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Joseph Payne Brennan papers

Scope & content

The Joseph Payne Brennan papers offer a revealing look into the creative and private lives of a prolific American writer who was at the heart of the evolution of the horror genre in the 20th century. The collection includes not only his manuscripts in various forms of completion, but his business papers which detail the production of two small literary magazines, submissions to those magazines and incoming personal and professional correspondence, photographs, legal documents and papers, biographical and bibliographical information and memorabilia.

The richest part of the collection is the correspondence. Letters from lesser known or less prolific writers have been filed in date order. There are also several folders of letters which Joseph Payne Brennan had kept together by topic. Letters about the Berkeley Books edition of The Shapes of Midnight with the Stephen King introduction are foldered together. The rejection slips for Sixty Select Poems along with a draft of Brennan's angrily triumphant blurb for the jacket of the forthcoming book are also filed together. Brennan, like most author's, received a number of rejection letters. Most of these are filed by date into the dated correspondence, but since he also kept a stash of rejection letters separately, these have been left together as found. Brennan also kept many of the numerous greeting cards he received . Several years' worth of birthday and Christmas cards along with the get well cards which arrived in large numbers during his various illnesses have been kept in a separate file of greeting cards just as Brennan left them.

The rest of the correspondence is arranged alphabetically. It includes letters from relatives, fans, agents, fellow authors, publishers and editors, friends, girl friends and several presses. Some letters from the more famous have been kept in the alphabetical run simply because the writers are so well known. These include William Rose Benet, winner of the Pulitzer prize of 1942 for poetry, Claire Boothe Luce, ambassador, playwright and congresswoman, Stephen King, super successful horror story writer and avid Brennan fan, Hugh Hefner, Playboy entrepreneur and Alan Hovaness, prolific 20th century American composer.

Brennan himself was a frequent letter writer. There is a folder of drafts of his outgoing letters in the alphabetical run which cover topics like the Warren Supreme Court, street sweeping in New Haven, the champagne toast by Yale trustees after a failed attempt to unionize the library staff and the lack of adequate health care insurance in the United States. There are also a few letters from his mother Nellie, and his wife Doris. Among other relatives, Joseph Payne Brennan's Aunt Agnes Boudren, his cousin Margaret Boudren and Harold and Doris Thatcher were his most frequent correspondents. The Boudren women wrote of births and deaths, and daily life. The Thatcher letters concern genealogical research in which they and Joseph Payne Brennan were deeply interested. The slides of tombstones found in the photographs series of the collection compliment these letters.

The collection contains some vividly illustrated fan letters. Kevin Darren Shields, Reggie Capes, Anne Cogger, J.T. Crackel and T. Dracula Granton, Gordon Guy, Ross Hulvey III offer entertaining reading, in depth discussions of the latest issues of Macabre and grateful thanks for Brennan's timely replies to their questions.

Brennan used many different agents in the course of his career. Before and during World War II, Ulrich Troubetzkoy acted as his de facto agent as well as the guardian of his manuscripts while he was stationed overseas. Later he used with varying degrees of rapport and success Laurence R. D'Orsay, Jack Schaffner, the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, Kirby McCauley, Kenneth S. White and R. Dixon Smith. Smith was his final agent and these letters are very personal and include photographs.

The letters from fellow writers record their financial problems, the high costs of publication, and the difficulties of actually getting one's work into print. Fellow short story writers and poets represented in the collection include George Abbe, Jack L. Chalker, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Les Daniels, Steve Eisner, Charles L. Grant, Eric Greinke, Donald A. Hall, Frances Minturn Howard, Frank Belknap Long, H. Warner Munn, Joseph Francis Murphy, Luther Norris, R.L. Tierney, Ulrich Troubetzkoy, Donald Wandrei, Joe Wehrle, Robert E. Weinberg, and Manly Wade Wellman. The list includes both highly successful writers like Jack Schaefer, the author of Shane, and the less well known like poet Anne Marx.

Many letter writers recorded in this collection were both publishers and editors and some, like Brennan himself, were also writers. Jerry L. Alexander, Mike Ashley, Edward P. Berglund, Eric Carlson, Margaret Carpenter, John Fandel, Paul Mikol, August Derleth, Steve Eng, Dick Fawcett, Paul W. Ganley, N. King, Lilith Lorraine, Gary Hoppenstand, Dirk Mosig, Sidney King Russell, Amos Salmonson, Stuart David Schiff are all heavily represented in the letters. While some of these letters are simple acceptance or rejection slips, many echo the themes found in the letters of the authors. Schiff's letters are written on left-over book covers and one of Frederick J. Mayer's letters also contains a cassette tape of the poetry panel discussion which took place at Penulticon I in 1977.

