Sunday, December 31, 2017

Henry Aveline Perkins

Perkins in 1943
Henry Aveline Perkins (b. Petropolis, Brazil, 22 April 1919; d. New York City, 20 July 1999)

Henry Aveline Perkins was the second son of British parents, F.W. Perkins and his wife Winifred. (His brother Frederick F. Perkins was five years older.) Though born in Brazil, he soon moved with his family to England. He attended the Charterhouse school near Godalming.  He began his writing career with the Daily Mirror of London, after which he wrote advertising copy. Later he returned to Brazil to settle private business, and he worked on the staff of the News of Rio de Janeiro. He came to New York from Rio, arriving in December 1939.  He worked under Dorothy McIlwraith as "Associate Editor" of Weird Tales, and Short Stories, from the May 1940 issue of Weird Tales through the September 1942 one.  Initially he is credited as "H.A.  Perkins," later "H. Aveline Perkins" and finally with his full name. He was sometimes called Henry, and other times Harry. In later years, he used Lynn as his first name, shortened from his middle name Aveline. While working at Weird Tales and Short Stories, Perkins also began to write prolifically for the comics market, though much of this work is unsigned, including some stories for Superman and Batman. One of the characters he invented was "The Weeper," a character who is convinced that life is sad and it's criminal for people to be happy. "The Weeper" was his entree to Fawcett Comics, and re-appeared a number of times.

Perkins is profiled in the April 1943 issue of Writers' Journal for his role as associate editor of the Fawcett Comics Group, whose comics told the stories of such personalities as Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior, Mary Marvel, Mr. Scarlet, Bulletman, Don Winslow of the Navy, Spy Smasher, and Captain Midnight. Perkins revealed that while he worked at Weird Tales and Short Stories, he had at any time several hundred acceptable stories to choose from, and that writers, however well known, had no guarantee of acceptance. At Fawcett Comics, he had on his desk only scripts that have been ordered.  Thus, "the comics script-writer, then, is never faced with the gloomy prospect of finished and efficient work being rejectedthe pulp writer's greatest dread." Perkins continued: "Because of the close personal association between editor and writer, once a plot idea (which often comes from the editor) has been accepted (and often planned for a specific issue) and the idea developed through discussion, the story itself—if it turns out okay—is virtually certain of acceptance before it's written!"

Perkins was self-evidently promoting his role in comics, but it is interesting to read his views on the pulps and comics writers:
"To write  comics," he declares, "you need a certain piece of creative mechanism which is lacking from the minds of most writers. That piece of mental machinery is visualization. For while most writers see pictures then they writethey do not write stories in terms of pictures

"They don't do this because they don't have to. Their skill in handling picture words conjures up for the reader the necessary pictures. A pulp writer's story comes out in the magazine essentially as he wrote it on the typewriter. 

"But a comic script is not published—any more than a moviegoer pays to see a scenario. A comic script is handed to an artist, who draws the pictures which have been visualized for him by the script writer. The writer's dialogue and captions are then added to the art work. Color is provided by the engraver, and the finished picture story finally reaches the public.

"Essentially," says Perkins, "a really effective picture-fiction scenario is produced by a writer who has conjured up a really thrilling and very pictorial mental movie—run it off in the projection room of his own imagination—then cut it up into the most dramatic stills. With the story cut up into these stills, the author then describes each still for the artist, adding the appropriate dialogue and captions where these are called for.

"As a matter of fact, the similarity between comics writing and movie writing is quite amazing! 

"For writing a comics script is the closest thing to writing a movie script outside the movies. Neither technique is, essentially, writing. It's devising. Both demand co-operation with, and knowledge of, other skills and minds. The movie writer must have an understanding of actors, directors and camera techniques. The comics script writer must understand the possibilities and the limitations of the artist who is going to 'produce' his script. [. . . ] The story must be very simple, and be pictorially conceived. In other words, the basic plot idea must lead to pictorial sequences when the script gets to the stage of being drawn up. The usual pulp plot is of no use whatsoever.

