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Bhob at work in 1969, photograph by Henry Wessel

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AN INTERVIEW WITH

BHOB STEWART

By Raymond Young

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    I’ll never forget the afternoon in the mid-1970s, a typical suburban day with my hands, eyes and mind fixed on a fanzine I was in the middle of working on. Bruce sat across the room when the telephone rang. The voice on the other end identified himself as Bob Stewart or, rather, Bhob, and said he was from Castle of Frankenstein magazine. My hand over the receiver, I whispered over to Bruce, “I got a guy here who says he’s Bhob Stewart from Castle of Frankenstein.” I drew a blank on the name, but Bruce seemed to know who he was. But then it hit us: he’s from Castle of Frankenstein! I hardly remember what Bhob said after that — he’d just bought a copy of my zine and wanted to comment on it — but I was in awe. Castle of Frankenstein was something of a mentor, its humor, attention to detail and lively spirit had a direct influence on my writing and graphic artwork. A lot of that had to do with Bhob’s involvement, which he describes in the following interview conducted in the late 1970s. Outside of Castle of Frankenstein, he was a low key but ubiquitous and vital presence in the underground press, science fiction and comic book fandom, and a tireless supporter of the works of Wally Wood, Jack Kerouac, Cornell Woolrich and Dennis Potter. He passed away on February 24, 2014 at the age of 77.

Raymond Young: How did you first meet Calvin Beck and work on Castle of Frankenstein?

Bhob Stewart: I landed in New York in 1960 with about year’s worth of experience in commercial art. I bought a copy of Journal of Frankenstein off a newsstand around this time, and it struck me as the sloppiest-looking professional magazine I’d ever seen. The redeeming feature was the magazine’s lean in the direction of fandom. This was a rare quality back then. There was the personal journalism approach of Paul Krasner’s Realist, but the SF pulps with their fan-oriented columnbs were extinct.
    Since I had been involved with science fiction fandom between 1952 and 1955, I had something of an idea of who Beck was, walked over to him at a Phillycon, probably in 1961, and, in the course of conversation, mentioned that I would be interested in doing something on his publication. He gave an affirmative answer, but I didn’t hear from him or run into him again. Instead, in addition to appearing in some off-off Broadway plays and working a variety of jobs, I got involved in doing cartoons for The Realist and Ted White’s fanzine, Void, along with doing the graphic design of Dick Lupoff’s Xero, which Dick folded shortly before it won a Hugo in 1963.

RY: Although he did most of Journal of Frankenstein himself, Beck had some talented people working on Castle of Frankenstein.

Bhob: Back in 1961 and ‘62, when Castle of Frankenstein #1 and #2 were assembled, the true staff consisted of only two people — Ken Beale, who worked on copy, and Larry Ivie, who handled layouts. Ted White also worked, uncredited, with Larry on one occasion: that’s an obvious Ted White lettering design on page sixty-two of CoF #1.
    Shortly after Christmas of 1962, I got a phone call from Ken Beale who said that Larry had left for the holidays, leaving issue #3 partially completed. Cal was worried — unnecessarily, it seemed to me — so Ken had mentioned me, a suggestion I assume prompted by my design for for Xero. In bitter cold, I traveled out to North Bergen, New Jersey, for the first time. I was ready to begin work immediately, but Cal seemed more interested in talking. I recall being both puzzled and irritated by this.
    After what seemed an interminable length of time exchanging pleasantries upstairs, Ken, Cal and I descended the stairs to the basement to begin work. I was astounded to discover that the layout work areas was equipped with almost no professional tools. Instead there were things like grammar school protractors and Woolworth brushes. So I did some of the work back at my apartment in Manhattan and, since Larry had already finished half of the issue, there were only one or two more trips before it was ready for the printer.
    Since I hadn’t expected to get credit, I was startled to see that Cal had me down as ‘art editor’ in the printed mag. To me, it looked pretty wretched and hastily done. Therefore I began work on the next issue simply because, with my name on the masthead, it seemed necessary for me to produce something that didn’t look second rate.

RY: At the same time, you were working in New York.

Bhob: Beginning in the summer of 1963, I started working as the Motion Picture Editor of TV Guide — a low-paying job despite the responsibility. As various duties accumulated, this turned into one of the most exhausting jobs imaginable. I stayed there until the spring of 1967.
    CoF #4 came out, and I was still unhappy with the way it looked. Without my knowledge, Cal had shifted some of the pages around after I’d completed the whole issue. Although I was now learning something about magazine layouts, the typographic design seemed to somehow be beyond my control. Plus, from TV Guide I had quickly learned the knack of writing professional, economical copy. The various aspects of juvenilia in early CoFs left a bad taste.
    Being at TV Guide put me in contact with many picture sources, press releases and promotional contacts, making me realize that the potential of CoF could be much broader. But, at this juncture, I was still treating the whole matter somewhat casually. For one thing, CoF paid even less than TV Guide! CoF #4 has no credit line for Larry Ivie, but that’s one of his layouts on page 29. Larry stopped coming out to Cal’s for reasons unknown to me. Also after #4, I don’t seem to remember Ken being around either.

