Sunday, August 25, 2019

Frankenstein # 1, Dell Comics


The Dell Comics monster issues from the early 1960s are overdue for a reprinting. They are highly sought after and increasingly hard to find. My copy of Frankenstein is a second printing dated August-October 1964. It’s the only one I own. The others are Dracula, The Wolf-Man, The Mummy, The Creature, and there was a double issue with Dracula and the Mummy. The beautiful painted covers and colorful interior pallet are pure kitsch, and loads of fun.  These comics were inspired by and approved for publication by Universal Pictures who are credited with the copyright on the indicia column. The story is a hackneyed rewrite of the Universal scripts, deviating sharply from the first film but retaining the shlock feel of the horror comics of the early 1950s. That makes it all the better. It’s creepy and fun and honors its source material, the films, and the monster intentionally resembles Boris Karloff. The artwork is moody although simplistic, and the coloring adds another layer of gaudy pulp thrills to the issue. After escaping from Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, he’s recaptured and drugged by the doctor who takes him aboard ship across the Atlantic. Once aboard the steamship, the doctor induces the monster to kill the ship’s captain. Once again on shore in America, they lay up at Hobbs Farm where the creepy scene ensues with the monster killing two horses. Meanwhile, the doctor is attempting to get recognition for his creation, unsuccessfully of course, and the monster is thought to have been killed when another ship he’s on goes up in flames and sinks. Dr. Frankenstein states in the last panel: “But I have created a super-human! And someday very soon, we shall return to this spot to discover how successful I have been.” Issue # 2 appeared a few years later, but transformed the monster into a super-hero in red tights. Issues # 2, 3 and 4 are lacking in the creepy atmosphere that makes this first issue so good. I don’t know any collectors that are enthusiastic about the subsequent issues, but this first one is great.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Man With No Name’s Snake Grip Colt

The original snake grip Colt from the second episode of Rawhide
This post is in response to several e-mails 
and messages here and on FaceBook 
about the photo I posted of the Colt snake grip .45.
Click on any image to enlarge.

As most Clint Eastwood fans know, the famed actor first used the famous snake grip Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver in the first season and second episode of Rawhide. The air date was January 16, 1959. The episode was titled “Incident at Alabaster Plain.” Eastwood would use that same gun again in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1966), both directed by Sergio Leone. Eastwood had purchased the gun from the production company and owns it to this day. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), the snake grips are seen on a different gun, the 1851 Navy Colt.
Troy Donahue (left), Mark Richman with the Colt in holster (center)
and Eastwood in  the Incident at Alabaster Plain episode of Rawhide 
I thought I would clarify the history a bit for the benefit of those new to riding the Old West range. In that Rawhide episode, the snake grip Colt is carried by actor Mark Richman who played a bad-ass named Mastic. Troy Donahue co-starred in this episode along with Martin Balsam and series regulars, Eric Fleming, Sheb Wooley and Paul Brinegar. This is a pretty good episode. In fact, in the final showdown, Eastwood gets a face full of adobe dust when a bullet (squib) blows a hole in the wall next to his face. The gunfight is well-staged, and Eastwood as Rowdy Yates chases Mastic into the bell tower of church. Fleming as Gil Faver helps knock Mastic off the tower by yanking on the bell’s rope. Mastic falls to his death.
Clint Eastwood and Sheb Wooley in the episode's finale with the snake grip Colt
Throughout the episode, we are afforded several views of the gun. The silver inlaid snake grips adorn both sides of the traditional walnut grip. Rowdy Yates has the gun in the finale and he hands it to Pete Nolan played by Sheb Wooley, who then becomes the third actor in history to handle that gun on film. I knew Sheb Wooley personally, and he always spoke fondly of working on Rawhide. He made no secret of the fact that Rawhide was enjoyable “play acting” as he called it, and Sheb later made a brief appearance in Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).
Eastwood with the snake grip Colt in holster in A Fistful of Dollars 
NOTE: As far as I know, the snake grip Colt is NOT seen in subsequent episodes of Rawhide. I did a brief scan of the first season episodes and Eastwood is wearing a traditional Colt with a plain Walnut grip. Of course a full review of all 217 episodes is needed to verify if the snake grip Colt shows up again. Anyone with additional information is free to contact me through this blog.
Eastwood reloading the snake grip Colt in A Fistful of Dollars 
Clint Eastwood brought the gun with him when he filmed both A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, and the gun is plainly visible in multiple scenes. However, as I mentioned, this gun was NOT used in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That gun is an 1851 Navy Colt supplied by Uberti, the Italian gun manufacturer who are still in business today. Another silver inlaid snake grip was added to the Navy Colt.
Another view of the Colt from A Fistful of Dollars
Keen viewers can easily spot the snake grip SAA in A Fistful of Dollars although the best view doesn’t occur until Eastwood is reloading, and later when he is using the gun to tap some barrels to determine if they are empty or not. In For a Few Dollars More, the SAA is likewise visible in Eastwood’s holster and in a scene where he is reloading the gun.

