider net than that since it does not confine its exhibition to New York-themed literature.  (Other past club exhibits included “Voyages: A Smithsonian Libraries Exhibition,” whose “Journeys of the Imagination” section included art and manuscripts pertaining to Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1874), and “Facing the Late Victorians: Portraits of Writers and Artists” which featured figures such as Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Aubrey Beardsley.)

There is no underestimating the legacy of the man who signed his letters and manuscripts “Edgar A. Poe.”  Even at press time, a film is playing in theaters: Stonehearst Asylum, starring Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine and Kate Beckinsale and based on his “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether.”  

Poe persists.  Surely there must be a brick leftover from that asylum set, or the “hydrotherapy chair,” for Ms. Tane to bid on.  In 1967, Bloch adapted his short story “The Man Who Collected Poe” for an Amicus anthology film titled Torture Garden.  At the close of that segment, Peter Cushing’s character tells Jack Palance’s: 

“My grandfather made money by selling cadavers to medical students ... One of the graves he opened was the last resting place of Edgar Allan Poe.  The body, of course, had crumbled to dust.  But he gathered that dust and kept it...in this box.  So you see he really was the greatest collector.  He even collected Edgar Allan Poe himself.”  

The narrator in Bloch’s short story reels at this revelation: 

That the body of Edgar Allan Poe had been stolen—that this mansion had been built to house it—that it was indeed enshrined in a crypt below...—was beyond sane belief.  

Perhaps it is wise that Ms. Tane not read this Bloch tale lest she get any ideas.  Though if she does, we could someday be in for an even grander treat than her “Evermore.”  

“What prompted a retired merchant to devote himself so fanatically to the pursuit of a hobby, I cannot say.  Let it suffice that he virtually withdrew from the world and from all other normal interests.  He conducted a voluminous and lengthy correspondence with aging men and women who had known Poe in their lifetime—made pilgrimages to Fordham, sent his agents to West Point, to England and Scotland, to virtually every locale in which Poe had set foot during his lifetime.  He acquired letters and souvenirs as gifts, he bought them, and—I fear—stole them, if no other means of acquisition proved feasible.”  
—“The Man Who Collected Poe” by ROBERT BLOCH.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

GILBERT COLON has written for publications ranging from Filmfax to Cinema Retro to Crimespree Magazine. His interview with Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, The Funeral) for Mystery Scene’s Ed Gorman appeared in the anthology book They’re Here, and he will soon contribute to the author site Bradley on Film. Read him at Gilbert Street and send comments to gcolon777@gmail.com.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Do You Dare Enter? Part Forty-Two: December 1973/Best of 1973


The DC Mystery Anthologies 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino and
Jack Seabrook


Nick Cardy
Ghosts 21

"The Ghost in the Devil's Chair"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ernie Chan

"Within You Dwells a Demon"
Story Uncredited
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Jack: Darren Klone is climbing rocks in his trench coat and hat in the hills of Massachusetts when he sees a throne made of rock and senses that something weird is going on. A beautiful redhead warns him away but he ignores her; he is soon attacked by "The Ghost in the Devil's Chair" when a lighting bolt-like hand grabs him and deposits him back by his car on the road. At a local inn, Klone learns that in the old days, witches came to worship Satan at the throne. He runs into the same redhead, whose name is Irma, and asks her out to dinner. She takes him back up to the rocks and warns him again, but he sees a financial opportunity from turning the area into a tourist site. When Irma casts a spell to keep him away he strangles her and is attacked once again by the lighting bolt/hand from the chair. He awakens to find the police standing over him and, due to the fact that he murdered Irma, he ends up in another sort of chair--an electric one! This doesn't have much to do with ghosts, but the sight of what I think are supposed to be the devil's legs hanging over the side of the chair is unintentionally funny.

The devil's legs were
later seen at KFC
Peter: More a goofy hodgepodge than a coherent script, and with no real Ghosts!, this story belongs in Unexpected. The art's pretty sharp though.

