BEN HAAS

By Lynn Munroe

In THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA, the final novel written by Ben Haas, a young priest is talking to Lanier Condon, an American writer living in Vienna . Suddenly the priest realizes that Condon is the author of a novel he has enjoyed, so he tells the writer, “It was indeed a memorable piece of work. There are scenes in it which I recall as clearly as if I had experienced them myself…”  Condon replies, “Well, I guess that’s fame. When you meet a stranger eight thousand miles from home and he’s read your book.”

The priest has just summed up the pleasure of reading the best of Ben Haas, who was an American writer living in Vienna when he started work on THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA. It is that difficult trick of making fiction seem like a real experience that elevates the work of Ben Haas.  Ben once said, “I have tried to develop a style which puts the reader into the novel itself.”

Benjamin Leopold Haas was born in Charlotte , North Carolina in 1926.  In his entry for CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS, Ben told us he inherited his love of books from his German-born father, who would bid on hundreds of books at unclaimed freight auctions during the Depression. His imagination was also fired by the stories of the Civil War and Reconstruction told by his Grandmother, who had lived through both. “My father was a pioneer operator of motion picture theatres”, Ben wrote. “So I had free access to every theatre in Charlotte and saw countless films growing up, hooked on the lore of our own South and the Old West.”  A family friend, a black man named Ike who lived in a cabin in the woods, took him hunting and taught him to love and respect the guns that were the tools of that trade. All of these influences – seeing the world like a story from a good book or movie, heartfelt tales of the Civil War and the West, a love of weapons – register strongly in Ben’s own books. Dreaming about being a writer, 18-year-old Ben sold a story to a Western pulp magazine. He dropped out of college to support his family. He was self-educated. And then he was drafted, and sent to the Philippines. Ben served as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1945 to 1946. Returning home, Ben went to work, married a Southern belle named Douglas Thornton Taylor from Raleigh in 1950, lived in Charlotte and in Sumter in South Carolina , and then made Raleigh his home in 1959. Ben and his wife had three sons, Joel, Michael and John. Ben held various jobs until 1961, when he was working for a steel company. He had submitted a manuscript to Beacon Books, and an offer for more came just as he was laid off at the steel company. He became a full-time writer for the rest of his life. Ben wrote every day, every night. “I tried to write 5000 words or more everyday, scrupulous in maintaining authenticity”, Ben said.  His son Joel later recalled, “My Mom learned to go to sleep to the sound of a typewriter”.

His son John told me “It sounded like machine-gun fire coming out of his office”.  Writing nonstop over the next 16 years, Ben Haas would create somewhere around 130 books under his own name and a dozen pen names. His output is even more amazing when we discover the high quality in so many of those books. Ben wanted to be a real mainstream writer and he needed a way to finance those times between serious books, so he became a paperback writer in 1961.

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Breaking into the paperback market, he quickly received contracts from publishers like Beacon and Monarch. His first agent Scott Meredith sold Ben’s first “mainstream” novel THE FORAGERS, set during the Civil War, to Simon & Schuster in 1962.  He continued alternating hardcover novels under his own name with genre fiction paperbacks under pen names – often using his alter ego Richard Meade – for the rest of his life.    

Ben described himself as a “Presbyterian Democrat”, and his upbringing, his deep sense of integrity and fair play for all melded to make him a clear voice for underdogs and minorities of every stripe. For example, he once was working at a factory in Sumter , South Carolina , where he discovered he was the only employee who was NOT a member of the local White Citizens’ Council (the uptown version of the KKK). Instead, Ben would later write a book exposing the true and sordid history of the Ku Klux Klan.

We have been told that some percentage of twentieth-century Southerners were virulent racists. The work of Ben Haas reminds us that was simply not true of all of them. Ben’s powerful books are like beacons of light shining on a hill during those dark days. His second book under his own name was the superb KKK, his only nonfiction work. This 1963 paperback original was published by Regency Books. The publisher was William L. Hamling and the editor was Earl Kemp. Ben’s next book was a powerhouse pastiche on the effects of the civil rights movement on the South. LOOK AWAY, LOOK AWAY (1965) tells the story of three childhood playmates – two white and one black - who come home from WWII to a South filled with turmoil and strife, tearing them in different directions.  The three are Cary Bradham, the white governor’s son and heir to the throne; his black friend Houston Whitley, who becomes a teacher and a vocal leader of the movement triggered when “Martha Lacey” is too tired to go sit at the back of a public bus; and Burke Jessup, a compassionate writer who travels and then returns home to find his homeland torn asunder. His writing takes on the local Klan. There is a lot of Ben Haas in the character of Burke. Ben had an eerie touch of prophecy in some of his books, and by the end of LOOK AWAY, LOOK AWAY a character obviously modeled on Martin Luther King Jr. is heading for the same fate Rev. King would meet in Memphis in 1968, three years later.  This is writing from the inside of a historical event, like journalism coming out of a combat zone. While reading LOOK AWAY, LOOK AWAY I woke up one night and thought “I sure hope Huse gets out of that jam he’s in”, and then suddenly, coming fully awake, I remembered he was only a fictional character in a book I was reading. He just seemed actually real for a moment. That’s how I can best describe the effect of the Ben Haas style. 

