Anthopology 101: From B(allantine) to Z(acherley)

By Bud Webster

With this, my fourth column for Chronicle under this title and my sixth overall, I'd like to explain a little about why I felt that a column about old science fiction and fantasy anthologies was needed, if not absolutely necessary.

I'm not alone in that my introduction to things stfnal was through the books on my local libraries' shelves rather than through more primary sources. Not that I think it matters over much, as I did, eventually, come to the magazines. But as a voracious young reader desperate for more and more material to mine, and with the built-in disadvantage of coming from a family of mostly non-readers (or, at least, non-sf readers), the cool hallways of the library and their dusty shelves held more than words and pictures, but sanctuary and refuge.

I would purposely find the thickest books I could reach, the ones that held the most magic, and take them down. Unwilling to wait until I got home to open them and read, I'd sit on the floor or at a table seemingly alone, but like the little boy in the famous Gahan Wilson cartoon surrounded by ghosts, spacemen, Martians, werewolves and vampires, dacoits and sinister Chinese Mandarins, robots, time machines, and invisible men. Only when dusk began to fall would I gather up my treasures always the maximum number I was allowed to check out and rush to the front desk, waiting impatiently as the librarian beamed approval and stamped each book with firm finality, then rush to catch the bus before I got into trouble for being late for dinner again.

And even after I discovered novels (Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel was the first), it was the anthologies I returned to again and again, revisiting Bradbury, and Kuttner, and Pohl, and Williamson, and Knight, and Lovecraft, and Kornbluth, and Moore, and and and....

If science fiction is a landscape rich with strata, then anthologies are the core samples through which we can better understand it. Just as a geologist studies his cores to see how the land around him built up over the millenia, so the "anthopologist" studies the story collections, to see the stfnal landscape in situ and watch how it built from 1937's Adventures to Come, to 1946's Adventures in Time and Space, to last year's Best SF of the Year.

(I should point out that my object in these articles is not to review the individual stories, but to try and place the books as a whole in a historical context; however, in the case of original anthologies, I will briefly address each story, as I did in an earlier column on the Star books edited by Frederik Pohl.)

This time around, our core sample is an odd little pair of books "edited," if I may use the term loosely, by John Zacherle, aka Zacherley, famed television horror host and personality: Zacherley's Midnight Snacks, and Zacherley's Vulture Stew (Ballantine 370K and 417K respectively, both 1960, Snacks in February and Stew in August).

As anthopological strata go, 1960 was pretty deep: Groff Conklin gave us two of his best; Robert P. Mills of F&SF produced not only the ninth Best From... but a collection of the best stories from the first decade of that magnificent periodical; other magazine editors gave us The Fantastic Universe Omnibus as well as Bodyguard and Four Other Short Novels From Galaxy; Fred Pohl capped his seminal run as original anthologist with Star of Stars, collecting the very best from his influential series; perennial anthologists Judith Merril and T. E. Dikty rang in, too, she with Fifth Annual of the Year's Best SF (in which she excoriates Kingsley Amis) and he with Every Boy's Book of Outer Space Stories; high-powered intellectual (and war-time spy) Basil Davenport produced the excellent Invisible Men; the world's greatest consulting detective crossed over in the Council of Four's The Science Fictional Sherlock Holmes; and on the other side of the Big Drink, distaff Britishers Amabel Williams-Ellis and Mably Owen published the first of their seven anthologies aimed at YA audiences, Out of This World 1. Oh, and Kennedy was innaugurated, ushering in America's dominance of the Space Race, but that was probably coincidental.

Not a bad year, all things considered.

John Zacherle (the "y" was added so people would pronounce it correctly) was, perhaps, a perfect choice as celeb-editor. He'd been hosting "Shock Theater" at WABC in New York for two years, having previously done the same (under another name) in his hometown of Philadelphia since 1957. He was, er, mostrously popular; a public appearance at the Philadelphia station was expected to get as many as 2000 people, but when the dust settled seven times than number showed up, stopping traffic throughout the city and causing some damage to the studios.

Ballantine was at a peak of success, especially with its science fiction, fantasy and horror titles, and combining their genre success with a notorious horror-movie host who had built-in name recognition must have seemed like the thing to do.

And, well, it was. Zacherle was already well-known even outside the North-Eastern states thanks to his recording of "Dinner With Drac" on Cameo, and precedent had been set by the success of Alfred Hitchcock's anthologies of stories originally presented on his television show.

Betty Ballantine says that it's entirely possible that the idea was first suggested by one of Zach's fellow Night People, Jean Shepherd; this is entierly possible, as both men were local favorites on television and radio.

Now, we have to squint a little here. John Zacherle (in the guise of his alter ego, Zacherley) was a celebrity. Books by celebs are frequently abetted by other, less celebrated, hands. Perhaps this is as it should be, and perhaps it isn't, but certainly it's the way it is. In some cases, said celebrity takes a rather more active role in the process, but more often than not, they don't.

That's the case with Ballantine 370K and 417K. This is not to demean either publisher or titular editor, mind you. Zach wasn't the first celeb to be ghosted, and he sure as hell wasn't the last. But it does raise the question: how were the stories actually picked?

John Zacherle himself recalls only that he was given a list of stories by the publisher, from which he chose stories for the first book apparently by chance. As he said in John Skerchock's The Zacherley Scrapbook, "I was given a bunch of stories to select so I picked them at random, enough to fill the space they alotted me. After the first book was published, I thought I'd better read the stories to make sure that I wasn't supporting material that was too mature for the kids."