RY: At this point, was the ‘staff’ of the magazine just you and Beck?

Bhob: During the period of work on #5, Cal’s father died and Cal stopped coming down to his own basement. To help him out of his depression and keep the ball bouncing, I continued to come out on weekends and work. When it dawned on me that I actually was doing the entire magazine all by myself, I began to feel really committed and involved. Although I’m credited as ‘Graphics and Art Editor’ of #5, that is really the first issue copy edited by me. I solicited material from Larry, Dick Lupoff and John Benson, while Cal acquired articles on Peter Lorre. Because of Lorre’s death the issue was delayed to include these articles.
    I requested a spec sheet from Cal’s typographer, the local newspaper, and discovered they had some interesting display faces. I concentrated on giving CoF #5 a consistent look in addition to the upgrade of editorial content. It must be around this time that I began leaving Manhattan on Friday evening, taking the bus to Jersey and returning on Sunday evening. In other words, for several years I worked seven days a week. Nicholas Morgan and Leroy Kennedy, listed as assistant editors in #4, are phony names of nonexistent people. However, John Benson, credited as ‘Assistant Editor’ in #5, is real. He was my roommate at the time, and he later edited and published Squa Tront. As a solution to cutting my workload, I suggested that he edit copy for CoF while I handled the layouts, but, after one or two visits to The Basement, he declined.
    By this time I had familiarized myself with most of the pictures in Cal’s ever-growing files. I struck me that many of these pictures might never see print. Around this time a new director had taken over the Museum of Modern Art’s film collection, instigating a policy of showing every film in the MOMA collection alphabetically. Inspired by this, and dissatisfied with the unorganized film listings in early CoFs, the CoF Movieguide was born, beginning in #6. It was all just a scheme to print the best stills from Cal’s files!
    The mag was now surrounded with a few writers with critical sensibilities, and Cal and I developed an interesting collaborative system. Layouts were done without captions for pics. I would drop a stack of these in front of Cal, who was usually upstairs in front of the TV. He would write outrageous, pun-filled captions which I would rewrite, retype and prepare for the printer. Partially out of this procedure, the mag began to develop its overcrowded look. We also fell into the habit of doing hours of research over totally inconsequential facts, using six-point type to squeeze everything in.

RY: Its jam-packed appearance and fannish attention to detail are among the mag’s best traits.

Bhob: Several outside factors influenced CoF at this time. Jim Warren gave a magazine interview in which he stated flatly that his Famous Monsters of Filmland was cleverly calculated to hit a nine- to twelve-year-old market. When I read this I quite consciously began slanting CoF toward a nine- to sixty-five-year-old market on the theory there are more people!
    Gloria Stavers of Sixteen magazine did a mag interview in which she revealed that Sixteen was designed to have a “high school yearbook look,” so that young readers might get the feeling that they had assembled it themselves. I tried to do the same — not by running photos of readers, which I’d already eliminated as a silly waste of space, but with puns, wild pics and sometimes satire, such as the cover blurb ‘Does Liz know about the night Burton turned into a monster?’ on #7.
    The CoF interviews were launched because of my belief that the Playboy interviews had a lot to do with the success of Playboy. Beginning in #7, the CoF letter column with titles and bylines was directly patterned after the letter columns edited by Sam Mines in the early 1950s for Fantastic Story magazine. Both Cal and I had been letter-hack contributors to Mines’s columns. Susan Sontag wrote her famed essay, ‘Notes on Camp’, and I announced to Cal that we would slant the mag so it would be accepted as ‘camp.’ He scoffed at this, but, in 1965, the Monocle staff, under the pseudonym Niles Chignon, produced a book called The Camp Follower’s Guide which contained a ‘Camp IQ Check List’ — 1. Are you fanatical about egg creams? 29. Are you at The Memory Shop every time a new shipment of old movie stills comes in? 33. Can you recite the starting lineup of the 1945 Philadelphia Athletics? 34. Are you a subscriber to Castle of Frankenstein magazine?

RY: Please, tell me more.

