Today is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, where each week we feature a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). They’ll eventually repeat, but for now, we’re still on the initial installments of each of the various “Grab Bag” legends!
This is the first in a series of examinations of legends related to pulp fiction (writers and their work that appeared in either pulp novels or pulp magazines) and whether they are true or false.
PULP FICTION LEGEND: Captain Future was created by Edmond Hamilton.
STATUS: False Enough for a False
Let’s be clear, the great (and eternally underrated) Edmond Hamilton was clearly the driving force behind Captain Future, a very well-regarded pulp hero of the 1940s, who starred in his own pulp magazine (titled Captain Future) for 17 issues over four years. That series was so well-regarded that it was later reprinted in the popular Startling Stories pulp magazine, leading to a short return of new Captain Future stories as part of Startling Stories for a few years in the early 1950s.
When these stories were collected a few years back, Hamilton is the only name mentioned…
and unless you want to argue that his wife, Leigh, had some influence upon Hamilton’s writing, this is a fair assessment, as Captain Future was basically Hamilton’s character and Hamilton alone.
However (there’s almost always a “however,” isn’t there?), Hamilton did not create the character.
Mort Weisinger was many things, some of them not so great, but one thing he definitely was was a man who knew what his readers were into, and he would plan accordingly. This served him to great effect in the years to come when he worked in comic books at DC Comics (where Hamilton would later find work), and it helped him back when he was an editor for Standard Magazines (publishers of Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories, etc.)
Weisinger figured that their audience of science fiction readers were mostly teenage boys, so he figured that a science fiction adventure hero would be quite successful with such an audience, so he told Hamilton write about a futuristic space adventurer named Mr. Future. Hamilton, naturally, improved the character and we got the Captain Future that would ultimately be published, but the initial character was all Weisinger.
Weisinger then announced the character at the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York City in 1939. Weisinger had been planning the new magazine for months before the convention.
Hamilton added Future’s companions, the “Futuremen,” a robot named Grag, an android named Otho and a brain-in-a-box named Simon Wright.
So, when it comes to the “creator” of Captain Future, it is not blatantly clear that Hamilton should not get co-creator status with Weisinger, but what IS clear is that Weisinger deserves a notable amount of credit that has been lacking for years. Take the website for the great Pulp Fiction convention, Pulp Fest, for instance. They describe Hamilton as:
Best known to many fans as the creator of Captain Future, Edmond Hamilton was actually one of the first full-time writers of science fiction for the pulps.
See what I mean?
So yeah, Hamilton deserves a TON of credit, but not at the expense of Weisinger.
PULP FICTION LEGEND: John D. MacDonald became a professional writer without knowing it.
John D. MacDonald, like many popular pulp writers, was also extremely underrated.
MacDonald’s most famous single work is most likely The Executioners…
which was later remade into the film classic, Cape Fear…
But he’s also well known for his series of novels starring the character, Travis McGee, beginning with Deep Blue Good-by…
What’s amazing, though, is that his long and storied career really began when he became a professional writer…without his knowledge!
MacDonald went to school to study business, and he graduated with an MBA from Harvard University. But during World War II, he enlisted in the army as a First Lieutenant and eventually ended up working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the American Intelligence organization.
While there, he wrote some stories and sent one home to his wife, Dorothy, to read.
Unbeknown to MacDonald, his wife then submitted the story to the magazine Story, and it was accepted!!
With the knowledge that he was now, whether he intended to or not, a professional writer, MacDonald continued to write short stories and pursued writing as a career upon the end of the war, to great commercial and critical success!
Sounds like the sort of spouse any guy or gal would like to have (it also sounds like a plot for a sitcom)!
PULP FICTION LEGEND: The writer who created the character (and pen name) Hank Janson was prosecuted by the British government, who did not check to make sure that he was the Hank Janson that they wanted!
Stephen Frances was a writer who began his own small publishing company at the tail end of World War II. At one point in 1946, a distributor was looking for a novel and Frances had none ready to go, so he bluffed his way through it, claiming he’d have one the next week. He then proceeded to write the first Hank Janson novel, When Dames Get Tough…
The book was a success. Hank Janson was an American character, and Frances created the pen name of Hank Janson to use with the story, as well, so the books were sold to the British public as a sordid, true-to-America crime story.
Frances, though, was not involved in the writing of the novels after the first few. He sold off his rights to the character and the name.
Soon, Hank Janson books were selling in the millions.
And they were getting randier and randier…
And that became a problem in the 1950s, when the British government began to be more and more involved in cracking down on “obscene” material.
In 1954, perhaps driven by the sensational murder of a police officer by a teenager following an attempted break-in (which was, itself, followed by the execution of the mentally challenged accomplice of the murderer, for being considered to have “jointly” committed the homicide – a charge the dead man was years later posthumously pardoned for), there was even a bigger drive to get rid of “obscene” pulp fiction, which, just like comic books in the United States, were being blamed as contributors to delinquency.
And a major target was Hank Janson, by then a multi-million book-selling franchise.
Janson’s publisher and distributor were both criminally prosecuted under the obscenity laws for seven recent Hank Janson novels. They also issued a warrant for the arrest of the writer of Hank Janson, Hank Janson himself, Stephen Frances!
Frances, for his part, fled to Spain, where he watched as the distributor and publisher of the Janson novels (Janson was not involved in the publishing any longer) were convicted of obscenity.
Eventually, Frances returned to London and was arrested.
And here’s the kicker…the seven novels that the government prosecuted the Hank Janson people over?
Frances did not write ANY of them!
That was his entire defense – he had sold off the rights years earlier and had nothing to do with the charged books – and he was right!!
And as a result, he was acquitted of all charges.
Isn’t that amazing? They never bothered to find out WHO was using the pen-name!!!
In 1959, the Obscenity Laws were relaxed a bit, and with a major court victory involving Lady Chatterley’s Lover, pulp fiction was BASICALLY safe yet again.
Frances, though, spent the rest of his days living in Spain, far from his popular creation.
For a LOT more information on this topic, be sure to check out Steve Holland’s awesome book, The Trials of Hank Janson.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org