Smoking, more dangerous than you ever knew.
So. Everybody has heard of Howard Philips Lovecraft I presume? Well of course you have, even Xbox playing preteens can tell you that Lovecraft is Cthulhu’s agent. How about Robert E. Howard then? Well of course you have, even Netflix watching preteens can tell you Howard is Conan’s agent. (Though you can confuse them by asking which Conan does he represent?)
So what about E. Hoffman Price? Hah, got you there, you thought I was going to ask about Clarke Ashton Smith next, didn’t you? No, Smith is for another day when I’m feeling a little more eldritch. Not that E. Hoffman Price couldn’t write a pretty effective weird story when he was in the mood. He started selling weird shorts back in the 1920s and didn’t stop until not long before he passed away in the 1980s. I doubt anybody keeps selling that long if they don’t have the knack for it.
Of course Price had the advantage of living a life that sometimes must have felt like it had been ripped from the pages of a pulp magazine. He served with the American Expeditionary Force in France during WWI and later on soldiered in the Philippines and on the Mexican border. Even after he settled for the relatively quiet life of an author he pulp world kept intruding. For example take the following extract from an article that appeared in Amra #63 (published by George Scithers in April, 1975). This is cut down somewhat from the Amra version in order to focus on the meat of the story:
7 APRIL, 1934: Wanda and I drove to Independence, Kansas, to get license plates for the second hand Ford Model A which we’d bought a year ago. Having only a bill of sale, which was not duly notarised, we could get no plates. Not to be frustrated entirely, we sought and procured a marriage license, despite the fact that – not mentioning any names – someone’s divorce was still a couple of weeks short of one year in the past. Being at least 97% legally married we hustled back to Pawkuska where we were visiting friends, writing fiction, and wondering when there would be a check permitting us to head for the Pacific Coast. I had promised Wanda that if she carried on, she would finally see the Pacific Ocean.
The bait worked. A couple of days previously my agent had sent me a check for $125, for a story accepted at $100, payable on publication. This happy omen got us moving in a hurry. With 1933 plates. In Texas the cops nailed you and made you buy costly plates. So the bride and I took leave of our friends and headed for Texas by night – destination, Cross Plains, the home of Robert E. Howard.
8 APRIL 1934: All night drive. Progress, lousy. Made Red River, the Oklahoma-Texas line, somewhat after sunrise. “Long way to Cross Plains, darling,” said I, “but somewhere midstream we enter Texas, and we’ll greet Bob. Light me a cigar, Mrs Price…” This was not even technically illegal, since she was over eighteen and thus entitled to tobacco in all its forms. She fired up the smoke. We cleared the bridge…
Up jumped half a dozen lawmen, popping from brush on either side of the road. They leveled sawed-off shotguns and Winchesters. The brakes worked nicely. I held my hands reasonably high, palms facing the gunners.
“I’ll buy 1934 license plates, no squawk at all.”
The chief ignored this. He eyed Wanda. He eyed the car. “You don’t look like Pretty Boy Floyd. The young lady don’t look like Bonnie Parker, but smoking a see-gar kind of made us wonder a bit. It’s 0K, sorry to hold you up.”
We moved on.
Wanda handed me the cigar. “You smoke this God-damn thing, and after this, you light your own.”
Can’t say I blame her…
Especially give that Bonnie Parker and ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd were both gunned down by law enforcement officers later in the year, Parker on 23 May and Floyd on 22 October.
I think it’s fair to say that 1934 was not a good year to go touring if you looked anything like anybody on the FBI’s wanted list.