Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp Revisited: Mammoth Western, January 1951

I posted the cover of this pulp earlier in this series, but I had the issue off the shelf recently to get some information from it for a friend of mine, so I thought I might as well go ahead and read it. As far as I recall, this is the first issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN I've read. It may be the only one I own; I'm not sure about that.

I like the cover by Robert Gibson Jones, who provided many fine covers for an assortment of pulps published by Ziff-Davis. Howard Browne, who was also a great author himself, was the editor. The assistant editor was William Hamling, who would soon be the editor and publisher of the iconic science fiction and fantasy digest IMAGINATION and later a companion magazine, IMAGINATIVE TALES.

The lead story and the one featured on the cover is "Wanted – Dead or Alive!", a 20,000 word novella by prolific pulp writer and editor Paul W. Fairman. Fairman is best known for his science fiction, but he wrote just about everything for the pulps before going on to a career as a paperbacker and occasional hardcover novelist. This is the first of his Westerns that I recall reading, and it's a pretty good one. The plot is the old bit about a lawman masquerading as an outlaw. Johnny Adams is a dead ringer for imprisoned badman Johnny Easter, so, working with a U.S. marshal who arranges a fake jailbreak, Adams impersonates Easter and infiltrates his gang in order to lead them into a trap. This is a very common Western plot – I've used variations on it several times myself – but Fairman prose is competent and he includes some nice plot twists and an ending I didn't see coming at all. There's also an unusually high level of sexual tension for a Western pulp. It all makes for an entertaining yarn.

As a sidelight on Fairman's career, his final two novels were historical romances written under the rather transparent pseudonym Paula Fairman during the first historical romance boom in the late Seventies. They were quite successful, so when Fairman died after starting a third book, the publisher recruited a good friend of mine to finish it and continue writing books as Paula Fairman. He went on to do about twenty more under that name.

Fred D. Bear sounds like a pseudonym to me, too, but who knows. His story "Killer's Fangs" is another of those wildlife tales that don't really appeal to me. This time it's a buck deer trying to escape from a coyote. It has what I think the author intended to be a happy ending, but it's really not.

"The Coward" is by Mallory Storm, a known house-name, so it's impossible to know who really wrote it. It's a "save the homesteaders from the evil cattle baron" yarn, notable for the fact that the protagonist is psychologically crippled by paralyzing fear whenever he's confronted with violence, something you don't see every day in a Western pulp. Oh, and he likes to be whipped, too. There's a twist tied in with that kinkiness that's fairly easy to figure out. This is an oddball story, to be sure, but pretty enjoyable anyway.

Harry Whittington made several sales to the Western pulps early in his career, before he went on to become one of the most prolific and best paperback authors of the Fifties and Sixties. His novelette "Last Wagon for Hell" is about the survivors of an Indian attack on a wagon train and their efforts to reach the nearest settlement. Unfortunately this is a pretty weak effort, especially for Whittington. The writing has some nice noirish touches in it, but the plot is driven too much by coincidence, and the ending, which appears intended to be inspirational, is just limp and unsatisfying, the sort that makes a reader ask, "Is that it?" But Whittington will always be one of my favorite authors anyway.

Frances M. Deegan is also a Ziff-Davis house-name. Whoever wrote "The Taste of Wrath" turned out a decent feud story, including the traditional Romeo and Juliet plot. In this case, the Romeo is ex-convict Dan Strawn, who returns to his home town to find his family's ranch swallowed up by a rival rancher. This yarn is pretty well written, but like the Whittington story above, it suffers from a rushed and anti-climactic ending.

"Ransom for a Redhead" by Louis Ludwig (possibly the author's real name), despite having a title that sounds like a hardboiled paperback, is a comedy Western about a couple of drifters who try to strike it rich by staging a phony kidnapping. Everything in this one is really predictable, but the writing is okay. A very forgettable story overall, though.

"Beware the Fleur-de-Mustard!" by W. Edmunds Claussen (an author I'd never read before) is the real surprise of the issue. The goofy title had me expecting another comedy, but instead this is a grim, actionful story about an Arizona range war and the hired gun who's supposed to be on one side but winds up supporting the other. It's also built around stock elements including the Romeo and Juliet plot again, but Claussen's brisk, slightly offbeat style keeps things moving along nicely. Nothing groundbreaking here, just a classic plot done pretty well. I'll be on the lookout for more of Claussen's work.

As usual in Ziff-Davis pulps, there are also a number of short articles and "features", which are really short-short stories, all published under house-names and none very good, with the exception of "Editor's Holiday", which features a couple of short Western mystery stories (written by Howard Browne?) of the five-minute-mystery type, where the reader is supposed to figure out how the protagonist solved the mystery and turn to a page later in the issue to see if he or she deduced correctly. The little stories are okay, but I found them interesting because I'd never run across this sort of thing in a Western pulp until now.

So the verdict is mixed on this issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN. Two good stories, the Fairman and the Claussen, a couple that are entertaining, one big disappointment (the Whittington), and the rest highly forgettable. I'm glad I read it, though, and would try another issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN if I ran across it.


Walker Martin said...

I love the MAMMOTH titles of which there were four: MAMMOTH ADVENTURE, MAMMOTH DETECTIVE, MAMMOTH MYSTERY, and MAMMOTH WESTERN. Looking at this particular issue in 1951, the reader may wonder about why it was called "Mammoth".

But back in the 1940's some of the MAMMOTH issues really were *mammoth*, sort of like the size of a telephone book, only with flaking pulp shreds!

Anonymous said...

Fred Bear was a legendary bow hunter and founder of an archery company that bears (no pun intended) his name. He also did some writing. So that byline on a wildlife story may not be a pseudonym.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks for the info! I hadn't come across that by-line before. I'll bet it's the same guy.