The Secret Life of Henry Kuttner and CL Moore
Henry Kuttner was born in Los Angeles in 1914 of parents who were of German, Jewish, English, Irish and Polish extraction. He bragged about one grandfather who was a rabbi. His father, who ran a book shop, died when he was five.
Kuttner's early years were spent in San Francisco, where his mother supported him and two older brothers, operating a boarding house. They moved back to Los Angeles when Henry entered high school. Upon graduation he went to work in a literary agency.
A short, slight, dark-complexioned man, unhandsome and sporting a small, pencil-line moustache, he was timid and self-effacing, but the fount from which flowed a seemingly inexhaustible stream of humor, dispensed in a dour, unsmiling fashion. Kuttner's friends who knew him on a close personal basis characterized him "as one of the the kindest, gentlest, funniest men alive." Kuttner the most considerate human being it has been my pleasure to know," Kuttner was the first writer in the science fiction world to rise to glory incognito. One may in fact find it difficult to attribute greatness to a fledgling on his first published efforts. Yet straight out of the gate Kuttner was destined for greatness.
For this reason his identity was initially questioned. Was this 'new writer' really the nome de plume of some more established hack writer? One may find irony that a writer who would build his reputation on pen names was initially be suspected of being one!
If you consider any of today's science fiction writers that you may imagine to be third-rate, then consider the impact created when he suddenly confessed to being the real genius behind the published efforts of a number of well recognized others.
That was the impact created when Henry Kuttner admitted for publication that he was Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O'Donnell. And that he was also Keith Hammond, Kelvin Kent, Paul Edmonds and sundry other names. Will Garth was Kuttner's first use of a pen name in science fiction. This device was to have a profound influence on his career.
Henry Kuttner had been writing sex-horror stories for iMystery Tales, an experiment with a little sex to spice up science fiction. Up until then, sex was not only taboo but unwanted by the readers. Even a thread of love interest was barely tolerated. Most science fiction stories got along without acknowledging the existence of women at all!
During the Thirties an outgrowth of the mystery magazines appeared, publications that specialized in stories of sadism, torture, flagellation and satanism heavily flavored with sex were developed. Though they related supernatural events with normal, logical explanations they were erotic and debased. Henry Kuttner using pen names sold regularly to Thrilling Mystery, Horror Tales, and Terror Tales the most blatantly titillating of all.
The stories were fast-action science fiction and the "sex" by today's standards was rather tame, but they elicited a symphony of reader protest. Kuttner's never-high reputation skidded to a new low. Kuttner wrote under pen-names stories such as Dark Heritage as Robert O. Kenyon and Dictator of the Americas as James Hall, the most cheaply sex laden stories in the pulp magazine era.
His lack of popularity, combined with circumstance, forced Kuttner further and further into the device of pseudonyms as 1939 progressed. Thrilling Wonder Stories, Fall, 1946, published under the pen name of "Keith Hammond" originated as a device for running two stories in the same issue of Strange Stories,
Most of the stories under the Hammond name were imitations of Lovecraft and may even have been previous rejections from Weird Tales. "Kelvin Kent" was used at first in collaboration, then alternately with Arthur K. Barnes for a series of humorous stories. The pen name of Paul Edmonds began in the May, 1939 issue of Science Fiction was used to cover up the fact that Kuttner was selling them his rejects at half the rate he received from Thrilling Wonder Stories
Pearl Harbor played an unexpected role in their lives. John Campbell the publisher of Astounding Science Fiction and UnknownWorlds had developed a crack team of writers. Now, between military service and war work, he lost his best writers. He had to develop a new group of authors, who would continue to produce the quality and style of fiction his readers had come to expect.
Henry Kuttner was one of those approached, but a pen name was considered essential. The Kuttners selected the cognomen of Lewis Padgett. From Kuttner's mother's maiden name "Lewis" and Moore's grandmother's maiden name "Padgett".
When the news eventually broke that Henry Kuttner was both Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O'Donnell, all past transgressions were forgiven if not completely forgotten by the readers. Their enthusiasm was based upon superior craftsmanship, and on the desire to see the underdog win, but mostly because Kuttner was someone they liked. A superbly proficient literary mimic, Kuttner usually wrote like whoever was in demand at the time.
The influence of Julius Schwartz his literary agent convinced Kuttner that he should divert some of his energies towards . Kuttner was reluctant at first, because he thought that science fiction was corny, amateurish and unbelievable. Despite that Kuttner liked science fiction and though his scientific background was so scanty that he felt inadequate to the job, Kuttner launched his science fiction career.
With the years his interest shifted from science fiction towards weird-fantasy. A devoted reader of Weird Tales he became a correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft and wrote in collaboration with his close friend Robert Bloch as well as other other members of the "Lovecraft Circle,"
Kuttner is remembered for his immense versatility, but all most all evaluations of him his verse have been forgotten. Henry Kuttner worshipped at the shrine of Robert E. Howard and at the throne of H. P. Lovecraft. Despite obscurity all of his verse is eminently readable.
