An Interview With
  CHARLES NUETZEL

by Lynn Munroe


Lynn Munroe came out to the house several times to do this above interview, recording a lot of conversation. He is a very dedicated fan and collector of books, and is actually in the business of buying and selling hard to find collector's editions of pocket books. He is considered one of the top experts in the field. I can only thank him for the following interview.


American author Charles Nuetzel (pronounced NEWT-zel) was born in San Francisco in 1934. The son of artist Albert Nuetzel, Charles has written over 70 paperback originals under many pen names. When Victor Berch asked me to see what I could dig up about Scorpion Books, I called Nuetzel's agent, Forrest J Ackerman. Both Victor and I had heard Nuetzel had died, and over 20 years have passed since his last book was published. Ackerman surprised me with the news that Nuetzel was alive and well and living in Southern California. Ackerman got me in touch with Nuetzel, which led to this interview:


BAE: Mr. Nuetzel, as I told you on the phone, my friend Victor Berch noticed an error in Warren's OFFICIAL PRICEGUIDE TO PAPERBACKS. There is a listing for Scorpio Books of Chicago, NAC Publications, listing 2 books. But actually it was Scorpion Books of Los Angeles, and there are 8 titles. You wrote all 8 of them under pseudonyms, didn't you?

Nuetzel: Yes. NAC is my initials backwards.

BAE: Did you sell them to the distributor, Golden State News, as a package deal?

Nuetzel: Yes. Bob Pike was doing a line of books for them, and I was selling both my books and my dad's covers to Pike. One day Pike said, "Why don't you cut out the middle man and do it directly?" GSN was a one-man operation: Joel Warner.

BAE: So you sold the whole package to Warner.

Nuetzel: Everything. Wrote all 8 books, wrote all the ads and copy inside, wrote all the cover lines. Dad did all 8 covers, all the art and the paste-ups. My father was a commercial artist for many years. Most of his work was done for the movie studios. Later in his career he did magazine art and paperback covers. It started with me, as a young science-fiction fan, acting as his agent and selling a cover to Ray Palmer at OTHER WORLDS. (The cover was used on one of his publications, SCIENCE STORIES. At that time, 1951-52, I was getting to know Forrest J Ackerman, who later was my agent. And my Dad's agent. When Dad retired from the studios [movie industry, Pacific Title & Arts} he began doing science fiction covers for me. By then I was writing professionally.

BAE: How did you meet Forry Ackerman?

Nuetzel: It was as a result of meeting Ray Bradbury. I met Ray at the Cherokee Bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard in 1951.I was a fan. I was listing every science-fiction story and novel on color-coded index cards. So I knew Bradbury's name. Talking about fandom with Ray led to an introduction to Forry.

BAE: How did you start writing paperbacks?

Nuetzel: I started writing magazine stories. I told Forry I wanted to write for the science-fiction pulps. He told me the pulps were dead and the girlie magazines were the pulps of the 60's. So I started writing stories. The technique was to type a title on the top of the page, pick a pen name, type that down, and start typing straight through. No more than 12 pages hopefully. I trained myself to finish something once I started it. That first year I did about 100 manuscripts and sold about 2 a month. But I sold a fair amount of those others over the years.

BAE: What year did you start writing?

Nuetzel: 1960. My first science-fiction story was "A Very Cultured Taste" in JADE Magazine #1. One magazine publisher, Dave Zentner, was doing a line of adult books. I wrote my first books for him in 1961. Zentner was very good to me. A lot of us learned the book business from him. He could be intense, demanding... well, there are a lot of stories about him. There was a writer named Mike Knerr -

BAE: The guy who wrote SEX LIFE OF THE GODS? (Uptown 703.)

