Published Sep 23, 2015
Bjo & John Trimble Remember Robert Bloch
Bjo & John Trimble Remember Robert Bloch
By Bjo and John Trimble
We first knew Bob Bloch as a fellow science fiction and fantasy fan, and had many enjoyable conversations with him on just about every subject. Then we’d see him at conventions as an MC and at other gatherings. Finally we were made aware that he was a very good semi-pro writer of sf and horror. He had a love of puns and his sense of humor was legendary in SF circles. When he still lived in the upper mid-west, he would say that he was from Weyawega (WI), which he claimed was an old Native American word meaning “sanitary restrooms.” He would tell people that he had the heart of a small boy… pickled in a jar on his mantle, a quote now often credited to Stephen King.
He corresponded with H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith and other horror writers. He regarded Lovecraft as a mentor, since Lovecraft was one of the first to seriously encourage Bloch’s writing talent. Though Bloch’s works were at first in the Lovecraft-ian vein of the supernatural horror, he eventually broadened his viewpoint to include the many ways horror could enter ordinary lives. In an interview, Bloch explained that “I realized, as a result of what went on in World War II and in reading the more widely disseminated work in psychology, that the real horror in not in the shadows, but in that twisted little world inside our own skulls.”While he was confortable writing about the exploits of ghouls, serial killers, psychopaths and monsters of all varieties, Bob was also one of the most pleasant and generous members of the writing community. A fan, he tried to always reply to letters from his fans, answering their questions and passing on Lovecraft’s mentoring of himself by encouraging their talents.He had no formal education beyond high school, but he didn’t need it. Like most pulp writers in the 30’s and 40’s, his further education was from the school of trial and error, on-the-job writing. He coupled this with a keen sense of observation, and a wry, often cynical viewpoint of human nature. We particularly remember his gentle but sardonic comment to an invasive fan at a convention, that it was lucky this fan had interrupted the conversation. “After all, when you get such writers as Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp and Robert Silverberg together, things are so likely to get boring.”
His fondness for puns was legendary in fandom, and he would often parlay a simple slip of someone’s tongue into a ping pong game of increasingly involved puns. He also expressed it in his titles: Tales in a Jugular Vein, Out of the Mouths of Graves, Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of, The Beauand Arrow Case, and more.He was a prolific writer of short stories and novelettes, laboriously turning out most them on an old manual typewriter. He wrote several novels and his favorites of those were The Kidnapper, The Star Stalker, Night-World and Strange Eons. Bloch realized that comedy and horror are opposite sides of the same coin, so it is not so odd that most of his professional writing centered on the supernatural, horror, fantasy and crime, frequently with a psychopathic vein. He said of this, “I discovered, much to my surprise - and particularly if I was writing in the first person - that I could become a psychopath quite easily. I could think like one and I could devise a manner of unfortunate occurrences. So I probably gave up a flourishing, lucrative career as a mass murderer.”With this in mind, it is not so surprising that he would write Psycho. The story was very loosely based on a horrifying news story of a real mass murderer living undetected and unsuspected in a typical small town. Bloch said that it was the situation itself, not the characters, that intrigued him. “Normal Bates didn’t exist until I made him up, out of my imagination,” he observed, humorously adding that it “was probably the reason so few offer to take showers with me.” It became one of his own favorites of his novels.
The success of Psycho allowed him to forsake the mid-west and come to live in Southern California. In Hollywood, he met and became fast friends with the actors Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff. He had met science fiction and movie screenplay writer Leigh Bracket and her writer husband Henry Kuttner, as well as early fan, later agent and comics editor, Julius Schwartz, in the mid-west. But it was in Hollywood that he became great friends these SF and fantasy legends. He characterized Leigh as a private person, modest and unpretentious, who never tried to capitalize on her considerable achievements. We agree with Bob’s assessment.In Hollywood, he began to write story ideas and scripts for TV and films. Being inexperienced in selling his work to the film industry, Bloch sold all the movie rights for the Psycho novel to Alfred Hitchcock for less than $10,000. By the time his publisher and his literary agent had collected their percentages, Bob was left with $6k and change. He never collected anything more from the actual film; it took his writing sequels for Bloch to profit from his own work.He was getting a name for himself in those fields, so it is no surprise that he was very pleased to get a chance to offer script ideas to Star Trek: The Original Series. He had always been fascinated by Jack the Ripper, using that real-life horror story as the basis for a number of very successful short stories and novelettes. One of his stories was based on the Ripper killing to remain immortal, so it easy to see where he got the inspiration for the long-lived murderer in the TOS script, “Wolf in the Fold.” He also really enjoyed seeing Scotty (James Doohan) getting the lead role.
