The Three Faces of Wayne Rogers


For the more prolific of the pulp authors the use of a pseudonym or two was commonplace. In some instances such as in the case of Wyatt Blassingame, the use of a secondary name was simply to accommodate having two stories in the same issue of a magazine. In what must have struck readers as an odd coincidence, “William Rainey” seemed to only appear in magazines that also featured a story by Wyatt Blassingame. The more astute readers might have noticed that there was a tremendous stylistic similarity between the two authors. By the same token, “Spencer Whitney” must have had a clause in his contract that he would only appear in issues that also featured Arthur J. Burks.

Wayne Rogers, Conrad Kimball, and H.M. Appel present a slightly different scenario, as will be seen in the contents of this second volume of Wayne Rogers’ selected weird tales. All three were pseudonyms of former mainstream editor, Archibald Bittner. When Bittner made the career change from editing general fiction magazines to writing stories for the weird menace pulps and pinch-hitting on some of the more flamboyant single-character magazines such as Operator #5 and The Spider he left his real name behind and assumed the identity of “Wayne Rogers”.

As “Wayne Rogers” he quickly established as a dependable contributor with an appearance in the second issue of Dime Mystery Magazine devoted to this new genre of “weird menace”. “Disappearing Death” was a solid work of novelette length and the majority of the work that was to appear under the Rogers byline would be in the 9,000 to 15,000 word range; thus insuring the author of at least being mentioned on the cover, if not having the cover art devoted to his story. While churning out a novelette or two a month may seem demanding, in the opinion of many writers (including myself) it’s really the easiest length to work in for the horror story. One has adequate space to develop characters, set up a couple of red herrings and, above all, maintain a sense of dread from beginning to end.

Keeping the reader on the edge of his/her seat is always the biggest challenge in the horror genre. Doing so over 10,000 to 12,000 words is no problem, which explains why the novelette form is so popular with authors. However, Rogers was going to be given another task for Popular Publications’ trio of weird menace pulps (Dime Mystery Magazine, Terror Tales and Horror Stories). While the novelette is popular with writers, the editor’s and publisher’s bread and butter is the short story of 5,000-6,000 words. While the longer pieces serve as the main attraction, without the short stories, one doesn’t have much of a magazine. The short stories were more than just filler; in some cases, the artist didn’t have time to provide a cover that represented a scene from one of the long pieces and would turn in a generic illustration suitable to the overall theme of the magazine (generally a masked fiend or lumbering brute menacing a young lady who seemingly had been surprised while undressing); in these instances the author not only had to turn work in quickly, but also had to tailor the story to fit whatever was depicted on the cover.

With the goal of satisfying editor Rogers Terrill’s need for shorter pieces, “H.M. Appel” was “born” with the publication of “Baby Blood” in the February 1934 issue of Dime Mystery. This nom de plume would feature in all three publications through 1936, when the name was discarded after being used in an atypical fashion on a novelette (“We Are the Damned”), in the September 1936 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine. The Appel stories are quite different from the typical Rogers piece. The tales are by necessity plot-driven, usually with a trick ending and minimal characterization. As with the preceding volume (Satan’s Sin House) we’ve included three examples in this book and subsequent volumes will collect the remaining Appel stories. While the Appel stories are by definition too slight to deliver the punch of Rogers’ most memorable tales such as “Temple of Torment” or “Death Rocks the Cradle”, I think that most readers will agree that they are clever examples of the genre and well-worth preservation in book form.

Rogers maintained a steady, high volume pace with some thirty pieces (mostly novelettes or novellas) appearing between July 1935 and October 1937. Readers may have noticed a similar authorial style in three novelettes published in 1937 under the name of “Conrad Kimball”. As opposed to the very specific purpose of “H.M. Appel”, “Conrad Kimball” was more in the vein of “William Rainey” or “Spencer Whitney”; a way to get two stories in the same issue of a given magazine. The “Conrad Kimball” name was debuted in 1935 in Horror Stories with “Hell’s Actress”, a story which would have been perfectly suitable under the H.M. Appel byline. Rogers didn’t have occasion to use the name again until the appearance of “Fresh Blood for Golden Cauldrons”, which appeared in Horror Stories along with “Death Rocks the Cradle”. Both are among Rogers’ very best work and we have included both stories in this volume.

As other assignments materialized, Rogers work for the weird menace magazines slowed a good deal, with only fifteen pieces appearing for Popular Publication from 1938-1941. However, where the quantity may have diminished, there was no compromise on quality, with some of Rogers’ very best work appearing in 1940-1941. The third volume in this series will be devoted primarily to the feature-length tales from this period.

Sadly, while Rogers was still at the top of his game, many of his contemporaries had either burned out or drifted away to other genres. No one author, no matter how good, was going to be able to prop up three magazines indefinitely. Major contributors such as Arthur J. Burks seemed to have lost interest in the genre and were just going through the motions, whereas others such as Wyatt Blassingame and John H. Knox were exploring more traditional mystery and detective tales. The dependable Henry Treat Sperry and Leon Byrne both passed away in 1939. Newer authors such as Loring Dowst and George Vandegrift weren’t capable of the volume that characterized the earlier mainstays of the magazines such as Cave, Zagat, and Cummings, and the readership, jaded after nearly a decade of excess, were finding other entertainments to spend their money on. Most importantly, with the all-too-real menaces from Germany and Japan an ever-present threat, stories about cackling fiends with elaborate schemes just didn’t seem to have much appeal.

One of the first on the scene, Wayne Rogers was also one of the last to leave. His pulp career had a real storybook ending as he went out with a bang. Two of his best stories (“Dracula’s Bride” and “March of the Homeless Corpses”) showed up in the February and March issues of Horror Stories and Terror Tales. Readers may not have realized that they were witnessing the end of an era, but by the time the two magazines hit the newsstands, Archibald Bittner was on the way to a new life in Florida operating a chain of movie theaters; when he left, Wayne Rogers, Conrad Kimball, and H.M. Appel went with him.



—John Pelan

Midnight House

Gallup, NM

All Hallows 2010