Nuetzel: Yes, Dad did the cover for that. Knerr wrote forsake Books, too. Knerr was a sweetheart but he could talk tough on the phone. Zentner kept delaying on a payment so Knerr called him and said, "If you don't have a check for me I'll come down there with a .45 and kick in the door." So he went down there and they had the check waiting for him. Another night I was writing a book for Zentner like mad. Knerr tells the story that he called me up and said "Let's go out for a drink." I said "OK, but just a second." He heard this maniacal typing for a while and then it stopped and I came back to the phone and said, "OK, I just finished a book, I can go now." That's how we worked, chained to a typewriter. Knerr told me he wrote SEX LIFE OF THE GODS in one week.

BAE: So he wrote under his own name?

Nuetzel: He was one of the few with enough guts to do that. I was too chicken. I wrote too many adult books. Mike only wrote a few. Like Harlan Ellison, he didn't mind putting his own name on the books.

BAE: Even Ellison did a book he didn't put his own name on. But anyway, getting back to Zentner...

Nuetzel: That line was called Epic Books. That's where I met Bob Pike, who got his start working for Zentner. When Pike started his own line he called me and said, "I need a manuscript." I said, "When do you need it?" He said. "Yesterday." So a week later I gave him LOST CITY OF THE DAMNED.

BAE: And that's the first Pike Book, Pike 101.

Nuetzel: Pike wrote the second Pike Book himself, under the pen name Marv Struck. (BEATNIK BALL, Pike 102.) That was a one-man job. He even took the cover photo himself. My next for him was APPOINTMENT WITH TERROR. (Pike 204.)

BAE: In the meantime Pike had published THE COMING OF THE RATS, by another writer. Did you know him?

Nuetzel: George H. Smith. No, never met him. [*author note added August 1997: met George a few years before he died, a very nice fellow.] He had a lot of pen names. Very prolific. My Dad did the cover art for THE COMING OF THE RATS.

BAE: It's unforgettable. I think that cover, and those great FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine covers your father did for Forry Ackerman, are among the best covers of that era.

Nuetzel: He also did LOST CITY OF THE DAMNED at that time. He hated that cover.

BAE: So doing those books for Pike led you and your father to Scorpion Books for Golden State News.

Nuetzel: Joel Warner, right. He was GSN among other things. The way he worked, you'd go to him and get a contract and he'd pay you with an IOU that was cashable in 3 months. But he'd tell you about this company that was willing to cash them immediately for a l0% charge. So you'd go there to get your money right away. Then we found out later that he was a partner with this company too. He had you coming or going. He would use one publishing company for 2 or 3 months then jump to another, then back. He used to play everybody against everybody else. But he got a lot of people started in the business. Milt Luros started with him. Even Dave Zentner did some books for Warner. Some became publishers, then packagers and printers, then wholesalers. The whole thing.

BAE: Luros was Parliament News (Brandon House, Essex House, etc.) and Zentner was Beeline.

Nuetzel: And Epic Books and ESCAPADE Magazine and many others. Warner's partner was a lawyer, Frank Laven. You'd send the manuscript to him and he'd check it out. They were very conservative, they would not let anything pornographic get past. They were very careful, whereas Luros was pushing the edge as far as he could, and Bill Hamling did even more.

BAE: At least until he went to prison for pornography. Your most sought-after book today is QUEEN OF BLOOD [author note: totally non-sexual adaptation of movie script], published by Hamling's Greenleaf Classics (GC 206.) Was that your only book for Hamling's syndicate?

Nuetzel: Yes. Forry gave me Curtis Harrington's script and said "Do a novelization of this screenplay." I did it in l0 days. I'd take one page of the script and expand it into 3 pages of manuscript.

BAE: At the same time Greenleaf Classics published Ed Wood's ORGY OF THE DEAD. Wood of course has become a cult figure today as the director of the worst movies ever made. Did you know, or ever work with, Edward D. Wood, Jr.?

Nuetzel: I don't think so.

BAE: He did a book for Powell, MAMA'S DIARY by Dick Trent. (Powell PP-129.)

