Thursday, November 10, 2022

When Anton Met Ashton

(left to right): Robert Barbour Johnson, George F. Haas,
Clark Ashton Smith, Howard Stanton Levey
One of the consistent contentions of this blog is that roleplaying games bubbled up at the decades-long confluence of multiple streams of culture, both high and popular. Those streams are many and include not simply the works of pulp fantasy that are a particular preoccupation of mine but many more – and stranger – things besides. I thought about this when I stumbled across the above photograph, for reasons I'll explain shortly. I can find no precise date for it, but it seems likely to have been taken after 1954, when Clark Ashton Smith moved from his childhood home of Auburn, California to Pacific Grove following his marriage to Carolyn Jones Dorman. 

Smith largely gave up the writing of fiction by 1937, the conclusion of a period of several years that saw the deaths of both of his aged parents, as well as his friends and colleagues, Robert E. Howard and H.P, Lovecraft. The last surviving member of the Three Musketeers of Weird Tales, he retreated into his secluded cabin to work on his poetry and sculpture. Despite his disengagement from the growing science fiction and fantasy scene that he'd helped to found, admirers – some from as far away as Japan – would nevertheless call on him, both in Auburn and then later in Pacific Grove. 

The photo above was taken on the occasion of a visit by several of his admirers. On the far left is Robert Barbour Johnson. Johnson was an artist and writer of weird fiction, as well as a dedicated Fortean. Standing next to Johnson is George F. Haas. Haas is perhaps most famous nowadays as an early devotee of cryptozoology, specifically the hunt for Bigfoot. Next to Haas is, of course, CAS, with his signature blazer and cigarette holder. At the far right is Howard Stanton Levey, who was, among other things, a regular hanger-on in the science fiction and fantasy fan community of San Francisco. A few years later, Levey had renamed himself Anton LaVey and began to peddle Ayn Rand in devil horns as Satanism. 

There is, of course, no record of what occurred during this visit, which is a shame. I would like to think that Smith, while outwardly gracious and gentlemanly as ever, would have seen right through a huckster like LeVay. In my mind, though, I'd like to believe that any attempt by LeVay to intimate he had knowledge of genuine diabolism would have been met with skepticism akin to Christopher Lee's reply to Peter Jackson on the subject of what happens when a man is stabbed in the back. Of course, this was more than a decade before the founding of the Church of Satan, so the subject might not never have arisen. Still, a man can dream!


  1. Thanks for the insight and the detail

  2. "Ayn Rand in devil horns" made my day!

  3. I just searched for photos of youg CAS and oh my, actor Paul Dano would be the perfect fit in a biopic

    1. From what I remember reading he was kind of the antithesis of REH and Lovecraft when it came to the ladies. Not the solitary weirdo you would expect from someone living in a tiny cabin high in the Sierra Nevada.

  4. I met LaVey years ago. He wasn't that scary and even kinda cool in this carny/beatnik sort of way. We just talked about comics.