THE LAST VALLEY (1966) tackles the problem of ecology head on. By making you care about the land and the people who live on it when a local power company plans to flood a valley in the creation of yet another dam, Haas involves us in their fight at a visceral level. Once again, each character comes alive off the page. You pray for them to win against these powerful odds. It is unforgettable. The third book in Ben’s trilogy on the modern South was THE CHANDLER HERITAGE (1972), which takes one family from the Civil War through the battle-bloodied skies over World War I France to the then-present day, when a violent strike is set to shut down the family business, a textile mill.

Ben’s son Joel Haas figures there are at least six different manuscripts for THE CHANDLER HERITAGE, as his Dad perfected the epic novel that tells the saga of three generations of the Chandler family. You might think you know where the story is going, but midway through the book a bomb goes off under the Chandler family car (was it placed there by striking union agitators or by the KKK?), tearing the fabric of the family into shreds. Ben told his sons he was unable to write any more of the book for some time after that scene. “The characters stopped talking to me”, he said, a statement that offers a lot of insight into his writing methods.

THE CHANDLER HERITAGE is one of my favorite Ben Haas books. You don’t so much read it; it’s more like you live through it. Epic in scope but firmly rooted in characters that feel as real as people you have known, THE CHANDLER HERITAGE carries us into its characters’ lives to a level where we experience their feelings, ache with them and pray for them. In one long and harrowing sequence, a young man and a young woman leave their families behind and run off and elope. When the young man has to call home and tell the parents, each word rings as true as if it all really happened. “That’s no surprise”, Ben’s son Joel told me, “Mom’s parents did not approve of my Father, and so they ran off and eloped. She borrowed ten dollars from a friend and they were gone. I think that scene in THE CHANDLER HERITAGE where the young man calls his new bride’s father is taken right from life, right from Ben’s memory.”

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The Haas family returning from Europe on board the SS United States in 1966: Ben, John, Joel, Michael and Douglas

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The UK hardcover jacket for LOOK AWAY, LOOK AWAY (Peter Davies, 1965)



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THE LAST VALLEY

Simon & Schuster, 1966

Ben’s early pen names include Ben Elliott (his grandmother’s maiden name), who wrote Westerns for Ace; and Sam Webster, who wrote five books for Monarch and STOLEN WOMAN, a Beacon that offers the first glimpses of the dynamic paperback writer to come. As Ken Barry, he churned out racy paperback originals for Beacon with titles like THE LOVE ITCH and EXECUTIVE BOUDOIR.

The hardcovers under his real name were solid if not spectacular sellers. Many were book club or Literary Guild selections. He was a midlist author in the 1960s and 70s. At the same time Ben Haas was turning out all these books, he was also a family man devoted to his sons. He took the time to spin a new bedtime story for them every night. Ben’s son Joel has a website where he tells many warm memories of his father. My favorite story is “airplane milk”.  

AIRPLANE MILK

By Joel Haas

“It was a Saturday.  My mother was out and my father was seeing to me—age four—and my baby brother. I was going through a phase in which I would only eat Spam and fried sliced hot dogs.  Wisely, my parents did not fight with me about my diet, and, so far as I can tell, it did not stunt my growth.  They figured I would outgrow it soon enough and that I would be okay as long as I drank plenty of milk.  Back then, before anybody worried about gluten allergies, fiber, too much fat, too much sugar or whatever, milk was the child’s elixir of good health.  “Build strong bones!  Drink more milk!”  Advertising companies and the American Dairy Farmers’ Assoc. had seen to that.  We always drank a lot of milk.  My Grandmother Haas declared from her experience (she had 3 sons) there was no ill in a small child’s life that could not be salved by copious quantities of chocolate milk. So, it was with some consternation, my father noticed I had eaten all the fried hot dogs and Spam on my plate but left my glass of milk untouched.

“Drink your milk, son,” he urged.  “Finish your milk and you can go to work.” In imitation of my father, I “went to work.” Every day in a patch of dirt outside the back window.  There, I used a toy bulldozer, a toy hammer and a little hard hat to dig shallow holes at random and then fill them back up.

(Yes, I know that describes your job today, but mine was pretend work and yours is, well…real work?)

Anyway, I could not be bribed with the prospect of work.

I sat truculent, and the glass of milk sat untouched.

“So,” my father asked, “do you want chocolate milk?”

No!” I declared.  This was not going to be as easy a victory as he thought.

“Well,” Dad started, “do you want goat milk?”

“No!”

“Do you want tiger’s milk?”

“No!”

“Do you want elephant’s milk?”

No!”

“Do you want plain milk?” Dad asked, pointing at the glass.

“No!”

Frustrated, Dad grated out a play on words he was sure a four year old would not understand.  “So, do you want air plane milk?”

Silence. 

I was curious.  I remembered a trip to the airport and seeing the airplanes.

