Steve Fisher

Born in 1912 in Marine City, Illinois, Fisher was thirteen when he sold his first story to a magazine. At sixteen he joined the Marines. He was still in the service when he began to publish stories and articles in US Navy and Our Navy. Discharged from the Marines in Los Angeles in 1932, Fisher stayed in L.A., where he continued to write for US Navy, for which he was paid one cent a word. He was also, by this time, writing for a number of sex magazines. In 1934 he moved to New York where, despite near destitution, he continued to pursue a career as a writer, and met, for the first time, his friend Frank Gruber.Prior to his arrival in New York, Fisher had corresponded with Gruber, but the two had never met. It was in the Manhattan office of Ed Bodin, an agent who represented both authors, that the writers finally crossed paths. They, of course, hit it off immediately, and left Bodin’s office on Fifth Avenue just below 23rd Street, on their way to Greenwich Village where, in Washington Square Park, they talked for three hours about their hopes, ambitions and their writing.Over the years, the two men would remain close. Gruber, some fifteen years older than Fisher, was from a small farming town in Iowa. Already a prolific pulp writer, he counted amongst his friends the future father of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard (the latter once told Gruber that his shift from science fiction to religious fiction occurred when he was shot in the neck with a poison dart while travelling up the Amazon). In 1941, the same year Fisher published I Wake Up Screaming, Gruber, under the name Charles K. Boston, published an all-but-forgotten Hollywood satire entitled The Silver Jackass. Much lighter, yet no less bitter than I Wake Up Screaming, Gruber’s whodunit was, in many ways, the other side of the coin from Fisher’s novel. At Warners, Gruber would go on to write the screenplay for Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios (1946) and Bulldog Drummond. A.I. Bezzerides remembers Jack Warner walking into the writers’ building and finding Gruber, Fisher and himself not at their desks, but on the floor shooting craps. He looked at his three writers, turned and walked away, knowing there was little he could do about such recalcitrance.Gruber and Fisher constituted something of a two-person mutual admiration society. At a party for the release of The Blue Dahlia, Gruber nearly came to blows with his hero Raymond Chandler when the latter said some unfavourable things about Fisher. The reason for the altercation was that Fisher and Chandler were in dispute over screen credits for The Lady in the Lake. Chandler was convinced that his name should have appeared on the screen as well. Though he defended his friend, Gruber would remain a life-long admirer of Chandler’s writing. Foreshadowing Gruber’s run-in with Chandler, Fisher, hearing someone unfairly criticise one of Gruber’s stories in the Black Mask office, launched such an attack on the unfortunate writer that the editor had to throw the Gruber-critic out of the office and declare him persona non grata at Black Mask.Recounting his early days as a writer in The Pulp Jungle, Gruber attests to Fisher’s burning ambition to succeed as a writer, a quality which, at times, assumed humorous dimensions. Such as when Fisher wrote to the New York electricity company, which, because of an outstanding bill, was about to switch off his power, asking them how they would feel if they had turned off the electricity on Jack London. He told them that he too would become a famous writer and they would be ashamed of themselves for cutting off his electricity. But cut him off they did, after which Fisher was forced to write by candlelight. In that same book, Gruber goes on to say that Fisher was most adept at writing romance.
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