Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Hollywood Detective, August 1948

This is a pulp that a friend of mine loaned me to read. The scan is from the FictionMags Index, since the copy I have on hand has a loose and considerably damaged cover.

The reason I’m reading this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE is because it contains a story by Frank Morris, “Location for Murder”, which is suspected of being one of the unidentified stories that Mickey Spillane wrote for the pulps before he became the best-selling novelist in the world. One reason Spillane’s name has been connected to this story is because of the by-line: Frank Morrison Spillane was his real name.

However, some investigation seems to weaken that point. There appear to have been two Frank Morrises, one who wrote sporadically for the Western pulps beginning in the mid-Thirties, and another who published exclusively in various Western and detective pulps published by Trojan beginning in 1945. This later Frank Morris is almost certainly a house-name, and if Mickey Spillane wrote some of the stories published under that by-line, the similarity in names is just a coincidence, in my opinion.

But what about the story in this issue? “Location for Murder” is narrated by tough Hollywood talent scout Joe Kane, who is sent to San Francisco by his movie mogul boss ostensibly to find a suitable location for a new theater. In reality, though, Joe is searching for the killer of an old friend of his who worked for a nightclub owner. There’s a rumor that the nightclub owner had Joe’s friend killed because they had clashed over a girl, a dancer who works at the club. Joe is determined to get to the bottom of it, and things get a lot more complicated before he does, including two more murders.

Of course, I can’t say definitely that this is Mickey Spillane’s work, but it sure reads like it. The fast-paced, atmospheric Spillane style is there. It’s raining almost all the way through the story, and the descriptions of the city remind me a lot of Spillane’s vividly depicted New York City in the Mike Hammer novels. The violent action scenes read like him as well, and then you have the thematic similarities—the singleminded search for a friend’s killer, the help of another old friend (a taxi driver in this case, instead of Captain Pat Chambers)—to take into account, too. I believe this is one of the phantom Spillanes, and whether it is or not, it’s a pretty entertaining yarn.

Of course, having the pulp right there in my hot little hands, I was going to read the other stories, too. The issue leads off with the novella “Cinema Corpse” by Robert Leslie Bellem, one of the longest Dan Turner stories I’ve read. This one starts off with a potential client pulling a gun on Dan and handcuffing him to a chair in his own office when he refuses to take the job she offers him. She wants him to break into the home of her daughter’s boyfriend (a mere cameraman) and frame him for theft so he’ll go to jail and the woman’s daughter will go back to her other suitor, a powerful movie producer. Dan doesn’t want any part of a frame job like that, so the woman sets off to accomplish it herself. Of course, Dan gets loose and tries to warn the intended victim, only to run smack-dab into a beautiful young blonde and a murder. It’s not the only killing, either. Bellem never lets the pace slow down, and every time it seems like it might, then bam!, another new character or plot twist comes racing hellity-blip onto the page. The yarn is well-plotted, as Bellem’s stories usually are, and great fun to read. (Bellem’s style is contagious, if you hadn’t noticed. I used to have Longarm “set fire to a gasper” as a tip of the hat to him.)

Up next is “Blood on the Marquee” by Paul Hanna, and since that’s a house-name, it’s almost impossible to say who wrote this short story. But it’s a good one, featuring as its protagonist newspaper columnist and radio broadcaster Nick Harding. One of his radio shows is interrupted by the beautiful wife of a Filipino boxer who’s gotten himself in trouble. She begs for Nick’s help, but before the show is over, she’s jumped out a high window and committed suicide—or was she pushed? Nick, of course, has to get to the bottom of things, in a case involving prizefighters, gangsters, an illegal lottery, and a grisly discovery in a refrigerator. This is a well-written yarn that I liked a lot.

Sam Garson, the author of “L.A. Mix-Up”, is another one-story wonder, as far as I can tell, leading me to believe this is probably a pseudonym, too. The story involves private detective John Park being hired by a beautiful actress to stop someone from blackmailing her with nudie pictures taken when she was young and hungry. Turns out there’s more to it than that, of course, although admittedly not much. This reads like a Dan Turner story at times, and so I suspected that maybe “Sam Garson” was really Bellem, but by the time I finished I had rejected that theory. The plot’s a little too thin and the writing not good enough. But I think there’s a very good chance the writer, whoever he was, had read a bunch of Bellem’s stories and was trying to write something similar, not a bad strategy for breaking into a magazine.
Along in the middle of the magazine comes “Mysto-Magic Murder”, an 8-page Dan Turner comic strip story written by Bellem and drawn by Adolphe Barreaux. I like these, although Barreaux’s version of Dan Turner doesn’t really look like how I visualize him when I read the prose stories. The plot, involving a beautiful stage magician who performs at stag shows, isn’t very complicated but works just fine, and the snappy patter is good as always.

Norman Daniels wrote a lot for the pulps, mostly detective stories but some Westerns and adventure yarns, too, and then went on to a long career as a paperback novelist writing, well, just about every kind of book. I’ve read quite a bit of his work, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a private eye story by him until now. His novella in this issue, “Cradle of Death”, checks most of the classic boxes. Tough, wisecracking first person narrator. Rich client. Rich client’s beautiful nymphomaniac daughter with a gambling problem. Shady nightclub owner. Antagonistic cop. A second beautiful dame, this one a radio actress. Assorted colorful Hollywood characters. Daniels mixes them all up in a plot involving the rich client’s wayward son, who has dropped out of sight but seems to be sneaking back into his father’s house at odd times and then disappearing again. Everything moves along at a nice pace, and there are some good lines here and there. It’s not a great story, but it’s a well-written, entertaining one.

This issue wraps up with the short story “Mediocre Living” by Ralph Sedgwick Douglas, a Trojan Magazines house-name. Any time I see a three-name by-line in one of these pulps, I immediately think it might be Robert Leslie Bellem, but that’s not the case here. I don’t know who wrote this one, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Bellem. It’s the weakest story in the issue, a twist ending yarn about a con job pulled by a shady Hollywood sanitarium owner that’s not very surprising. A readable story, but that’s about all.

That’s not enough to lower my overall opinion of this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE. I think it’s a very good assortment of stories with Bellem’s Dan Turner yarn and the story by Frank Morris, whoever he was, being the best of the bunch. I nearly always enjoy HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, and that’s certainly the case here.

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