Robert Albert Bloch (April 5, 1917, Chicago – September 23, 1994, Los Angeles) was a prolific American writer, primarily of crime, horror and science fiction. He was the son of Raphael "Ray" Bloch (born 1884, Chicago - died 1952, Chicago), a bank cashier, and his wife Stella Loeb (born 1880, Attica, Indiana - died 1944, Milwaukee, Wisconsin), a social worker, both of German-Jewish descent.
Bloch wrote hundreds of short stories and over twenty novels, usually crime fiction, science fiction and, perhaps most influentially, horror fiction (Psycho). He was one of the youngest members of the Lovecraft Circle. H. P. Lovecraft was Bloch's mentor and one of the first to seriously encourage his talent.
He was a contributor to pulp magazines such as Weird Tales in his early career, and was also a prolific screenwriter. He was the recipient of the Hugo Award (for his story "That Hell-Bound Train"), the Bram Stoker Award, and the World Fantasy Award. He served a term as president of the Mystery Writers of America.
Robert Bloch was also a major contributor to science fiction fanzines and fandom in general. In the 1940s, he created the humorous character Lefty Feep in a story for Fantastic Adventures. He also worked for a time in local vaudeville and tried to break into writing for nationally-known performers. He was a good friend of the science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum. In the 1960s, he wrote three scripts for Star Trek.
Early writing career
During the 1930s, Bloch was an avid reader of the pulp magazine Weird Tales
. H. P. Lovecraft
, a frequent contributor to that magazine, became one of his favorite writers. As a teenager, Bloch befriended and corresponded with Lovecraft, who gave the promising youngster advice on his own fiction-writing efforts. Bloch's first professional sales, at the age of just seventeen, were to Weird Tales
with the short stories "The Feast in the Abbey" and "The Secret in the Tomb". Bloch's early stories were strongly influenced by Lovecraft. Indeed, a number of his stories were set in, and extended, the world of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos
. It was Bloch who invented, for example, the oft-cited Mythos texts De Vermis Mysteriis
and Cultes des Goules
The young Bloch even appears, thinly disguised, as the character "Robert Blake" in Lovecraft's story "The Haunter of the Dark", which is dedicated to Bloch. In this story, Lovecraft kills off the Bloch character, repaying a courtesy Bloch paid Lovecraft with his tale "The Shambler from the Stars", in which the Lovecraft-inspired figure dies; the story goes so far as to use Bloch's then-current street address in Milwaukee. (Bloch even had a signed certificate from Lovecraft [and some of his creations] giving Bloch permission to kill Lovecraft off in a story.) Bloch later wrote a third tale, "The Shadow From the Steeple", picking up where "The Haunter of the Dark" finished.
After Lovecraft's death in 1937, Bloch continued writing for Weird Tales, where he became one of its most popular authors. He also began contributing to other pulps, such as the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. He gradually evolved away from Lovecraftian imitations towards a unique style of his own. One of the first distinctly "Blochian" stories was "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", which was published in Weird Tales in 1943. The story was Bloch's take on the Jack the Ripper legend, and was filled out with more genuine factual details of the case than many other fictional treatments. Bloch followed up this story with a number of others in a similar vein dealing with half-historic, half-legendary figures such as the Man in the Iron Mask ("Iron Mask", 1944), the Marquis de Sade ("The Skull of the Marquis de Sade", 1945) and Lizzie Borden ("Lizzie Borden Took an Axe...", 1946).
In 1939, Bloch was contacted by James Doolittle
, who was managing the campaign for a little-known assistant attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
named Carl Zeidler
. He was asked to work on his speechwriting, advertising, and photo ops, in collaboration with Harold Gauer. They created elaborate campaign shows; in Bloch's 1993 autobiography, Once Around the Bloch
, he gives an inside account of the campaign, and the innovations he and Gauer came up with — for instance, the original releasing-balloons-from-the-ceiling shtick
. He comments bitterly on how, after Zeidler's victory, they were ignored and not even paid their promised salaries. He ends the story with a wryly philosophical point:
- If Carl Zeidler had not asked Jim Doolittle to manage his campaign, Doolittle would never have contacted me about it. And the only reason Doolittle knew me to begin with was because he read my yarn ("The Cloak") in Unknown.
- Rattling this chain of circumstances, one may stretch it a bit further. If I had not written a little vampire story called "The Cloak", Carl Zeidler might never have become mayor of Milwaukee.
