Frank Gruber

Frank Gruber (born February 2, 1904, Elmer, Minnesota, died December 9, 1969, Santa Monica, California) was an American writer. He was an author of stories for pulp fiction magazines. He also wrote dozens of novels, mostly Westerns and detective stories. Gruber wrote many scripts for Hollywood movies and television shows, and was the creator of three TV series. He sometimes wrote under the pen names Stephen Acre, Charles K. Boston and John K. Vedder.

Frank Gruber
Born(1904-02-02)February 2, 1904
Elmer, Minnesota, United States
DiedDecember 9, 1969(1969-12-09) (aged 65)
Santa Monica, California, United States
GenreWestern, detective fiction, pulp


Gruber said that as a 9-year-old newsboy, he read his first book, "Luke Walton, the Chicago Newsboy" by Horatio Alger. During the next seven years he read a hundred more Alger books and said they influenced him professionally more than anything else in his life. They told how poor boys became rich, but what they instilled in Gruber was an ambition at age nine or 10, to be an author. He had written his first book before age 11, using a pencil on wrapping paper.

Age 13 or 14, his ambition died for a while but several years later it rose again and he started submitting stories to various magazines, like Smart Set and Atlantic Monthly. Getting rejected, he lowered his sights to The Saturday Evening Post and Colliers, with no more success. The pulps were getting noticed and Gruber tried those but with no success. As a story came back with a rejection slip, he would post it off again to someone else, so he could have as many as forty stories going back and forth at different times, costing him about a third of his earnings in postage. Erle Stanley Gardner called him the fighter who licked his weight in rejection slips.

Gruber served in the US Army from 1920-1921[1]. Gruber said that, while in the Army, he learned how to manipulate the dice to throw 35 consecutive sevens, but that he had "lost this skill through lack of practice".[2]

February 1927, he finally sold a story. It was bought by The United Brethren Publishing House of Dayton. It was called "The Two Dollar Raise" and he got a cheque through for three dollars and fifty cents.

Answering an ad in the Chicago Tribune, he got a job editing a small farm paper. In September he got a better paid job in Iowa and soon found himself editing five farm papers. He had lots of money and even wrote some articles for the papers but found he had no time to write the stories he wanted to write.

In 1932 the Depression hit, and he lost his job. 1932 to 1934 were his bad years. He wrote and wrote, many stories typed out on an old "Remington" but of the Sunday School stories, the spicy sex stories, the detective stories, the sports stories, the love stories, very few sold, with some companies paying him as little as a quarter of a cent per word. He had a few successes and remained in Mt. Morris, Illinois for 14 months before deciding to head to New York on July 1, 1934.

There were numerous publishing houses in New York and he could save money on postage but this led to him walking miles to deliver manuscripts as he had so little money, not even enough for food most of the time. He stayed in a room in the Forty Fourth Street Hotel ($10.50 per week).

In his book, The Pulp Jungle (1967), Gruber details the struggles (for a long time, at least once a day he had tomato soup, which was free hot water in a bowl, with free crackers crumbled in and half a bottle of tomato sauce added) he had for a few years and numerous fellow authors he became friendly with, many of whom were famous or later became famous.

Early December 1934 and with endless rejection slips, he got a phone call from Rogers Terrill. Could he do a 5,500 word filler story for Operator #5 pulp magazine by next day? He did and got paid. Even better, they wanted another one next month, and another. He was then asked to do a filler for Ace Sports pulp, which sold. Gruber's income from writing in 1934 was under $400. In 1935, his stories were suddenly wanted and he earned $10,000 that year. His wife came to live with him (she had been living with relatives) and he lived the good life, moving into a big apartment and buying a Buick ($750).

January 1942, Gruber decided to try Hollywood, having heard about the huge sums some stories sold for and stayed there till 1946.

Gruber—who stated that only seven types of Westerns existed[3]—wrote more than 300 stories for over 40 pulp magazines, as well as more than sixty novels, which had sold more than ninety million copies in 24 countries, sixty five screenplays, and a hundred television scripts. Twenty five of his books have sold to motion pictures, and he created three TV series: Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan and Shotgun Slade. His first novel, The Peace Marshall, which was rejected by every agent in New York at the time, became a film called "The Kansan", starting Richard Dix. The book has been reprinted many times with total sales of over one million copies.

He bragged that he could write a complete mystery novel in 16 days and then use the other 14 days of the month to knock out a historical serial for a magazine.[4] His mystery novels included The French Key (for which he sold the motion picture rights for $14,000 in 1945) and The Laughing Fox.

He was a social drinker in the thirties (regular parties for authors were alcohol only with no food provided), being too busy to become a hard drinker, but later just about gave up alcohol.

See also


  1. p.145 Powell, S. 100 American Crime Writers Springer, 7 Aug 2012
  2. Current Biography 1941, p. 353
  3. "No Soft Soap About New And Improved Computer Games". Computer Gaming World (editorial). October 1990. p. 80. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  4. Current Biography 1941, pp. 352–353
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