Friday, June 28, 2019

Helen Oakley

Helen Oakley (b. New York, New York, 10 February 1906; d. Manhasset, New York, 4 January 2003)

Helen Fairchild McElvey was the middle of three children of Ralph Huntington McElvey (1877-1957), an artist, and Helen A. Fairchild (1879-1964), who were married on 15 July 1903.  Helen had two brothers.

Helen graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1928. She founded a bookshop in New York City in 1929, and ran it for twelve years. Helen married Walter T. Oakley (1913-2000), who worked in publishing, on 6 August 1938. She and her husband settled in Manhasset on Long Island. They had two daughters. Later she taught art and creative writing classes and worked as a library assistant. 
Helen Oakley

As Helen Oakley, she published four books of fiction for young girls:  The Horse on the Hill (1957); The Ranch by the Sea (1959); The Enchanter's Wheel (1962); and Freedom's Daughter (1968). She also compiled a small monograph, An Alphabet of Christmas Words (1966), as selected by Helen McKelvey Oakley.

Walter Oakley
As Helen McK. Oakley she wrote a booklet Christopher Morley on Long Island (1967), about the once well-known author Christopher Morley (1890-1957) who had lived for many years in nearby Roslyn, Long Island. Oakley became greatly interested in Morley, and wrote the only (to-date) full-length biography of him, Three Hours for Lunch: The Life and Times of Christopher Morley (1976).  It was published by Watermill Publishers, a short-lived firm run by Arthur Coleman that published a half dozen books between 1973 and 1979, four of them written by Coleman himself. Three Hours for Lunch is Oakley's most significant book.

Oakley died in Manhasset about one month shy of her 97th birthday. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Maggie-Owen Wadelton

Maggie-Owen Wadelton (b. Roscommon, Ireland, 24 January 1894?; d. Indianapolis, Indiana, 4 February 1972)

Maggie-Owen Wadelton published four books in the 1940s. Three are autobiographical, and the fourth is a supernatural novel. The autobiographical books are very problemmatic because none of the details of Wadelton's early life, and the names of her relations, as given in the three books, can be confirmed through genealogical resources like censuses and birth and marriage records. And in fact Wadelton in the mid-1940s gave conflicting information to two biographical references, including Who's Who (1944 supplement) and Catholic Authors (1948). Even bibliographically there are problems with her works, including two supposedly published books which do not seem to exist.

Her first autobiographical book was The Book of Maggie Owen (1941), which was evidently based upon (yet revised from) some diaries of her childhood in Ireland that had recently come back into her possession (after the death of her great aunt in Ireland). The book gives no author name other than Maggie Owen, and it begins on her supposed twelfth birthday of 24 January 1908. The second volume, Maggie No Doubt (1943), as by Maggie-Owen Wadelton (the same byline as her two subsequent books), and it covers her time in Ireland, America, England and France up to her third marriage in June 1917 to an American reserve captain in World War I. After 1917, Maggie-Owen's life is fairly well documented, and this time period is also covered in her third autobiography (and final book) Gay, Wild and Free: From Captain's Wife to Colonel's Lady (1949).

Maggie-Owen's story, as can be pieced together from the first two autobiographies, is that her young mother (married at age fourteen) had died as Maggie-Owen was born, and her father, who was the seventh child of a family that had moved to America and left him behind in Ireland, abandoned the baby girl with her mother's family and soon afterwards perished in battle in Africa or India. Maggie-Owen was raised mostly by two great-aunts, and some of their other relations. After a trip to New York where she met some of her father's family, they petitioned the Irish court for custody of the minor Maggie-Owen to be given to them, and a plot was hatched that a sham-marriage for Maggie-Owen took place in France with a gentleman temporarily unable to marry the woman he loved. The “marriage” was annulled after some twenty-two months, when Maggie-Owen reached the age of eighteen. Her second marriage, probably in the summer of 1915, was to her childhood love Edward, who was killed in the war three weeks later.

Tommy Wadelton
Maggie-Owen Wadelton and her third husband Thomas Dorrington Wadelton, Jr. (1886-1945) had one child, a son, Thomas Dorrington Wadelton III (1925*-1974), who after publishing two short stories was courted by publishers, and thereafter produced four books (as by Tommy Wadelton) in the early 1940s when he was very young. These include humorous portrayals of his mother and father, respectively, in My Mother Is a Violent Woman (1940) and My Father Is a Quiet Man (1941), and of himself, in Army Brat (1943), which was made into a film as Little Mister Jim (1946). A final book was Silver Buckles on His Knee (1945). Tommy went on to study photography and worked as feature photographer at the Indianapolis Star for more than twenty-two years. When Colonel Wadelton retired from the army in 1939, after some twenty moves to various postings, the family settled in Indianapolis.