“Yes,” I said.  “I want airplane milk.”

Experienced parent that he was becoming, Dad leaped for the chance.

“You stay right here,” he instructed.  “I think we have airplane milk in the kitchen.”

In a few moments, Dad came back from the kitchen.  In his hand, he held a glass of blue milk.

“I was just by the airport at work,” he said, “and they were milking the airplanes, so I bought some.”

He set the glass of blue milk in front of me.

 “Try that” he said.

It was sweet, as if it had had several spoonfuls of sugar mixed in it, with a strong taste of vanilla and flecks of nutmeg.  It was just as blue as when Mom added food color to cake icing. It was delicious!

Who in their right minds would mess with cows after this??!!

I drank it all and demanded more. Dad knew he had a winner and was determined to expand his advantage.  While I sat at the table, Dad returned to the kitchen to mix up several more sample glasses of airplane milk.  Different kinds of airplanes gave different kinds of milk, Dad explained.  Jets gave blue milk, small planes gave yellow milk, while red milk came from the DC-3s Piedmont Air still flew then, and so on.

After that, whenever my father called home from work during the day, I would demand to speak with him. “Daaadyyy,” my reedy little voice would stretch out the word, “Don’t forget to go by the airport and get some air plane milk!”

As an adult, I have been in and out of a lot of airports and flown on a variety of airplanes.

But you can’t fool me.  Every time I’m sitting in my seat waiting to take off and I see the big tanker trucks drive up under an airplane wing and hook up hoses those long hoses…. 

I know what’s really going on!!! All I have to say is--- if people quit flying, the cows had better watch out!

Recipe—to make Air Plane Milk

In an 8 ounce glass of cold milk, mix several spoonfuls of sugar.  Add a teaspoon of vanilla or almond flavoring.  Add a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg.  Finally, add food coloring as appropriate. Serve in a mug while making airplane noises.”

All three of the Haas brothers have excelled in their fields: Joel is a well-known sculptor, Michael is a four-time Grammy-winning music producer trained in Vienna , and John is the only Oracle manager with three degrees in theatre and opera

Ben Haas first visited Austria in 1964.  The change of cultures inspired him and he moved the family back to Austria for three years in 1972, working on several books including DAISY CANFIELD (1973) and the book that would become his last great novel, THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA (1977).

 “Yes, he lived in Austria twice”, Ben’s son Joel told me. “The first time was from October 1964 through January 1966. The second time was from the summer of 1972 until the summer of 1975.  The first time we lived in the village of Krtizendorf along the Danube a few miles northwest of Vienna .  Our address was 13 Schubertgasse.  The second time we lived for year in the village of Kierling near the Elisabeth Hof where he rented a room for an office and originally conceived the basic story for THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA after talking with Elisabeth Welwert, the owner.  A larger house became available in Kritzendorf, though, one across the street from where we had lived before.  The address was 14 Schubertgasse.  Dad set up his office in what had been the maid's quarters of the house. My father did research for THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA while living in Vienna . He had the outline of the story; however, he focused mostly on gathering the raw research material. He put ads in the newspaper saying he was an American novelist looking for all different types of people's experiences in the 1930s through 1945. Response was so overwhelming, that he had to hire a translator and book hotel rooms in Vienna . Dad had a reasonable walking around command of German, however, the dialects vary and he was looking at making notes of what they said. Trying to translate at the same time was just too much to handle, particularly since some of the people could get quite passionate about whatever they were remembering and then the German would come out at machine-gun rate. Besides, a native was more likely to be aware of when somebody was telling him bull. He got so much information he used some of the excess in THE DANUBE SUBMARINES, the John Dollarhide series he planned.”

(Only the first book of the John Dollarhide series was published. It’s called THE DANUBE COVENANT by John Michael Elliot. One of Ben’s Richard Meade spy thrillers, THE DANUBE RUNS RED, was set in Vienna also, and like THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA and THE DANUBE COVENANT it rings true.)

Ben’s son Michael Haas remembers his father:

“He was not just a marvelous story-teller; he was an exceptional artist who could draw any likeness you placed in front of him. He could have made a fortune sitting on the Ramblas in Barcelona tossing off portraits in under five minutes using crayon. He always said that his color-blindness kept him from pursuing this very natural talent – a talent shared with his older brother Otto. His manuscripts are full of doodles of cowboys, Indians and that most difficult thing of all to draw, horses in movement: galloping, bucking, cantering – he could also draw the other great nightmare of all developing artists without any problem: hands – hands working, hands in motion, hands shooting pistols, hands doing nothing. It all came out of him fully formed without prior sketching or any sizing up.  I once had to present a school essay on Russian Communism and asked him to draw Lenin for the front page, something he knocked off in under a minute from memory.

