Few of the writers in Haldeman-Julius' stable can claim the same enigmatic status as Leo Markun. While most Little Blue Book authors would passionately embrace the hype and publicity Emanuel Haldeman-Julius lavished upon them, Markun was reclusive to an extreme, deftly avoiding meetings, interviews, even loathing to be photographed.1 Perhaps the only interview with him to make print in a Haldeman-Julius publication appeared in the June 1928 issue of the Haldeman-Julius Monthly, but a scant two paragraphs in length, compliments of fellow LBB author Fred Bair's column "Notes from a Roving Correspondent." Of Markun, Haldeman-Julius once wrote:
Back around 1926 [sic], I heard from an Indianapolis Ind., man, Leo Markun, an utter stranger, and a person about whom I later learned not a single fact. I don't know what he looked like. I know nothing of his background. When he died, in 1931 [sic], I got the idea from a newspaper clipping that he was in his 30's.
Markun's other publishers faired just as poorly. Despite seeing print thanks to D. Appleton and Company, 3 in addition to "about forty magazines,"4 few details about Leo Markun ever saw the light of day. Were it not for the efforts of William F. Ryan, and The Center for the Study of Midwestern Literature and Culture, it is doubtful that any real insight in to the man would have survived to this day. Ryan's article "Leo Markun: Mrs. Grundy's Bad Boy, " published in MidAmerica VII (1980), is by far the most comprehensive biography written of Markun. As a result, unless otherwise cited, you can assume it the primary source for most of the facts you'll find below.
Leo Markun was born March 11, 1901, in New York City. He and his three elder siblings grew up on the East Side of New York, until their parents eventually moved the family to Ocean Parkway, an affluent boulevard in the borough of Brooklyn. Their mother, Dora, and father, Jacob, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, owned a clothing factory which operated quite successfully until the years following World War I.
Of this time in Markun's life, his first cousin Louis recalled an introverted, bookish boy, always reading and writing, who would even bring a notebook with him when he went outside to play. At an early age, the allure of the writer's craft had clearly possessed Leo, and his very habits showed him predisposed to a life of self-imposed isolation.
At the age of seventeen or eighteen, Markun began undergraduate study at Columbia University, but would soon transfer to Harvard College. He threw himself wholeheartedly into his studies which, coupled with his somewhat anti-social nature, ensured that not a single photo of him would grace any school publication during his years of attendance. He graduated cum laude in 1922 and was awarded a Scientiæ Baccalaureus in Literature, as was the practice at Harvard for Humanities students who failed to meet their Latin requirement.
Following his graduation, the wife of Leo's first cousin would describe him thusly:
"Leo Markun had dark hair and wore rather thick glasses. He was tall, of average weight, not very good looking. He was not a happy person. Probably he never went out with girls. His parents never understood him. I don't think he was particularly religious - I always considered him an agnostic. He questioned many things, including the government. And he could read a book in nothing flat!"
Markun returned to his parents after leaving Harvard. The clothing factory that had once helped the family prosper had been in financial decline since the end of the War, eventually leading to its closure. The family was prompted to leave New York in March of 1924, taking residence at 2832 Park Avenue in Indianapolis, Indiana. Relatives in the city had started a movie theatre some years previous, which struck Jacob Markun as a rather good idea. Leo soon found himself in his father's employment, a rather unglamorous position, but one that did have the benefit of granting ample time to devote to writing.
It was around 1923 that Leo Markun truly began his career as a writer. These were humble beginnings, an assortment of book reviews gracing the pages of publications like The Nation and The Literary Digest International Book Review. Harvard soon called upon him to craft the anniversary reports for his class. But the bulk of his efforts were devoted to writing poetry - much of which remains unpublished to this day.
In 1925, Leo Markun set a course straight into the annals of Haldeman-Julius' publishing enterprise. In September of that year, Markun published an essay on Havelock Ellis in The Literary Digest International Book Review. Ellis was himself a contributor to over half a dozen Little Blue Books, and it is perhaps in part this connection that would tempt Markun to reach out to Emanuel Haldeman-Julius.
