Saturday, 27 September 2008

Paul Newman R.I.P.

Actor Paul Newman passed yesterday at the age of 83. The cause was lung cancer.

Paul Newman was born January 26, 1925 in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Newman's mother was an active fan of the theatre and so Newman naturally developed an interest in the thespian arts. He made his acting debut at the age 7 playing the court jester in a school play, Robin Hood. Following his graduation from high school, he attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. He spent less than a year there, deciding to enlist in the Navy. He had wanted to be a pilot, but it was discovered he was colour blind, the Navy made him a radio operator instead. After World War II Newman attended Kenyon College in Gambler, Ohio on a football scholarship. While there he performed in several plays.

Following his father's death in May 1950, Paul Newman returned to Ohio to manage family's sporting goods store. It was only a little over a year that he convinced his brother to take over the store and Newman went to Yale University to study theatrical directing. He left Yale University in 1952 and started concentrating on acting full time. Newman's television debut had been as a regular on The Aldrich Family in 1949, but in 1952 he began appearing on television more frequently. His second appearance on television was that year, on an episode of Tales of Tomorrow. He also appeared in episodes of Suspense and The Web.

It was in 1953 that he made his debut on Broadway in Picnic, playing a small role in the play. Director Joshua Logan very quickly gave him Alan Seymour, the second male lead role in the show. Newman continued to appear on television, in episodes of You Are There, The Mask, Goodyear Television Playhouse, and Danger. In 1954 he made his screen debut in The Silver Chalice. Newman continued to appear on television, in episodes of The Philco Television Playhouse (playing Billy the Kid, no less) and Appointment with Adventure. In 1955 he appeared in Somebody Up There Likes Me. Except for episodes of The United States Steel Hour, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour and Playhouse 90, Newman would not act on television again, except for a part in a television adaptation of Come Along with Me in 1982, until the Naughts.

Newman's film career would really take off in 1958. That year he appeared in such major films as The Long, Hot Summer, The Left Handed Gun (as Billy the Kid again), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, playing the male lead in all three. From the Sixties into the Seventies Newman would be one of the most successful actors of all time, appearing in several classic films. Among them were The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Sting, and Slap Shot. During this period he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor for The Hustler, Hud, and Cool Hand Luke.

Newman's screen acting career would slow down in the Eighties, although he still made several successful movies, including Fort Apache the Bronx, The Colour of Money, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Road to Perdition. He provided the voice of Doc Hudson in Cars. He appeared on television in a 2003 production of Our Town and the telefilm Empire Falls in 2005.

Newman also had a career as a film director. He made his directorial debut with Rachel, Rachel in 1968. He would go onto direct Sometimes a Great Notion, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Harry and Son, and the 1987 version of the Glass Menagerie. He also received a producer's credit on several films, including Winning, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, They Might Be Giants.

Newman also had a career on stage. On Broadway he appeared in The Desperate Hours in 1955, Sweet Bird of Youth in 1959, Baby Want A Kiss in 1964, and a revival of Our Town in 2002.

Following his role in the movie Winning in 1969, Newman developed an interest auto racing. He went attended racing school. He raced professionally for the first time in 1972 in Thompson, Connecticut. He would win several n Sports Car Club of America championships. He also owned his own racing team in the Can-Am series and founded Newman/Haas Racing with Carl Haas, a Champ car team, in 1983.

Newman was married to Joanne Woodward for fifty years. The two first met in 1953 in Picnic, but as he was married at the time, they would not have a romantic relationship for a few years. The two would work together several times, including the movies From the Terrace, Harry and Son, and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.

Paul Newman was one of my favourite actors of all time and, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest as well. While he was saddled with a pretty boy image very early in his career, he quickly overcame that and established himself as one of the best motion picture actors in the field. In many respects Newman was a chameleon, capable of playing many different sorts of roles. In The Hustler and The Colour of Money he played small time pool hustler Fast Eddie. In Cool Hand Luke he played the rebellious, but self destructive convict of the title, who resisted the prison's attempts to break him. In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid he played the fun loving Cassidy. In The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean he starred as Judge Roy Bean, the at times curmudgeonly judge who often made up the laws as he went along. Newman very rarely played the same sort of role twice. He was a truly great actor, definitely one of the best of his generation.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Star Trek Superfan Joan Winston Passes On

Chances are you have never heard of Joan Winston. That is, unless you are a Star Trek fan. Joan Winston played a leading role in organising the first Star Trek convention in 1972. She was perhaps the most famous Star Trek fan known primarily as a fan (as opposed to an actor, writer, or other sort of celebrity) besides Bjo Trimble, who organised the letter writing campaign to save Star Trek from cancellation in the series' third season. She passed from complications from Alzheimer’s Disease on September 11. She was 77.