His other astonishing talent was spelling. There was no word in any language, (even the ones he didn’t speak) that he couldn’t spell. Nobody was quite sure how he did it. Both he and his older brother were excellent students. He was also – and this is the tragedy – a child of his age: a returning soldier from the war who had come close to death and seen death up close. He drank too much, he smoked too much and he had never been told that eating too much made you fat. He kept a vision of himself as the active youngster while steadily declining in health. There were countless contradictions in his character. He was neurotically ‘macho’ while preserving a love of the finer arts – even poetry. His need to cause conflict was in some ways similar to Norman Mailer’s and in retrospect, I wonder if it wasn’t part of an unspoken sense of being an outsider. His father was a German Jew, and he and his older brother were – as stated above – brilliant students who seemed to excel at everything. This would not have been characteristic of a typical young man from Western-North Carolina; so the brash talk, the shooting contests, the hunting trips and the general hard-drinking were possibly part of some kind of complex over-compensation. Had his father landed in NY rather than Tennessee and then NC, his children would probably have been totally different with fewer needs to assimilate into the red-neck, hard-man environment of Charlotte ’s Appalachian suburbs – but then, this is what provided him with much of his material. There is no doubt in my mind that many of his John Benteen characters were simply projections of himself – or how he would have loved to have been. He was intimidatingly well-read and could read any book in under a day – even those in German. But he recognized that reading too much was the writer’s biggest enemy. I remember him once saying, ‘if you want to be a writer, write: too many people want to be writers who don’t even have the wherewithal to write a post-card to their friends and family. Writers write – everyone else reads.’”

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THE CHANDLER HERITAGE

Simon & Schuster, 1972

Jacket illustration by Allen Magee

Ben would eventually have a falling out with his literary agent Scott Meredith. He didn’t believe Meredith was interested in pushing his mainstream novels. Meredith was perfectly content to keep Ben pounding away on the paperback contracts. Ben moved to a different agency, Paul R. Reynolds, where his mainstream novels were then pushed. But they were not crazy about Ben’s new interest, writing Westerns. They suggested he represent himself on those sales. Ben had sent a trial novel to Harry Shorten of Tower Books. Ben’s family remembers that book was called A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE and was written for Tower’s new Lassiter series. It was published as Lassiter #5 in 1969. Shorten was delighted with the way Ben Haas told a story and invited him to create a Western Series of his own. The result was called FARGO .

FARGO

Neal Fargo is a mercenary, a soldier of fortune in the early 20th century, for hire to anyone able to meet his high price (usually $20,000 or more). Fargo is a killer, almost nihilistic in his awareness that he’s never going to be an old man. His only great loves are his weapons – a Fox shotgun that was presented to him by his Rough Riders Colonel, Theodore Roosevelt (the only man Fargo would drop everything and come running for), a Winchester rifle, an Army Colt .38 revolver, and a ten-inch Batangas knife he picked up while serving in the Philippines. Fargo is larger than life, often taking on entire armies, always eventually victorious, and somehow managing to bed all available gorgeous females before each mission is done.

Ben Haas understood that although the pulp magazines were gone, the grand tradition of pulp fiction lived on in the paperback book, especially in a series like Fargo . Haas would write (or, sometimes, supervise the ghost writing of) 20 of the 23 Fargo books. Fargo is a tremendously enjoyable series that became a bestseller for Harry Shorten and has kept hordes of fans enthralled ever since in countries all over the world. On his excellent Fargo website, Randy Johnson very astutely notes that the character of Fargo was based on a movie tough guy. Writing under the pseudonym John Benteen (the pen name was the name of one of Custer’s officers), Ben Haas describes Fargo as a rock-hard fighting man with prematurely white hair wearing a Rough Riders hat and cavalry boots who smokes a black cigar and is always found carrying plenty of guns and ammo. The marvelous screenplay Richard Brooks wrote for THE PROFESSIONALS includes a brief biography of Fardan: he was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, served in the Philippines, was a wildcatter and gold prospector, worked for Pancho Villa and is now demonstrating automatic weapons to the Army. He is offered $10,000 for the dangerous assignment. He shares all of these details with Neal Fargo. This is not only a spot-on description of Lee Marvin; it specifically describes Lee Marvin’s character in the 1966 movie THE PROFESSIONALS, based on the novel A MULE FOR THE MARQUESA by Frank O’Rourke. Lee Marvin’s character there is named Fardan, and Haas changes that just a little to Fargo to avoid any problems.  Fardan is a rock-hard fighting man with prematurely white hair wearing a Rough Riders hat and cavalry boots, who smokes a black cigar and is always found carrying plenty of guns.  Reading the Fargo adventures, it is effortless to imagine ex-Marine Lee Marvin playing the part. Some of the more outrageous plot turns sail by smoothly, mainly because it is so easy to imagine Lee Marvin handling everything. Fargo is in town to kick ass, kill baddies and make money. In other words, he’s already familiar to us if we’ve ever seen a Lee Marvin action movie.  In fact, Lee Marvin should have fired his agent for not lining up a whole series of Fargo movies. They would have been golden.

My fellow Fargo fan James Reasoner has noted on his excellent blog that the Fargo books are not really traditional Westerns because they take place in locations like the Philippines, Argentina, Nicaragua, Alaska and Peru. And they are set in the 1910s, after the Wild West had been settled. Some of them are later-day Westerns; some are Westerns only in the broadest sense. Either way, they are all blood-pumping action adventure stories.