Jack: A boy named Richie and a girl named Beth snoop around in the Brazilian jungle and happen across a native witch doctor reviving a seemingly dead man. They are chased by natives until their father intervenes; he's an engineer building the trans-Amazon highway and he brought his kids along while they were on vacation. He has little time for native superstitions. Later, little Richie finds one of his dad's crewmen lying sick and tries out the spell himself. Unfortunately, it works by transferring the illness from the patient into Richie, who knocks on death's door. Only the timely intervention of the native medicine man can save him; fortunately, the witch doctor knows how to take the evil spirit of illness into his own body and then cast it out. "Within You Dwells a Demon" is another story that has next to nothing to do with ghosts, but with Alcala's usual, excellent art, it doesn't matter. Richie is one sharp kid if he can observe, memorize and repeat a witch doctor's healing spell! I think he'll knock 'em dead back at boarding school.

Peter: Obviously DC's jungle version of The Exorcist with its witch doctor who absorbs evil spirits, but this one has tamer proceedings and a climax that whimpers rather than bangs. At least we get to see Alfredo run wild with jungle scenes and that's always worth meandering through even the worst script.

"Within You Dwells a Demon"


Nick Cardy
The House of Secrets 114

"Night Game"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Frank Bolle

"The Demon and the Rock Star!"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Gerry Talaoc

Peter: Hockey star Ron Kopachec has been accepting bribes from shady underworld figures in return for throwing important  matches but his coach is onto him and forces Ron to accept early retirement or face a scandal in the press. Ron agrees but retirement from a lucrative job is the furthest thing from the icon's mind and he plants an explosive on board the team's charter plane. With his secret safe (but his team obliterated), Kopachec signs with another franchise and leads them to a championship game. On the eve of the big game, Ron is called to the arena for a "Night Game" and who should show up but his dead teammates, now jersey-clad skeletons, to wish him good luck. You gotta love that final series of panels that depict the now-dead Kopachec, propped up in front of the goal. Ostensibly no one noticed him there that morning when they opened up the rink and the sports commentator's very EC-esque "Gasp" and "Choke" are a hoot. It's not a good story, though; it has a rushed, unfinished feel to it and the artwork is pedestrian and void of any style. And there you go--the enigma that is Michael Fleisher, producing a bland, lifeless, and frankly stupid script like "Night Game" in the same month he dazzles with the brilliance of "They Hunt Butterflies, Don't They?" (see HoM #220, below) Frank Bolle's dull, repetitive art perfectly compliments the dreariness of the proceedings. Ron drops a grenade in the gear locker that's loaded onto the charter plane. How does that work?

"Night Game"

Jack: I was laughing at the bizarre dialogue! One of Ron's fellow players calls him "Ron baby," and the coach keeps referring to him as "old man," like he's in England. I was shocked that Ron would blow up a plane full of people to cover up his part in throwing a hockey game, but I have to say that ending made me smile. Fleisher is easily the best writer in the DC horror books at this point and he's doing his best to revive the EC format of revenge tales with ghoulish twists. If they don't always work, at least they're fun! And how about that Cardy cover? Where did the gorgeous babe on skates come from? Certainly not this story! But I'd plunk down two dimes any day for a longer look at her!

The Grateful Dead?
Peter: Rock star Dean Taggert has made a fortune singing his tunes before millions but the glory days are now behind him and the fading icon can't get a record contract or a touring gig. He decides to chill a bit at the estate willed to him by a dead uncle (rumored to be a big fan of the black arts) and runs across an ancient parchment that conjures up Ol' Sparky. Before you know it, Dean's been given a new lease on life, he's a happenin' thing again, but there's the one catch. Dean must sacrifice three souls by delivering a special ring to the victims. The first two deliveries go swimmingly but the third, a costume designer Dean's become smitten with, ends in a platinum-worthy disaster when the girl sews the ring onto one of Dean's stage outfits. Satan comes a-callin' mid-tune but the audience digs it! Very similar in tone and theme to "Night Game" but "The Demon and the Rock Star" delivers because the writer invests it with that special Fleisher sense of dark humor and the artist seems to be interested in the job at hand. I'm not sure why but when the youth of the day are central figures of a DC mystery story they all look like they just got off a delayed bus from the Haight. I guess the DC bullpen didn't get out much. That final panel (above) of Dean Taggert's final solo is a keeper.

Jack: Dean's series of groovy outfits are a real gas, man! I didn't like this story as much as "Night Game" but Talaoc's art is the ginchiest. The gruesome ending was telegraphed a mile away but, again, that last panel is cool. That's twice in one issue where the main character dispatches a planeload of people by blowing it up. What's that about, Mike?


