Saturday, December 21, 2019

A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd

While most of us are familiar with the 1983 film directed by Bob Clark and starring Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin and Peter Billingsley, I also recommend the stories upon which the film is based. Author Jean Shepherd’s 1966 novel, In God We Trust, all Others Pay Cash, was the primary source material.  Not every chapter in the novel relates to the subsequent film, but shown here is the Broadway Books edition which compiles the five essential stories. Shepherd was both the co-screenwriter on the film and the narrator. His stories are delightful to read and are quite short. The film is widely regarded as a classic and is shown constantly on television along with It’s a Wonderful Life starring James Stewart. I am a fan of the film, and people seem to either love it...or don’t get it. I can’t help those of you that don’t get it, and I won’t bother trying. I have two Red Ryder BB rifles propped against the bookcase in my den. The Red Ryder BB rifle originally went into production in 1940, inspired by the Red Ryder comic book and film character. The Red Ryder BB rifle was designed to resemble the Winchester rifles commonly seen in Western films. There was also a Buck Jones model with a configuration that matched the model found in Shepherd’s story. Buck Jones and Red Ryder are both historical references the average viewer knows little about. Google it. The film’s charm lies in its simplicity; such Holiday experiences were once commonplace in the America experience. The film evokes memories of childhood, a past that has vanished, kept alive by such films as A Christmas Story. The leg lamp represents every idiosyncratic gift various family members coveted, and I can recall when comic books advertised BB guns on the back cover. Daisy air rifles were a popular and coveted item. The International BB Gun Championship was a prestigious event in the 1960s, as were most State Sponsored riflemen clubs. Incidentally, Daisy has just released the Eightieth anniversary edition. Melinda Dillon represents the traditional mother and wife, wise beyond her years, patient and loving. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Ruger Wrangler

Released this past spring, Ruger’s new Wrangler .22 LR comes in three Cerakote finishes (black, silver or bronze) with standard checkered grips, this six-shot single action revolver is sure to please the cowboy in your family. As you might expect from Ruger, the quality is high. A hot and lightweight six-shooter that packs a punch, the Wrangler is the perfect plinking target pistol, but with an Old West feel. I couldn’t ask for a better .22 handgun. Handling the gun is typical of a six shooter, but since this is a Ruger be mindful of the differences between a Ruger and a Colt. You can safely load six because of Ruger’s transfer bar and firing pin design, as opposed to the traditional Colt and its hammer-spur design. Anyone reading this that doesn’t understand those differences is advised to seek a qualified firearm instructor for lessons. I had zero problems or issues firing this gun. The Wrangler handles fine and is only a tad lighter than Ruger’s famed Vaquero model. The Wrangler is economically priced at approximately $200.00, and mine was actually $189.00. Prices will obviously vary by geographic region and state gun and tax laws. My wife bought mine as a 35th wedding anniversary gift, and that also makes it special. A great gun. 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 whenever possible.
The Ruger Wrangler (center) with two .45 Ruger Vaquero models 
for size comparison.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

30th Century Comics in London - A Haven for Book Collectors

Prior to arriving in London last August, I had conducted an Internet search for dealers of second hand books and comics, and found the website for 30th Century Comics in Putney at 18 Lower Richmond Road. Putney itself, quite naturally, has a rich literary history; Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Algernon Charles Swinburne and E. M. Forster all lived here. However, I was seeking pulp fiction. I was specifically interested in the Sexton Blake digests. Sexton Blake started out as a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes in 1893 and over 4,000 stories by over 200 authors created his adventures through 1978. The 30th Century Comics website indicated a modest back-stock and I was eager for the hunt.
I smelled old paper when I walked into the shop, as familiar and welcome a scent for the bookhound as butter and pepper is for the discerning chef. The proprietor assisted me in immediately locating a modest supply of Sexton Blake titles. I then commenced in rummaging about their massive comic book collection. 
I found some early 1960s hardback Superman and Batman annuals, and my wife found some British editions of The Lone Ranger comic books and a wonderful Gunsmoke digest from 1969. I capped my stack of books with some horror paperbacks and paid up. I might easily have spent another more given the wealth of vintage material available. I complimented them on their excellent backstock.
And so, for you London Travelers interested in a unique experience, and especially for comic book collectors, I heartily recommend 30th Century Comics in Putney at 18 Lower Richmond Road.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Brain Damaged by David Owain Hughes