Series novels are formulaic, but the Fargo stories are so much fun we don’t mind the formula being repeated again. It’s like a visit from an old friend, like watching a favorite TV series where the story is usually pretty similar week after week, but we keep coming back because we love the characters. All Fargo books start with Fargo getting offered some impossible mission. Then Fargo takes inventory of his trunk of weapons. Somehow even though he is described as an ugly old guy, Fargo will then be irresistible to the female in the story (and somehow all these different women always have “huge” or “large” breasts – no complaints from Fargo ). Fargo then goes on the mission, but he gets captured by the badguys. And then somehow, against all odds, Fargo always ends each adventure on top. He never lets us down.

 These stories were written for men and Ben understood the formula perfectly. In fact when he was working on an idea to have his sons ghostwrite some of the later Fargos , he created an outline that is both insightful and humorous. And it shows Ben’s keen understanding that no matter how strong the hero, a good genre novel is only as interesting as its villain. Joel Haas shared it with us on James Reasoner’s blog:

http://blackmask.com/?cat=125&wpmp_switcher=mobile

Fargo is never without his Fox Sterlingworth shotgun and he wears a Batangas knife. Joel Haas told me that after the war, Ben loaned some money to his old friend Ike. Ike insisted Ben take his beloved Fox Sterlingworth shotgun as security. And Ben brought home a Batangas knife from the Philippines after the war. “My brothers and I could not believe how long it was and how sharp it was”, Joel told me.

Ben Haas made Fargo such an indelible character that when a different writer, “John W. Hardin” (another pen name taken from a real outlaw’s name), tried his hand at three of the books, it was painfully obvious those Fargo books were not written by the same author. They were almost like stories about a different person with the same name. The Hardin Fargos were actually not bad, they just paled by comparison. Hardin’s Fargo spends a lot of time wondering if he should have done such and such or gone to bed with so and so. Benteen’s Fargo would never waste even one second on such introspection, such worrying. He is much too busy figuring out how he is going to machine-gun an entire barracks full of enemy soldiers.  Benteen’s Fargo is constantly moving forward like a shark. Hardin’s Fargo stops and ruminates to himself a lot and then thinks things like “Get control… Wait like a stone. Store up lightning.”

Another place the Hardin Fargos and the Benteen Fargos diverge wildly is in the sex scenes. Benteen’s Fargo behaves like an experienced adult. Forgive me for saying this, but the Hardin Fargo sex scenes remind me of something written by a person who has never had any or many real-life sexual relations, but is just trying unsuccessfully to describe things they are fairly uncomfortable with. The problem may be that euphemisms were required to describe certain parts of the body. But Hardin’s descriptions of sex are like something from Bill Pronzini’s review of wrongheaded writing in GUN IN CHEEK.  What follows here are all actual quotes from the Fargos by John W. Hardin, NOT John Benteen (Ben Haas).

From DYNAMITE FEVER:

“ Fargo mounted and plunged hornily into the swampy suction of her love gap.”

“She… thrust his hand in between her lush, satiny thighs to the steaminess at their joining.”

“He thrust into the dark place between her thighs and rode heroically.”

“Pressing into her hot slipperiness, he heard her moan softly.”

“He slipped his manhood into her slippery gap.”

From GRINGO GUNS:

“..the fluffy triangle of her pubes”

“He… caressed the furriness of her lower belly.”

“He mounted her, with a thrust cannoning into the steaminess of her gaping nest.”

(She feels) “a bit sore but also bubbly, and hot in there”

“He stroked her thighs, petted the swampiness between them.”

“Her dainty caressing of his crotch organs…”

“He found the gap in her dark, furry underbody and pronged in, his stony length reaming a succulent cavern.”

Dark furry underbody?  I ask you, “swampy suction”, does that sound like somebody with any knowledge of a working human vagina? Is Fargo making love or spelunking in a slippery cave of “swampiness”?

As the checklist that follows shows, the publisher created a great deal of confusion when it came time to reprint #7 in the Fargo series for the “Fargo is His Name – Violence is His Game” reprint set. They had reprinted the first six, and brought out a new #13 and #14 in that format, so the next two books were due to be a reprint of #7 and the new #15.   For who knows what reason, but probably just incompetence, they put the wrong number on the #7 reprint and called it Fargo #15. Then, instead of acknowledging the mistake as we’ve seen other series editors do, they put wrong numbers on the next three books, then stopped numbering them at all and never reprinted #7 again, even when they did a new uniform reprint edition later (it jumps from #6 to #8). The screwed-up numbering does not affect the reader’s enjoyment of the books; it just drives bibliographers to distraction. Some call the reprinted #7 a #15 too and so count it twice, saying therefore there are 24 books in the set. Others insist there are only 23 books. They’re both right. 

If you love high action, adventure and genre fiction; and don’t give a damn if one man versus a hundred could have really happened that way or not, try a Fargo (by John Benteen). You might become another Fargo fan. There are a lot of us.

