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The Hogan/Steeger Letters

Link - Posted by David on January 16, 2015 @ 8:00 am in

A few years ago, writer and frequent Age of Aces contributer Don Hutchison came up to our table at PulpFest and handed us a manilla envelope, entrusting us with its contents. When we opened the envelope, amung other things, there were letters from Robert Hogan to Harry Steeger and back again.

On December 7th, 1961, prompted by the growing nostagia over World War I and G-8 and his Battle Aces in particular, Robert J. Hogan took the time to write to his old publisher and friend Harry Steeger. . .


December 7, 1961    


Dear Harry:

    For some time I’ve been going to drop you a line on the matter of an old friend. Tempus fidgets and none of us is getting younger, except one old geezer who seems to be looming out of the past to haunt me, bless him. He, according to books, mailed reports, phone calls and magazines articles, seems to be growing younger and it does me good to think that I gave birth to this full sized adult who, defying the laws of Nature and Biology, seems to be gradually taking a second hold on life. Namely good old G-8 and His Battle Aces.

    I received my first inkle of this shot in the arm for the old boy perhaps three years, yes? over three years ago, when a guy phoned me long distance from somewhere to tell me how much he used to enjoy G-8 and to ask me if I had any copies of G-8 magazines I would care to part with. I said I had none for sale or loan but that I did love his flattery. He went on to say that he had been trying to buy some old back copies of G-8 and recently had been offered a brace of three, without covers, but assured that the first page of contents was there WITH THE AUTHOR’S NAME visible. The back number mag merchant would part with these three for the meager price of $7.00 for the three. He said he had asked what he might get one or more with covers and in good condition for and was told that if such a rare item could be found anywhere they would run from $10. each up and up and up. That was well over 3 years ago.

    A year ago Betty picked up a well written contemperary paper back novel wherein some guy was sounding off on “My country right or wrong,” after which he apologized by saying, “Damned if I don’t sound like G-8 and his Battle Aces.” Then continued a few sentences of dialogue something like, “Damned if you don’t look like G-8,” and “Wasn’t that the best damned set of character stories that ever hit print?” etc. etc.

    Next thing, one of the boys in the Sparta PO said someone had come through asking where the house of Robert J. Hogan was. Said he wanted to see where G-8 stories were written. This was nearly 15 years after publication was suspended.

    I’ve had the general run of pleasant flattery all the way. But a few months ago the magazine section of the Miami Sunday Herald came out with a piece about World War I planes and the furor that is now cooked up. Mel Torme, the singer, is head of a club, as you likely know, who hold a kind of worship for World War I fliers and planes and who make a thing of collecting G-8 and his Battle Aces magazines. This article referred to G-8 as a fast returning popular character. I phoned the editor of the mag section and asked him, a nice guy named Bob Swift, how come he had mentioned G-8. He said, “Because it’s the hottest thing in present day collectors’ items. I read it, every issue, when I was a kid. Used to sit on the curb in front of the mag store where I bought it because I couldn’t wait to get home to read it.”

    The upshot of all this is that he wants to run a piece on ye old creator and writer of G-8 and His Battle Aces. I told him I had nothing on G-8 down here with me. He said he would write you and ask if you might have an old proof sheet or something you could send him of one of the old cover prints. He wants to do a special in full color in the Sunday mag. No doubt you have heard from him by now.

    On top of that comes an article in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED? October 30th 1961 issue, by Robert H. Boyle, titled HELL’S OLD ANGELS. On page 61 on and on under the paragraph head THE FLYING SPY he does some nice stuff on old G-8 and says that Hollywood and other sources are now probing the possibilities of making TV series out of World War I stuff and—well you can read it. You’ll get a kick out of it, I know.

    Wouldn’t it be something if they saw a good TV series in G-8 and His Battle Aces? I know that if or when G-8 sells to TV or whatever interests, you’ll see to it that they make fitting payment to the guy who originated and wrote the series. Believe me, we can use it.

    For now, I’m writing about another angle of this new G-8 popularity. Because of this furor that seems to have been growing over G-8, bless his handsome heart and diary, I’m planning to do a sort of autobiographical book about the old pulp days as I knew them and the development of said G-8 and His Battle Aces and how they grew. So many amazing and Interesting things connected with the writing of the magazine and the pulps in general. Why and how come practically every owner of a seat on the NY stock exchange came to read G-8 and His Battle Aces, a magazine aimed at age 14 I believe you said, and never missed a copy during the 30s. The fun we had writing for the pulps and the funny things that came up from the thousands of letters we received from fans all over the world. And I’m hoping I could have your permission (when I get the autobiog. part done) to publish one of the G-8 novels at the conclusion of the book, with illustrations, cover and all. At least some arrangement so any cost for such rights, if any, wouldn’t come out of me and my royalties.