Brain Damaged is a collection of twenty stories. With Halloween only days away, this is the book that will chill you. It may even send you screaming for mercy; you may lock yourself in a room and find yourself shivering with abject fear. Writing with a hardcore, pulp influenced style but set to an extreme tempo, Hughes explores the human condition with a critical eye, delving into the psyche of some nasty characters. There is a supernatural slant to many of the tales, but what really matters here is the author’s handling of the human condition. He pulls no punches and offers us characters that are all too human; greed and desire, anger and selfishness are all on display. Without reading too much into it, I often think such splatterpunk tales are a type of social criticism. This is the world we live in, like it or not. David Owain Hughes himself is a Welshman and he demonstrates a storytelling command that will leave readers mesmerized. He’s also willing to take chances with his stories, pushing the boundaries of a three-point tale (with its traditional beginning, middle and end) and explore alternate formats. I think he has fun with writing, and you can’t ask for a better selection of tales than found in Brain Damaged. Published by Hellbound Books out of England, Brain Damaged is available on Amazon. Not for the squeamish, I recommend this one for a midnight reading. Guaranteed to send a chill down your spine and make you look over your shoulder.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Werewolf Omnibus by Guy N. Smith

Available for the first time in one volume, all three of Guy N. Smith’s classic werewolf tales have been reprinted by Sinister Horror Company. The volume includes a previously unpublished short story titled “Spawn of the Werewolf” which caps off the trilogy nicely. For readers unfamiliar with the GNS classic werewolf paperbacks (which now fetch premium prices by collectors), this volume is a spooky treat in time for Halloween. Written with the hardboiled classic style that has become his unofficial trademark, GNS has created the ultimate werewolf fiction, reminiscent of the classic Universal horror films starring Lon Chaney, Jr., but highlighted by Smith’s deft if not gruesome touch. This is hardcore horror, pulp fiction style, and without a doubt an instant collector’s item. Included here are Werewolf by Moonlight (1974), Return of the Werewolf (1976) and The Son of the Werewolf (1978). Sinister Horror Company had done an excellent job with the reprint; freshly edited and with a clean easy-to-read font and good quality paper, The Werewolf Omnibus is the ultimate Halloween reading material. I dare you to read this on a dark and stormy night when you’re all alone. Lock the doors and shut the windows. When the moon is full the werewolves begin to prowl, and they’re hungry for blood and flesh. GNS is a master at creating heightened suspense, and you’ll be flipping the pages with diabolical fury. Not for the faint-of-heart, settle down in a comfortable chair and get ready for some bloody mayhem.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Lady Death: Apocalyptic Abyss # 1

Lady Death might be the best thing to happen in horror comics in decades. Created by Brian Pulido, the character first appeared way back in 1994 and subsequently appeared in numerous versions until Pulido created Coffin Comics who publish exclusive Lady Death books and art prints. As of today, the Coffin Comics website is loaded with saucy prints and wild books, all with a grand pulp fiction B-movie feel. With a stable of artists and his incredible imagination, Pulido is a powerhouse of Halloween fun. Lady Death: Apocalyptic Abyss # 1 is a continuation of previous storylines, so it’s not exactly a good introduction to the character. Still, it won’t take new readers long to figure out which end is up, and just go along for a tumultuous and sometimes sexy, sometimes violent ride. The artwork in this issue is by Dheeraj Verma and I think it’s dazzling. The stunning cover artwork is by Mike Krome and Ceci de la Cruz. Coffin Comics puts out multiple variant covers which fans of sexy females will find exciting. I find them exciting, and the art prints are great as well. There are some Halloween themed prints with Lady Death wearing a pointed black witch’s hat in the style of the classic pinups, and Pulido and his team get high marks for their intent on creating and promoting a quality business with fantastic products. Here’s a company that makes Halloween fun, and the books are exciting to read. Lady Death is the best trick and treat I’ve seen in many years. Kudos!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Beware the Witch’s Shadow

