Monday, May 30, 2011

Fredric Brown on TV Part Seven - Tales from the Darkside: The Geezenstacks

by Jack Seabrook

    “The Geezenstacks” was the first of three Fredric Brown stories to appear in Weird Tales (September 1943).  The others were “Come and Go Mad” (July 1949) and “The Last Train” (January 1950).  In “The Geezenstacks,” nine-year-old Aubrey Walters is a normal little girl whose Uncle Richard gives her a box of four dolls that he found on the sidewalk after they seemed to have fallen from nowhere.

    Aubrey names the dolls The Geezenstacks, the four of them corresponding to herself, her parents, and her uncle.  Her parents buy her a doll house, and all is well until Sam, her father, begins to notice that what happens to The Geezenstacks happens to his real family soon after.  Sam wonders if his daughter is clairvoyant, but as the coincidences begin to pile up, he becomes obsessed with the dolls, alarming his wife and her brother.

    Edith, his wife, decides to give the dolls away, and Sam panics when Aubrey decides to play funeral.  The family decides on an evening out, and Edith gives the dolls to an old woman who happens to pass by in the back hall—the old woman “looked like a witch.”  The family takes a taxi, enveloped in fog, and the driver goes too fast.  The driver is a woman, and when she turns, Edith screams.

    The story ends there, on a note of weird menace.  Was the taxi driver the woman who received the dolls?  Was she a witch?  It’s not clear, but what is clear is that the end is not a good one for Sam’s family.

    “The Geezenstacks” has been collected many times, including in Nightmares and Geezenstacks (1961), The Best of Fredric Brown (1976), And the Gods Laughed (1987), and From These Ashes (2000).  It was adapted for television as the October 26, 1986 episode of the anthology series Tales From the Darkside, which ran in syndication from 1984-1988.

    The TV adaptation is faithful to the story up to a point.  Rather than finding the dolls in a box that mysteriously fell on the sidewalk, Uncle Richard finds them in an empty house that he is showing in his job as a real estate agent.  The house had been vacated suddenly and mysteriously, and all that remained inside was the large dollhouse with the spooky, old-fashioned dolls.

    Aubrey in the story becomes Audrey on TV, but Sam, Edith and Richard are much the same.  On being viewed today, the show suffers from the 1980s hairstyles and clothes, as well as from what appears to be low-budget, videotape production.  However, scenes end with interesting blackouts, and the score is unnerving, alternating between pizzicato plucking of violin strings and a more lush string arrangement toward the end.  The direction features many close-ups and successfully establishes a feeling of claustrophobia in the family’s home, as if they are in a doll house all along.

    The ending of the story is changed, and it actually works better on TV than does the ambiguous ending of the story.  In the show, the family awakens one morning to discover that they are now miniature dolls inside the doll house and that their home is otherwise empty.  Uncle Richard finds them, to his horror.  A second twist occurs when another real estate agent arrives on the scene to find a doll of Uncle Richard lying dead inside the doll house, next to another, even smaller doll house, which contains The Geezenstacks.

    “The Geezenstacks” stars Craig Wasson as Sam, looking exactly the same as he did in his starring role in Brian DePalma’s Body Double, two years before.  His wife is played by Tandy Cronyn, the unfortunately-named daughter of movie stars Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.  The teleplay is by Nancy Doyne, and the episode is directed by Bill Travis, who directed three other episodes of this series.  The evocative score is by Charlie Morrow, who now creates “sound design environments,” according to his website.

Brown, Fredric. "The Geezenstacks." And the Gods Laughed. W. Bloomfield, MI: Phantasia, 1987. 421-30.
"The Geezenstacks." Tales From the Darkside.  DVD. 2010.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 29 May 2011.
Wikipedia. Web. 29 May 2011. <>.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Caroline Munro Archive: Parade, July 1967 & August 1970

by John Scoleri

Welcome to the latest installment of another one of our semi-regular features on bare•bones, in which I feature rarities from my Caroline Munro collection. Once again we're featuring some very early Munro appearances in Parade magazine, at ages 17 and 20.

No. 1438
July 1st, 1967
CAROLINE MUNRO has only been in show busines a year, yet she has already cut her first disc and appeared in two films.

No. 1597
August 1st, 1970
Just Try Telling Her To Belt Up
You ain't gonna believe this, but that lush dish pictured right and left once had this thing about chastity belts. Well we think we should start right at the beginning.
Her name is Caroline Munro, and if you feel her face is a little familiar, then it probably means you've been to see a film called "Where's Jack?" which also starred Tommy Steele. Now for some reason or other which escapes us, Caroline just had to wear one of those durned steel girdles at the film's premiere, but of course, held onto the key. There was another one in existence just in case things got out of hand, and that was in the safe custody of Caroline's boy-friend.
Apart from taking part in such bizarre activities, this girl has also appeared in films with such stars as Richard Widmark and Topol.

