Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pulp That Never Was...But Should Have Been

DAUGHTER OF DRACULA was an experiment of sorts for publisher Cameron Tyler to break into the narrow margin between outright sleaze (as he called it) of the burgeoning pornographic market (Playboy, Penthouse, etc...) ruled by Hugh Hefner and the Men's Adventure market dominated by Martin Goodman's line of cheap thrill rags (excluding his nephew Stan Lee's editorship of the company's Marvel Comics).

Tyler knew he couldn't squeeze into either of these areas nor could he compete with the rapidly growing paperback book market, so he decided to do an 'end run' and develop a line of books with the appearance of magazines, but the content of the paperback.

In essence he reinvented the pulp.

DAUGHTER OF DRACULA -- "Sounds more sophisticated than Dracula's Daughter... besides, Dracula sells!" he would shout around the office -- was a hastily conceived series  by Tyler's editorial "team" (whoever happened to be in the office that day and could humor the old man) and turned over to freelance writers to flesh out individual "novels."  Tyler's methodology was very direct and responsive to the needs of his audience:

He would read what was popular in the news of the day and develop a way to capitalize on it.  As he often said, "I don't want to make a wine drinker into a beer drinker. I want beer drinkers to try my brand of beer."

In this instance he had just seen Hammer Film's DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE starring Christopher Lee with his nephew. This wasn't the Dracula he knew from his young age, but a more sophisticated, sexy vampire with a sadistic streak that had no restraint. While the material did nothing for the puritan-raised Tyler, he could see his nephew's rapt interest. In fact the only thing that held young Michael's attention more than Lee's blood-soaked performance were all of the scantily-clad women in the movie.

Tyler thought if he could only combine the two elements he would have a winner...

Tyler nearly fell out of his chair when the words popped out of his mouth... "Daughter...of...Dracula!"

The rest fell into place rather quickly. DoD was the story of yes, Dracula's daughter Zara who must endure hardship and sacrifice as she travels the world following important clues left by her father after his demise at the hands of Van Helsing and co. Her goal is to use those clues and the treasure they reveal to forcefully take the throne as Queen of the Vampires.

Van Helsing's nephew, Michael (in a tip to Tyler's own nephew) agrees to aid Zara in her quest because since Dracula's death the vampires have grown restless and are attacking humans more frequently.  There is nothing to keep them in check.  As the duo travel the world encountering all sorts of supernatural creatures and mysteries, Michael and Zara must fight their ever-growing attraction to one another...

The series ran for approximately 27 adventures before dying an untimely death at the news stand. Astonishingly, for a man who was so able to keep his finger on the pulse of popular culture, Tyler underestimated the power of the magazine cover.  While his magazine-sized "pulps" had the goods on the inside - each issue packed with blood-letting, sex, monsters, adventure and  horror - something within Tyler wouldn't allow him to create more prurient,colorful, action-packed covers to demonstrate to the casual browser what delights lay within the pages.  Just as likely Tyler didn't really know what was in his own magazines for after an idea was turned over to his editors he would move on to the next subject that caught his interest. 

Many of the novels in the DoD series were authored by E. W. Benson under the pen name of "Maxwell Ernst." Benson was an author with a bloodthirsty streak whose prose would have made the editors of the old WEIRD TALES blush filled as they were with the above-mentioned sex and blood. Benson never met Tyler nor any of the other editors at the office, but simply and quietly fulfilled her assignments on time.

You read that right. Her assignments.

E.W. Benson stood for Elizabeth Warren Benson and she was one of the many freelancers who answered Tyler's small ads in the back of Writer's Digest and Author's Quarterly looking for writing work.  She worked under several pen names writing fiction, articles and advertising copy for a variety of clients from her home in St. Louis. It was probably a good thing that she never showed up at Tyler's editorial offices because she most certainly would have been fired. Not for any lack of quality in her work - but for the fact that male editors would have been too embarrassed discussing the prurient aspects of the books with a female.

By all accounts, Benson was a quiet woman married to a loving husband who worked for one of the many industrial plants there in the area.  No one ever found out she wrote stories featuring blood, gore, supernatural creatures, nudity, subtle lesbianism and sex.  She simply went about her business pocketing the (meager) checks paid to her family's bank account under "E.W. Benson."

   But that's just part of the story...

(c) 2010 by Bill Cunningham and Pulp 2.0 Press


T. B. Back said...

Oh, how I love these little tales of old.

Luke H said...

How interesting! I would really love to hear the next part of the story!

Tim Shrum said...

Read this several times over now. A great article. I'm hoping that there is more like it to come. A pulp history, if you will.

RJ said...

Any suggestions on how to actually be able to read some of these stories?

Cunningham said...

Oh yes, there will be tales to be read...