A Sheltered-in-Place Conversation with Howard Waldrop, the Father of Jetboy
In Which the Importance of The Three Stooges in the World of Wild Cards is Explained
by Bradley Denton
[BD Note: Under normal circumstances, I would have visited Howard at his apartment for this discussion, since I live near the southern end of Manchaca (now Menchaca) Road in Austin, TX, and Howard lives just six miles north on that road. But since Austin’s coronavirus shelter-in-place order had taken effect by the time we conducted the interview (on April 7, 2020), we spoke by telephone instead. Howard rejects a lot of modern communication technology – email, all social media (except for a Facebook page maintained by a friend), and anything else internet-based – but he will use a landline telephone.]
BD: Howard! It’s Brad.
HW: Hi, howya doin’? Is Barb off the phone already?
BD: Yeah, and she says we’ve got as long as we need now.
BD: I’ve got you on speakerphone because I have my little digital recorder going so I can transcribe things later. I’ll probably edit out all the cuss words.
HW: (Laughs.) Right. Lemme turn down the TV here so I won’t be distracted.[BD Note: The TV in Howard’s apartment is in operation throughout most of his waking hours.]
I was fixin’ to tell you, I was tryin’ to take a shower, and of course on a normal day I’m the only one at the apartments in the middle of the day, right? So I started to take a shower – and there’s no hot water! Because other people are takin’ showers all over the complex.
BD: Things are different now, since everyone’s stuck at home.
HW: Yeah, exactly. And resenting it, too.
Anyway, I’m fairly ready to go here, so you can start anytime you feel like it.
BD: First of all, I wanted to tell you why I decided to do this. I initially had a different idea for my Wild Cards World blog post. At first, I wanted to do something about real-life people who had weird abilities, almost as if they’d been affected by the Wild Card virus. Then, with the current situation, with everyone in danger because of a virus, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. But I started writing it anyway. I got about a page and a half into it, and realized it was starting to read like a bad version of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. So I decided I’d talk to you instead.
HW: (Laughs.) All right! Oh, man . . .
BD: Also, there’s another reason. See, I’ve only written one-and-a-half stories for Wild Cards –
HW: I’ve only written one!
BD: Exactly. See, everyone else who’s done a Wild Cards World blog post has written a lot of Wild Cards stories, and has contributed to the books. But I haven’t written anything for the books. My one-and-a-half stories were on Tor.com. (“The Flight of Morpho Girl,” with Caroline Spector, on May 2, 2018; and “Naked, Stoned, and Stabbed” on October 16, 2019.) So I’ve been worried that the authors who’ve been writing blog posts all along might be dubious about a post from someone who’s done a whole lot less for Wild Cards than they have. And I finally decided the only way I could ameliorate that would be if I talked to someone who’s done even less than I have.
HW: Right, I got you! (Laughing.) No, screw those people! Know whaddamean?
BD: I’ll edit that out.[BD Note: Here follows a six-minute-and-forty-three-second interlude of cussing and getting off track.]
HW: I’ve got a long list, right?
BD: Moving right along . . . I want to ask you about the Jetboy story (“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!,” Wild Cards I, 1987) and how it came to be the first story in the series. You’ve written about this before, of course. You revealed quite a bit in your introduction to the story in your collection Night of the Cooters (Ursus/Ziesing, 1990), and there’s also a lot in “The Annotated Jetboy,” which was published in the Mile High Comics magazine-slash-catalog, Mile High Futures, in December 1986 (and reprinted in Night of the Cooters). You know, I still have two copies of that Mile High Futures with “The Annotated Jetboy.”
HW: Sweet! I’ve still got mine.
Oh, and “The Annotated Jetboy” was also reprinted in Orbit SF Yearbook from England, which was a best-of-the-year they published for two years over there. It was reprinted with “Thirty Minutes over Broadway!”
BD: Well, some of the stuff I’m going to ask you is stuff you covered back then. But it’s been over thirty years since you did that – and there are a lot of Wild Cards fans now who either weren’t even born then, or weren’t able to read yet. So maybe it’s time to rehash a little of it.
HW: All righty!
BD: Okay, here we go. Was it in 1985 or 1986 that you actually wrote “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!”?
