Some Things About Howard Browne

Pseudonyms include John Evans, Alexander Blade, William Brengle, Lawrence Chandler, Ivar Jorgensen, Alexander Blade, Jack Lait, Lee Mortimer, John Pollard, Mickey Spillane and Lee Francis
(1907-1999) 

One possible reason HOWARD BROWNE is given such short shrift these days is that he was just too darn good at too many things at once.

Some remember him as a master writer for television, and others recall a great sci-fi and fantasy editor, or a great crime fiction editor, or the writer of the classic mystery novel Thin Air.

Here at Thrilling Detective, though, we remember him mostly for a quartet of excellent, Chandleresque novels featuring Chicago private investigator Paul Pine

THE OBLIGATORY BIOGRAPHICAL THING

Browne was born in Omaha in 1907, the son of a baker. He dropped out of high school and rode the rails to Chicago in the twenties, where he was a legman for a local newspaper, before landing a job as a department store credit manager.

In his spare time he turned to pulp fiction writing in 1939, and rose up the ranks fast, becoming a magazine editor at Ziff-Davis publishing in 1942 or so, taking over as the managing editor of Mammoth DetectiveHe stayed there as editor,  while writing science fiction, fantasy, and detective stories and novels both under his own name and a slew of pseudonyms. He wrote a handful of stories about almost-P.I.s with such colourful monickers as Lafayette Muldoon and Wilbur Peddie, but he’s most celebrated –at least in these here parts–for the Paul Pine private eye novels.

THAT PAUL PINE THING

When the first Paul Pine novel, Halo in Blood, came out in 1946, Raymond Chandler was pretty much the gold standard for hard-boiled detective fiction, Hammett having abdicated the throne a decade earlier, and everyone was jumping on the Chandler bandwagon. But nobody ever came closer to capturing that Chandler magic than Browne. Private investigator Paul Pine, like Marlowe, was a tough-talking, world-weary skeptic, quick with his fists or a snappy wisecrack, but he plied his trade in the leaner and meaner streets of Chicago, a far tougher burg than Marlowe’s sun-dappled Los Angeles. And his plots were better constructed. In all Browne wrote four Paul Pine novels between 1946 and 1957, Halo In Blood (1946), Halo For Satan (1948), Halo In Brass (1949) and The Taste Of Ashes (1957), only the last was written under Browne’s own name (the rest appeared as by John Evans). Concidentally (Browne always claimed) the same name Chandler gave one of his private eye characters.

In fact, The Taste of Ashes is considered by many to be one of the best private eye novels ever written, although it almost never happened.  The previous Paul Pine novel, Halo In Brass, had been published eight years earlier, and by then  Browne was in Hollywood, writing scripts for television. But she still owed Simon & Schuster a book, and his editor, Lee Wright, suggested a Paul Pine story.  Browne was reluctant, feeling that he had, according to Richard Alrich, “already completely exhausted the private eye genre in his earlier books, a genre he considered cliché ridden and predictable.”

THAT FICTION EDITOR THING

It’s a shame Browne wrapped up the Pine series after four books and one short story. It’s clear the guy could write. And he wasn’t too shabby as an editor, either. He worked for Ziff-Davis for five years, and was eventually made managing editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures as well. He occasionally contributed stories to some of the magazines he edited, including two serials for Fantastic about prehistoric adventurer Tharn. And he could be prolific when he had to be –the February 1944 issue of Mammoth Detective, boasted three stories by Browne, written under three different pen names. Plus, he was adept at recycling his own material, when necessary.

But Hollywood beckoned, and he left the magazine racket for a few years, returning in 1949 to become the editor of Amazing and Fantastic Adventures once more, just as the digests and men’s adventure magazines were starting to push the pulps off the newsstands. Among the writers Browne published were John Jakes, Mack Reynolds, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Algis Budrys, Robert Sheckley, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and… Mickey Spillane.

THAT SPILLANE THING

I shit thee not.

The November-December 1952 issue of Fantastic included the sci-fi tale “The  Veiled Woman,” credited to Spillane, of all people, but apparently written by Browne. By 1952, Spillane was about the hottest writer on the planet, and there was mucho buzz about Spillane’s “first” science fiction story. Unfortunately, Spillane blew the deadline, and Browne, rather than blow Fantastic‘s own deadline, cranked out the story himself in one night, treating it as a sort of Spillane spoof. Spillane was allegedly furious, but ultimately decided not to sue.

