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A CHAT WITH ROBERT PAUL, FRP's SON
FRP had three daughters and one son, Robert. In 1992, Robert had given an extensive interview with Jim Emerson, published in Emerson's magazine Futures Past. In his interview, JE wrote: "Robert Paul stated that, first of all he has had no artistic inclinations to follow in his father's footsteps. His own career has consisted of a wide variety of things beginning with a job at Bell Labs when he got out of high school. Over the years he spent quite a bit of time in the service, in particular, during World War II. He's held jobs primarily with electronics companies as production control manager, manufacturing manager, etc. Since 1981 he has been in semi-retirement doing various things such as bookkeeping, industrial engineering, purchasing agent, etc. Recently he started his own business: R&W Business Service which offers services such as bookkeeping, tax services, payroll, business consulting, medical billing, and many other offerings." I reprint additional excerpts from this interview, wherein Robert discusses his father, below.
In 2002, I had a chance to speak with Robert on the phone, but we didn't actually wind up talking about his father much. (Though much of what Robert said about his dad was essentially identical to what he said in the Emerson interview, see below.) Robert, born in 1914, was 88 at the time. He was then living by himself, but looking into moving into a veterans' home, partially because he had broken his hip a few years before and was using a walker. He was very sharp and a delightful fellow to talk to.
Mostly we talked about his experiences in World War II in the Pacific theater. A tech sergeant in the army, he had left San Francisco on Jan. 12, 1942 and spent a year in Fiji. There was no action there, however, though a Japanese submarine had been sunk in the harbor four days before he arrived. In early 1943, he was sent to Guadalcanal, where he almost got in several times in the span of a couple weeks. He saw a Japanese bomber go right over his head, with the bomb bay doors open. It blew up a foxhole 500 feet away - where he had just been. Another time he was woken up at 2 a.m. and leapt out of his bunk, when an anti-personnel bomb exploded where his head had just been. Another time he saw a flash out of the corner of his eye, and a piece of shrapnel, perhaps four inches long, skinned his forehead. Nine pilots were killed, and "That was no fun."
Robert is an interesting man, a great story-teller, and it was a pleasure and joy to speak to him.
ROBERT PAUL on FRANK R. PAUL
(from an interview taken by Jim Emerson, published in Futures Past magazine, no. 3, Sept. 1992, p. 31)
JE: Was your father a sf fan to begin with or was sf illustration simply a means to earn a living for your father?
RP: I think he probably grew up seeing sf pictures of one kind or another or photographs or scientific things and got the idea of drawing them. He started drawing when he was a kid, but didn't do anything about it commercially, of course.
JE: Paul seemed to have a apretty good eye for mechanical detail in his illustrations and paintings. Did he have any sort of engineering or scientific background which he based his drawings on?
RP: He read an awful lot of things and studied things visually, and he also did work for architects and so on.
JE: So architecture fed a lot into his vision.
RP: Basically he did what is known as isometric drafting, which is taking a blueprint and converting it into a picture. Apparently it just came to him naturally. It was a gift that he was able to do that, because to my knowledge he didn't go to any particular schools. The only schooling he had was in Austria, and he left Austria because he didn't want to get tangled up in the [World War I] Conscription. [JE noted that Sam Moskowitz noted that "In my interview with Paul he says he took three special courses in architectural drafting, so he was a school-trained draftsman.] Then he went to work aboard ship.
JE: Aboard ship?
RP: Yes, aboard ship out of Marsailles, France, where he met my uncle. They worked together on the ship to pay their way across, and when the ship came to San Francisco they got off. My father had no particular goal in mind or any particular stop, he only knew that he wanted to get to San Francisco eventually, because he had a sister there. His sister was a a seamstress and she had a little shop of her own.
JE: You mentioned that your father read a lot. Hid he read sf, or was it a broad spectrum of things?
RP: Well, he did read sf, I don't know how long he had read it, but I guess going back to the Baron Munchhausen tales was probably one of the earliest sf things, in fact he illustrated it for Gernsback for his magazine (Electrical Experimenter) back in 1914.
JE: How did he first become acquainted with Hugo Gernsback?