Nick Cardy
The House of Mystery 220

"They Hunt Butterflies, Don't They?"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Hunter!"
Story by John Albano
Art by Alex Nino

Peter: Lepidopterist Percy Twittler has only one goal in life: to add the ultra-rare Heliconius Eyelitus to his collection of butterflies. To that end, he hires gruff jungle guide Fred Macal to aid his trek through the treacherous jungles of Brazil. The duo come across the gates of a huge wall, deep in the jungle, decorated with symbols resembling the wings of the rare butterfly. The natives are not exactly friendly and the pair are told to pack their things and get out of town before they're dropped into the stew. When Percy comes to the aid of the chief's snake-bitten son, the chief rewards the nutty butterfly catcher with a single Heliconius Eyelitus. Realizing how much the bug is worth, Macal makes a move on Percy but the meek geek takes a header over a cliff, butterfly cage and all. Not one to leave a jungle excursion empty-handed, Macal heads back to the gated wall and ventilates the chief. Opening the gate reveals a wonderland populated by millions of the rare butterflies but Macal's delight is short-lived when the chief nails him with a paralyzing dart. As he lies, unable to move, he watches in terror as the butterflies first alight and then begin to eat him alive.

"They Hunt Butterflies..."

I first read "They Hunt Butterflies, Don't They" when I bought HoM #220 right off the stand at 7-11 (it was one of my first off-the-rack DC Mystery buys) and, no exaggeration, I must have read this story a dozen times over the following week. This one really freaked me out. Try telling someone that a story about carnivorous butterflies will create goosebumps and wait for their reaction. It was the first time I had seen Alfredo Alcala's artwork and its detail stunned a boy who had never really paid much attention to artwork before. Afterwards I would buy anything that had Alcala's work between covers, even (shudder) Conan the Barbarian and Captain Marvel! It's nice to know that, forty years later, "Butterflies" still stuns. There's not much fat on its bones; no wasted dialogue, no silly cliches, no mismanaged moments, a classic final panel. Well, okay, Mascal looks like he's dressed as a boy scout for his journey (and he's making fun of Percy!) and that finger gets picked pretty clean but, otherwise, I defy you to find a more perfect DC horror story. This was Michael Fleisher's first masterpiece and he'd take the genuinely sadistic overtones found in "Butterflies" and perfect them a couple months later with his reboot of The Spectre in Adventure Comics. And, again, spend time taking in Alcala's detailed jungle. Funny book artists can't always take the time to fill in the spots but Alcala somehow did it on a regular basis. I wish we could reprint the entire story here for you but, alas, that might invite legal problems. If you seek this out, I recommend finding the original comic book (or at least a comic file) rather than the black and white reproduction in the Showcase volume as this is a story that should be seen in full color.

Jack: Let Alcala loose in a jungle and you do get something special, don't you? I'll ignore the reference in the story to "jungle-bunnies" and agree that this is a very strong script by Fleisher with great art by Alcala. The panel where the butterfly eats the flesh off one finger is somehow more horrible than the final panel showing the gleaming skeleton picked clean, perhaps because we know the victim was still alive while the butterfly was feasting. I can even suspend my disbelief that a butterfly can consume that much human flesh and not grow really fat! Good story. Best of the year? We'll see. Best of the entire DC horror run? I'll reserve judgment.

More Alcala. You're welcome!

Peter: Evans has hunted all the great monsters of mythology: the werewolf, Frankenstein's Monster, the vampire, even the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but it's all become a bit of a bore, so now "The Hunter" wants to claim the biggest trophy of all: Satan's head. To achieve this goal, Evans hires Olbaid, an expert in the supernatural, to find them a way into Hades. Gateway opened, Evans must defeat Cerberus, the multi-headed dog who guards Hell, before he can face the devil himself. The final task turns out to be relatively easy since (surprise! surprise! surprise!) he'd been by Evans' side the entire time (Olbaid = Diablo). The devil has the last laugh as he reveals to Evans that he himself is something of a big game hunter as well, seeking out evil souls! The highlight here is obviously Alex Nino's mind-blowing artwork but John Albano's script keeps us involved as well. Sure, you're going to guess who Olbaid really is fairly quickly but there's a dark humor to the whole affair that had me smiling throughout. Off-topic but when did the DC mystery letters pages become such tripe, filled with press releases, "supernatural news items," and fan letters addressed to "The House"? I recall at one point some very thoughtful missives discussing artists, writers, and themes. Let's hope this nonsense ends quickly.

