I always enjoy reading what John had to say about writing. Here’s a short talk he gave on the subject; it seems to be from the ’50s. I’ll give half of it here; the second half will follow.
October 17, 2014
September 30, 2014
Mary Hyre’s next letter to John is full of news: there’s a story about contactee sex, a report on Woodrow Derenberger’s brother, and more UFO sightings. There’s also a report of six helicopters flying in close formation over the Ohio River; John marked the envelope “Helicopters,” so that must have been the part that most intrigued him. The clippings she mentioned weren’t in the envelope; John must have filed them elsewhere. I don’t know what happened to Jesse Herrold’s tapes, either.
September 23, 2014
We have here another of John’s abandoned projects from the ’80s, and it’s an odd one. Prurient Interests was to be a comic novel written in exaggerated bad taste, under one of his preferred pseudonyms, Randolph Halsey-Quince. And the main character was none other than Dr. Thornton M. Vaseltarp.
Vaseltarp was the name John used for his humor pieces for Screw. I revealed this in an article in the Fortean Times in 2002; William Gibson read it, and used the name in his novel Pattern Recognition. Since then, Vaseltarps have proliferated on the internet.
In Prurient Interests, the good doctor appears as a fart expert on a TV show, warning about the danger that flatulence poses to the atmosphere, and promoting the Vaseltarp Fart Filter. His performance leads to the producer being taken away in a strait jacket. After an irrelevant and obligatory sex scene, Vaseltarp visits a gun store, where he buys a field mortar. He then goes to the park, and shoots mortars at all the people having sex in the bushes. He also runs into one of his fart subjects, Stanley Furchin, who is dressed as the Shadow. (John knew Walter Gibson, who wrote the Shadow novels, which may explain it.) After an interlude in which the TV director and his assistant discuss the commercial possibilities of flatulence, an unnamed couple tries to have sex in the back seat of a Volkswagen. Claustrophobic sex scenes also played a large part in Kiss My Gun; John must have found them particularly funny. A novelty song called “Making Love in a Subaru” did pretty well in 1977; maybe he was responding to that.
John sent the 34 pages to his agent, Knox Burger, but Burger’s response isn’t in the envelope. Judging from his reaction to Kiss My Gun, I suspect he wasn’t enthusiastic. John must have had fun writing it, though.
Following are the first few pages, the irrelevant sex scene, and a concluding pitch.
September 19, 2014
John worked on a comic novel called Kiss My Gun in the late ’80s. He was pitching it as early as 1985, and seems to have abandoned it by 1987. It involved UFOs, MIB, midgets disguised as aliens, and, for reasons known only to the inscrutable Keel, numerous sex scenes in small enclosed spaces. He completed four chapters, as well as a few scattered synopses and addenda. His agent didn’t like it, however, and so he abandoned it. I can understand the objections, but I’m still sorry we were deprived of a Keelian comedy about UFOs. As John said, “Jeez… What’d you expect from a book titled KISS MY GUN? Tolstoy?”
Following are John’s letter to his agent, Knox Burger; Burger’s reply; and a four-page synopsis that followed the sample chapters.
September 1, 2014
Mary Hyre’s next letter to John is from July 2, 1967. She chats about her recent trip to New York, relates more UFO sightings, and mentions that Roger and Linda Scarberry heard Mothman on their roof. The article about Miss Venus that she mentions is one I already posted; it’s over here. “Jennie” may have been Ginny Carew, whom John was dating that year; I don’t know who Myron was.
August 25, 2014
John often mentioned his play Howard Hughes Was My Landlord, and particularly relished the title (landlords being as notoriously inaccessible as Hughes). I’m not sure when he wrote it; but I think it was in the 80s, when he was branching out more into fiction and theater. It was inspired partly by the Grand Guignol, the popular horror theater of Paris, which often featured buckets of stage blood, and partly by the fact that everyone hates landlords.