HW: It was ‘85. I have it right here (in my story log). I wrote it the week after I read “Night of the Cooters,” which I had just finished at the ‘85 NASFiC.
[BD Note: The 1985 North American Science Fiction Convention, Lone Star Con 1, was held in Austin, TX, on August 30 – September 2, 1985. Howard read “Night of the Cooters” at the Hyatt Regency at 2:00 PM on Monday afternoon, September 2.]
You were there, right?
BD: I was there. Barb and I were both there.[BD Note: In August/September 1985, I had sold my first three stories, and my wife Barbara and I decided to drive down to Lone Star Con 1 from our ramshackle rented farmhouse in northeastern Kansas – despite the fact that we had only $140.00 in our savings account at the time. We spent our first night in Austin sleeping in our car, and the second night in a motel room that we later discovered was usually leased by the hour. To this day, I have no idea what we were thinking. But we were both big Howard Waldrop fans, and his reading at that convention was the first time we ever saw him in person. We didn’t actually meet him until the following year.]
HW: That was when I walked in and read “Night of the Cooters,” which I had just finished writing while coming down the hall from (sf author) Pat Cadigan’s room. I used her room for the last two hours while I was writing it. I spent the next five days after the con typing it and sending it off to my agent. And then he sold it to Ellen Datlow (then fiction editor for Omni magazine).[BD Note: Here follows a jumbled transition from talking about “Night of the Cooters” to the tale of how Howard came to write “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” for Wild Cards I, edited by George R.R. Martin.]
HW: See, it was originally gonna be . . . In two years it’ll be sixty years, right? You believe that? In two years it’ll be sixty years that George and I have known each other and have been corresponding with each other.
BD: Holy moley!
HW: Yeah, it was 1962. So people think George and I look over each other’s shoulders, and that we each always know what the other is doing. But I was originally gonna write this story, the story about Jetboy, and it was the same story – except that there was no Wild Cards stuff. It was the same story, except that Dr. Tod had gotten hold of an A-bomb.
BD: So rather than the canister full of virus, he had an A-bomb.
HW: He had an A-bomb, and was gonna hold America hostage for it, right?
BD: Because like all of your stories, you had thought about this story for a long time before actually sitting down to write it, correct?
HW: You know, I had been working on “Night of the Cooters” in my head all that summer while Chad (sf author Chad Oliver) and I were up in Colorado (on a fishing trip). I came back to Austin for the NASFiC and also to write that story, and Warren’s (game designer Warren Spector, Howard’s housemate at the time, now married to sf author Caroline Spector) dog Patty had just died that morning. And Leigh (sf author Leigh Kennedy) was in the hospital for emergency endometriosis surgery. I consoled Warren as much as I could, and then I went to visit Leigh at the hospital. People had already started arriving for the NASFiC, of course. And she had to make Gardner (sf author and editor Gardner Dozois) leave the room because she was laughing so hard she thought she was gonna bust her stitches loose. She made him go out in the hall and let everybody else stay in the room, because he had her just rolling around on the floor. Then I went home, and then I started writing “Night of the Cooters.” Then I went to the con, and used Pat’s room to finish it.
Anyway, I’d been thinking about the Jetboy story whenever I wasn’t thinking about “Night of the Cooters.” And I was gonna write it for one of Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Heroic Visions anthologies. I was gonna do the Jetboy story for, I believe, Heroic Visions 3.
BD: So you had already talked to Salmonson about that?
HW: Oh yeah, yeah, she knew I was gonna send it. Whenever I got around to it, as I told her.
BD: Now, what you said in your introductory note to “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” in Night of the Cooters was that you had been thinking about the story since 1982. Does that sound about right?
HW: That sounds about right. And it turned out Truman and Ostrander (writer/artist Timothy Truman and writer John Ostrander) were thinking of reviving Airboy at the time, the old comic book. So it wasn’t just me that was thinking of stuff like this, right? I wanted to write the Jetboy story as an homage to Airboy, of course.
BD: And the title of the story, “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!,” is another homage.
[BD Note: It refers to the 1944 MGM film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, about the April 1942 U.S. “Doolittle Raid” on Japan, from the 1943 book by raider Ted W. Lawson.]
