Friday, February 15, 2019

Clifford Ball

Clifford Ball (b. New York City, 24 January 1908; d. Baltimore, 11 January 1947)

Clifford Nankivell Ball was the only child of Emma Vaughn Nankivell (1874-1965), and her first husband, whose first name is presently unknown.  By the 1910 US Census, Emma had been married for three years, but she and her son had moved in with her parents in Millerstown, Pennsylvania. Emma's parents were Thomas Nankivell (1844-1930), who had been born in England (the name Nankivell originated in Cornwall), and his wife Martha Ann Vaughn (1848-1918). Around 1921 Emma married Asel B. Porter (1876-1956).

Clifford graduated from the Millerstown High School in May 1925 and, according to his 1941 U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, completed one year of college.  Between 1937 and 1941 Ball contributed six short stories to Weird Tales magazine, the first three of which are sword and sorcery tales reminiscent of Robert E. Howard's barbarian tales. These feature Duar, a muscular barbarian, or Rald, a barbarian thief. The first, "Duar the Accursed" (May 1937) is fairly derivative of "The Tower of the Elephant" (Weird Tales, March 1933), a Conan story. The other two are "The Thief of Forthe" (July 1937); "The Goddess Awakes" (February 1938). Ball's last three stories are very different from the first three. These stories include "The Swine of Aeaea" (March 1939); "The Little Man" (August 1939); and "The Werewolf Howls" (November 1941). Ball's first four stories were accompanied by illustrations by Virgil Finlay. 

A biographical note on Ball, announcing two further stories forthcoming, appeared in October 1937 issue of Weird Tales, after two of his stories had already been published.  It reads:
This 29-year-old newest sensation of Weird Tales has led a life as adventurous as that of either of his two barbarian heroes. He went through high school in Millerstown, Pennsylvania, experiencing great difficulty with his mathematics and with a young and attractive school-teacher of whom he became enamored. After he had been graduated, he took a job in the license bureau of the State Highway Department. A few months later he began to hate the place, and left. The Miami catastrophe of 1927 occurred [actually a devastating hurricane which hit Miami in September 1926], and he and a friend trekked south to Florida, expecting to find heavy salaries waiting for eager workers. The state was "broke;" and tourists, alarmed by the tidal wave, were frightened away. Ball has slung hash, worked on dynamite crews as a capper, fry-cooked, run a dice table in a gambling-house, dug ditches, leveled auto springs, spread cloth in a shirt factory, and served beer in a Virginia tavern. This will always remain in Ball's memory, he says, as the best moments of his life (p. 510).
Ball also wrote three letters to Weird Tales that were published in the letter column, "The Eyrie."  The first was in appreciation of the late Robert E. Howard:
I have been a constant reader of your magazine since 1925, when some author's conception of weirdness was a gigantic ape dragging a half-naked female about a jungle, and I have watched it progress steadily upward to the zenith. I do not write criticisms; the main purpose of this letter is that I feel moved to offer my condolences upon the death of Mr. Howard. A hundred international Tarzans could never erase the memory of Conan the Cimmerian. Neither Northwest Smith nor Jirel of Jory—and in Moore you have an excellent author—can quite supplant his glory. When I read that "Red Nails" would be the last of Conan's exploits I felt as though some sort of income, or expected resource, had been suddenly severed. (January 1937, written from Astoria, New York) 
A letter in the January 1938, Ball praises stories by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, and Robert Bloch; and in a final letter in June 1938 Ball issue replies to some criticisms of Ball's third story "The Goddess Awakes."

He married twice, first, on 7 June 1933, to Hermine J. Mahle, of Woodside, Long Island.  The couple settled in New York City after their marriage, but were divorced before the 1940 Census.  Ball enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on 27 January 1941, and served in W.W. II as part of the 788th Bomb Squadron.  He married Jean E. Stewart in Boise, Idaho, on 12 January 1943.

Ball settled in Baltimore with his wife after his discharge from the Army in September 1946. He drowned in the harbor in Baltimore on Saturday night, 11 January 1947, moments before a rescue boat could reach him. Clifford Ball is buried alongside his mother's family in Millerstown, Pennsylvania.

Ball's first story "Duar the Accursed" was reprinted by Lin Carter in his anthology New Worlds for Old (1971), part of the acclaimed Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. All six of Ball's stories were collected in The Thief of Forthe and Other Stories (2018).  None of Ball's stories are very original, and they do not aspire to be more than competent and entertaining pulp fiction.

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