The snake grip Colt in  For a Few Dollars More

Replicas of the snake grip SAA have been on the market for years, primarily made by Uberti in Italy, or Pietta for the American Firearms company, Cimarron. I own the Cimarron version. There are slight differences in the snake design. The original snake has a single tongue whereas the replica offers a forked-tongue. Also, the rattle tail has a slight downward curve compared to the original. The Cimarron replica features the snake on the right side only, unlike the original which has the snake on both sides of the grip. According to an excellent Internet article by Bob Arganbright, the grips were supplied to the Rawhide production team by Andy Anderson of the North Hollywood Gun Shop. There are multiple other snake grip replicas available, and you can even order knock-off grips minus the gun on Amazon. I have occasionally seen a custom SAA with the snake grips on both sides.
Eastwood reloading the Colt in For a Few Dollars More 
The Snake grip Colt is now part of Western television and film history largely due to Clint Eastwood. The Cimarron .45 caliber Man with No Name Model Colt Single Action Army revolver with a five-and-a-half-inch barrel handles as well as any Colt, Uberti Colt, Cimarron Colt, Taylor & Company Colt or even the Ruger Vaquero. This is a fine gun and those few of you that know me personally are aware that I consider the 1873 Colt Peacemaker the pre-eminent handgun, and owning them is a great privilege. As always, please follow the basic rules of safe firearm handling. When firearms are used in a safe and responsible manner, they provide much pleasure, satisfaction and protection, and represent a fundamental part of our personal liberty.
Author Thomas McNulty's Cimarron Colt .45 with the snake grip

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson


Spine of the Dragon was a joy to read starting on page one. I took the book with me on the road, first down to Memphis, then all the way up to our cabin in northern Wisconsin, and read it every night.  KJA is best known for his superb science fiction, in addition to his outstanding Dune continuation novels with Brian Herbert, but after reading his Terra Incognita Trilogy a few years back, followed by two superb steampunk novels inspired by the music of Rush, I was convinced he should write a straight fantasy series. I’m thrilled that he has, and Spine of the Dragon is the first of what I hope will be many more. This is a great book! I was immediately catapulted into another world (and Kevin does World Building as well as anyone), and what’s more, I began bonding with the characters. Of course, there are some villains here, and the wreths had me on the edge of my seat. Talk about a page turner! Adan Starfall may become an iconic hero in fantasy fiction. The book is long, and readers will be swept along by multiple characters and viewpoints as the story unfolds. The wreth have returned, and the want humans to do their bidding. That demand won’t be as simple as they believe, and Anderson skillfully balances character development with heightened suspense and a complex plot that never failed to surprise me. Books like Spine of the Dragon are what I refer to as “A Reader’s Delight” because getting lost in the story is as easy as opening the book and reading that first sentence. Once you’ve done that, you’re hooked! Spine of the Dragon is recommended reading. You won’t want to miss this one, and from what I understand, the sequel is in the works. This is the best fantasy novel I’ve read in years. Kudos!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Superman: Year One - Review


Why does this book exist? For years, fans have been telling executives at DC Comics and Warner Brothers they are tired of reboots, revised origins, and marketing events such as this. Superman: Year One is a rehash of a rehash. We’ve seen it all before, and it was done better before. Why do we need to see this again? My advice is don’t buy it. There has never been any reason to change or revise Siegel and Shuster’s basic premise. It’s been done too many times. I am writing this in English. Do the executives at DC and Warner Brothers understand English? As I’ve stated before, DC Comics has long been conflicted in its approach, choosing to retell and revise Superman’s origin again and again rather than engage Superman with new challenges and fresh villains. The constant revisionism and focus on revised continuity has effectively stalled the series. Nobody cares. Frank Miller has turned in a simple and often dumb script that is brilliantly visualized by artist John Romita, Jr. Make no mistake about what I’m saying here - John Romita, Jr. is a fantastic artist. I wish DC had given him an assignment that was new and fresh and exciting! Instead, we are given this revisionist Pablum by Frank Miller who effectively dumbs-down ma and pa Kent while trying to make Clark Kent relevant. It doesn’t work. And there’s more bad news - there are two more issues coming. Oh boy. Recently, publisher Dan Didio spoke about the sales figures involving reprints. He said, in part: “We do these Facsimile Editions where we reprint older issues...and in some cases these are selling more than the new comics with these characters. People are more interested in buying the stories from 30 or 40 years ago than the contemporary stories, and that’s a failure on us.” Didio went on to acknowledge they need to produce new and exciting stories. The problem is, that’s not what DC is doing. Frankly, this is mind-boggling and incredibly arrogant on Didio’s part. He publicly admits he knows they aren’t handling their books properly, which is a disservice to the characters and their creators, and then junk like Superman: Year One gets approved. Take a look at Batman right now - DC has flooded the market with an endless parade of junk Batman titles, all revisionist crap, and poorly conceived at every level. We have the laughing Batman, the future Batman, the super-duper team-up Batman, the White Knight Batman, Batman in Arkham, and Batman special issue team-ups with characters that should have stayed dead. Whatever happened to the Batman whose appearance struck fear into the hearts of villains and used his detective abilities to solve crimes? He’s gone the way I hope the current executive team at DC is gone, and soon. The lack of cohesion and endless continued storylines have all made Batman and Superman titles confusing, if not incomprehensible. Shame on you, Dan Didio. I don’t like posting negative reviews, but DC comics appears to be run by a group of chattering Cro-Magnon men who are skilled at expelling hot air while stroking a Barbie Doll with adolescent frenzy. I hope they don’t injure themselves.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Al Capone’s Ghost


