Robert Albert Bloch (April 5, 1917 – September 23, 1994) was a prolific American writer, primarily of crime, horror, fantasy and science fiction. He is best known as the writer of Psycho, the basis for the film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock. He wrote that "Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk," (a quote borrowed by Stephen King and often misattributed to him). His fondness for a pun is evident in the titles of his story collections such as Tales in a Jugular Vein, Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of and Out of the Mouths of Graves.
Bloch wrote hundreds of short stories and over 30 novels. He was one of the youngest members of the Lovecraft Circle. H. P. Lovecraft was Bloch's mentor and one of the first to seriously encourage his talent. However, while Bloch started his career by emulating Lovecraft and his brand of cosmic horror, he later specialized in crime and horror stories dealing with the inner workings of the human mind.
Bloch was a contributor to pulp magazines such as Weird Tales in his early career, and was also a prolific screenwriter and a major contributor toscience fiction fanzines and fandom in general.
He won the Hugo Award (for his story "That Hell-Bound Train"), the Bram Stoker Award, and the World Fantasy Award. He served a term as president of the Mystery Writers of America (1970) and was a member of that organisation and of Science Fiction Writers of America, the Writers' Guild, theAcademy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Count Dracula Society. In 2008, The Library of America selected Bloch's essay "The Shambles of Ed Gein" for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American true crime.
His favorites among his own novels were The Kidnapper, The Star Stalker, Psycho, Night-World and Strange Eons. His work has been extensively filmed for movies and television.
Bloch was born in Chicago, the son of Raphael "Ray" Bloch (1884–1952), a bank cashier, and his wife Stella Loeb (1880–1944), a social worker, both of German Jewish descent. Bloch's family moved to Maywood, a Chicago suburb, when he was five. He attended the Methodist Church there, despite his parents' Jewish heritage. At ten years of age, living in Maywood, he attended a screening of Lon Chaney, Sr.'s Phantom of the Opera late at night on his own. The scene of Chaney removing his mask terrified the young Bloch and sparked his interest in horror.
In 1929 Ray Bloch lost his bank job, and the family moved to Milwaukee, where Stella worked at the Milwaukee Jewish Settlement settlement house. Robert attended Washington, then Lincoln High School, where he met lifelong friend Harold Gauer. Gauer was editor of The Quill, Lincoln's literary magazine, and accepted Bloch's first published short story, a horror story titled "The Thing" (the "thing" of the title was Death). Both Bloch and Gauer graduated from Lincoln in 1934 during the height of the Great Depression. Bloch was involved in the drama department at Lincoln and wrote and performed in school vaudeville skits.
Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on early writing career
During the 1930s, Bloch was an avid reader of the pulp magazine Weird Tales. H. P. Lovecraft, a frequent contributor to that magazine, became one of his favorite writers. As a teenager, Bloch wrote fan letter to Lovecraft (1933), who gave him advice on his own fiction-writing efforts. Bloch's first publication was with the short story "Lilies" in the semi-professional magazine Marvel Tales(Winter 1934). Bloch began correspondence with August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith and others of the 'Lovecraft Circle'. Bloch's first professional sales, at the age of 17 (July 1934), were toWeird Tales with the short stories "The Feast in the Abbey" and "The Secret in the Tomb". "Feast..." appeared first, in the January 1935 issues which actually went on sale November 1, 1934.
Bloch's early stories were strongly influenced by Lovecraft. Indeed, a number of his stories were set in, and extended, the world of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. These include "The Dark Demon", in which the character Gordon is a figuration of Lovecraft, and which features Nyarlathotep; "The Faceless God" (features Nyarlathotep); "The grinning Ghoul" (written after the manner of Lovecraft) and "The Unspeakable Betrothal" (vaguely attached to the Cthulhu Mythos). It was Bloch who invented, for example, the oft-cited Mythos texts De Vermis Mysteriis and Cultes des Goules. Many other stories influenced by Lovecraft were later collected in Bloch's volume Mysteries of the Worm.
The young Bloch appears, thinly disguised, as the character "Robert Blake" in Lovecraft's story "The Haunter of the Dark" (1936), which is dedicated to Bloch. Bloch was the only individual to whom Lovecraft ever dedicated a story. In this story, Lovecraft kills off the Bloch character, repaying a courtesy Bloch earlier paid Lovecraft with his 1935 tale "The Shambler from the Stars", in which the Lovecraft-inspired figure dies; the story goes so far as to use Bloch's then-current street address in Milwaukee. (Bloch even had a signed certificate from Lovecraft [and some of his creations] giving Bloch permission to kill Lovecraft off in a story.) Bloch later wrote a third tale, "The Shadow From the Steeple", picking up where "The Haunter of the Dark" finished (Weird Tales Sept 1950). After Lovecraft's death in 1937, Bloch continued writing for Weird Tales, where he became one of its most popular authors. He also began contributing to other pulps, such as the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories.