It’s a unique Keelian mix of murder, the supernatural, vaudeville, toilet humor, mysterious phone calls, and apartment troubles. It would have been quite a spectacle. Here’s a synopsis, followed by the first few pages:
The play opens with Doris Philips on the ledge outside her apartment, threatening suicide unless the landlord fixes her crumbling ceiling and plugged toilet. The doorman, Franklin, talks her back inside, promising to arrange a meeting with the landlord. They chat, and she gives him a pan of water to soak his feet. Her apartment is haunted by a tap dancing ghost, who turns the lights on and off, appears on the TV, flushes the toilet, steals small objects, and interferes with the phone (in a John Keel play, there have to be phone problems). Franklin identifies the ghost as George, a former vaudevillian who committed suicide in her bathroom. Franklin also reveals that George had an affair with another tenant, Mrs. Greystone. At the end of the first act, Franklin leaves (with one sock, George having stolen the other), and promises a visit from the landlord, Mr. Blackmoor.
In the second act, Blackmoor does indeed visit Doris. He agrees to all of her demands, but she has trouble being civil to him: after all, he is her landlord. She offers coffee and cake; they chat (it turns out that she, like John, worked in television in NYC in the ’50s); and George continues his interruptions. She suspects him of planning to evict her, and attacks him with the cake knife. In the struggle, he ends up killing her with a sword cane (using a trick cane, a hollow belt, and stage blood). As the second act ends, the doorbell rings. Blackmoor dumps Doris’s body out the window, and hides in the bathroom. Franklin then enters, with the real Mr. Blackmoor. They assume Doris has finally killed herself, as Blackmoor asks, “Franklin, couldn’t you have found somebody who could fix her lousy toilet?”
In the third act, Blackmoor tries to call his lawyer, and has trouble with the phone. While his back is turned, the fake Blackmoor sneaks into the kitchen, only to scream and run out again: he saw George. The fake Blackmoor is actually Garrison, the tenant from the floor below, who claims that he came to the apartment to complain about the tap dancing, and that Doris had already jumped. He tries to leave, but Blackmoor is suspicious, and tells him to wait for the police. They struggle; Garrison kills him, and stuffs him into the bathroom. Franklin then returns, and Garrison tells him that Blackmoor had to leave. The apartment becomes colder; the lights flicker; the doors can’t be opened. The phone rings: it’s George, telling Franklin to ask Garrison about Mrs. Greystone. Garrison reveals that she was his sister, that they had an incestuous relationship, and that he was jealous of her lovers. We also learn that she was murdered; and, when Franklin goes into the kitchen, George telephones Garrison to tell him that Franklin did it. Garrison attacks Franklin; but the lights go out, and in the dim stage light, the corpses of Blackmoor and Philips emerge from the bathroom, struggle with Garrison, and throw him out the window. The lights come back on, and the corpses vanish; Franklin sees that Garrison is gone, finds Blackmoor’s corpse in the bathroom, and receives a call from Blackmoor. Increasingly terrified, he goes out on the ledge to try to reach another apartment. The window slams shut, and the blind slowly lowers. “He continues to scream hysterically beyond the closed window as the lights on stage and in the kitchen go out and we hear the sound of someone tap dancing. Curtain.”
August 11, 2014
This next letter from Mary Hyre is a bit more eventful, being devoted to an extended UFO sighting. What was that thing?
August 7, 2014
This next letter from Mary Hyre contains no news on the Mothman flap, just Point Pleasant gossip and bits of Mary’s life: a school board meeting until the wee hours, a proposed road trip with a hard-drinking friend from Cincinnati. But I’ll post it for the sake of completeness, and for fellow Hyre fans. The clipping she mentions in the first paragraph wasn’t in the envelope; John must have filed it separately.
July 29, 2014
A longer, more chatty letter from Mary Hyre this time. She expresses interest in John’s “adventures on Long Island”; in fact, he did enter into correspondence with “one of them,” Mr. Apol. or, at least, someone claiming to be Mr. Apol. There is also news of Linda and Roger Scarberry’s marriage; a Mrs. Bowen, who wants to tell her experiences to John; a Mrs. Bennett, who may have missing time episodes related to Mothman (this, I assume, is Marcella Bennett); and an upcoming trip to New York. She has been unable to find out more about the contactee she mentioned in her last letter.
July 23, 2014
The next letter from Mary Hyre is from May 24, 1967. She sent John some clippings (which he must have filed somewhere else, but which apparently contained new Mothman sightings), spotted a UFO over her house, and sent a report of a local contactee, who apparently wasn’t Woodrow Derenberger.