Kuttner's weird fantasy stories exhibit a powerful an exercise in fear. Striking a basic chord of all that man holds abhorrent, Kuttner's weird fantasy rears pontifically above other weird tales, that owe everything to H. P. Lovecraft. Tales that were stark imitations of Lovecraft even imitated Lovecraft's imitation of Lord Dunsany! No evidence has ever been uncovered to show that Lovecraft helped Kuttner in the writing of his stories.
Kuttner's stories were greatly enhanced by the contribution of CL Moore, whose colorful style, was reminiscent of Merritt.
Kuttner the man had discipline, technical brilliance, immense versatility and ingenuity and yet these betrayed him. Who was the real Henry Kuttner? Will we ever know? Kuttner who was lured by opportunism, suffered from an acute sense of inadequacy, he refused to stand alone. Instead by leaning for support upon H. P. Lovecraft he joined a circle of immortals who created a lasting and unique genre which continues to grow and expand to this very day.
Writers like Robert E. Howard, the gifted story teller who was especially renowned for the creation Conan. Conan who lived, fought, and wenched in the mythical Hyborian age, is the immortal contribution of Howard. Driven to the end by the depression and the failure of publishers to deliver the check Howard committed suicide in 1936.
Too late the publishers discovered the loss. Struggling to replace the popularity of the Howard characters publishers encouraged writers like Kuttner who now tried a hand at the bold heroic with a character figuratively titled Elak. Elak brawled and loved in the style and manner of the Howard created Conan, but with supernatural settings from H. P. Lovecraft and stylistic hyperbole from C. L. Moore. In the Howard stories Conan was bigger than life. Unfortunately Elak was contrarily overshadowed by the events of the story.
H. P. Lovecraft had sent some books to Henry Kuttner in 1936, asking that they be forwarded to C. L. Moore when he was through with them. Kuttner wrote a short note to Mr. C. L. Moore, whose work he much admired, and a correspondence ensued. "His letters were delightful from first to last," Mrs. Kuttner recalls, "and I still have all of them."
Symbolically, the uniting of the two characters Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry, for the first time in a story titled Quest of the Star Stone which appeared in the Nov., 1937 Weird Tales anticipated their marriage some three years later. The story was written in relays, passing back and forth by mail.
They met for the first time in 1938, when Moore came to California on a vacation trip. In all, they saw each other about five times in two years, as Henry Kuttner motored back and forth between New York and California, and New York and Indianapolis, the rest of their courtship being conducted by mail.
Kuttner who had visited on business detested New York City. On June 14, 1939 he wrote his agent Julius Schwartz: "I can get the same effect as I do in New York by crawling into the dirtiest corner of the garage and screaming at the top of my voice, blowing the auto horn, and energetically sniffing the exhaust. Once you visit California, my lad, you realize that New York is Satan's privy."
Though the city repelled him, the variety of markets he was selling to, including the adventure field, made it important that he live close to his source of income. He quit his job with the Los Angeles literary agency and took up residence in New York with his mother.
Henry Kuttner brought Catherine Lucille Moore to New York, and in a marriage ceremony held at City Hall on the morning of June 7, 1940, the career of the most famous writing duo in science fiction history was launched.
Kuttner's transition to a top-rank author started at the moment of matrimony. However flashes of cleverness and increasing skill at turning a phrase failed to rescue them. Most of his science fiction, though based on tenuous premises, was momentarily believable. Virtually none of his deliberate fantasies possessed this essential.
After a year of New York, both Catherine and Henry Kuttner decided that they were not cut out to live in "Bagdad of the Hudson" and moved to Laguna Beach, California
Writing with Moore became a symbiotic relationship. They wrote in relays, one taking over in the middle of a sentence, writing past a mental block. One supplied the idea and the other wrote the story. Henry Kuttner was great at beginning a story, but would lose steam part way through. C. L. Moore enjoyed picking up the threads and tying them together.
Just as frequently Henry Kuttner would write the first draft and C. L. Moore would put it into final form. Kuttner was better than Moore at plotting, but Moore was a far more accomplished stylist. When he joined the Los Angeles Chapter of The Science Fiction League late in 1936. Kuttner was already breaking sharply with the Lovecraft tradition. Kuttner wanted to change, but he seemed unable to express any qualities that were fundamentally his own. When Marvel Science Stories' first issue, dated August, appeared on the newsstands in May, 1938, it was the first new science fiction magazine in seven years. Kuttner was inducted into the armed services, during World War II, but a slight heart murmer kept him permanently assigned to the Medical Corps at Fort Monmouth, N.J.
He left the Medical Corps in 1945 and lived in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. He moved back to Laguna Beach, Calif., in 1950. Kuttner used the GI Bill of Rights to enter the University of Southern California as a freshman.
In 1954 he received his B.A. He finished his thesis for his M.A., but died from an acute coronary on Feb. 3, 1958.
The Salem Horror
The Creature from Beyond Infinity
The Dark World
Line to Tomorrow
The Time Axis
The Valley Of The Flame