29 June 2020

Arthur Mayse, His Wife, and The Beachcombers

Saturday Evening Post, 11 May 1946
My third post on Arthur Mayse in under two weeks.

Why not?

Shining a light on neglected writers like Mayse is the very raison d'être of The Dusty Bookcase. And make no mistake, Mayse is neglected.

Perilous Passage, the 1949 thriller that got me reading his work, was last published in 1950.  His second novel, Desperate Search (1952), which was adapted by Hollywood,  has been out of print for nearly as long. There's never been a collection of the dozens of stories Mayse published in Canadian, American, and British magazines. There's no collection of his newspaper work. His name doesn't feature in The Canadian Encyclopedia or The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature.

Argosy, November 1961
What intrigues me most are the scripts that Mayse wrote for The Beachcombers.

Canadians and Germans will understand.

IMDb lists just one: "The Hexman." BC BookWorld puts their number at four, but provides no titles. A call-out on the Friends of The Beachcombers Facebook page brought unexpected riches, including an email from actor Jackson Davies (Constable John Constable), who provided a complete list with episode descriptions drawn from the CBC database.

As it turns out, Mayse wrote not one, not four, but twenty-seven episodes – many with his wife Win. The description of the earliest, "Here Comes Santa Claus" (broadcast 22 December 1974), promises light fare, as befits a Christmas episode:
The Brotherhood of Unaffiliated Beachcombers sponsors the annual Christmas cruise which will carry Santa (Nick) and his sleigh to the kids on the outlying islands. Events get out of hand when an accident puts Relic in the Santa suit. Cast: Bruno Gerussi, Robert Clothier, Rae Brown, Juliet Randall and Bob Park. Guest cast: Franz Russell, Anna May McKellar, Gregg Morley, Annabel Kershaw, Jack Rigg, and Drew Kemp.
Arthur Mayse's second script, "Nick and the Amazons" (12 January 1975), in which Nick is kidnapped by private school girls, seems more unconventional. In "Too Many Cooks" (6 April 1975), his third, "Molly goes on a trip to Vancouver and winds up on skid row."

Jackson Davies himself appears in nine episodes penned by Mayse (or the Mayses), beginning with "In the Still of the Night" (21 December 1975). As the actor noted in his email to me, the writer often wrote stories focussed on the show's indigenous characters. "Voice of the People" (4 January 1981), Mayse's second to last Beachcombers episode, one of several to star Chief Dan George, is a good example:
Relic discovers that Nick and Jesse have stumbled upon some native artifacts. While poking around the site, Relic falls through the roof of an abandoned long-house and becomes entombed underground. He is finally rescued when Chief Moses orders Nick and Jesse to go back and cover up their find. Guest cast includes Chief Dan George, Len George, Robert George, John Callihoo, Willard Sam. Regular cast members are Bruno Gerussi, Robert Clothier, Rae Brown, Juliet Randall, Bob Park, Pat John, Charlene Aleck, Reg Romero and Jackson Davies.
I find I remember that episode quite well, though I'm certain I haven't seen it since it originally aired.

Chief Moses Charlie (Chief Dan George) and Jesse Jim (Pat John)
Looking over the synopses of Mayse's episodes I find some familiar, and others not so, though I'm sure I watched them all. Among the latter is "Boat in a Bottle," an episode that aired two parts:
Hugh and the family befriend a young Japanese-Canadian who has come to Gibsons to locate his father's old fish-boat which was confiscated during World War II. They run head-on into entrenched prejudice from Col. Spranklin but this does not discourage them from wanting to find the fish-boat and making it sea-worthy again. Cast: Bruno Gerussi, Robert Clothier, Rae Brown, Juliet Randall and Bob Park. Guest cast: Frank Wade, Paul Kariya, Jonathon Pallone, and Dick Clements.
"Boat in a Bottle" was broadcast on 30 January and 7 March 1976, predating Ken Adachi's influential The Enemy That Never Was: A History of Japanese-Canadians by several months... and predating reparations to Japanese-Canadians by well over a decade. It served as my introduction to an ugly scar on our history. We did not learn about internment camps in school.

