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House Names

Entry updated 8 December 2022. Tagged: House name, Theme.

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Floating Pseudonyms invented by a publishing company and regularly made available to or imposed upon its authors. They were usually created to protect a literary or intellectual property owned by the publisher and to which various writers contributed. One of the earliest was "Noname" employed by the publisher Frank Tousey on the Frank Reade and Frank Reade, Jr series of dime novels. The use of house names became particularly prominent when the single-character hero Pulps proved popular, starting with The Shadow from Street & Smith in 1931. All of the lead stories in The Shadow magazine bore the by-line Maxwell Grant and most of these were written by Walter Gibson but others were by Lester Dent, Bruce Elliott and Theodore Tinsley. The name Kenneth Robeson was used on the Doc Savage novels, most of which were by Lester Dent: other contributors included William Bogart, Norman Daniels and Alan Hathway. Virtually all of the hero pulps employed house names, from Curtis Steele for Operator #5 and Grant Stockbridge for The Spider to Brett Sterling for Captain Future (unusual in that it was used only towards the end of the series).

House names are also sometimes used as a convenience by publishers to conceal the fact that an author has more than one story in a given issue. This can lead to bibliographic confusion, in that if one author's identity is discovered it may be assumed they wrote all the stories under that name. This became a particular problem with the Standard Magazines alias Will Garth which was applied, pretty much at random, to stories by Otto Binder, Norman A Daniels, August Derleth, Edmond Hamilton, Henry Kuttner, Mort Weisinger, Manly Wade Wellman and doubtless others. A bibliographic problem arose when the name was used on the film novelization of Dr Cyclops (1940), and since Kuttner had just published a short story "Dr Cyclops" (June 1940 Thrilling Wonder) the book was long believed to have been by him, though it is now thought to be by Alexander Samalman, one of the editors at Standard Magazines.

The use of house names was at its most extreme and most devious at the Ziff-Davis magazines edited by Raymond A Palmer. They have never been satisfactorily unravelled and all records are now believed lost. In these cases most pseudonyms which became house names were originally used by an individual writer but then became farmed out to others, adding to the confusion. Alexander Blade, for example, the most common house name, was originally used by David Vern (see David V Reed) but soon appeared on work by almost all the regular Ziff-Davis contributors, including the serial "The Eye of the World" (June-July 1949 Fantastic Adventures) written by Don Wilcox. Both P F Costello and Gerald Vance were originally the personal pseudonyms of William P McGivern but were later used by Chester H Geier, Rog Phillips and others. E K Jarvis was the alias of Robert Moore Williams until used by others in the 1950s. S M Tenneshaw was the alias of William L Hamling, and he took it with him when he began Imagination, but it has been used by several other writers. Ivar Jorgensen, sometimes misspelled Jorgenson, was originally the pen name of Paul W Fairman, but in later years it was used by Howard Browne, Harlan Ellison, Henry Slesar and Robert Silverberg, the latter usually in collaboration with Randall Garrett. Silverberg once quipped that he started out enjoying the work of Ivar Jorgensen and grew up to be him. Most of the work under these and other Ziff-Davis house names has yet to be accurately attributed. It is believed that Leroy Yerxa wrote almost the entire December 1943 issue of Fantastic Adventures with stories under house names except for one, Morris J Steele, which was usually the pen name of Raymond A Palmer himself but was here used by Berkeley Livingston.

The Futurians also used house names under which they wrote singly or in collaboration. S D Gottesman, for instance, was mostly Cyril Kornbluth on his own, or in collaboration with Frederik Pohl or with Pohl and Robert Lowndes. Harry Dockweiler adopted the pen name Dirk Wylie for himself but most of the stories under that name are either collaborations with Frederik Pohl and/or Cyril Kornbluth or, in one case, by Pohl alone.

House names have continued to be used extensively, especially in the UK 1950-1965, when they were frequently employed by mass-production houses like Curtis Warren or Badger Books to conceal the fact that a small team of writers was producing huge numbers of books in whatever genre the firm required. John Brunner's first novel, which remained unidentified for almost thirty years, appeared under the house name Gill Hunt in 1951. The anonymity of house names also provides opportunities for abuse. The name Peter Saxon was used primarily by W Howard Baker and only occasionally by Wilfred McNeilly, but in the 1970s McNeilly claimed that most of the Saxon books were by him.

Since the whole point of a house name is to keep identities secret, there are almost certainly many more not yet identified and probably many in use today which have yet to be discovered. [MA/JC/PN/DRL]

see also: Victor Appleton; William Arrow; James Axler; Vektis Brack; Jeffrey Lord; Clyde Mitchell; Richard R Montgomery; John E Muller; Don Pendleton; Roy Rockwood; Roy Sheldon; Barton Werper; Karl Zeigfreid.


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