Al Capone’s Ghost

“Where are you from?”
“Chicago.”
“Oh, the gangster city where Al Capone lived.”

Photographs and text copyright © 2019 by Thomas McNulty

That snippet of conversation has occurred in Mexico City, Los Angeles, Deadwood, Nashville and so many other places in my travels. Al Capone did indeed live in Chicago, and he did leave an indelible mark on Chicago history. Chicago cannot escape Al Capone, or John Dillinger or Baby Face Nelson or Dean O’Banion or Bugs Moran. Here there be gangsters.

Chicago’s rich history has a texture unlike so many others, often punctuated by intense acts of violence, from the Fort Dearborn Massacre to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and multiple stunning incidents in between. Chicago is the embodiment of corruption.
Recommended Reading
My grandfather, Andrew McNulty, encountered Capone once when he worked as conductor on the streetcars for the Chicago Transit Authority. This was in the late 20s or early 30s and prior to Capone’s imprisonment for tax evasion in 1932. My grandfather, or Mac as his family and friends called him, had no time for Capone or the men that surrounded him. Mac told me, “They were all goons and thugs, punks that thought they were tough.” Mac’s distaste for Capone and his henchmen was extended a few years later with some brief encounters with John Dillinger and his roughneck coterie. “Dillinger was full of himself.” Mac told me. He described how common, if not ordinary, riding a streetcar was in those days, even for people with money, because when the weather was good the goons could show-off, make contact with people, and brag a lot. “The streetcars were for everybody,” he said, “until the buses came, and that changed everything.”

According to my grandfather, Capone’s ride was brief, maybe a block, and they got off, and I have never found a similar published statement that Capone used the streetcars. In fact, during this period Capone stayed out of sight and routinely traveled by automobile with guards. Yet my grandfather was no liar, and he clearly encountered Capone. The circumstances will never be known, and Mac is long gone, but one day all those decades past Al Capone got on a streetcar and rode about a block. Capone paid for everyone that got on with him, and that is consistent with published reports about Capone’s behavior. People greeted Capone warmly. “Hello Al!” or “Thanks Al!” were tossed at Capone like verbal bouquets.

Mac’s solitary encounter with Capone was brief, but his henchmen rode the streetcars all the time, and the goons wanted everyone to know whose payroll they were on. Those “punks that thought they were tough” made a lasting impression on Mac, and he recalled them with distaste decades later. There was one career criminal from this period that did leave a slightly favorable impression on my grandfather. This was Joseph Weil, better known as the Yellow Kid, a notorious con-man who once reportedly swindled Benito Mussolini, and lived to tell the tale. “He was a gentleman,” Mac said, “He was the kind of well-dressed and polite man that would lend you a few bucks and never expect to get it back if you were down on your luck. Everybody liked him.”
Al Capone's Final Resting Place
 Capone had a reputation for being flashy, and down-to-earth, even with Mac, who wanted nothing to do with Chicago’s underworld. By comparison, Dillinger “got what he deserved” when he was gunned down by the FBI on July 22, 1934 outside the Biograph Theatre on Lincoln Avenue. Capone was larger-than life; he courted the press, found himself being cheered at baseball games, and cultivated the image of a colorful and well-dressed businessman. Al Capone opened soup kitchens for the needy and made himself into a folk hero. This is a vital fact that demands attention. During the Depression the general feeling was one of distrust toward banking institutions and the government. They had failed the American people. Al Capone not only put people to work, but he fed people. Al Capone’s soup kitchens became the stuff of legend.

Deirdre Bair’s biography, Capone: His Life, Legacy and Legend, published in 2016, is among the better books devoted to Capone’s amazing life. Bair’s biography is an attempt “to look at his public behavior within the context of his personal life, to see how the two might possibly be interrelated, and how the one might have had influence or bearing on the other.” Bair chose to give little attention to such historic events as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in favor of interpreting Capone’s life, and so her book is not a useful chronology for those seeking details on the Chicago’s turf war. It does, however, delve deeply into Capone’s public behavior, her stated goal all along. She succeeds and I consider this among the top evaluations on Capone.