The Beachcombers could be light fare, as with "Here Comes Santa Claus," but didn't shy away from the ugly. It reflected the country – particularly that part of the country – in a way other shows did not. I expect this is one reason why it remains so loved to this day. There is no Friends of the Trouble With Tracy Facebook page.

Amongst those who responded to my query regarding Arthur Mayse's contributions was Jo-Anne Campone, whose late husband, Merv Campone, also wrote for the show. After our brief exchange, I discovered that he also wrote Adventures on the Sunshine Coast (Toronto: NC Press, 1981), which I believe to be the only Beachcombers book.

I found a Fine hardcover copy listed for sale online.

You can bet I bought it.

My thanks to Jackson Davies for his generosity.

Related posts:

24 June 2020

Acerbic Saint-Jean-Baptiste Verse

On this Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, thirty-eight forgotten lines of nineteenth-century verse by S. Frances Harrison. Am I wrong in finding it curious? I admit I don't know much of the poet's work, but I was under the impression that S. Frances Harrison was a great champion of French-Canadian culture. This poem, from Pine, Rose and Fleur de Lis (Toronto: Hart, 1891) suggests her enthusiasm had its limits. Bur really, who can't help but feel sympathy for little Antoine?

     'Tis the day of the blessed St. Jean B'ptiste,
          And the streets are full of the folk awaiting
     The favourite French-Canadian feast. 
     One knows by the bells which have never ceas'd,
          Since early morn reverberating,
     Tis the day of the blessed St. Jean B'ptiste. 
     Welcome it! Joyeux, the portly priest!
          Welcome it! Nun, at your iron grating!
     The favourite French-Canadian feast. 
     Welcome it! Antoine, one of the least
          Of the earth's meek little ones, meditating
     On the day of the blessed St. Jean B'ptiste, 
     On the jostling crowd that has swift increas'd
          Behind him, before him, celebrating
     The favourite French-Canadian feast. 
     He is cloth'd in the skin of some savage beast.
          Who cares if he be near suffocating?
     Tis the day of the blessed St. Jean B'ptiste,
     The favourite French-Canadian Feast. 
     Poor little Antoine! He does not mind.
          It is all for the church, for a grand good cause,
     The nuns are so sweet and the priests so kind. 
     The martyr's spirit is fast enshrin'd
          In the tiny form that the ox-cart draws,
     Poor little Antoine, he does not mind. 
     Poor little soul, for the cords that bind
          Are stronger than ardor for fame or applause—
     The nuns are so sweet and the priests so kind. 
     And after the fete a feast is design'd—
          Locusts and honey are both in the clause—
     Brave little Antoine! He does not mind 
     The heat, nor the hungry demon twin'd
          Around his vitals that tears and gnaws,
     The nuns are so sweet and the priests so kind. 
     The dust is flying. The streets are lin'd
          With the panting crowd that prays for a pause.
     Poor little Antoine! He does not mind!
     The nuns are so sweet and the priests so kind.
Bonne fête!

Related posts:

23 June 2020

Arthur Mayse: The Gift of His Extraordinary Life


At ten, The Beachcombers consumed a steady portion of my week – one half-hour each Sunday evening – and yet Arthur Mayse's name meant nothing to me. Truth be told, I never paid much attention to the show's credits. Mayse wrote four of the early episodes; they followed more than sixty short stories, novellas, and novels published in Liberty, Argosy, Collier's, Maclean's, and the Saturday Evening Post. They also followed three novels, including 1952's Desperate Search, a Post serial and Sears Book Club selection, which was adapted to the screen in a film starring Howard Keel and Jane Greer. IMDb has the trailer.

Arthur "Bill" Mayse was a Manitoban, born amongst the Swampy Cree to Baptist missionaries, though he lived most of his life in British Columbia, the province in which most of his fiction is set. A newspaperman, Mayse wrote for the Vancouver Sun, the Province, and was for thirty years a columnist for the Victoria Times-Colonist. His obituary appeared in the same edition as his final column.