Bloch's late novel Strange Eons is a full-length tribute to the style and subject matter of Lovecraft.
After Lovecraft's death in 1937, which affected Bloch deeply, Bloch broadened the scope of his fiction. His horror themes included voodoo ("Mother of Serpents"), the conte cruel ("The Mandarin's Canaries'), demonic possession ("Fiddler's Fee"), and black magic ("Return to the Sabbat"). Bloch visited Henry Kuttner in California in 1937. Bloch's first science fiction story, "The Secret of the Observatory", was published in Amazing Stories (August 1938).
Milwaukee Fictioneers and Depression period
In 1935 Bloch joined a writers' group, The Milwaukee Fictioneers, members of which included Stanley Weinbaum, Ralph Milne Farley and Raymond A. Palmer. Another member of the group was Gustav Marx, who offered Bloch a job writing copy in his advertising firm, also allowing Bloch to write stories in his spare time in the office. Bloch was close friends with C.L. Moore and her husband Henry Kuttner, who visited him in Milwaukee.
During the years of the Depression, Bloch appeared regularly in dramatic productions, writing and performing in his own sketches. Around 1936 he sold some gags to radio comedians Stoopnagle and Budd, and to Roy Atwell.
Campaign manager for Carl Zeidler
In 1939, Bloch was contacted by James Doolittle, who was managing the campaign for a little-known assistant city attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin named Carl Zeidler. He was asked to work on his speechwriting, advertising, and photo ops, in collaboration with Harold Gauer. They created elaborate campaign shows; in Bloch's 1993 autobiography, Once Around the Bloch, he gives an inside account of the campaign, and the innovations he and Gauer came up with — for instance, the original releasing-balloons-from-the-ceiling shtick. He comments bitterly on how, after Zeidler's victory, they were ignored and not even paid their promised salaries. He ends the story with a wryly philosophical point:
If Carl Zeidler had not asked Jim Doolittle to manage his campaign, Doolittle would never have contacted me about it. And the only reason Doolittle knew me to begin with was because he read my yarn ("The Cloak") in Unknown. Rattling this chain of circumstances, one may stretch it a bit further. If I had not written a little vampire story called "The Cloak", Carl Zeidler might never have become mayor of Milwaukee.
The 1940s and 1950s
In the 1940s, Bloch created the humorous series character Lefty Feep in a story for Fantastic Adventures. He also worked for a time in local vaudeville and tried to break into writing for nationally known performers.
In 1944 he was asked to write 39 15-minute episodes of a radio horror show called Stay Tuned for Terror. Many of the programs were adaptations of his own pulp stories. None of the episodes, which were all broadcast, are extant.
A year later August Derleth's Arkham House, Lovecraft's publisher, published Bloch's first collection of short stories, The Opener of the Way. At the same time, his best-known early tale, "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", received considerable attention through dramatization on radio and reprinting in anthologies. This story, as noted below, involving a Ripper who has found literal immortality through his crimes, has been widely imitated (or plagiarized); Bloch himself would return to the theme (see below).
Bloch gradually evolved away from Lovecraftian imitations towards a unique style of his own. One of the first distinctly "Blochian" stories was "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", which was published in Weird Tales in 1943. The story was Bloch's take on the Jack the Ripper legend, and was filled out with more genuine factual details of the case than many other fictional treatments. It cast the Ripper as an eternal being who must make human sacrifices to extend his immortality. It was adapted for both radio (in Stay Tuned for Terror) and television (as an episode of Thriller in 1961 adapted by Barré Lyndon). Bloch followed up this story with a number of others in a similar vein dealing with half-historic, half-legendary figures such as the Man in the Iron Mask ("Iron Mask", 1944), the Marquis de Sade ("The Skull of the Marquis de Sade", 1945) and Lizzie Borden ("Lizzie Borden Took an Axe...", 1946).
Bloch's first novel was the thriller The Scarf (1947). (He later issued a revised edition in 1966). It tells the story of a writer, Daniel Morley, who uses real women as models for his characters. But as soon as he is done writing the story, he is compelled to murder them, and always the same way: with the maroon scarf he has had since childhood. The story begins in Minneapolis and follows him and his trail of dead bodies to Chicago, New York, and finally Hollywood, where his hit novel is going to be turned into a movie, and where his self-control may have reached its limit.