Unfortunately for readers of detective fiction (and science fiction, for that matter), the television industry, in desperate need of writers, made Browne “an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

“It took me a full five minutes to make up my mind,” he recalled years later.

THAT PROLIFICACY THING

When pushed, Browne could crank them out. A case in point? The February 1944 issue of Mammoth Detective, regularly one of the largest pulps around, often topping 300 pages. Not only did Browne possibly co-edit the damn thing (he worked for Ziff-Davis, after all), but he contributed three (count ’em, three!) stories to the issue, one under his own name (billed as “A 72000 Book-length Novel”), and one each by “John Evans” and “William Brengle.”

THAT THIN AIR THING

While still toiling as an editor at Ziff-Davis,  Browne squeezed out another novel, Thin Air (1956), reworking it from an a novella originally published in Cosmopolitain in 1953, which has turned out to be a surprisingly durable work, adapted or reworked several times, mostly for television The book was based on a script Browne did for the anthology series Climax! which had already aired the previous year. The novel became something of a classic thriller, the mystery revolving around a man whose wife has vanished, apparently into “thin air.” Thin Air‘s plot–and variations on it–have been used at least of couple of times as the basis of television scripts after its initial Climax! appearance. It was used as the basis for the “Sleight of Hand” episode of The Rockford Files in 1975, written by Stephen J. Cannell and Jo Swerling Jr. It followed the plot of the novel pretty closely, except for the ending. Several years later, it was used again, this time for an episode of Simon & Simon, with the teleplay written by Bob Shayne and Philip DeGuere.

THAT RECYCLING THING

When it came to recycling, Browne was green before it was cool. As a screenwriter, he recycled material he had previously written about Al Capone a number of times, including “Seven Against the Wall” for Playhouse 90 (1958), and the films, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967) and Capone (1975). As a television writer, besides Thin Air,  he recycled his final Paul Pine novel, A Taste of Ashes, for the pilot of Bourbon Street Beat.

THAT “HALO” THING

What was up with that? Browne seemed to have the word stuck in his craw, using it in three novels in the Paul Pine series, for Murder Wears a Halo, a novel originally published in Mammoth Detective in 1944, and a short story, “Halo in Blood,” which apparently is a standalone. Not sure what he was up to, but I do sort of like the whole stubborn quirkiness of it.

THAT SCREENWRITING THING

Browne eventually went on to write and sell over 125 scripts for such TV shows as 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Bourbon Street Beat, Cheyenne, Mission Impossible, The Fugitive, MannixColumbo, Simon and Simon and others, as well as working as a script consultant for Longstreet. He also wrote the screenplays for several gangster films, including Capone, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and Portrait of a Mobster.

THAT MEETING RAYMOND CHANDLER THING

According to Browne himself, “I met Raymond Chandler at the Overseas Press Club in New York… He was a little topsy (I guess he was born with a glass in his hand), and I said, “Mr. Chandler, it’s a pleasure to meet you–I’ve been making a living off you for years.”

“So few have the grace to admit it,”was his reply.

NOVELS

 

  • Warrior of the Dawn: The Adventures of Tharn (1943) Buy this book Kindle it!
  • Return to Liliput (1943) (as by William Brengle)
  • Murder Wears a Halo (February 1944, Mammoth Detective; by John Evans)
  • Halo in Blood (1946; by John Evans) Buy this book
    Originally appeared in May 1946, Mammoth Detective
  • If You Have Tears (1947; by John Evans)
  • Halo for Satan (1948; by John Evans) Buy this book
  • The Man from Yesterday (1948) (as by Lee Francis)
  • Forgotten Worlds (1948) (as by Lawrence Chandler)
  • Halo in Brass (1949; by John Evans) Buy this book
  • The Return of Tharn (1956)
  • Thin Air (1956) Buy this book
    Expanded from 1953 novella
  • The Taste of Ashes (1957) Buy this book
  • The Paper Gun (1985)
  • Pork City (1988)
  • Scotch on the Rocks (1991)
  • Murder Wears a Halo (1997) Buy this book
  • Pork City (1988) Buy this book
  • Scotch on the Rocks (1991)

