paging back through hockey’s pulp fiction with bumps cathaway, iceberg callahan, and beef mulligan

Problems? Star Chicago Condors centreman Vic Paulson has two pressing him, one of which you don’t often see in big-time hockey, while the other one is a concussion — a very hockey problem indeed. Vic, see, stands accused of writing an article in a big Canadian newspaper in which he rudely denigrates the game that’s given him so much — bites the puck that feeds — and now all the hockey world (his teammates included) is mad at him.

Jerry Moad of the Rangers has a concussion, too, thanks to a vicious blindside hit by Eskimos’ defenceman Cyclone Couture, but his main problem is love: the devotion he used to have for hockey has strayed to Nona Velmar.

Willie Tittus? A dandy defenceman for the Black Hawks, his only problem is a bad bout of self-doubt. The predicament for Clarence Tillingworth, new wing for the Blue Demons, is that everybody thinks he’s a coward because he … reads a lot.

Swede Hansen, husky left wing for the Detroit Red Arrows — I can’t remember what his problem is. Lost his memory, maybe, or his nerve, or his house key? Possibly, like Falcons’ centreman Blackie Magee, he has a father problem that’s also very much a coach problem, as in he plays for his hard-bitten dad and just can’t seem to please the old man, no matter how hard he tries.

Can Blackie turn it around? Any hope for Jerry’s head and/or heart? What about Clarence: will he repent his literary sins?

Like the trials and tribulations of all these beleaguered hockey players, the answers to these urgent questions can be found in a new self-published anthology of hockey-minded pulp literature originally published in the U.S. in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.

Compiled by Cambridge, Ontario, historian Paul Langan, Classic Hockey Stories has as its core seven rollicking short stories by writers you’ve (almost certainly) never heard of, from magazines like Ace Sports Monthly and 12 Sports Aces, bearing titles like “Blue Line Blazers” and “Pardon My Puck!” wherein characters yell “Attaboy!” to encourage the hockey players who feature, and “Take him out of there! Smear him! Knock his ears off!” to intimidate them.

Classic Hockey Stories debuted in December; if you’re interested in acquiring a copy, steer over to Langan’s website, here.

Mining a mostly forgotten vein of hockey fiction, Langan lays bare a fascinating geology. T.W. Ford, Theodore Roemer, and Giles Lutz, et al: the (all American) authors included here aren’t exactly household names in the annals of hockey literature, but they were all prolific pulp writers who knew how to get from the start of a story to the end in prose as raw and furious as the action on their imaginary rinks.

Bumps Cathaway, Montreal Cassidy, Beef Mulligan, Iceberg Callahan. Whether they’re memorably named or not, the characters in these stories tend to be colourful, if only roughly rendered. The plotting isn’t always what you’d call sophisticated, and the values on display are often musty antiques. Dialogue from French-Canadian characters sometimes reads (unfortunately) like this outburst from Big Georges Flandreau in “Charge of the Ice Brigade:”

“Always I say to them fallers, Vic Paulson he belong in beeg hockey league. They play you dirty treek somewan, huh? We feex mebbeso, by gar!”

At least the hockey is … not always entirely clichéd and/or implausible in its details and mechanics. Say this: it can be hard to look away from the page once a story like “Blonde Bullet” or “Charge of the Ice Brigade” gets on its careening track.

In December, when I e-mailed Paul Langan to ask him about the book, he was good enough to answer. Our conversation went like this:

What inspired you to put this collection together?

Like most Canadians, I’ve always loved hockey, and I was researching pulp magazines and dime novels. Early on in my life, I read pulp westerns, and I knew there were many other genres of pulp fiction: sci-fi, detective stories, westerns, mysteries. They’re all available online as pdfs now at very low prices. I only came across a few sports pulps, and the vast majority of them were baseball, basketball, football, and boxing stories. Hockey-themed stories were even harder to come by.

What were the challenges of tracking down the stories? How many did you read and consider for the book?

Extremely challenging for me. There are two sides to this issue of finding them. On one hand, there are the easily accessible ones that people have converted to pdfs and offer online at really great — cheap — prices. Then there are the collectors who collect the original magazines in which the stories appeared. These are expensive. I could only find 25 hockey novelettes and stories, and of those I used nine for the book. Finding Canadian- themed stories, or stories with even a hint of Canadiana, was even more difficult. Eventually I gave up looking for inexpensive avenues of finding hockey-themed stories and novelettes from the pulp days and just went with what I had.

Many of these stories are written by American writers for American publications. Do you think they played a part in promoting the spread hockey in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century?

To me, the breakdown of number of stories written on particular sport at that time was representative of where hockey was at that time. If I remember correctly, I believe hockey-themed stories were number six or so among the sports pulps. I doubt the hockey stories influenced anyone.

What’s your opinion of the literary quality of these stories?

Honestly, the stories are not that great. I don’t think the vast majority of people reading the pulps back then bought them thinking this was going to be a great literary experience. It was pure escapism and entertainment before the popularity of TV destroyed them. They’re just like YouTube videos today, I think. If you read the book, just sit back and enjoy the fun.

Do you have a favourite story?

“Charge of the Rink Brigade” is a well-written novel by Joe Archibald, who had a long career and wrote more than 50 novels. They were not on hockey topics, but he was a good writer. I love this one because he has Canadian characters and includes cities like Winnipeg. As the old saying goes, a good story is one that paints a picture. This novel paints a clear picture.

Also, “Stooge for a Puck Pirate” by C. Paul Jackson. This is a sentimental favourite for me: I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, across from Detroit, Michigan. I used to go to Red Wings games in the 1970s and ’80s, some at the old Olympia Stadium.

What was the thing that surprised you most, putting together this project?

There’s a short section at the end of the book on the authors who wrote for the pulps. Researching them, I learned a lot about what writers had to do back then to make a living. They wrote and submitted stories for a variety of genres just to make some money to pay the bills. This definitely reflected in the quality of the hockey stories. With some of them, it seems like they didn’t really know the game. There’s one story where the author wrote several times that one player “blockered” another. He meant to say he “checked” him, but evidently was unaware of that term.

Classic Hockey Stories: From the Golden Era of Pulp Magazine, 1930s—1950s
Paul Langan
(Self-published, 240 pp., $13.66 in paperback)

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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