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by Bamber Gascoigne

Robert Bloch (1917-1994) - also wrote as Collier Young


American crime and suspense writer who acquired fame with his portrayals of psychopaths. Robert Bloch's writing career spanned seven decades of the 20th century. Bloch's best known character is Norman Bates from Psycho (1959), a novel which impact is deeply connected to Alfred Hitchcock's famous screen adaptation from 1960.

"I discovered, much to my surprise and particularly if I was writing in the first person – that I could become a psychopath quite easily. I could think like one and I could devise a manner of unfortunate occurrences. So I probably gave up a flourishing, lucrative career as a mass murderer." (Robert Bloch in Faces of Fear by Douglas E. Winter, 1990, p. 27)

Robert Bloch was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Raphael Bloch, a bank teller, and Stella Loeb, a schoolteacher and and social worker. Bloch's parents were of German-Jewish descent, but did not practice Judaism. "My mother was diminutive and attractive, often described as a "beautiful" girl, probably because of an inner radiance as well as her physical attributes." (Once around the Bloch by Robert Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography, 1993, p. 11) In 1923 the family moved to Maywood and then to Milwaukee. At the age of nine, Block saw his first horror movie, The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney. ". . . when I ran all the way home through the dark after the film ended, the image that floated behind me was the Phantom's face. He kept me company in bed and haunted my dreams." (Ibid., p. 45) Bloch started writing stories while still at high school. Weird Tales became his favorite reading.

Bloch's first appearance in print was a parody of H.P. Lovecraft, entitled 'The Thing', which he wrote for The Quill, published by the students of Lincoln High School. It was accepted by his friend Harold Grauer, a senior student, who contributed humorous pieces to the school's magazine and photographs for its annual. Pretentious Press reprinted the piece in 1993 in a limited edition of 85 signed copies.

After graduating from Lincoln High School, Bloch bought a secondhand typewriter. He was only seventeen he sold 'The Feast in the Abbey' to Weird Tales magazine. ". . . it was a strong debut for the young writer, much more so than his first sale which appeared later: 'The Secret of the Tomb,' a mild fabtasy of a man who discovers his ancestor is a ghoul." ('Yours Truly, Robert Bloch' by Randall D. Larson, in Discovering Modern Horror Fiction II, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, 1988,  p. 64)

Due to the Depression Bloch could not find regular work; between 1934 and 1942 Bloch was a full time writer. He also did some stand-up night club work and sold gags to radio comedians. In 1942 Bloch began to work at the Gustav Marx Advertising Agency, where he stayed for eleven years.

Many of Bloch's early stories show the influence of Edgar Allan Poe or especially of H.P. Lovecraft, with whom Bloch corresponded since 1932. "He merely praised what I did," Bloch said in an interview, "and if he made any criticisms, they were always couched as suggestions and largely were about factual matters." (Speaking of Horror: Interviews with Writers of the Supernatural by Darrell Schweitzer, 1994, p. 18) Impressed with Bloch's tale 'The Man Who Collected Poe' (published in 1951 in the magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries) the Poe scholar T.O. Mabbot suggested Bloch to complete the master's unfinished piece, 'The Lighthouse'. ('Dark Adaptations: Robert Bloch and Hitchcock on the Small Screen' by Dennis R. Perry and Carl H. Sederholm, in Hitchcock and Adaptation: on the Page and Screen, edited by Mark Osteen, 2014, p. 250)

A Portfolio Of Some Rare And Exquisite Poetry By The Bard Of Bards,  Bloch's true first book, was printed by Comet Publications in 1937 or 1938. He published it under the pseudonym "Sarcophagus W. Dribble", but his real name was given at the end of the text. Most of the fiction Bloch created between 1935 and 1938 referenced the Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. In spite of the writer's age, they also show psychological understanding of human nature. Bloch returned Cthulhu Mythos periodically, also as late as 1979, when Strange Eons appeared.

After Lovecraft's death in 1937, Bloch broadened the scope of his fiction. His horror themes included voodoo ('Mother of Serpent's), revenge ('The Mandarin's Canaries'), demonic possession ('Fiddler's Fee'), and black magic ('Return to the Sabbat'). Bloch's first science fiction story, 'The Secret of the Observatory,' was published in Amazing Stories. Bloch also wrote humorous science fiction – he did not know much about hard sciences and considered his work scientific fantasy.