"The Hunter"
Jack: At the risk of having you sic your pet butterflies on me, I'd rather look at Nino's art than Alcala's. His page designs are unlike anyone else's and his panels are so creative that I just have to sit back and enjoy them. Too bad the story is run of the mill!

More Nino! You're Welcome!


Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 37

"The Devil's Chessboard"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ernesto Patricio

"My Daughter the Witch"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by ER Cruz

"No Coffin Can Hold Me"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Frank Redondo

Jack: In "The Devil's Chessboard," chessmaster Jan Raditch receives an unusual challenge from a ragged man named Mr. Daarke: play his protege for high stakes! If Raditch wins, he receives one million dollars, but if he loses, Daarke will marry Glenda, Raditch's beautiful fiance! During the match, Raditch is shocked to see that his opponent is a computer, and Daarke's associate, an old witch named Mother Kleegle, gradually turns Glenda uglier with each step in the game! Raditch takes a recess and finds the brains of the computer, which he reprograms to ensure his own victory. Glenda is thrilled that he won, sure that they will be happily married as millionaires, but she is horrified to see that her fiancee has turned into a robot! Huh? Where did that come from? Was he a robot all along? Did the witch do it?

"The Devil's Chessboard"

Peter: This is one of those disposable time-wasters that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and if you try to make sense of it your brain will begin to itch. If these (obviously supernatural) shady characters who want a chess match with the protagonist have the power to turn Glenda into a giant toad, why do they have to resort to computers for their trickery? The final twist is rubbish as well.

Cynthia's ancestry revealed
Jack: Many years ago, Miles wanted to marry Prudence, but his father Samuel was against the love match because she had no money. Samuel frames Prudence as a witch but when the villagers began to stone her he feels remorse and confesses. Prudence tells him that she's grateful, because now no one will believe that she really is a witch! ER Cruz's art is the highlight of "My Daughter the Witch," which has another dopey Kashdan twist at the end. The most interesting thing about this story comes in the last panel, when Cynthia tells us that Prudence was her ancestor.

Peter: You'd have to be a DC mystery newbie not to see that climax coming a country mile away. Another climax that makes no sense when you stop to think about it. Why would Dear Prudence reveal her secret to Samuel after she's in the clear? How would she know Samuel wouldn't take up the charge again, especially to save his now-estranged son? The answer is: don't think about it!

The maze coffin
Jack: Escape artist Lazarus boasts that "No Coffin Can Hold Me" and hires a coffin maker to build a special box to try to prevent another escape. The coffin maker's box works too well and Lazarus is killed when attempting a water escape. It turns out that there was a secret escape hatch that the magician could not use because his assistant poisoned him in a bid to take over his act. Eric finds to his dismay that he cannot escape the coffin maker's shop. A dreadful end to a dreadful issue, this story shows that Frank Redondo's art can't compare to that of Nestor Redondo.

Peter: What starts out very promising becomes nothing more than a substandard Columbo episode in the end. Still, that maze-coffin is a great idea. A coffin-maker named Mr. Carrion?


Unexpected 153

"Who's That Sleeping in My Grave?"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernesto Patricio

"Wedding Bells for a Corpse"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by ER Cruz

"Black Hole of Wrath"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Jack: Lance Durham falls for a pretty waitress named Grace, but her ward, Dr. Allwyn shows him why they can never be together. It seems Grace had a fatal disease and Dr. Allwyn transplanted her head onto a plastic body. Lance is smitten and asks the doc to transplant his head onto a plastic body, too! After the operation, Dr. Allwyn reveals that he has now transplanted Grace's head onto a real body from another woman. But wait! It gets better! Dr. Allwyn took Lance's body and transplanted his own head onto it so he can marry Grace. Lance threatens to kill Dr. Allwyn and goes outside to dig his grave but keels over and falls in it himself when his new plastic body and old human head reject each other. "Who's That Sleeping in My Grave?" would be a candidate for worst of the year if the art were by, say, Art Saaf.

Paging Dr. Wertham!
Peter: "Who's That Sleeping..." is almost bad enough to be an "alternative classic." Dialogue like "Lance knows I have his body, and that you and I are in love with each other. H-he threatened to kill me!" and "That was my first transplant failure, Grace! But how fortunate for us that he came into our lives, darling!" doesn't come along every day (unless you're reading a Doug Moench script, that is) so you have to celebrate it when it does. There are so many pulpy twists and turns (this head on that body and this head on that body) that it's hard to keep up at times but do your best. That panel of the doctor disrobing in front of the now-robotized Lance is one that had Fredric Wertham running for his notebook.

