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The Unofficial Robert Bloch Website

Interviews

An Interview With Robert Bloch

Graeme Flanagan


GF: What was it that attracted you to that first copy of Weird Tales back in August 1927?
RB: I think that what actually attracted me to that first copy of WT was the Egyptian motif of the cover plus the appeal of the word Weird in the magazine's title. As my early stories attest, I was greatly interested in Egyptian mythology.
GF: How did you acquire your interest in Egyptian mythology, and do you still maintain such an interest?
RB: I became interested in Egyptology through childhood visits to museums and art galleries in Chicago -- starting as soon as I was able to walk. The Chicago Art Institute has some fine statuary and objets d'art -- and so did the Field Museum. I am still interested, and a lot more knowledgeable; much of what I wrote about Egypt was inaccurate, due to limited source material. In those days reference books were hard to come by if one didn't have access to a university library.
GF: What, in your opinion, were the "golden years" of Weird Tales, and why?
RB: 1925-1936 -- the years in which WT's best writers were at their peak. Nothing much happened before, and only two more important writers made their debuts afterward -- Fritz Leiber and Ray Bradbury. But during those twelve years WT made its enduring impression upon fantasy, in my opinion. Let me, however, qualify my use of the term "important" when referring to writers who first appeared in WT during its latter years. There were many fine talents among them and they produced some stories of superior quality -- but only Leiber and Bradbury were "important" in the sense that their innovative approach influenced other writers and the fantasy field per se. Some of the best-known writers of the golden years were not "important" by the terms of this definitition; Derleth's actual fantasy-writing influenced nobody, as far as I can tell, although of course his editing and publishing ensure his stature in the genre. Nor am I an influence -- no one has ever bothered to imitate me. (Except, of course, in the 4,367 films which have borrowed bits or the entire corpus of Psycho -- but that has noting to do with WT.
GF: To what do you attribute the longevity of Weird Tales, and what do you feel finally brought about its demise?
RB: I think WT's longevity was due to a combination of fortuitous circumstances; the tenacity of a small group of readers who needed their monthly or bimonthly "fix" of fantasy -- the patience of impoverished writers who were willing to wait for payment of one cent per word on publication or even some while thereafter -- and probably above all the hitherto-ignored fact that the magazine never fell into the hands of one of the big publishing chains like Street and Smith or Popular Publicatons. Had it done so, WT would have been chewed up and spit out the moment issues began losing money. Publishers putting out dozens of even scores of issues and titles per month were not inclined to be patient with any losers in their lineup, and WT would have been an early casualty of a big business operation. When at last it did die, WT was a victim of an epidemic which struck down almost all the pulps creeping paperbackitis.
GF: Did you ever meet Weird Tales editors Farnsworth Wright and Dorothy McIlwraith?
RB: I met Farnsworth Wright in Chicago a number of times; he was a fine gentleman and a considerate editor. I have the feeling, in retrospect, that he very much wanted in those Depression days to make WT a commercial success, and to this he committed himself to the sexy covers, the godawful Doctor Satan series, and other supposed sales-stimulators. Despite Lovecraft's opinion, I think Wright would have happily printed everything he wrote were it not that he had a publisher to satisfy. But his record speaks for itself, and eloquently enough.

I met Dorothy McIlwraith only once, in the late 1939; she seemed pleasant, but I recall little about her, and her letters of acceptance together with those of associate Lamont Buchanan don't linger in my memory. Actually, I think she's far too neglected; I can't dismiss anyone who published Bradbury, Sturgeon, Brown and other top talents. And I think that she would have published more, had she been given the budget to compete with Unknown Worlds, F&SF, and other comparable markets. But that lousy one cent a word and sometimes bimonthly publication induced few writers to remain in WT once better rates were obtainable elsewhere. I lasted longer than most, because I was always a bit stupid. (Still am, writing short stories today when I should be knocking out TV episodes at roughly 100 times the fee, plus an additional 100 times for reruns over the years.) But WT was my first market, my favorite reading as a young fan, and I felt and feel that I owed it a lot.