It was Bloch's self-consciously modern and deliberately comic short story 'The Cloak' (1939) that launched his reputation as the most capable writer since Ambrose Bierce. His humorous approach, derived from slapstick comedy, became an inseparable part of his style. Bloch considered comedy and horror as opposite sides of the same coin. He commonly wrote a good pun for the last line, and then built a story around it.

By the mid-1940s Bloch had gone through supernatural themes, and he shifted his interest in psychology. His fiction began to reflect his growing interest in the mind of psychopathic killers, who had entered after WW II widely at the scene of popular culture. In such films as George Waggner's The Wolf Man (1940), Jacques Tourneur's Cat People (1942) and Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), psychiatric theories played an important role in explaining the behaviour of the characters. Bloch's 'Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper' (1943) is one of the most famous pieces about the forefather of all serial killers. The story was published in Weird Tales and has been reprinted in a number of anthologies.

The narrator is John Carmody, a psychiatrist living in Chicago. He meets Sir Guy Hollis of the British Embassy. Hollis has a theory: he supposes that Jack the Ripper did not grow old and asks Carmody's help to capture the killer. In an alley Hollis finds out that his hunch was right. "Never mind the 'John",' I whispered, raising the knife. 'Just call me... Jack.' The adaptation of 'Yours Truly' for radio resulted in Bloch's own radio series, Stay Tuned for Terror (1945), broadcast and produced from Chicago.

The mind of a deranged person was always the subject towards which Bloch was almost obsesively drawn to. The Scarf (1947), Bloch's first novel, was narrated by a young man turned into a serial strangler by a childhood trauma. The story begins with the eerie lines: "Fetish? You name it. All I know is that I've always had to have it with me." Several years passed before the appearance of Bloch's next books. The Will to Kill (1954) was a variation on the Jack the Ripper theme. Rafael de Soto's painting for Ace paperback cover portrays woman lying on a bed, apparently dead, a groggy man stands in the foreground with scissors in his hand.

His breakthrough as a thriller writer Bloch made with Psycho, when Hitchcock acquired the rights to the novel. Bloch was not involved in making the movie. A later project with Hitchcock went nowhere. His agent kept asking payments for writing the script – Hitchcock was reluctant to pay it. Peggy Robertson, who worked with the director for a long time, said: "A look at the records indicates that Hitchcock never asked Bloch . . . to work without pay." (Hitchcock's Notebooks: An Authorized and Illustrated Look Inside the Creative Mind of Alfred Hitchcock by Dan Auiler, 1999, p, 296) At the time of the filming of Psycho, Bloch lived in  Hollywood, where he had multiple assignments from various television companies.

Psycho depicts a seemingly normal small-town resident. Norman Bates, who runs a hotel, has a dual life as a psychotic murder, unsuspected by his neighbors, and ordinary member of the community. Bates reads a passage from Victor W. Von Hagen's The Revolt of the Incas, and has a "conversation" with his mother. Mary Crane arrives at the motel. She has stolen $40,000 and plans to meet her lover, Sam Loomis, in Fairvale. She decides to return the money, but is killed in the shower seemingly by a crazy old woman. Mary's sister Lila and the insurance investigator Milton Arborgast start to look for Mary. Arborgast is killed when he goes to question Norman. Lila contacts Sheriff Chambers who tells that Norman's mother died 20 years ago. Sam and Lila arrive at the motel. Mary finds the corpse of Mrs. Bates in the cellar. Sam rescues Lila. Norman is examined by Dr. Nicholas Steiner. "You see, there is no Norman Bates. Not now. There never was one Norman Bates. He was half Norman, half his mother. Now he's all his mother. He'll probably never be Norman again."

Reputedly the character of Norman Bater was based on Ed Gein, a serial killer. A police investigation of a missing woman led to a Wisconsin farmhouse. There were parts from the bodies of fifteen middle-aged women. Gein kept the body of his long-dead mother in his house. However, Bloch said that he had only vaguely heard of the Gein murders. (Defining Moments in Books, 2007, edited by Lucy Daniel, p. 417) Film sequels of Psycho: Psycho II  (1983, dir. by Richard Franklin), Psycho III (1986, dir. by Anthony Perkins), Bates Motel (TV 1987, dir. by Richard Rothstein), Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990, dir. by Mick Garis, cable network film). NOTE: Janet Leigh's book Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller (1995) chronicles the production of the first screen adaptation.