Bloch’s fascination with the supernatural led him to write “Catspaw.” One of the main things he tried to achieve with that script was to get the entire bridge crew off the ship so that Lt. Uhura would finally get a chance to sit in the captain’s chair. Alas, NBC objected, arguing that nobody would accept a female commander, and certainly not a black one at that. So to Bloch’s annoyance, Lt. DeSalle was promoted out of nowhere to be temporarily in command of the Enterprise.Bob’s other TOS script was “What Are Little Girls Made Of?,” which featured Majel Barrett as Dr. Christine Chapel. He regarded it as a shame that the gender stereotypes of the time led the network to insist that Dr. Chapel had to become Nurse Chapel if she was to be a continuing character. Being an admirer of pretty young ladies, Bob was very happy with the costumes designed by William Ware Theiss. On a historical note, the costume was premiered by Gene Roddenberry at Tricon II in Cleveland, a week before the TV airing. He managed to find an agency that could supply a tiny model who looked amazingly like the actress, Sherry Jackson.
Bloch continued to submit story ideas and write scripts for TV and films after his Trek successes, with varying success and levels of satisfaction. One of his scripts, for The Cat Creature, dealt with Bast, the Egyptian cat-goddess. However, the film’s producer and director wanted to do a remake of Cat Women on the Moon, and gutted Bloch’s script. He wryly commented later that they’d entirely missed the point, and suggested a blend of several well-known films that dealt with the Egyptian cat-goddess reincarnation and “the first bypass operation ever performed on an artichoke heart." We doubt that the producer and director took him seriously.
He was honored by many guest invitations in several fandoms, including Torcon, 6th World Science Fiction Convention in Toronto, and again years later at Torcon II, Bouchercon I, San Diego Comicon, and the World Fantasy Convention, and he was the 1970-71 President of the Mystery Writers of America. His writing won the 1958 Hugo Award for Best Short Story, the 1975 World Fantasy Life Award, twice won the Ann Radcliffe Award, a World Science Fiction Convention Special Lifetime Award in 1984, the Bram Stoker Award in 1990, and the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award in 1991.
Much of Bloch’s later writing reflected his disappointment in the human race. “When you really get to know people, you don't need to invent monsters…. Modern horror fiction… has provided virtually everyone with a 'Devil' theory.” He quoted comedian Flip Wilson saying, “The Devil made me do it!” And noted that no one accepted individual responsibility anymore.His sardonic view of humans was fed by observing the ease with which commercial interests could manipulate the paying public. He was appalled and sickened that the genre he loved, horror films with real plots and genuine characters, were replaced by blood, special effects, sadism and huge splatters of copious gore. “You might just as well go to a slaughterhouse and pick out a few animals and carve them up screaming and squealing on camera.”
When, in June of 1994, he was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, he wrote an essay for OMNI magazine concerning his feelings about his approaching death. In it he said that while he was comfortable writing stories and scripts concerning death and dying, contemplating his own death made him uncomfortable and fearful. He said he was told that he could play with fireworks, but shouldn’t make any Halloween plans. His writing career spanned some 60 years, writing under his own and 8 or 9 pennames, in the magazine, radio, book, film, TV and comics fields.
Bloch’s doctors were correct. He died on September 23, 1994, at the age of 77 – after July 4 and before Halloween. As SF writer Frank Robinson said for all of us who knew and loved Bob: “Despite a sardonic view of the world, Robert Bloch was a man without malice. Almost everybody who met him sensed that, and almost everybody who met him loved him for it. It was impossible not to. Bob was survived by his wife Ellie and his daughter Sally. And by a multitude of friends who never realized how much they were going to miss him until the day he died.”