The Crimson Clown
The Crimson Clown is one of many characters created by Johnston McCulley, better known for Zorro. Over his long career as a pulp writer, McCulley created several serialized characters, some more long-lived than others. I’ve already posted on several of these.
The Crimson Clown was fairly popular during his run, so much so that Street & Smith’s Chelsea House did two hardcover reprints of the first eight stories. McCulley had a tendency to reuse ideas, and you see this in the Clown as well.
The Crimson Clown appeared in 17 stories over a six-year period in Detective Story Magazine from 1926-31. During that time, he was cover-featured on eight stories. After a hiatus, he returned in 1936 in Best Detective Magazine, with a reprint of the first story. The final story appeared in 1944 in Popular Detective. Not sure if this was an attempt to revive the character or not. Both these last two stories were cover features.
The Crimson Clown stories are:
- “The Crimson Clown,” July 31, 1926
- “The Crimson Clown is Cornered,” Aug. 21, 1926
- “The Crimson Clown’s Competitors,” Sept. 4, 1926
- “The Crimson Clown Pursues Himself,” Sept. 18, 1926
- “The Crimson Clown’s Dumb Friend,” April 23,, 1927
- “The Crimson Clown’s Treasure Hunt,” June 18, 1927
- “The Crimson Clown’s Blackmail Trail,” Oct. 29, 1927
- “The Crimson Clown’s Double,” Dec 24, 1927
- “The Crimson Clown’s Winged Loot,” Feb 18, 1928
- “The Crimson Clown’s Matinee,” Sept. 29, 1928
- “The Crimson Clown Scores with a Snore,” Nov. 3, 1928
- “Thubway Tham Meets The Crimson Clown,” (5 parts) Nov. 11 through Dec 09, 1928
- “The Crimson Clown Faces Murder,” May 25, 1929
- “The Crimson Clown’s Return,” Oct. 18, 1930
- “The Crimson Clown – Avenger,” Nov. 29, 1930
- “The Crimson Clown’s Threat,” May 2, 1931
- “The Crimson Clown’s Romance,” May 16, 1931
- “The Crimson Clown,” September 1936 (reprint of the first story)
- “The Crimson Clown’s Return,” October 1944
As noted, Chelsea House reprinted the first eight stories in two volumes. The first four in “The Crimson Clown,” and the second four in “The Crimson Clown Again.” Why they didn’t put out more collections at the time I have no idea. Ramble House has reprinted these two volumes in paperback, and at present this is the only way you can read the stories. As yet, no one has embarked on doing a complete reprint of this character.
You see in the Clown a continuation of ideas from earlier McCulley characters, and elements that would pass onto his future characters. There is a lot of McCulley’s The Man in Purple character from 1921 (and a little bit from The Thunderbolt, 1920-21, and The Avenging Twins, 1923-26).
The Clown is rich bachelor (no fiance like The Man in Purple) and adventurer Delton Prouse. Like the MiP (and The Thunderbolt and Avenging Twins), he steals from the unjustly rich, giving half of his take to charity. His clown outfit is described as a red “onesie” with hood, and he wears a white mask. The outfit you see on the pulp covers is actually incorrect, showing a clown in a red outfit with a white grease-paint face, but the covers on the Ramble House collections is correct. Also like the MiP, he destroys each outfit after using it with special chemicals, to throw off pursuit. Unlike the MiP, there is no assistant like Broph.
A new element to the Clown is he carries a syringe of knock-out drug, which he uses on his victims. At some point, after the stories I have, he starts using a tear-gas gun. A little later, he replaces this with a gas gun which shoots a fast-acting knockout gas. This is similar to the vapor guns used by McCulley’s earlier Black Star, and would later be use by characters like The Bat.
Pursuing the Clown is Detective Dan Donler. And the Clown always gets the better of him and the other cops. Usually the stories end with the Clown destroying his outfit and getting rid of any evidence, then making it seems that Prouse was yet another of his victims. He always gets away with the loot, sometimes still having it on his person and just walking out. A bit much as you’d think this would make him a suspect, or the police would be more thorough in searching for the loot. Oh, well.
As I understand, the final story has The Clown coming out of retirement, so it may have been an attempt at a revival. But maybe the character didn’t hit it off during the war period.
Overall, the Clown is an interesting character. I do wish someone would do a complete reprinting of this character, as well as more of Johnston McCulley’s characters. It’s interesting to see the progression of themes with his characters, and if we could see all of them, this would be great.