Bloch's works from the 1950s and '60s helped to tear down the walls separating the horror and crime genres. When the Writers Guild had a strike in 1960, Bloch had to stop writing for five months. After the strike was over, he became a much used scriptwriter in television and film projects in the mystery, suspense, and horror genre. His first assignments were for the Macdonald Carey vehicle, Lock-Up, but he soon wrote for Thriller, Star Trek and Night Gallery, and from 1955 to 1961 for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Since 1959 Bloch produced several novels and nearly thirty collections of stories, scripts for films, and a number of teleplays. For the British film production company Amicus Bloch wrote five films, starting from The Skull (1965), which was based on the story 'The Skull of the Marquis de Sade'. It has been said, that his work  generally contributed to an upgrading of the quality of the company's productions, except for the horror mystery The Deadly Bees (1967). These low-budget films have been mostly forgotten. The noteworthy contributions include The Night Walker (1964), directed by William Castle and starring Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck. In the story the widow of an executive, who was killed in an explosion, is haunted in her dreams not only by her former husband but a mysterious lover who turns up in reality.

Strait Jacket from 1964, directed by William Castle and starring Joan Crawford and Diane Baker, was about a woman who has murdered her husband with an axe. Bloch once said that the best adaptation of his stories was Asylum (1972), directed by Roy Ward Baker; the worst was The Deadly Bees.

Bloch enlarged Psycho into trilogy with Psycho II (1982), in which Norman Bates escapes from the mental asylum posing as a nun, and Psycho House (1990), in which the author suggested that it is the world outside the asylum that has become psychotic. "Violence has become not only a cop-out terms of being presented as self-explanatory – 'this is human nature, that's the way it is, folks' – but it is also a drug. When you dose yourself with it, you find that you need increasingly bigger fixes." (Bloch in Faces of Fear, by Douglas E. Winter, 1990, p. 32)

During his career Bloch won several awards in the field of fantasy (World Fantasy Convention Award in 1975), horror, and science fiction (Hugo Award in 1959), as well as an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1960. He was in 1970-71 president of Mystery Writers of America. In 1990 Bloch received the Bram Stoker Award from Horror Writers of America, and in 1991 the World Horror Convention Grandmaster award. Bloch was married twice, first to Marion Holcombe, they had one daughter. Bloch's first wife suffered from tuberculosis of the hip. After her health deteriorated, Bloch moved her and their daughter Sally Ann to Weyauwega, Wisconsin. The marriage dissolved in 1963 and in 1964 Bloch married Eleanor Alexander, recently widowed.

Robert Bloch died of cancer on September 23, 1994, in Los Angeles, California. "It may be that someday these three novels, The Scarf, The Deadbeat, and Psycho, will be anthologized as a kind of unified triptych, as were James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce – for in their own way, the novels that Robert Bloch wrote in the 1950s had every bit as much influence on the course of American fiction as did the Cain "heel-with-a-heart" novels of the 1930s." (Stephen King in Dance Macabre, 1981, p. 79)

For further reading: Robert Bloch by Randall D. Larson (1986); The Complete Robert Bloch: An Illustrated, Comprehensive Bibliography by Randall D. Larson (1986); Faces of Fear by Douglas E. Winter (1990); Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of "Psycho" by Stephen Rebello (1990); The Robert Bloch Companion: Collected Interviews, 1969-86, ed. by Randall D. Larson and Robert Bloch (1989); Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Biography by Robert Bloch (1993); Speaking of Horror by Darrell Schweitzer (1994); Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, ed. by David Pringle (1998); The Man Who Collected Psychos: Critical Essays on Robert Bloch, edited by Benjamin Szumskyj; foreword by Robert Hood (2009); Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello (2012); 'Dark Adaptations: Robert Bloch and Hitchcock on the Small Screen' by Dennis R. Perry and Carl H. Sederholm, in Hitchcock and Adaptation: on the Page and Screen, edited by Mark Osteen (2014); ‎Letters to Robert Bloch and Others by H P Lovecraft, edited by David E. Schultz and S.T. Joshi (2015); Horror of Personality: Exploring the Gothicisation of Mental Illness in American Fiction of the Long 1950s by Victoria Margaret Madden (thesis, 2019). Radio Plays: Stay Tuned for Terror series 1944-45 (39 scripts). Television plays: The Cuckoo Clock, The Greatest Monster of Them All, A Change of Heart, The Landlady, The Sorcerers Apprentice, The Gloating Place, A Bad Actor, The Big Kick (in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 1955-61); The Cheaters, The Devil's Ticket, A Good Imagination, The Grim Reaper, The Weird Tailor, Waxworks, Till Death Do Us Part, Man of Mystery (in Thriller, 1960-61); scripts for Lock-Up, 1960; I Spy, 1964; Run for Your Life, 1965; Star Trek, 1966-67; Journey to the Unknown, 1968; Night Gallery, 1971; The Cat Creature, 1973; The Dead Don't Die, 1975; Beetles, 1987.