Maggie-Owen's birthname, birthyear, and parentage is uncertain. From The Book of Maggie Own, it would seem that she was born in 1896, but in other places the year is given as 1895, 1894, or even (in the Social Security Death Index) as 1890. She told Catholic Authors in 1948 that her birthname was “Margret [sic] Kearns” but she gives it in The Book of Maggie Owen as “Margret Owen” and in Maggie No Doubt as “Margret-Owen Coughlin.” Her parent's names are given variously as Maggie-Kate Melody and Owen Coughlin (in Maggie No Doubt) and on her 1972 Indiana death certificate as Maggieowen O'Malley Kierns and Phenis Paul Kierns (the informant being her son Tommy, but here her birthdate is listed as 23 January rather than the usual 24 January). Her father's family in America appear in The Book of Maggie Owen as the Coughlins. Some Kearns relations of Van Etten (New York?) appear actually to have been of Rhinebeck, New York, where in the 1940s and 1950s Maggie-Owen visited the Mistresses Mary Kearns and Catherine Kearns, who are called in contemporary newspaper accounts her “sisters.” (And Mary Ellen Kearns is the dedicatee of Maggie no Doubt.)

Her first husband's name is given in Maggie No Doubt as Ernest Ruthven Kenmore, but in the 1944 Who's Who as Ernest Leslie Kenmore. Her second husband appears as Edward Bootham Turner-Holt. Her great aunts as Ann (Melody) Conner, and her sister Kate Melody, elsewhere Kate Holt Melody. In the 1920 and 1930 US Censuses, Maggie-Owen's name is given as “Jeanne K. Wadelton.” Yet in a letter to the Indianapolis Star in 1940 she signed her name as "Maggie-Jeanne Wadelton."

All these discrepancies are confusing. One can presume that her birthname was probably Margret Jeanne Kearns. (A 1941 newspaper profile notes that the "Owen" is a Gaelic form of Eugenia, which perhaps explains her evolving nickname Maggie-Jeanne / Maggie-Owen.) She also claimed to have used for some years the surname of her great aunt, named as Kate Melody in her autobiographies. 

Her Who's Who entry lists her education at the Sacred Heart Convent, Paris, 1909-1911, and at Carshallton House in Surrey for 1911-1912. She also volunteered as a member of the British Ambulance Service in World War I.

Catholic Authors notes that “under the name of Melody she wrote Sheila and Ponobscot Ferry.” I can find no trace of any such publications. In a 3 October 1943 Indianapolis Star newspaper profile, she reportedly began writing after the stock market crash of 1929, and sold verse to Poetry, a lengthy article on the history of lace to a New York department store, and various short stories to pulp magazines. In the newspaper profile Wadelton notes: “Then I wrote a novel, which is probably the worst book ever written. It is full of rape and murder and everything terrible. I called it 'Sheila.' Scribner's published it--though I don't see why.” None of these publications have been traced. She did write at least one other novel, finished in the summer of 1947, titled Gillian Benedict, about an alcoholic woman in London between the wars. It was turned down by Bobbs-Merrill, who had published her other books.

Her one known and published novel Sarah Mandrake (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, [February] 1946) is the work that concerns us here. Sarah Mandrake has restored a large mansion on the Hudson River in Dutchess County, New York (the setting is based on the house Wadelton visited as a child, as described in her first autobiography). After living there for a while, she disappears, leaving the house to a relative, Stephen Ellers, a British war veteran with his wife and infants, who must unravel the story of her life and of her legacy. The Catholic World called the book a “fascinating, red-blooded ghost-story 'in modern dress'” (July 1946); while Kirkus called it “with deliberate British formality,a sometimes overplayed, overlong tale of evil and retribution, real and spectral, to satisfy some tastes” (January 1946). Sarah Mandrake was reprinted in 1966 as a Paperback Library Gothic.

Both Maggie-Owen Wadelton and her husband are buried in the Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

* Tommy's birthyear is usually given as 1926 or 1927, but U.K. Birth records confirm he was born in 1925.

Monday, June 10, 2019

G.E. Locke

G.E. Locke (b. Boston, 12 October 1887; d. Boston, 1945)

Gladys Edson Locke was the only child of Winfield Scott Locke (1861-1931), a "ladies underwear merchant" according to the 1900 US Census, and Caroline Augusta Edson (1862-1936), who were married in Boston on 2 December 1886.