Along with these professional letters Brennan kept some very private letters. There are some letters from girlfriends, and many more from friends. Louise D. Ames, head of the Gesell Institute in New Haven, was a fan, a friend and a faithful correspondent. Dorothy Webster Gordon, another poet and friend was an equally faithful correspondent and occasional dinner companion. Grace B. Martin, a fellow writer who became for a while Brennan's mistress, was a frequent correspondent from about 1947 to 1951. The Martin letters include some of Brennan's letters which she returned to him, torn letter fragments, some of her published articles and handwritten poems along with a few photographs of her and one each of her daughter and her father. The most voluminous correspondence which spans the years 1939 to 1989 is from Ulrich Troubetzkoy, a fellow poet, confidant and life-long friend. These letters include poems, articles, greeting cards and a few photographs. Besides discussions of what she has managed to get into print and which of Brennan's new poems she prefers and why, she provides commentary on current events like the D-Day landings, life as an itinerant military wife, Russian lessons at Cornell, house guests, teaching creative writing and coping with her aging mother.

Born Dorothy Livingston Ulrich in Hartford, Connecticut in 1914, and known professionally as Ulrich Troubetzkoy after her 1941 marriage to Prince Serge Troubetzkoy, she met Brennan when they both worked at the New Haven Journal-Courier in the late 1930's. She attended Vassar but transferred and obtained her degree from the University of Chicago, studying there under Thornton Wilder. She did graduate work at Columbia and travelled widely at home and abroad. She spent the bulk of her career in Richmond, Virginia as the editor of The Independent Virginian and Virginia Cavalcade, assistant editor of Virginia Wildlife, director of Information and Research for the City of Richmond, and as a feature writer and columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and creative writing teacher at Virginia Commonwealth University. She did radio and TV spots, edited 2 books, wrote six others all while raising three children. Her poetry appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Nature, Saturday Review and countless other magazines. She was a member of the National Press Club, President of the National Federation of Press Women from 1967 to 1969 and received 11 awards from the Poetry Society of American among many others for her poetry. She died in 2003.

Many of the letters that Brennan received from friends and business associates arrived with photographs included. These photographs have been kept with the letters to keep their context and provenance. There is a photograph of Frank Belknap Long and H.P. Lovecraft taken in New York City, several photographs of Ulrich Troubetzkoy, photos of Grace Martin and members of her family, informal shots of Brennan and of writers like Mary Elizabeth Counselman.

The manuscripts found in the collection include many of Brennan's most widely praised and frequently anthologized stories: The Calamander Chest, Canavan's Backyard, Slime, Zombique, I'm Murdering Mr. Massington, The Green Parrot, Mail for Juniper Hill. Many of the stories exist in hastily typed and pencil edited drafts alongside finished manuscripts complete with title pages and word counts ready for submission. While the horror stories are Brennan's best known works, he preferred his poetry and wished to be remembered chiefly as a poet. The manuscripts series contains many drafts of his poetry and several large folders of the poems he wanted copied for his literary executor on his death.

The collection also includes manuscripts of others. As the editor and publisher of both a horror and a poetry magazine, Brennan received many stories and poems from other writers. These are all in final form ready for publication.

The Brennan papers contain a significant amount of biographical information. There are multiple interviews, one of which is accompanied by the questions. There are photocopies of pages from various "who's who" collections, book jacket blurbs and newspaper clippings, the results of yet more interviews. The clippings are accompanied by photographs of Brennan at various stages of his life. Brennan was very interested in the history of the Brennan family and there is genealogical material included here. Also located in this series are a short diary fragment from February 17 to April 28, 1940, an essay on the origins of his magazine Essence, a handwriting analyst's report on a Brennan writing sample, a draft of the newspaper article announcing Brennan's 1970 marriage to Doris M. Philbrick and a write up of the First World Fantasy Convention which Brennan and Donald M. Grant used as the basis for their co-authored novelette Acts of Providence. Also included in this series is an autobiography of Ulrich Troubetzkoy which focuses on the details of her mother's death, the settlement of her mother's estate and Troubetzkoy's childhood and her life before her marriage in 1941.

The bibliographical materials in the collection consist in part of Brennan's running lists of his literary output. There are handwritten and typed lists of his writings and a bibliography of horror stories which Brennan did for Yale University.

There are very few book reviews in the collection. There are a few clippings of reviews written by Brennan and even fewer written by others of Brennan's own books. All of the reviews are positive but their scarcity lends some weight to Brennan's argument that the academic establishment ignored his work. This criticism series contains several papers on Brennan, written before his death, which indicate that his importance, at least as a writer of classic horror stories, was beginning to be recognized. Joseph Payne Brennan and the Classic Tradition of Horror by Randall D. Larson is probably the most important of the three essays to be found in this series. Brennan's own essay on fantasy and detective fiction, and an article on August Derleth by Steve Eng are also important contributions to the interpretation of both Brennan's and Derleth's output.

The poets and poetry series includes poetry not clearly marked as being submissions to Essence. There are poems by Doris Philbrick Brennan, Ulrich Troubetzkoy and some for which no author is listed. There are meeting reminders from various clubs including The Poetry Society of America and several folders of submission and judging forms for the numerous contests to which Brennan frequently submitted poems and for which he was often asked to judge. This series also includes a list of periodicals which accepted poetry for publication, a notebook listing the poems which were accepted or rejected between 1977 and 1989, the resumes of several poets and lists of contributors to Essence.