Selected works:

  • Sea Kissed, 1945
  • The Opener of the Way, 1945 (as House of the Hatchet, 1976)
  • The Scarf, 1947 (as The Scarf of Passion, 1948)
    - Huivi (suom. Anna Paljakka, 1969)
  • The Kidnapper, 1954
  • Spiderweb, 1954
  • The Will to Kill, 1954
  • Terror in the Night and Other Stories, 1958
  • Shooting Star, 1958
  • Psycho, 1959
    - Psycho (suom. Kirsti Jaantila, 1960) / Psyko (4. p. 1992) / Psyko (6 p. 2005)
    - Norman: "... my mother, uh... what is the phrase? She isn't quite herself today..." - Norman: "She goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes." Films: 1960, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, music score by Bernard Herrmann, written by Joseph Stefano, starring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Janet Leigh. "Forgotten today are the film's problems with the censors. Scenes like the opening moments with Marion and Sam together in bed (the first such scene in a mainstream Hollywood film), shots of the toilet in Marion's room, and the shower murder, all aroused the wrath of the Production Code censors." (in Novels into Film by John C. Tibbets and James M. Welsh, 1999); remade 1998, dir. by Gus Van Sant, adapted by Joseph Stefano, starring Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche and Julianne Moore.
  • The Dead Beat, 1960
    - Konsertto revolverille ja orkesterille (suom. Kirsti Jaantila, 1961)
  • Pleasant Dreams: Nightmares, 1960 (as Nightmares, 1961)
    - Kauniita unia – parempia painajaisia (suom. 1980)
  • Firebug, 1961
  • Blood Runs Cold, 1961
  • More Nightmares, 1962
  • The Couch, 1962
  • Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, 1962 (as The House of the Hatchet and Other Tales of Horror, 1965)
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1962 (script)
    - Prod. Associated Producers (API), Seven Arts Productions, dir. Roger Kay, starring Glynis Johns, Dan O'Herlihy and Richard Davalos
  • Terror, 1962
  • The Couch, 1962 (screenplay, with Blake Edwards and Owen Crump)
    - Prod. Warner Bros. Pictures, dir. by Owen Crump, starring Shirley Knight, Grant Williams, Onslow Stevens
  • The Eighth Stage of Fandom, 1962
  • Atoms and Evil, 1962
  • Bogey Men, 1963
  • The Plot Thickens, 1963 (TV script)
    - Prod. John Guedel Productions, dir. William D. Russell, with Jay Adler, Arthur Batanides and Linda Bennett
  • Strait-Jacket, 1964 (screenplay)
    - Prod. William Castle Productions, dir. by William Castle, starring Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson
  • Night Walker, 1964 (screenplay)
    - Prod. William Castle Productions, dir. by William Castle, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Judi Meredith
  •  Horror-7, 1965
  • Tales in a Jugular Vein, 1965
  • The Skull of the Marquis de Sade, 1965
    - Film: The Skull, 1965, prod. Amicus Productions, dir. Freddie Francis, starring Peter Cushing, Patrick Wymark and Jill Bennett
  • Chamber of Horrors, 1966
  • The Psychopath, 1966 (screenplay)
    - Prod. Amicus Productions, dir. Freddie Fracis, Patrick Wymark, Margaret Johnston, John Standing
  • The Deadly Bees, 1967 (screenplay, with Anthony Marriott)
    - Prod. Amicus Productions, dir. by Freddie Francis, starring Susazza Leigh, Guy Doleman, Catherine Finn
  • Torture Garden, 1967 (screenplay)
    - Prod. Amicus Productions, dir. by Freddie Francis, starring Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, Beverly Adams, Peter Cushing
  • The Living Demons, 1967
  • The Star Stalker, 1968
  • Journey to Midnight, 1968 (script, with William Abney, Jeremy Paul)
