[A tip of the Stetson to James Reasoner of Rough Edges for pointing out this excellent forgotten writer who doesn’t have a Wikipedia article. I have only read a few stories of his so far, of which one is a short story from Ranch Romances, but even there the dark, noirish tone of the story stands out. Almost like Cornell Woolrich in the feeling of despair that he’s able to evoke. I’ll be posting that short story this week and keeping an eye open for more stories from him.
|Author H. A. DeRosso (1917-1960)
Image from Gunsmoke magazine, August 1953
H. A. (Henry Andrew) DeRosso was born on July 15, 1917 in Carey, Wisconsin. He was the son of Italian immigrants, Bartolo De Rosso and Giustinia Piazza, who owned a farm there. Bartolo had come to the United States in 1902, possibly from Velo d’Astico. He was the third of five children, and grew up with three brothers and a sister.
He studied at the Hurley High School, and before he graduated from there in 1935, he knew that he wanted to be a writer. He wrote his first story while confined at home with an attack of measles, and since then he had a “burning desire to achieve success as an author”.
From 1937 to 1939, he attended the Gogebic Junior College, where he was an “A” average student in the first semester. While at Gogebic college, he was the editor of the college monthly magazine, The Jaysee Journal. During his tenure, it was ranked high among nearly 600 college newspapers by the Journalism Department, University of Minnesota.
He attended one semester at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1940. All this while, he was writing stories and sending them out to magazines. At Wisconsin, he decided to make one last effort to realize his ambition – he allowed himself one more year, and if he didn’t have a story published in that time, he would seek another profession.
Luckily for us, he sold his first story, Six Gun Saddlemates, in July 1941 to Street and Smith’s Western Story Magazine. This was after he had written nearly 80 stories and attempted to get them published. He was working with a literary agent, and this made the difference. When he wrote his first stories, he had never actually been in the west, and most likely, had never been out of his county. He obtained background material on the west through extensive research, and accumulated a library of western history books to help him write his stories.
I am not sure whether he served in World War 2. In 1941, his draft classification was eligible, but exempt because he had someone depending on him. As he seems to not have married, it was probably his parents. By 1943, he had been reclassified 1-A, which means eligible and selected. His output seems to have dropped in 1944 and 1945, possibly the result of military service.
After coming back, he seems to have worked some time as a farmer, and on other things than writing. In 1946, he went on his first tour of the west with his parents. By 1953, he was producing a steady stream of stories for the western magazines. During that period, he wrote an average of at least 12 stories a year. By one account, he was writing close to 2000 words a day, and managing to sell around two-thirds of them. 1951 saw the publication of his first paperback, Tracks in the Sand, a PocketBook. His second book, .44, was published in 1953.
From 1954, his output seems to have declined till his death seven years later in 1960. Many web sites call his death in 1960 a suicide; I don’t know on what they base this. The only newspaper report I could find of his death states that the coroner ruled that the death was accidental and no inquest would be held. He was living alone when he was found by the man delivering the Sunday newspaper. He was lying near the outside door of a shed, with a .44 caliber pistol on the floor near his body. The coroner concluded that he slipped on a rug and the gun accidentally discharged as he was walking out of the shed. The date of death was estimated to be 14th October, 1960.
The vast majority of his stories were westerns, set in New Mexico, Arizona and California. He wrote a couple of science fiction stories as well, and appeared in Manhunt and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine with mystery stories as well. He mostly wrote novels or short stories, very few novellas. Even the titles of his stories sound like they could fit comfortably in Black Mask – Death Stacks the Deck, This Bullet Has Your Name on It!, Silent Are the Guns, Guns Were Made to Kill With – and some of them sound like the western noir blend they are – She Had Red Lips, He Had a Six-Gun; The Badman and the Bad Girl; Ride a Dead Horse; A .44 Is My Best Friend.
Here’s a short story of his, Hide-Away, that’s out and out noir (courtesy PulpGen.com).
Links to books still available:
I've read many of his stories in the pulps and enjoyed them. Concerning his death, often such gunshot deaths are called accidents or death by misadventure, etc. Also accidently shooting yourself while cleaning or handling your gun. Often these deaths are really suicides but the coroner is reluctant to state suicide without witnesses or a note. I would say probably suicide.
Mitchum could have played some of his protagonists.
Those would have been good – noir movies set in the West. And Mitchum would have been great in those roles, I agree.
Thank you for this information. He was my Mothers Uncle. My sisters and I know very little about him. We didn't know his name, she just said he was a writer.