Jack: Terrence and Charles both love Gilda, so she tells them that whoever brings her the ring her mother pawned years ago can have her. They compete to see who can earn enough money and Terrence wins, but Charles murders him as they sail to Gilda one night during a storm. Gilda will not be denied her ring, however, and insists that she will marry Terrence when he returns and brings it to her. One day, his skeleton washes up with the ring intact, so Gilda anticipates "Wedding Bells for a Corpse!" George Kashdan and Carl Wessler are competing, just like Terrence and Charles, but they are vying to see who can write the worst story each month. So far, it's a toss up.

"Wedding Bells for a Corpse"

Peter: This seems to be the issue to turn to if you're in the mood for nonsensical wackiness and befuddling twists heaped upon scalp-scratching plot devices. I'm not sure why Gilda went insane but I'm just glad it wasn't revealed that she was a witch the whole time. ER Cruz didn't have a handle on whether Gilda was beautiful or horse-faced and why are all the DC mystery femme fatales saddled with decidedly unsexy monikers like Gilda, Glenda, and Prudence?

Now why is that?
Jack: In the 1850s, white hunters are in Africa rounding up black slaves. One of the white men happens upon a back man praying to an ant hill for wisdom. The white man squashes the ants and the black man shoots a dart into the side of his neck. He shrinks and finds himself in an ant hill, where he manages to escape the ants until he pulls the dart from his neck and grows back to man size. He trips and twists his ankle, leaving him unable to run when army ants march toward him. "Black Hole of Wrath" is a good example of Alcala doing his best to fix a mess of a script. The slave trade was over by the 1850s, but who's counting?

Peter: There's no real flow to the script for "Black Hole of Wrath" but then that's in keeping with this special "Inanity Is King" issue. It's just a series of set pieces, but it's worth slogging through for the image of poor miniaturized Blake, giant blowdart embedded in his neck, bouncing from menace to menace. This looks like a rare rush job by Alfredo, with none of his usual lush detailed backgrounds. Still, poor Alcala is better than...


THE BEST AND WORST HORROR STORIES OF 1973


Peter

Best Script: Michael Fleisher, "They Hunt Butterflies, Don't They?" (HoM 220)
Best Art: Alfredo Alcala, "They Hunt Butterflies"
Best All-Around Story: "They Hunt Butterflies"


Worst Script: Leo Dorfman, "The Nightmare in the Sandbox" (Ghosts 13)
Worst Art: Mike Sekowsky, "Target: Planet of the Two-Legged Men" (Dark Mansion 12)
Worst All-Around Story: "Ever After" (HoM 213)


Ten Best Stories of the Year 

 1 "They Hunt Butterflies, Don't They?"
 2 "Unholy Change" (HoM 211)
 3 "Head of the House" (Dark Mansion 9)
 4 "Oh Mom Oh Dad..." (HoM 212)
 5 "Skin Deep" (House of Secrets 107)
 6 "Who Dares Cheat the Dead?" (Ghosts 15)
 7 "Swamp God" (HoM 217)
 8 "The Dead Live On" (Ghosts 19)
 9 "Spawns of Satan" (HoS 113)
10 "Mr. Reilly the Derelict" (Sinister House 15)

Jack

Best Script: Arnold Drake, "The Night of the Nebish!" (HoS 107)
Best Art: Bill Payne, "They Walk By Night" (Dark Mansion 10)
Best All-Around Story: Drake and Alfredo Alcala, "The Night of the Nebish!"

Worst Script: Carl Wessler, "Name Your Poison" (Witching Hour 32)
Worst Art: Art Saaf, "The Scent of Death" (Witching Hour 31)
Worst All-Around Story: John Jaconson, George Kashdan and Sekowsky, "Target! Planet of the Two-Legged Men!"