HW: Of course! And another is – You’ll recall in “The Annotated Jetboy,” where I talk about Danny Deck writing the biography of Jetboy? Danny Deck is the hero of Larry McMurtry’s novel All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers. And of course he writes Godot Is My Co-Pilot: A Life of Jetboy.[BD Note: The title Godot Is My Co-Pilot is an homage to both the 1953 Samuel Beckett play Waiting for Godot and the 1945 Warner Bros. film God Is My Co-Pilot, from the 1943 book by WWII fighter pilot Robert Lee Scott.]
So that and the story title are homages to famous airplane stories.
Anyway, I was gonna do the Jetboy story about the A-bomb for Jessica Amanda Salmonson, and either Lew or Bud (sf authors Lewis Shiner and Walton “Bud” Simons, both Austin-based at the time, like Howard), I can’t remember which, said, “You should talk to George. George and that bunch in New Mexico have been playing a superhero role-playing game, and they’ve spent so much time and money on it that they’re trying to find a way to turn it into a book. You oughta tell him about this Jetboy thing, because it sounds like something that would fit in there.” If it was Lew I was talkin’ to, he told me to call Bud, and if it was Bud I was talkin’ to, he told me to call Lew. One or the other of ‘em knew more about it than the other one did, right?
See, I didn’t even know about this. George hadn’t mentioned it to me in a letter or anything. So I wrote to George, and I said, “I’ve got a story that might fit with whatever goddamn thing you’re doing. You should tell me about it.”
So he sent me the prototype Cut and Shuffle, which was all about what was going on in the Wild Cards world before anyone else even knew what it was. And I said, “Yeah, that sounds about right, I can work with that. But your timeline is all wrong.” See, they were gonna start it in the 1980s, with the world having gone on for thirty years.
BD: Oh, so they weren’t initially going to do an origin story? They were going to jump into the world of Wild Cards three decades on?
HW: Right, exactly. I said, “That’s all wrong! You gotta tell how all this came about!” So I got them to tell me all the stuff about Dr. Tachyon, and the virus, and the whole thing, y’know. And I stuck it sideways into the Jetboy/A-bomb story, and sent it to George.
And of course George says, “When we send you stuff, you should read it! You got all this stuff wrong!” I said, “Ah, that’s your job! You can fix that!”
See, one thing was, in my story, I needed a cover story.[BD Note: In “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” the person who will tell the “cover story” is “A.E.,” Albert Einstein.]
You know, something to tell the government between the time Tachyon showed up and the time Tod showed up with the virus bomb. And the cover story was that Tachyon was part of a Nazi project, had gone rogue on them, and had brought the saucer, his ship, to the U.S.
Anyway, at some convention, Melinda (sf author Melinda Snodgrass, creator of Dr. Tachyon) comes running up to me and says, “Why did you make Tachyon a Nazi?!?” And I says, “George must’ve explained this wrong to you.” She was (understandably upset) that I was tryin’ to make Tachyon a Nazi in my story, right? And I said, “No, that’s the cover story.”
BD: Because, as you explained in your headnote to the story in Night of the Cooters, if you went to President Harry S. Truman and said, “There’s an alien who’s come to Earth to warn us about a virus,” they’d throw you out on your ear. But if you said, “There’s a rogue Nazi plot involving an A-bomb,” maybe they’d buy it.
HW: Right, exactly, that was the cover story. The thing was, George made me throw out, in the first draft of the story that I did for him, three pages of stream-of-consciousness in the mind of Harry Truman, when he first met Tachyon. And the first thing he notices is that Tachyon’s boots need half-heeling. Because of course Truman was a haberdasher for thirty years. “This guy’s boots need half-heeling!” I thought it was great, because it got across everything that was goin’ on. And George made me throw it out. He said, “It stops the story cold.” I said, “Yeah, but it’s good!” And he said, “Get rid of it.” So I had to, right?
Anyway, like I said, essentially what I did was, I said, “You’ve gotta go back to the origin, because Jetboy can’t be anything but the origin story.” Know whaddamean? See, they first had the virus moment being, I believe, sometime in the 1950s, in the backstory. So of course I made it my birthday instead. I said, “September 15, 1946, for the origin!”
BD: For Wild Card Day.