You're welcome. Glad it was useful, he was a talented writer, and I'm happy he's remembered today. If you have any photos of him to share, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don't think we have any photos. My Uncle, his nephew, spoke a little about him this past weekend at my Aunt's funeral. He said he use to have a brown suitcase with some of his published works. We would like to get together him my Uncle and try and pick his brain for information. Do you have a list of Henry's works? I would like to try and find some of them. As I said, my mother told us very little about him, he was crazy and he wrote like Edgar Allen Poe stories and that he shot himself. After my Mother's parents died in a boating accident, I think she had a falling out with her family. That's why she didn't talk much about them. I'm not sure. I will keep a look out for a photo. Have a good day.
Short stories These stories were published in pulp magazines. If you want to get hold of copies, EBay is usually a good place to look.
Books on Amazon
Those two should be a good start.
Edgar Allan Poe seems like a good comparison. Most of the De Rosso stories i've read have a feeling of impending doom through the story; Cornell Woolrich's stories inspired similar feelings. Drop a line in the comments/email as you learn more about the man or his stories.
Story from PulpGen.com
It's a shame the DeRosso family doesn't know more about him. He actually is fairly well known as one the better hard boiled western authors. There are several collections of his stories available and The FictionMags Index lists his short stories that he wrote. After all these years since his death he still is being read. That says something about his talent.
He also has one original TV tie-in novel to his name; THE REBEL, published by Whitman in their line of books for younger readers. If I could upload a JPG of the cover here, I would, but the image is an easy Google (orange cover with an artist's rendering of Nick Adams in close-up, you'll know it right away) and the book fairly easy to find, which means it sold quite a few copies in its day. (Not to be confused with REBEL OF BROKEN WHEEL by Dean Owen, published by Monarch, also based on the series, nor THE REBEL a years-later book by series creator Andrew J. Fenady that was published as his retelling of the origin story but *not* with any tie-in indicia.)
I grew up in Carey, H. DeRosso's home town. Also, I am am a 2nd cousin to Henry's DeRosso. My grandfather was his uncle. He was my mother's 1st cousin. I shared a couple of meals with him years ago (Late 50's) when I was 20 or so at my grandmother's kitchen table. My grandparents owned a tavern and he was a frequent patron. Lonely and seemingly depressed during this time period, I was told that he frequently talked about ending his life. At the time we dined together, I was aware he was a published author but, regrettably, at that time I had yet to read any of his published works. I did research on him 20 or so years ago and can provide much information. I interviewed his brother, Bruno, a number of years ago and he provided me insight into the life of this nearly forgotten gifted individual. I would be happy to share information on his life with anyone who has an interest . Dan Johnson
I (and I'm sure the readers of this blog) would appreciate any information you can share with us on his life. You can leave information in the comments section. If you want to reach me by email: email@example.com works.
Looking forward to anything you can share about him and his history. It's been a dark mystery to us all.
I'm also interested in anything about his life and work. I hope we will hear from you again Dan. It would be a shame to lose such valuable literary information on DeRosso.
What specific information are you seeking? I can, for example, clarify his status during WW11. He did not serve in the military. It is my understanding he lived with his two elderly parents and maintained their farm. Also, he was never married and had no family of his own that I'm aware of (wife, children). Bear in mind, 60 years have passed since I interacted with him and insignificant items are easily forgotten. Also, regrettably, In the process of moving and downsizing, much of the research Information I had in this regard was discarded I do have an elderly aunt (Henry's 1st cousin) who lived near Henry and knew him personally. She is of sound mind and perhaps can provide specific information. Perhaps we can shed some light on Henry's life. Dan
There are a few questions that strike me:
1. Do you have any idea what or who inspired him to become a writer?
2. How did he end up writing the kind of stories that he wrote? I can best describe them as western noir for their bleakness.
3. What happened to him between 1954 and 1960? Why did his output decline? Was he still writing?
4. What happened to his papers and manuscripts? Does the local library have them?
WHO INSPIRED HENRY A. DEROSSO TO BECOME A WRITER/WHAT MOTIVATED HIM TO TO WRITE THE TYPE OF STORIES HE WROTE? In this regard it's impossible to say with certainty who, if anyone , inspired DeRosso to become a writer. Years ago and recently, I discussed this topic with those who knew Henry personally including his brother, Bruno. No one had a meaningful answer to this question.
Then again, for consideration…… DeRosso's home town of Hurley (Carey same) had a wild, crude past and was considered to be the source of a well-known novel that was published in 1934. The name of the novel is, "Come and Get It" authored by the distinguished novelist, Edna Ferber. Seeking to experience life in this frontier like environment, She had lived in Hurley for a period of time while gathering material for the contents of this novel.
In 1934, when DeRosso first began writing Western stories, his home town, Hurley, was still known as a rough and somewhat lawless community. Known throughout the Mid-West as "sin city", the expression "Hurley, Hayward, and Hell" was a familiar well-known saying at that time. It referred to the numerous taverns and illegal brothels that existed on Silver Street, Hurley's Main through fare. Hayward, also located in northern Wisconsin, was equally notorious for similar reasons.