Ten Best Stories of the Year (in no order):

1 "Deliver Us From Evil" (HoM 211)

2 "Unholy Change" (HoM 211)
3 "Back From the Realm of the Damned" (HoM 213)
4 "Skin Deep" (HoS 107)
5 "The Night of the Nebish!" (HoS 107)
6 "The Monster" (Dark Mansion 10)
7 "They Walk By Night" (Dark Mansion 10)
8 "Deadly Muffins" (Sinister House 13)
9 "Spawns of Satan" (HoS 113)
10 "They Hunt Butterflies, Don't They?" (HoM 220)



Alcala's atmospheric opening page to HoM #220

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Forty-Three: "Starring the Defense" [9.7]

by Jack Seabrook

In "The Test," Henry Slesar explored the bond between father and son and showed how a father's belief in his son's innocence can stand in the way of learning the truth about a crime. In "Starring the Defense," he returns to that theme and examines it from a different angle, this time in a compelling story that merges the worlds of acting and law with family relations. This is the third of six teleplays so far that Slesar has written for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour to revolve around a jury trial, and this one is by far the most successful to date.

The story on which the teleplay is based was published in the April 1963 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and is reprinted in the 1989 collection, Death on Television. Miles Crawford, "deep in a dream of the past," is at home one evening when his old friend and law partner Sam Brody pays him a visit. Miles is an aging lawyer and former movie star. His son Tod comes home early; in his early 20s, Tod is a sullen young man who barely speaks to his father as he heads upstairs to his bedroom. Sam notices that Tod left drops of blood on the floor and Miles goes upstairs to find Tod treating a bad wound on his arm.

Tod admits to having been in a fight and the police arrive to take him away: it seems he had been in a fight with another young man named Jules Herman, who is now dead. After the police take Tod away, Miles tells Sam that he blames his own poor parenting skills for the way Tod turned out and decides that he should defend his son in court, even though he is not a criminal lawyer. He thinks that his background as lawyer, movie star and father will give him a special perspective on the case, allowing him to appeal to the jury in a way no one else could.

Richard Basehart as Miles Crawford
Miles visits criminal lawyer Edwin Rutherford for advice and then asks Tod for his blessing; Tod is grateful for the offer. Rutherford and Miles prepare for trial and focus on the question of premeditation and intent to kill. Reporters grill Miles, who becomes angry at the suggestion that his plan to defend Tod is really a stunt to pave the way for a comeback as a  movie star. The trial begins, with Miles squaring off against a skilled prosecutor named Hanley. Tod is called as the first witness and describes the fight and his history with Jules Herman. Two more witnesses are called: Rudy Trask, who provides testimony that helps Tod, and Barbara Riordan, whose testimony is damning.

Teno Pollick as Tod Crawford
Miles calls Tod back to the witness stand for a second time and Tod's testimony concludes. Miles then gives an emotional closing statement to the jury, one that is so powerful and theatrical that the observers in the courtroom break into applause at its conclusion. The next day, the judge grants permission to Hanley to show the jury a reel of film, and he plays a scene from The Guilty One, an old movie that starred Miles Crawford, in which he portrayed an attorney. Everyone is shocked to see that the speech given to the jury in the film is the same as the one Miles had given in Tod's defense the day before. Miles is mortified but asks the judge to let him show the final scene of the film, in which the jury finds the young man guilty and he is taken to be executed. As a result of seeing the final scene, the jury spares Tod's life by sending him to prison for 20 years for manslaughter.

Russell Collins as Sam Brody
The reader is left to wonder, what were Miles's true motivations for acting as Tod's lawyer? Was his decision based solely on a desire to help his son, the son whom he believed had turned out badly in large part due to poor parenting? Or was there a kernel of truth in the reporter's question about whether this was a way to start a comeback as a movie star? The story leans toward the former, though one wonders what happened to Miles after the verdict. Slesar realizes that performing is an essential skill for a successful trial lawyer, and Miles's powerful closing argument to the jury is a fusion of all that he has learned in his years in both professions, even though it is taken word for word from one of his old films. His final success in defending his son is also a synthesis of actor and lawyer; the lawyer in Miles knows that showing the film's final scene will have an emotional effect on the jury, while the actor in him understands the power of cinema to change viewers' minds.

Miles addresses the jury in Tod's defense
This was a perfect story to adapt for television due to the role that film plays in its conclusion. Slesar adapted his own tale and retained the title for the show that was aired on CBS on Friday, November 15, 1963, three weeks after Slesar's "Blood Bargain." The TV show follows the story closely, with some interesting alterations. In the initial scene, Sam looks through a scrapbook of old movie stars and encourages Miles to try to make a comeback in motion pictures, something Miles says is long behind him. Sam's comments to Miles along these lines replace the scene in the story where the reporter asks Miles if his plan to defend his son in court is part of an attempted comeback.

