Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Favorite Places; Ballarat, CA

On our way to Death Valley we took the three mile or so detour on a dusty unpaved road to Ballarat, a very small ghost town that exists just outside the border of the National Park. It was late June, about one hundred and ten degrees with no could we resist?
There was no movement in Ballarat. It was around noon as we drove in looking for a parking place. There was nothing but parking places in Ballarat, so we just pulled over at a ramshackle building that boasted it was a museum. As we got out of the car a scarecrow appeared in the door to the museum calling out a welcome. He didn't offer his name and we didn't ask for it, but he was friendly, telling us we could go anywhere, poke around, look at whatever we pleased. He was the caretaker of Ballarat, a middle-aged man who needed a haircut or a good combing. His shirt looked as if he'd eaten his lunch off of it, and he told us of the recent big news; how a movie had been shot in Ballarat (two years ago?) and how the top Hollywood director had been there with the filmmakers. He couldn't remember the guy's name, but there you go.
He pointed out Charlie Manson's truck, sitting in the desert across the street. I wandered over to look at it and it had psychedelic painting inside. It reeked of the sixties and Helter Skelter. The jail/morgue/hotel was a small building that the caretaker confessed had been built long after the heyday of Ballarat. But when fact becomes legend, print the legend.
There was a constant roar of jets overhead from the Naval Air base nearbby. You couldn't see the jets but you could hear them.
The museum was a bit of a letdown, containing only some junk and a movie poster of BAD MAN FROM BALLARAT or was it THE BALLARAT KID? My daughter pointed out that some of the vintage junk in the dilapidated buildings wasn't that vintage. Plastic dish trays for example, old Sprite bottles. Still, it was a ghost town and we were happy to pay the two dollar donation inside the museum (no receipt offered or required). Heck, it was worth that just to pet the caretaker's dog, who was hot, tired, and pretty darned friendly.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Joys and Sorrows of Collecting

I try not to collect much. I'm prone to it, and feel that it's a flaw; as the junk (or even the good stuff) piles up around my room I get to where I can't even enjoy the nice things I have. It's always been a struggle to focus on the important things (i.e. paying the bills etc.) and let the minutiae go...I know people who can't do that, and I dread being one of them.
That being said, the things I have collected over my long and limited life are sort of important to me. I'm a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, specifically Tarzan, and have put together a complete set of Tarzan hardcovers. They're by no means all first editions, although I've picked up a few here and there, and some years ago I was lucky enough to acquire a copy of the prize Tarzan novel, TARZAN AND THE CASTAWAYS, prized because it has not only a Frank Frazetta cover but very nice illustrations by Frank inside.
I also have collected (on a very LIMITED scale) the works of Robert E. Howard, picking up books by him almost as an afterthought. A few I bought when new (SOWERS OF THE THUNDER, the recent nice DelRey hardcovers) but most are way out of my league, financially. Luckily, in 1972, I found a copy of one of the jewels of Howard collectibles, SKULL-FACE AND OTHERS, the magnificent Arkham House edition from 1946. Even back then it was pricey, $17 without the dust jacket. Still, a remarkable book, and I was able to enhance it a few years back by buying a facsimile DJ which made it all the more attractive. The DJ cost more than the book did originally, in fact, and my total cash invested in SKULL-FACE...$39.
I have always been aware of the Gnome Press Conan books put out in the 1950s, even handled them at Comic Conventions when the booksellers would permit, but never could afford them. I think the cheapest I've ever seen them was upwards of $100 when I didn't have it. So I had quietly despaired of ever owning them (not that I lost sleep over this) and hoped that someday I would find one of the titles at the flea market beat to hell for twenty bucks.
Well, last weekend at our monthly flea market in Santa Rosa I was mocking (in a friendly way) the collectibles at a table some friends of mine had set up. One of them (Tracy or Troy, they're identical twins and I can't tell them apart) brought up a book and asked me how I could live without it. It was a Gnome Press Conan. TALES OF CONAN. I took it from him and drooling slightly, asked him how much? He said "Ten bucks, firm!" I pretended to examine it before tearing out my wallet, but he walked away and came back with four more, THE COMING OF CONAN, THE SWORD OF CONAN, KING CONAN, and THE RETURN OF CONAN.
I damn near fainted. None had dust jackets, but the books were in pretty good condition. Still, I wanted to haggle. "Thirty bucks for all of them?" I suggested. He got agitated. "Ten bucks apiece is already a great deal!" he protested. And he was right. So I suggested $40, he came back with $45, only willing to haggle a bit so he could move some big money items. The deal was done and they're sitting on my shelf now right next to Skull-Face and Others and others. They need dust jackets, but I've got a line on them for $22 each, so my cost per volume will be $32, not bad for books offered right now on eBay for $249. Facsimile dust jackets, but what the heck? Yes, it would have meant more to me twenty years ago, but it's still pretty cool!

Saturday, February 13, 2010


We fans of the Tarzan movies (there seem to be less and less of us these days) got a real shot in the arm from Warner Bros. Their Archives series has issued two of the best non-Weismuller Tarzan flicks, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959) and TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (1960), both starring Gordon Scott as Edgar Rice Burroughs' iconic ape man. Both films were made with adult audiences in mind, although children will be enthralled, and Scott's Tarzan is closer to Burroughs' concept than most, speaking good English and a more complex character than the earlier Weismuller/Barker tree swingers. Sara Shane (Angie) is right out of a James Bond movie (a couple of years before the Bond films), a sexy adventuress not too timid to sneak into the villains' boat after medical supplies for an injured Tarzan, and the villains themselves are a superb blend of ex-Nazis (the great Niall Macginnis), a troubled ex-con (Al Mulock), Slade (Anthony Quayle), an ex-rival of Tarzan, and his ambitious girlfriend (Scilla Gabel) and best of all, an Irish adventurer named Obannion played by a young Sean Connery a couple of films before Bond made him an international superstar. Inter-gang tensions wipe out most of the gang and Tarzan takes care of the rest.
TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT involves Tarzan escorting criminal Coy Banton along with several stranded travelers through the jungle/veldt while Banton's family, led by legendary John Carradine attempt to free him. Al Mulock is again along for the ride and the trip is memorable, culminating in a great fight between Banton (Jock Mahoney) and Tarzan with death as the prize (guess who wins!). The producers were so taken with Mahoney's physical performance (he had been a stuntman) that they offered him the lead in the next Tarzan epic and Scott was out of work, but not for long. He went to Italy and cashed in on that country's craze for musclemen movies.
Warner Bros. Archives is a service they provide to put films out on DVD that don't warrant a full release. They're DVDr releases and are pretty bare-bones, with no extras and plain packaging, but the films are widescreen and not bad copies. This is the first U.S. video release for either of these films. They are not cheap, but I plunked down my twenty bucks for each without blinking.