"For instance, among the many basic plot ideas which I've dreamt up and then passed on to writers was the notion that it'd make swell pictures and a novel story if surrealist pictures were brought into play.

"Accordingly, the writer and I cooked up a yarn where poltergeists get into a surrealistic picture exhibit and animate the artists' nightmares. Amusing and convincingly realistic sub-characters were injected, and an amusing, novel and very pictorial story was the result. 

"Again, I thought up a story, for 'Captain Marvel,' about the world of the immediate and forseeable future. The gadgets, inventions and miracles of this amazing world that most of us will see, and which certainly all children will live in and enjoy, turned into a very glamorous, very graphic story. It was titles 'The World of Your Tomorrow.'

"Or take this character story. An example of this is a story I worked out for 'Lance O'Casey,' a roving, swashbuckling happy-go-lucky type of adventuring hero. A pirate tale always makes good pictures, but the theme is worn out and hackneyed. Most pirates are blood-thirsty monsters. So I thought up 'The Pirate Who Hated Blood.' It made a very entertaining and novel yarn.

[. . .] "The search for novel and different plot angles is endless. And in the searching, a writer automatically learns a vast amount about plotting. 

"For instance, although I was a pulp magazine editor and read many thousands of scripts, and although I could judge where plots lived and where they died, I was never much of a hand at creating plots myself until I started to write comic scripts.

"My plotting ability continually improved as a comic writer. And later, when I came to edit comic magazines as a full-time job, I found that the faculty for dreaming up all kinds of ideas and angles grew even greater, and continues to grow.

[...] "Writing for the comics guarantees economic security and a greatly increased income, and work that is forever fresh and fascinating. Comics offer, also, to the ambitious writer, a chance to grow creatively—and to gain a working preview of the future.

"For, with the promise of television and other miracles of amusement, comics are truly the shape of things to come in publishing and entertainment!" 

Perkins seems to have left Fawcett Comics not long after this profile appeared, and he is believed to have worked for another firm for a couple of years before leaving the field. The few people in comics who remembered him felt he was quirky and hard to get along with, though he apparently had good editorial sense. In 1945, Perkins went out to Hollywood, where he worked as co-writer on four original screenplays for serials from Republic Pictures, including The Purple Monster Strikes (August 1945), The Phantom Rider (January 1946), King of the Forest Rangers (April 1946) and Daughter of Don Q (July 1946). A shortened version of The Purple Monster Strikes (a science fiction story of a Martian crash-landing on earth in prelude to an invasion*) was released for television in 1966 under the title D-Day on Mars. Perkins stayed in Hollywood through at least 1951 (when he became a Naturalized U.S. citizen), but by 1954 he was back in New York, with his wife Alice, who was three years younger than himself. In the 1970s he was working in public relations. Perkins died in New York City in 1999. 

An article covering Perkins's comics work much more thoroughly than it is covered here, "The Stan Lee of 1943" by Will Murray, appeared in the Comic Book Marketplace (no. 120, March 2005). 

 NB: A special thanks to John D. Rateliff for help on this entry. 

* See also the entry on this serial in Thomas Kent Miller's Mars in the Movies (2016), pp. 32-33. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Lamont Buchanan

Lamont Buchanan (b. New York City, 6 March 1919; d. New York City, 21 April 2015)
Lamont Buchanan in his mid to late 80s

Charles Lamont Buchanan, Jr., who went by his middle name, was the second of two children and the only son of Charles Lamont Buchanan (1884-1962), a music, art and drama critic, and his first wife, Anita Marshall Dominick (1881-1967), who were married in New York on 11 June 1911. Their first child was a daughter, Jane, some four or five years older than her brother. The Buchanans were divorced and Charles's second wife was Elizabeth Ellis, who survived him.  As "Charles Lamont Buchanan" the father had published a small booklet of poetry, Preludes in Shade (1902), limited to fifty copies from handmade plates.  He worked as a newspaperman first in Hartford, Connecticut, and later in New York.

