JOHN KEEL: NOT AN AUTHORITY ON ANYTHING

August 25, 2014

Howard Hughes Was My Landlord

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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.”

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August 11, 2014

A Letter from Mary Hyre, June 9, 1967

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This next letter from Mary Hyre is a bit more eventful, being devoted to an extended UFO sighting.  What was that thing?

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August 7, 2014

A Letter from Mary Hyre, June 6, 1967

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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.

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July 29, 2014

A Letter from Mary Hyre, May 28, 1967

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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.

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July 23, 2014

A Letter from Mary Hyre, May 24, 1967

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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.

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July 14, 2014

John Keels Over!

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From the 6th issue of Shavertron (Winter 1980) comes this article:  John was attending a UFO conference in NYC, and was questioned about Richard Shaver by Mike Cohen.  Obviously, he was suffering at the time from his diabetes, which had not yet been diagnosed.

It’s taken from Shavertron: The Mimeograph Years, a collection of the Shaver zine that Richard Toronto published for many years.  I suspect many Keel fans will enjoy it.  There’s not much JAK, but there’s a full menu of ’80s forteana: the Shaver Mystery, mutes, UFOs, Alternative 3, rock books, the hollow earth, and more, all in the scrappy fanzine format that served us so well before the internet.  You can find it at over here.

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July 3, 2014

Five Years

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John died five years ago today.  After he  died, I wrote a piece on his final years for the Fortean Times.  Some readers, especially American, may not have seen it, so I’ll post it here.  RIP, John!

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June 30, 2014

A Sun of Our Own

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John wrote this one-act play in 1960.  It was one of his few excursions into science fiction, and it’s thoroughly dystopian.  After a nuclear holocaust, a few survivors huddle in a dark cave.  They complain about the cold and dark, reminisce about life under sunlight, and prepare to hunt rats as the rats hunt them.  Another survivor joins the group, and they greedily devour the small bag of termites she’s managed to find.  A firefly makes its way into the cave, and they marvel at its dazzling light, “a sun of our own”—except for the youngest of the group, who is blind.  Here’s the first couple of pages.

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June 17, 2014

Unstrung

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In the 1980s, John’s magazine work was drying up, and he tried working on a number of novels and plays.  Unstrung, from 1982, is a two-act romantic comedy set in World War III.  A couple, Pete and Barbara, wake up hungover after a one-night stand.  They discover that World War III has broken out, there’s no power, and the streets are full of rioters and looters.  In the course of the play, they get to know one another, quarrel, make up, fight off intruders, and finally decide to stay together.  One amusing note: near the end, Pete reveals something he thinks Barbara should know: he’s a great fan of Harvey Kurtzman.

Here’s the beginning.

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June 8, 2014

A Letter from Mary Hyre, May 14, 1967

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:33 pm

Mary Hyre’s next letter to John was postmarked May 20, but, as she notes in a postscript, it had been returned; so, I’m assuming it was written the preceding Sunday, the 14th.   She fills him in on UFO sightings, Mothman reports, strange noises, doorbell ringers, and a dream of her own.

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