GF: How did you feel about Dorothy McIlwraith's decision to eliminate readers' comments from The Eyrie? As an author did you appreciate the feedback provided by the column?
RB: The Eyrie did give some of us "regulars" a helping of egoboo which wasn't otherwise easily obtainable in those days before the advent of organized fandom, but I can't recall any marked reaction on my part when the department was dropped.
GF: Could you please list your favorite authors among those who also wrote for Weird Tales?
RB: Lovecraft, of course, then Clark Ashton Smith, C.L. Moore, Robert E. Howard in his non-Conan appearances, Frank Belknap Long, Donald Wandrei, Manly Wade Wellman, E. Hoffman Price, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury and Henry Kuttner, of the "regulars."
GF: Can you recall your reaction when you received a reply to your "fan letter" to H.P. Lovecraft? How frequently did you correspond with HPL between 1932 and the time of his death in 1937?
RB: Of course I can recall my reaction when you I first received a letter from H.P. Lovecraft I was excited and elated to hear from someone I considered a supreme author of fantasy whom I so greatly admired, What 15-year-old wouldn't be pleased and flattered by such a warm and generous response? I must have received about forty letters from him during the approximately four year period before his death, plus many cards.
GF: Which of H.P. Lovecraft's stories do you regard as favorites?
RB: My HPL favorites are "Pickman's Model," "The Whisperer In Darkness," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Dunwich Horror," "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Silver Key," "The Picture In The House," "The Outsider," "The Thing On The Doorstep," "The Haunter Of The Dark," and "The Color Out Of Space."
GF: Many Weird Tales writers contributed stories to the so-called "Cthulhu Mythos," yourself included. There are several listings of such stories, but the compilers of these listings seem unable to agree on a definition of exactly what constitutes a Mythos story. My own feeling is that a story requires more than a fleeting reference to the Necronomicon or perhaps one of the Old Ones to qualify as part of the Mythos. Which of your own stories would you consider to be part of the Cthulhu Mythos?
RB: Stories of mine which I would consider part of the Cthulhu Mythos would be "The Shambler From the Stars," "The Creeper In The Crypt," "The Shadow From The Steeple," "Notebook Found In A Deserted House," "The Unspeakable Betrothal," and "Terror In Cut-Throat Cove," and my new novel Strange Eons. I agree with your feelings about Cthulhu Mythos listings, and that's why I limited my stories to those which have some direct affiliation with HPL's cosmology beyond mere use of nomenclature. I think the notion of including every story using the name "Cthulhu" in the Mythos is as absurd as classifying every story mentioning God or Jesus as a religious tale.
GF: Has time mellowed your opinion of Conan, since you referred to him in The Eyrie as "the Cimmerian Chipmunk" and suggested that "he be sent to Valhalla to cut out paper dolls?"
RB: Time hasn't mellowed my opinion of Conan, though I do pay my respects to Howard and the rest of his output in the introduction I wrote for Glenn Lord's edited collection, The Black Stone, which I assume is soon to appear. Neither Conan nor Jules de Grandin turned me on, though I was extremely taken with Northwest Smith and Jirel de Joiry. Dr. Satan was to me, approximately, the pits.
GF: Did you ever meet Clark Ashton Smith?
RB: No, I never met Clark Ashton Smith. We did correspond for a time and he sent me sketches, which I kept but, alas, not his letters! He was a very erudite and pleasant man, as I recall.
GF: Who was your favorite Weird Tales artist?
RB: Virgil Finlay was always my personal favorite.
GF: Do any of Finlay's illustrations for your own stories strike you as being particularly outstanding?
RB: I think Finlay's illustration for "The Faceless God" is one of the best things he ever did. So did HPL, who dedicated a poem to it. But his work on my yarns was consistently outstanding and captured the mood of his stories; oftentimes more so than my writing did.
GF: What is your opinion of Margaret Brundage's cover paintings?
RB: In my opinion, Margaret Brundage did excellent cover paintings. My only reservation revolved around the fact that these paintings appeared on the covers of WT, where in many instances I felt they misrepresented the contents and misled purchasers who would react in anger when they discovered they weren't reading S & M material. I also felt that they scared off potential customers who would have flipped over HPL but never got a clue that WT offered anything but the Thirties equivalent of porn. Nonetheless, Maggie Brundage was one hell of an artist one only has to compare her work with some of the hack efforts of the actual S & M pulps of the same period to see just how good she was.
GF: Can you say a little about Henry Kuttner?
RB: Henry Kuttner was my friend for twenty-two years. I count myself fortunate for having known him, and I count the fantasy and sf field fortunate for having enjoyed the upgrading influence of his best work, most of it in collaboration with C.L. Moore. Together I feel they brought sophistication and characterization to an area of writing which sadly lacked both before their advent. As for Hank himself, he was a charming, warm, generous guy with a wild sense of humor. Both as a professional and as a person, he deserves far more attention than has been accorded him. One of the all-time greats.
