Hallowe’en Countdown IV, Day 29

« A face like an oyster, huh?‘ Danny Lomax repeated, and swallowed hard. ‘That’s what it’s going to look like?‘ Nick Deene chuckled and nodded. ‘If there’s anything deader-looking than a watery blue oyster that’s been open too long,‘ he said, ‘I don’t know what it is. » — Robert Arthur, The Believers (1941)

Today, we’ll peer through filmy years past at another example of cultural cross-pollination: a notion is born, seemingly out of nowhere, then it ineffably catches the collective fancy and is in some fashion absorbed into folklore, scattered like grain by wind and whisper. Then some soul, blessed with a way with words, polishes it for publication and some editor buys it for peanuts. Another wordsmith reshuffles and refines it, sprinkling some notions of his own, perhaps a glint of sardonic humour. Hungry for material, radio gets hold of the setup and reshapes it a little to fit another medium. Late one night, some comic book hack hears that presentation, and recollects its essence, some years on, in a frantic rush to fill some pages and scrape together a meagre living. Or perhaps he saw it in a competitor’s rag. Bah, no-one’ll remember… or give a toss. “I’ll give it a stab from another angle!

First, there was… well, I’m not sure. But let’s begin with Henry Russell Wakefield‘s short story Ghost Hunt (either 1938 or 1948… sources differ), in which…

A radio host broadcasts a live ghost hunt in a house in London where there have been “no less than thirty suicides”. Most have run from the house at night to throw themselves off the cliff and into the nearby river. The radio broadcaster is joined by a paranormal investigator. The investigation proves all-too successful in this chilling story.

Then appeared, a couple of years hence, Robert Arthur Jr.‘s excellent The Believers [ read it here! ], published in the venerable Weird Tales‘ July, 1941 issue.

The Believers is a classic horror story by Robert Arthur. It’s about a radio host who decides to broadcast a live show from a haunted house. This story is also known as “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” and it was based on an older story by H. Russell Wakefield called “Ghost Hunt”. It also inspired a horror comic story and an episode of Tales From The Crypt, both of which were called “Television Terror”.

The Believers was featured in this 1963 Random House collection (which Robert Arthur himself edited as well as authored), under its alternate title of Do You Believe in Ghosts?. The splendiferous wraparound cover is by Arthur Shilstone (1922-2020).

In 1949 came a successful radio adaptation, courtesy of the popular Suspense show. This was likely the most influential iteration of the tale, the super-spreader, if you will.

And more that just the one ‘horror comic story’ was inspired by this singular scenario. In 1952, The Unknown (or at least uncredited, which amounts to the same thing) Writer came up with The Walking Ghost, which will now break up the tedium of text, text, text, and provide you with some welcome visuals by Messrs. Mike Sekowsky on pencils and Bill Walton on inks.

This adaptation (if you will) strikes a middle ground between the Wakefield and the Arthur approaches.

The Walking Ghost was reprinted decades later in Crypt of Shadows no. 3 (May, 1973, Marvel), where I first encountered this tale, and this bit of dialogue was modified to better (but not by much) fit the times:

And what exactly was the matter with “Uncle Miltie“? Doesn’t having the biggest schlong in Hollywood buy you any respect anymore? The Twilight Zone wasn’t even a radio show!
The Walking Ghost first saw print in Strange Tales no. 11 (Oct. 1952, Atlas); cover by Bill Everett. It didn’t even rate the cover.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 1

« Of course I believe in ghosts. Doesn’t everybody? » — Red Skelton*

Quite a task it was, keeping to just a handful of Jim Flora’s illustrations from Grosset & Dunlap‘s 1965 anthology, A Red Skelton in Your Closet.

First, matched to Arthur Guiterman‘s 1918 poem, The Superstitious Ghost:

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I’m such a quiet little ghost,
Demure and inoffensive,
The other spirits say I’m most
Absurdly apprehensive.

Through all the merry hours of night
I’m uniformly cheerful;
I love the dark; but in the light,
I own I’m rather fearful.

Each dawn I cower down in bed,
In every brightness seeing,
That weird uncanny form of dread —
An awful Human Being!

Of course I’m told they can’t exist,
That Nature would not let them;
But Willy Spook, the Humanist,
Declares that he has met them!

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Nine Little Goblins, by James Whitcomb Riley

They all climbed up on a high board fence —
Nine little goblins, with green-glass eyes —
Nine little goblins that had no sense,
And couldn’t tell coppers from cold mince pies;
And they all climbed up on the fence, and sat —
And I asked them what they were staring at.

And the first one said, as he scratched his head
With a queer little arm that reached out of his ear
And rasped his claws in his hair so red —
“This is what this little arm is fer!”
And he scratched and stared, and the next one said,
“How on earth do you scratch your head?”

And he laughed like the screech of a rusty hinge —
Laughed and laughed till his face grew black;
And when he choked, with a final twinge
Of his stifling laughter, he thumped his back
With a fist that grew on the end of his tail
Till the breath came back to his lips so pale.