 Jonathan Eig’s 2010 best-seller, Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster, offers a fresh perspective on Capone’s involvement in Chicago’s gangland, including a new theory that purports the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was an insider job orchestrated by the police, and not Capone. Eig’s theory is compelling, if unprovable. I believe Eig’s contention that Capone had nothing to do with the massacre. Read his book.

When Capone died in 1947, his mind ravaged by neurosyphilis, his body was transported to Chicago and interred in Mount Olivet Cemetery. In 1950 his body and those of his father and brother were moved to Mount Carmel Cemetery in suburban Hillside. His gravesite is a popular destination for history buffs. Mount Carmel Cemetery is also home to the remains of Dean O’Banion, yet another Chicago gangster, “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn (aka Vincent DeMora), Frank Nitti, Earl Weiss, and others. It is also the resting place of Julia Buccola Petta, better known as “The Italian Bride” who died at age 29 in 1921. Her body was exhumed six years after her death, and photographed by her mother revealing a lack of decomposition. Her mother had the photo affixed to her grave. Tales of ghostly wanderings have occurred routinely by locals who claim to have seen her spirit. In Chicago, the dead don’t stay in one place long.
Julia Buccola Petta's grave with close-up of exhumation photo
In the decades since Capone’s death the corruption and exploitation of vice remain as strong as ever in the Windy City. The goons, thugs and punks are still around, although these days we call them politicians. For Illinoisans holding onto a sliver of hope, you should be heartened by the fact that Illinois has sent more governors to prison than any state in the union.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Horror! Author Mystery Solved!


Back in October 2012 I posted about Horror!, the acclaimed book about Horror films and authors. The author’s real identity has long been a point of speculation. Thanks to Glenn Hildebrand the “mystery” of Drake Douglas, author of the cult classic, Horror! has been verified. Drake Douglas was a pseudonym for Werner Zimmerman who also wrote under the name Douglas Drake. He graduated from High School in January 1945 and his yearbook lists he was awarded the “Clifton Leader Press award in Journalism.” He also wrote Strangers and Lovers as Douglas Drake. Horror!, it's sequel Horrors! and Strangers and Lovers are his only known books. He passed away on June 27, 2004 and his memorial card/obit used the name Drake Douglas.

Here are some memories direct from Glenn:

“He grew up and lived in Clifton NJ and was a Navy vet at the end of WWII and right after the war.  Was on the Missouri in Tokyo for the signing and during the Truman cruise to South America in 1946.  If you are still interested in more detail on Drake let me know – he was my uncle and I spent many days sitting on the floor in his room looking through all his books (his bedroom had three walls floor to ceiling bookshelves) while he typed on his typewriter.”

“I was born in 1949 and by the time I can remember him he was working for some type of accounting firm in NYC and living with my grandparents in Clifton NJ.  He would commute each day to the city and come home late at night, type for a while and go to bed, just to get up and do it again the next day.  All weekend he would type.  He always had classical music playing when he was typing.  Never wanted a word processor when they began to come out.  To this day whenever I hear a typewriter clacking I think of him.”
Drake Douglas AKA Werner Zimmerman
“He developed Alzheimer’s and was in a support facility for the last few years.  It was very frustrating for him as the disease progressed because his whole life was words and he started having difficulty even holding a discussion.  He would get so frustrated when he couldn’t think of the word he wanted.  He had a vast VCR library of old horror movies with Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff and the gang, and watched them all the time but eventually he couldn’t even operate the TV and VCR, even though we tried to put color tape on the necessary buttons to push.”

 Horror! remains a highly-sought after collector’s item. Originally published in 1966, my paperback copy of Horror! By Drake Douglas is now dog-eared and battered. The back cover blurb for Horror! stated: The awful truth about the monsters, vampires, werewolves, zombies phantoms, mummies, and ghouls of literature – and how they went Hollywood, the book is an affectionate and literate account of monsters with emphasis on Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, werewolf folklore, and the writers that helped popularize them. Written in the strong, imagistic style of the pulps, Horror! is a beguiling and fascinating introduction to the world of monsters and other creatures of the night. I have always loved the unique style of the writing and the obvious love the author has for films and literature.