Haldeman-Julius, in My Second 25 Years, tells of his first encounter with Markun:
"He sent me a few suggested titles and 12 or 15 words describing what he wanted to cover. That's all I was told, but the titles were so attractive that I asked him to submit Mss., which he did, and each was accepted immediately."5 Markun's first contributions were LBB #820 Max Stirner and the Philosophy of the Individual and #840 Conventional Lies of Our Civilization, followed quickly by #845 An Introduction of Chaucer. Haldeman-Julius sent all to press with some speed.
Markun set himself hard at work for Haldeman-Julius. In 1926 he would see eleven of his titles published as Little Blue Books, including such popular works as LBB #286 Prostitution in the Ancient World, #1003 How to Think Logically, and #1097 Memory: What It Is and How to Use It.6 This seems a minor effort when compared to the twenty-four titles released in 1927, which included some of his best-selling Little Blue Books of all time: #503 A Short History of the Civil War, #597 A Short History of the American Revolution and #1259 A Dictionary of Geographical Names.7 And at this breakneck tempo, Markun soon established himself as one of the most prolific writers in the Little Blue Book series.
Markun's furious output was interrupted by a brief hiatus in 1928, with only half a dozen or so works making it to print.8 One title from this period, #377 The Psychology of Joy and Sorrow, seems to speak volumes to Markun's growing mindset. In it he writes:
"There are, in joy and sorrow, strong emotional elements. This, at least, they have in common, that they are both removed from the ordinary dead level of vegetative or reflective existence. When a man becomes suddenly very happy or unhappy, he does something. On occasion, something very violent and apparently purposeless may take place."9
Just prior to the publication of The Psychology of Joy and Sorrow the Markun family moved to a new home at 2139 North Pennsylvania Street. It was here, in the winter of 1928, that "Roving Correspondent" Fred Bair would encounter Markun. He described the 27 year old man he met as:
"Rather stout, wearing shell-rimmed glasses, you would take him to be forty if you passed him on the street. His manner is that of a scholar."10 The height and build that the wife of Leo's first cousin had described only a few years previous seems now to have been replaced by a that of a man, perhaps, retreating inwards.
Whatever trials Markun may have endured in 1928, he'd soon return to his work with a renewed zest, releasing twelve Little Blue Book titles in 1929, and another three in 1930.11 All the while, Markun laboured on what would be the true opus of his career, Mrs. Grundy; a history of four centuries of morals in Great Britain and the United States intended to illuminate present problems. Mrs. Grundy was published by D. Appleton and Company in 1930 as, at 649 pages and filled with prints from four hundred years of art history, the work was simply not compatible with Haldeman-Julius Publications. In its preface Markun wrote:
"I am grateful to Mr. Emanuel Haldeman-Julius for his courteous promptitude in granted me permission to make free use here of the material contained in such of my earlier publications under his imprint as cover, though on a lesser scale, parts of the present ground. Hardly any of the phraseology of Mrs. Grundy, however, has been carried over from these."12
The "courteous promptitude" of Haldeman-Julius was not limitless, however. In December of 1930, Markun began planning his next major work, All Mysteries Unveiled, for which he requested permission to incorporate material he'd written for the Little Blue Book series. Haldeman-Julius demanded fair compensation from any publisher who might pick up the work, effectively killing the project. Despite this outcome, Markun continued to deliver new Little Blue Book titles with great regularity - one every month or two, in accordance with the schedule set forth by Haldeman-Julius. Eleven works would be published in 1931, and another three in 1932.