GF: "The Black Kiss" was printed in Weird Tales as a Bloch/Kuttner collaboration, but when it was reprinted in Avon Fantasy Reader in 1951, Kuttner was given no credit. Can you give me the background to this story?
RB: Kuttner wrote a first draft himself, which he couldn't sell, and asked if I'd rewrite it as a collaboration. I did so very extensively and the story sold. Some years later, when there was a British reprint sale ("Sea Kiss" (1945)), he asked that his name be taken off it, as he felt the story was largely mine.
GF: Can you tell me something about Earl Peirce Jr., who had several stories published in Weird Tales between 1936 and 1940?
RB: I knew Earl Peirce Jr. in Milwaukee as a fan in 1935-37. He was a bright personable young man, about my age, whose father was in the U.S. Forestry Department. He contacted me, expressing an interest in writing, and I encouraged it introducing him to my circle of friend and (via mail) to various writers I knew. He wrote and sold several stories "Doom of the House of Duryea," a vampire yarn, was his best then moved to Washington with his family. In late '41 I visited him there with my friend Harold Gauer: he had married and was (I seem to recall) working for the Navy Department. That was the last I saw or heard of him for at least twenty-five years. Then he showed up here, with a different wife, and spent a day with me. He had changed so much that I'd never have recognized him, and there wasn't a trace of the rather intense and imaginative fantasy devotee who had once dreamed of starting an organization to rule the world the "Si-Fan," modeled on Sax Rohmer's secret society in the Fu Manchu series.
GF: Who were Nathan Hindin and Jim Kjelgaard? (Stories published in Weird Tales under both names are to be found in bibliographies as collaborative efforts.)
RB: Nathan Hindin and Jim Kjelgaard were real people. Hindin was a musician with a law degree; he kept after me to collaborate on some ideas he had, and to get him off my back I wrote two stories under his byline. The notions he furnished were, frankly, pretty simplistic, and I did what I could with them; not too much I'm afraid. Kjelgaard was a writer of "outdoor stories," many of which were aimed at teen-age boys, but he wanted desperately to do a weird piece and tried many, to no avail. He showed me one and I agreed to rewrite it which I did, completely and it ran under his name. Jim was a nice guy and a fine craftsman, but he didn't have the feel for fantasy. Poor man, he died young and without deserved recognition.
GF: Which of your own Weird Tales stories do you regard as your favorites, and which do you like the least?
RB: My WT favorites? "Lucy Comes to Stay," "Catnip," "Sweets to the Sweet," "Enoch," "The Cheaters," "One Way to Mars," "The Bogey Man Will Get You," and I suppose I'd better evidence my gratitude to "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper." As to which I like least most of the rest in varying degrees. Looking back, I can't imagine how some of them got printed. On the other hand, I'm fortunate they did; publication encouraged me, gave me much-needed income, and an opportunity to practice my various techniques and learn through experiment and experience. But I did so much dreary stuff! One of the greatest misfortunes of my writing career is that I got so many ideas for stories before I was equipped to handle them properly. Things I wrote in 1940 would have been better written in 1950 and much better still in 1960, or 1970 or hopefully, in 1980!
GF: Did Farnsworth Wright reject any of your stories apart from "Satan's Servants"?
RB: I kept no record of Farnsworth Wright's rejections, and must rely on memory. I do know that he rejected the three stories which appeared in fanzines ("Lilies," Laughter of a Ghoul," "The Black Lotus") and several of my earliest WT yarns were also rejected on first submission, only to be accepted after my revisions. He also rejected several of the pieces which later appeared in Strange Stories. Among the latter I can safely list "The Curse of the House," "The Sorcerer's Jewel," "A Question of Identity," "Pink Elephants," and my collaboration with Henry Kuttner, "The Grip of Death." I'm not sure about "The Power of the Druid" or several others.
GF: Six of your Weird Tales stories which were acknowledged as feature stories were given cover illustrations.1 However, a number of other stories, including "The Bat is My Brother," "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade," "The Cheaters," and "Tell Your Fortune," also seem to be regarded as feature stories, yet were not similarly honored with a cover illustration.2 Can you explain the reason for this?
RB: It's likely that they didn't get cover illos because they didn't deal with naked girls ala Conan's yarns in the Thirties. In the Forties there was an erratic policy I've never quite comprehended; my guess is that a lot of artists were employed only because their work was inexpensive, and some of it seems almost caricature. Finlay, who liked my stuff, was long gone from WT. Bok, whom I never knew, reportedly detested my work.
GF: You adapted quite a number of your Weird Tales stories for the radio series STAY TUNED FOR TERROR. Can you tell me a little about the series?
RB: An announcer and radio actor friend brought my work to the attention of John Neblett, a sportscaster, and his friend, agent Berle Adams. Neblett produced the show, Adams bought into it and marketed it, and my friend , James Doolittle, took the lead. Other performers were his brother Donald, an actor named Wilms Herbert (now deceased) and Angeline Orr, who later married Neblett. They did all the roles as was customary in those days. The director, Howard Keegan, had previously directed LIGHTS OUT and gave us excellent assistance.