Joan Winston was born June 19, 1931. She was born in Washington, but grew up in Brooklyn. Out of high school she went to work at Bonwit Teller as a merchandiser. She would later work for the contracts departments at CBS and then ABC in New York. A science fiction fan since childhood, she became one of the first generations of Star Trek when it first aired in 1966. When the series was in danger of cancellation in its second season, she picketed NBC. In 1968 she was able to attend the shooting of the final Star Trek episode.

Eventually one of Winston's friends, Elyse Pines, brought up the idea of a convention for Star Trek fans. Winston used her contacts in the entertainment industry to get fifteen Star Trek episodes, the blooper reel, and Gene Roddenberry, creator of the series, for the first convention. She was able to get memorabilia from the lunar missions from NASA for the convention (two tons' worth, as it turned out). She and her fellow organisers would organise four more conventions before she retired from organising them in 1976.

With Sondra Marshak and Jacqueline Lichtenberg she co-wrote Star Trek Lives, a chronicle of anecdotes of their experiences in Star Trek fandom, as well as an examination of Star Trek fandom itself. She wrote The Making of the Star Trek Conventions, chronicling the history of the early cons. She edited Startoons, an anthology of science fiction oriented cartoons.

Joan Winston was pivotal in the development of Star Trek fandom and its subculture. She was also described as one of the nicest people one could meet. William Shatner described her as "...bright, bubbly, and energetic beyond every law of human physiology and comprehension." George Takei said of her, "She was an energetic and vivacious advocate for Star Trek and we loved her very much." Jacqueline Lichtenberg stated, "Joan Winston was one of the most giving people I have ever met. She literally would give you clothing out of her closet." Dennis Rayburn, a fellow fan who works on roddenberry.com, noted her humility, "She didn’t let the status she had among the Trek fans go to her head. She was just one of us." If Joan Winston is a legend among Star Trek fans, it is for than having helped organise the first convention. She was a truly great lady.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

A Pulp Magazine Quiz

Anyhow, onto post 1001! As regular readers of this blog probably already know, Beth of the lovely voice laid down a challenge for me at the first of the year. The challenge was simply this: I must create and post one pop culture quiz a month in A Shroud of Thoughts. The quizzes can have a single theme or simply be a collection of random things. At the end of 2008, the reader who has accumulated the most points throughout the year will win a pop culture related prize. For those of you curious about the prize, I decided that it will be a pop culture related key chain of the winner's choice, to cost no more than $5.00 (minus sales tax). The price limit is for the simple fact that I can't afford platinum plated key chains... I'll provide the answers around the end of the month.

This year has seen the 75th anniversary of three of the most famous pulp magazine heroes: Doc Savage, The Spider, and G-8. For that reason, I thought this month's quiz should be dedicated to the old pulp magazines (by the way, a lot of the answers can be found in this blog's old and not so old posts....)?

1. What is generally considered the first pulp magazine?

2. What was the first pulp magazine dedicated to a single genre?

3. What was the name of the famous horror pulp (originally published by J.C. Henneberger in 1823 and published stories by Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, and H. P. Lovecraft?

4. The Shadow was mostly written by what man?

5. In what year was the science fiction magazine Astounding (now Analog) first published?

6. Name Doc Savage's five assistants (their nicknames will do)?

6. What was the name of The Spider's girlfriend?

8. What famous hero pulp was first published by Popular Publications the same month that Popular first published The Spider?

9. Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, first appeared in what pulp magazine?

10. In what year did Street Smith cancel nearly all of its pulp magazine line, including The Shadow and Doc Savage (bonus points for the one Street and Smith pulp magazine that was spared and survives to this day)?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

The Spider Turns 75

The first issue of The Spider was dated October 1933. Since most pulp publishers would get their titles to newsstands about a half a month or only a little less than that before their cover dates, I imagine Popular Publications had The Spider October 1933 on newsstands by September 13 to 15, although I can't be certain of that. Regardless, this month The Spider has turned 75 years old.

For those of you who have no idea who The Spider is, he is perhaps the third most popular pulp magazine hero after The Shadow and Doc Savage. His adventures were published by Popular Publications, a company that also published G-8 and His Battle Aces (which also turns 75 this month--it was perhaps Popular's second most popular title) and Operator #5. The Spider would evolve in a character who was practically compelled to fight crime, as well as the most violent pulp hero. It was rare that he did not shoot to kill. But then if The Spider was overly violent, it was perhaps because he had to be. He fought such menaces as a madman who drugged all the tobacco, liquor and coffee in the city, a villain who caused mass suicides across the United States, and a villain who killed with song. No one in pulp magazines faced as outré opponents as The Spider.