SHORT STORIES

  • “A Quarter for Your Trouble” (May 1942, Mammoth DetectiveWilbur Peddie)
  • “Keep Your Eye on It” (September 1942, Mammoth Detective; Wilbur Peddie)
  • “Presenting the Author (bg) Mammoth Detective Sep 1942
  • “Incredible Ink” (January 1943, Mammoth Detective; Wilbur Peddie)
  • “Death Confesses Judgment” (March 1943, Mammoth Detective)
  • “Blackmail in Blue Ink” (August 1943, Mammoth Detective; Wilbur Peddie)
  • “Tavern in the Town” (November 1943, Mammoth Detective; by Willaim Brendle; Lafayette Muldoon)
  • “Violence for Madame” (February 1944, Mammoth Detective; by Willaim Brendle; Lafayette Muldoon)
  • “A Penny for Your Corpse” (February 1944, Mammoth Detective; Wilbur Peddie)
  • “This Will Kill You” (May 1944, Mammoth Detective; by Willaim Brendle; Lafayette Muldoon)
  • “Why Pick on Me?” (February 1945, Mammoth Detective; by Willaim Brendle; Lafayette Muldoon)
  • “Hot Warehouse” (August 1945, Mammoth Detective; Wilbur Peddie)
  • “The Buddha Said Boo” (November 1945, Mammoth Detective; by Willaim Brendle; Lafayette Muldoon)
  • “The Running Man” (January 1946, Mammoth Detective)
  • “Halo In Blood” (May 1946, Mammoth Detective)
  • “Ritterkreuz” (July 1946, Mammoth Adventure)
  • “Twelve Times Zero” (March 1952, If)
  • “Off the Blotter” (June 1947, Mammoth Detective)
  • “Man in the Dark (Fall 1952,  Fantastic)
  • “The Veiled Woman” (November-December 1952, Fantastic; credited to Mickey Spillane) | Read it here
  • “So Dark for April” (February 1953, Manhunt; also Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories)
  • “Mars Confidential” (April-May 1953, Amazing; by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer)
  • “Call Him Savage” (March 1954 Amazing; by John Pollard)
  • “Thin Air” October 1953, Cosmopolitan)
  • “House Call (1956, Rogue)
  • “The Paper Gun” (1985, The Paper Gun)
    An incomplete novel, but a complete story, according to Browne.
  • DATE UNKNOWN
  • “Death Confesses Judgement”
  • “Hard Guy”

COLLECTIONS

  • The Paper Gun (1985)
  • Incredible Ink (1997) Buy this book
  • Carbon-Copy Killer/Twelve Times Zero (1998)
  • Halo for Hire: The Paul Pine Mysteries (2018)Buy this book

TELEVISION

  • CLIMAX
    (1954-58, CBS)
    Anthology series

    • “Thin Air” (October 13, 1955)
      Story by Howard Browne
      Adapted by Ben Starr
      Starring Marguerite Chapman, Mimi Gibson, William Lundigan
  • CONFLICT
    (1956-57)
    Anthology series

    • “The People Against McQuade” (1956)
    • “The Money” (1957)
    • “A Question of Loyalty” (1957)
    • “Pattern for Violence” (1957)
      Based on the novel If You Have Tears by Howard Browne
      Teleplay by Howard Browne
  • CHEYENNE
    (1955-63)
    Western
    Starring Clint Walker as CHEYENNE BODIE

    • “The Last Train West” (1956)
      Written by Howard Browne
    • “The Dark Rider” (1956)
      Written by Howard Browne
    • “Lone Gun” (1956)
      Teleplay by Howard Browne
    • “Land Beyond the Law” (1957
      Written by Howard Browne
    • “Hard Bargain” (1957)
      Teleplay by Howard Browne
    • “White Warrior” (1958)
      Teleplay by Howard Browne
  • PLAYHOUSE 90
    (1956-60, CBS)
    Anthology series
    133 90-minute episodes

    • “Seven Against the Wall” (December 11, 1958)
      Written by David Davidson
      Story by Howard Browne
      Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
      Produced by John Houseman
      Starring Paul Lambert as AL CAPONE
      Also starring Dennis Patrick, Frank Silvera, Paul Stevens
      A dramatization of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Browne would later recycle it several times.
  • BOURBON STREET BEAT
    (1959-60, ABC)
    Created by Charles Hoffman (?)Starring Andrew Duggan as CAL CALHOUN
    Richard Long as REX RANDOLPH
    with Van Williams as KENNY MADISON

    • “The Taste of Ashes” (October 5, 1959)
      Based on The Taste of Ashes by Howard Browne
      Teleplay by Charles Hoffman and Al C. Ward
      Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
    • “Inside Man” (January 11, 1960)
      Teleplay by Howard Browne
      Screenplay by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts
      Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
    • “Twice Betrayed” (April 4, 1960)
      Story by Howard Browne
      Story by William Bruckner

      Directed by William J. Hole, Jr.
  • COLT .45
    (1957-60, ABC)
    Developed by Roy Huggins
    Starring Wayde Preston as Christopher Colt
    A western.