Bloch published three novels in 1954 – Spiderweb, The Kidnapper and The Will to Kill as he endeavored to support his family. That same year he was a weekly guest panellist on the TV quiz show It's a Draw. Shooting Star (1958), a mainstream novel, was published in a double volume with a collection of Bloch's stories titled Terror in the Night. This Crowded Earth (1958) was science fiction.
With the demise of Weird Tales, Bloch continued to have his fiction published in Amazing, Fantastic, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Fantastic Universe; he was a particularly frequent contributor to Imagination and Imaginative Tales. His output of thrillers increased and he began to appear regularly in The Saint, Ellery Queen and similar mystery magazines, and to such suspense and horror-fiction magazine projects as Shock.
Jack the Ripper in later work
Bloch continued to revisit the Jack the Ripper theme. His contribution to Harlan Ellison's 1967 science fiction anthology Dangerous Visions was a story, "A Toy for Juliette", which evoked both Jack the Ripper and the Marquis de Sade in a time-travel story. The same anthology had Ellison's sequel to it titled "The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World". His earlier idea of the Ripper as an immortal being resurfaced in Bloch's contribution to the original Star Trek series episode "Wolf in the Fold". His 1984 novel Night of the Ripper is set during the reign of Queen Victoria and follows the investigation of Inspector Frederick Abberline in attempting to apprehend the Ripper, and includes some famous Victorians such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle within the storyline.
Bloch won the prestigious SF Hugo award in 1959, the same year that Psycho was published. Bloch had written an earlier short story involving split personalities, "The Real Bad Friend", which appeared in the February 1957 Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, that foreshadowed the 1959 novel Psycho. However, Psycho also has thematic links to the story "Lucy Comes to Stay".
Norman Bates, the main character in Psycho, was loosely based on two people. First was the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, about whom Bloch later wrote a fictionalized account, "The Shambles of Ed Gein". (The story can be found in Crimes and Punishments: The Lost Bloch, Volume 3). Second, it has been indicated by several people, including Noel Carter (wife of Lin Carter) and Chris Steinbrunner, as well as allegedly by Bloch himself, that Norman Bates was partly based on Calvin Beck, publisher of Castle of Frankenstein. Bloch's basing of the character of Norman Bates on Ed Gein is discussed in the documentary "Ed Gein: The Ghoul of Plainfield", which can be found on Disc 2 of the DVD release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003 film)
Though Bloch had little involvement with the film version of his novel, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock from an adapted screenplay by Joseph Stefano, he was to become most famous as its author.
The novel is one of the first examples at full length of Bloch's use of modern urban horror relying on the horrors of interior psychology rather than the supernatural. "By the mid-1940s, I had pretty well mined the vein of ordinary supernatural themes until it had become varicose," Bloch explained to Douglas Winter in an interview. "I realized, as a result of what went on during World War IIand of reading the more widely disseminated work in psychology, that the real horror is not in the shadows, but in that twisted little world inside our own skulls." While Bloch was not the first horror writer to utilise a psychological approach (that honor belongs to Edgar Allan Poe and J. Sheridan Le Fanu), Bloch's psychological approach in modern times was comparatively unique.
Bloch's agent, Harry Altshuler, received a "blind bid" for the novel - the buyer's name wasn't mentioned - of $7,500 for screen rights to the book. The bid eventually went to $9,500, which Bloch accepted. Bloch had never sold a book to Hollywood before. His contract with Simon and Schuster included no bonus for a film sale. The publisher took 15 percent according to contract, while the agent took his 10%; Bloch wound up with about $6,750 before taxes. Despite the enormous profits generated by Hitchcock's film, Bloch received no further direct compensation.
Only Hitchcock's film was based on Bloch's novel. The later films in the Psycho series bear no relation to either of Bloch's sequel novels. Indeed, Bloch's proposed script for the film Psycho II was rejected by the studio (as were many other submissions), and it was this that he subsequently adapted for his own sequel novel.
The 2012 film Hitchcock tells the story of Alfred Hitchcock's making of the film version of Psycho but although it mentions Bloch and his novel, no part for the character of Bloch was cast for the movie.
