Frank Gruber

Pseudonyms include Stephen Acre, Charles K. Boston & John K. Vedder

One of the most successful of the pulp writers, Frank Gruber was born February 2, 1904, in Elmer, Minnesota and died December 9, 1969 in Santa Monica, California. But in those sixty-five years, Gruber became one of the most prolific writers of pulp fiction, writing more than 400 short stories and novellas for over 40 pulp magazines, as well as over fifty novels, and over 150 screenplays and television scripts.

He grew up on the family farm, but by the age of nine was living in Chicago, where he came upon a book that would leave a lasting impression.

“I read my first book when I was nine years old. Is was a paperback copy of Luke Walton, the Chicago Newsboy by Horatio Alger, Jr. The book made a profound impression upon me, for I lived in Chicago and I was, at the age of nine, a newsboy!”

After a stint in the Army, Gruber took on various jobs, working as a bellhop and a ticket-taker at a movie theatre. He married in 1931 and became a father and after some success writing for agricultural trade magazines, he and the family moved to New York in 1933 to try to make a go of it as a full-time writer. He took several freelance writing gigs, as well as working as a trade journal editor and correspondence school teacher. Times were tough, but he finally sold his first pulp story to Underworld Magazine in 1933. He was soon pumping out everything from science fiction to romance, but he’s chiefly remembered for his westerns and his detective stories. He even cracked Black Mask, the most prestigious of all pulp magazines.

For the crime and detective pulps, he wrote a long string of short stories featuring smooth-talking crime-solving encyclopedia salesman Oliver Quade, some of which were collected in a book called Brass Knuckle. Quade was a much loved character, and when Gruber started writing longer works, many of the elements of Quade found their way into his detectve novels–quirky characters; fast-paced fun; a detective with, at best, quasi-official status, and a gift for gab; and interestingly, most of them revolved one way or another around books. But whereas Quade traveled solo, for the most part, in his adventures, Gruber’s novels often featured two-man teams of detectives.

And while Quade was an encyclopedia salesman, Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg were traveling con artists, slick rascals flogging a body-building manual. Johnny was the brains of the outfit, while Sam was the strongarm sidekick. At least one movie was also made, with Albert Dekker as Johnny and Mike Mazurki (Moose from Murder, My Sweet) as the big guy.

Cranky, crabby Los Angeles-based PI name Simon Lash collected rare books about the early frontier which often served as the “Macguffins” of the books’ plots. He and his partner, Eddie Slocum, appeared in three novels, as did ethically elastic private eyes Otis Beagle and Joe Peel.

In fact, Lash’s interest in the old west was shared by Gruber himself, and it served him in good stead in the numerous westerns he wrote for the pulps, books, film and television. As well known as he is in crime fiction circles, he’s even more well known among fans of westerns. He wrote dozens of western novels, many of which were adapted to the screen.

As the glory days of the pulps waned, Gruber found himself writing more and more for film and the burgeoning TV industry in Hollywood. His first experience came about when his Oliver Quade story, “Death of a Champion” was brought to the screen in 1939. He soon went to work for Warner Bros. churning out scripts for such films as Northern Pursuit (1942), the noir classic Mask of Dimitros (1943), two Sherlock Holmes flicks (Terror by Night and Dressed to Kill). Meanwhile, his own books were also being brought to the screen. Backlash, Accomplice, The Big Land, Twenty Plus Two, The French Key, The Oregon Trail and Town Tamer were all based on novels or short stories by Gruber.

For television, he supposedly cranked out over 200 teleplays, again mostly in the western genre. He even created several TV series, most notably Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan, and Shotgun Slade, which merged perhaps his two greatest strengths — Slade was a private eye in the days of the Old West. With his eye open for more work, and his tongue no doubt firmly in cheek, he even wrote an article for TV Guide in 1959 — a year in which there were 32 westerns on the American airwaves) complaining that there weren’t enough westerns being broadcast.

In 1967, Gruber published The Pulp Jungle, a collection of reminisces of his years as a pulp writer. There’s some great stuff about him in New York City during the depression years, when he apparently lived on “tomato soup” which he prepared himself in automat restaurants from hot tea water, the ketchup bottle on the table and a dissolved customary cookie you got with the tea water. There’s also some great stuff about his run-ins with several colourful characters in the pulps, everyone from eccentric editors to his fellow writers.