Be sure to let me know if you'd like to see more of Caroline Munro in bare•bones!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fredric Brown Lost Stories - Part One: "Compliments of a Fiend"

by Jack Seabrook

In the May 1945 issue of Thrilling Detective, the first story by Fredric Brown entitled "Compliments of a Fiend" was published.  This story was reworked and expanded into the novel, The Bloody Moonlight, published in 1949.  The Bloody Moonlight was the third novel to feature Brown's nephew and uncle detective team of Ed and Am Hunter.

The serial rights to The Bloody Moonlight were sold, and a condensed version of the novel was published in the November 1949 issue of Two Detective Mystery Novels magazine.
Meanwhile, Brown liked the title "Compliments of a Fiend" so much that he used it again for an entirely different story, the fourth novel in the Ed and Am Hunter series, Compliments of a Fiend, published in 1950.  The story follows young detective Ed Hunter, now living in Chicago and working with the Starlock Detective Agency, as he races against time to find out what happened to his missing uncle.

None of this information is new, and the stories and novels have been included in bibliographies of Brown's work and discussed in my book on Brown, Martians and Misplaced Clues.

What is new is the discovery of a previously-unknown magazine version of the novel Compliments of a Fiend, published in Two Complete Detective Books (March 1951).  This magazine was discovered by Philip Stephensen-Payne in the course of research for his upcoming reference work, The Crime Fiction Index .

Two Complete Detective Books is a very tame example of a pulp detective magazine.  The cover, while featuring gaudy colors, shows a scene that has a tenuous relationship to the book-length story contained in the magazine.  There is an illustration on the table of contents page, but the long story itself features no illustrations at all.  Even the advertisements are tame—they are mostly house ads or public service announcements.

The condensed version of Compliments of a Fiend does not follow the 17-chapter format of the novel.  Instead, it is divided into seven sections, each of which combines two or three chapters from the book.  About three pages are cut from chapter one, while cuts from chapters two and three are each less than a page.

Important cuts begin in chapter four, where the last two pages are cut; they contain a conversation between Ed and his landlady about Estelle, a beautiful girl with feelings for Ed.  There is a big, jarring cut in chapter seven, where the last three pages are removed.  This section includes a scene where Ed goes to a bar and sees Estelle sitting with Augie Grane, who runs a numbers racket.  Another cut involving Estelle comes in chapter ten, where more than two pages are missing.  Here, Ed visits Estelle while she works as a cigarette girl.

Ed dances with Estelle in chapter 11, but readers of the magazine wouldn't know it, since another two pages have been cut.  This scene is as close as anything in the story comes to the painting on the magazine's cover, though the man and woman there do not look much like my mental portraits of Ed and Estelle.  And speaking of the cover, what are we to make of the green hand with orange fingernails pointing a gun at the happy couple?  There are no green-skinned characters in "Compliments of a Fiend."
Another page involving Estelle is cut from chapter 14, and in chapter 17—the book's last—the magazine version cuts the last 2 ½ pages of the book!  This results in a very abrupt ending, leaving out several important details.  In the book, Ed and Am decide to open their own detective agency, Ed learns that Estelle has decided to marry Augie Grane, and Ed recalls reading a science fiction story called "Pi in the Sky," which he forgets to mention was written by Fredric Brown!

The novel ends with a lyrical passage, as Ed thinks:  "I left the streets and walked across the building tops, and then across the sky."  Overall, the condensed version of Compliments of a Fiend cuts 10% to 15% from the novel.  The main cuts involve Ed's relationship with Estelle and the conclusion, which sets up the next book.

"Compliments of a Fiend" is not very different than the novel version, since the cuts don't affect the plot very much.  The book is not one of Brown's best, so cutting pages here and there does not affect the story quite as badly as it does in the short versions of The Screaming Mimi or Knock Three-One-Two.


