The Death of Halpin Frayser

“The Death of Halpin Frayser” by Ambrose Bierce is a weird story. Very well written but I was left more puzzled by it than anything. It has two parts: Halpin Frayser’s dream and then the police detectives who discover his body.

Halpin is stuck overnight after going hunting in the mountains. Asleep in the woods, he dreams of dreadful and eerie place where he wanders unable to stop going in a direction he is sure something terrible lies.

It was now long after nightfall, yet the interminable forest through which he journeyed was lit with a wan glimmer having no point of diffusion, for in its mysterious lumination nothing cast a shadow. A shallow pool in the guttered depression of an old wheel rut, as from a recent rain, met his eye with a crimson gleam. He stooped and plunged his hand into it. It stained his fingers; it was blood! Blood, he then observed, was about him everywhere. The weeds growing rankly by the roadside showed it in blots and splashes on their big, broad leaves. Patches of dry dust between the wheelways were pitted and spattered as with a red rain. Defiling the trunks of the trees were broad maculations of crimson, and blood dripped like dew from their foliage.

It’s not exactly a surprise that something horrible is waiting for him.

The detectives are also hunting but unlike the birds that Halpin was after, they’re looking for a murderer. They find instead Halpin Frayser’s throttled corpse in a graveyard.

The question is: what killed him? A ghost? A zombie? It might be the more mundane explanation of a crazed murderer hiding in the woods… except that wouldn’t actually be mundane either. Halpin’s odd connection with the killer and the place where his body is found presents too much of a coincidence.

I first listened to this story then read it again figuring I must have missed something (I did) because it made no sense. (It makes a lot more sense when you haven’t missed an important part to explaining the connection between Halpin and the murderer.) One thing that leaves me scratching my head even after a second go at it is the the poetry. Halpin is a poet only “in his dream” but he truly is as the account he leaves behind is in verse. Verse that one of the detectives instantly identifies as the composition of one of Halpin’s ancestors. It’s a odd and deliberate element but I do not see the point of it.


Rape, Murder, Hollywood, and Yellow Journalism

The Daily Mail published a piece by the AP last week, just one more of the 47 zillion articles about Harvey Weinstein. This one was a list of historical sex scandals:

For anyone thinking the days of the so-called casting couch were long gone, this past week has been eye-opening, as the growing list of women directing allegations of sexual harassment and rape at Harvey Weinstein suggests they never left Hollywood.

Here’s a look at some cases from the past and present.


In the first scandal to shake Hollywood, the comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle attended a wild party in San Francisco in 1921 that ended in the death of actress Virginia Rappe. Writhing in pain from a ruptured bladder, she accused Arbuckle of raping her. When she died days later, he was charged with murder, which was downgraded to manslaughter. Arbuckle was acquitted after three trials.

Now that’s an interesting story to lead with. I don’t know if it’s truly the “first major” scandal but I do know that the whole story reflects just as badly on the press than it does on Hollywood.

Roscoe ArbuckleRoscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle isn’t well known nowadays–mostly thanks to his career being destroyed by the scandal–but the man was a comedic genius. He went from the stage to Mack Sennett’s Keystone studio.  He was one of the infamous Keystone Cops then later a frequent costar of Mabel Normand. It has been claimed that he was the first actor on film to take a pie to the face (Wikipedia says that the honor actually goes to Ben Turpin in 1909). (Incidentally, Normand is credited with realizing that cream pies worked the best.) At Keystone, he also worked with Charlie Chaplin.

Arbuckle started his own production company, and it was here that he brought another of the silent era’s greatest comedians to the screen for the first time. He met vaudeville star Buster Keaton in New York and persuaded him to try film.

In 1921, Arbuckle was under contract with Paramount making six movies a year. His trip to San Francisco was supposed to be a vacation. The vacation led to the disastrous party held in his and his companions’ hotel rooms.

Virginia Rappe wasn’t much in the way of an actress. IMDB lists things like “Undetermined Role” and uncredited for most of her roles. She was allegedly promiscuous and known for having bizarre behavior when drunk. According to one account:

”Well, once I went in her house to hang up some cleaning and the first thing I knew she’d torn off her dress and was running outdoors yelling, ‘Save me, a man attacked me.’ The neighbors told me whenever she got a few drinks she did that.”

Somehow Rappe ended up at Arbuckle and co’s party. With her was a friend named Bambina Delmont. Rappe collapsed at the party. They called a doctor but everyone believed she was simply drunk. She made scene, screaming and tearing her clothes, and allegedly said to Delmont, “What did he do to me, Maudie? Roscoe did this to me.”

Delmont would then claim that Arbuckle had raped Rappe. Delmont didn’t have the greatest reputation herself. She was believed to have been involved in blackmail schemes. One of the doctors who examined Rappe found no evidence of rape. Rappe died a few days later.