Beware the Witch’s Shadow is an independent black and white anthology horror comic from American Mythology Productions. I bought my copy at Forbidden Planet in Soho, London, and it was the best comic I bought there. The book intentionally emulates the classic EC horror comics from the 1950s which is an ongoing trend these days. This one works quite well. This premier issue features three stories and I enjoyed them all. The first story is called “Snow Day” by Jason Pell, with artwork by Richard Bonk. A short but chilling story, right in the classic mold of an old EC comic or magazines like Creepy. “Snips and Snails” by S. A. Check and Eliseu Gouveia and “The Wicked West-A Day in the Afterlife” by James Kuhoric and Neil Vokes are fine but their brevity works against them. Still, I liked the creepy mood here and the series might be fun if the stories were a bit longer. I didn’t mind the black and white format at all. The transition panels featuring the witch were written by James Kuhoric with art by Puis Calzada. EC comics inspired horror books appear regularly each year, but few of them last long. Nothing outstanding here, but the book is a sincere effort at traditional but campy horror. Shown here is the “Main” cover with artwork by Puis Calzada who also created the “Risqué” cover with Arthur Hesli. There is no nudity on the interior panels, and I don’t have a problem with risqué variant covers. What matters are the stories. This is a good start, but my instinct tells me it won’t last. The stories need a bit more kick, and EC horror comics are difficult to emulate. Let’s hope they can do it. I would love to see a title like this become a mainstream success.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Joseph Payne Brennan - The Dover Editions

Joseph Payne Brennan fans will be pleased to learn that Dover Publications have reprinted Brennan’s quintessential anthology, The Shapes of Midnight, originally published by Berkley in October 1980. That Berkley paperback, with Stephen King’s introduction, is a now a highly sought-after collector’s item. However, there is a caveat to this Dover edition. This edition does not faithfully reproduce all of the stories from the Berkley edition. The reason is simple; Dover recently also re-published Brennan’s Nine Horrors and a Dream where several of those stories appeared, so “Slime” and “Canavan’s Backyard” are NOT included in Dover’s The Shapes of Midnight, but you can find them in Dover’s Nine Horrors and a Dream. So buying both Dover editions is obviously essential, which is fine, because Brennan’s stories are not easy to acquire. Here is the table of contents for both Dover editions:

Nine Horrors and a Dream: Slime, Levitation, The Calamander Chest, Death in Peru, On the Elevator, The Green Parrot, Canavan’s Backyard, I’m Murdering Mr. Massington, The Hunt, The Mail from Juniper Hill.

The Shapes of Midnight: Diary of a Werewolf, The Corpse of Charlie Rull, The Pavilion, House of Memory, The Willow Platform, Who Was He?, Disappearance, The Horror at Chilton Castle, The Impulse to Kill, The House on Hazel Street.

Keep in mind that the Berkley edition was in itself a popular paperback edition that brought together stories from Brennan’s other hard-to-find collections, such as “The House on Hazel Street” which appeared in his 1973 Arkham House collection, Stories of Darkness and Dread. I recommend that Dover publishes a larger collected stories edition to help eliminate the confusion while providing a substantial edition for Joseph Payne Brennan’s many fans (and new readers).
All the same, I’m grateful to see these Dover editions published, and I do recommend them. They are low-cost, slender volumes with great, creepy stories. Joseph Payne Brennan has long been a favorite, and seeing his stories available again is good news. Brennan was the master of the short form, and what he can do with a few pages of prose can leave you terror-stricken and hiding under the bedsheets. Recommended.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Charnel Caves by Guy N. Smith

The Charnel Caves is the 9th Crabs book by Guy N. Smith. Published by the Sinister Horror Company, I was fortunate to purchase my signed copy at Guy’s house at this year’s GNS Convention. It takes a special kind of writer to make giant crabs squeamishly horrific. GNS hasn’t lost his touch. Although the book is short, it’s suspense level is high, and the book might serve as a coda to the Crabs’ series. Cliff Davenport is back for one final encounter with the crabs, except this time there’s a giant jellyfish lurking about. This leads me to wonder if GNS has another sequel in mind. Cliff has been having nightmares and trouble sleeping due to his previous encounters with the crabs, so he decides to return to the Welsh coast to put his demons to rest. As fate will have it, another batch of mutated crabs are growing and immediate action is required. Divers are employed to verify the location, and naturally a few locals become victims to the hungry crabs. These scenes are typical of the series but are handled well by GNS. The twist here is the inclusion of a giant jellyfish which isn’t really exploited, hence my suspicion that GNS isn’t quite done with this series yet. A subplot involving a top secret Russian submarine encounter with the crabs adds a wee bit of texture. This is a fast read and loads of fun, especially for readers familiar with the other books. I do recommend you read this series in order.


Night of the Crabs (1976)
Killer Crabs (1978)
The Origin of the Crabs (1979)
Crabs on the Rampage (1981)
Crabs’ Moon (1984)
Crabs: The Human Sacrifice (1988)
Killer Crabs: The Return (2012)
Crabs Omnibus (shorts collection, 2015)
The Charnel Caves (2019)

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?”
“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.