RP: He left San Francisco and went back east. The reason he went back East was because that was the center of publishing in the country, and in fact he went to work originally for the Jersey Journal, which was the newspaper in Jersey City. He and my mother met there; he happened to be renting a room in the same house where she was renting a room. While he was on the Jersey Journal he was doing some cartooning which is what he enjoyed at that stage of his life. That was about the time he met Gernsback. My dad didn't like to be tied down to an office desk. He liked to free-lance, and he had been talking to different advertisers and publishers and Gernsback happened to be one of them. Gernsback, I guess based on what he'd seen of my dad's work, realized that my dad would be excellent at doing things like science fiction, since you had to have imagination for that sort of thing. While he was with Gernsback, he was also doing other things as well, such as advertising, drafting, and all sorts of other jobs.
JE: I remember reading that although he's best remembered for his science fiction work, this was not even something which took up a majority of his time. He worked on a wide variety of painting and illustrative projects.
RP: Actually, for many years he did spend more time at it, at painting and drawing science fiction than he did at other things, but he didn't just restrict himself to that one area.
JE: When he wasn't painting and drawing, what did your father do for relaxation.
RP: (laughs) That's a good question! Once in a while we would take a ride in the car. Not too often, because he was pretty busy on weekends, he had sketches and drawings and paintings that had to be gotten out for publication. Other than that there wasn't much. My dad wasn't one to "relax" very often.
JE: Did he ever have much to say about Hugo Gernsback? I mean, everything I've read about the man paints this picture of an unscrupulous penny-pinching tyrant. Did your father ever have any problems with being paid late or not being paid at all, as so many other people experienced?
RP: He never said much about Hugo, but Gernsback was a bit on the tight side. My ad never had any great problems getting his money, sometimes it took a little while, but he always got his money. He didn't get it immediately on delivery, let's put it that way.
JE: Did your father work for Gernsback on a full-time basis?
RP: My dad was always a free-lance illustrator, and he worked for advertising agencies, publishing companies, all sorts of things, but always on a free-lance basis. He never worked for anyone on salary except for a period during World War II.
JE: The reason I asked about his working for Gernsback is that I've noticed that throughout his carrer, no matter where Gernsback went with his publishing, or whatever new magazine he started, Frank R. Paul was always there for him. Was this out of any sense of loyalty or did Gernsback pay him better than other publishers, or...?
RP: Well, to begin with Gernsback called him whenever he started any new magazines, and since he liked doing that sort of illustrating he went back to doing it. As to payment, my dad set his own prices. He wasn't told what he was going to get, he told them. Its just like when I do a job for someone, I don't ask how much I'm going to get paid, I give them a bill. That's how he got paid. Now he did have an agreement with Gernsback as to how much he would charge Gernsback for, let's say, a quarter-page illustration, or a full-page illustration, or a full-color cover.
JE: A story which I've heard on numerous occasions concerning Gernsback in relation to Frank R. Paul was that because he (Gernsback) was so tight-fisted, your father was restricted to using the least expensive colors like the reds and yellows so that covers could be printed in three colors instead of four. Was this true, or is it just a false rumor which has perpetuated itself over the years?
RP: I don't think it's true at all because my dad used every color in the rainbow. You have to bear in mind that when my dad painted a cover, half of its purpose was to attract attention. You don't use dull colors if you really want to attract people's attention. You put something on there that stands out. And you could go down to the newsstand where there's a whole rack of magazines competing with one another, and I guarantee his would stand out. You could spot his right away!
JE: So the bright colors were used for the purpose of shouting "here I am!"
RP: That's right. That's the idea because you never knew where on the rack it was going to be. But you could count on it being hidden most of the time behind some other stuff.
JE: Did your dad have any particular artists whose work he admired?
RP: Not any contemporary ones. Maybe some of the old masters like Titian, Renoir, Rembrandt, and so on.
JE: I'm sure you and your sisters each collected quite a few of your father's works over the years.
RP: No, we didn't. The only things we have are a couple of magazines and things that have pictures in them. You see, everything he did he sold. Whenever he finished something, he took it and delivered it and he got paid and that was it.
JE: So he wasn't really one to keep or produce any work for his own enjoyment, or for sentimentality's sake, or anything like that.
RP: No, no. All of his time was taken up in doing things that somebody else wanted. So he was always working on some paintings or drawings or sketches, and sometimes for his architectural jobs he would even build a a model of what he was doing. He was able to take blueprints and convert them into a picture of what it would look like. There was one time when some architects asked him to do an isometric drawing of what the Golden Gate Bridge would look like when it was finished, based on the blueprints that they had. So he had to have imagination.
JE: Your father died in 1963. In the nearly three decades since, many of today's science fiction fans and readers have no gotten to experience his artwork. What would you like him to be remembered for most?
RP: Well, basically that he was the original science fiction illustrator. He was the 'Father of Science Ficion Art.'
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