    - Prod. Hammer Film Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, dir. Roy Ward Baker, Alan Gibsonstarring Sebastian Cabot, Joan Crawford and Chad Everett
  • Ladies Day & This Crowded Earth, 1968
  • The Todd Dossier, 1969 (as Collier Young)
  • Chamber of Horrors, 1969
  • Dragons and Nightmares, 1969
  • Bloch and Bradbury: Whispers from Beyond, 1969 (with Ray Bradbury; as Fever Dream and Other Fantasies, 1970)
  • The House That Dripped Blood, 1970 (screenplay)
    - Prod. Amicus Productions, dir. by Peter Duffell, starring John Bennett, John Bryans, Denholm Elliott, Joanna Dunham
  • Sneak Preview, 1971
  • Fear Today, Gone Tomorrow, 1971
  • It's All in Your Mind, 1971
  • Night World, 1972
  • Asylum, 1972 (screenplay)
    - Prod. Amicus Productions, Harbour Productions Limited, dir. by Roy Ward Baker, starring Barbara Parkins, Sylvia Syms, Peter Cushing, Richard Todd. Remade in 1980 as House of Crazies
  • The Cat Creature, 1973 (teleplay, with others)
    - Prod. Douglas S. Cramer Company, Screen Gems Television, dir. Curtis Harrington, with Meredith Baxter, David Hedison and Gale Sondergaard
  • American Gothic, 1974
  • The Dead Don't Die, 1975 (teleplay)
    - Prod. Douglas S. Cramer Company, dir. Curtis Harrington, with George Hamilton, Linda Cristal and Joan Blondell
  • The Best of Robert Bloch, 1977 (ed. by Lester del Rey)
  • Cold Chills, 1977
  • The Best of  Frederic Brown, 1977 (edit.)
  • The King of Terrors: Tales of Madness and Death, 1977
  • The Laughter of a Ghoul, 1977
  • Three Dangerous Ladies, 1977 (script, with others, segment: The Mannikin)
    - Prod. Highgate Pictures, dir. Alvin Rakoff, Robert Fuest, Don Thompson, starring Ronee Blakley, Graham Crowden and Ed Devereaux
  • Reunion with Tomorrow, 1978
  • The Return of Captain Nemo, 1978 (script, with others)
    - Prod. Irwin Allen Productions, Warner Bros. Television, dir. Alex March, Paul Stader, starring José Ferrer, Burgess Meredith and Mel Ferrer
  • There Is a Serpent in Eden, 1979 (as The Cunning Serpent, 1981)
  • Out of the Mouths of Graves, 1979
  • Strange Eons, 1979
  • Such Stuff As Screams Are Made Of, 1979
  • The 1st World Fantasy Convention, 1980
  • Mysteries of the Worm, 1981
  • Psycho II, 1982
    - Psycho II (suom. Tauno Peltola, 1984)
  • Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983 (novelization of screenplay)
  • Night of the Ripper, 1984
  • Out of My Head, 1986
  • Unholy Trinity, 1986
  • Lost in Space and Time With Lefty Feep, 1987 (edited by John Stanley)
  • Midnight Pleasures, 1987
  • The Selected Stories of Robert Bloch, 1987 (3 vols.)
  • Screams: Three Novels of Suspense, 1989
  • Lori, 1989
  • Fear and Trembling, 1989
  • The Robert Bloch Companion: Collected Interviews, 1969-1986, 1989 (compiled and edited by Randall D. Larson)
  • Psycho House, 1990
  • The Jekyll Legacy, 1990 (with Andre Norton)
  • Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, 1991 (short story)
  • Psycho-Paths, 1991 (ed., with Martin Greenberg)
  • The Skull of the Marquis de Sade, 1992 (short story)
  • Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography, 1993
  • Monsters in our Midst, 1993 (ed., with Martin Greenberg)
  • The Early Fears, 1994
  • Robert Bloch: Appreciations of the Master, 1995 (edited by Richard Matheson and Ricia Mainhardt)
  • Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies, 1998 (introduction by Robert M. Price)
  • The Devil with You, 1999 (ed. by David J. Schow)
  • The Lost Bloch, 2000-2002 (3 vols.)
  • Shooting Star/Spiderweb, 2008 (publisher: Hard Case Crime)
  • The Vampire Stories of Robert Bloch, 2019 (edited by Stephen Haffner)

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