The 1960s: Hollywood and screenwriting
Following his move to Hollywood, around 1960, Bloch had multiple assignments from various television companies. However, he was not allowed to write for five months when the Writers Guild had a strike. After the strike was over, he became a much used scriptwriter in television and film projects in the mystery, suspense, and horror genre. His first assignments were for the Macdonald Carey vehicle, Lock-Up, (penning five episodes) as well as one for Whispering Smith, and an original screenplay for the 1962 film The Couch. Further TV work included an episode of Bus Stop, 10 episodes of Thriller (1960–62, several based on his own stories), and 10 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1960–62). In 1962, he wrote the screenplay for The Cabinet of Caligari (1962), an unhappy experience (see Films section below).
In 1962, Bloch penned the story and teleplay "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The episode was shelved when the NBC Television Network and sponsor Revlon called its ending "too gruesome" (by 1960s standards) for airing. Bloch was pleased later when the episode was included in the program's syndication package to affiliate stations where not one complaint was registered. Today, due to public domain status, the episode is readily available in home media formats from numerous distributors and is even available on free video on demand.For details of Bloch's scripts for Hitchcock shows see
His TV work did not slow Bloch's fictional output. In the early 1960s he published several novels, including The Dead Beat (1960), and Firebug (1961) (for which Harlan Ellison, then an editor at Regency Books, contributed the first 1200 words). In 1962 his novels The Couch (1962) (the basis for the screenplay of his first movie, filmed the same year) and Terror (originally titled Kill for Kali) were published.
Bloch wrote original screenplays for two movies produced and directed by William Castle, Strait-Jacket (1964) and The Night Walker (1964), along with The Skull (1965). The latter film was based on his short story "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade".
Marriages and family
On October 2, 1940, Bloch married Marion Ruth Holcombe; it was reportedly a marriage of convenience designed to keep Bloch out of the army. During their marriage, she suffered (initially undiagnosed) tuberculosis of the bone, which affected her ability to walk.
After working for 11 years for the Gustav Marx Advertising Agency in Milwaukee, Bloch left in 1953 and moved to Weyauwega, Marion's home town, so she could be close to friends and family. Although she was eventually cured of tuberculosis, she and Bloch divorced in 1963. Bloch's daughter Sally (born 1943) elected to stay with him. On January 18, 1964, Bloch met recently widowed Eleanor (Elly) Alexander (née Zalisko) (who had lost her first husband, writer/producer John Alexander, to a heart attack three months earlier) and made her his second wife in a civil ceremony on October 16 of that year. Eleanor was a fashion model and cosmetician. They honeymooned in Tahiti, and in 1965 visited London, then British Columbia. They remained happily married until Bloch's death. Elly remained in the Los Angeles area for several years after selling their Laurel Canyon Home to fans of Bloch's, eventually choosing to go home to Canada to be closer to her own family. Eleanor Bloch died March 7, 2007 at the Betel Home in Selkirk, Manitoba, Canada. Her ashes have been placed next to Bloch's in a similar book-shaped urn at Pierce Brothers in Westwood, CA.
The 1960s and screenwriting continued
In 1964 Bloch wrote two movies for William Castle - Straight-Jacket and The Night Walker.
Bloch's further TV writing in this period included The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (7 episodes, 1962–1965), I Spy (1 episode, 1966), Run for Your Life (1 episode, 1966), and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.(1 episode, 1967). He notably penned three original scripts for the original series of Star Trek (1966–67): "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", "Wolf in the Fold" (a Jack the Ripper variant), and "Catspaw".
His novels of this period include Ladies Day/This Crowded Earth (1968)(sf), The Star Stalker (1968)and The Todd Dossier (1969)(the book publication of which bears the byline "Collier Young").
In 1968 Bloch returned to London to do two episodes for the Hammer Films series Journey to the Unknown for Twentieth Century Fox. One of the episodes. "The Indian Spirit Guide", was included in the TV movie Journey to Midnight (1968).
Following the 1965 movie The Skull which was based on a Bloch story but scripted by Milton Subotsky, between 1966 and 1972 Bloch wrote no less than five feature movies for Amicus Productions - The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum, the last two films featured stories written by Bloch that were printed first in anthologies he wrote in the 1940s and early 1950s.
In 1969 he was invited to the Film festival in Rio de Janeiro, along with other science fiction writers from the US, Britain and Europe.
The 1970s and 1980s
During the 1970s Bloch wrote two TV movies for director Curtis Harrington - The Cat Creature and The Dead Don't Die. The Cat Creature was an unhappy production experience for Bloch. Producer Doug Cramer wanted to do an update of Cat People (1942 film), the Val Lewton classic. Bloch says: "Instead I suggested a blending of the elements of several well-remembered films, and came up with a story line which dealt with the Egyptian cat-goddess (Bast), reincarnation and the first bypass operation ever performed on an artichoke heart.". The rest of story of the troubled production in which he was firstly made to shorten his screenplay by twelve minutes, and then to lengthen it again at short notice, is described in Bloch's autobiography
Bloch meanwhile (interspersed between his screenplays for Amicus Productions), penned single episodes for Night Gallery (1971), Ghost Story (1972), The Manhunter (1974), and Gemini Man(1976).