HW: Right. First, because I knew I wanted the scene where the people who were rehearsing Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh in a Broadway theater go out and watch the fight in the sky, right? Because they were in rehearsals for The Iceman Cometh that week.[BD Note: There is no such scene in the version of “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” that appears in Night of the Cooters. People run into the streets when the aerial battle begins, but there is no reference to The Iceman Cometh. I can’t find my copy of Wild Cards I to see if it exists there. Perhaps this scene was deleted in the same editorial pass that deleted Harry Truman’s stream-of-consciousness sequence.]
But then, you know that date caused the problem with Roger (sf author Roger Zelazny), right?
BD: Yeah, the story is that you had always been told by your family that you were born –
HW: On a Tuesday!
BD: And you knew your birthdate was September 15th.
HW: Right. And actually, the 15th was a Sunday. So of course school wouldn’t have been in session that day. (But I told Roger that the 15th was a Tuesday), so Roger wrote a story with the kids coming home from school watching the fight. So it screwed up Roger’s story, but it didn’t bother mine at all. (Laughs ruefully.)
BD: This is what we get for listening to what our families tell us, Howard.
But here’s my question: Is it possible that they had the day right, but the date wrong . . . and you were born on the 17th?
BD: “No!” (Laughs.) Okay.
HW: No. So I told George, “Okay, we’ll do the thing where everybody lost their memory for two days,” right? So everybody thinks it happened, you know, that afternoon. And George said, “No, we’re not gonna screw everything up for two days just because you can’t count!”
But this didn’t come up, of course, until after the book was published and Roger’s story was out.
Anyway, like I said on a Wild Cards panel, “Every one of ‘em will now tell you (that starting Wild Cards with the origin story in 1946) was the right thing to do.” Because of course that opened the ‘40s and ‘50s up for, you know, Golden Boy and all the early heroes. And the Communists and stuff. And Roger’s guy, the Sleeper. I said, “It would have been a totally different book if it had started in the ‘80s. They would have only talked about things that had happened in the past.
BD: So even though you only wrote the one story for the series, you had a big impact on the way the first three or four books went.
HW: (Chuckling.) That’s exactly right. I’m proud of this, you know? A few people complained, because they were gonna do it a whole ‘nother way. But George realized that was the way to do it.
So that shaped the first couple of books. And then of course there’s there’s Jetboy Day, Wild Card Day, the parade, in the third book. And Lew’s story starts out with a guy reading Jetboy on Dinosaur Island (a comic book foreshadowed in “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!”) in the fourth book. All of that kind of stuff came about because I was takin’ their ideas and stickin’ ‘em into the story I wanted to write.
BD: That reminds me of another question I wanted to ask you about the story itself. You conceived the Jetboy story before it became a Wild Cards story, and that got me to wondering: Was Dr. Tod part of the story all along, or did that particular character only come to mind after it was going to be a Wild Cards story?
HW: A Dr. Tod type was part of the story all along.
BD: In other words, someone who had been a wartime enemy of Jetboy’s, the way Red Skull was to Captain America.
HW: That’s the exact idea. Tod was the Red Skull to Jetboy, right. So there was always a Dr. Tod type in the story – and the name, in fact, is from Dr. Cyclops.[BD Note: Dr. Cyclops is a 1940 Paramount science-fiction film, based on a short story by Henry Kuttner.]
BD: I didn’t know that.
HW: Yeah, one of the names is “Thorkeld.” The name “Thorkeld” in the story is from Dr. Cyclops. And that was a wartime movie, too.[BD Note: In “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!,” “Thorkeld” is the scientist Dr. Tod hires to run tests on the Wild Card virus. But in Dr. Cyclops, as pointed out in “The Annotated Jetboy,” the name is actually “Thorkel.”]
So yeah, there was always a Dr. Tod type, but he became “Dr. Tod” when I knew it was gonna be a Wild Cards story.
BD: “Tod” being German for “Death.”
HW: Right. Once I knew it was gonna be a comic-book-analogue type of anthology.
Originally, Jessica’s idea (for Heroic Visions) was to present new kinds of heroes. You know, there was all this revisionism going on in all the genres in 1985. Watchmen was coming in, in comic books themselves. The first cowpunk stories started showing up. And cyberpunk and stuff. In other words, there were all these revisions going on . . .
