Foster, Bennett (1897-1969) (stories)
Author of westerns; perhaps a pseudonym.
That’s all the FictionMags Index currently has to say about this prolific author of westerns, who wrote more than 200 stories and serials from 1929 to 1956. A cursory search turns up six film and TV credits, three before his death and three after. This article is an attempt to correct that.
William Bennett Foster was born on August 26, 1897 to William Bray Foster and Eleanor LeFevre Foster in Omaha, Nebraska. An elder sister, Eleanor Trace Foster, was born in 1891. Bennett’s father died when he was three years old, and he was fostered by his relatives – aunts, grandmothers, uncles, a step father, his mother and his sister.
Growing up, he attended several schools including St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin. In 1916 he went to New Mexico to attend school at the State Agricultural college. He was supported by his uncle Luther Foster, who was a president and faculty member of New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (now New Mexico State University).
He attended the college from 1916 to January 1918, when he joined the Navy in World War 1. Most of his service was on the west coast – stationed at Mare Island, California; Marshfield, Oregon and at Seattle, Washington. He did serve for a short time on the East Coast at New York and Philadelphia and spent some time aboard ship. He was radio operator first class at the time of his discharge in August 1919.
He returned to Las Cruces and resumed college on October 1, 1919. He took another break from college in 1920, when he moved to Roy, New Mexico and worked as an agricultural advisor. He decided to return to college in Las Cruces in fall 1920, graduated in 1921, and then moved to Raton, New Mexico where he was a high school teacher for many years.
He married Edna Aileen Smith in Las Cruces on August 23, 1922. After Bennett and Aileen’s marriage, he returned to Raton and continued teaching while Aileen remained in Las Cruces to finish college. They had two sons – William Bennett, Jr. was born on June 21, 1923 and Russell Nesbit on September 7, 1925. Bennett eventually moved to Springer, New Mexico and continued teaching at the New Mexico Boys’ School (juvenile correctional facility) there. Aileen joined him there with their two sons. His daughter Eleanor Patricia was born in Springer on December 10, 1929. Aileen was also a teacher; she began teaching music at 15 and continued to teach for 65 years. She was one of the founders of the New Mexico Music Teachers Association.
This moving around New Mexico may have been prompted by his interest in western history; Springer and Raton were both stops on the Santa Fe trail. One day in 1928, Mr. E. S. Dellinger who was then the superintendent of the school, showed him a check for a story he had written. The check was from Adventure magazine, for the story “Air and Orders,” that appeared in the Dec. 15, 1928 issue. Dellinger suggested that Bennett should try his luck at writing.
Bennett took him seriously. There followed two years of rejection slips and then, finally, a sale to Doubleday, Doran & Co. His first fiction sale was to West in 1930; earlier appearances in print were with poems in West and Short Stories.
His first cover appearance was in January 1931 in the Golden West magazine
|Bennett Foster’s first cover credit in the January 1931 issue of Golden West magazine|
|West, May 27th 1931 featuring Bennett Foster|
1931 saw his first sale to Street and Smith, Wild West Weekly and his first cover in West. In earlier issues, he had been featured in the strip of names on top
In 1932, he had a story appear in an issue of Railroad Stories along with one from his mentor, E. S. Dellinger. That must have been a happy day for both.
|Top-Notch, May 27th 1931 featuring Bennett Foster|
In 1933, more sales to Street and Smith – a story in Top Notch, May 1933 that got the cover
That serial was popular enough that it got a sequel, and the cover in the November 1933 issue
|Argosy Jan 23, 1936 cover featuring Bennett Foster|
1934 saw his first sale to Dell, a story in All-Western March 1934. In 1935, he sold a story to Fiction House, getting a cover credit in Lariat Story Magazine, Feb 1935. 1935 also saw his first sale to a “slick” magazine, Cosmopolitan. Argosy bought a story from him in 1936, and that completed his entry into the pulp western market, where he was selling to almost all the major publishing houses, and getting featured on covers.
In 1938, he made his first sale to Popular Publications and continued publishing in the pulps till 1948. A very impressive record, considering that Bennett joined the army in 1943 and was stationed in India for some time.