The Spider was initially created by Henry "Harry" Steeger, co-founder and publisher of Popular Publications, as competition for rival Street and Smith's The Shadow. To develop the character he hired writer R. T. M. Scott. Scott was most famous for having created "Secret Service Smith," the hero of five novels and several stories. Smith was an American detective with a Hindu assistant who was deadly with a knife. Coincidentally, there is a very strong resemblance between Scott's version of The Spider and Secret Service Smith. For Scott "The Spider" was little more than a psuedonym adopted by Richard Wentworth as he fought crime as an amateur criminologist. Like Smith, Wentworth was assisted by Ram Singh, a Hindu deadly with a knife. A big difference between Smith and Wentworth was that Wentworth was a bit more bloodthirsty. While Smith always shot to wound, Wentworth would shoot to kill. Wentworth would also brand his victims with the seal of The Spider using a specially made cigarette lighter.

Scott left The Spider after only two issues, whereupon Norvell Page took over as the magazine's writer. Norvell Page was a newspaper writer turned pulp writer, who belonged to the famous Pages of Virginia, one of the First Families of Virginia. Those familiar with Virginia's history might recall that there was a John Page who was governor of the state and a U.S. Congressman. Novelist, lawyer, and one time United States Ambassador to Italy, Thomas Nelson Page was also a member of Norvell Page's family. Page had written the Ken Carter stories for Ten Detective Aces and would later write two sword and sorcery novels featuring Prester John, also known as "Hurricane John" or Wan-Tengri.

Page transformed the basic concept of The Spider as created by Steeger and Scott into something entirely different. In fact, in some respects it is hard to say that Page didn't simply create a whole new character. While "The Spider" began simply as a nom de guerre for Richard Wentworth under R. T. M. Scott, Norvell Page would soon make The Spider a distinct identity from Richard Wentworth. In at least one early novel written by Page, Wentworth would go out as The Spider wearing a cloth mask that covered his whole face except for his eyes. It was in the March 1934 issue of The Spider that Wentwoth would don the costume that would later be The Spider's look. That issue he took the alias of Tito Caliepi, a hunchbacked violinist who wears a cape and a felt hat. It would not be long before Wentworth would stop using the Tito Caliepi alias and adapt Caliepi's for The Spider. It was in that same issue that the first mention was made of The Spider's ring (which was offered as a premium in the same issue). Eventually Wentworth as The Spider would dress in a sallow fright mask complete with fangs, a black felt hat, and a black cape, giving him what was perhaps the most frightening appearance of any pulp hero (curiously, the covers featured The Spider in a simple mask of the sort The Lone Ranger wore--only seven issues published from March through September 1940 had covers featuring the fanged Spider). And while Wentworth was a bit bloodthirsty under Scott's tenure as writer, he became even more so when Norvell Page wrote him. As The Spider, Richard Wentworth was wholly obsessed with fighting crime--one might say he was even compelled to do so. And in his war against evil he showed absolutely no mercy.

Norvell Page changed The Spider in other ways as well. While Ram Singh was originally portrayed as Wentworth's Hindu assistant under Scott, Page made him a Sikh who was not Wentworth's assistant, but his friend and equal. Richard Wentworth's girlfriend Nita Van Sloan played a more prominent role, becoming his partner in fighting crime. In fact, Nita Van Sloan would even sometimes become The Spider herself! Another change Norvell Page made to The Spider was in the aforementioned nature of the enemies he faced. In the two novels by R. T. M. Scott ("The Spider Strikes" and "Wheel of Death"), Richard Wentworth faced rather ordinary criminal masterminds. Page drew upon his own aforementioned Ken Carter series from the magazine Ten Detective Aces to provide The Spider with a whole new sort of opponent. Carter was a former professional juggler turned detective who fought menaces of an outre nature, such as criminals who use music to kill ("Hell's Music") or who transform human beings into statues ("Statues of Horror"). In the hands of Norvell Page, then, The Spider faced such bizarre menaces ranging from giant robots (Satan's Murder Machines) to a madman who plans to gas and rob the whole city via Zeppelin (Prince of the Red Looters).

Norvell Page would not only make The Spider perhaps the most violent pulp hero of them all, but would also bring emotion to the hero that was rarely seen in other pulp heroes. Richard Wentworth sometimes felt considerable angst over his role as The Spider, worrying over what he had become. He and Nita were devoted to each other with an intensity unseen in other pulp magazines. They would seriously consider marriage, only to realise that if The Spider was ever unmasked or killed it would make his wife a target for the criminal underworld. Despite this, Wentworth was compelled to fight crime. He simply could not give up fighting against criminals on behalf of the common man, even though he was often injured, beaten, betrayed, and even hounded by the city's police force.

