The Night Robert Bloch Almost Went Psycho…

The Night Robert Bloch Almost Went Psycho…

mebob-onset
That night in the fall of 1982 when Robert Bloch was my guest on Creature Features, and he proved to me he had the heart of a small child. It was in a bottle he had placed next to the chair he was sitting in.

…answering all my questions.

A lonely hillside road, of the kind that usually harbors unutterable horrors for the characters in suspense and terror tales, is the only route to the home of Robert Bloch. As one warily drives the tortuous lane that winds through the Hollywood Hills, more specifically Laurel Canyon, searching for unlit street signs and nocturnal pedestrians who tend to loom suddenly out of the darkness, there comes to mind a Bloch anecdote about the killer who threw his murder weapon into a culvert on a lonely hillside road.

Later, after he confessed his crime, police searched the culvert and found not only the gun in question but several murder weapons which, apparently, had been discarded by other criminals with equal dispatch. This very winding road could well be where Bloch got the inspiration for his little tale. And who knows how many other stories of horror and the macabre for which he has become known world-wide.

Bloch’s residence is modest in design but large in size. There are well-tended shrubs and flowers. All very suburbanite, except for the quietude  and the isolation. Bloch, for whom I have been searching,  comes to the front door dressed in a black turtleneck sweater, immediately conveying an air of tranquility.

Perhaps a hint of modesty? Not really. There is nothing modest about this man. The beginning of an ironic smile seems to be perpetually pulling at the corners of his mouth, but it only fully emerges on rare occasion when irony finally smashes home.

Robert Bloch seems to be a man filled with curiosity about me, a man capable of deep introspection. The look of an interrogator who has yet to ask any questions. He looks strangely different from most of his photographs, and he is quick to explain he recently gave up his horn-rimmed glasses for contact lenses. It has resulted, he believes, in an entirely new image. How ironic, I think, he gave up glasses, which tend to make one look literary.

He leads the way into his library, a neat, orderly room where he does all of his writing. He lights up a St. Moritz cigarette in a lengthy holder and sits behind his typewriter which has been covered for the night. The desk is remarkably clean. The only other objects in view: a blotter in the shape of a human skull and a skeleton, a letter opener made to resemble a decomposing corpse. He sips from a glass of lemonade, giving me time to scan the library.

On one wall are a Count Dracula Society Award and a Hugo – the latter presented to him in 1959 at the 17th World Science Fiction Convention for his short story, “That Hell-Bound Train.” In a bookcase are all the publications which contain his writings. The top shelf consists of hardcover anthologies; below those are yellowing pulp magazines from the 1940s and ‘50s. Fantastic Adventures, Planet Stories, those kind of publications from a bygone era. Bloch, not looking bygone at all,  leans back in his swivel chair, indicating he is ready for the interview.

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Boris Karloff, as he looked around the time Robert Bloch visited him in England.

Stanley: One of the things that rocked the world of horror and imagination was the death of Boris Karloff earlier this year.  [Karloff had died in England on February 2, 1969, at the age of 81, of both emphysema and pneumonia.]  Karloff, he made history as the actor who first conceived Universal’s Frankenstein Monster. What was your initial thought, Mr. Bloch, when you heard of his death?

Bloch: My immediate thought was that I had lost a very close friend. The kind it’s difficult to replace.

Stanley: Did Karloff have any personal interests in the supernatural?

Bloch: Despite all those characters he portrayed – no. He was a total skeptic. I remember once that my wife Eleanor and I were visiting his summer place and he took us for a drive through the English countryside. Along the way he pointed to a so-called “haunted house” and told some amusing stories about it, concluding with the comment: “If it’s haunted by anything, it must be by insects.” Still, Karloff had a great love for the literature of the macabre. He had a wide reading background and was acquainted with most of the classic writers of his time. He compiled his own anthologies, you know, and a close examination of them will reveal those writers he thought the most of.

Stanley: What kind of sense of humor did Karloff have?