    • “Circle of Fear” (March 7, 1958)
      Story by Ben Markson
      Teleplay by Howard Browne
      Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
    • “Chain of Command” (April 5, 1960)
      Story by Roy Huggins
      Teleplay by Howard Browne & Dean Reisner
      Directed by Lew Landers
  • MISSION IMPOSSIBLE
    (1966-73)

    • “CAT’S PAW” (1971)
    • “STONE PILLOW” (1972)
    • “LEONA” (1972)
    • “BOOMERANG” (1973)
  • MANNIX
    (1967-1975, CBS)
    Created by William Link and Richard Levinson
    Developed for television by Bruce Geller
    Starring Mike Connors as JOE MANNIX

    • “RUN, SHEEP, RUN” (December 16, 1967)
      Teleplay by Howard Browne
    • A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE” (January 14, 1973)
      Teleplay by Howard Browne
  • BANACEK
    (1972-74, NBC)
    17 90-minute episodes
    Created by Anthony Wilson
    Starring George Peppard as THOMAS BANACEK

    • “NO SIGN OF THE CROSS” (October 11, 1972)
      Teleplay by Robert Presnell, Jr.
      Story by Howard Browne and Robert Presnell, Jr.
      Allegedly based on his novel Halo for Satan
  • THE ROCKFORD FILES
    (1974-80, NBC)
    Created by Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins
    Starring James Garner as JIM ROCKFORD

    • “SLEIGHT OF HAND” (January 17, 1975)
      Based on the novel Thin Air by Howard Browne
      Teleplay by Stephen J. Cannell & Jo Swirling Jr.
  • SIMON & SIMON
    (1981-88, CBS)
    152 60-minute episodes, 2 in syndication only, 2 2-hour episodes
    Created by Philip DeGuere
    Starring Jameson Parker as A.J. SIMON
    and Gerald McRaney as RICK SIMON

    • “THIN AIR” (December 30, 1982)
      Based on the novel by Howard Browne
      Teleply by Bob Shayne and Philip DeGuere Jr.

FILMS

  • PORTRAIT OF A MOBSTER
    (1962, Warner Bros.)
    108 minutesWritten by Howard Browne
    Directed by Joseph Pevney
    Starring Vic Morrow, Leslie Parrish, Ray Danton
    A late period gangster flick, featuring up-and-coming racketeer Dutch Schultz as he joins the Legs Diamond gang in Prohibition-era New York. 
  • THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE
    (1967, 20th Century Fox)
    Screenplay by Howard Browne
    Directed by Roger Corman
    Browne’s first big screen stab into the night Chicago died.
  • CAPONE
    (1975, 20th Century Fox)
    Screenplay by Al Capone
    Directed by Steve Carver
    Starring Ben Gazzara as AL CAPONE
    Also starring Susan Blakely, Harry Guardino, John Cassavetes
    The rise and fall of the notorious Chicago mobster.

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • A Brief Memoir by Howard Browne
    A colourful autobiographical sketch by Browne, posted at the Dennis MacMillan Publishers site, covering his youth and career as a writer, as well as some interesting glances at the business of editing and writing for pulp magazines, Mickey Spillane and the filming of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
  • “How I Created 77 Sunset Strip” by Howard Browne
    (December 1959, Rogue)
    An article by Browne his part in the creation of the television series. Also, in the “Rogue Notes,” they announce that Browne’s novel, Seven Against the Wall is “down on Simon & Schuster’s Spring list as ‘the big one.’ The book, of course, was never published, but Browne recycled the material for two feature films. 
  • Forgotten Books: Murder Wears a Halo by John Evans/Howard Browne
    Evan Lewis does another bang-up job reviewing a forgotten classic (December 2009, Davy Crockett’s Almanack).
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Richard Aldrich for his many posts on Browne over at PulpScans.

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