One of these was L. Ron Hubbard whom Gruber ran into long before Hubbard had created either Dianetics or Scientology, back when Hubbard and he were just two more hungry pulpsters scrounging for a living. This is from Russell Miller’s 1987 book on Hubbard, Bare-Faced Messiah:

“One evening [in 1934], Frank Gruber [a friend of Hubbard and fellow pulp fiction writer], sat through a long account of his experiences in the Marine Corps, his exploration of the upper Amazon and his years as a white hunter in Africa. At the end of it he asked with obvious sarcasm: ‘Ron, you’re eighty-four years old aren’t you?’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Ron snapped.

Gruber waved a notebook in which he had been jotting figures. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you were in the Marines seven years, you were a civil engineer for six years, you spent four years in Brazil, three in Africa, you barnstormed with your own flying circus for six years… I’ve just added up all the years you did this and that and it comes to eighty-four.’

(Hubbard) was furious that his escapades should be openly doubted. ‘He blew his tack,’ said Gruber. He would react in the same way at the [American Fiction] Guild lunches if someone raised an eyebrow when he was in full flow. Most of the other members expected their yarns to be taken with a pinch of salt, but not Ron. It was almost as if he believed his own stories.”

Gruber died in Santa Monica, California, on December 9, 1969. He was 65.


