J. Allan Dunn – Pulp author, Novelist, Explorer, Sailor

[J. Allan Dunn was a prolific pulp writer, playwright, poet, artist, explorer and movie writer, writing over a thousand stories from 1914 to 1941 of which many were published in book form and serialized in newspapers after their magazine publication. He specialized in South Seas and pirate stories, but wrote detective stories, science fiction and westerns as well. More after the jump]

J. Allan Dunn
J. Allan Dunn

Joseph Allan Elphinstone Dunn was born on 21 January 1872 in London into a wealthy Irish family. He was the son of Joseph Holdsworth/Hepworth/Hexworth (I found too many alternate spellings to be sure what the real name was) Dunn and Elizabeth Elphinstone (Miall) Dunn. He was educated at Winchester Public School and went to New College, Oxford, where he got his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1893. Subsequently, he also got the degree of Bachelor of Science. He was a tall (6’ 1’’) and handsome man.
He was interested in travel, adventure and writing, and became a journalist, travelling around the world. He covered the Spanish-American war of 1898 in the Caribbean and the Philippines, and the Russo-Japanese war of 1904. He was a friend of Jack London, and during the Russo-Japanese war they witnessed the Port Arthur bombardment and nearly got shot for breaking away from Tokyo against Japanese regulations.
 He had started on his travels, moving around the China Sea, Hawaii and the South Pacific, and was one of the first white explorers in New Guinea, claiming to have faced death from hostile tribes there. He said:
…White man’s magic saved the day. I traced the tribal totem – a tortoise – on my arm with a stick of soap. Then I set fire to jungle bark fibers with my burning-glass, rubbed the ashes over my arm, and lo, there was the turtle’s outline, showing my kinship with the tribe. Soon I was pressing on, my most thrilling adventure safely behind…
During this period, he got married for the first time, to Grace K. Buchanan, on 15 Dec 1900 in Honolulu. He was the associate editor of Austin’s Hawaiian Weekly at the time. While in Honolulu, he inherited around four thousand pounds from his uncle, the equivalent of half a million dollars today. He built his own yacht and sailed the seas, circumnavigating the world thrice. A description of him at the time from an actor friend of his who visited him:
Dunn lives in a little house, on the outskirts of Honolulu, that was once occupied by the late Robert Louis Stevenson. This is not remarkable, because, according to the Hawaiian landlords, everything on the island was once the home of the famous Scotsman. Dunn has a big wicker chair on his veranda that he occupies most of the time. His writing materials, paint boxes, cigars, canvases and prompt books are piled around within easy reach. He wears, in the privacy of his home, a costume that Is a combination of the native dress and certain portions of the Shakespearean wardrobe that he used while in Janet Waldorf’s company. He writes a bit, paints a bit, acts a bit and altogether enjoys himself mightily all the time.
By 1904-05, he had moved to San Francisco, with his wife, and was a member of society there, staging and acting in plays with his society friends. He was the editor of the Sunset magazine from 1906-07, and advertising manager for the San Francisco railroad. He continued to be a close friend of Jack and Charmian London during this time, staying at their home frequently.
In January 1913, he was caught after having pawned stolen jewellery from his friends and hosts, though no one prosecuted him. His thefts included some pyjamas from Jack London! He claimed that he did the thefts because the magazines he wrote for had delayed payments and he had run out of money.
He divorced his first wife the same year, remarried in September 1913, to Gladys Courvoisier, and moved to Greenwich village, New York. It was Glady’s third marriage; both prior marriages had ended in divorce for cruelty. He started his writing career the same year, starting with a couple of articles in the Saturday Evening Post. His writing career took off, and he was on his way to producing a million words a year.
Gladys Courvoisier Dunn c. 1918
Gladys Courvoisier Dunn c. 1918

He and Gladys had a son on March 13, 1916.  On August 11, 1918, he and Gladys quarreled, and Gladys threatened to kill herself and the child. She rushed to her room, took out a gun and held it to her head. When Dunn called to her, she turned around and discharged the revolver, hitting her son. The child died. She was sentenced to a year in prison. During the trial, and later, Dunn stood by her side. They were separated by 1926 and Dunn was paying her six hundred dollars a month alimony.
Dunn was a member of the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War 1, and was thrice decorated for his actions, attaining the rank of major and staff officer. I could not verify this from military records, though.
I suspect Dunn remarried a third time, because in 1927 there is a news report of him disappearing and his wife searching for him. I cannot find any record of his marriage or the name of his wife at the time. The trigger for the disappearance seems to have been a telegram Dunn received, the message being “Book ordered stop. Not received. Awaiting instruction.”, signed “Given”, and without a return address. Dunn went away the same night, without waking his wife, and could not be found till at least November 4th. I could not find any reports of his return.
He got married one more time, on 30 October 1936, to Loyola Lee Sanford, his agent. He was a director of the Explorers Club, member and vice-president of the Adventurers club, member of the Circumnavigators club and the Advertising Club. He published more than forty novels, and more than two thousand stories in all. J. Allan Dunn died on March 25, 1941.

Bonus: J. Allan Dunn’s signature

J. Allan Dunn's signature

Link to J. Allan Dunn’s books:

1 comment

  1. John Locke who is the publisher of Off-Trail Publications recently put out the collection of Dunn stories called OUTDOOR STORIES. The last time I talked to him at a pulp convention, he said he was writing a biography of Dunn and intended to publish it soon. From what he said and your research above, it looks like he lived an amazing life.

    I've read dozens of Dunn's stories in the pulps, especially ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, SHORT STORIES. I highly recommend his novel, BAREHANDED CASTAWAYS, which has recently been reprinted by Murania Press. It is the greatest desert island castaway story that I've ever read. I breaks all the rules and cliches!

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