Bloch: A tremendous sense of humor. On that same drive I was telling  you about, Mrs. Karloff was pointing out tea shoppes and other businesses along the way. Suddenly, Boris leaned out the window and shouted: “Oh look, there’s Ye Olde Woolworth’s.” He didn’t  take himself pompously; he was always self-deprecating. One of the last funny stories told of Karloff concerns a science-fiction film he was making last year in Mexico [this would have been Alien Terror, which would not be released until 1971].  Boris was portraying a scientist of some kind and had a lengthy speech in the final scene that went something like this: “The aliens have left now, but where have they gone? Will they be back? I hope we’ve seen the last of them!” Then he turned to the camera and the crew and added: “Because if they haven’t, we’ll have to do the whole damn picture all over again!”

Stanley: Did he take his films seriously, or did he look upon them as just a way of making a living?

Bloch: That depended on the film. Certainly he took the Frankenstein Monster seriously, for he often said, “Frankenstein was the best friend I ever had. It’s given me everything.” And certainly Karloff appreciated such films as The Body Snatchers and Bedlam. And The Isle of the Dead. However, in his later years Karloff  realized he was a limited actor and became a working professional who would accept almost anything just to keep working. Even though he had to spend most of his time in a wheelchair during his last years, he worked right up to the time of his death.

Stanley: And what was his general attitude toward the horror film genre?

Bloch: Close to my own personal feelings. He felt horror and science-fiction had been degraded by substitutes of shock and sensationalism. He often commented, “There just isn’t enough genuine feeling for the supernatural.”

Stanley: Was there any goal Karloff failed to reach during his lifetime that you are aware of?

Bloch: Yes, there was one unrealized ambition, thought it had nothing to do with films. Karloff, as you know, started as a stock company actor in Canada. From time to time he would take small parts in Hollywood. He did The Criminal Code in 1930. Later he did Arsenic and Old Lace for two years on Broadway. [He was unable to play his role of Jonathan Brewster in the movie version because he was still doing the play when Frank Capra was shooting the footage.]  He also co-starred with Jean Arthur in Peter Pan on Broadway and with Julie Harris in Skylark. But he always had wanted to appear in a West End production in London, which would be the equivalent to our Broadway. By the time it was possible, however, he was too well along in years and couldn’t sustain the night-after-night pressures. But despite not achieving this goal, Karloff, in both thought and action, expressed the attitude that life had always been extra good to him.

Stanley: Since you’re the man who’s given the word “psycho” entirely new dimensions, I wanted to tell you that Calvin Beck, editor of the Castle of Frankenstein magazine, wrote some things about you which I felt you might want to respond to. So if you don’t mind –

Bloch: I want to hear what he said.  I’m ready to give you an answer. Fire away, young man. Fire away!

Stanley: Calvin Beck has said this: “Robert Bloch, you  may have been pretty damned good 17 or 20 years ago, but the quality of your technique has declined and gone heavily commercial. Your zest has dwindled away.” Beck also believes that [screenwriter] Joseph Stefano and [producer-director] Alfred Hitchcock turned an otherwise routine potboiler novel into a very fine film by embellishing it. And he further believes that you, Robert Bloch, have lost your love of art for art’s sake. How do you respond to Beck’s beliefs?

psychocover
This cover of the Robert Bloch novel is just one of dozens that have been published over the decades since it was made popular world-wide by the 1960 feature film made by Alfred Hitchcock.

Bloch: Let’s take that point by point. I don’t think my zest has dwindled in the slightest; I don’t think whatever craft I’ve possessed has diminished at all. Markets have changed. I will say quite candidly that in the past year I’ve written five short stories – three of them haven’t been placed because the markets have changed for that sort of material. I would like to write a great deal more fiction, but there is the problem of market availability. So, I write to specification. Now this is no different, really, from how I wrote 20 or 30 years ago when there were pulp magazines like Weird Tales, Strange Stories, Unknown Worlds and Fantastic Adventures. They wanted a certain kind of story and I wrote those stories. I don’t feel I’ve changed; I feel the times have changed. And they change for every writer. There is no writer living today who will end up ten years later with the same market conditions and the same reading audience and the same media. Now, regarding the film version of  Psycho. Ninety per cent of that movie was my book. There was an extended prologue, showing the relationship between the hero and the woman which was not present dramatically in my book. But the characters and story development remained the same.