HW: Right, re-imaginings of genres that had been around for decades. I realized that Wild Cards was, like, at the forefront of that. In other words, real stories about comic-book heroes, essentially. More complex stories, but about those kinds of characters.
BD: That leads me to – Well, I have a few more things I want to ask you about, but because of what you just said, I’ll jump to my last question now. And then go back to other stuff.
“Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” is the only story you’ve done for Wild Cards, and you famously told George at the outset, “This is it, you’re not gettin’ another one.” Right?
HW: Right. What I told him originally was, “This is the only story I’ll write (for the series). But when Wild Cards is going to come to an end, and you know it’s going to come to an end, come to me. And I’ll write the last story in the last book.”
BD: That would be cool . . . but at this point, it doesn’t look like the series is ever going to end. You’re gonna have to live another forty or fifty years to write that story, Howard.
HW: (Laughs.) Exactly! See, I told George, “If you know the series is coming to an end.” He said, “But then you’ll have to read all the books.”
And I said, “Nahh, I’ll just make it up.”
HW: “I’ll just make it up and write the story I want. But it’ll be the last one in the last book, and ever’body’ll die.”
(More excessive laughter.)
I made him that offer. But of course I won’t have to pay up, because the thing keeps getting renewed, and three more books keep getting added to the end every time. It’ll go on forever.
BD: So in all this time, you haven’t thought of any other story and realized, “Oh, that could be a Wild Cards story?”
HW: No. I went in with the idea that I was writing the Jetboy story, and that was gonna be it until the end, you know? Fifteen books down the line, or whatever.
See, we always figured this would run about ten or fifteen books, maybe, and then it would be over, you know?
BD: That reminds me of what Mick Jagger said a long time ago about the Rolling Stones. Some reporter asked him, “Did you think you’d still be doing this after fifteen years?” And he said, “I didn’t think we’d still be doing this after three months.”
HW: (Laughs.) Right! And now they’re 70-year-old men trottin’ around the stage.
BD: That’s kind of the way Wild Cards is going. It’s like the Rolling Stones of shared-world anthologies.
HW: It’s true! You never know what you’re doing, right?
Anyway, I don’t wanna take too much credit, but . . . I just know that starting it earlier with an origin story opened up some possibilities they hadn’t thought of yet.
BD: It certainly made it a different series than it would have been if they’d jumped in with stories set in the ‘80s.
HW: Right. Essentially, they were gonna jump in where Book Three starts, from the first appearance of Mr. Nobody and all that. And they were gonna explain stuff backwards.
At least, I think so.
All I know for sure is that they were trying to find a way to make money off wasting all their time for a year.
BD: (Laughs.) “As long as we’ve spent all this time playing this game, let’s see if we can monetize it!”
HW: Right, because it just took over their lives. Like John Miller (sf author John Jos. Miller) said, “I was spending thirty hours a week just getting ready to play the game that week!”
And I don’t even know the name of the game. Bud could tell you. It’s like “Superheroes . . . (Audible shrug.) Or sumpin’. Some role-playing game from the mid-‘80s. But because he was playing with people from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and the towns around there, George never thought to write me and tell me about this because I wasn’t there to play it.[BD Note: The game was Superworld. For a fuller and more accurate account of how Wild Cards came to life from a game played by New Mexico sf writers, see Paul Cornell’s “Secret Origins” blog posts.]
So I was gonna write the Jetboy story for Jessica Amanda Salmonson without even knowing about Wild Cards.
BD: What did Salmonson say when she found out you were giving the story to Wild Cards?
HW: Well, no money had changed hands, you know? It was just that I had asked about it, and she was enthusiastic about the idea when it was just the A-bomb story. But she had plenty of other takers.
BD: So it’s not as if she had lost a story she was counting on.
HW: No, no. If that had been the case, I would’ve written it for her, and either told George to take a hike or tried to come up with something else for him. But it just turned out that I was told about Wild Cards before I’d even started writing the story.
You know, when I first talked to Bud about Wild Cards, he thought the idea was to make up stupid superheroes. So he had all these “stupid” superheroes before he started creating real people like Mr. Nobody and . . . uh, what’s his name, the guy who can look at you and kill you?