The newspapers ate Arbuckle alive. They destroyed his reputation.  He was vile rapist who crushed a woman to death while assaulting her. Scandals sell and William Randolph Hearst bragged that this one “sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the Lusitania.” Hollywood threw him under the bus. A politically ambitious district attorney decided to use the case to his advantage.

He was charged with first degree murder, but this was reduced to manslaughter. He was never charged with any kind of sexual assault. There was no evidence that Rappe had been raped and her friend who made the accusation not only changed her story repeatedly but attempted to extort money from Arbuckle.

Three trials. Two hung juries. The first thanks to a woman who made up her mind that he was guilty no matter what and the second thanks to his defense botching it. The third, which acquitted him, apologized:

“Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime.”

What actually killed the ironically named Virginia Rappe? She died of a ruptured bladder but no one knows for sure what caused that. Possibly an infection. Possibly a botched abortion.

Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle

Alice Mann, Roscoe Arbuckle, and Buster Keaton in Coney Island (1917)

The acquittal didn’t matter much to Hollywood. Arbuckle’s career was ruined. His films were banned from being shown. Close friends like Buster Keaton would try to give him work but Arbuckle suffered from alcoholism and depression.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle looks to be the complete opposite of Harvey Weinstein. An innocent man with a previously excellent reputation destroyed by false accusations and yellow journalism. But like Weinstein, both the press and Hollywood turned on him and dragged his name through the mud.

In 1933, it looked like Arbuckle had finally got things turned around. He had a series of new shorts and a film contract. He died, however, in June of that year at the age of 46 of a heart attack. And when his name gets remembered, it’s usually in connection with the scandal and not the body of work which he created.

Archive of Crime Library article
The Skinny of the Fatty Arbuckle Trial
More on Fatty Arbuckle: His Films and Legacy

The Wrong Kind of Message

Tomas Diaz doesn’t like how Vox Day’s Alt Hero looks.  It’s somewhat hard to respond to as it’s rambly and has so many different points to it.  If I responded to them all, it would turn into a fisking and I’d rather not.

There’s a goodly part of me which sympathizes with the reaction – the traditionalist Catholic lacking an active party tends toward such enemy-of-my-enemy sympathies – but I have a hard time going in whole-hog. I had (and have) a similar problem with GamerGate and the Sad/Rabid Puppy phenomenon in the sci-fi book world. It tends to reduce the matter to “Ideology or Fun, and we choose fun”.

There’s a kind of anti-intellectualism here that I can’t abide. And it’s one which seems to ignore substantive ideology in favor of arousing and stewing in passions and desires.

I suspect one of Mr. Diaz’s foremost problems is that he is an intellectual.  There is a certain class of intelligent people who did not seem to be able to comprehend that not everyone is as smart as they are nor can these people understand what the hell they’re talking about.  There is not a single person that I work with, for example, who would understand “substantive ideology.”  I’m not even 100% sure that I understand what he means by it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never picked up a comic book looking for that.  The only thing I’ve picked up a comic book for is fun.

Fun does not automatically mean stewing in passions.  In fact, equating the two sounds like someone being overly scrupulous.

But it’s already established that Diaz wants all message fiction all the time and that he thinks all fiction is message fiction. (See previous discussion here and here.)

Part of Alt★Hero’s message is that it’s about a return to “old school comics”, when things were about storylines and not social justice. This isn’t honest.

The content of the ideology has been different, but superheroes have never been without ideology, and most of their strongest storylines are ways of exploring ideology. This is a feature, incidentally, it shares with the great science-fiction of the mid-20th century, and even the pulp era (Conon was as much fun-adventure story as it was Howard’s exploration of the Noble-Barbarian, Anti-Civilization myth).

Go through the superhero history to see it. In their first incarnations, superheroes were propaganda.

But if all fiction is message fiction, then Alt Hero was going to be message fiction regardless of what Vox professes to be doing.  The project doesn’t have to admit anything about ideology.  The ideology is going to be there.  Therefore the objection that the project claims to be non-ideological is pointless.

Diaz just doesn’t like the ideology which Alt Hero is using.

Of course the problem is we don’t actually know what it is because the comic hasn’t been released.  Diaz guesses based on the campaign and complains about objectification of Rebel and so on.  It’s about “indulging in passions and deifying desires.”

The 90s X-Men cartoon had the female characters in absurd skin tight outfits.  If having sexy ladies in it means that it’s promoting disordered passions, then ALL comics have to go.  Except maybe the SJW comics about fat people.  I ain’t a fan of the everybody-sexy-all-the-time style because I’m a prude but you can’t call Alt Hero out for that without throwing out most comics, most TV, and most movies.  Using the sexy girl to promote your whatever-it-may-be is an age-old marketing trick and really tells you nothing about the content of the thing other than it has a sexy girl in it for marketing purposes.