    Best to Al Norton, Eva, Peg and any others of the old bunch who may still be about. And the best of the best to you, Harry. It’s beginning to look like we created an era that may live for some time in the memory of the old G-8 readers. How many total readers, would you guess, G-8 really had during the years? Seems about every young man I’ve ever talked to of that age range read the mag at some time.

                    Robert J. Hogan


— ✪ ✪ ✪ —


December 11, 1961    


Dear Bob:

    I can’t tell you what a big kick I got out of your letter of December 7th. It’s been a long time since we exchanged letters, and I’ve often wondered how you were doing.

    One of my chief regrets has been the demise of the pulp magazines. I thought they were great fun and G-8 was one of the best. I, too, have noticed the resurgence of popularity for G-8 and have seen his name mentioned even in newspaper pieces and magazine articles not mentioned in your letter. He must have struck a tremendous note of popularity which even we were not quite aware of. I was fascinated to read all of the listings made by you of his recent appearances. The old boy had a lot of fight in the beginning and he still has a lot of fight in him. More congratulations and felicitations to you, Bob. You did a magnificent job and you brought great happiness to what looks like all the kids of America. Certainly a large percentage of them.

    As you know, World War I planes are still very popular. People like to collect them and to look at them, much the same as old automobiles. They also like articles on old planes. Each time we’ve run an article in ARG0SY on old planes it has been extremely popular.

    Yes, I think a good TV series on G-8 and his Battle Aces would be quite some thing. Maybe you could sell some breakfast food company on the idea. There would certainly be no better person to write it than your noble self. However, we do not have any salesmen in this particular realm and, hence, could make no effort on our parts toward selling the property.

    An autobiographical book about the old pulp days would be most amuslng and I think quite a collector’s item. If you do it, I’m sure you would please many readers. If there is any way in which we can help, just call on us.

    It would be hard to guess how many total readers we had for G-8 during the years because, as you know, kids love to pass copies of the magazine around—so that each magazine could have had anywhere from 1 to 10 readers. In any event, it was a mighty large number.

    I am so glad for you and for us—but particularly you—that this resurgence of popularity has occurred. You certainly deserved it and we had a grand time putting the product together!

    All the best to you and your family, Bob.



Hell’s Old Angels

Link - Posted by David on January 14, 2015 @ 12:00 pm in

In October of 1961, Sports Illustrated ran an article on the emerging hobby of collecting Spads, Nieuports and other real live airplanes from World War I. The article centers mainly around collectors Paul Mantz and Cole Palen, but it does mention the interest surrounding The Great War that was growing at the time with interst being shown by book publishers and movie and television producers. With a mention towards America’s number one World War flying Ace—G-8!

HELLS OLD ANGELS Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? You bet it’s a plane! To be precise, it’s two planes—both from World War I. Banking at right is a German Pfalz D-12, flown by Frank Tallman, a Hollywood stunt pilot with pluming scarf. Coming up under the tail is a Nieuport 28, piloted by Cole Palen of Rhinebeck, N.Y. Will the Nieuport get the Pfalz? Turn the page for more on the latest—and most esoteric—of hobbies.

The Playing Skies of World War I

by Robert H. Boyle (Sports Illustrated, 30 October 1961 (vol.15 no.18))

Every age in history has its admirers. Raymond Duncan, the dancer, wears a homespun tunic and longs for the glory that was Greece. The late Sol Bloom, Congressman, loved nothing more than to dress up as George Washington, the Father of our Country. A goodly number of Americans are so bewitched by the Civil War that they recently refought, with no noticeable change in the result, the Battle of Bull Run. Now the latest craze is World War I planes. Antique aircraft enthusiasts, joined by a smattering of sports car drivers, classic car buff’s and gun collectors, most of whom are psychologically driven to the exotic, have, in the last three years, seized upon World War I as an outlet for their romantic fantasies.

“The World War I interest is just doubling itself by the month,” says Robert McGrath, proprietor of the World War I Aero Bookshop in Roslindale, Mass. “With the advent of jets and missiles, aircraft lost their romance. A jet or a missile is just the carrier of a pilot. World War I pilots flew the plane. They were charioteers, and it was man against man.”

ORIGINAL COCKPIT of Spad 7 was meticulously restored by Owner James Petty of Gastonia, N.C., who spent six years searching the world for authentic parts.