A half dozen or so iron mines were located in the vicinity of Hurley that employed a large number of miners. For the most part, these were hardy individuals who worked long hours underground extracting ore from the harsh environment of a primitive mine. For many, the taverns and brothels on Silver Street were their hangouts, their main source of entertainment away from the drudgery and danger of the mine.
Equally, and more applicable to the characters in DeRosso's writings were the numerous logging camps that existed in northern Wisconsin at this time. In 1934, the huge tracts of pine forests that once existed in northern Wisconsin were mostly gone. Yet, logging camps were still common during DeRosso's youth. Their main function at that time was to supply the timber that was necessary to maintain the many tunnels associated with a booming underground mining industry.
These loggers, mostly single men who viewed the bleak environment of some primitive logging camp as their only home, were also frequent visitors to Silver Street. Liken to DeRosso's characters in his Western novels, those cowboys whose only home was a crude bunk house on some distant desolate ranch; these loggers were also isolated from society for long periods of time. And like their counterparts in the old West, with substantial wages in their pocket from long stays at the logging camp, they too would eventually come to town,
Generally this timely break from the boredom of some logging camp included a session of high living on Silver Street. And in character with the cowboys of the Old West, in a short while, all partied out, their hard earned wages gone, they would return to the bleakness of their home, a primitive logging camp to once again repeat this cycle.
I suspect the novel, "Come and Get It", by Edna Ferber, was cause for much discussion in the literature classes of the Hurley HS while DeRosso was a student. With that in mind, can it be that a highly motivated, idealistic young man, captivated by the contents of this widely acclaimed novel, sought to follow in Edna Ferber's footsteps? A forever mystery it seems…..
WHAT CAUSED HENRY DEROSSO TO END HIS WRITING CAREER?
To begin, a life changing event occurred in 1952 with the death of his parents who died within days of each other. With the exception of a semester stay at the UW Madison, he had lived with his parents his entire life.
Upon their death, the farm where he had lived was subdivided among DeRosso and his brothers. At this time, each of his brothers was settled down with growing families of their own. Sister, Mary, had moved to California and his other sister, Delphine, with husband, had drowned in a boat accident in 1949. Each got a share of the land with the main farm house being sold to an outside party.
DeRosso moved into a second house which was part of the original farm site.
Living alone, he continued his career as a writer. But as time passed, with no immediate family or companion to share his life, he began to experience strong feelings of loneliness and depression. It appears, having experienced the satisfaction of having his works published, he began to feel an emptiness, wanting more from life than living alone writing stories.
It was during this time in the mid 50's that he made a distinct change in the direction of his life. He appears to have placed his writing career on hold and chose to become a rural mail carrier. Free from the discipline and rigors of long tedious hours of writing, his loneliness suppressed, he began to spend extended periods of free time at various local taverns.
In one such establishment as I was told, he met and became infatuated with a bar maid. Stricken with a new found love, this infatuation appears to have had a profound effect on his life. Sadly for DeRosso, this relationship came to an end when the woman of his desire chose to marry another man.
Understandably, this rejection was a severe blow to his self-esteem. From this point on his life appears to have gone downhill.
It was during this time span in the late 50's that he became a frequent visitor at my grandfather's tavern in Carey. A much changed person, his writings no longer a priority, the uncertain environment of a tavern became his main hangout leading to an ever growing abuse of alcohol. In addition, as I was told, he would purchase a bottle of brandy before going home for the evening. It appears the steady use and abuse of alcohol began to control his life. An aunt that attended bar at my grandfather's tavern stated, while intoxicated, he often talked about ending his life.
Circumstances being what they were at the time of his tragic death leads one to accept that taking his life was his final act.
For those interested, a large number of his writings are located at the Historical Society building in Hurley.
Thanks Dan for the extended comments on H.A. DeRosso. It looks like he suffered from depression and an unhappy view of his life leading to his probable suicide. A sad end to a promising literary career.
Really interesting reading! Wanted to relay a pseudonym that at least one of his stories appeared under. From the March 29, 1957 issue of the Iron County Miner weekly newspaper, based in Hurley: "H.A (Hank) DeRosso has two stories in the May issue of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Mystery Magazine,' soon to appear on the newsstands. The magazine didn't want to appear to favor 'Hank,' so they ran the lead story under the name of John Cortez, titled 'Fair Game,' and then ran the other story at the end of the mag titled 'The Return of Vera Westfall,' by H.A. DeRosso. Our boy hit the jackpot on that one."
Thank you. Under the penname John Cortez published at least four stories,
* Fair Game, (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine May 1957
reprinted in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (Australia) #5, August 1957
* The Happy Death, (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine December 1960
* Haunted Dust, (ss) Texas Rangers August 1957
* The Scalp Hunters, (ss) Western Fiction Magazine September/October 1970