Before publication of Psycho in 1959, before his purely coincident move to California that same year, Robert Bloch cast his spell upon the Milwaukee Fictioneers, that notable group of Wisconsin writers. Its effect began soon after his famous correspondent H. P. Lovecraft passed away in 1937 and endured throughout waning years and the final months in 1954 of the iconic Weird Tales magazine.
In 1987, near the end of Bloch’s life, historian Jack Koblas conducted a 90-minute interview with Bloch (transcribed in The Lovecraft Circle and Others: As I Remember Them, Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2012) that touches briefly on this period to reveal a little more of this lost history of the Fictioneers. Under discussion: the 1930s. Subject underway: Bloch’s young friend (future SF & Mystery writer) Henry Kuttner, still a beginner: “You told me,” Koblas reminds Bloch, “that you did something with Kuttner. Did you collaborate with Kuttner?” Bloch answers:
“The Black Kiss,” but he had been trying to sell that story and he couldn’t. He gave it to me and he said, “Do something with it.” So I rewrote it and I used the basic premise that he had, and that was published…. Then I wrote another one for the Milwaukee Fictioneers and one of the writers, who had been a very successful writer of boys’ books, a real good writer, a nature writer, dying to get into Weird Tales. He couldn’t do it. He submitted it. He said, “What can I do?” and I said let me see some of it. He showed me a story and I said I think this will work but I think it would have to be restyled. He said, “Would you collaborate with me on it?” I did, I rewrote it, and it was printed—Jim Kjelgaard, printed as “The Man Who Told the Truth.” Then I did one on the same basis for another member of the Fictioneers, for Strange Stories, Ralph Milne Farley…. (41)
Indeed “The Black Kiss,” bylined “Robert Bloch and Henry Kuttner,” was published in the June 1937 Weird Tales, but this is not Kuttner’s first WT story, though undoubtedly it did help pave the way for others to follow (there would be fourteen more of his own); Kuttner in fact had appeared there nine times already. Kjelgaard had been there, too, logging three individual appearances before “The Man Who Told the Truth” (none identified as collaborations) in 1946, which turned out to be his last. And the same must be said of Farley, who booked eleven stories from 1930 to 1943.
What must have happened is that all of these authors believed they would learn more about their craft through Bloch’s reworking of their stories. Learning from each other was (and is) a hallmark of Milwaukee Fictioneer-Allied Authors, and there apparently was a lot that could be learned from Bloch, who in these pre-Hollywood days chalked up 67 appearances in Weird Tales, equivalent or surpassing numbers elsewhere, and who effortlessly might have landed oodles more had WT not folded.
John D. Haefele submitted this article. (© 2012 all rights reserved)