Stanley: Could you briefly trace the film’s creation for us?

Bloch: Certainly. When Hitchcock bought the book he bought it blind from my agent in New York. I was not told who bought it. All I received was a flat offer. When Hitchcock bought the rights he had asked if I would be available to write the screenplay. The person he talked to was an agent for the Music Corporation of America. It took that agent three seconds to say, “No, Bloch is not available.” Because at that time MCA wanted one of its own clients to do the writing. Well, someone else got the assignment and handed Hitchcock a treatment that was turned down. He then hired Joseph Stefano, who worked three weeks on a new version. Hitchcock did the rest. From the start I wanted this picture to be made. It was an aggravation to Paramount Studios. It was considered too far out, too shocking, too daring for its time. The studio wanted to change the title, the story, everything. But fortunately Hitchcock had the kind of contract by which he could exercise complete control. I call it power. Strength of character. I like to feel that Psycho the novel contributed to a breakthrough in cinema fare.

Stanley: What was your own personal reaction to the film on first viewing?

Bloch: I can remember the studio screening vividly. Sitting behind me was Hitch and Janet Leigh, who played the girl [in the shower]. When the lights went up, Hitch asked Janet what she thought of the picture. She told him: “When that knife went into me in that shower scene, I could almost feel it.” As for myself, I was very, very pleased. There were many reasons why I was pleased. The first reason: I can remember a silent motion picture, Seven Footprints to Satan, which was made from a popular A. Merritt novel in 1927. When Merritt saw the film he sat there and cried. And after reading the book and seeing the film, I can understand why. There was nothing of the story, characters or concept left in that movie. It was an atrocious disaster, even though it had been directed by Benjamin Christensen, who had also directed Witchcraft, a fine Danish film of 1920. But . . . there was my book, up there on the screen. That is something that seldom happens today. I was also pleased for various tangential reasons. I’d always admired the work of Bernard Herrmann, who did the music for Psycho. And I thought he was at his best in an atmosphere of horror. The fact it was done in black and white pleased me. Certain things have to be done that way for effect. Many so-called horror and psychological suspense films have been ruined by color because color has emotional overtones that sometimes overshadow the essential starkness of black and white. When you get the warm flesh tones you just lose something. Then there is the temptation by some producers to substitute shock color for actual horror. They turn a man green, or show tomato catsup flowing by the bottles. It becomes lurid, unreal, comic-strippish, disgusting in many cases.

Stanley: Bill Castle did that in The Tingler. He inserted a single color sequence in a black-and-white film that showed a bathtub filled with blood.

Bloch: Now, about Calvin Beck’s feeling that I’ve lost my love of art for art’s sake. Unfortunately for the idealistic Castle of Frankenstein editorship, I’ve never had any idea of art for art’s sake. I always approached writing as I approached doing plays in high school. I want to entertain my audience. I want only to entertain. I’ve never had any notion doing anything more than that. If I interject a personal message this is still a form of entertainment rather than an artistic endeavor. I think my primary duty is to satisfy the demands of an audience.

Stanley: Well, whatever Calvin thinks, I wanted you to know this about your work: Nothing I’ve ever read from your pen has been dull. And I’ve been reading you since the days of the pulp magazines.

Bloch: Well, thank you. To me that’s the highest compliment you could pay me. I might be bad, maybe. But dull? Never.

Stanley: Though you did not write the film version of Psycho, you have written a number of motion pictures. The Couch [1962], The Night Walker [1964], The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari [1962], to name a few. Do you have a favorite?

 

pool-stretch1
Robrty Bloch stretched out next to the pool in his backyard, reading a copy of Fantastic Adventures which contained one of his famous Lefty Feep short stories. In 1987 several of these stories were published in the anthology Lost in Time and Space With Lefty Feep.