  • “On the Spot” (June 1933, Underworld Magazine)
  • “Strangler’s Clue” (August 1933, Underworld Magazine)
  • “Wooden Nails” (December 1933, The Phantom Detective)
  • “House of Death” (February 1934, Underworld Magazine)
  • “Master of Fear” (March 1934, Secret Agent X)
  • “The Hundred Grand Snatch” (September 1934, Underworld Magazine)
  • “Three Dead Merchants” (November 1934, Underworld Magazine)
  • “The Coffin That Went to Sea” (October 1935, Operator #5; as Captain John Vedders)
  • “Fugitive for Honor!” (November 1935, Detective Tales)
  • “Witch’s Curse” (December 1, 1935, The Shadow Magazine; Samuel Deering)
  • “Red Hands Reaching” (January 1936, Detective Tales)
  • “Murder Invitation” May 1936, G-Men)
  • “Range Law” (May 1936, Ranch Romances)
  • “Vault of Victory” (May 1936, Ace Sports Monthly)
  • “Road Through Hell” (June 1936, Detective Tales)
  • “Satan’s Talisman” (June 1936, Dime Mystery)
  • “Mat Menace” (August 1936, Dime Sports)
  • “Shackled Doom” (September 1936, Ace Mystery)
  • “Doom’s Lottery” (October 1936, Ten Detective Ace; Samuel Deering)
  • “The Maverick Wolfer” (October 1936, Western Trails)
  • “Dime-a-Dance Murder” (November 1936, Detective Romances)
  • “Brass Knuckles” (November 1936, Thrilling Detective; Oliver Quade)
  • “Rough Diamonds” (November 1936, Popular Detective)
  • “Death at the Main” (December 1936, Thrilling Detective; Oliver Quade)
  • “Death Incorporated” (December 1936, Detective and Murder Mysteries)
  • “Death Rides the Rails” (December 1936, G-Men)
  • “Holster Headlines” (January 1937, Western Trails)
  • “Clip-Joint Adventuress” (January 1937, Detective Romances)
  • “Murder on the Midway” (January 1937, Thrilling Detective; Oliver Quade)
  • “Mat Malice” (January 1937, Dime Sports)
  • “Holster Headlines”(January 1937, Western Trails)
  • “Pictures of Death” (February 1937, Thrilling Detective; Oliver Quade)
  • “Too Smart to Live” (February/March 1937, Ace-High Detective Magazine)
  • “Ask Me Another” (June 1937, Black Mask; Oliver Quade)
  • “Candid Witness” (July 1937, Black Mask)
  • “Trailer Town” (August 1937, Thrilling Detective; Oliver Quade)
  • “Rain, the Killer” (September 1937, Black Mask; Oliver Quade)
  • “Educated Eyes” (September 1937, Clues Detective Stories)
  • “The Raw Deal” (October 1937, Pocket Detective Magazine; aka “Honesty is My Motto”)
  • “Wildcat Range” (November 1937, Ranch Romances)
  • “Hen House Homicide” (Decective 4, 1937, Detective Fiction Weekly)
  • “Death on Eagle’s Crag” (December 1937, Black Mask; Oliver Quade)
  • “Racket Toll” (February 1938, Crime Busters)
  • “Dog Show Murder” (March 1938, Black Mask; Oliver Quade) Kindle it!
  • “This Outlaw Business” (March 12, 1938, Argosy)
  • “Ghosts of Lobo Valley” (March 1938, Ranch Romances)
  • “A Shotgun, a Badge-and a Man” (March 1938, Star Western)
  • “The Marshal of Broken Lance” (April 25, 1938, Short Stories)
  • “Death Sits Down” (May 1938, Black Mask; Oliver Quade)
  • “The Road to Nowhere” (May 25, 1938, Short Stories)
  • “Innocent Bystander” (May 28, 1938, Detective Fiction Weekly; aka “You Can’t Crack a Modern Safe”).
  • “Outlaw” (June 19325, 1938, Short Stories)
  • “Gunsight (Part One)” (August #2, 1938, Ranch Romances)
  • “Winner Gets All” (August 10, 1938, Short Stories)
  • “Cat and Mouse” (August 1938, Black Mask; aka “The Ring and the Finger”)
  • “Forced Landing” (October 1938, Black Mask; Oliver Quade)
  • “Escape” (November 10, 1938, Short Stories)
  • “Surrender” (November 25, 1938, Short Stories)
  • “Death Comes Home” (November 1938, Crime Busters; Jim Strong, Racket Man)
  • “Tough Guy” (November 1938, Clues Detective Stories)
  • “Scarlet Range” (December 1938, Ranch Romances)
  • “Under Quantrell’s Black Flag” (December 10, 1938, Liberty)
  • “Skip Murder” (February 1939, Clues Detective Stories)
