Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about pulp fiction and whether they are true or false.
PULP FICTION URBAN 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.
The legend is…
For a LOT more information on this topic, be sure to check out Steve Holland’s awesome book, The Trials of Hank Janson
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.