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Harold F. Cruickshank

Harold F. Cruickshank (1893-1965) was a popular writer throughout the Golden Age of pulp fiction. He was born and raised in Alberta, Canada. Unlike many Canadian pulpsters, who eventually moved south to be closer to their primary markets, Cruickshank chose to remain with family and friends in his native country. He was, in fact, a prairie pioneer who received the Alberta Achievement Award for his published stories of early life in that province.

At a penny a word–sometimes more, but often less–pulp writers had to produce a lot of material to make a living. Prolific word merchants knew they had to sell to numerous markets to be successful. By Depression-era standards, Cruickshank did well by turning out a flood of different types of stories for numerous magazines. His by-line appeared in dozens of pulps ranging from Argosy and Battle Stories to Dime Sports, Thrilling Adventures, War Birds, Wild West Weekly and Rodeo Romances. Ever alert for new markets, he even banged out a sexy Canadian Mounted yarn for one of the “spicy” pulps.

Reflecting his interest in aviation along with his own adventures in Alberta’s timberland, he specialized in air war stories and yarns set in the rugged northwest wilderness. Thrilling Adventures carried his “White Phantom Wolf” series while Ace High featured a number of stories set in the northern wilds starring a wolf cub protagonist named Keko. In fact, one of Cruickshank’s first appearances in the pulps was in the letter column of Danger Trail (August, 1928) in which he instructed readers on the armament required for moose hunting. (Read Cruickshank’s October 1944 article from Writer’s Digest titled  “Writing the Animal Story”)

Harold Cruickshank’s name, along with that of Robert J. Hogan, O. B. Myers, Robert Sidney Bowen, Ralph Oppenheim, Arch Whitehouse, Major George Fielding Elliott, and others, is best remembered today because of the quantity and quality of his air war yarns. Indeed, his tales of Spads and Spandaus proved so popular that ace pulp publisher Henry Steeger encouraged Cruickshank to maintain the monthly exploits of three different characters–Sky Wolf, Sky Devil, and Red Eagle–in consecutive issues of three different Popular Publications’ titles.

Despite his success as a short story writer, Harold Cruickshank dreamed of financial security as sole author of a monthly pulp hero character like Walter Gibson’s The Shadow and Lester Dent’s Doc Savage. Publisher Steeger even indicated that such a role might be awarded him. Alas, Harold’s dreams were crushed by his own perceived act of kindness to a fellow scrivener. He once described his disappointment in correspondence to a broadcaster friend of mine. In a letter posted from his Edmonton, Alberta home, dated December 19, 1963, Cruickshank wrote:

“Yesterday, over the radio I learned of the death of one referred to as ‘one of the most prolific of all the pulp paper magazine writers, Robert J. Hogan.’ Imagine that–his getting front page coverage.

“Here is a fact the news folk did not know: In the early thirties, I received a strong appeal from one Robert J. Hogan of New York, an aspiring fiction writer who was having no luck at all placing even a single first piece of fiction. He told me that he had studied every course available and had tried every publisher in business, but–no dice! He stated that he wanted to write the same type of copy I wrote so prolifically, and would I be kind enough to give him some instruction. He also informed me that his rent was in arrears two or three months.

“I decided to help him. I wrote up a thesis of instruction of some ten pages, and urged him to study it, then to try his hand at an air-war story, the type he desired to write and when he had it ready to present, to air-mail the word to me and I would at once write the publisher of War Birds, Dare-Devil Aces and Battle Aces who was one of my greatest friends, who bought three stories every month from me. All this transpired, and Robert J. Hogan, as a result of my efforts on his behalf, made his first sale. He expressed his gratitude, but how it all backfired!

“Steeger, the publisher, within a year or so, decided to make two of his three air-war magazines into a one-novel job and, although he had promised me the first good break that ever arose, damned if he didn’t give the big new job solely to Robert J. Hogan–my PUPIL, who went on to great fortune writing fantastic copy under the title G-8 and his Battle Aces. And I? I had been receiving $375 each and every month from that one publisher. Then, overnight, right at the very depth of the Great Depression, such income was snuffed out to a mere $60, with wide gaps in between. It was one of the most crushing blows I have ever received.”

Reading the Cruickshank letter, it is not difficult to understand the bitter disappointment he must have felt to learn that his onetime pupil wound up living in high style in a five-bedroom home in Florida, complete with three employed secretaries, while Cruickshank continued to labor in the Edmonton hinterlands, attempting to eke out a penny-a-word living for his growing family. In the meantime, we can only imagine what the monthly G-8 magazine, or something similar (Sky Devil and his Battle Aces?), might have been like if it had not been written by Robert J. Hogan but by Hogan’s inspirational mentor–Harold F. Cruickshank.

(Article by Don Hutchison. Used with his kind permission from Sky Devil: Hell’s Skipper)