  • “State Fair Murder” (February 1939, Black Mask; Oliver Quade)
  • “Guerrilla Range” (March 25, 1939, Short Stories)
  • “The Sad Serbian” (March 1939, Black Mask; aka “1000-to-1 for Your Money”; Sam Cragg)
  • “The Man from Missouri” (April #1, 1939, Ranch Romances)
  • “No Bullets Today” (April 1939, Popular Detective)
  • “The Man from Missouri” (Apr 1939, Ranch Romances)
  • “Funny Man” (May 1939, Black Mask; Oliver Quade)
  • “Duplicate Death” (May 1939, Detective Stories)
  • “Rope for Rustlers” (June 10, 1939, Short Stories)
  • “Assassin” (August 10, 1939, Short Stories)
  • “King Copper” (September 25, 1939, Short Stories)
  • “Oliver Quade at the Races” (November 1939, Black Mask; Oliver Quade)
  • “The French Key (Part One)” (November 10, 1939, Short Stories)
  • “The French Key (Part Two)” (November 25, 1939, Short Stories)
  • “The French Key (Part Three)” (December 10, 1939, Short Stories)
  • “The French Key (Part Four)” (December 10, 1939, Short Stories)
  • “King Copper” (1939)
  • “Death’s Understudy” (January 1940, Clues Detective Stories)
  • “The Killer” (February 25, 1940, Short Stories)
  • “The Dead Don’t Sue” (February 1940, Clues Detective Stories)
  • “Words and Music” (March 1940, Black Mask; Oliver Quade)
  • “Young Sam Began to Roam” (April 10, 1940, Short Stories)
  • “Quantrell’s Flag” (May 1940, Adventure)
  • “The Happy Hungarian” (May 25, 1940, Short Stories)
  • “The Murder Book” (May 1940, Clues Detective Stories)
  • “Ride No More” (June 25, 1940, Short Stories)
  • “The Golden Chalice” (July 1940, Weird Tales; aka “The Gold Cup”; sci-fi)
  • “The Laughing Fox” (July 10, 1940, Short Stories; Johnny Fletcher)
  • “The Talking Clock” ( November 16, 1940, Detective Fiction Weekly)
  • “The Fifth Comanche” (July 1941, National Magazine)
  • “Outlaw” (October 1940, Adventure)
  • “Vigilante Collar” (October 25, 1940, Short Stories)
  • “Gunsight” (November 1941, Ranch Romances)
  • “The Book of the Dead” (November 1941, Weird Tales; sci-fi)
  • “Gunsight (Part Two)” (November #2, 1941, Ranch Romances)
  • “Gunsight (Part Three)” (December #1, 1941, Ranch Romances)
  • “Gunsight (Part Four)” (December #2, 1941, Ranch Romances)
  • “Gunsight (Part Five)” (January #1, 1942, Ranch Romances)
  • “Gunsight (Part Six)” (January #2, 1942, Ranch Romances)
  • “The Mighty Blockhead” (February 10, 1942, Short Stories)
  • “Death Rides the Plains” (March 28, 1942, Western Story Magazine)
  • “Gambling Lady” (May 1942, Ranch Romances)
  • “The Gun” (July 1942, Weird Tales; sci-fi)
  • “The Silver Tombstone” (May 10, 1945, Short Stories)
  • “The Story Tellers’ Circle” (May 10,1945, Short Stories)
  • “Smoky Road” (Part 1) (January #1, 1948, Ranch Romances)
  • “Smoky Road” (Part 2) (January #2, 1948, Ranch Romances)
  • “The Thirteenth Floor” (January 1949, Weird Tales; sci-fi)
  • “Escape” (May 1949, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine)
  • “Assassin” (August 1949, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine)
  • “The Road to Nowhere” (March 1950, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine)
  • “Ride No More” (November 1950, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine)
  • “Fort Starvation” (Part 1) (December #1, 1952, Ranch Romances)
  • “Fort Starvation” (Part 2) (December #2, 1952, Ranch Romances)
  • “Fort Starvation” (Part 3) (January #1, 1953, Ranch Romances)
  • “Fort Starvation” (Part 4) (January #2, 1953, Ranch Romances)
  • “Piece of Eight” (November 1955, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; sci-fi)
  • “Town Tamer” (January 1957, Short Stories)
  • “The Store” (October 1969, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine)
  • “The Phantom Model T” (September 1990, Detective Story Magazine #9)
  • “The Choking Chalice” (also 2001, It’s Raining More Corpses in Chinatown)
  • “The Deserter”
  • “Vigilante Collar”