Ultimately, Norvell Page made The Spider entirely his own character. While Steeger and Scott may have created the initial concept and other writers would pen novels for the magazine (including Emile C. Tepperman and Prentice Winchell), there really can't be much argument that The Spider as we know him is largely the creation of Norvell Page.

In the hands of Norvell Page and writers, such as Emile C. Tepperman, who worked much less frequently on the title, The Spider became one of the most successful pulp magazines of the Thirties. Its circulation was large enough that Page would eventually be paid $700 per novel. And The Spider was popular enough that he would be adapted into two movie serials. The first was The Spider's Web, released in 1938. Warren Hull was cast as Richard Wentworth/The Spider. In the serial Wentworth battled the villainous Octopus, whose plot was to destroy the transportation system of the United States. The Spider's Web was successful enough to warrant a sequel, so that a second serial was released in 1941, The Spider Returns. Warren Hull returned once more as Richard Wentworth/The Spider. This time The Spider battled The Gargoyle, who threatened various national defence projects.

There may have been a Spider radio show as well. There was an ad for a radio show, airing on KMOX in St. Louis in The Spider August 1935. According to the ad, it was to air every Thursday at 6:30 Central Standard Time. Unfortunately, the radio show was never mentioned before or since in the pages of The Spider. Interestingly enough, it is possible that Lee Falk, creator of The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, could have scripted the show--he was working as a writer at KMOX at the time. Unfortunately, there seems to be no proof that the show ever aired. It could have been a project that died before it reached the air. At the moment it seems that only a search of St. Louis radio schedules from July and August of 1935 would show if there was ever actually a Spider radio show.

Despite the success of The Spider, it would not survive the Forties. World War II would bring paper shortages, which force pulp magazine publishers to make their titles shorter or cancel them entirely. Worse yet, pulp magazines had new competition from comic books, then in their Golden Age, who lured many young readers away from the pulps. It would be with the June 1943 issue of The Spider that the title, which had always been monthly, would switch to a bi-monthly schedule. In only another three issues, The Spider would be cancelled. In its entirety, it had run for 118 issues.

While his magazine was cancelled, The Spider would not be forgotten. In 1964 Bantam began reprinting the Doc Savage novels to great success. It was in 1968 that Berkley Books followed suit with reprints of The Spider. Berkley would continue reprinting the novels from November 1969 to March 1970. It was in 1975 that Pocket Books took the rather odd approach of recasting The Spider as a men's action hero of The Executioner type, rewriting both Death Reign of the Vampire King from The Spider November 1935 and three other titles as modern day, men's action novels. Fortunately, the project proved to be a colossal flop. It only lasted briefly in the early part of 1975, producing a total of four novels. In 1980 Dimedia would reprint the six of the original pulp novels, complete with the original Spider logo and graphics resembling those of Popular Publications. From 1991 to 1993 Carroll and Graf reprinted eight of the pulp novels. Although the reprints only lasted briefly, it was the Carroll and Graf reprints that would largely create modern day Spider fandom. More recently, Bold Venture Press and Baen Books have both reprinted the original pulp novels, both companies featuring multiple novels in one book. In 2007 Moonstone Books published The Spider Chronicles, an anthology of stories featuring The Master of Men by such writers as John Jakes and Howard Hopkins.

It was in 1990 that Eclipse Comics adapted the novel Corpse Cargo as a three issue comic book miniseries. It was followed in 1992 by an adaptation of Reign of the Vampire King. The Spider would later appear in the 192 page anthology comic book Titanic Tales published in 1999. In 2002 Vanguard Productions published Scavengers Of The Slaughtered Sacrifices, an original story featuring The Spider. In 2007 Moonstone Books would publish their comic book Holiday Super Spectacular with a story featuring The Spider. They plan an adaptation of The Devil's Paymaster from The Spider May 1941 in the near future.

Although The Spider would only last for a little over ten years, it remains one of the best remembered of the pulp magazines. The Spider himself would have an influence on pop culture artefacts in the future. Its most immediate effect may have been upon the comic book character Batman, who resembles The Spider to a large degree. Both are multi-millionaires who fight crime. Both tend to be merciless towards criminals. And both were friends with the city's police commissioner. The Spider may have influenced the classic Fleischer Superman cartoon "The Mechanical Monsters," which uses the same giant robot motif as Satan's Murder Machines. Later the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow would use the same idea. Among the tales of Spider-Man's creation told by Stan Lee is that The Spider was partially the inspiration for Spider-Man. Although not as famous as either Doc Savage or The Shadow. The Spider has had a lasting influence on pop culture that survives to this day. Indeed, seventy five years after his first appearance, The Spider's novels continue to be reprinted.