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Started at 16, Saves to Become Comedian, Also Draws and Molds StatuesThe idea for that story was conceived on a fog ridden night in June, the night the street cars were called in because of the Electric Co. strikes.
“The fog on that night,” he reminds you, “was so thick that it was impossible to see a foot ahead of you. For some reason I wanted to do something unusual that night and the weirdest thing I could think of was to spend the night in a cemetery. So I walked from my home on E. Knapp St. to soldier's home cemetery, and spent the night sitting on a tombstone staring into the fog.”
“Occasionally the wind would shift the heavy mist and then I would see the gravestones quite clearly and to me they looked like the fingernails of a corpse. I wouldn't let myself get frightened and I kept reminding myself that I had deliberately undertaken an experiment to discover how I would react to such a situation.”
The Grinning GhoulAs he sat there, fragments of ghost stories flitted through his mind. Gradually vague ideas began to take shape. He created characters, a plot.
He outlined the details of his story as he walked home in the early dawn. Once in the house he sat down immediately and in longhand wrote “The Secret of the Tomb,” a yarn dealing with ghouls.
Since then “The Feast in the Abbey,” a tale of a grisly banquet, has been published; “The Suicide in the Study,” a story of hypnotism and dual personality, and “The Black Lotus.”
Among the stories purchased during the last few weeks is “The Grinning Ghoul.” Bloch has been asked to illustrate this tale, for this young man can use his pencil with equal ease for writing or drawing his grotesqueries.
Six different pieces of horror writing are claiming his attention at the present time. One of them is a story of 10,000 words and another a novelette of 15,000 words. The latter deals with witchcraft in the New England states in the colonial days and is based on an except from Cotton Mather.
Important as terror tales are to him, Robert views them only as an interlude to help him realize his ambitions - to be a comedian. He has wanted to be a comedian as long back as he can remember and, meanwhile, scarcely a day goes by that he does not write four or five “gags” and tuck them away in a drawer for the time he will be able to use them. He want to act in sketches that he writes.
To Robert there is nothing strange about being interested at the same time in horro[r] and humor.
“There is such a slight line of differentiation between what is ludicrous that I thingk they come from the same thought patterns,” he explains. “As an example, the grotesque masks worn in mardi gras parades are ludicrous and horrible at the same time.”
He is also writing a humor novel based on the adventures of a man who can shape his dreams and live in them just as he would in real life. The novel is entirely outlined and one-fourth written.
“I think it is wise to work on several stories at one time - at least two or three,” says the young man gravely. “Jumping from one to the other is recreation if you write constantly and at the same time it helps to develop a uniform style.”
Also SculptsBlack magic has had a strange fascination for Robert since he was 10 years old and saw Lon Chaney in “The Phantom of the Opera.” It was his first visit to a movie alone and the horrible visage of the phantom made so profound an impression upon him that for a long time after he would wake at night and see the terrible skull-like face leering at him. He remembered the face of the phantom so well that he has since drawn a crayon sketch of it. The drawing hangs on one wall of the Bloch living room and on another wall is the drawing of a ghoul. On the piano are a statue of a huge ape and grinning skull, both of which he modeled.
“If I were to allow it, every inch of wall space in the room would hung with those terrible drawings,” Mrs. Bloch says.
Robert has ruled out college as step towards higher education. His interests are psychology, philosophy, and the history of literature, and the knowledge of these, he is confident, he can acquire by reading. He is an individualist and feels that rules and regulations of college would “cramp his style.”
Afraid of DeathRobert is a voracious reader and has read every type of horror story imaginable. He likes biography, history or all kinds - oriental, Hindu, Chinese and Japanese history have been of particular interest to him lately - and humor tales. And still this unusal young man who can write impersonally and rationally of demons, who can calmly spend a night in a graveyard, who, with words, can conjure up frightful scenes and who can talk of astonishing maturity of literature and economic and social trends - this same young man confesses to an inexplicable, profound fear of death. “I can write horror tales very impersonally, but I can't view death impersonally,” he said. “The more I read of it, the more I fear it. I guess it is my imagination, but right now there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it.”
This interview originally appeared in The Milwaukee Journal Green Sheet (April 6, 1935).