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Interviews

INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT BLOCH

Otto Penzler


One of the most popular and successful writers in the world of mystery, crime, suspense, and macabre fiction, Robert Bloch is also one of the most prolific. He has written more than 400 short stories, more than 20 novels, 10 films, and nearly 75 television programs. His most famous book is Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller.

OP: In what way did the success of Psycho change your life?
RB: Psycho pasted a label on my forehead which made me an identifiable commodity as far as Hollywood was concerned. I was already writing TV in Hollywood and was well into my first motion picture before Psycho was released, so it didn't bring me there. The film, by the way, was regarded as a disaster before it was released. Later, everyone was up there taking bows, and a little of it rubbed off on me. Psycho gave me an identity which can also be a curse.

The late great Boris Karloff once pointed out the parallel in our careers. "I have been a member of my profession for 25 years," he said, without obtaining any particular prominence. Then, suddenly, overnight, I was known because I was identified with Frankenstein's monster. I'll always be grateful to the poor old monster." And I'll always be grateful to poor old Norman Bates.

OP: Does it bother you to have that one-book label pinned on you, when in fact you've written so much?
RB: I don't worry about it too much. Before Psycho I was known as the author of "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" which had been dramatized and put on radio and anthologized to death. That didn't help me either.
OP: The main character and events of Psycho have some basis in fact, haven't they?
RB: Yes. I was living in a small town in central Wisconsin and one day I picked up the weekly newspaper and read about a middle-aged man who had been discovered with a woman hanging in his shed, dressed out like a deer. They found that he had all sorts of little souvenirs: a jar of 14 human noses, lampshades made of human skin -- that sort of thing. But his neighbors regarded him as good old Ed Gein, who babysits with the children and who often came around with gifts of fresh liver, which he thought he got through deer-hunting. Once I knew about the series of crimes, I tried to imagine how he could conceal them, and what would trigger them in the first place. Everything feel into place, and I wrote for six weeks, sent it out, and that was that. Years later I learned that I had come very close to actuality, only he was a much farther out character than I had imagined. So I ask you, what kind of sick mind does it take to dream up something like that?

This interview originally appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (March 1976), and was reprinted with the kind permission of Otto Penzler. Mr. Penzler is the proprieter of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. Mr. Penzler is the founder and former publisher of The Armchair Detective, and the founder of the Mysterious Press.