Bloch: Certainly not Cabinet. In fact, I’ve never seen it. I was displeased with the way the screenplay was revised. [Final credits listed Bloch as screenwriter, which had further angered him.] You see, I used basically the same plot as in the silent film classic, but I updated it into a realistic setting. The dialogue and direction in the first three-quarters of my screenplay version emphasized a real atmosphere. You actually thought this woman was in the hands of some kind of madman. You never realized her aberration until the last of the film. Then the rug is pulled out and we see she is a psychiatric patient and this man is the doctor treating her, and the man she is in love with is really her son. With an added touch that the psychiatrist is perhaps a little crazy, after all. But that’s not quite the way it ended up. You begin to see the constant war between writers and film-makers.

But you asked me for my favorite. I would say the only film segment I have really had any complete enjoyment from is a twelve-minute section of William Castle’s Straitjacket [1964]. It was filmed exactly as I conceived it, and it conveyed precisely the effect I wanted. This is the part in which we establish there is a murderess running around with an axe upstairs in a mansion. The father leaves the wife downstairs and goes up to get ready for bed. Step by step the tension builds because we think something is going to happen. There are half a dozen little places where the audience is quite certain that the axe killer is going to strike. But I keep playing with the audience. Teasing it. Then, when everyone is completely lulled, it happens. Everyone jumps. This is what they want, and this is what I delivered. It’s primarily a matter of timing. And bad timing is what makes so many films misfire nowadays. The director, in many cases, decides to superimpose his own angles and his own tempo on the film, but he rarely knows the medium that well. He confuses suspense with brutal shock. He confuses excitement with gore and he doesn’t know how to build to it. There are too many producers and directors and cameramen who do horror films who invalidate what they are trying to achieve. That’s why for every good film of this sort, there are innumerable bad ones.

Stanley: What about your most recent film, Torture Garden, which starred Burgess Meredith and Jack Palance?

Bloch: They only did abut 60 or 70 per cent of what I had written. There is a general tendency  – I hate to sound repetitive, but it’s true – to confuse visual shock with psychological build-up and this has become so characteristic you grow to expect it. It’s par for the course in this business.

Stanley: Garden seemed terribly muddled. Many things were left unclear.

Bloch: Definitely so. There is a longer version for TV in which there are twelve minutes more of clarification. But even with that, there are still changes I don’t feel are effective. But what’s the use of complaining about it?

Stanley: Now, about your writing for TV. You did some Thriller episodes which came off rather well.

Bloch: In general, TV never quite comes off. There are too many fingers in that particular pie. But Thriller was a different proposition altogether. Almost invariably my first-draft teleplay  was shot exactly as I wrote it. The director didn’t try to change the shots or angles or anything regarding the story.

Stanley: You’ve also done three Star Trek scripts. What are your feelings about that series’  prominent characters?

Bloch: In a series you’re married to certain concepts. You have a continuation hero and secondary hero or heroes. You have a set location. You can seldom stray from that. When you have a star that star must be a prime mover in each story. If you follow a guest star’s viewpoint too closely your star, the star’s agent and the network will object because they’re not paying to build up a one-shot character. And, finally, you are married to the drudgery of a formula. So, your stories go out the window. The rest is watered-down concept.

Stanley: What, in your opinion, was wrong with TV’s Journey to the Unknown?

Bloch: The series [which ran in the fall of 1968 for only seventeen episodes] failed because the producer, Joan Harrison, was boxed in by ABC. I might add that Jack Fleischman, another Fox producer, was not responsible for the fiasco, either. It seems that the network decided early in the game it wanted none of the traditional supernatural elements. It was like doing a Western series without six-guns or horses. Therefore, there was no atmosphere, suspense or any of the other qualities fans of the genre have come to expect.

Stanley: What are you currently involved with in films and TV?

Bloch: Nothing in TV at the moment. Amicus Films of England will soon be releasing a film that is much like Torture Garden in that it consists of four separate short stories of mine: “Method for Murder,” “Living End,” “Sweets to the Sweet” and “The Cloak.” I hate to have to tell you that the film is currently entitled The House That Dripped Blood. But I do pray it will be changed before the release date. (The title was not changed.)

Stanley: Are there any forthcoming series of supernatural, horror or science-fiction to take the place of Star Trek and Journey to the Unknown?

Bloch: There are always rumors of myriad projects, but I’ve heard of nothing definite.