Little Blue Book #1726 How to Think Creatively would be the last of Leo Markun's Little Blue Book titles to be published. A few months later, on November 2, 1932, alone in his room on Pennsylvania Street, Markun took a razor blade and slashed his own throat three (possibly four) times. He was discovered almost immediately by his brother, Harry, but nothing could be done to save his life. If there was a suicide note it was never made public. His niece, Evelyn Rosenberg, was told for years that her uncle had died in a car accident, but eventually learned
"He killed himself because he was going blind. He wore very thick glasses for his poor eyesight." Certainly this could have been the final catalyst, but it is impossible to ignore those foreboding words from The Psychology of Joy and Sorrow, that an unhappy man may be compelled to "something very violent and apparently purposeless."
Markun left behind many unfinished or unpublished works, included reams of poetry, and a follow up to Mrs. Grundy entitled A History of European Morals. Amongst these were also two Little Blue Books which would never see the light of day: "Facts About the Moving Picture Stars" and "The Inferiority Complex and Adler's Psychology."
My Second 25 Years lists an inventory of 63 titles attributed to Leo Markun.13 Yet this total is incorrect. Haldeman-Julius omitted some eight titles from the list, referenced here by book number: 820, 840, 845, 1439, 1442, 1448, 1449 and 1456. Clarification should be made that Haldeman-Julius does mention The Psychology of the Criminal but erroneously references it as LBB #1456. The Psychology of the Criminal was, in fact, LBB #1459. The true LBB #1456 A Dictionary of the Social Sciences is not mentioned. With these mistakes corrected, the actual total inventory of Little Blue Book titles which can be attributed to Markun is 71.14
Markun's prolificacy, and the quality of his writing, helped earn him a place amongst the best selling Little Blue Book authors in series history. According to My Second 25 Years, sales figures for Markun's books suggest that 4,745,000 copies of his works were sold between 1925 and 1949. Should we factor in those missing titles, and assume that even a few thousand copies sold each year, it is likely sales may have exceeded five million. And this does not include any sales that happened in between the publication of My Second 25 Years in 1949, and the destruction of the Little Blue Book publishing plant in July, 1978.
For more information on Little Blue Book authors, and biographic data on specific writers/contributors, please see our article Torch Bearers in the War on Ignorance!.
|1||William F. Ryan, "Leo Markun: Mrs. Grundy's Bad Boy" MidAmerica VII (1980), pg. 115, The Center for the Study of Midwestern Literature and Culture.|
|2,5||Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, My Second 25 Years; Instead of a footnote An Autobiography (1949), pg. 106, Haldeman-Julius Publications.|
|3||Library of Congress Online Catalog, "Mrs. Grundy; a history of four centuries of morals in Great Britain and the United States intended to illuminate present problems.", Library of Congress Catalog Record (Accessed January 15, 2010). [http://lccn.loc.gov/70000133]|
|4,10||Fred Bair, "Notes from a Roving Correspondent," Haldeman-Julius Monthly Vol. VII, No. 1 (June 1928), pg. 41, Haldeman-Julius Publications.|
|6,7,8,13||Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, My Second 25 Years; Instead of a footnote An Autobiography (1949), pp. 106-107, Haldeman-Julius Publications.|
|9||Leo Markun, The Psychology of Joy and Sorrow: What Behaviorists and Others Learned about Our Nature (1928), pg. 5, Haldeman-Julius Publications.|
|11||Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, My Second 25 Years; Instead of a footnote An Autobiography (1949), pg. 107, Haldeman-Julius Publications.|
|12||Leo Markun, Mrs. Grundy; a history of four centuries of morals in Great Britain and the United States intended to illuminate present problems (1930), pp. v-vi, D. Appleton and Company.|
|14||In Ryan's work, "Leo Markun: Mrs. Grundy's Bad Boy" he too incorrectly calculates the total number of Little Blue Book titles attributed to Markun. In identifying the mistake in My Second 25 Years, Ryan states that Haldeman-Julius' lists 62 titles, and that "a dozen" titles are missing. Ryan thus calculates the official total as 74 titles, but his itemization of those missing lists only eight titles. The confusion over LBB #1459 and #1456 is not discussed.|
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