Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, March 1937

This is a pretty typical Western pulp cover from the Thirties. Lots of poker tables were overturned on pulp covers in those days. I've read very little, if anything, by two of the featured authors, Eli Colter and Forbes Parkhill. Eli Colter was actually a woman, Elizabeth Colter, who began writing action-packed stories for the Western pulps in 1925, when she was still a teenager, and kept it up until the early Fifties. Forbes Parkhill had a similar career, writing for a variety of pulps from the early Twenties to the late Forties. Tom Gunn, also featured on the cover, may have been a house-name, but the long series of stories published under that name about Sheriff Blue Steele of the town of Painted Post are generally considered to be the work of Syl McDowell, another prolific pulpster with a career ranging from the Twenties to the Fifties. I have one of the Blue Steele novels reprinted in paperback by Pocket Books but haven't read it yet. McDowell, under his own name, contributed another long series of stories to THRILLING WESTERN about a pair of incompetent cowboys called Swap and Whopper. The Swap and Whopper stories are comedic yarns and always struck me as an attempt to transplant Abbott and Costello to the Old West. I'll be honest with you: I don't like Swap and Whopper and after failing to finish many of the stories featuring them, I finally just stopped trying to get through them whenever I was reading an issue of THRILLING WESTERN. I've read some of McDowell's other stories that I thought were pretty good, though, so I still have hope for Sheriff Blue Steele.


Walker Martin said...

Though there are exceptions, I usually have a problem when I read the fiction in THRILLING WESTERN and POPULAR WESTERN. I suspect they did not pay good word rates and thus the best western fiction appeared in WESTERN STORY, SHORT STORIES, ADVENTURE, STAR WESTERN and DIME WESTERN, etc.

I've found this to carry over even with the detective pulps like THRILLING DETECTIVE and POPULAR DETECTIVE. They simply were not competitive with BLACK MASK, DIME DETECTIVE, DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY.

James Reasoner said...

I agree with you overall about the quality of the fiction in the Thrilling Group. I like the series characters in their Western pulps -- Jim Hatfield, the Rio Kid, etc. -- but with a few exceptions the back-up stories are pretty average. However, once TEXAS RANGERS was the only one of the Westerns in the Thrilling Group left, I think the quality of the fiction goes up considerably. This was in the mid-to-late Fifties, and I suspect it's because all the Street & Smith and Popular Publications pulps (except for RANCH ROMANCES) were gone by then. TEXAS RANGERS was probably the best of the remaining markets, and so it got the best submissions.

Richard Prosch said...

What's the title of the Blue Steele Pocket Book? Sounds like something to add to the stack.

James Reasoner said...

It's PAINTED POST GUNPLAY, published under the Tom Gunn pseudonym. Pocket Books did at least three more books in the series. This one is copyright 1937 by Syl McDowell. I think the novels predate the pulp series. I'll post the cover.