Rockne Tarkington as the police officer
When the police come to the house to take Tod to the station, the lead policeman is played by a black actor named Rockne Tarkington. The jury of twelve that later hears Tod's case also includes a black man and a black woman. The appearances of black actors in roles that could have been played by white actors is a sign of the times, since the Civil Rights movement was in full swing in the fall of 1963, when this program aired.

The teleplay provides more background on Miles's past and Tod's childhood. Miles tells Sam that his movie career dried up in 1943, that he and Tod's mother were divorced the year Tod was born, and that Miles quit acting when Tod was two years old. Miles studied law and began his career as an attorney when Tod was a child, and Miles's sister raised Tod from birth until age ten, when Miles took him in. This is all said in order to provide a basis for Tod's delinquency and to support Miles's claim that his bad parenting is a source of his son's problems. The theme of Tod's unfortunate childhood and Miles's guilt about it is essentially forgotten in the source story once the trial gets underway, but in the teleplay it receives more focus and underlines Miles's claim that his motive for acting as his son's lawyer is selfless rather than selfish; he wants to save his son's life, not return to the Silver Screen.

Diane Mountford as Ruthie,
Ed Rutherford's daughter/secretary
A brief scene is added to the teleplay that provides an interesting contrast with Miles's treatment of Tod as a child. When Miles visits Ed Rutherford, the criminal lawyer, Miles is greeted by Ed's young daughter, who sits at the front desk in his office and acts as his secretary. She wears glasses like an adult and tries to be very mature, but when her father does not answer his intercom she yells, "Daddy!" and he comes out to bring Miles into his office, telling Miles that his daughter is not a very good secretary. The point is subtle but clear: Rutherford has found a way to stay involved in the life of his young daughter, even while running a busy law practice, something Miles was unable to do with his own son.

S. John Launer as Ed Rutherford
Slesar's teleplay changes the timing of some events in the story. In the story, Miles has the idea to act as Tod's attorney right after the police take his son away and discusses it with Sam. In the teleplay, Miles does not come up with this suggestion until midway through his conversation with Rutherford. In the teleplay, Tod is less excited about Miles's offer to help than he is in the story; he asks Miles, "How come you're so worried about me, all of a sudden?" Tod has a fatalistic viewpoint and comments, "One way or the other, I'm in for it."

The trial in the teleplay proceeds in basically the same way as it does in the story, though in the teleplay Tod's testimony is not split into two parts. In one of Slesar's prior episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "I Saw the Whole Thing," the actors John Zaremba and Barney Phillips played the prosecuting attorney and a police lieutenant. In "Starring the Defense," they are back, but this time Phillips plays the prosecutor and Zaremba has been promoted to the role of judge!

Jean Hale as Barbara Riordan
Tod's fatalistic attitude continues in another scene that is new to the teleplay. After Barbara Riordan provides testimony that is particularly harmful, Miles and Tod have a private conversation outside the courtroom. Though Miles tells Tod that he must make Barbara out to be a liar, Tod admits that she told the truth when she said that Tod had expressed a desire to kill Jules in the past. Tod seals his fate with his own testimony on the witness stand by saying: "I was glad when I did it. I was only sorry later."

The highlight of "Starring the Defense" is, of course, Miles's passionate closing statement to the jury. Richard Basehart gives an outstanding performance as Miles and really nails this scene as he subtly recalls Jesus' exhortation to the crowd around the woman caught in adultery--"Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her." The show's director, Joseph Pevney, breaks from the usual practice of showing the jurors as a group in medium shots by focusing on a few of them in individual close ups. Perhaps most impressive is the subtle difference in the performances of Richard Basehart in the present-day oration and in the one captured on film in his old movie, retitled We the Guilty for the TV version. In addition to the obvious change from the older Miles (Basehart wears old age makeup throughout the show) to the younger, the acting style is also slightly different, as Basehart's 1930s-era performance in the film is slightly more flamboyant than his speech in 1963.