BD: Demise. Whose name is “Spector,” after Warren.
HW: Ah! Before that, he’d thought of one whose hands would grow big so he could grab criminals, you know? (Laughs.) He was thinking up all these “stupid” characters for it, right?
BD: Wild Cards did wind up including what I guess you might call “stupid” superheroes when they came up with the deuces. People who have been changed by the Wild Card virus, but whose powers are really useless. Again, Bud is probably the king of useless powers, because he also came up with Puddle Man, whose power is that he can flop down and become a puddle.
HW: Exactly! But the deuces, you know, that’s the result of thinking about everything that could happen when you have a virus working on peoples’ DNA. The jokers, the deuces, and all that kind of stuff. And it’s a wonder that anybody became an ace, right?
BD: Yeah, of the people who get the virus, some die, some become jokers, a few become deuces, and then very few become aces.
HW: Right. They were thinking about all of that before I ever wrote the Jetboy story. But they were gonna start in the middle, in media race.[BD Note: In media race is Latin for “in the middle of the race.” Howard, in conversation, will often throw in a Latin phrase or two. Sometimes French. Once in a while, German. All with a Texas/Mississippi accent.]
And the Jetboy story changed the timeline. I think, essentially, the third book would’ve become the first book. Although I’m sure they would’ve taken the time to flash back, you know.
I believe their plan was to have the virus take hold sometime during the 1950s, during the height of the “flying saucer” era. But see, I never was involved in that part of the planning. (Chuckles.) And I’ve pretty much ignored it since! Like I said, if George does have me write the last story in the last book, I’ll have to read twenty-eight or thirty books all at once, to catch up. Or like I told him, I’ll just make the stuff up.
BD: Now I have one more major thing to ask you about “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!”
Okay, you don’t use the internet –
BD: So I’m gonna tell you something you probably don’t know. The internet seems to think – and I know this because I did a Google search, and all the pages that came up gave you the credit – the internet seems to think that Jetboy’s last words, “I can’t die yet – I haven’t seen The Jolson Story,” are original with you. And they’re not, are they?
HW: No! It’s from a 1947 Three Stooges short, set in the Middle Ages. You remember, the tagline for The Jolson Story is, “If you see only one movie before you die, make it The Jolson Story.”[BD Note: Multiple searches have revealed no primary source – no movie poster, radio script, newspaper text, or other advertising – for the 1946 Columbia film The Jolson Story that includes this phrase. It may well have been part of the film’s marketing campaign, but I can’t find proof.]
That was their slugline in 1947.
Well, in a Three Stooges short set in the Middle Ages – with Jacques O’Mahoney, before he was Jock Mahoney – they’re fixin’ to execute Moe, Larry, and Curly, right? No – no, yeah, it is Moe, Larry, and Curly, ‘cause it was right before Shemp came in. Uh – no, it is Shemp, you’re right.
[BD Note: I didn’t say a thing.]
It’s Shemp. Anyway, they’re fixin’ to kill Larry, and he says, “I can’t die yet. I haven’t seen The Jolson Story.” Right? Which is directly playing on the slugline for the movie itself, you know?
BD: Okay, this was a ‘47 Three Stooges short. So at least in the world of Wild Cards, Jetboy does say the line first.
HW: Yes, yes! (Laughs.) He says it in ‘46, even though Larry says it in ‘47!
In other words . . . It was just late enough in ‘46 that The Jolson Story was out in some places. It became a monster in ‘47, because then everybody saw it.
BD: Okay, I’m going to do a little more internet research and see if I can find the title of that Three Stooges short.
HW: It’s set in the Middle Ages. The title isn’t “When Knighthood Was in Flower,” but it was something like that, you know? It’s with Jacques O’Mahoney, with the “cq” and the “O,” as he was listed in the credits in those days. Later they changed it to “Jock Mahoney.” In ‘60 and ‘61 he played Tarzan in Tarzan Goes to India and Tarzan’s Three Challenges. He started out as a stuntman, but he was an actor in about five Stooges shorts in ‘46 and ‘47.
BD: So he was the bad guy who was going to kill the Stooges?
