I am currently writing a section of a book for McFarland Press about one of my literary heroes. So who is this wordsmith idol of mine? He is a tremendous author of horror, crime, and thriller fiction, as well as short stories and screenplays, that many younger readers will not recognize. But if I were to mention the names Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, and Janet Leigh, or perhaps hum a few bars of the score, or pull back a shower curtain really fast, or finally whisper the film title, Psycho, some of the more observant among you might recall who actually penned the novel from which this classic picture was adapted: Robert Bloch. But for most casual moviegoers or readers, Bloch’s name would mean very little. This makes me sad.
Yet as we all know, sometimes a creation grows to eclipse its creator. That’s been the case, too, for Rambo. On this eve of the British release of the fourth Rambo picture, the casual filmgoer probably doesn’t know who created the iconic figure of John James Rambo. I do, though, because the 1972 novel that introduced that troubled Vietnam vet and Green Beret, First Blood, struck hard at my youthful imagination. It left an impression that is as fresh today as it ever was. But because actor Sylvester Stallone has made the Rambo character convincingly his own, the source material from which Rambo is drawn and the modest English professor who created him, David Morrell, are now largely in the shadows.
One of the reasons I attended my first U.S. mystery convention in 2003 was to meet the man who’d penned First Blood. I was, quite frankly, appalled that only half a dozen people turned up to listen to this man speak at a panel entitled “Rogue Males.” In my mind, I kept shouting, Don’t you know who this man is? He’s David Morrell! I pinched myself when, after the panel, he agreed to have a drink with me, and from then on, I have counted Morrell as a friend. I bump into him each year in the United States or England, and on each occasion he’s been very generous with his time. He even forgave me for falling asleep (due to jet lag) at a film presentation he gave during last summer’s ThrillerFest on the classic TV series Route 66.
Another person who is hidden in the shadows is Morrell’s daughter Sarie, a book publicist who supplies me with new works and information about many of her clients (including her writer-father). Public relations folk are often given a hard time, but believe me, a good one such as Sarie Morrell is a treasure. With tomorrow’s release of Rambo IV in the UK, and publisher Headline’s reissue of First Blood on this side of the pond, I asked Sarie if she could get me some background information on the character of John Rambo and ask David Morrell what his thoughts were more than 35 years after he penned that debut novel of his. She sent me a superb press release and some informative supplementary material.
Armed with all of that, plus my own knowledge of Morrell’s work and my conversations with this author, I produced an article for Mike Stotter, my editor at the British e-zine Shots. If you want to learn more about how large a shadow John Rambo casts over his creator, and the source of Rambo’s name, click over to “David Morrell Is Back.” But hey, did he ever really leave?