Many thanks to Glenn Hildebrand for verifying the author’s identity and providing the images reproduced here.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Last Stage to Hell Junction by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins


Last Stage to Hell Junction offers up the scent of sagebrush, the boom of gunfire and the acrid smell of gunsmoke. There are galloping horses and nasty villains, and it’s all incredibly entertaining! This the fourth Caleb York Western Max Collins has published. Based upon characters created by the late, great Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collins is the creative powerhouse behind this excellent series. There are a lot of Westerns out there right now, and this is one you can depend on for having all of the ingredients that Western fans love. There are shoot-outs and chases and robberies and even a dash of saucy romance! Caleb York has become an iconic hero; tough and smart and more than a bit stubborn. He won’t quit, and when he has to go after some hostages being held in Hell Junction, his .44 Colt will naturally get some action. With Last Stage to Hell Junction the West is wild again, and that means readers are in for some epic fun. The previous books in this series are The Legend of Caleb York, The Big Showdown and The Bloody Spur. I recommend that you read them all, and you won’t be disappointed. It does help to read the series in order, but that’s not vital. They can easily be read as stand-alone novels. The difference between this book and the other big name writers publishing Westerns these days is that Collins is having fun, and it shows. Max Collins has produced four exciting, fresh stories, all while paying homage to Spillane. It works, and dang it, I’ve long admired Collin’s blazing talent, so if you’re aiming to hunker down with another fast and exciting book, Last Stage to Hell Junction should be first on your list. Now saddle up! It’s time to ride the high country again with Caleb York!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Fishing Tips


Text and photographs copyright © by Thomas McNulty

I am a bass fisherman, and not a fly fisherman. I use an Ugly Stik rod with a Shakespeare reel. My attempts at learning fly fishing years ago resulted in an admiration for fly fishing, but I never became adept at the sport. All the same, I’ve learned a few things about fishing, not the least of which being the fact that all fishermen are experts on their own style, and they think they know everything. Some of them do.

The first point of advice I offer is simple enough - avoid fishing in a kayak. This is especially sound advice for people in a certain age group with back problems. You can catch fish in a kayak certainly, but your back muscles may complain with messages of burning pain ripping at your flesh. This quite naturally will require an oasis of Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola, which in turn can be dangerous when you’re poised to hook a walleye while standing on a half-submerged slippery pier. Be careful, lads; that’s the best I can offer.
Last month I was fishing in my usual haunt when I realized that sometimes the fish possessed an uncanny intelligence that rendered my college educated mind to mush. They were not where they should have been, and they did not bite when they should have. Fish bite when they’re hungry, and they bite when you aggravate them. I did my best to aggravate them, including unleashing a stream of profanity at the sight of their silver-green gills fluttering away. That didn’t work at first, but at the end of two weeks I did catch more fish than I had the previous summer.

Once, when my brother-in-law and I glided into a sunlit bay at about two o’clock in the afternoon, a black bear bolted away from the shoreline, crashing noisily through the underbrush. My brother-in-law had a good look at him, while all I saw were the branches and leafage bending back like rubber bands as the bear abandoned the shore. The bear’s presence was a sober reminder that the Northwoods are home to an animal kingdom that also covet the fat bass or chunky northern pike.
That night, a raccoon visited the cabin porch and helped himself to the birdseed left out for the yellow finches who often darted through the morning air while I drank my coffee and planned the day’s fishing. Man does not hold dominion over the great forest country of Wisconsin, Minnesota or Michigan.

I toyed with several types of bait, including some top water rigs and poppers; they work well enough now and again. I was successful with a white, rubber shad, and I had some luck with a Yum worm and a rubber minnow. By far the best bait three years running has been the Magnum Bass Stopper 3-hook weedless purple worm. It’s made in Haiti and it works like a charm. Relying on the same bait over and over is seldom recommended, but I used it because it works. There are off-brand imitators made in China, but the hooks are too small and a fat bass can easily shake free, as I learned swiftly.
The best advice anyone ever gave me about fishing was be prepared to try anything. Or, as my friend Steve has pointed out, “You don’t keep one arrow in the quiver and expect to land two deer.” I keep multiple types of lures handy, and extra fishing poles. Many anglers accessorize their boats with a cooler of beer. That strikes me as reasonable, but don’t stand up in the boat.

Lakes have their own health cycle, and some lakes may offer good fishing, but public waterways are a hindrance. There are ample small and medium lakes, however, with limited public traffic because of their remote location. Many small and medium lakes near population centers benefit from a voluntary “Fish Committee” which we have on Wahwahtaysee, and we stock the lake every few years and have the water tested. Helping keep a lake healthy is vital for a flourishing eco-system.
Solitude is conducive to good fishing. Find yourself a lake lacking in two-legged meanies and sun-tanned businessmen, but by all means keep your testosterone senses tuned to the arrival of mermaids. Anything can happen in the northwoods; although such daydreams may be the result of cabin fever and alcohol. Still, this grand rolling landscape of woodlands, rivers and lakes is startlingly beautiful, and if you find yourself one day in a boat with a fishing pole in hand, embrace the dreams of a Huckleberry Finn lifestyle and stay on course. The fish are waiting to bite in the next sunlit bay.
NOTE: Wahwahtaysee is the previous Ojibwe name of our lake and translates as Firefly. It is not currently in use officially, but it’s the name many of us residents use.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Elixir by Robert Nathan