The public aspects of Brennan's finances are grouped in the business papers series. These include subscription requests, ad rates, postage rates and forms, printing bills, and an account book for Macabre. The private aspects of Brennan's finances are in the financial papers. There are details of his finances in his request for a grant from the Mary Roberts Rhinehart Foundation. He had hoped for money which would allow him to take a sabbatical and write poetry. The request is filed next to the Foundation's rejection letter. Brennan kept an account book of his income from writing from 1956 to 1990. There is savings account information, records of monetary awards, medical bills, stock information, and a very unusual notebook of income gleaned from coins he found on the street. Pamphlets on how to do your income taxes, knowing your pension plan and pension changes at Yale in 1986 are also in this series as well.

The legal papers series includes the agreement between Donald Wandrei and August Derleth on the establishment of Arkham Press, as well as agreements between Brennan and Biblio Press, Brennan and Arkham Press, Brennan and Greenwood Press, a contract with Twilight Zone Magazine, contracts with Weird Tales, and copyrights and royalties. There are television contracts for the production of Good-Bye, Mr. Bliss and The Pool. A homeowner's insurance policy, information of the sale of a house, a 1979 contract with Yale University, a 1943 agreement on song lyrics, rent control facts, and a rental agreement. Brennan's best known story, Slime, became without his permission the basis for the cult classic film, The Blob. All of Brennan's papers on the resulting plagiarism suit are in this series. Gift negotiations with both Bowling Green State University and the University of Wyoming Archive of Contemporary History are also in this series. There is also an 1841 deed written entirely in French which may possibly be linked to Brennan's genealogical research.

Although Brennan was frequently ill, the medical series is quite short. The series includes a light duty order, information on some eye medication, the record of an insurance payment for surgery dated 1975 and group health insurance information.

Brennan served in the army from January 1943 to January 1946. The military papers series contains not only his classification notices, his discharge papers, his induction orders, pay records , his 1944 transfer notice to Europe and commendations from General George Patton to the 26th Yankee Battalion in 1945 but also items that Brennan collected during his time in Europe. This collected material includes postcards, European coins and bills, copies of the military publication The Grapevine, certificates for brief courses offered to English speaking troops at Balliol and Oxford, a London playbill and a brochure from the Casino de Paris as well as a program from an Osterreicher Abend. A small notebook of poetry and diary entries complete the series.

The memorabilia series covers material from all phases of Brennan's life. The High school memorabilia includes some report cards, an attendance certificate and Brennan's senior yearbook where his hobby is listed as ice skating. He also kept a lot of college materials including exams, and class notes complete with meticulous drawings. There are some scouting materials and stamp collecting paraphernalia including tweezers and perforation gauges. Mementos of his later life include an award of excellence for Essence, his AARP card from 1990, convention badges for several fantasy conferences, a syllabus from one of Ulrich Troubetzkoy's writing classes, an unfinished piece of embroidery by Grace Martin referred to in one of her letters, membership cards from the Poetry Society of America and dinner invitations for their annual awards dinner, art work for book covers, large flong molds from the printing of one of his books and a certificate of membership in the Praed Street Irregulars, a society founded by fellow author Luther Norris in honor of August Derleth's sleuth Solar Pons. The series also includes a guide to the Sterling Library at Yale University where Brennan worked for 44 years, and a cassette tape of Zombique recorded from an Alfred Hitchcock Presents show.

Many of the photographs in the collection have been kept with the letters in which they were originally sent. Pictures that were found separated from correspondence are housed together in the photographs series. They include a photo of H.P. Lovecraft's home in New York, some photos of Ulrich Troubetzkoy, the one of Brennan used for many of his book jackets and some faded color shots of the Third World Fantasy Convention. There are also some unlabeled formal pictures of a young boy which appear to be of Brennan in grade school.

While two periodical runs have been removed from the collection, Eleven and The August Derleth Society Newsletter, other titles have been left in the periodicals series. Continuity, Hapna, Horror Writers of America Newsletter, Reflections in a Private Eye, Spoor and the Yale Weekly Bulletin and Calendar and The Chronicle, the college newspaper for which Brennan wrote during what he refers to as his busiest and happiest year.

The clippings file contains a mixture of information of personal interest to Brennan and information which he could use for details in his short stories. The former includes an article on alcohol and alcoholism, an astrological column, coverage of Dorothy Decker's murder which had an impact the publication of Brennan's first book, an article on Bernard Kliban's cats, one on how to do laundry, another on the success of the Irish in America and an essay on Carl Rollins, a medal of honor winner. Also in this category are some newspaper columns by August Derleth and his obituary as well as the obituary for Jack Schaffner, a friend and literary agent. The clippings also include articles which could be used for atmospheric details in a short story. There is a snippet on Joe Pye weed, a brief discussion of lycanthropy and porphyria, and a clipping on ritual murders in Basutoland.

The scrapbook series consists of two scrapbooks which contain book reviews written both by and about Brennan and some short non-fiction articles by Brennan published in newspapers in the New Haven, CT area and True Detective magazine. There are also interviews with Brennan which appeared in New Haven area newspapers and the front page from a 1982 Yale Weekly Bulletin and Calendar which proclaims the signing of a three year union contract at Yale. Most of the materials date from the 1940's and 1950's.