H. Bedford-Jones

The King of the Wood Pulps!

bedford-jones_photoHe wrote 80 books and nearly 1400 magazine novels, serials, short stories and novelettes, yet H. Bedford-Jones—quite possibly the most prolific fictioneer of the 20th century—is unknown today except to a small community of collectors and popular culture historians. In his day, his name on a magazine cover guaranteed another edge-of-the-seat adventure for readers and a sell-out issue for the editors who engaged in a bidding war that made Bedford-Jones one of the highest paid writers in his field. Despite his public popularity, Bedford-Jones was an intensely private person. He seldom gave interviews, but with mischievous relish frequently dished out fictitious information about his life and writing career when magazines and biographical reference book publishers persisted. Colleagues like Erle Stanley Gardner, himself a prolific pulp fiction writer before he became world renowned for his Perry Mason mystery novels, regarded HB-J as the greatest writer of adventure fiction since Dumas and Kipling, and he was not far from the truth.

bedford-jones_peoples_191410His adventure stories were set in both historical and contemporary times, in many locales and exotic regions around the world. A life-long reader and collector of history books and biographies throughout the ages, HB-J was highly regarded as a military historian, and often drew on real-life events to give his stories the kind of authenticity and color other writers could not duplicate. He was equally at home writing sequels to Alexander Dumas' tales of the Three Musketeers, as he was writing about fur-trading in northern Canada in the 17th century, or the American West; swashbuckling sea stories, piracy in the Caribbean and on the South China seas, lost civilizations in the teeming jungles of Indo-China and South America, the burning deserts of Algeria and Morocco—his stories spanned the globe.

The man with the imposing name Henry James O'Brien Bedford-Jones was born in Napanee, Ontario, in 1887. Both his father and his uncle were Protestant ministers, as was his grandfather, who migrated from Cork, Ireland, in 1860, and adopted a hyphen between his middle and last names—a tradition HB-J continued. He was raised in the western Canadian provinces and moved to Michigan after one year of college, where, as a reporter for a local weekly newspaper, he became a life-long friend of dime novel and pulp writing legend William Wallace Cook, who helped him break into pulp magazines in 1909.bedford-jones_argosy_191506

From 1910 to about 1913 he lived in Chicago, working alternately as a secretary to a railroad magnate, a newspaper stringer, trade magazine writer, while feverishly grinding out millions of words for the pulp magazines. Between 1914-1922, he wrote more than 3 million words just for People's, in addition to churning out stories for Argosy, All-Story, Blue Book, Short Stories, Adventure, Tip Top, Wide Awake, Top-Notch and scores of other magazines, under his own name and a slew of pseudonyms like Allan Hawkwood, Gordon Keyne, Donald Bedford, John Wycliffe, Margaret Sanderson, Gordon Stuart, and Capt. Michael Gallister, among others.

By 1914 he had moved permanently to the Los Angeles area, though his restlessness caused him to take up temporary residences in Indiana, Chicago, Wisconsin, New York, London, Paris, on and off for more than twenty years. HB-J achieved the notable distinction of being the most voluminous contributor to Blue Book, with 350 short stories and novelettes, and 13 novels and serials. Some of his best-known series in that magazine were "Arms and Men", "Ships and Men", "Flags of Our Fathers," "Warriors in Exile", and "The World Was Their Stage."

His death from heart-failure on May 6, 1949 marked the end of the pulp fiction era.

—Peter Ruber


For more thrilling adventure read The Golden Goshawk by H. Bedford-Jones from BDB.

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