Mel Tormé, the singer, a dedicated World War I fan, says, “People who are fascinated by flying are, if not disgusted, at least disillusioned by this jet age, this push-button age.” Two years ago Tormé and a number of other enthusiasts helped Hugh Wynne, an architect in Santa Ana, Calif., found The Society of World War I Aero Historians. The society now has upwards of 500 members in the U.S. and abroad and publishes a scholarly quarterly, Cross & Cockade Journal, given over to detailed articles on such subjects as the Austrian Berg single-seater and the Escadrille Lafayette. (”A lot of junk has been written about the Escadrille,” Wynne says, “and all kinds of people have claimed they were in it.”) In recognition of growing interest in World War I, the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton held a reunion for World War I flyers last June. The guests, led by Captain Eddie Rickcnbacker, America’s leading ace, looked on as pilots performed in vintage World War I planes. No one indulged in dogfighting, but the day that that returns may not be far off.

The World War I craze shows signs of catching on with a wider public. Li’l Abner, the comic strip, recently featured a dogfight between Captain Eddie Ricketyback and “Kaiser Bill’s Greatest Ace,” Baron Ludvig von Henhausen. A couple of Hollywood producers are racing to get their World War I series on TV first. (Actually, there may well be more than enough room for two. The World War I genre has, the Lord help us, all the exploitive potential of the Western.) Riverside Records, specialists in sports car engine sounds, have pressed World War I Fighter Planes in Action, the big selling point of which is the sound of two German Pfalz D-Xlls being pursued by two British Sopwith Camels. To add to the realism the sound track even includes machine-gun fire directed at the Bodies by a French infantryman, who opens up, according to the jacket notes, “a little soon to be effective.”

The book publishing business, too, is beginning to take note of World War I interest. The leader in the field is Harleyford Publications Limited of England. The firm has brought out several lavishly illustrated and expensive ($8.50 each) books, e.g., Air Aces of the 1914-1918 War and von Richthofen and The Flying Circus, which The Society of World War I Aero Historians has pronounced to be “a noble effort.” The main outlet for Harleyford in the U.S. is Gordon’s Bookshop on 59th Street in New York City, hitherto the unofficial headquarters for automobile cultists of all kinds.

The Flying Spy

Long-forgotten histories of World War I aeronautics are suddenly being sought after as classics, and prices have tripled in the past few years. A fine copy of Norman Hall’s Balloon Buster Frank Luke of Arizona brings $30. Hall and Nordhoff’s two-volume study, The Lafayette Flying Corps, sells for up to $ 150, and the war letters and memorial volumes, dedicated to such flyers as Edmond Genet, Norman Prince, Victor Chapman and Hamilton Coolidge fetch as much as $75 apiece. The latest writer to come on strong is Elliott White Springs. His books, written in the ’20s, are common, but since his death two years ago interest in his work has revived. (An eccentric mill owner, Springs is perhaps best remembered as the author of the saucy Springmaid advertisements. An ace in World War I, he wrote a handful of flying stories and novels, notably War Birds, that were so astonishingly successful that they earned him $250,000.)

Even pulp magazines of the ’20s are in demand, particularly copies of the monthly, G-8 and His Battle Aces. G-8, it may be recalled, was not only the Master American Flying Spy but a master of the makeup kit. Whenever G-8 got in a tight spot, which was about every other page, he removed his makeup kit “from its secret hiding place,” disguised himself and quickly outfoxed the hated Huns who were searching the woods for that “verdammter Kerl!” Little did they know that the old farmer bicycling down the road was the Master Spy making his getaway. Assisting G-8 were his Battle Aces, big Bull Martin, “former All-American halfback,” and Nippy Weston, “the little terrier ace who defied superstition by flying Spad No.13 and who delighted in laughing in the very face of death.”

Of course, the most desirable possession any World War I hobbyist can have is a plane. According to a recent count taken by Professor Dean H. Obrecht and Leonard E. Opdycke of Rochester, N. Y., there are 70 authentically restored World War I planes in the U.S. today, 35 of them in flying condition. In addition, there are 44 replicas, which do not rank as high in the scheme of values as do restorations. If the plane is almost exactly as it was the day it left the factory or the day it arrived at the front, it is incomparably desirable. Restoration or replica, it is important to have an original engine. “The airplane can always be built,” explains Cole Palen, a prominent collector, “but building the engine is something else again.”

It is perfectly all right for a licensed pilot to fly a World War I plane today as long, of course, as the plane can pass Federal Aviation Agency inspection. (One collector was irked when an FAA inspector grounded his Spad because of rents in the original linen wing skin. “I thought it was all right,” the collector said, “but he was new, and I guess he was afraid.”)