In 1975 Bloch was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the First World Fantasy Convention held in Providence, Rhode Island. The award was a bust of H.P. Lovecraft. An audio recording was made of Robert Bloch during that 1975 convention, accessible at the following link. 
Bloch continued to published short story collections throughout this period. His Selected Stories (reprinted in paperback with the incorrect title The Complete Stories) appeared in three volumes just prior to his death, although many previously uncollected tales have appeared in volumes published since 1997 (see below).
His numerous novels of this two decade period range from science fiction (Sneak Preview (1971)) through horror novels such as the Lovecraftian Strange Eons (1978) and Night of the Ripper, his two sequels to the original Psycho (Psycho II and Psycho House), and late novels such as the thriller Lori (1989) and The Jekyll Legacy with Andre Norton (1991), a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Omnibus editions of hard-to-acquire early novels appeared as Unholy Trinity (1986) and Screams (1989).
Bloch's screenplay-writing career continued active through the 1980s, with teleplays for Tales of the Unexpected (one episode, 1980), Darkroom (two episodes,1981), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1 episode, 1986), Tales from the Darkside (three episodes, 1984–87) and Monsters (three episodes, 1988–1989). No further screen work appeared in the last five years before his death, although an adaptation of his "collaboration" with Edgar Allan Poe, "The Lighthouse", was filmed as an episode of The Hunger in 1998.
In February 1991 he was given the Honor of Master of Ceremonies at the first World Horror Convention held in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1994, Bloch died of cancer at the age of 77. in Los Angeles after a writing career lasting 60 years, including more than 30 years in television and film. He was cremated and interred in the Room of Prayer columbarium at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. His wife Elly is also interred there.
Writings on Bloch
An early reference work by Australian writer Graeme Flanagan, Robert Bloch: A Bio-Bibliography (1979) includes interviews with Bloch and memoirs by fellow writers such as Harlan Ellison,Richard Matheson, Mary Elizabeth Counselman and Fritz Leiber.
An essay by Lee Prosser about Robert Bloch was published in The Roswell Literary Review at Roswell, New Mexico, 1996.
The Existential Robert Bloch, an interview by Lee Prosser with Bloch in March 1983, was published at Michael G. Pfefferkorn's The Bat is My Brother website.
"A Conversation With Lee Prosser," an in-depth interview with Lee Prosser about Bloch by Michael G. Pfefferkorn on May 31, 2002 was published at Michael G. Pfefferkorn's The Unofficial Robert Bloch Website.
Randall D. Larson is the premier Bloch scholar. He published and edited an early tribute to Bloch, The Robert Bloch Fanzine (Fandom Unlimited, 1972). He later authored three reference books about Robert Bloch: The Robert Bloch Reader's Guide (1986, a literary analysis of Bloch's entire output through 1986), The Complete Robert Bloch (1986, an illustrated bibliography of Bloch's writing), and The Robert Bloch Companion (1986, collected interviews). In addition, an issue of Paperback Parade magazine (No. 39, August 1994) contains two articles by Larson on collecting Bloch - "Paperblochs: Robert Bloch in Paperback" and "Robert Bloch in Paperback".
Crypt of Cthulhu magazine No 40 (Vol. 5 No. 6 St. John's Eve, 1986). was a special Robert Bloch issue. It included some story reprints by Bloch, essays on his work and bibliography of his books by R. Dixon Smith.
In the anthology My Favorite Horror Story (DAW, 2000), edited by Mike Baker and Martin H. Greenberg, influential horror writers in the field picked their favourite stories. Out of 15 tales, Bloch is the only author represented by two stories. Stephen King chose "Sweets to the Sweet" and Joe R. Lansdale chose "The Animal Fair".
There is an essay on Bloch's work, with particular reference to the novels Psycho (novel) and The Scarf, in S. T. Joshi's book The Modern Weird Tale (2001). Joshi examines Bloch's literary relationship with Lovecraft in a further essay in The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004).
A more recent essay collection focusing on a range of Bloch's work is Robert Bloch: the Man Who Collected Psychos, edited by Benjamin J. Szumskyj (McFarland, 2009).