Psycho and screenwriting
Bloch became most famous as the author of the novel Psycho
, one of the first examples of modern urban horror relying on realism rather than the supernatural, which was adapted by Joseph Stefano
into the screenplay
for the 1960 film of the same name
, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
. His best-known work as a screenwriter is probably The Night Walker
(1964), which he wrote for William Castle
, although he also penned several scripts for the original series of Star Trek
including "What Are Little Girls Made Of?
", "Wolf in the Fold
", and "Catspaw
". He seemed happiest, among his television work, with his contributions to the Boris Karloff
-hosted series Thriller
Bloch also contributed to Harlan Ellison's science fiction anthology, Dangerous Visions. His story, "A Toy for Juliette", evoked both the Marquis de Sade and Jack the Ripper. In fact, Ellison's own contribution to the anthology was a direct follow-up of Bloch's, and was titled "The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World".
Bloch died in 1994. He was cremated and interred in the Room of Prayer columbarium at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Writings on Bloch
There is an essay on his work, with particular reference to the novels Psycho
and The Scarf
, in S. T. Joshi
's book The Modern Weird Tale
(2001). Joshi examines Bloch's literary relationship with Lovecraft in a further essay in The Evolution of the Weird Tale
In addition, Randall D. Larson has authored three reference books about Robert Bloch: The Robert Bloch Reader's Guide (1986, a literary analysis of Bloch's entire output through 1986), The Complete Robert Bloch (1986, an illustrated bibliography of Bloch's writing), and The Robert Bloch Companion (1986, collected interviews). An issue of Paperback Parade magazine (No. 39, August 1994) contains two articles by Larson on colecting Bloch - "Paperblochs: Robert Bloch in Paperback" and "Robert Bloch in Paperback".
An earlier reference work by Australia's Graeme Flanagan, Robert Bloch: A Bio-Bibliography (1979) includes other valuable material including interviews with Bloch and memoirs by fellow writers such as Harlan Ellison, Mary Elizabeth Counselman and Fritz Leiber.
A compilation of Bloch's Cthulhu Mythos fiction, titled Mysteries of the Worm, was published by Chaosium with commentary by Robert M. Price.
A new essay collection focussing on a range of Bloch's work is Robert Bloch: the Man Who Collected Psychos, edited by Benjamin J. Szumskyj (McFarland, forthcoming 2008).
Books and Media
- The Opener of the Way (1945)
- Sea Kissed (1945)
- Terror in the Night (1958) (note: published in a double volume with the novel Shooting Star)
- Pleasant Dreams: Nightmares (1960)
- Blood Runs Cold (1961)
- Nightmares (1961)
- More Nightmares (1961)
- Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper (1962)
- Atoms and Evil (1962)
- Horror 7 (1963)
- Bogey Men (1963)
- House of the Hatchet (1965)
- The Skull of the Marquis de Sade (1965)
- Tales in a Jugular Vein (1965)
- Chamber of Horrors (1966)
- The Living Demons (1967)
- Dragons and Nightmares (1968)
- Bloch and Bradbury (1969)
- Fear Today, Gone Tomorrow (1971)
- House of the Hatchet (1976)
- The King of Terrors (1977)
- The Best of Robert Bloch (1977)
- Cold Chills (1977)
- Out of the Mouths of Graves (1978)
- Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of (1979)
- Mysteries of the Worm (1981)
- Midnight Pleasures (1987)
- Lost in Space and Time With Lefty Feep (1987)
- The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch: Volume 1: Final Reckonings (1987)
- The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch: Volume 2: Bitter Ends (1987)
- The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch: Volume 3: Last Rites (1987)
- Fear and Trembling (1989)
- Mysteries of the Worm (rev. 1993) from Chaosium books
- The Early Fears (1994)
- Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies (1998)
- The Lost Bloch: Volume 1: The Devil With You! (1999)
- The Lost Bloch: Volume 2: Hell on Earth (2000)
- The Lost Bloch: Volume 3: Crimes and Punishments (2002)
- The Reader's Bloch: Volume 1: The Fear Planet and Other Unusual Destinations (2005)
- The Eighth Stage of Fandom (1962)
- Out of My Head (1986)
- Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography (1993)
- Robert Bloch: Appreciations of the Master (1995)