Nuetzel: I remember the name. Never worked with him. I worked mainly with the publishers like Zentner and Pike and distributor Warner. And then Gershenson at Book Company of America. I did two books for him, the Hollywood book (WHODUNIT? HOLLYWOOD STYLE, Book Co. of America 008) and an anthology, IF THIS GOES ON.
BAE: I noticed the cover of IF THIS GOES ON (Book Co. of America 015) lists Ray Bradbury as a contributor, and the acknowledgments page lists a Bradbury story called "Almost the End of the World". But there's no Bradbury story in the book.

Nuetzel: I submitted the book with the story in it and to this day I don't know how they managed not to get it in there. I learned about it the first time I thumbed through the printed book at a newsstand. I didn't even know it had been published. At that time the publisher was having great financial difficulty. They didn't want anyone to know about it, but that's why they weren't paying up front. So they rushed the book out and I didn't get the page proofs I was supposed to see. If I had seen those page proofs I would have caught the missing story right away! No one got paid. I have an angry letter here in my files from Asimov about how they treated him. The only writers who got paid were Scott Meredith's clients, because he screamed bloody murder at the publisher all the way from New York. So Marion Zimmer Bradley and Fredric Brown were the only ones who got their checks before the publisher went out of business. Gershenson was a neat guy when the money was flowing. I got the check for the Hollywood book right away. And Dad did a cover for the Van Vogt book for him (PLANETS FOR SALE, Book Co. of America 0113).

BAE: Their first book was by Alvin H. Gershenson. Is that the same guy?

Nuetzel: That's the guy. He was a lawyer, and something of a .... Well, everything he had was leased. He had a home in Beverly Hills, cars, offices, all leased. He didn't trust anybody. The company went out of business and he suddenly disappeared. It turned out everything he appeared to own had all been leased.

BAE: That was the end of Book Company of America. Did you know any of their other writers? Woodrow Olivetti.

Nuetzel: Didn't know him but I was told he got his pen name from his typewriter. I knew Bill Stroup. He lived down in Hermosa Beach then. In fact I sold his book to Gershenson.

BAE: Ah yes, THE MARK OF PAK SAN RI (Book Co. of American 010). Charles, even with the Bradbury story missing and even though the company immediately went under, IF THIS GOES ON remains one of your greatest achievements. What a line-up for an anthology: Richard Matheson, Isaac Asimov, Fritz Leiber, A. E. Van Vogt...

Nuetzel: The Van Vogt story as rewritten for this anthology. I asked him to update it and change the theme to prejudice. The idea behind the book being "if this goes on, this is what will happen." That idea run through every story.

BAE: In addition to the story under your own byline, you reprinted "A very Cultured Taste" under one of your pseudonyms, George Frederic.

Nuetzel: Right. First book appearance. Oh, by the way, Heinlein really didn't like our title. He had written a book called IF THIS GOES ON. His agent wrote back saying the only story Heinlein would even consider submitting was IF THIS GOES ON, a 70,000 word novel! HE was really angry. There was an awful lot of touchiness bout titles then. Nobody seems to care now. I rally didn't steal that one from Heinlein. I liked that concept and couldn't see any other way of saying it. I thought it could have been developed into a TV series at the time. But the Book Company of America was in the process of going bankrupt.

BAE: None of the other authors got paid?

Nuetzel: I don't think I was the only one who got shafted. As far as I know. But that was at the end. At the beginning; it was great. It started with Dad. A friend knew Gershenson and contacted Dad to do covers. This one time it was reversed: Dad got me the job. They contracted me to do the Hollywood book. Powell later reprinted it. (HOLLYWOOD MYSTERIES, PowellPP-133.)

BAE: It was in the late 60's, after the books for Gershenson and Hamling, that you began doing the Powell Books.

Nuetzel: I was doing a series of case history sex books as Carson Davis for Venice Publishing, and the publisher, Dick Sherwin, sent me over to his partner, the distributor, Bill Trotter. We were talking and I showed him IF THIS GOES ON. He wrote my name down and told me he was going to go into publishing on his own. Months later he called me and said he needed books. That time we talked for an hour and I walked out with a packaging deal to edit a series of sciencefiction books for him to be called Powell SciFi. I was given total control.