The success of the best-selling Fargo series led to the Sundance series, a similar set of tough guy Western adventures from another Harry Shorten line, Leisure Books. Jim Sundance is a halfbreed gunslinger equally adept with bow & arrow or rifle. The Sundance books have similarities to the Fargo books – similar stories and settings, same pen name, the guaranteed checklist of all of Sundance’s weapons, the obligatory sex scene.  There is even a break for three books by another writer in the middle – this time by “Jack Slade”, a house name (like many of them, named for a real-life Western outlaw or lawman).  Perhaps the main difference between the Fargo series and the Sundance series is Fargo ended with Ben’s death in 1977, but Sundance lived on into the 1980s with new books from “Jack Slade” and then Peter McCurtin.

According to Joel Haas, his Dad eventually had a falling out with his Fargo publisher, Harry Shorten.  He was getting paid for the American editions. The dispute was over who was getting all the money pouring in from the foreign rights. When Ben took his family to Europe , he found that Fargo and Sundance were bestsellers in many different countries.

Ben would create one more great Western series, this time for Fawcett Gold Medal. The five books that make up the RANCHO BRAVO series are all great reading. He submitted the first one as by “Douglas Thornton”, his wife’s real name. The editors at Gold Medal replied “That name sounds too made up. We changed it to Thorne Douglas.“

Ben Haas wrote all kinds of books as Richard Meade. One of the best author biographies from any of Ben’s books is found in a Richard Meade book called THE DANUBE RUNS RED:

“Richard Meade is the alter ego of an American who has lived in Central Europe, traveled behind the Iron Curtain, and whose novels under his own name have been major book club selections in the United  States, Germany and Scandinavia, as well as having been translated into many other languages.

Mr. Meade, a Southerner, is married and the father of three sons. He has always been interested in weaponry and boasts the distinction of being the only American member in the history of the four-hundred-year-old Klosterneuberg, Austria, Shooting Society.”

Richard Meade continued writing into the 1970s too, even doing a novella for the high-paying GOOD HOUSEKEEPING when Ben needed some quick cash to fill in as he worked on his next mainstream novel under his real name.

“As a compulsive writer who’s uncomfortable without working every day”, Ben would say in his CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS sketch, “I spin off minor ideas and themes into lesser works under pen names. When a major subject seizes me, I then spare no effort or sacrifice to develop it under my own with all the force, clarity and honesty at my command.”

His final book under his own name, THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA, was one of his most popular novels. Taylor Caldwell called it “beautiful” and wisely noted the “marvelously depicted characters”.  After some nice paychecks for paperback editions of his earlier hardcovers from Pocket Books, his agent sold THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA to Dell for a hefty sum.  But Ben never saw that paperback edition. Ben Haas died of a heart attack in New York City after attending a Literary Guild dinner in 1977. At age 51 he was much too young. Sadly, all of those wonderful books from all those pen names stopped. As the years passed, his name grew obscure except to a small group of genre fiction fans and die hard adventure lovers.  James Reasoner, an author who knows a thing or two about writing Western series books himself, has said on his blog, “Ben Haas was one of the best action writers of all time”. In TWENTIETH CENTURY WESTERN WRITERS, David Whitehead wrote that Ben Haas “ranks among the most influential and under-rated Western writers of recent times… the hard-hitting adventures of Neal Fargo and Jim Sundance were largely responsible for creating the Western Series market virtually single-handed.”

Mr. Whitehead later wrote, “I discovered the Fargo and Sundance westerns of John Benteen and saw for the first time just how a good, fast-moving western yarn should really be told”.

The John Benteen books set a high standard followed or attempted by countless modern Western series that followed.  Of course there had been Western series characters since the genre began over a century ago, but the success of those Benteen books from 1969 to 1977 was instrumental in the gold rush of paperback men’s adventure series novels that have appeared in the following years.


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DAISY CANFIELD – Simon & Schuster, 1973

 

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THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA – Simon & Schuster, 1977

 

WILLIAM KANE

That might have been the end of the story, but several decades later the chief editor of Nightstand Books, Earl Kemp, came out of self-exile in Mexico and starting talking about his days working for William Hamling, publishing several thousand paperback originals supplied by literary agent Scott Meredith. Meredith signed his stable of writers to contracts to provide a new book each month. These “adult” books (the lawyers made sure there were never any dangerous or obscene words, and they’d be rated PG-13 in this century) were published under pen names and house names, but over the years the authors have been revealed to be such well-known writers as Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block, Harlan Ellison, Donald E. Westlake, John Jakes, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Harry Whittington and Evan Hunter. And Earl Kemp started telling stories about all of them in his excellent, highly respected e-zine. All the files had been left behind when Earl left Hamling’s organization in the 1970s. But recently Earl came across an old memo from Scott Meredith that had survived some 50 years. Included in that memo was this note: “Enclosed you will find the latest William Kane book from Ben Haas.”