She was graduated from the Girls' Latin School in Boston in 1906, and from Boston University (A.B. 1910; A.M. 1911) and Simmons College (Library Science, 1916).  She worked as a tutor in Latin, French and Italian from 1908-1914, and taught Latin and English at a high school in Milford, New Hampshire, for 1915-1916. In 1917 she became a cataloguer at the Boston Public Library, where she thereafter worked for many years. She was active in the Unitarian Church, and a member of the Boston Society for Psychical Research. Locke never married, and lived in the Dorcester area for the bulk of her life.

Locke's first book was a biography of Queen Elizabeth: Various Scenes and Events in the Life of Her Majesty (1913), as by Gladys E. Locke. Her first mystery novel, set in England like many of her books, came out the next year and was published as by Gladys Edson Locke, a byline she used until the early 1920s when it changed more simply to "G.E. Locke." In all she published eleven mystery novels, some with the recurring characters like Inspector Burton or Mercedes Quero. Beginning in 1922, her books were mostly published by L.C. Page of Boston, though two later titles came out in England only. The full list of mystery novels, in chronological order, is as follows:  That Affair at Portishead Manor (1914); Ronald o' the Moors (1919); The Red Cavalier (1922); The Scarlet Macaw (1923); The Purple Mist (1924); The House on the Downs (1925); The Golden Lotus (1927); The Redmaynes (1928); Grey Gables (UK only, 1929); The Fenwood Murders (UK only, 1931), and The Ravensdale Mystery (1935).

None of her novels are fantasies, but The Purple Mist comes perhaps the closest to being one. (It was first published in June 1924 by L.C. Page of Boston, and an undated reprint by A.L. Burt is often erroneously cited as the first edition.) The New York Times described the book as follows:  "The story takes its name from a supposedly supernatural phenomenon but recently revived in the old Devonshire village that straggles around Craghaven Castle, the scene of the book's strange goings-on. This regally tinted vapor, after a lapse of sundry centuries had, just before the story opens, begun to rise again to herald the passage across the Devon moors of a Phantom Coach, that brings death to any one who ventures to check or investigate its course. That forms but the initial mystery . . .  All in all, The Purple Mist remains sheer melodrama, as indeed it was the author's intention to make it. It has thrills; it has compelling onward sweep of narrative; it has moments of genuine interest. Readers not insistent on delicate shades and subtle overtones will find excitement, and find it in generous spasms, in G.E. Locke's pages" (13 July 1924).   The book has weird atmosphere throughout, though the Phantom Coach and purple mist are rationalized in the end as cover operations for smugglers.

Reviewers of other books by Locke were less kind.  Of The Scarlet Macaw, the New York Times opined: "In spite of an occasional crudeness in writing and a clumsiness in construction, The Scarlet Macaw is sufficiently supplied with suspense and unexpected incidents to qualify as an interesting detective story. . . . One fault that Mr. [sic] Locke has is an extremely mediocre prose, and this rather aggravates the reader's sensation of unreality" (28 October 1923). And of The Ravensdale Mystery, the New York Times concluded: "The story is far too long and not absorbing enough to hold the reader's interest throughout its 405 pages" (10 November 1935).

According to the Massachusetts Death Index 1901-1980, Locke died in Boston in 1945, but no specific death-date has been traced.

*Book illustrations courtesy of Steven Mayes.

Friday, June 7, 2019

David Hussey

David Hussey (b. Westham, Essex, 7 April 1903; d. London, 9 September 1959)

David Macdonald Hussey was the son of Edmund Hussey (1862-1959) and his wife Florence Jane, nee Thornber (1867-1931), who were married in the summer of 1890.  David had two older sisters, one younger sister, and an older brother who was killed in World War I.

David attended the Cherry Orchard school in Blackheath, 1913-1917, and the Windermere Grammar School, 1917-1921, before matriculating at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in October 1921.  He read History for his first two years, and then English in his final year (B.A. 1924).  He was awarded a scholarship of £40 for 1924-25. 

In 1924 Hussey was appointed Lecturer in English at the University of Ceylon, and promoted to Professor of English in 1932. He married Dora Eyden (1898-1970), a scientist and graduate of Girton College, Cambridge, on 27 September 1927 at Columbo in Ceylon. 