As I’ve mentioned before, Robert Nathan was once a pre-eminent author with Alfred A. Knopf publishers but now most of his books are out of print. Fortunately, the Nathan estate is in the process of making the Nathan library available as eBooks, so if you haven’t read Nathan start there. Try Portrait of Jennie, which I discussed previously. Robert Nathan’s books are an acquired taste, but be warned, once you connect with him you’ll find his prose habit forming. Robert Nathan was an incredible prose stylist. His paragraphs are like works of art themselves. The Elixir is one of his last novels, published in 1971. The Elixir is wonderful for the literary connoisseur, but perhaps ponderous for those less educated. The historical and literary references are constant throughout. The story involves Robert Irwin an American professor on vacation in England who meets a guitar-playing hippie girl at Stonehenge and begins an affair with her. The Elixir is a fantasy, of course, and Nathan’s theme is love. The title is taken from Bernard of Treves, offered as an epigram on the front piece, referencing “Amyranth” a potent elixir that induces a man to see the world spread out before him like a tapestry, both past and present. The narrator’s journey is an exploration of his life as an historian, and he encounters many characters from the past, including Merlin. His guitar-playing lover Anne is really Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, and characters come and go at a rapid pace. Nathan states his intent early, on page 45: “Man has legends and dreams, and they weave one into another, and he is part of them, and they are part of him.” The plot changes dramatically with a plane high-jacking, and here Nathan makes reference to global political events relevant at the time of publication, but then eases us back into England after a brief visit to the Middle East. This section of the book was disconcerting but inclusive and necessary for the narrator Irwin’s understanding of the regional conquering and historical connections. Irwin’s love for Nimue is central to the plot, and naturally their affair must end, because she does belong to the past. Nathan offers us a succinct interpretation of beauty in this passage from page 129: “A woman’s beauty lies less in the arrangement of her features than in the gentleness and vivacity of her air, the mixture of mirth and shyness, the wonder that looks out of her eyes, the modesty and pride to be seen in the curve of her neck and the thrust of her bosom. In short, in that mystery which touches the heart as well as the loins, and causes young men to write rondels and madrigals.” The book is actually quite humorous and less sentimental, although still capable of striking the occasional emotional chord.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Memphis Film Festival, June 7-9, 2019

From the traveler’s notebook...

Old habits are useful. Although my wife and I packed a suitcase each, I always carry a backpack, a remnant of a bohemian attitude that flourished for me in the late 1970s. I stuffed the backpack with a road Atlas, a notebook and pen, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Spine of the Dragon. I enjoy traveling with books. A good book can help me unwind after a long day on the road.

We hit the road at 11:00 PM on Wednesday; the perfect time to begin a nine-hour drive. That would put us in Memphis for breakfast. This was my fourth road trip of the summer season, and more looming ahead. I’ve been to Memphis twice before, and I find Memphis fascinating. The city is old and decaying; the extremes between wealth and poverty are evident throughout the city. The many homeless and the drug addicts are evidence of civilization’s decline. Too often in Memphis I’ve witnessed these damaged souls standing on a street corner yelling at people only they can see; or sometimes simply curling up and sleeping on the sidewalk, oblivious to the torrential rain. This is the real America; the one people don’t like talking about.
Flooding along the Mississippi shoreline
I came to Memphis again for something far removed from the broken lives, boarded up homes and drug problems. The rain had been constant and once again the Mississippi River breeched the shore. The news was reporting that widespread flooding had destroyed dozens of crops. The television showed a farmer scooting across his bean field in a motorboat. We passed dozens of fields that had been turned into ponds, sometimes as deep as four feet. The soybean, corn and rice cops were devastated. My wife and I had come here to attend the Memphis Film Festival which is held in nearby Tunica, Mississippi, about twenty miles from Memphis.

Tunica, Mississippi had suffered betrayals. Once marketed as a rival location to Las Vegas, a proliferation of casinos and resorts provided gainful employment for a struggling population. Then Harrah’s folded, leaving behind a massive ghost town. Harrah had built a deluxe high-rise hotel and casino, including a faux medieval castle, an art deco movie house, all dominating the flat cotton and rice field location. Tunica once ranked third in the American gambling meccas, employing over four thousand workers. The 2,200-acre complex is deserted, the three hotels standing empty. The music has stopped; the glitter is tarnished. 29% of Tunica residents live in poverty. The two best surviving casino/resorts are Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall and the Hollywood Casino, situated opposite each other on Casino Strip Resort Boulevard.
With Buck Taylor
The Memphis Film Festival, now in its 46th year, was held at Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall. Western film stars dominated the festival. The American Western exists today as a point of nostalgia for those generations who recall the Technicolor sweep of a landscape that was at once simplistic, brutal and populated by a noble cowboy. To conquer the land was one thing, and then to overcome the evil ways of men was another. The Western is a quintessential American genre. Once a standard part of our entertainment appetite, the Western flourished for fifty years in films, pulp magazines, and television shows. 