His story, “Trail Town Fever” from the Star Western February 1943 issue was made into a movie, Flame of the West in 1945.
|Flame of the West, 1945 based on a story by Bennett Foster|
He was discharged in May, 1946 and returned to Albuquerque. In 1948, he started selling regularly to the Saturday Evening Post, and appeared only occasionally in the pulps. A story of his that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, May 28, 1949 – The Outlaws are in town – was made into a movie, The Desperados Are in Town (1956).
He continued writing till 1956, by which time the pulp market was no longer there, and the “slick” magazines were starting to change as well. He continued teaching until he retired. He died in Albuquerque on September 29, 1969. His wife, Aileen, continued living in Albuquerque after his death and died on November 11, 1986.
Few traces of his writing life are left now. The New Mexico Boy’s School, where he began his writing career, is now a state prison. Pulp magazines are no longer available on newsstands. But some of his books are still in print (disable adblocker to see the links):
I've always been surprised that prolific authors like Bennett Foster can somehow just disappear. The two big books on western writers do not mention him. Jon Tuska's book has no entry on him and neither does the other big encyclopedia, TWENTIETH CENTURY WESTERN WRITERS.
A wonderful post. Many thanks. I had no idea about the Foster/Dellinger connection. I have several of Bennett Foster's books on my shelves but haven't read any of them. Didn't he also write as John Trace?
I wouldn't be surprised by it, his sister's name was Eleanor Trace Foster.
I think it goes to show how much reading tastes and formats have changed. Western are no longer a prominent genre; and even when they were in the 50s to 60s, novels were selling, but not short stories. And if you didn't have a capable agent actively representing your work…
The FictionMags Index rarely gives much in the way of biographical information on authors. What is given for Foster is typical.
Actually, for many authors, date and place of birth and a few biographical details are noted. It's rare to have an entry like this, which doubts the author's very existence, for someone so prolific.
The information for Foster in FictionMags is a typical entry. Date and place of birth, yes, absolutely as well as pen names. As for biographical details, the index may in some cases provide a link to an article with more information. Even Edgar Rice Burroughs has (1875-1950) 1950) and then a link to the Burroughs article in Wikipedia. Fictionmags also will link to articles such Luke Short links to an article in PulpFlakes. Most likely, there will be a link soon to the PulpFlakes article on Foster about which we are commenting.
Walker wrote: <> It's kind of amazing, especially when you consider how prolific some of them were. And not limited to a single genre, which can reduce your visibility and make it easier for you to disappear. Look at someone like H. Bedford-Jones, who appeared in TONS of issues of many magazines and wrote in many genres. But he's unknown outside of the pulp community today.
I think you're missing the central point, which is that the index entry cast doubt on his very existence "Possibly a pseudonym." That's the point i was trying to make, and i may have confused you by referring to the other biographical details.
The other thing which i missed in my reply to Walker was that he didn't create a memorable series character.
Look at the pulp fiction that most people are aware of today – Tarzan, Zorro, Conan, the hero pulps – Doc Savage, Shadow etc, detectives like Dashiell Hammet's Sam Spade, western heroes like Max Brand's Dan Barry or Silvertip, science fiction heroes like Buck Rogers, John Carter.
Only the weird tales authors seem to be an exception to this – Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith etc. Even there Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin stands out.
I've sent a link to your article to Phil Stevensen-Payne so he will have your information for FictionMags and consider a link to the article.
Turns out Phil added a Fiction mags link to your article yesterday. Turns out, he monitors Pulp Flakes closely.
No thanks to your research and fine article, the background and appreciation of Bennett Foster will reach new readers. I know for myself I will pull out some of the pulps with his stories as well as a novel or two.
I found that nugget about the Bennett-Dellinger connection in the Campfire column in Adventure. It's corroborated by this account of Dellinger's life, which mentions his being superintendent of the school i Springer. It also has a photo of Dellinger, which i haven't seen anywhere earlier.
I'm reading the short story collection The Wild Frontier (Bantam 1955) and thanks for the info on Foster! Keep up the good work.
Does anyone know if he ever published a collection of poems? I am aware of one fine poem attributed to him – "The Last Wagon Train" – and wonder if there are others out there.