Kenn Davis and John Stanley had a friendship that spanned many years and hundreds of ideas, some saw fruition and some died by the wayside. They were an odd pair: John with a calm and steady demeanor, well versed in writing a newspaper column which takes organization inspiration. Then there was Kenn whose mind was everywhere at once. He wasn’t happy being a surrealist painter and working at the Chronicle for a living, he itched for more even though there were no more hours in the day. He loved cameras, he loved mysteries and was an avid reader of them since childhood. He saw some wonderlust in John’s eyes because someone talked someone into their first collaboration. And they were off: It took two white guys from the San Francisco Chronicle in the 70s to come up with a detective who was a black, Vietnam Vet who loved the arts and wore Brione suits(be serious)…. something for both writer, I guess. It was the right time for this character because it was “black exploitation time” in Hollywood. So the jumped on the bandwagon and though the cover joined the exploitation, showing a super fly type character, the Carver Bascombe that was inside the cover showed no similarity. He was cool, well dressed, well read and listened to classical music.. a black man who would set no fear in the hearts of white readers. Almost as good as our President but with no African name to encumber him.
John and Kenn sold the book to Avon and it did pretty wee but John wasn’t interested in going any further with it. Kenn went and got a multiple book deal and kept right on writing… the books kept coming and the further away from the black exploitation of the 70’s he got the better the book were. He received a Mystery Writer’s of America Nomination for the Best Original Paperback for “Melting Point.” Each book took on a different aspect of the art world and Kenn actually made sure that readers learned something about that world. Late in the series, all of the books were published France and did quite well… in fact they sold better than in the U.S. market.
John Stanley and Kenn Davis collaborated on one more book and that was “Bogart.” An action thriller using Humphrey Bogart as the main character. They did try to write a treatment to see if they could get a screenplay written for the book. I’ve never heard what happened with that.
John Stanley is a much better source than me for tales of making “Nightmare in Blood” which has become a minor cult classic as horror movies go. It’s out on DVD and is a hoot for horror buffs and Creature Feature buffs. If you remember hanging with Bob Wilkins and later, John Stanley hosting Creature Features on Channel 2 in the Bay Area, you’ll want to see this movie.
John had Kenn do many book covers for him on his “Creature Feature” books and the drawing inside which Kenn loved doing. He also did covers for other books that John published in his own publishing company. John, obviously, like Kenn could never be satisfied doing one thing. The last projects they worked on was mainly promotion for the new DVD for Nightmare In Blood when it came out.
I thought it was best to have John Stanley say something in his own words about their work together… plus John wrote Kenn’s obituary for the San Francisco Chronicle which is at the end of this blog today.