I moved from Montreal to Vancouver not long after Arthur Mayse died. In my fifteen years in British Columbia – eight of which I served on the Executive of the Federation of BC Writers (two as Vice-President, two as President) – I never once heard anyone mention his name.

How can this be?

Arthur Mayse lived a most remarkable life. This early part of his Vancouver Sun obituary (25 March 1992), penned by son-in-law Stephen Hume, gives a sense of what we lost in his passing:
He knew Cowichan shamans, Sointula pukka fighters, tame apes from the A-frame camps, Chinese laborers, unrepentant Wobblies. More than anything, he knew and loved the country. He lived it, breathed it, fished it and sometimes despaired at what was being done to it in the ignorant clamor called progress.
      He was an ace reporter for The Province from the day he was hired out of UBC, a prize-winning poet one course short of graduation. He'd been freelancing pieces at space rates until the managing editor noticed he earned more from his column-inch scale than reporters did on full salary and hired him to save money.
     In 1933, covering the first ascent of Mount Waddington, highest peak in the Coast Range and a notorious killer of climbers, he packed carrier pigeons to the high base camp. Hawks picked them off at the treeline, so he did a solo descent through brutal terrain, bushwhacked his way to tidewater, cat danced the log booms and sweet-talked a tugboat skipper into taking him downcoast to file his exclusive story.
It ends:
When word of his death came, we went outside and looked into a night sky blazing with stars. The Big Dipper wheeled down toward the horizon, the same constellation Bill watched from Cowichan Bay in his dugout canoe (heisted for him by shaman Cultus Tommy) as a boy so long ago. It seemed right that he should escape weary age and sorrow at the hinge of the year. He died just before dawn. It was equinox, the first day of spring. We took his two-year-old granddaughter to a sea-run cutthroat beach –  a child he loved, a place he loved – and gave thanks for the gift of his extraordinary life.
Extraordinary indeed.

It wasn't until this month that I'd read anything by Arthur Mayse. The strength of that work, his debut novel Perilous Passage, sent me off on a tear through the short stories he published in Maclean's. It's sad to think that they came and went with each new issue – none were ever collected – and yet I can't help but appreciate a time in which fiction featured in our best magazines. And I can't help but admire the artists who provided illustrations for his stories.

15 February 1940
1 April 1945
15 May 1945
15 September 1945
15 October 1946
15 March 1951

Does "The Hex-Man of Croacker's Creek" have anything to do with "The Hexman," one of Mayse's Beachcombers scripts?

The question might be addressed in the introduction to a collection of his short stories.

Is the publication of such a thing not overdue?

Related posts:

21 June 2020

A Father's Love on Father's Day

A favourite purchase of last year, and a cherished volume for all time, my copy of Anne Hebert's 1942 debut, Les songes en équilibre, bears this inscription from her father:

Mine is anything but unique. That Maurice Hébert presented other copies with similar sentiments makes me love it all the more.

A Happy Father's Day!

This one marks my twenty-third.

I am blessed.

Related post:

16 June 2020

Just Kids

Perilous Passage
Arthur Mayse
New York: Pocket, 1950
233 pages

A semi-conscious man looks about a boat's cabin as a woman presses a wet cloth to his forehead. She's young, her nails are short, and her small hands are calloused. When another man tries to enter, she grabs a gun: "If you come down here, Joe, I'll shoot you."

For a moment, the intruder doesn't move. "I don't want your damn' old hulk, Devvy," he tells her. When the woman threatens a second time, he leaves. "You'd better too," he says. "She's near sunk."

Who's Joe? Who's Devvy?

The semi-conscious man has been beaten so badly that he can't even remember his own name, never mind how he came to find himself in this situation. Devvy tells him he's Clint Farrell. She says they met two weeks earlier in a place called Martinez Cove. They're on a salmon troller that he and his partner operate out of Vancouver. That partner, a Finn named Aleko Johannsen, is nowhere to be found, though the amount of blood covering the deck suggests that he's dead. Devvy wants to know what happened. Clint remembers three men boarding the troller, but nothing more.