Brown, Fredric. "Compliments of a Fiend." Two Complete Detective Books Mar. 1951: 67-144.
Brown, Fredric. Hunter and Hunted: the Ed and Am Hunter Novels. Hermitage, PA: Stewart Masters Pub., 2002.
Seabrook, Jack. Martians and Misplaced Clues: the Life and Work of Fredric Brown. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular, 1993.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fredric Brown on TV Part Six – Tales of Tomorrow: Age of Peril

by Jack Seabrook

    “Age of Peril” was first broadcast in New York on ABC as the February 15, 1952 episode of the anthology series, Tales of Tomorrow.  The teleplay was written by A.J. Russell, who adapted it from the Fredric Brown story, “Crisis, 1999.”
    “Crisis, 1999” first appeared in the August 1949 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.  It is a science fiction-detective story set 50 years in the future.  Bela Joad, master of disguise and the greatest detective in the world, is called in by Chicago police chief Dyer Rand to help discover how the city’s major criminals are beating the lie detector test.  Joad goes undercover and arranges to fake his own murder.  His killer is arrested but successfully beats the lie detector test.
    Joad suspects that this disturbing trend is somehow connected to the disappearance two years before of criminology professor Ernst Chappel and goes undercover a second time, rising quickly to the top of the underworld as a powerful criminal.  When his worst enemy is killed, he receives a visit from Dr. Chappel.
    The story ends as Joad tells Rand that he plans to retire in order to work with Dr. Chappel, who has perfected a method of hypnotizing professional criminals into thinking they are innocent.  The by-product of this is that they are no longer criminals!  Joad convinces Rand to keep it a secret and they drink a toast to the imminent end of professional crime.

    “Crisis, 1999” is a detective story dressed up with science fiction touches.  People don’t shave, they use “facial depilatory.”  Newspapers are “micronews” and coffee comes by conveyor belt.  The conclusion is not all that far-fetched, though—Dr. Chappel simply hypnotizes professional criminals into becoming innocent people.
    When the story was adapted for television, the title was changed to “Age of Peril” and major changes were made.  In the televised version, which is set in 1965 rather than 1999, Larry Calhoun is sent by the Bureau of Scientific Investigation to San Jose, California, where a portion of a top-secret guided-missile plan has been stolen from a plant.  He tests the plant’s 580 employees with a lie detector, but finds that they are all telling the truth.
    Calhoun tips off the thief that there are more secret documents in a wall safe, then rigs up an automatic camera to catch him in the act.  Even with photographic proof, the thief still beats the lie detector test.  Calhoun learns that this has become a trend and that 48 criminals in the last six months have successfully passed the test.  If the problem can’t be solved, the country is headed into “a new age of peril, in which the criminal will have the upper hand.”

    Calhoun finally deduces that Dr. Chappell is using a machine he invented, in conjunction with hypnotism, to turn criminals into innocent men.  At the end, Calhoun agrees to let Chappell and his colleagues present their findings to the government, hoping to wipe out crime once and for all.
    The televised version of “Crisis, 1999” was broadcast live and then filmed off of a television set as a kinescope that could be broadcast in the western parts of the country.   That kinescope is what survives today, and its quality suffers from the primitive technology used in the early days of TV.  Dennis Harrison stars as Calhoun; he would later change his stage name to Dennis Patrick and have a long TV career, highlighted by a regular role on Dark Shadows.
    Dr. Chappell is played by John McGovern, who would appear as a postal clerk in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.  Phyllis Kirk “stars” in the program as Chappell’s daughter Irene; she had memorable roles in House of Wax (1953), as Nora Charles in The Thin Man TV series (1957-1959), and as Kennan Wynn’s shrewish wife on the Twilight Zone episode, “A World of His Own.”

    Behind the scenes, teleplay writer A.J. Russell would later write nine episodes of The Honeymooners and two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Director Don Medford would have a 40-year career as a television director, including five episodes of The Twilight Zone and two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.    His son, Jeffrey Wright, wrote a Master’s Thesis on the director, whose nickname was “Midnight Medford”, using his long career to study how TV direction changed from the era of live TV through the filmed shows of the 1980s.
    Most surprising of all was the Director of Graphic Art on Tales of Tomorrow—Arthur Rankin, Jr., who would later found Rankin/Bass and make the animated Christmas specials that were a part of our childhood (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, etc.).  The only graphic art on Tales of Tomorrow appears to be the end credits, which are typed on a transparent roll of film that is hand-rolled over an image of a watchband.
    The show is sponsored by Kreisler watchbands, and a very entertaining look at the Kreisler Kids and their in-show singing advertisement for the product can be found here
    One interesting tidbit about the TV show’s title:  the phrase “Age of Peril” was made famous by President Eisenhower in a May 9, 1953 radio address when he said, “We live in an age of peril.”  He used the phrase again in his 1954 State of the Union address.  Is it possible that his speechwriter recalled this phrase from the February 1952 television program?
    “Crisis, 1999” was reprinted in Fredric Brown’s short-story collection Space on My Hands (1951), and again in the collection From These Ashes (2001).
    “Age of Peril” can be seen on Hulu and is included in the Tales of Tomorrow DVD Collection One of 1st Season Shows.