Stanley: Do you think there’s any hope for any more series like Thriller?

Bloch: It may be attempted eventually, but only as a last resort. It’s so much easier for all concerned to go the way of the series – it’s much simpler to write, produce and direct.

Stanley: You’ve written some semi-satirical short stories about Hollywood: “Terror Over Hollywood,” “Is Betsy Blake Still Alive?”, “Sock Finish,” “The Dream Makers.” Do these reflect a certain cynicism toward film-making?

Bloch: More of a love, I think. I started out as a movie man of the silent era. When I was in England recently I joined the National Film Society so I could catch up on a whole lot of old films which I hadn’t seen for forty years. I spent my youth in the Midwest in theaters. The first film that shocked me out of my wits was 1925’s Phantom of the Opera. Lon Chaney had a traumatic effect on me. All during the 1930s I carried on a private romance with Hollywood. Movies were an outlet during the Depression. An escape for millions of Americans. For a dime you saw a double feature. Dream stuff. Escapism par excellence. When I came to Hollywood in 1959 it was like coming into a world I had always dreamed of seeing. It was a great thrill to meet these people, to work with them. To get to know them. I still feel that way. Part of me is still extremely naive – eight years old, wandering around and gawking at the stars. Those short stories you cited. They were written before I came to Hollywood, so they are not tinged with cynicism by any means.

Stanley: And now that you are embedded deeply in the Hollywood community, how do you feel about motion pictures in your genres of choice?

Bloch: I was impressed with 2001: A Space Odyssey, naturally. But I thought it was 90 per cent Kubrick and only ten per cent Arthur C. Clarke. I would like to see the original shooting script some day just to verify whether I am right. Anyway, I felt there were four styles  of science-fiction. The ape sequence and the initial spaceship material was in the old Hugo Gernsback technological style. Everything scientifically accurate and beautifully done. This was written to satisfy the hardcore s-f enthusiasts. The second section, to me, was an American-International parody of the computer, with the Vincent Price overtones. The third dressing up, of course, was for the hippies, and this is the trip through the Stargate – the psychedelic experience. The fourth was metaphysical. The ambiguous finale. So, it was a film done in four divergent styles. Designed to hook just about every potential level of an audience. Commercially this is sound, but I don’t know how aesthetic it is.

Stanley: Is it true that you wife Eleanor never reads any of your stories?

Bloch: (chuckling) It’s true. She doesn’t care to know that side of me. She hasn’t even seen Psycho the movie. In fact, I never discuss with her what I’ve written. While she enjoys Christopher Lee and others as friends, she doesn’t follow their work either.

Stanley: You sold your first story to Weird Tales when you were just 17 years old. Many of those early stories, “Feast in the Abbey” and others, were pretty well considered imitative of the H. P. Lovecraft tradition.

Bloch: I was very definitely a Lovecraft follower and a Lovecraft pupil. He read and criticized those first few stories I did. Naturally I admired his work and so, for the first four or five years, my work was derivative and reminiscent of Lovecraft.

Stanley: In his Searchers of Tomorrow, Sam Moskowitz states: “In science fiction, Robert Bloch felt uninhibited, under no obligation to be anything but himself. In weird fiction the ghost of Lovecraft bound him in a literary straitjacket that would take him years in completely extricating himself from.” Do you agree?

leftyfeep-cover
This is the cover art done by Kenn Davis for the 1987 anthology Lost in Time and Space With Lefty Feep. The title and Robert Bloch’s name were added later.

Bloch: I agree partially. I would say that regarding science fiction, Moskowitz is referring primarily to my Lefty Feep stories, which were broad farces utilizing the Damon Runyon idiom of the early 1940s with fantastic locales. This was the first time I totally cut loose from time-honored horror stories in search of a different style. But I had also done humor in Weird Tales that was just as uninhibited and I had already begun to develop what eventually became my natural style (for better or worse) in Weird Tales. Then there are the mystery and suspense novels. The Scarf was the big breakthrough for me because I hadn’t done anything like it before. I began to inject more and more pseudo-psychology and psychiatry into my works. And nobody has yet discovered that although I’ve dealt  with psychotherapy in 50 or more of my stories, I’m totally unsympathetic to the Freudian concept. Almost in every instance the psychiatrist’s attitudes are exposed or downgraded. And from that, of course, comes the final phase of my career:  writing films and TV shows. To specification, of course.