BAE: Like the Scorpions, a complete package deal. But how did Trotter become Powell Books? Why not just Trotter Books like Bob Pike did with Pike Books?

Nuetzel: Trotter was a direct descendant of the Powell who explored the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell - that Powell. First Trotter was doing sex books he called Tiger Books. He couldn't match my price for original manuscripts so I said, "Fine, we'll give you reprints, as long as we agree my Dad's doing all the covers." So I would take one of my old book sand expand it out a bit. I'd send the book to a typist to be typed out and told her to list any pages that were suited for expansion. I'd get the thing back with the notes and expand those pages. Trotter never saw anything until it was printed.

BAE: You successfully recycled most of your earlier books.
Give us an example of a rewrite for Powell.

Nuetzel: (picking up two books) Well, here's one. BLOWOUT by Donald Franklyn (Powell PP-111) This is the same book as RED LIGHT CAMPUS (Pillow Book 109) by Fred MacDonald. It was expanded. The market had become more pornographic at that time. Morerisque. [That's French for dir-tay.] So we did a line of these, and I tried to give him some quality books for the sciencefiction line. The term SciFi came from Forry, he'd coined it years before, so I thought "Powell SciFi, sounds like a good idea."

BAE: It was a great idea. Even though most modern SF fans discount the phrase SciFi, there are many collectors who cherish all of the Powell Books.

Nuetzel: Bill Trotter was a fun guy to work with. He sent me a check every week and I sent him two books every month. My goal was quality. When Boris Karloff died, I tried to get Trotter to do a book on Karloff. He called up his wholesalers across the country, and they didn't know who Karloff was. He was just a dead actor. Forry could have had the thing at the printers within one month of Karloff's death. So Forry sold it to Ace Books and dedicated it to Bill Trotter and me (laughs). Sort of a jab at Trotter.

BAE: One of the quality books you did as packager at Powell was a reprint of Harlan Ellison's MEMOS FROM PURGATORY. (Powell PP-154.)

Nuetzel: I was doing both quality books (the science fiction line) and the sex book reprints for Powell, so I jumped at the chance every time I could do something of quality. I also thought we should reprint Ellison's GENTLEMAN JUNKIE. That was the name of the other one, wasn't it?

BAE: Yes. Ellison wrote those two books when he was the editor at Regency Books in Evanston, Illinois. His publisher there was William Hamling.

Nuetzel: I had a budget of half his asking price to reprint GENTLEMAN JUNKIE. I remember sitting in his living room while he was finishing his introduction to the Powell reprint of MEMOS FROM PURGATORY. I said, "How about such-and-such a price?" and he said, "NO!!", and that was the end of that negotiation.

BAE: That was a nice touch, having Ellison himself write the new intro.

Nuetzel: That was part of the deal. So was his cover photo. I tried to make him look like the gang members in his book, posing him wearing sunglasses and a black leather jacket. So Harlan supplied us with a new introduction for the 1968 audience. I did the same thing with the Bloodstone book. (GODMAN! by Stuart Byrne writing as John Bloodstone, PowellPP-205.) Byrne said "Why don't you write the introduction? "and I said, "Why don't you do it?" So Byrne wrote it, as Byrne, as if Bloodstone was an old friend of his. We had fun doing gags like that. I used to write cover lines for the

BAE: Donald E. Westlake did the same thing on his book COMFORT STATION by J. Morgan Cunningham.

Nuetzel: The cover artist Bill Hughes did something like that on SLAVES OF LOMOORO (Powell PP-189.) I wrote that one under the pen name Albert Augustus, Jr. That had been my twin brother's name. Dad's full name was Albert Augustus Nuetzel. I picked that pen name right after Dad died.... Anyway, Bill Hughes came in to do the covers after Dad's death. On the back covers I'd write all these cover lines. This one has a quote from Morris Chapnick:

BAE: One of Forry Ackerman's many pseudonyms.