I have no idea whether Alt Hero is going to be any good.  I will wait and see.  If it turns out that it’s an alt-right polemic, I won’t like it.  I don’t like message fiction.  But one thing I do like is a guy who goes out and actually DOES things.  Vox Day accomplishes things.  So I’ll wait and see what he accomplishes.

If Diaz truly wants the type of fiction that he lays out at the end of his post, then he should go out and create it.  Don’t demand that other people write these things for you.  Go out and prove that it’s possible to make stories about “peaceful beauty” that aren’t boring.  That sounds boring to me.  Prove me wrong.

That Other Mrs. de Winter

I wonder if Brits are (or were) better about watching old movies than the average American who won’t watch things in black and white or from before the 80s (if they’ll even go back that far) because I can’t imagine that this would be very funny if one hadn’t seen the movie.

Delayed Punishment?

Word going around is that Netflix has delayed the premiere of The Punisher due to the Las Vegas shooting:

This week, Marvel and Netflix decided to pull the panel for the upcoming Punisher series from NYCC, citing its proximity to the recent Las Vegas mass shooting. The Punisher, a brutal, assault rifle-toting antihero with no qualms about killing his enemies, seemed like the wrong character to focus on just days after 59 people were gunned down at a concert by a man with 23 guns amassed in his hotel room.

Now, rumor has it that Netflix may be going a step further, and is delaying The Punisher’s actual release. That tip comes from TV critic Verne Gay, who has gotten word that the series itself will be delayed until later this fall. Netflix, for its part, has said “We never announced a premiere date and have not yet,” not addressing the potential delay directly.
There’s no word on when The Punisher may actually arrive now, but “late fall” is assuredly sometime in November, which will give it some distance from this tragedy (assuming there’s no new tragedy yet to come).

All right so it’s tacky to promote ultra-violent TV shows right after a bunch of people got murdered but… that last line’s important.  People are always being murdered.  Sometimes it’s a lot all at once.  Sometimes it’s a few here and there.

Some people find characters like the Punisher distasteful regardless of how many people have been murdered recently simply because they don’t like people being murdered and they don’t need recent tragedies to remind them of this.  Other people are so desensitized that they might not be bothered at all.

In the end, it won’t matter delayed or not if the show sucks as bad as The Defenders.

The Green Wildebeest

Having read The Thirty-Nine Steps and a couple other books by John Buchan, it comes as no surprise that any story by him would be excellent; it was surprising, however, to see his name in Lovecraft’s essay. Buchan, as far as I knew, wrote spy/thriller type stories. And the last person I’d expect narrating a story of the sort Lovecraft was talking about is good, old Richard Hannay.

“The Green Wildebeest” begins with a question after Lovecraft’s own heart: racial characteristics and how they might pop up even after years of breeding. This causes Richard Hannay to launch into a story about his mining days in Africa. He went prospecting with Andrew Du Preez, a young Boer man whose features led Hanney to believe that somewhere along the line his family had got a “dash of the tar-brush”

The sort of racial characteristic which might resurface in such a fellow has to do with the black’s tendency towards superstition. Their prospecting expedition leads them to a land Hannay suspects to be rich in copper given that everything acquires a green tint to it. There’s something funny here about the water because the village they find lacks a visible water source but must be solicited from an old priest.

Hannay goes on a hunting trip by himself and returns to discover Andrew has ruined everything. The blacks in the village have become unfriendly and the ones they employed ran off. Andrew went and had an altercation with the priest. He tells Hannay that instead of finding the water source he saw a green wildebeest and took a shot at it.

Hannay doesn’t at first think there’s anything very usual about it:

I had laughed in spite of myself. A wildebeest is not ornamental at the best, but a green one must be a good recipe for the horrors. All the same I felt very little like laughing. Andrew had offended the village and its priest, played havoc with the brittle nerves of our own boys, and generally made the place too hot to hold us. He had struck some kind of native magic, which had frightened him to the bone for all his scepticism.

But Hannay’s attempt to patch up things up doesn’t work. The old priest says a wrong has been done and a price will be paid:

He seemed to feel, and he made me feel it too, that a crime had been committed against the law of nature, and that it was nature, not man, that would avenge it. He wasn’t in the least unfriendly; indeed, I think he rather liked the serious way I took the business and realised how sorry I was; his slow sentences came out without a trace of bitterness. It was this that impressed me so horribly–he was like an old stone oracle repeating the commands of the God he served.

“What was there has gone to fulfil the law,” the priest says. Something out of the grove is after Andrew and it follows him to his doom. But what is it?  Madness brought on by a racial tendency towards superstition? Or was there actually a malignant thing that came after him? Hannay doesn’t have an answer, but the story provides enough strangeness that the latter option is quite viable.