The shows were recorded in Chicago, at the Wrigley Building studios, one night a week, three shows per session. I attended and made suggestions at the rehearsals. I never rewrote a script but I should have, as they were dreadful by today's standards, I'm sure. Doolittle used a pseudonym ("Craig Dennis") but I believe the rest of the cast were listed by their own names.

The shows sold, here and in Hawaii, and to the entire Canadian Broadcasting Network. A second series of thirty nine was about to be ordered when John Neblett died in the crash of his private plane which he was piloting either to or from a football game down South. The series died with him.

GF: Do you still possess many copies of Weird Tales?
RB: I have most of the issues containing my own stories, but that's all. To me the best years were 1928-34, but these I totally lack. Can't afford them at today's prices, which I bitterly regret.
GF: Do you think Weird Tales could be a success if it were to be revived today?
RB: No, I think that WT's time has passed.
1"Death is An Elephant" (Feb 39), "Hell on Earth" (Mar 42), "Nursemaid to Nightmares" (Nov 42), "Black Barter" (Sep 43), "Iron Mask" (May 44), and "Notebook Found in a Deserted House" (May 51). [Back]

2In those issues, as well as a number of later issues of the magazine, the cover illustrations did not relate to particular stories, but instead featured paintings of witches, demons, skeletons, and other macabre subjects. [Back]

This interview originally appeared in Robert Bloch: A Bio-Bibliography (July 1979), and was reprinted with the kind permission of Graeme Flanagan. Mr. Flanagan is the webmaster of a site devoted to Australian Carter Brown paperback covers, and a site devoted to cover artist Robert McGinnis.