Nuetzel: Right, that was Forry, but I wrote most of these quotes with his ok. So I gave Bill all the lines and when I saw the finished paste-ups, he'd added one!

BAE: There's a blurb at the bottom of the back cover of SLAVES OF LOMOORO recommending this book by William A. Hughes, who of course also did the great cover art.

Nuetzel: He was a great graphics man as well as an artist. After JUNGLE JUNGLE (Powell PP-162) came out, he called me and pointed out that he had put six fingers on one hand of the hero on the cover.

BAE: This is a great cover, but you're right. He's holding a gun, presumably with a hidden thumb, but there are five long fingers sticking out as well.

Nuetzel: Bill Hughes also came up with the title. It collects two stories about the jungle, so he said call it JUNGLE JUNGLE. He had read that repetitive titles stick in the mind, and he was right. We used to rush these books out, which is why you'll find a word misspelled on the back of IMAGES OF TOMORROW (Powell PP-135). "Androids" came out "androids".

BAE: I notice IMAGES OF TOMORROW has an intro by Forrest J Ackerman and a cover blurb by Morris Chapnick.

Nuetzel: A lot of the Powell SciFi series was a two-man effort by Ackerman and Nuetzel. IMAGES OF TOMORROW also has a cover by my father. Last one he ever did. It's my favorite, actually.

BAE: He also did covers under the name Albet. Victor Berch thinks he got that name by combining the first 2 letters of his name with the first 3 letters of your mother s.

Nuetzel: Betty. That's right. Very clever how you guys figure things out. Dad pronounced it Al-bay.

BAE: BLOWOUT takes place in Davidson City and one of your pennames is John Davidson. Does that name have some special meaning?

Nuetzel: I've often wondered where I came up with that penname. John, I know, is for my cousin. Where I got Davidson I don't know. I was using it before John Davidson, the singer. He stole it from me! When you start creating pen names, you are creating contractions and expansions. Shortening or turning your own name around. It's more fun creating a penname than a book. Because you get to create a new author. After I'd written a million words as Carson Davis, even I had trouble remembering which one I was. Not really, but you do create a whole persona.

BAE: Another prolific writer at that time was Charles E. Fritch. Did you know him?

Nuetzel: Only met him a few times. Very nice man. I packaged his book CRAZY MIXED-UP PLANET (Powell PP-1967).

BAE: When you say "packager'", is that the same thing as an editor?

Nuetzel: It's more than that. A Packager many times packages books for various distributors. He gets everything together, sends it to the printer and pays everybody. Some packagers refer to themselves as the publisher. I don't consider Powell my publication, but Powell SciFi was all "mine" that first year. The editor only edits the manuscript. The packager might hire an editor, or do it himself as I did. At one time I did all of the layouts and did a lot of the graphics. I got so good at it that when Leo Margulies came out here he hired me just to do cover graphics. I did MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE for a year, and also CHARLIE CHAN MYSTERY MAGAZINE.

BAE: THORIS was going to be your next book when Powell went out of business. It was never published but you have the cover proof here. May we reprint it with our interview?

Nuetzel: Sure. It was supposed to be the first in a series. I had already written part of the second book. Actually this first one was a reprint of SWORDMEN OF VISTAR (Powell PP-121). Bill Hughes did this cover.

BAE: I notice he signed it in hieroglyphics. Can you translate the hieroglyphics on the back cover for us?

Nuetzel: It says "This story has to be read to be believed. I suggest you read it for yourself. - Charles Nuetzel."

BAE: It would have been Powell 1018N. You also edited Rubicon
Books .

Nuetzel: I only did the last 4 Rubicon Books. The artist Bill Hughes lined it up. He was doing covers for them. As packager I tried to get reliable professionals who had written in other fields but could also write sex books. For example, Stu Byrne did one for me. The publisher wanted amore literary market. It seemed to me the writer who best met all our requirements was Philip Jose Farmer. He had done those kind of books before: his science-fiction novel THE LOVERS, and the Essex House books.

BAE: And the Beacons.