Joe was right, the troller is near sunk. Devvy tows the boat to calm waters and leads Clint back to her home:
"I want to help you, if I can."
"Because you were good to me at Martinez."
How so?

Clint Farrell has nearly as many questions as the reader, but as the fog clears and time passes, stark reality emerges.

Devvy is Devise Callahan – "stupid name, but Dad liked it" – an American farm girl who lives just south of the border between British Columbia and Washington State. Dad is recently dead, leaving her to share a house with Aila, a detested drunk her father brought back from the war.

Joe is Joe Peddar, a horny hired hand who once caught Devvy in the hayloft. She bit him and then fired his sorry ass.

Clint Farrell turns out to be a city boy from Oregon. The son of a son of a bitch, he was sent to reform school after flooring his abusive father. Clint jumped the fence to Canada. In Vancouver, he tried to reinvent himself as prize-fighter "Bill Ryan." After his first and only bout  – a loss – the cops nearly picked him up for underaged drinking, but Aleko interceded.

You'll note that I've shifted from "man" and "woman" to "boy" and "girl." I began the novel assuming that Clint and Devvy were adults, but they aren't – not according to the laws of the time. Clint is nineteen. Devvy is seventeen or eighteen.

Perilous Passage is atypical post-war Canadian noir in that Clint and Devvy are underage; Harlequin, News Stand Library, Collins White Circle, and Studio Editions never went there. It's also unusual for its setting; The Body on Mount Royal,  Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street, Present Reckoning, and Flee the Night in Anger have nothing to do with country life.

Rural noir, right? If so, I'm hard-pressed to think of another Canadian example from the post-war years.

I'll write no more for fear of spoiling the plot of a recommended read, except to say that what struck me as being most different between this and other Canadian novels of the time was Devvy's strength. Clint has the fists, sure, but she is the stronger in both character and intelligence. What's more, her smarts save his butt. Turning to the back cover, after having read the final page, I see that I'm not alone in my opinion.

Girls mature more quickly than boys, right?

It was so in my experience.

Object and Access: A trade-size paperback purchased £5.00 from a UK bookseller. Much as I like the James R. Bingham cover illustration, depicting the opening scene, I'm quick to point out that Devvy's hair is too long and her breasts are too big. Her image on the dust jacket of the Morrow first edition is more faithful to the author's description.

Perilous Passage first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in seven instalments running from May 14 to June 25, 1949. A Canadian Press story (10 May 1949) reports that Mayse received $15,000 in return, "the highest price ever paid to a Canadian writer by that magazine."

Saturday Evening Post, 14 May 1949
That same year, the novel enjoyed two hardcover printings with Morrow. My Pocket Books edition is dated September 1950 (I've yet to find evidence of a second printing). In 1952, Frederick Muller brought out a UK edition. An uncredited Swedish translation, Farlig kust, also 1952, was published by B. Wahlström.

Copies in its various editions can be found amongst the holdings of Library and Archives Canada and in just four of our academic libraries.

My thanks to Beau, whose reminder encouraged me to read this novel.

Related posts:
Arthur Mayse: The Gift of His Extraordinary Life
Arthur Mayse, His Wife, and The Beachcombers

02 June 2020

Rhyming Leads to Ruin (and a correction)

Ballads of a Bohemian
Robert W. Service
New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1921
220 pages

It would be interesting to see sales figures for Robert W. Service's books of poetry; my feeling is that each sold fewer copies than the last. Ballads of a Bohemian, his fifth, followed Rhymes of a Red Cross Man (1916), which followed Rhymes of a Rolling Stone (1912), which followed Ballads of a Cheechako (1909), which followed Songs of the Sourdough (1907). It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Songs of the SourdoughThe Spell of the Yukon to you Yankee readers – accrued more sales than all the others put together.