And the third little goblin leered round at me —
And there were no lids on his eyes at all —
And he clucked one eye, and he says, says he,
“What is the style of your socks this fall?”
And he clapped his heels — and I sighed to see
That he had hands where his feet should be.

Then a bold-faced goblin, gray and grim,
Bowed his head, and I saw him slip
His eyebrows off, as I looked at him,
And paste them over his upper lip;
And then he moaned in remorseful pain —
“Would — Ah, would I’d me brows again!”

And then the whole of the goblin band
Rocked on the fence-top to and fro,
And clung, in a long row, hand in hand,
Singing the songs that they used to know —
Singing the songs that their grandsires sung
In the goo-goo days of the goblin-tongue.

And ever they kept their green-glass eyes
Fixed on me with a stony stare —
Till my own grew glazed with a dread surmise,
And my had whooped up on my lifted hair,
And I felt the heart in my breast snap to,
As you’ve heard the lid of a snuff-box do.

And they sang “You’re asleep! There is no board fence,
And never a goblin with green-glass eyes! —
’tis only a vision the mind invents
After a supper of cold mince pies. —
And you’re doomed to dream this way,” they said, —
“And you sha’n’t wake up till you’re clean plum dead!”

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« It blew into the village from the sea one stormy night — a ghostly ship, with a ghostly crew and ghostly ways… » — Richard Middleton, The Ghost Ship. Read and/or listen to the entire yarn here!

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The Spook Upon the Stair, by Andrew McCullen, aka Robert Arthur (1965)

I met a spook upon the stair;
He was a haunt who had no hair.
In fact, he didn’t have a head
(Which made me think he might be dead).

His head I saw beneath his arm,
Safely tucked away from harm,
But still to me it spoke, and said,
“Before you go on up to bed,
Please let me say you should not stare
At ghosts you meet upon the stair.”

Thus spoke that spook, I do not lie,
Before I could quite pass it by.
“The thoughtful, gentle thing to do,”
It said to me, as I say to you,
“Is act as if they were not there,
And never, never, never stare,
Even though beneath an arm
Their heads they carry, safe from harm.”

“However frightful they may be,
Act as if you did not see,
And if you  did, would not have cared.
Above all, never show you’re scared.”

This spook he spoke so plain and fair,
I heeded him, right then and there.

I hurried on up to the top
And as I went I heard a pop.
I turned — and there was nothing there.
The spot the spook had been was bare.

 

If you dig his work (of course you do!), Jim Flora (1914-1988) you’ll be right chuffed to learn that his œuvre has been the subject of a quartet (at last count) of definitive and definitely gorgeous monographs, The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora, The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora, The Sweetly Diabolic Art of Jim Flora and The High Fidelity Art of Jim Flora. Dig in!

– RG

*actually (fittingly) ghost-writing editor Robert Arthur (1909-1969), chiefly remembered as the creator of the Three Investigators series. We took a not-so-furtive peek at one of his excellent anthologies during last year’s countdown.

Hallowe’en Countdown II, Day 26

« Certain types of stories make perfect television fare. In the realm of the ghost story, however, I think the printed page has some advantages and I want you to discover them. When you read, you can be alone — absolutely alone. » — Alfred Hitchcock (but likely Robert Arthur in his name and place.)

Today, we feature Fred Banbery’s fabulously detailed and, well, haunting illustrations for « Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful ».

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Haunted Houseful’s endpapers, a summary of much of what lurks within its pages.

Frederick Ernest Banbery (1913-1999) was perhaps the definitive Paddington Bear portrayer, but for me, it’s his Hitchcock-related work that truly sings. He illustrated three Random House Hitchcock books for younger readers: Haunted Houseful (1961), Ghostly Gallery (1962), and Solve-Them-Yourself-Mysteries (1963), plus the covers of a handful of Hitch paperback short story collections. These books can still be had surprisingly cheap to this day (I just checked eBay, and it holds), so keep an eye out. Every picture’s a gem, to say nothing of the stories!

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A scene from Manly Wade Wellman‘s « Let’s Haunt a House ». Dollars to doughnuts that’s not an actual ghost.

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From Constance Savery’s « The Wastwytch Secret »

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From Walter R. Brooks’ oft-anthologized « Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons »

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A pair from Elisabeth Coatsworth‘s « The Forgotten Island ». Is that you, Mr. Hitchcock, making your customary cameo appearance?

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« The Treasure in the Cave », an excerpt from Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

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And finally, two illustrations from Louise and Donald Peattie‘s « The Mystery in Four-and-a-Half Street ». Is that powerfully moody or what?

My wife said something about my « stretching the definition of comics » with this one, but, honestly, thanks to the cartoony style, this feels more authentically like comics to me than, for instance, most comics painted in a self-consciously ‘realistic’ style (think Alex Ross, Jon J. Muth or Kent Williams), not that I’m disparaging that approach… it’s just not my thing.

– RG