"Age of Peril." Tales of Tomorrow. ABC. New York, New York, 15 Feb. 1952. Television. Collected on Tales of Tomorrow, Collection One of 1st Season Shows.  DVD.  2004.
Brown, Fredric. "Crisis, 1999." Space On My Hands. 1951.  New York: Bantam, 1980. 15-35.
Galactic Central. Web. 07 May 2011. <>.
Wikipedia. Web. 07 May 2011.

The Return of Robert McCammon - The Five

review by John Scoleri 

The Five
Robert McCammon
Subterranean Press
May 2011

In the late 80s, people were quick to proclaim the latest heir to Stephen King's throne. Of the many candidates none resonated quite like Robert R. McCammon, who delivered a 1-2-3 punch of Swan Song, Stinger, and The Wolf's Hour. He followed those up with the amazing psychological thriller Mine (featuring what remains one of the most powerful opening chapters ever written), the coming of age tale Boys Life, and the wild adventure Gone South.

And then whoosh. Gone amidst rumors that Pocket Books tried to force his hand to stick to conventional horror novels, when his inner drive was leading in different directions. For all intents and purposes, it would appear that McCammon called their bluff. He walked away from what had to have been lucrative publishing offers, and readers saw no new McCammon fiction for the next 10 years.

And then one day the announcement came. A small press in Alabama, River City Publishing, released a monstrous colonial era thriller, Speaks the Nightbird. The middle initial 'R.' was gone, as if to signify that we were witnessing a birth of a new author. At the time it was not clear if it would be a one-shot effort, after which McCammon would recede into shadows once more. But the book was good. Damn good. And readers responded. Pocket picked up the paperback rights, split it in two, and apparently did well enough to make a hard/soft offer on the follow up in 2007, The Queen of Bedlam. They didn't go out of their way to do anything special with it, producing a pulp trade paperback and a short run hardcover edition that basically was a case bound trade paperback. But quality of production aside, the book was another winner. And audiences yearned for continuing adventures of Matthew Corbett. Enter Subterranean Press.

I have long sung the praises of Subterranean, run by Bill Schafer. Their books are beautifully produced, reasonably priced, and with relatively few exceptions, released according to schedule. As small presses go, the combination of all three of those traits is very rare and welcomed.

Bill stepped in when it came time to publish the third Matthew Corbett adventure, Mister Slaughter last year. Another excellent read—this one finally presented in a manner the prior books had so richly deserved. Their trade edition went into multiple printings, and was available through major retailers including Amazon. I recall sitting across from someone on the train one day reading a copy and thinking, this person has no idea that they're reading a book from a specialty press. I would say that I hope the success Subterranean Press had with Mister Slaughter would lead to more from McCammon, but it already has:
  • A sold out reissue of The Wolf's Hour coupled with a brand new Michael Gallatin novella.
  • a collection of additional Gallatin stories on the way.
  • reissues of McCammon's first four horror novels (beginning with Baal) are on deck.
I hope they don't stop there—I'd love to swap out my Dark Harvest Swan Song with a handsome Subterranean Press edition (not to mention the first two novels in the Matthew Corbett cycle). And now, for the first time in 20 years, a new contemporary supernatural novel, The Five.

This time out, McCammon's love for music takes center stage as we follow the struggling band of the title on a tour of small venues across the American Southwest. Only this is a Robert McCammon novel, so you can assume all does not bode well for our rockers, and not just their inner squabbles about whether to stick together or break up. An off-hand anti-war remark in an interview sets off a disturbed Iraq war veteran, who embarks on a mission to kill all the members of the band.

After one of the bandmates is shot, the attention The Five receives leads to a sudden rise in their popularity. Torn between calling it quits or completing what will likely be their farewell tour, they decide to work with the authorities in the hope of flushing out the killer before they're all dead.

Readers expecting a 'supernatural' novel from Robert McCammon are likely to be kept on their toes.  I think he plays upon the readers expectations rather deftly. A little more than halfway through the book I thought I had finally figured out where he was going and yet he no sooner surprised me with a much different supernatural experience than I was expecting.

If you've been waiting for McCammon to return to contemporary fiction, I don't think you will be disappointed by The Five. I will say that it's a challenge for an author to convey music to a reader using words alone; I wish I had an accompanying album from The Five to listen to, so that I could hear the music that was playing in McCammon's head as he was writing those scenes. Thankfully, the characters are so compelling that this is not a significant distraction. In his afterword, McCammon dedicates the book to a list of literally hundreds of bands and artists, and I expect readers will scan for their favorites (I confirmed that Crowded House is on the list) to see if they were in some small way an influence on the author.

Since picking up Swan Song in 1987, I've read every book Robert McCammon has written. I am thrilled that he is firmly back in the game, and I anxiously await whatever he does next, regardless of the period or genre. That's the true testament of a great writer.