Lamont Buchanan is remembered primarily as an  "Associate Editor" at Weird Tales under Dorothy McIlwraith's editorship.  After some newspaper work, Buchanan's tenure at Weird Tales ran from the November 1942 issue through the September 1949 one. He worked at the same time for Short Stories, which was also edited by McIlwraith. By 1946, Buchanan was doing most of the work on Weird Tales, according to some notices in Writer's Digest. Between 1947 and 1956 Buchanan also published some thirteen illustrated books of nonfiction, covering topics of sports to politics.  A complete list, with their descriptive subtitles, includes:

The Story of Football in Text and Pictures (1947)

The Story of Basketball in Text and Pictures (1948)

People and Politics: The Pictorial History of the American Two-Party System (1948)

A Pictorial History of the Confederacy (1951)

The World Series and Highlights of Baseball: in Text and Over 250 Pictures (1951)

The Story of Tennis in Text and Pictures (1951)

A Pictorial History of the Confederacy (1951)

The Flying Years (1953)

The Kentucky Derby Story in Text and 140 Illustrations (1953)

The Pictorial Baseball Instructor; with Forty Magic Rules to Help You Play Any Position Better in Little League, College Play, Major League (1954)

Steel Trails and Iron Horses: A Pageant of American Railroading (1955)

Ballot for Americans: A Pictorial History of American Elections and Electioneering with the Top Political Personalities, 1789-1956 (1956)

Ships of Steam (1956)

In the Bronx in 1952, Lamont Buchanan married Jean Milligan (1919-2004) who is reported to have been his high school sweetheart.  What makes this especially interesting is that researcher Sam Moskowitz noted in the 1970s that the pay records for Weird Tales showed that "Jean Milligan" was the payee for some thirty-six stories published in Weird Tales that were bylined "Allison V. Harding."  Initially it was believed that Milligan was the author of these tales, which correlated closely with Buchanan's tenure as Associate Editor at Weird Tales, and at Short Stories, where six additional Harding stories appeared. (The details are given in the Allison V. Harding entry at this blog: click here.) More recently, however, it has been suggested that Buchanan wrote the stories and had the payment sent to his future wife. Evidence that supports this conclusion can be found in the author blurb on his second book, The Story of Basketball in Text and Pictures (1948), which reads:
"As one of the earliest contributors to the big pictorial magazines, he is a firm believer in the text and picture method of telling a story. Besides being a prolific writer of short stories and articles for various publications, Mr. Buchanan has authored network radio scripts, and is also a full-time magazine editor." 
Nothing is at present known about Buchanan's radio scripts, and there are no known short stories under his byline, though for nonfiction he is known to have contributed articles to Liberty and Argosy in 1945 (the piece in Argosy was co-written with his friend and predecessor at Weird Tales, Lynn Perkins), and to Radio and Television News in 1950. Of more interest is Buchanan's article "What Makes the Action Story Go" in Writer's Year Book in 1945, a collection of tips for writers. The idea of Buchanan being "a prolific writer of short stories" would fit with the idea that he wrote the Allison V. Harding stories. 

After 1956 Buchanan and his wife virtually disappeared from public life. They lived in a rent-controlled apartment in the Sutton Place neighborhood of Manhattan for at least five decades.  After an incident in 2004 of both Buchanan and his wife falling and calling out for help, they were moved into an Upper West Side nursing home. Jean Milligan Buchanan died shortly thereafter, in December 2004. Lamont Buchanan lived on for more than ten years, and after his death at the age of 96 in 2015 it was discovered that he had amassed a fortune of over fifteen million dollars, presumably through investments, for he and his wife were known to live frugally. He left no will (and he and Milligan had had no children), but a search turned up a single living blood-relative, an estranged niece, the only child of his sister Jane, from her first marriage to Robert B. Sinclair. 

A few years before Buchanan's death, an unpublished interview from 1940 with reclusive author J.D. Salinger (1919-2010) surfaced, and the news reports claimed that Buchanan had arranged the interview and known Salinger. The claim was also made that Buchanan may have been the inspiration (or partially so) for Salinger's most famous literary character, Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Any close examination makes this assertion seem very dubious.