I’ve become quite familiar with film festivals and celebrity conventions, and my wife and I immediately indulged ourselves. Here were actors and actresses who influenced our culture, and added a dream-like quality to our lives. Robert Fuller, whose roles in Wagon Train, Laramie and Emergency made an impact on our childhood; Angie Dickinson, whose film and television career is legendary; Buck Taylor from Gunsmoke and dozens of films; Darby Hinton from Daniel Boone; Karolyn Grimes, best known for her role in It’s a Wonderful Life, but who also appeared with Randolph Scott in Albuquerque; Wyatt McCrea, grandson of Joel McCrea; Randolph Mantooth, star of Emergency; Patrick Wayne, son of you-know-who, and who also has an impressive filmography; Christopher Mitchum, son of another legend, and also a respected actor in his own right; and many others were available for discussions and autograph signings.
With Wyatt McCrea
Two important facts stand out: first, the convention hall was small. In addition to the celebrity guests there were not all that many vendors. There were a few vendors selling original movie posters, comic books, vintage paperbacks, and DVDs. Secondly, unlike many Fan-Fest Conventions, the celebrities sat in the open at tables rather than being hidden behind a screen. This added a friendly tone to the hall. A security team was present but the fans were respectable. One could wander the hall looking over the memorabilia for sale while standing only a few feet away from a celebrity. People took photos constantly, and that was nice for those on a tight budget who couldn’t afford to have a photo taken with their favorite star. Incidentally, the prices were reasonable, and Patrick Wayne was donating all of his revenue to the John Wayne Cancer Institute.
With Darby Hinton
We mingled. We took photos. We chatted with the stars. When I was chatting with Angie Dickinson, I mentioned Randy Scott whom she worked with on Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend (1957), her 10th film. Angie said, “Oh, Randolph Scott was such a fine man. He mentored me on that film. I was young and just starting out, and he was such a gentleman.” Later, Karolyn Grimes said to me: “Randolph Scott was a real gentleman. Of course I was a little girl at the time, but I had become ill, and when Randy found out, he carried me off the set so they could look after me.” Randolph Scott has consistently been described to me as a gentleman over the years.
With Angie Dickinson
I was in awe of Patrick Wayne. I spoke with him multiple times over the weekend, and he was a delight. “I’m very privileged with a great family.” He said to me, “and I want to help get rid of cancer.” When we were talking about his film career he offered this tidbit: “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is one of my favorites. Jane Seymour was in that and she’s so beautiful.” When I asked him if his father’s film, Circus World, will ever be released on DVD he said, “I don’t know. I don’t have anything to do with that, but it was a great movie. I wasn’t in it, but the beautiful Claudia Cardinale was in that one!” He also spoke fondly of making The People that Time Forgot (1977) with the late, great Doug McClure.
With Patrick Wayne and Christopher Mitchum
Christopher Mitchum was another favorite, and sat at the table next to Patrick Wayne, his co-star in Big Jake (1971), one of John Wayne’s best films. Mitchum told me he still has his father’s fedora from Out of the Past and he’ll never part with it. Mitchum was fascinating. He spoke at length with me about the modern audition process, which is done via e-mail, and he recounted an experience where one young casting agent looked over his resume and noticed he had worked in several films with John Wayne. This kid asked, “Is that the famous John Wayne?” I liked Mitchum immediately. He was down to earth and happy to spend time talking with people. He shared his feeling that 1969 was a turning point in Western films because The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid featured the “bad guys” as the heroes. He preferred the traditional Western, such as Big Jake, which we agreed is one of John Wayne’s later classics.
With Robert Fuller
Robert Fuller’s fan base and popularity is incredible. The demand on Fuller throughout the weekend never abated, and exceeded all other celebrities. He can be a lady’s man, and the ladies love him, make no mistake about that; and he’s a man’s man. My wife and I were both thrilled to finally meet him. We had him signed a Dell comic book and several photos. He told me how lucky I was to have such a beautiful wife. My wife asked him, “Can I have a hug?” and Fuller said, “We can do whatever we want, and we can take our time!” He looked at me and said, “We’re two bad cowboys!” It made our day.
Memorabilia
Of the memorabilia I looked at, I was lucky to find a comic book for the Lawman television series signed by the late, great John Russell, and I bought it on sight. I also purchased No Strings: In Search of Dickie Jones by Ann Snuggs and had her sign it for me; and Wyatt McCrea’s 52 Weeks, 52 Western Movies. We finished the weekend by taking another walk around Beale Street in Memphis where we visited the legendary Tater Red’s Lucky Mojo and Voodoo Healing Gift Store. I first entered Tater Red’s back in 1996 and this iconic store hasn’t changed much. Down the street, I spent a few minutes speaking with a young homeless man near the Elvis statue, and he impressed me with his knowledge of the bronze statue created by sculptor Andrea Luger. I gave him money for food. We talked about his effort to find work, and I told him to keep at it. This kid was sharp. When I told him I was from Chicago he rattled off every stop on the El line. He’d been to Chicago twice. 
The King of Rock and Roll
Beale Street was nearly empty when we arrived that morning, but about noon we could hear guitars playing inside some of the restaurants and saloons. The acrobats were performing in the street for tips and the scent of grilled food began wafting from the enclosures.
The iconic Tater Red's
We avoided Graceland this trip. A quick visit to Beale Street was the best way to end my third visit to Memphis. I might go back some day. Memphis is alluring, and its rich, dark history speaks to me. There is much to learn here, and the traveler’s long and winding road is full of surprises.
Spooky Voodoo Doll from Tater Red's
Text and photography copyright© 2019 by Thomas McNulty