Bhob: Issue #7 marked the first appearance in CoF of actor-writer Barry Brown, in the letter column under the pseudonym of John Trasterson. Barry committed suicide on June 25th of 1978 at the age of twenty-seven. It’s my belief that, had Barry not taken his life, he would have been much, much bigger in films than he was. A role against type, say portraying Montgomery Clift in a bio film, would have put him into the first rank.
    Russ Jones gets no staff credit in #8, but about half of the issue has layouts by him. For a brief period we moved the magazine temporarily to Russ’ studio on 79th Street in the Hotel Clifton in an effort to expedite work. The logic behind this, from my viewpoint, was that I would be able to leave TV Guide on weekday evenings and go directly to Russ’ studio to work on CoF, since I refused to go out to Jersey during the week. Also, not only could Russ do layouts at a demonic speed, but his studio was large, well-lit and outfitted with four or five drawing boards. It almost seemed like we might finally put the mag on a regular schedule.
    Instead, Cal began phoning me constantly, fearing that his magazine was being taken away from him. One fateful night he arrived at Russ’ place to take the mag back. Sitting around Russ’ studio were myself, Russ, Russ’ wife D.G. and Craig Tennis, the talent coordinator of The Tonight Show. Cal and his mother arrived. A few minutes of conversation. The phone rang. While Russ was on the phone with his back to the room, Cal and his mother began frantically stuffing the CoF layouts into a shopping bag. Tennis, D.G. and I sat watching this, speechless. Russ got off the phone. Cal then announced he was taking the magazine back to Jersey, and he did.
    Now, I should explain at this point, that Cal is known to his friends as one of the world’s greatest nonprofessional comedy impressionists. In fact, when he does personalities like Rod Steiger, John Barrymore, Orson Welles or Lou Costello, he is better than most professional impressionists. One night I took Cal to a Comedy Workshop meeting where the entire group raved over his performance and expressed bewilderment that he wasn’t working as a professional standup comic impressionist. I have often wondered what would have happened if Cal had not been in such a weird mood that night at Russ’ studio. Would the conversation have drifted to Cal’s talent? Would Russ and I have asked Cal to give a demonstration for Craig Tennis? Would Cal now be pulling down a fortune performing in Vegas?

RY: And yet you resumed work on the magazine.

Bhob: In 1966 I finally succeeded in getting out four issues. Because Cal had continued to call the mag a ‘quarterly’ when it wasn’t became a matter of some concern for me. TV Guide continued to be a strong influence, leading up to the successful issue #11 with Nimoy on the front cover. Famous Monsters was no influence on what I was doing, because I never read Famous Monsters. FM once claimed that CoF had swiped various FM devices, such as ‘Movie Noosereel’. The truth is that because I didn’t pay any attention to FM, I did not know that Forrest J Ackerman had been coining these same headings. On other occasions, certain ideas similar to FM were actually intended as parody. Instead, I followed the quality film magazines with the notion — which Cal considered preposterous or inappropriate — of eventually having CoF accepted on that level. The closest we came in this direction was a recommendation, early in 1967, by Andrew Sarris in Cahiers du Cinema in English.
    In 1967 there were a number of developments. I began closely following The Oracle and other psychedelic underground publications. CoF #12 was planned as a special psychedelic issue with a Spiderman cover, because I knew Marvel was about to release a black-and-white Spiderman magazine.
    I had been working for Cal on a flat fee per issue basis. In 1967, after leaving TV Guide, I suggested that I might now do CoF on a weekly salary, work fulltime and turn it into a bimonthly. His response was to lower the flat fee! My suggestions that we upgrade the paper stock also fell on deaf ears. My impression was that he did not want to turn the mag into a going proposition. For reasons still unknown to me, the fact that I was now about to do so seemed threatening to him.
    There were other frictions, mainly over a large bill for some stats of lettering. The fact that I was now stepping up the work, daily, meant that he started getting behind in paying me. The lack of money for an editorial budget was also quite frustrating. Apart from the payment to me for my work, I was expected to put together a magazine, without spending anything, by assembling existing material. Naturally, this made it difficult to solicit from writers and artists, since I couldn’t guarantee anyone what or when they might be paid, or even if they would be paid. This explains why the magazine used photo covers during the time I was editor — no one had to be paid.
    The article on Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus in #11 was solicited by me. On the grounds that the author had made a mistake in one sentence, Cal refused to pay for the article, and I wound up paying him out of my own pocket.
    Also, around this time a feud developed between myself and Cal’s mother. My efforts to acquire an assistant went nowhere because, apparently, she resented the presence of people she didn’t know in the house. A former editor at DC, Larry Hama was out a couple of times, but this didn’t turn into a real working situation apart from a few cartoons he did. One CoF reader expressed an interest in layout assistance, but, without my knowledge, Cal phoned her and told her to forget it. At our invitation, a knowledgeable CoF letter writer came out to Jersey so we could discuss his writing a column. When I came upstairs to talk with him, I was subjected to verbal abuse by Cal’s mother, followed by a physically threatening situation of her taking off her shoe and holding it over her head, suggesting she was going to throw it or hit me with it. After this incident, I decided to walk.