Stanley: What percentage of your material in the last few years would you say is pure science fiction?

Bloch: Very very little . . . unfortunately.

Stanley: Has, then, the bulk of your stories been in the horror genre?

Bloch: Always has been. I think I’m only a science-fiction writer by sufferance. After the decline of Weird Tales, the sci-fi magazines would print fantasy and label it sci-fi. But I know nothing about science at all. I never have.

Stanley: The same is true of Ray Bradbury.

Bloch: Yes, but Ray is a stylist. That’s his strength. And so he must write a Bradbury story. There is no such thing as a Bloch story. I’ve written in too many fields. Bradbury always consciously plays the role of a child in an adult world. The sense of wonder in a child. The innocence of a child. The insight of a child. This may seem a downgrading of his talent, but it is more an explanation of it. He gives to young people a voice. He is their spokesman. He looks at the Emperor and sees that he is naked. Behind the computer is some poor fellow who has to feed it data. Ray sees only the man, he doesn’t see all the technological front.

Stanley: A moment ago you said there’s no such thing as a Bloch story. Why?

Bloch: I’ve always suffered from a shortage of talent. I’ve very limited. Secondly, I have a very inadequate educational background. I must therefore improvise, invent and augment. Thirdly, I’m faced with the problem that faces every writer: the necessity to keep up with trends. It’s not a matter of growing stale.  It’s a matter of growing out of touch. Actually, empathy is the only strength I have. The ability to put myself inside the characters and understand their motivations. This is a matter of acting in print. I impersonate the people as I write them.

Stanley: What kind of writing schedule do you follow? Do you have a set pattern or do you work only when you feel like it?

Bloch: If I only worked when I felt like it, nothing would ever get done. If I have something going, I sit down at the typewriter at 9 in the morning. I get up for lunch. I keep working until I get tired. When I get tired, I quit. I’ve learned I can force myself to go on, but the next day I’ll have to re-do those pages.

Stanley: How long does it usually take you to write a novel, say, like Firebug or Terror?

Bloch: Usually five or six weeks. I revise as I go. I used to have eyestrain before contact lenses, so I tried to save myself by having as few drafts as possible. I’ve trained myself to write first draft. I’m lazy, you see. And the sooner I get it over with, the more time I have to loaf and complain. If it’s a screenplay I don’t get a good night’s sleep. I write in my sleep. A kind of half-dream, half-awake state. When I get up to my typewriter, suddenly it’s all there again, working at me. I want to get that succulence off my back. That 40-pound monkey of manuscript! I want to get it done with. Not that there’s any craftsmanship involved.

Stanley: How much reading do you have time for nowadays?

racingform-bob1Bloch: In recent years I haven’t been reading one-tenth of what I once read. Or should be reading. I simply don’t have any time.

Stanley: Describe your feelings about the so-called “new wave” of sci-fi writers. Those who seem to be more concerned with style and ambiguity than anything else . . .

Bloch: I’m not sold on it, though right now it’s the vogue. There’s such a deficiency in content and concept. Because I’m so ancient I can reflect on all the great moments in science fiction. I know when sci-fi really began to work. I can cite you half a dozen breakthroughs in concepts that were quite staggering, within a contemporary frame of reference. Isaac Asimov developed the robot stories; A. E. Van Vogt developed things that were based on general semantics theories. Theodore Sturgeon did More Than Human. Alfie Bester came along with The Demolished Man. Phil Farmer with The Lovers. These were always matters of not only technique but ideas that were departures from what had previously been done.

What I’m attempting to say is that in recent years I have seen no such breakthroughs in stories. I have seen stylists come along and adapt style tricks and nuances from so-called mainstream fiction or avante garde fiction. We’ve had nothing to shake up readers or broaden the field. Only stylists. And what are they writing about, really? The atomic holocaust; the end of the world; the reconstructed man; attitudes of aliens; totalitarian societies on other planets. They are still preaching such miraculous new concepts as bigotry, intolerance, brotherhood.