William Kane was one of the other Nightstand pen names; one nobody had ever attached an identity to before now. Earl had forgotten who William Kane was, but he remembers Ben Haas well. As Ben’s editor at Regency, Earl had edited the first edition of KKK. When Hamling started Greenleaf Classics in 1965, chief editor Earl Kemp wanted only top drawer material (they were calling them “classics” after all), so early on they published CANDY, and Krafft-Ebing, and Henry Miller; and they brought out a new edition of KKK. It was during that time that Earl has a memory of Ben Haas that makes for a funny story. Trying to bring his family through European customs during one of their sojourns in Austria, Ben told Earl that he ran into a language problem dealing with a fussy customs agent. “So you claim to be a writer, well, what have you written?”

 “Well”, Ben replied, “my book KKK has just been brought out by Greenleaf Classics.”

“Greenleaf who?”

”You know, Greenleaf Classics. They published CANDY, a million seller. Surely you’ve heard of that.” The customs agent excused himself and suddenly Ben was surrounded by other agents who wanted to shake his hand or get an autograph. After some confusion he found someone who spoke a bit more English, who told him “Oh, they are all excited to meet the man who wrote CANDY!  They all loved it.” 

And so the Meredith memo allowed Earl Kemp to give us the name of another famous writer behind one of the Nightstand pen names. There are 47 William Kane books (four of them appeared under the byline William King when, during a court case, the publisher changed everybody’s name for a while.)  It is not known exactly how many of the 47 Ben wrote, but we know he was the first William Kane. Several of the books have his familiar professional style; some of the later books have a decidedly different style. The William Kane books appeared from late 1962 to early 1967, when they stop. Joel Haas suspects his father was not writing any more of these by 1966-67, but there could have been a surplus of available manuscripts for that pen name. At a book a month, 47 titles is almost four years worth of books. A staff member at Scott Meredith also confirmed that he is “100% certain” that Ben Haas was one of the Nightstand writers.

Not wishing to give away too many local secrets, some of the William Kane books that seem to be set in the South are described as taking place somewhere in the “Southwest”. Kane tells us the purely small-Southern-town KKK story SEXPLOSION is taking place in the “Southwest”.  SIN CITY SLAVES takes place at a thinly-disguised “Southwestern” Army base called Fort Channing, across the river from Gryffon City . Remembering that the gryffon is a mythical bird like the phoenix is the key to the real location in the deep South, where Fort Benning GA is right across the river from the real “sin city”, Phenix City AL. Ben had trained at Fort Benning during his service in the Army. SIN CITY SLAVES, Nightstand Book 1650, was the William Kane book I remember reading that suggested there was a bright and talented writer behind the pen name. The story centers on three soldiers: Captain Lattimer Chase, Second Lieutenant Lewis Payne, and their lusty platoon Sergeant Walt Martini; and their lives and loves in the honky tonk bars and strip clubs along Main Street . Investing these characters with much more emotion than the average Nightstand Book, the author achieves the difficult task of making us care about what happens to them. The action climaxes at a live sex show, just like the one in William Kane’s RED LIGHT SISTERS, published three years later in 1966 but obviously written by the author of  SIN CITY SLAVES. When you are writing a story that requires an obligatory sex scene every 20 pages or so, the live sex show setting provides plenty of opportunities to meet that quota. Some Nightstands have a happy ending tacked on that feels phony. SIN CITY SLAVES achieves its ending very naturally, everything falling into place from the narrative instead of arriving out of left field.  SIN CITY SLAVES was the second Nightstand by William Kane. I suspect that the first one, FLESH ADDICT, Nightstand 1613 from 1962, was Ben’s first book for this publisher. It deals with the effects of a clinical university study on pornography on the students who have to collate and index the material, especially on wide-eyed innocent lass Dorian Kay. Unfortunately the study is headed up by a megalomaniacal sex fiend. FLESH ADDICT becomes a study on pornography’s place in society:

“But, he wondered, could you ever handle pornography in a dispassionate way? Wasn’t it something that appealed to the darker reaches of the human psyche, the places in the mind that were purely instinctual and defied all rules of reason and dispassionate conduct? Handling pornography, he thought wryly, was like trying to find a container for a universal solvent. No matter how carefully you insulated it, the stuff always seemed to eat its way through whatever protective measures you set up, and to play havoc with anything it touched. Just as it had played havoc with Dorian Kay.”

The publisher always retitled these, FLESH ADDICT is pure Nightstand (their first book was LOVE ADDICT). If they had asked me to title this I’d have called it THE PICTURE OF DORIAN KAY.

I think that Ben Haas also had something to say about his years writing as Kane in his 1973 novel DAISY CANFIELD. The protagonist, Danny Rush, has an affair with a vacationing school teacher named Paula Murphy.  Paula dreams of being a writer:

“She was the craziest woman. What had she said, lying on his arm? ‘Sometimes I’d like to write a book. A pornographic book.’

‘You mean a dirty book?’

‘Why not?’