  • “Good Poultry Articles Are in Demand” (February 1928, The Author & Journalist)
  • “New Author’s Corner” (September 1934, Super-Detective Stories)
  • “Authors… and Readers” (November 1934, Super-Detective Stories)


  • Horatio Alger, Jr.: A Biography and Bibliography (1961)
    The first major attempt to discredit Herbest Mayes’ almost completely ficticious 1928 biography, correcting much–but not al–of Mayes’ bullshit.
  • The Pulp Jungle (1967) Buy this book
    Gruber recollects his years as a pulp writer.
  • Zane Gray: A Biography (1970)


    (1939, Paramount)
    67 minutes, black and white
    Based on the story “Dog Show Murder” by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Stuart Palmer and Cortland Fitzsimmons
    Directed by Robert Florey
    Starring Lynne Overman as OLIVER QUADE
    Also starring Joseph Allen, May Boley, Hal Brazeale, David Clyde, Virginia Dale, Harry Davenport, Robert McKenzie, Donald O’Connor, Robert Paige, Susan Paley, Walter Soderling, Frank M. Thomas, Pierre Watkin
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber and Alvah Bessie
    Directed by Raoul Walsh
    Produced by Jack Chertok
    Starring Errol Flynn, Julie Bishop, Helmut Dantine, John Ridgely, Gene Lockhart
    A Mountie poses as a traitor in an attempt to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring. Filmed on location in Canada.
    (aka “Wagon Wheels”)
    Based on the novel, Peace Marshall, by Frank Gruber
    (1944, Warner Bros.)
    Based on the novel by Eric Ambler
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Directed by Jean Negulesco
    Based on the novel by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Steve Fisher, Frank Gruber and Charles G. Booth
    Directed by Edwin L. Marin
    Starring George Raft, Claire Trevor, Hoagy Carmichael, Signe Hasso, Lowell Gilmore
    Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Directed by Roy William Neill
    Produced by: Roy William Neill
    Starring Basil Rathbone as SHERLOCK HOLMES
    and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson
    Also starring Alan Mowbray, Dennis Hoey, Renee Godfrey
    (1946, Republic)
    Based on the novel by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Directed by Walter Colmes
    Starring Albert Dekker as JOHNNY FLETCHER
    and Mike Mazurki as SAM CRAGG
    Also starring Evelyn Ankers, John Elderedge, Frank Fenton, Richard Arlen, Byron Foulger
    (aka “Flame of Sacramento”)
    Story by Frank Gruber
    (aka “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Code” and “Sherlock Holmes in Dressed To Kill”)
    Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber and Leonard Lee
    Starring Basil Rathbone as SHERLOCK HOLMES
    and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson
  • ACCOMPLICE | Buy the DVD | Watch it now
    (1946, PRC)
    68 minutes, black and white
    Based on the novel Simon Lash, Private Detective by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Irving Elman and Frank Gruber
    Directed by Walter Colmes
    Produced by John K. Teaford
    Starring Richard Arlen as SIMON LASH
    and Tom Dugan as Eddie Slocum
    Also starring Veda Ann Borg, Marjorie Manners, , Archie Twitchell, Earle Hodgins, Francis Ford, Edward Earle, Herbert Rawlinson, Sherry Hall, Robert McKenzie
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Based on the story by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Based on the story by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Story by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    (aka “High Vermilion”)
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Additional dialogue by Frank Gruber
    (1952, Paramount)
    90 min
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Starring Richard Arlen, Lyle Bettger, Henry Brandon, John Ireland, Mike Kellin, Murray Matheson, Forrest Tucker
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Story by Frank Gruber
    (aka “Seven Bad Men”)
    Story by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Horace McCoy
    Directed by Tim Whelan
    Starring Randolph Scott as JAMES BARLOW
    Also starring Forrest Tucker, J. Carrol Naish, Mala Powers, Denver Pyle
    Another classic oater. Based on Frank Gruber’s fictionalized account of the notorious Reno Brothers, who terrorized Indiana in the 1860s. Scott plays Scott plays James Barlow, an operative of the “Peterson” Detective Agency sent in from Chicago to infiltrate the gang. Complicating matters are Barlow’s feelings for the Reno sister, (unfortunately not called “Dot”).
    Based on the novel by Frank Gruber
    Based on the novel Bitter Sage by Frank Gruber
    (1956, RKO)
    Based on the novel The Lock and the Key by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Burt Kennedy
    Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
    (aka “Stampeded”)
    Based on the novel by Frank Gruber
    (aka “It Started in Tokyo”)
    (1961, Allied Artists)
    Based on the novel by Frank Gruber
    Screenplay by Frank Gruber
    Directed by Joseph M. Newman ·
    Produced by Frank Gruber
    Based on the story by Frank Gruber
    Based on the novel by Frank Gruber
    Gruber also acted in this one, appearing in a bit part as a hotel clerk.
    (aka “Hour of Vengeance;” “White Commanche”)
    Based on the story by Frank Gruber


    (1949-54, CBS)
    260 25-minute episodes
    Black and white
    Broadcast live

    • “1000-to-One For Your Money” (April 4, 1950)
      Based on the short story by Frank Gruber
      Starring Tom Drake as SAM CRAGG
      Also starring Betty Garde, Paul Stewart, Carol Williams
      Sam Cragg goes to meet a client in the “Little Serbia” section of the city and finds that everyone in the neighborhood lives in fear of a mysterious loan shark.
    (1957-62, NBC)
    30 min black & white episodes
    60 minute colour episodes (last season)
    Created by James Brooks, Frank Gruber and Gene Reynolds
    Starring Dale Robertson as JIM HARDIE
    (aka “The Lawman”)
    Writer: Frank Gruber
    Made-for-television movie
    Based on characters created by Frank Gruber
    Teleplay by Anthony Lawrence and Jack Turley
    Directed by R.G. Springsteen
    Starring Dale Robertson as JIM HARDIE
    A made-for-TV “movie,” cobbled together from two episodes of the television show.
    (1959-61, syndicated)
    78 30-minute episodes
    Created by Frank Gruber
    Produced by Frank Gruber
    A Shotgun/Revue Production for MCA
    Starring Scott Brady as SHOTGUN SLADE


  • “The Writings of Frank Gruber” (1990, Detective Story Magazine #9; by Art Hackathorn)


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with additional leads provided by Jim Doherty and the Dueling Dentons, William and Frank. And thanks to Walt from Switzerland for the giant whack upside the head.

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