HW: No, he was their blacksmith friend, because of course he’d get to walk around with his shirt off.[BD Note: Howard’s memory in this case is quite good, as it is for all things Stooge-related. A Google search turned up the title for the short on the first try: It’s Squareheads of the Round Table, shot (according to Wikipedia) on December 9-12, 1946, but not released until March 1948. It stars Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Shemp Howard. (Curly Howard had been sidelined by a stroke.) And Jacques O’Mahoney does indeed play the Stooges’ blacksmith friend.
Squareheads of the Round Table can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWtPbW14B0A. It’s eighteen minutes and twenty-three seconds long, including the modern Sony credit at the end. At 9:05, Larry Fine, the bald Stooge, says “I can’t die yet. I haven’t seen The Jolson Story.”]
BD: You know, setting it in the Middle Ages and having Larry say, “I can’t die yet, I haven’t seen The Jolson Story” makes the line even funnier.
HW: Exactly! (Laughs.) It was hilarious from the first time I saw it, and I remembered it the rest of my life, y’know?
BD: And if I find out the title, maybe I’ll find out who wrote it, too.
HW: Maybe Felix Adler or Jules White, one of the guys who usually wrote the Stooges shorts. Of course, it could have been Larry who came up with the line, right?
But in any case, it’s not me, it’s him. It’s Larry.
(Laughter.)[BD Note: According to the credits for Squareheads of the Round Table, the film was written and directed by Edward Bernds. However, the “I can’t die yet . . .” line, at the moment it’s delivered, feels very much like a Larry Fine ad lib.]
BD: Okay, I just wanted to clear that up for the world – because as I said, the internet thinks it originated with you. And I remembered you had told me –
HW: No, it doesn’t! It plays off the ad campaign for The Jolson Story.
BD: Via the Three Stooges.
HW: Via the Three Stooges, right!
Anyway, does that about cover everything?
BD: That covers everything. And we’re just over fifty minutes, so I can call the blog post “Fifty Minutes Over Manchaca Road!”
HW: (Laughs.) It’s Menchaca now, with the “e.” They’ve already changed it on all the street signs, and on the post office. So anything official says “Menchaca.”
BD: But everybody’s businesses all up and down the road still say “Manchaca.”
HW: Of course. You know, they could’ve checked with the family back in 1922 or whatever. But they never figured it would come up, right?[BD Note: Jose Antonio Menchaca (1800-1879) was a hero of the Texas Revolution, fighting on the Texian side. Manchaca Road seems to have been named after him (although that has been disputed), but misspelled for decades. The City of Austin corrected the error in 2018.]
Anyway, to wrap up stuff about the story: I had remembered “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” as being written earlier than “Night of the Cooters.” But (my story log from 1985 says) I actually wrote it the week after.
I couldn’t believe they were that close together. I spent five days retyping “Night of the Cooters” and sent it off, and then I started on “Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!” I think George had a deadline of November 1st, or something like that. And I got it done in a week (the second week of September 1985).
Good thing I still have my story logs, you know?
BD: It is!
And now I’m feeling all nostalgic about this, even though I wasn’t involved in any of it – because when you read “Night of the Cooters” at that NASFiC, that was the first time Barb and I had ever seen you in person. And then we met you a year later, I think, at a convention in St. Louis.
HW: Archon. You know, I was thinkin’ y’all were there (at the “Night of the Cooters” reading).
BD: We were! But you didn’t know us yet.
HW: Right. But I remember talking to you specifically at the Archon. And my sense was that you had been at the NASFiC, right?
BD: I think when we met at Archon, I told you that we had seen you read “Night of the Cooters,” and we really loved it. So you and I started corresponding then.
HW: Yes. And then you foolishly moved down here, right?
BD: Yeah, and we’ve foolishly stayed here ever since.
HW: You abandoned the golden lifestyle of Baldwin City, Kansas!
Anyway, you got everything you need, right?
BD: We’re good, man.
HW: All right, that’s fine. Xerox a copy when you get through with everything and send it to me, okay?
BD: I will. Thank you, Howard! I really appreciate this.
HW: All right. Bye bye![BD Note: I phoned Howard again after I found the production details for, and viewed, Squareheads of the Round Table. He was delighted to have his memory of it confirmed. And then he told me which local TV channel to watch, at what times, so that I could eventually see all the short films of The Three Stooges.]