Saturday, November 10, 2012

Allison V. Harding



Allison V. Harding (either Jean Milligan, b. Cleveland, Ohio, 31 May 1919; d. New York City, 6 December 2004; or Charles Lamont Buchanan, b. 6 March 1919; d. New York City, 21 April 2015)

The byline “Allison V. Harding” has long been known as a regular contributor to Weird Tales magazine in the 1940s, and the mystery behind the pseudonym has frustrated many readers. In the 1970s, Sam Moskowitz acquired some of the surviving financial records of Weird Tales and its companionly-edited magazine Short Stories, and from them he learned that the person who was paid for the "Allison V. Harding" stories was named Jean Milligan, who as of 1954 lived in the Sutton Place neighborhood of Manhattan. Moskowitz believed she was already dead, and that she had been an attorney. Both suppositions appear to be wrong. 

Jean Milligan was the youngest of three daughters of John Raymond Milligan (1885-1959), a 1907 graduate of Amherst College who became an investment banker and was a partner in the private Cleveland banking house Tillotson & Walcott, and Beatrice Isabel Humphrey (1886-1938), a graduate of Smith College, who had married around 1909.  Jean’s sisters were Mary Louise Milligan (1910-1949), who attended Vassar and married an attorney, and Katherine Milligan (1914-1973), who married first a businessman and later an industrial engineer. 

Around 1927, the Milligan family moved from Ohio to New Canaan, Connecticut, and John R. Milligan took a position with Edward B. Smith & Company in New York. Later he worked for the Banker’s Trust until his retirement in 1950.  Little is known of Jean’s education, but in the early 1940s she is listed in New Canaan city directories as a student.  At the same time, another student living in New Canaan was [Charles] Lamont Buchanan (1919-2015) who would eventually become Jean’s husband. They are reputed to have been high school sweethearts, but it is impossible at present to guess which schools they may have attended, or what degrees they might have attained.  With the November 1942 issue of Weird Tales magazine, Buchanan became the Associate Editor under Dorothy McIlwraith. Weird Tales appeared six times a year, every other month. At the same time, McIlwraith also edited (presumably with Buchanan as subordinate) Short Stories, which came out twice a month for most of the 1940s (it became a monthly in April 1949). Buchanan’s final issue as Associated Editor of Weird Tales was dated September 1949.    

Thirty-six stories bylined Allison V. Harding appeared in Weird Tales magazine, beginning with “The Unfriendly World” (July 1943) and ending with “Scope” (January 1951).  Six Allison V. Harding stories appeared in Short Stories, ranging from “Night without Darkness” (September 10, 1944) to “Corpse on a Vacation” (January 1950). According to the New York City Marriage Licenses Index, Jean Milligan married Lamont Buchanan in the Bronx in 1952. Harding ceased publishing soon after Buchanan left Weird Tales. It has been suggested (first by Terence E. Hanley) that the writer of the "Allison V. Harding" stories was not Milligan but her future husband, Lamont Buchanan. This seems entirely possible and plausible.

Buchanan himself published some thirteen books between 1947 and 1956, mostly to do with sports or history, before disappearing from public view along with his wife. Milligan’s family was wealthy, and Buchanan’s  maternal grandmother seems also to have had some wealth (his father was a familiarly-known music, art and drama critic). After their marriage, Buchanan and Milligan lived frugally for decades in the same rent-controlled apartment that Milligan had lived in since the early 1940s. They had no children, and in 2004, they were both moved into an Upper West Side nursing home, where Milligan died a short time later.  After Buchanan's death in 2015 at the age of 96, it was discovered that he had amassed a fortune of over fifteen million dollars.  

Whether they were written by Buchanan or Milligan, posterity has not looked kindly on the Allison V. Harding stories, tending to view them as second-rate filler. Robert Weinberg, in his The Weird Tales Story (1977), called them "undistinguished works that filled up space and were quickly forgotten" (p. 45).  The tales are not without some favorable qualities, usually in terms of atmosphere, but the characters are one-dimensional, and the plots are at times silly. Cumulatively the defects overshadow any more positive traits.

Of the contributions to Weird Tales, one of the more interesting tales is “The Damp Man” (July 1947), in which a young female swimmer is stalked by a large fat man with a fleshy dead-white face. A newspaperman takes it upon himself to protect the girl.  The atmosphere in the stalking scenes is handled fairly well, but the Damp Man is revealed to be Lother Remsdorf, Jr., a millionaire who is not like other men, but who has water in his veins rather than blood.  When Remsdorf follows the girl northwards, he freezes to death in the cold weather.  Remsdorf reappeared in two sequels, “The Damp Man Returns” (September 1947) and “The Damp Man Again” (May 1949).   Other representative Harding tales include “The Murderous Steam Shovel” (November 1945), in which a malevolent steam shovel haunts its operator and his wife, and “Take the Z Train” (March 1950), in which a man boards a train and encounters his younger selves, apparently as the summation of his life. Harding’s stories are rarely reprinted by anthologists.  

Cover by John Giunta, illustrating the third Damp Man story (May 1949)

NB: some of the above is based on the Harding entry I wrote for Supernatural Literature of the World (2005), edited by S.T. Joshi and Stefan Dziemianowicz. This entry last updated in 2017.

9 comments:

  1. 'The Murderous Steam Shovel' sounds very like Theodore Sturgeon's masterpiece 'Killdozer' published as about the same time.
    Who whom?

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  2. Sturgeon's "Killdozer" debuted in the November 1944 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction, while Harding's story appeared exactly one year later. The timing pretty much says it all.

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  3. Hi, Douglas,

    I see that your entry on Allison V. Harding goes along with what I wrote on May 24, 2011, on my blog, Tellers of Weird Tales, at the following link:

    http://www.tellersofweirdtales.blogspot.com/2011/05/who-was-allison-v-harding.html

    I haven't seen your entry of 2005. Did we arrive at the same information independently?

    Terence Hanley

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    1. Fascinating! You've got some details I didn't have, and vice versa. I worked primarily from genealogical and newspaper databases. Your Tellers of Weird Tales site looks great and I'm adding it to my Blog Roll. I've dug into a lot of the Weird Tales authors, whenever I found myself interested in one, but haven't made a study of them as a whole.

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    2. I am a niece of Jean Milligan Buchanan. I can verify most of what has been said, but we were very surprised to discover that she was Allison V. Harding. I choose to remain anonymous for the time being.

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    3. Hi: Thanks for writing. I do hope sometime you might help fill in some blanks. Feel free to contact me directly (my email appears in my profile).

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    4. I am hoping to connect with the niece of Jean Milligan who commented above. I represent a publisher who would like to bring Allison V. Harding's stories back into print.

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    5. The niece left no name or contact info. Nor did you.

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    6. Here is a link to my essay on Allison V. Harding and "The Damp Man" just uploaded to my blog. If Jean Milligan's niece, Ms. B---- is following these comments, I hope she will contact me via Facebook, as I she and I are both active there.

      http://scottnicolay.com/stories-from-the-borderland-12-the-damp-man-by-allison-v-harding/

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