Sunday, June 9, 2019

Other Worlds Science Stories May 1951


When this issue of Other Worlds was published newsstands full of pulp magazines and comic books were commonplace across the country. My parents had been married for a year and my father was in the army. My sister and I hadn’t been thought of yet. Harry Truman was president. This was still the Golden Age of pulp fiction and Science Fiction. In fact, Science Fiction as a genre was outselling Westerns according to some sources, although Western paperbacks and novels were immensely popular. Reading was still an active and regular part of the average American’s lifestyle. This issue of Other Worlds features cover artwork by Hannes Bok and interior illustrations by Bill Terry, Jon Brian, Edd Cartier, H. W. McCauley, William Marsh, John Grossman, and one also by Hannes Bok. Making a living as a magazine illustrator was a respectable career. This magazine is a thick 160 pages with minimal advertising. This is mostly text. It sold for 35 cents. The cover includes a misprint – there is no Robert Bloch story, although there would be in the next issue. The stories range from good to silly, with my favorite being the ones by Rog Philips and Ray Palmer, both of whom were once regular contributors to the Science Fiction community. Other familiar names include Lester Del Rey, Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson. None of the nine stories are classics, but they’re fun, if not predictable. The current misconception about the Golden Age of Science Fiction is that everything published was a thought-provoking and meaningful piece of prose. That’s nonsense. The editors wanted and solicited brisk, easy-to-understand tales that young and old readers alike would be entertained by. To write something in any genre that’s simply entertaining was the status quo. It worked. Other Worlds Science Stories was entertaining. I got a kick out of the “Personals” page where Robert Silverberg checks in requesting contacts for pre-war pulp magazines. Back then they even published your address with your letter. Back issues of Other Worlds Science Stories is a good one to hunt down at conventions.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Ruger Security-9 Pistol


At some point the Sturm, Ruger & Company, commonly referred to simply as Ruger, and founded in 1949 by Alexander McCormick Sturm and William B. Ruger in Connecticut, has become the preeminent American firearm manufacturer. I will argue there are two qualifying factors in my statement; specifically, the high quality of their firearms and their affordability. 

My statement is not without precedent. Several on-line resources confirm that from 1986 through 2010, Ruger led firearm production with a record 15 million firearms. From 2008 to 2011 Ruger was ranked the number # 1 U. S. manufacturer of firearms. From 2009 to 2012 they have been acknowledged as the top seller of handguns. My Ruger guns are an active and vital part of my collection.

I waited a full year and a half after the Security-9 Pistol’s release before buying it. I routinely track firearm reviews, especially with YouTube personalities such as “Hickok45” and others. The consensus on the Ruger Security-9 Pistol has been uniformly positive.  I was also on the hunt for a concealed carry alternative, and I’m pleased to report the Security-9 is a perfect match.

The Ruger Security-9 is similar in size and functionality to the popular Glock 19. I’m not a Glock fan, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I’ll take a Ruger over a Glock any day. The Security-9 also compares to the Smith & Wesson M&P (Military and Police) M2.0, which is a great 9 mm pistol, and one I also recommend. It’s my understanding the M.20 is growing in popularity with police agencies, which, of course, was the intention. With the Ruger Security-9 joining a growing list of 9 mm polymer handguns, the market is actually over-saturated with choices. Frankly, I’d rather have multiple choices, and the competition helps nurture a profitable field.
The gun handled great. The trigger was really smooth and the gun size was perfect. I put two hundred rounds through it and the brass ejected cleanly and I hit my target as intended. Traditional brass ammo worked fine, but the steel-jacketed 9 mm had a tendency to jam. That’s not uncommon with steel-jacketed, cheap ammo, so it’s not the gun.

Also, please note, the “Hold/Slide Stop” requires an extra tug for unhindered action. The instruction manual (read it!) makes it clear this feature is intentional and you need to press downward so it is released by pulling the slide slightly rearward. I had to adjust to the “down and back” action. The Ruger Security-9 is an excellent gun and highly recommended.

As always, please follow the basic rules of safe firearm handling. When firearms are used in a safe and responsible manner, they provide much pleasure, satisfaction and protection, and represent a fundamental part of our personal liberty. Be smart, stay cool, and Buy American.