Ms Ballantine confirms this, and suggests that Ballantine editor Bernard Shir-Cliff made the intitial choices. However, Mr. Shir-Cliff is certain that he didn't, indicating that the sf, fantasy and westerns were "all Betty's bailiwick." Mr. Shir-Cliff also agrees that the Zacherley/Shepherd connection was a likely possibility.

(In an aside, Ms Ballantine told me of an anecdote concerning the second of the two books. She was preparing copy for the advertising department, and for this books had "faked an Elizabethan recipe for vulture stew."1 She wondered out loud at her desk what this might taste like, and Mr. Shir-Cliff spoke up and said, "It's terrible. Don't try it.")

(It seems that he was in the 11th Airborne assault on Leyte in November of 1944, and in the ensuing month or so on the island, food and supplies had to be dropped from planes to the soldiers; in many cases, the crates broke open and food was lost, or the Japanese soldiers got to it first. So there were times when the US paratroops got more than a bit peckish, and there just wasn't much food around.

(Except, apparently, that there were all these vultures around, and.... well, propriety prevents me. I will say only that Mr. Shir-Cliff reports that they were "stringy.")

But, enough of this nostalgia, on to the contents of the books:

Zacherley's Midnight Snacks
Sorry, Right Number - Richard Matheson
Share Alike - Jerome Bixby & Joe E. Dean
Talent - Theodore Sturgeon
Listen, Children, Listen - Wallace West
The Whispering Gallery - William F. Temple
The Piping Death - Robert Moore Williams
The Ghost - A. E. van Vogt
Carillon of Skulls - Philip James
Pile of Trouble - Henry Kuttner

Three from Gold's Beyond, three from Campbell's Unknown, a pair from Santesson's Fantastic Universe, and one loner from Sam Merwin's tenure at Thrilling Wonder, all spanning a 21-year period. "Philip James" was the pseudonym for Lester del Rey and James H. Beard, by the way. Five of these stories were collected here first, while others (notably the Kuttner and the van Vogt) were first reprinted in single-author collections rather than anthologies. The Matheson is better known under the title "Long Distance Call," as which it appeared the next year in the seminal Matheson collection, Shock!

Zacherley's Vulture Stew
He Didn't Like Cats - L. Ron Hubbard
Dr. Jacobus Meliflore's Last Patient - Mindret Lord
The Devil Is Not Mocked - Manly Wade Wellman
Bones - Donald A. Wollheim
Out of the Jar - Charles R. Tanner
The Witch - A. E. van Vogt
They Bite - Anthony Boucher
The Shed - E. Everett Evans
There Shall Be No Darkness - James Blish

Four more from Unknown, another Thrilling Wonder yarn, singletons from F&SF and The Avon SF&F Reader, and get this! a pair from the short-lived (four issues) Stirring Science Stories, including one from the magazine's editor, Donald Wollheim (the other was Tanner's). This was the first book appearance of the Hubbard and Wellman stories, by the way.

Whoever it was who assembled these 18 stories evidently had a better-than-average handle on what was out there to be had. Could it have been one of the Futurian mafiosi, albeit years after the group had dissolved? Almost certainly not; although it isn't outside the realm of possibility that one of the famed NYC group (perhaps even Wollheim himself) had a hand in these two books, there's no real evidence for it. Fred Pohl said he not only didn't know, but had never read the books, and he would have known. Aside from that, I don't doubt that Betty Ballantine would have acknowleged it right away.

My own money is on Ms Ballantine, who may have been a bit modest about taking credit for it. She certainly knew most of the writers, some of whom were frequent visitors to the Ballantine offices. The books themselves are no help. The only introductory material are very short, jokey blurbs at the beginning of each story, obviously done by a different person for each book: in Midnight Snacks, the puns are bad but the writing is at least coherent; in Vulture Stew the jokes are no better, and they're written in an annoying, disjointed set of short phrases separated by unnecessary and ill-placed ellipses.

But the prrof of the pudding is in the eating, and that's as close to a pun as you're going to get from me in this installment. Do the books read well? Are they entertaining? Is there good stuff therein?

The answer doesn't quite resound, but it's "yes" nonetheless. How can you go wrong with Kuttner, Matheson, Hubbard, Sturgeon, van Vogt, Wellman and Boucher? Oh, I suppose you could, but you'd have to work at it, and it's certainly not the case here. These two books are at the very least an afternoon's diversion, with plenty of meat and potatoes (sorry). And it won't hurt you to read the stories by authors you've never heard of, either. Consider it continuing education.

1It's printed on the first page of the book, and I don't think I'll run afoul of the fair-use provisions if I quote it in full:
"Firft, get a head. Fimmer thoroughly in broth for three dayf, to which muft be added juice of deadly mufhroom (ufe feveral), a handful of mandrake rootf dug at full moon, alfo deadly nightfhade a goodlie quantity, three toadf and a black widow fpider. Now add your vulturef (at leaft two they are meagre birdf though ftrong in flavor). Be careful that they are firmly tied or they will flop out of the pot and caufe a great commotion. Three hourf before midnight of the fifth day, remove the vulturef from the broth, ftuff well with henbane and fet afide. Now fift the brew of featherf (fifting if eafier than plucking and befidef fome monfterf are ticklifh) and combine brew and ftuffed birdf for another three hourf. On the ftroke of midnight, ferve your fupper with a garnifh of fried locuftf, followed by blood pudding for deffert." Well, there you have it. If you make a batch, don't forget to let me know how it taftef.