This is all fine and dandy but it is not an explication of the best that could be done. There’s going to have to be some very new directions taken. Not toward outer space, but toward inner space. The strange gray world inside our cranium. That is the microcosm and macrocosm we’ve just begun to touch upon. We must become obsessed with the miracle of man’s thoughts, his consciousness. This to me is where it’s all at. This is what should be happening, baby. When writers turn on themselves to examine the subliminal and think of ESP in terms of cerebral connotation, rather than its external effect, then we’ll have something to wax lyrical about.

Stanley: In many of your stories you paint an ugly portrait of mankind. Why?

Bloch: To me, people in mass are an enigma. I’ve never seen anything constructive performed by a mob. I’ve never seen anything worthwhile performed at a gathering. People seem to lose their humanity in a herd. The baser drives are laid bare. You even see this in PTA groups and Little League teams. It exemplifies all the worst elements of the human condition. I’ve seen too much of that because I worked for many years in the advertising business. And before that I did a great deal of ghost writing for politicians. You have to find the real reasons for seducing a person to buy a certain product or vote for a certain candidate.

readingpsycho-shockedI started writing 35 years ago and, until the late 1950s, was always very much a part of the mass and had ample opportunity to live with it first-hand. Some were very fine people, but others gave nothing to the world and had no desire to do so. They lived for sensations, for kicks, for today only. And in them I’ve never been able to completely excuse these weaknesses. Perhaps this is an unjust viewpoint. I’ve never been victimized, I’ve never been paranoid. My parents were good tome. I suppose I’m just idealistic. I must say this about my writing: You’ll find almost always, in the final analysis, I’m writing a morality piece. My villains don’t triumph. They don’t really enjoy their frustrations or perversions. The grotesqueries that I write about are merely illustrative. I never had believed that anyone who’s read Psycho would want to go out and become another Norman Bates. There’s no percentage in it. [Bloch points toward the bookcase behind him.) You can see my problem as a writer on those shelves there. I’ve written in too many fields and people interested in one don’t know anything about the other. People who read mysteries don’t read science fiction, and vice versa.

Stanley: To wrap this up . . . what advice would you offer to young writers today?

leftyfeep-sketch
Artist Kenn Davis’ caricature of Lefty Feep, based in part on several photographs i had taken of Robert Bloch during the time when we were working on the anthology Lost in Time and Space With Lefty Feep.

Bloch: That which most of us writers try to avoid: Sit down at the typewriter and write! I’ve found that 90 per cent of the would-be writers don’t  want to write. What they want is to be known as writers. They want the label. But the actual act is something they dread deep inside. To me, all writing is communication, self-expression. Or should be. My objection to atonality in music, to glorified Rorschach Tests which pass as pieces of Modern Art, and to so much written today is that it does not communicate. I still believe it is the prime duty of the writer or the artist to hold the attention of an audience. To entertain or to enlighten. I’ve always had this desire to communicate with people. Share a viewpoint, evoke a reaction. The switch, the punch, the gimmick, the mystification, the joke, sight or verbal – even the pun. The slant or twist on the obvious. Beyond that, there isn’t much else to say.

Footnote: There was plenty more to say in years to come. I established a friendship with Bloch and years later he would be one of my guests on Creature Features, discussing the publication of his novel Psycho II. He revealed to me then that when Hitchcock had purchased the rights to the first Psycho book, his agent had not handled the contract properly and he had not been entitled to any monies from movie sequels to Psycho. So, as a form of revenge, he had written Psycho II.

In 1986 I proposed that I print an edition of his Lefty Feep stories . . . tongue-in-cheek fantasies about a racetrack tout who becomes caught up in fantastic situations. The book, Lost in Time and Space With Lefty Feep, was published in 1987. Plans to print two more editions of the remaining Lefty Feep stories from Fantastic Adventures never fully developed because of Bloch’s health issues. In September 1994, the author died of lung cancer at the age of 77.

If only he hadn’t smoked all of those damn cigarettes.

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