Frank M. Robinson Biography, part 1
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Born a long, long time ago in a city not so far away - Chicago. At age 3, the old man was deported to Canada for signing other people's names to checks. Obviously where I get my writing talent. At age 16, bought (along with two other local collectors) a run of early Weird Tales, Wonders, etc. I grabbed all the Weird Tales and it was then my mother told me my father was also a Edgar Rice Burroughs freak, which I'd become. Obviously, the taste for Burroughs and Weird Tales is genetic.
In my teen years, worked as a copyboy for International News Service, then became an office boy for Ziff-Davis - my dream job (at least at the time). By then I was a science-fiction fan and collector and working in the same offices as Ray Palmer and Howard Browne was the closest I've ever been to nirvana. Picked up some valuable writing tips from both of them. (Palmer: "When the action slows, throw another body through the skylight." A bit of advice I've followed to this day.)
Also met a lot of the Z-D authors, including Bob Bloch, Bill Hamling, Bill McGivern, etc. Palmer used to invite me to poker parties in his Evanston home where I regularly lost my week's pay. Poked around second hand magazine stores - there were a lot of those back then - and used to buy copies of Golden Fleece for a nickel a pop. Gave sets to fellow collectors. Hell, 45 cents for a set of nine was a cheap gift. While working in the mail room at Z-D, I managed to steal the entire run of Sidney Gernsback's bound copies of Amazing. (Collecting hasn't changed much since.) Went to various local conventions where original artwork - covers by J. Allen St. John, interiors by Paul and Finlay, went for anywhere from five bucks for interiors to twenty-five for covers. Got a McCauley and a St. John - one of his best - both of which were stolen when I was in the Navy. The St. John has bobbed up since but the less said, the better.
Drafted into the Navy for WWII in late ‘43. Used to come to Chicago and sell my cigarette rations to Bill Hamling and Chet Geier (a deaf mute) who had an office on the north side. I immediately knew what I wanted to be in life: a writer, preferably a science fiction writer. Have an office with broken down furniture, a couch with broken springs, and drink lots of beer and cheap whiskey. I was very young at the time -18, which was a lot younger than 18 is today.
Out of the service and into college where I majored in Physics. Graduated cum laude even if Physics was strictly a “C” course for me. I got “A” in everything else. My first story was published in Astounding the year I graduated. Wanted to freelance but had no money; tried to sell my entire magazine collection for $500, including my complete run of Weird Tales. Believe it or not, no takers.
Back into the Navy for Korea where I imaged to continue writing on shipboard (including Untitled Story, originally intended for Amazing - Bill Hamling helped plot it - but which agent Fred Pohl sold to Astounding when the latter magazine had a “hole.” Readers liked it a lot, much to my astonishment. Titled it “Untitled Story” because I knew Hamling and company would change whatever title I gave it. Campbell apparently wouldn’t dream of it.
Out of the Navy, into grad school in journalism, got out and worked for a Chicago-based Sunday supplement, then switched to Science Digest where I had hopes of working with Fritz Leiber, one of my author heroes. He left a week before I showed up.
Wrote a lot of material for Ray Palmer and Bill Hamling, then tried my hand at a novel - The Power Oddly, Bill Hamling was at the post office when I showed up with the manuscript box. I think he considered me a traitor since I hadn’t shown it to him. Science Digest was sold to Hearst and moved to New York and I ended up as an editor on Hamling’s Rogue Magazine. Like Playboy it published an ungodly amount of science-fiction related material, including Fred Pohl’s award winning Day Million. Editors (at one time or another) at Greenleaf Publishing - the parent company - included Harlan Ellison, A.J. Budrys, Larry Shaw, Bruce Elliot (responsible for some of the later Shadow novels--or was it Doc Savage?), and myself. Columnists included Bob Bloch, Alfred Bester, and Lenny Bruce. No other men’s magazine--or science-fiction, for that matter - had that much editorial talent in depth.
Moving right along - we tried but Rogue never could compete with Playboy and was eventually sold. I wound up in Los Angeles as an editor for Gallery - also sold a year later, moved to San Francisco where I became an overage quasi-hippie, then back to Chicago as the Playboy Advisor for Playboy (had sold a lead fiction and a short to the magazine before that).
Three years handing out well-intentioned advice (relax and enjoy it) then to San Francisco to collaborate with the late Tom Scortia on The Glass Inferno, filmed as The Towering Inferno. A number of books followed, including a mystery, a political thriller, a gaggle of techno-thrillers, then a return to science fiction with The Dark Beyond the Stars. Then Waiting, the coffee table books - Pulp Culture and Science Fiction of the 20th Century. As of this writing, another novel, The Donor, is set to be published in mid-2004,. More mainstream than anything else I’ve written.
On pulp magazine collecting and pulp magazines as such: I resolved early on that I wouldn’t collect waste paper. This has since become codified as “I never saw a mint condition pulp magazine that I didn’t like.” Growing up, I considered the pulps as gutsy, gory, fascinating and with terrific evocative covers. You read or collected them and you were automatically a member of an elite group. (Hey, nothing’s changed!) In all honesty, there was an enormous amount of bad story telling and horrible writing but the gems were worth wading through the dross. Authors I liked a lot: Burroughs (his early stuff still holds up), Heinlein (the first author to make the future seem real), Alfie Bester, Bob Bloch (colored by my friendship with him), and, well, dozens of others. As a young reader I preferred Astounding but frequently dipped into Thrilling Wonder Stories (Hollywood on the Moon - yeah!). Like Weird Tales a lot, obviously, and it’s the gem of my collection.
There were some damn good story tellers back then and it’s no accident that so many of them drifted into writing television scripts for the western and mystery shows when the pulps dried up. My own conclusion: Good writing will seldom sell a bad story, but a good story will frequently sell bad writing. I consider myself fortunate for having been grounded in the pulps, which eventually enabled me to support myself as a writer. A consummation devoutly to be desired, or something like that.
Well, that’s a good deal more than enough.
Th-th-that’s all, folks! (for the story version)
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