Aloft, World War I planes are prohibited from flying over cities and villages or any open area of assembly. Though this would tend to indicate some doubt about the durability of the planes, pilots say that with the necessary maintenance the planes hold up reasonably well. In fact, many of the planes can outclimb and outdive light planes of comparable size today. A Spad, for instance, can climb 1,000 to 1,200 feet a minute, a respectable figure for almost any single-engine private plane. However, there are some problems, mainly in landing. The landing gear was built for grass, and a pilot who alights on concrete may as well write off the plane. A Spad is especially difficult to land because of its built-in urge to ground-loop. The Spad has too much weight in the tail, 333 pounds to be exact, and when it touches down in the classic three-point position, it shows a compulsive urge to go down the field backward instead of forward.

Paul Mantz (right) chats with X-15 Pilot Scott Crossfield checking out a Lincoln Standard.

There are three major collections of World War I planes in the U.S. The largest, 45 planes in all, belongs to Paul Mantz, three-time Bendix trophy winner and stuntman (he was the first in Hollywood to fly through an open hangar), who keeps the fleet on hand for the movies. (Counting all types of aircraft, Mantz once owned 600 planes, ranking just ahead of Nationalist China as an air power.) Alas, some purists look down upon Mantz’s collection. “He cuts up his planes a lot,” says Hugh Wynne, “and doesn’t worry much about preserving the original design. For example, he has a Nieuport with a couple of feet clipped off the end of each wing. I don’t know the engineering principle behind the alteration, but I guess it was done to get added speed for racing. Then, too, he has a Fokker D-VII that looks all right outside but doesn’t have the original engine. We aren’t lotus eaters on this subject, you understand, but we just feel that Mantz’s collection is not outstanding from a historical standpoint.”

Wynne has more respect for the collection of Frank Tallman, also a stunt pilot. Tallman, 42, whose father flew for the Navy in France, has been collecting World War I planes for 15 years, and he now has six of them. The prize of the collection is a Pfalz D-XII (the one Riverside used in its recording). Unfortunately, he wrecked it at Wright-Patterson in June after the engine stalled at 400 feet. He ground-looped on landing and smashed the lower right wing and landing gear. Tallman was unhurt. A dashing, mustachioed chap, Tallman revels in wearing riding boots, breeches and a white silk scarf. “When he gets dressed up,” an acquaintance remarks, “he looks like G-8 for sure.”

Collector Cole Palen shows one of his gems, a Fokker D-VH, at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.

In the East the outstanding collection belongs to Cole Palen, 35, an aviation mechanic. While learning his trade at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, Palen became enamored of half a dozen World War I planes on exhibit in the field’s museum. When the field had to make way for, of all things, a shopping center, he put in a successful bid for the planes. “It wasn’t much,” he says, “but it was every cent I had at the time.” A few years ago he bought a 100-acre farm outside Rhinebeck, N.Y., cleared a runway through pastures and began building the Old Rhincbeck Aerodrome, a replica of a World War I base in France. To raise money for its construction he has flown his planes at air shows all over the country, and he recently picked up a substantial sum exhibiting his Blêriot XI for a Wings brassiere advertisement.

Though much work remains, the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is open to the public for a modest admission charge. Palen has landscaped the grounds so that visiting cars are hidden behind an embankment, the only cars out in the open being a 1917 Maxwell truck and a 1910 Sears auto buggy. “I want to preserve the spirit of a World War I aerodrome,” he says. The corrugated hangar is decorated with World War I posters admonishing the viewer to halt the Hun by buying Liberty bonds. Visitors are free to inspect the planes. The most colorful is a Fokker D-VII rendered in a mottled camouflage pattern with a red-and-white polka dot squadron designation on the tail. Palen, decked out in riding trousers, scarf, helmet and goggles, acts as guide. As an added touch, a white handkerchief trails from the top of his helmet. “That’s to wipe the oil off the goggles,” he explains.

A lot of color

The tour over, some visitors are permitted to clamber into the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 and try out the controls. The plane is tied down, but there is a great sense of exhilaration as Palen starts the engine. There is even more if the engine happens to catch fire, which it is prone to do. “That adds a lot of color,” says Palen, eyes aglitter. “In fact, it’s got to the point where we might get it on fire on purpose.”

Most exoteric of Palen’s collection is a replica of a Demoiselle of 1910 called the “infuriated grasshopper.” Original flew to 8,000 feet.


pages 56+57

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