Somewhere a Roscoe: Dan Turner and SPICY DETECTIVE

Jun 13, 2017 by

“From the window that opened onto the roof-top sun deck a roscoe sneezed: Ka-Chow! Chowpf! and a red-hot hornet creased its stinger across my dome; bashed me to dreamland.”

That’s Robert Leslie Bellem communicating through Hollywood gumshoe Dan Turner. The story is “Lake of the Left-Hand Moon,” originally published in the December 1943 issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE.

Born in Philadelphia and trained as a newspaper reporter, Bellem began writing for the pulps in 1928. “I was thumbing through a magazine one day. I stumbled on an illustration to a story . . . It depicted two or three native South Seas island gals — clad in no more than the law allowed — surrounding one rather embarrassed-looking beachcomber. I squinted at the daub and got a definite inward reaction. I sat down at my typewriter and batted off ‘Eden Island,’ a sex yarn. It was the first sex farce I’d ever written. I sent it to PEP. They bought it and yelled for more of the same. That’s four years ago — now I sell about five or six sex farces a month, and hardly get time to write anything else!”

In 1934, Harry Donenfeld’s Culture Publications introduced SPICY DETECTIVE STORIES. Edited by Frank Armer, the former publisher of PEP, Bellem would be on board from day one, penning the adventures of Dan Turner, “six feet plus and one hundred ninety pounds of wisecracking, .38 toting, whisky-swilling, womanizing private eye.” The character would go on to fight, shoot, and kiss his way through a “good two hundred tales,” published in SPICY and SPEED DETECTIVE STORIES, as well as HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE STORIES.

A prolific writer, Robert Leslie Bellem “knocked out hundreds of other stories, at one stretch selling about a million words of fiction per year.”

He wrote a variety of fiction including adventure, detective, western, mystery, weird and of course the sex farces. During the 1930s Bellem regularly appeared in the Trojan/Culture pulps SPICY DETECTIVE, SPICY MYSTERY, SPICY-ADVENTURE and PRIVATE DETECTIVE (and their later incarnations as the SPEED titles) both under his own name and a stable of pennames. On more than one occasion an entire issue of a pulp was comprised of works by Bellem under several names. Bellem also published fiction in REAL DETECTIVE STORIES, DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, THRILLING DETECTIVE, MAMMOTH DETECTIVE, THE GHOST, THRILLING SPY STORIES, SUPER DETECTIVE, and POPULAR DETECTIVE, to name a few.

As the pulp market contracted and died, Bellem turned to the television industry, scripting for DICK TRACY, PERRY MASON, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, 77 SUNSET STRIP, CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT, THE F.B.I., BROKEN ARROW, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, DEATH VALLEY DAYS, THE MILLIONAIRE, and others.

Join PulpFest 2017 on Thursday, July 27, at 9:40 PM as we welcome author, editor, and publisher John Wooley for a look at Robert Leslie Bellem and Dan Turner. Immediately following John’s talk, members of the Pulp-Pourri Theatre will perform a reading from one of Bellem’s entertaining tales of “Hollywood, U.S.A.’s number one gumshoe.”

One of the first books John Wooley sold — to Bowling Green State University Popular Press — was a collection of Dan Turner stories. He has since written, co-written, or edited over three dozen books, including the current HOMICIDE HIGHBALL: THE LOST DAN TURNER MOVIE SCRIPT (Bold Venture Press), which spotlights the alternative screenplay for the Dan Turner made-for-TV movie. John has also written comic books, trading cards, and thousands of magazine and newspaper stories, most of them in conjunction with his work as the music and horror-movie writer for the TULSA WORLD, a position he held from 1983 through 2006. Winner of the Lamont Award in 2006, Wooley is co-owner, with John McMahan, of the pulp-related Reverse Karma Press. In 2015, John was inducted into the Oklahoma Historians’ Hall of Fame.

(Beside the outrageous writing of Robert Leslie Bellem and his peers who wrote for Culture Publications, the Spicy line of pulp magazines is collected for the pulp art of the talented H. J. Ward and others. Ward contributed the cover illustration for the December 1937 number of SPICY DETECTIVE STORIESThe artist began working in the pulp industry in 1931, selling freelance pulp covers to many different publishers, including Munsey, Dell, Popular. However, the majority of his work was published by Culture/Trojan. Ward became the publisher’s top artist.

Many thanks to Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books for his highly informative afterword to CORPSE ON ICE, quoted in this article.)