As David Macdonald Hussey he published a series of books on Ceylon and World History (1930-1936), and retired from the University of Ceylon in 1935, moving back to England and settling near London.  He published three works of fiction as David Hussey, No Sting, No Honey (London: Arthur Barker, [December] 1938),  The Empty Bowl (1943) and Fort Carteret (1948).  From about 1947 he held high office in the Air Ministry, and visited Ceylon again in 1957, and was preparing an official inspection of R.A.F. stations in the Far East when he suddenly fell ill. He died a few months later in the R.A.F. Hospital in Uxbridge, Middlesex. 

Hussey's first novel, No Sting, No Honey, is his only fantasy. In it, three men are shipwrecked on an island in the South Pacific, where they find it to be a vast farm run by women along the lines of a bee colony, ruled by Hive Orders, with Frame-Commanders and Comb-Captains, and a Queen Bee (a wealthy old lady of ninety). The Times Literary Supplement noted that "there are some ingenious decorations in Mr. Hussey's picture of the hive, where two parties, the Traditionalists and the Realists, contend for supremacy. But the fragments are better than the whole. . . . Farce and fantasy, in sum, do not blend very well in this book, though admittedly it has sly and engaging moments" (17 December 1938).  

The Empty Bowl begins in Ceylon two thousand years ago. It concerns an old monk, who in his search for Absolute Reality has traveled far (even to Rome, briefly conversing with the disciple Peter, though he finds Christian truth unsatisfying). The novel tells of his travels with a young soldier, as they exchange stories.The Spectator noted that "David Hussey has created a moving legend with skill and wit; writing it gave him escape from present troubles. This short novel is dedicated to a night-sister in an R.A.F. hospital" (22 April 1943).

Fort Carteret is set on the Hudson River where the passengers and crew of an aircraft are marooned in Arctic darkness and in order to pass the time, they each recount stories from their past experiences. 

*Thanks to Amanda Goode, Emmanuel College Archivist, for information on Hussey's academic record, and thanks to Jonathan Lux for sharing photos.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

William Sambrot

William Sambrot (b. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 17 December 1920; d. Napa, California, 26 July 2007)

William Anthony Sambrot was the son of Anthony Sambrot (a laborer at a machine company, per the 1920 US Census) and his wife Nancy, nee Ciccetti, both of whom were immigrants from Italy.  He had two older sisters.

By 1930, William was in Salt Lake City with his widowed mother, and in 1939 he graduated from Balboa High School in San Francisco. He enlisted in the US Army in San Francisco on 29 June 1943, and served in Germany. He studied briefly at the University of Biarritz in Switzerland, and then at University of California in Berkeley, and he studied journalism and short story writing in San Francisco, though he earned no degrees. He worked for a while in a brewery, and at other odd jobs. On 18 January 1948, he married Marina Dianda (1922-2007).  They had one son and one daughter. Sambrot lived in California for the rest of his life.

His first professional sale, in June 1951, was a story "The Strong Man," which became his second published story when it appeared in the February 1952 issue of Esquire ("The Saboteur" appeared in the Fall 1951 issue of Suspense Magazine). He became a full time writer in 1954.  He published some fifty known stories in various slicks and men's magazines in the 1950s and 1960s.  His sole book is a collection of fourteen stories, Island of Fear and Other Science Fiction Stories (New York: A Permabook Edition published by Pocket Books, 1963). He compiled a second volume of science fiction stories but never found a publisher. Sambrot told Contemporary Authors "I am very much interested in writing science-fiction. . . . I'm not happy, however, with the field in general; would like to see it treated with respect by critics, especially our literary lights."  He worked on two novels, Zone of Combat and Substance of Martyrs (the second based on one of Sambrot's own short stories of the same title, published in Rogue, December 1963), but they were never published.

In an autobiographical letter published in Contemporary Science Fiction Authors II (1979), Sambrot noted that he had well over 200 published stories in all the top-paying markets. Sambrot reputedly used two pseudonyms, Anthony Ayes and William Ayes, but no stories have been located published under these names. He summed up his book-publishing experience as follows: "From my own experience with Pocket Books, the advance they gave me ($2000) about equalled what I got for each of some seven or eight stories in the collection of mine (14 stories) they published.  Many of those stories are still selling [in reprints] . . . So, even though that SF collection sold some 385,000 plus here, and went into two printings in England (Mayflower, 1964 and 1966), each of over half the stories therein had earned me well over the total earning for the whole schmear."

Sambrot's 1958 story "Island of Fear" has some decided similarities with a C.S. Lewis story, "Forms of Things Unknown", first published posthumously in 1966.  I have written in more detail about this scenario at my Shiver in the Archives blog, here.