Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All Western, May 1936

I enjoyed that issue of ALL WESTERN I read a while back enough that I decided to dig out another issue, this one from May 1936. The table of contents page in the magazine credits the cover to Gerald Delano, but that appears to be a mistake, since the painting is signed by Arthur Mitchell, another pulp cover artist from that era. Either way, it's a pretty good cover, if a little static. (Says the hotshot art critic who can't draw a recognizable dog.)

The issue starts off with a "novel" (more like a novelette) by Walt Coburn, "Whoop and Holler", and it's a superb pulp yarn full of the undeniable authenticity that Coburn brought to his best stories. The plot is pretty simple – a couple of outlaws on the run turn up at an isolated line camp manned by a lone cowboy – but Coburn packs it full of action, drama, a little humor, and some poignant back-story. Coburn was obsessed with the past's inexorable effect on the present, and that comes into play in this yarn. At his best, Coburn was one of the best Western writers ever, and this story is a good example of that.

Hapsburg Liebe has never been one of my favorite authors, but some of his stories are pretty good. "Lone Kid" starts out well as a yarn about a young owlhoot who wants to settle a score before the law runs him to ground. But it suffers from a rushed ending that's really lacking in impact, leaving me with a mixed opinion of it.

Charles M. Martin, who also wrote as Chuck Martin, is another former cowboy turned author like Walt Coburn. His stories are more pulpish and less realistic than Coburn's best work, but they're usually pretty entertaining and his laconic style is effective. ".45 Caliber Law" is set in Abilene during the trail driving days, and the local marshal, a thinly-disguised version of Bat Masterson known here as Bat Gunnison, plays a supporting role in this story about a Texas cowboy avenging the murder of his boss. The plot's pretty standard stuff, but Martin's fast pace and distinctive voice make it fun to read.

Next up is the novelette (again billed as a novel) "Phantom Gold" by another cowhand-turned-writer J.E. Grinstead. The first thing to notice about this one is a double-page illustration by Frederick Blakeslee, much better known for his cover illustrations on a number of different air war pulps. The story itself features a couple of cowboys called High and Short who set out into Mexico on the trail of a treasure in gold that High is supposed to have inherited from a long-lost uncle. It's an okay yarn, falling somewhere between W.C. Tuttle's various series and the dreadful Swap and Whopper stories by Syl McDowell. I wouldn't rush out looking for more entries in the series, though.

John Dorman's "Bull Salvaging" is a clever little story about rescuing a valuable bull from a mud wallow. I'm not familiar with Dorman's work, but this is a pretty good yarn.

Galen C. Colin is another author whose name I don't recognize, but his novelette "The Golden Stallion" is a good one. It's the story of a young cowboy framed for a crime he didn't commit and on the run from hired killers when he encounters (you guessed it) a golden stallion. There's also a beautiful blonde involved. This yarn's plot is pretty standard stuff, but Colin spins it well and kept me entertained from start to finish.

Ralph Thurman is another writer who's new to me. The punny title of "Bullet-Holey Wedlock" ought to be enough to tell you that the story is a humorous one. The plot involves the conflict between an itinerant frontier preacher with a secret in his past and the owner of a traveling burlesque show. I'm not sure it really works that well, but it's mildly entertaining.

Also in this issue are a couple of humorous features and a guns-and-ammo column by Phil Sharpe, who provided a similar column for WESTERN STORY for many years. I confess that I didn't read these. My main interest is in the fiction.

Overall, this is a good issue of ALL WESTERN featuring an excellent story (the Coburn) and a couple of pretty good ones (the Martin and Colin yarns). Maybe not quite as good as the other issue of ALL WESTERN I read, but certainly a solidly entertaining magazine. I have at least five more issues of this title and figure I'll be reading all of them in the not-so-distant future. (By the way, the scan that accompanies this post is of the actual copy I read.)


Walker Martin said...

One of my collecting blunders a few years ago was selling my issues of ALL WESTERN. It was one of the better western pulps and lasted for 89 issues during 1931-1943.

Walt Coburn is a favorite of mine also but he probably wrote too many westerns at a great speed. Some are very well done and some are pretty disappointing. But he was a real cowboy and knew the life, the language, the hard work involved. I've read his autobiography a couple times.

James Reasoner said...

Booze supposedly took a real toll on Coburn. By the late Forties, the editors were doing heavy rewrites on the stories he turned in because they were so bad, but the magazines still wanted him because his name helped sell copies. What I've read of his work from the Fifties and Sixties is a bit of an improvement, so I think he must have sobered up, at least for a while.

Walker Martin said...

The last pages of WALT COBURN: WESTERN WORD WRANGLER reprints two of his suicide notes, part of which says "Rather death than suffering in some insane asylum. I've had my last shot of Bushmill's." He was 81 or 82, depressed, ill, and probably felt he couldn't write anymore. He hung himself.

By the way James, the HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF WESTERNS IN LITERATURE by Paul Varner quotes extensively from your review of Coburn's BARB WIRE and mentions ROUGH EDGES.

James Reasoner said...

That's pretty cool about the HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF WESTERNS IN LITERATURE. I had no idea. I'd be tempted to buy a copy, but it's out of my price range.

I've always thought that Coburn's comment about not being able to "make a hand" anymore when it comes to writing was particularly poignant.