This is not to suggest that Ballads of a Bohemian was a commercial failure. Far from it! Ninety-nine years after publication, ninety-nine-year-old copies are thick on the ground. I bought mine two years ago for two dollars. It was read last month, along with Service's forgotten 1926 thriller, The Master of the Microbe (the subject of next month's Canadian Notes & Queries column). Both reminded me that when Service left Dawson City for the City of Light, he arrived on the eve of the Great War.

Ballads of a Bohemian is presented as the diary of someone named Stephen Poore, a young American expatriate who, very much like Service, quits secure employment for the life of a versifier. Each entry serves to introduce a Poore poem or two or three. The date of the first – "April 1914" – establishes an ever-hanging, ever-darkening cloud. Poole moves through Montparnasse with the excitement, enthusiasm and optimism of youth, but we people know what's coming.

A few pages in, I began to question whether Stephen Poole can be considered a bohemian. Some cred comes in his claim that he "kicked over an office stool and came to Paris thinking to make a living by my pen," but there's otherwise nothing at all unconventional about the man. Poole demonstrates remarkable discipline and industry. He lives modestly, has no vices, and knows no women. Poole's acquaintances are limited to "short story man" MacBean and a poet named Saxon Dane. The former is appreciated as a mentor, while the latter is described as dislikable and pretentious: "Originality is his sin," writes Poole:
He strains after it in every line. I must confess I think much of the free verse he writes is really prose, and a good deal of it blank verse chopped up into odd lengths. He talks of assonance and color, of stress and pause and accent, and bewilders me with his theories.
Poole's verse push no boundaries. After presenting "On the Boulevard," the tenth of the sixty-six poems bound between these boards, he brags:
I wrote this so quickly that I might almost say I had reached the end before I had come to the beginning. In such a mood I wonder why everybody does not write poetry. Get a Roget's Thesaurus, a rhyming dictionary: sit before your typewriter with a strong glass of coffee at your elbow, and just click the stuff off.
Poole's verse is conventional, sentimental, romantic, melodramatic, and he knows it:
I have no illusions about myself. I am not fool enough to think I am a poet, but I have a knack of rhyme and I love to make verses. Mine is a tootling, tin-whistle music. Humbly and afar I follow in the footsteps of Praed and Lampson, of Field and Riley, hoping that in time my Muse may bring me bread and butter. So far, however, it has been all kicks and no coppers. And to-night I am at the end of my tether. I wish I knew where to-morrow’s breakfast was coming from. Well, since rhyming’s been my ruin, let me rhyme to the bitter end.
Praed? Lampson? Field? Riley? None of those names meant a thing to me. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica informs that Winthrop Mackworth Praed was the author of "brilliant rhythmic trifles." The same edition describes Frederick Locker-Lampson as a poet belonging "to the choir who deal with the gay rather than the grave in verse—with the polished and witty rather than the lofty or emotional."

Field is "Michael Field," the pseudonym of Edith Cooper and her aunt, guardian, and lover Katharine Bradley (above), writers of more than two dozen verse dramas.* James Whitcomb Riley, the lone American, was a "poet remembered for nostalgic dialect verse and often called 'the poet of the common people.'" Encyclopædia Britannica tells me so.

I thank Service for providing an introduction to each. I may just read them one day.

(Am I wrong in being disturbed by the relationship between Edith Cooper and Katharine Bradley?)

Ballads of a Bohemian sold well, reaching #1 Bookseller & Stationer's "Non-Fiction" list. According to Publishers Weekly, it reached #6 south of the border. Reviews tended toward the positive, if not the laudatory. I've not come across one that addresses the volume's greatest flaw: Service's inability to write as anyone but himself. I can't imagine that readers Service's previous books would detect any difference between the poetry of the Bard of the Yukon and that of his character.

Might I be too hash in suggesting Service incapable? Evidence suggests that he made no effort at all.

