Norvell Page

Norvell Page
Before the Spider—there was Ken Carter! The traumatic events of October 1929 affected millions of lives, changing many for the worse and driving them along paths which otherwise might not have been taken. Slowly and unknowingly, over the course of time, some of these altered lives were changed for the better. Such was the case with Norvell W. Page.

Page had been successfully working for several years as a newspaper crime reporter when the stock market crash in '29 wiped out the financial fortunes of his father, an executive of the Wurlitzer Music Company. Page assumed the responsibility of supporting not only his own wife and son, but both his parents as well. This was not an easy task on a newspaperman's salary, and Page turned to freelance writing to supplement his income. Between 1930 and 1933, Page sold no fewer than 23 stories to such markets as Western Trails, The Underworld Magazine, Detective-Dragnet Magazine, Ten Detective Aces, Black Mask, and The Shadow. But his biggest markets were yet to come.

Into a family of long-standing reputation (his great-grandfather had been Lt. Governor of Williamsburg) Norvell Wordsworth Page was born in Richmond, Virginia, on July 13, 1906. He attended the University of Richmond and later the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, most likely studying journalism. It was while enrolled at William and Mary that Page met his future wife in fellow student Audrey Rohr. The couple had one son, Norvell M., called "Mac."

Leaving the classroom life behind, Page embarked upon a career as a newspaperman in 1924. He found work at his native Richmond Evening Dispatch, and over the next ten years worked for the Cincinnati Post, the Norfolk-Virginian Pilot, and after moving to New York City worked on the New Telegram, the Times, and the Herald-Tribune. He also became a member of the National Press Club.

After Page started selling fiction on a regular basis, he secured the services of literary agent Lurton Blassingame to help place future sales. Page's stories (reportedly the Ken Carter series) came to the attention of Harry Steeger, publisher of Popular Publications. Steeger was looking for someone to pen a new series the company was launching. Page seemed an appropriate choice and thus his relationship with The Spider was born—a relationship that would forever mark Page's life in the annals of pulp history.

In 1934, after several months of writing The Spider, when it appeared his financial future was secure, Page resigned his position as the slot man on the copydesk for the New York World-Telegram and devoted his full time to writing fiction. Over the next twelve years Page authored more than 100 novel-length works, as well as dozens of shorter stories for Popular Publications, Street & Smith and other publishers.

But all good things come to an end. In October 1943 his last Spider novel, "The Spider and Hell's Factory," saw print. This was the final work by Page to appear in the pulps. His wife Audrey passed away that same month and the world of Norvell Page came to a screeching halt.

Perhaps Page knew that the pulps and his job of guiding The Spider were ending. Or perhaps after the death of his wife he felt a need to return "home." Whatever the reason, before the end of 1943 Page had left the New York publishing world and found work in Washington, DC, at the Office of War Information, as a specialist in writing government reports. As the war drew to a close in 1945 and throughout 1946, he authored studies for The Office of War Immobilization and Reconversion.

Page settled comfortably into the Washington lifestyle. He met and married his second wife, Jean Clarke. The skills learned in the newspaper trade, along with the talents he had honed in creating the grandiose and fantastic escapades of The Spider, proved a boon to Page in his new-found role. Working often with technical information and grand, wide-scope plans for future concerns, he wove the material into an understandable format, presented with a careful eye to arranging details.

Page wrote reports for several presidential and congressional commissions including the President's Scientific Research Board in 1947 and the President's Ten Year Health Program in 1948.

His role in Washington grew and Page was served on many notable committees. From 1948-49 he served on the Hoover Commission and from 1951-52 on the President's Materials Policy Commission.

Between 1949 and 1951, Page worked for the Atomic Energy Commission. He served as Chief of the Reports of the Industrial News Branch for the Division of Public Information. In addition, Page also served as editor of the annual reports and of other non-technical publications of the A.E.C.

From 1952-54 he was in charge of planning and directing the Mid-Century Conference on Resources for the Future.

He returned to work in 1954 for the Atomic Energy Commission, resuming his former responsibilities. As well, he again served on the second Hoover Commission from 1954-57.

Norvell and Jean Page arranged to build a new house on ground purchased in Darnestown, Maryland. On August 15, 1961, Page went to the property to stake out the markers for the access road leading to their lot. When Page had not returned for dinner, his wife grew concerned. Going to look for him, Jean found her prone husband. He had suffered a fatal heart attack. His obituary was carried in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other papers the following day.

Yes, the traumatic events of October 1929 altered countless of lives. And to this day, millions of readers of The Spider are that much richer for those events that led Norvell W. Page into the writing profession.

—Tom Roberts

Black Dog Books has collected the Ken Carter stories by Norvell Page as City of Corpses.

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