Nuetzel: I got his number from Forry and called with an offer he couldn't refuse, and he did a book for me. There was a penname on it I've forgotten. But then Rubicon went out of business. Somehow the book got to Brandon House and they published it, under Farmer's real name, as LOVE SONG. (Brandon House 6134.)

BAE: And they put a boring cover on it. No cover art. It's a shame you didn't publish it at Rubicon because those books all feature sensational covers by Bill Hughes, which we will show with this interview. Do you remember the authors behind the pseudonyms of the Rubicon Books you packaged?

Nuetzel: The first one, EROTO-THERAPY by Lyle Masters (Rubicon 1(009) was already contracted when I went to work for them. I don't know the author. NYMPHETTE by James Z. Muntz (Rubicon l0l0) was written by an Englishman named Peter Crowcroft. He was an actor, right at that time he was filming ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER with Barbra Streisand. SWAPPING SINGLES (Rubicon 1Ø11), "edited by Howard Dare", was Stu Byrne. SWEET KISS OF YOUTH (Rubicon l0l2), "edited by Geoffrey Neil", was written by Jim Bellah.

BAE: Not James Warner Bellah?

Nuetzel: No, another Jim Bellah. Then we were set to do the Farmer book next.

BAE: I'd like to show these Rubicon covers by Bill Hughes in addition to a sampling of your books. We can't find any paperbacks with your name on them after 1970. What happened?
Nuetzel: My last book was a hardcover, LAST CALL FOR THE STARS, published by Lenox Hill in 1971. My title was ADAPT OR DIE [now published as an e-book under that title at Alexlit.com). They cut 20,000 words. It was also published in England and in Italy. There is no English-language paperback edition. (A later religious book, NOW THE TIME, had been written 20 years earlier.) At that time I stopped writing for the adult market.

BAE: There were a lot of changes in the adult book world
around 1970.

Nuetzel: A lot of changes. There was a recession and several of my publishers went out of business. The sex market also changed drastically. Got a lot more raunchy. The books I wrote are very tame compared to what came out later.

BAE: Why did you stop writing in 1971?

Nuetzel: I dropped dead. No, seriously, there were many reasons that all snowballed. Writing is a brain-bashing process. You have to be obsessed with wanting to sell, and obsessed with wanting to say something. So obsessed that you'd pay any price for it. and money's no longer an issue. Except that you have to be paid to make the writing legitimate. Vanity press books don't count. When you find someone who is willing to pay for it. then it counts. Getting it in print is what it's all about. wanting to say something to the public. How you say it depends on what the market demands. In the sex field, you wrote what you had to write. I started writing what I wanted to write about, not for a contract. That was mistake #1. Write what's commercial. If you can't, forget it. There's a difference between an author and a writer between an artist and a hack. Stopping writing is a slow process. I burned out doing so much in 1969. I'd written 5 million words. When I turned 40 I stopped drinking and stopped writing. I had already moved out of Los Angeles. When I had said everything I wanted to say, I stopped.


Charles Nuetzel lives in California with his wife of 30 years, Brigitte. A "self-styled hack writer". Nuetzel found work in other occupations. He keeps a business card to remind himself. It says "Charles Nuetzel - Retired Author".
 


The above text was published in a publication for collectors of pocketbooks: BOOKS ARE EVERYTHING, Vol. 6 No.1 WHOLE NUMBER 25. The publisher used the cover of my "Swordmen of Vistar" for the cover of this issue. At the bottom of the Contents page the publisher wrote:

"THIS TWENTY-FIFTH ISSUE OF 'BOOKS ARE EVERYTHING' IS DEDICATED TO "CHARLES A. NUETZEL. A SHY, SELF-STYLED WRITER WHO HAS CERTAINLY LEFT AND INDELIBLE MARK ON VINTAGE PAPERBACK COLLECTING....MANY THANKS FROM ALL THE THOUSANDS OF COLLECTORS OF VINTAGE PACKER BACKS."


NOTE FROM CHARLES NUETZEL: A very nice tribute, I thought.
 

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