Like the Service books that came before, Ballads of a Bohemian is a haphazard gathering of verse written and published over a period of several years. "The Blood-Red Fourragère" (Maclean's, April 1918). "The Twa Jocks" (Maclean's, May 1918), "Kelly of the Legion" (Maclean's, June 1918), and "The Wife" (Maclean's, December,  1918) weren't presented as anything other than Robert W. Service poems. Similarly, verse from the book published after Ballads of a Bohemian arrived in stores – "Julot the Apache" (Cosmopolitan, March 1921), "The Absinthe Drinkers" (Cosmopolitan, April 1921), "The Death of Marie Toro" (Cosmopolitan, May 1921) – have no accompanying notes about the Poole character.

Service makes one small effort to separate himself from his character, having Poole write about a poem titled "Lucille":
Well, here’s the thing that has turned the tide for me. It is somewhat in the vein of “Sourdough” Service, the Yukon bard. I don’t think much of his stuff, but they say he makes heaps of money. I can well believe it, for he drives a Hispano-Suiza in the Bois every afternoon. The other night he was with a crowd at the Dome Cafe, a chubby chap who sits in a corner and seldom speaks. I was disappointed. I thought he was a big, hairy man who swore like a trooper and mixed brandy with his beer. He only drank Vichy, poor fellow!
Tellingly, this verse "somewhat in the vein of 'Sourdough' Service," is Poole's easiest and most lucrative sale. It begins:
Of course you’ve heard of the Nancy Lee and how she sailed away
On her famous quest of the Arctic flea, to the wilds of Hudson’s Bay
For it was a foreign Prince's whim to collect this tiny cuss,
And a golden quid was no more to him than a copper to coves like us.
Young children may enjoy.

Ah, I'm being too harsh. Something of a sentimentalist and romantic myself, I was moved by "The Wee Shop," "The Pencil Seller," "The Death of Marie Toro" and, more than any other, "The Auction Sale." "The Coco-Fiend" chilled, but not so much as "It's Later Than You Think." I'd never encountered it in print, but I had heard it... and more than once. But where? These are the best of its seven stanzas:
Look again: yon dainty blonde,
All allure and golden grace,
Oh so willing to respond
Should you turn a smiling face.
Play your part, poor pretty doll;
Feast and frolic, pose and prink;
There’s the Morgue to end it all,
And it’s later than you think. 
Yon’s a playwright—mark his face,
Puffed and purple, tense and tired;
Pasha-like, he holds his place,
Hated, envied and admired.
How you gobble life, my friend;
Wine, and woman soft and pink!
Well, each tether has its end:
Sir, it’s later than you think. 
See yon living scarecrow pass
With a wild and wolfish stare
At each empty absinthe glass,
As if he saw Heaven there.
Poor damned wretch, to end your pain
There is still the Greater Drink.
Yonder waits the sanguine Seine...
It is later than you think.
Clicking the stuff off is not enough. Ballads of a Bohemian is a failure for lack of trying, which is not to say that it doesn't have things that may be salvaged. If you read it, you'll find them. The question is whether it's worth your time.

It's later than I think.

Bookseller & Stationer, November 1921

*Correction: Shortly after the above was posted, Daniel H. Grader was kind enough to write, suggesting: "Service's 'Field' can't possibly have been 'Michael Field', whose refined productions have nothing in common with the work of James Whitcomb Riley. Instead, he must have been referring to Eugene Field, the prolific American versifier best remembered as the creator of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod."

I have no doubt that he's correct.

A similar observation was left by reese in the comments.

My thanks to both.
Trivia: In 1921, the year Ballads of a Bohemian was published, Joseph Delmont and Hertha von Walther directed a film titled Julot der Apache. I've yet to find a link between it and "Julot the Apache." On the other hand, I've yet to find so much as a synopsis or still.

Julot seems to reappear in The Master of the Microbe... and then turns out to be someone else entirely. I hope this doesn't serve as a spoiler.

Object and Access: Slim, bound in dark green boards. The frontispiece features a portrait of the poet, looking not the least bit chubby.

Copies are common, but not in our public libraries. The book can be read here – gratis – thanks to the Internet Archive. Those preferring paper will find an inexpensive (£3.00) copy of T. Fisher Unwin's first British edition for sale online. At US$139.95, the most expensive copy currently on offer is Barse & Hopkins American first in dust jacket.

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