“The thought aroused him. She went on: ‘After all, you’ve got a captive audience. You can say anything you want to say, no holds barred, no matter how wild or esoteric, as long as you put in enough sex to keep ‘em reading. And you don’t have to learn how to write to do it. I think it would be a lot of fun.’ Then she gave that soft deep chuckle that he liked so much. ‘Of course, there’s the matter of the necessary research. But then, I’ve got you.’

“She could stay home and write those stories…If she sold one a month, that was near five thousand a year…”    

Several of the William Kane stories take place in “ Hazen City ”, a large Southern town that first appears as the setting for one of the earliest Kane books, HOUSEWIFE CALL GIRL, Bedside 1213.  When one of the students breaks free at the end of FLESH ADDICT, he relocates to Hazen City . It also appears in two 1962 Midnight Readers:  SEXECUTIVE and LUST LOTTERY. Then, four years later, Hazen City is the location of Danny’s Place, the titular tavern in THE TRYSTING PLACE, Leisure LB1141.

My current theory is there must have been at least two William Kanes. The first one, who we now know was Ben Haas, wrote (or supervised the ghostwriting of) the early softcore books. The second Kane writes like a hardcore porn book veteran (somebody along the lines of Paul Little or Richard E. Geis). I think the second Kane wrote later titles like SIN-DEEP LOVER and SIN SAFARI. I say this because the earlier Kanes are character-driven stories that actually have plots. In the course of telling a story, they describe the seemingly realistic sex lives of the characters. The later Kane books are peopled by types who exist for no other reason than the outrageous and unbelievable porn stereotypes they wallow in, like the nymphomaniac in SIN SAFARI who sexually exhausts every man in the whole village in one evening. Keep in mind this is nothing but a guess based on reading all the Kanes. Perhaps the first Kane just evolved as the times changed and adult paperbacks edged toward the plotless X-rated movies and books that were to come as the industry retooled (that’s a pun) in the 1970s. There was no need for anything more than the simplest of plots (the pizza delivery guy arrives and he’s got a large pepperoni) because that audience had no interest in the plot.

William Kane’s novels were identified by their sexy cover paintings by such artists as Robert Bonfils, Harold McCauley, Tomas Cannizaro, and the late Darrel Millsap. The covers were often racier than anything going on inside the book, and were surely a major contributor to the success of these paperback originals. 

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5

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 The 3 editions of KKK - and a story from the same author writing as William Kane.

The checklist of William Kane books that follows will give more information on all of the titles published under that pen name.

One of the greatest testimonials to the talent of Ben Haas can be experienced simply by looking at the size and scope of the checklist of all his books that follows. He was a world-class author, and at the same time he was one hell of a paperback writer.

LASSITER

Another recent development in the literary life of Ben’s books appeared on a website posted by the family of Peter Germano, a writer who had written some of the Lassiter series as Jack Slade for Harry Shorten.

According to HAWK’S WESTERN SERIES & SEQUELS, the ghost writer for LASSITER #5: A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE was Ben Haas. This book was also listed on the CONTEMPORARY AUTHORS entry for Ben Haas (and I think Ben himself was the source for their list). However, James Reasoner notes on his blog that when the family of Peter Germano listed which Jack Slade books Germano had written, they included A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE. And there is a German web site called Wildwester that lists the Lassiters, crediting A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE to Peter Germano and a different Lassiter title, HIGH LONESOME, to Ben Haas. I’ve read both books and find the stalwart A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE to be densely plotted solid storytelling in the Ben Haas style. HIGH LONESOME, which borrows the familiar plot of RED HARVEST / YOJIMBO / A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, reads like a different author – his dirty lowdown Lassiter is a totally unique character, and all sex scenes are described using only words never used in this way in any Haas novel (or for that matter in any earlier Lassiter story); words like “bulling” and “straddling”. Prostitutes are referred to not as prostitutes but as “crotch thumpers”.  The Germano website says that Peter Germano was also the “Jack Slade” who wrote a Lassiter called THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG, a book that has countless stylistic similarities to HIGH LONESOME.  But HIGH LONESOME is not on the Germano list.

Ben’s sons remember their father receiving a stack of copies of A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE in the mail. They have never heard of HIGH LONESOME.

Trying to review the Lassiter books for this article, I noticed a dearth of information, and a lot of confusion, about the history and authorship of that series, so I have prepared the Lassiter checklist that follows the Ben Haas checklist. I believe it proves who wrote A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE.

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John Benteen’s FARGO is modeled after Lee Marvin’s soldier of fortune in THE PROFESSIONALS.

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Avon 1966 movie tie-in for THE PROFESSIONALS with Lee Marvin as “Fardan” at upper right.

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The 1974 Award Books edition of THE PROFESSIONALS uses cover art from the UK WILD BUNCH at right, disguising Warren Oates, William Holden, Ben Johnson & Ernest Borgnine with beards.

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Tandem UK 2nd pr THE WILD BUNCH by Brian Fox (W.T. Ballard) from 1973 casts the Bunch as a rock band with Ben Johnson’s rifle looking more like an electric guitar.

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Lynn Munroe Books