RY: I don’t blame you. There are a few stories out there about his mother. I never met her.

Bhob: I left, collected unemployment, worked for Woody Gelman’s Nostalgia Press, did some art and writing at Wally Wood’s studio, took a staff job in Product Development at Topps Chewing Gum. Cal brought out CoF #12 with about ten pages changed and the Spiderman cover replaced with Raquel Welch. A week-and-a-half later the Marvel Spiderman magazine went on sale.
    I left behind some typeset material not yet in paste-ups. Part of my idea of stepping up production entailed getting a lot of type on hand in advance. Instead, this type was parceled out over several issues that followed. With #14, Cal acquired an IBM Composer, but he never bothered to learn how to justify type. [Editor’s note: type that is in straight columns, like the type on this webpage, is ‘justified’ type; type that’s aligned to the left or right with a ragged edge is not.] So it’s easy to spot the new and old material in issues from the late 1960s and early 70s. Any copy which is unjustified was new copy.
    After I left, Cal became much more creatively involved in CoF than he had been before, and had Frank Brunner do some layout work. I returned in 1971 to do #17 in one week, using some of the 1967 type. I returned in 1972 to do #18 in one week, again using some of the 1967 type. I get an Assistant Editor credit on #19, but I had nothing to do with that issue other than writing one brief review. Because of the typos garbling this review, A Clockwork Orange, I began using the pseudonym ‘Marion Fox’ on future reviews typeset by Cal. I did the unaccredited cover painting on #22 after a west coast artist failed to come through at the last minute. I returned in 1974 to edit and layout #23. I returned in 1976 to edit and design #26.

RY: That issue was never printed.

Bhob: Yes, but it exists in finished paste-up form. Too bad it never came out, because it’s one of the best CoFs ever. It has no ads, two-thirds of it is about Star Trek, and the other third is a tremendously entertaining and revelatory interview Barry Brown did with actor Bruno VeSota about a year before VeSota’s death.

RY: Considering all the negative aspects involved, why did you continue working on CoF?

Bhob: I got sucked in by the simple fact that most magazines have different staffs to handle editorial and design. On CoF, I could do both of these jobs myself, a rare and unique opportunity. Later I did it because it was fun. When the fun ended, I left. Through the years, though, Cal and I became friends, which I guess explains why I returned during the 1970s.
    In recent years I have occasionally met young filmmakers, artists and writers who grew up on CoF. Apparently, as well as I can ascertain, the zine picked up many first-time readers with #11. I get a great satisfaction out of hearing how these people were ‘educated’ by CoF when they were in their early teens. I went to schools in the 1950s where popular culture was sneered at. My feeling in the 60s was that Famous Monsters and its imitators were still part of this sneering tradition. What I wanted to do was a magazine which made the statement, ‘popular culture is not to be sneered at.’ These young people who are former CoF readers who are now involved in various creative pursuits make me feel I succeeded in getting this point across.

RY: What of your own taste in film? Were you into horror films as a kid?

Bhob: I have no memory of seeing horror films when I was a child, although I may have seen Catman of Paris in 1946. The 1949 reissue of She (1935) was a stunning experience for me when I was twelve. I also saw Hitchcock’s Rope in 1948 — which I found did such a number on my eleven-year-old consciousness that I went to see all of his films as they were released during the 50s. By 1950 I was into science fiction — sf film, sf magazines, sf comics and sf radio all at once. I was immersed in sf, read every digest-size mag and every sf book in the local library. Between 1950 and 1957 I saw almost all of the sf and fantasy films as they were released. One exception was The Twonky, which I still haven’t caught up with.
    When I came to New York City, though, I spent a lot of time catching up on foreign films and getting involved in the underground film scene. I made an experimental short, The Year the Universe Lost the Pennant, in 1961 which was shown at the Bleecker Street Cinema and other theaters around Manhattan. I appeared as an actor in Joseph Marzano’s underground feature, Man Outside (1965), also in one Andy Warhol reel, and as the ‘Morguekeeper’ in John Semper’s half-hour Tales from the Morgue. I am interested in all films, and one of the objectives of CoF was to cover not just fantasy but b-films and tangential genres.

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Above: Gag title card introducing Bhob in the video, MkTV (1986)

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Text Copyright © 2014 Raymond Young

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F L I C K H E A D