John Zaremba as the judge
The biggest change from story to teleplay in "Starring the Defense" comes at the end, as the projection of the film takes place in the judge's chambers rather than in the courtroom. Instead of being shown to the jury, the film is shown to the judge and the attorneys only, in a shadowy scene where they sit together in the dark. The viewers of We the Guilty become like the TV audience, watching a performance and deciding whether to let their emotions be swayed. In the story, the jury finds Tod guilty and sentences him to 20 years in prison. The TV show is more effective, mostly due to the performance by John Zaremba as the judge. He uses carefully modulated facial expressions to show that he is struggling with his decision, and the show ends with him telling Tod that he is sentencing him to life in prison but recommending a review for parole at the earliest opportunity. Miles puts his arm around Tod's shoulders and the screen fades out, father and son together at last.

Barney Phillips as the prosecutor
Some online comments have criticized "Starring the Defense" for "ripping off" the 1938 James Cagney film, Angels With Dirty Faces. The critics miss the point. The reel of film shown at the end of "Starring the Defense" ends with a young man taken to the death chamber and complaining that he does not want to die, which is similar to the conclusion of the Cagney film. However, the point of the Cagney film's ending is that Cagney's character is (or is he?) faking his fear in order to change the opinion of the young men who idolize him There is no such subtext in "Starring the Defense," where the film is meant to evoke films like Angels With Dirty Faces in order to show an example of the kind of movies that Miles Crawford made decades earlier. The film's final scene is shown in order to have an effect on the judge, and it succeeds. Saying that Slesar's teleplay "ripped off" the Cagney film demonstrates a limited understanding of both works.

Joseph Pevney (1911-2008), the director of "Starring the Defense," began his career as an actor before becoming a director in 1950. He directed movies in the fifties, including the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), then moved into TV in 1959. He directed five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and 14 episodes of Star Trek.


Richard Basehart as Miles Crawford
addressing the jury in We the Guilty
Starring as Miles Crawford is Richard Basehart (1914-1984), who was in films from 1947 to 1979 and on TV from 1957 to 1984. He was in Fellini's La Strada (1954) as well as Being There (1979) with Peter Sellers; this was one of two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in which he was featured. He also appeared on The Twilight Zone but is best remembered as the star of the Irwin Allen series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which ran from 1964 to 1968.

Miles's friend and law partner Sam Brody is played by Russell Collins (1897-1965), a familiar character actor who was in ten episodes of the Hitchcock series, most recently Slesar's "The Right Kind of Medicine."

S. John Launer (1919-2006) plays Ed Rutherford, the criminal lawyer; he was on TV and in the movies from the mid-fifties till the late eighties. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he may be seen in four episodes of The Twilight Zone, 33 episodes of Perry Mason, the film I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and Hitchcock's Marnie (1964).

Teno Pollick (1929-1991) plays Tod Crawford. Pollick made 13 appearances on TV from 1961 to 1976 and did not appear in any other episodes of the Hitchcock series. Pollick was in the original Off-Broadway cast of Steambath (1970).

The brief role of Barbara Riordan, the girl over whom Tod and Jules were fighting, is played by Jean Hale (1938- ). She was 24 years old at the time and had been on TV since 1960. She appeared in one other episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour along with two episodes of Batman and Roger Corman's 1967 film, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

John Zaremba (1908-1986), this time playing the judge, was in 11 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including six written by Henry Slesar. He was most recently seen in "Final Vow."

Selmer Jackson as the chaplain in We the Guilty
Rockne Tarkington (1931- ), the black actor who plays the policeman, was on TV and in movies from the early sixties till the mid-nineties. This is his first credit and only appearance on the Hitchcock show. In 1974 he starred in Black Samson.

Selmer Jackson (1888-1971) makes a short appearance as the chaplain in the film shown to the judge at the end of the show. He was a busy character actor who started in film in 1921 and moved to TV in 1951. He was in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "A True Account"; "Starring the Defense" was his last credit.

Finally, Barney Phillips (1913-1982) plays the prosecutor. He was in movies from 1937 and on TV from 1950, and he was last seen in "I Saw the Whole Thing."

"Starring the Defense" is not available on DVD but may be viewed on YouTube here.

Sources:
"Galactic Central." Galactic Central. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
JohnThe New American Bible. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible, 1977. Print.
"Official Site for Richard Basehart." Official Site for Richard Basehart. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
Slesar, Henry. "Starring the Defense." 1963. Death on Television: The Best of Henry Slesar's Alfred Hitchcock Stories. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1989. 194-219. Print.
"Starring the Defense." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 15 Nov. 1963. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.


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*In two weeks: "Behind the Locked Door," with Gloria Swanson and James MacArthur!