The Sax Rohmer Society and The Rohmer
The Early History
There have always been specialist groups and publications devoted to various authors, literary characters, and categories of popular fiction: Sherlock Holmes, the Oz books, the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, dime novels, and so forth. In the late 1960s Douglas A. Rossman, a zoologist at Lousiana State University in Baton Rouge, was looking for such an area that offered the prospect of new and useful study. He had read and enjoyed many of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels in their Pyramid Books paperback editions, as well as non-series novels such as Brood of the Witch Queen and Quest of the Sacred Slipper. Not finding any society or publication devoted to the study and appreciation of Rohmer's works, he decided to fill the gap. On March 20, 1968, Rossman sent out an invitation letter to a network of friends and friends-of-friends. The response was gratifying, and The Sax Rohmer Society came into being, along with plans for the Society's journal, The Rohmer Review. Membership in the Society was initially $1.00 per year, which included two semi-annual issues of the Review.
In looking for material for the first issue of the Review, Rossman got in touch with Robert E. Briney, at that time a mathematician at Purdue University, who had, some years earlier, published a long survey article on Sax Rohmer's works in the magazine Xero, edited and published by Richard A. Lupoff. With minimal persuasion, Briney agreed to revise the article for the first issue of the Review, and also accepted an invitation to join the journal's roster of Associate Editors. When the first issue appeared in July 1968, the editorial staff comprised editor Douglas A. Rossman and six Associates (constituting The Council of Seven?): Ronald M. Bennett, Robert E. Briney, Tom Hammond, Roy V. Hunt, Luther Norris, and Andrew J. Peck. Roy Hunt was a long-time science fiction and fantasy fan and illustrator, who designed the title lettering used on all issues of the Review. Luther Norris was the founder of The Praed Street Irregulars, a society devoted to August Derleth's stories of the Holmes-like Solar Pons, and editor/publisher of The Pontine Dossier. Norris later published a series of chapbooks on Sherlockian and other topics and a portfolio of Roy Hunt's Rohmerian paintings. He also designed and printed an attractive membership card for the Society. Andrew Jay Peck was a budding New York City attorney and an active Sherlockian.
Eight Sax Rohmer Society members are known to have attended the 6th annual Deep South Science Fiction Convention in New Orleans (August 23-25, 1969), although no formal meeting of the Society took place. By January 15, 1969, when issue #2 of the Review was published, the Society had 134 members/subscribers, representing 29 states and two foreign countries. That January also saw the first actual meeting of the Society, appropriately timed to celebrate the first anniversary of the Society∆s founding. Six members assembled at Rossman's home in Baton Rouge and in a local restaurant (Chinese, of course) on January 25th. The gathering included R. E. Briney, who by this time had relocated from Indiana to Salem, Massachusetts, but by a lucky coincidence happened to be attending a professional society meeting in New Orleans, and Clarence John Laughlin, also from New Orleans, a noted photographer whose books, such as Ghosts along the Mississippi, are still highly regarded. The program included a display of John Richard Flanagan's Rohmerian artwork, a quiz, taped episodes from the 1939 Fu Manchu radio serial, and much conversation.
By the time issue #3 of the Review appeared, Ron Bennett had resigned from the staff to attend medical school. With issue #4, Tom Hammond left, and two new names were added to the editorial list, David Braveman and Chris Steinbrunner. Steinbrunner was a film critic, Sherlockian, writer of radio and TV scripts (he sold his first script, to the Shadow radio show, at the age of 17), expert on old time radio and films, active in the Mystery Writers of America, and director of the film program at WOR-TV in New York City. (He and Briney had been in touch sporadically through correspondence for almost twenty years before finally meeting in person at an MWA gathering in 1968.) Another participant in the early history of the Review was subscriber William MacPherson, who compiled a separate "Sales and Swap" page distributed with several issues.
In 1970 two events were held in New York City that could be considered de facto meetings of the Sax Rohmer Society, since the participants included Steinbrunner, Briney, Andrew Jay Peck, and several other TRR subscribers. The first was a "Night with Fu Manchu" on January 25th, sponsored by the Armchair Detective Cinema (run by Steinbrunner). In a crowded ground-floor projection room just off 8th Avenue in mid-town Manhattan, the group was treated to a showing of the MGM film The Mask of Fu Manchu, Chapter One of the Republic serial The Drums of Fu Manchu, "The Vengeance of Fu Manchu" (an episode from the Adventures of Fu Manchu TV series), and several episodes of the "Shadow of Fu Manchu" radio serial. Six months later, on June 20, many of the same people gathered in the same screening room to sit through the entire 15-chapter Drums of Fu Manchu serial.
With issue #5 of the Review, the editorship was turned over to R. E. Briney. That issue (August 1970) listed as Contributing Editors Douglas A. Rossman, Andrew Jay Peck, Luther Norris, Chris Steinbrunner, and David Braveman. This issue and the next still carried the credit line "Edited and published for the Sax Rohmer Society." After that, mention of the Society was dropped, and the tenuous existence of the Sax Rohmer Society as a separate entity was effectively over.
The Review continued its twice-yearly schedule through the end of 1973, then appeared annually for the next three years, with a (so far) final issue, #18, in 1981. Throughout its life, the journal depended on a cadre of faithful and knowledgeable contributors such as Julian Biggers, Evelyn Herzog, Stephen Shutt, James Wade, and others; the generosity of writers and artists such as Leslie Charteris, Jack Gaughan, and Ron Goulart in allowing their work to be reprinted; the indispensable research talents of Bill Lofts in England; and the unflagging encouragement of Elizabeth Sax Rohmer and Cay Van Ash. The production process, in those pre-computer days, was often tedious.
Not everything came out exactly as planned. But all in all, it was an enjoyable and satisfying experience.
Douglas A. Rossman & Robert E. Briney