Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Legion of Living Dead
LEGION OF Living DEAD
Although G.T. Fkeming-Roberts penned both Legion of Living Dead and Ringmaster of Doom, the Legion of Living Dead is of particular note in the Secret Agent Xseries. Fleming-Roberts wasn't above borrowing plots or characters from previous stories - or other series, for that matter. But I imagine all pulp authors borrowed an occasional plot or character once in a while. To his credit, Fleming-Roberts usually did a better job with them, so all is forgiven.
Case in point is a character named Tasha Merlo from the September 1934 issue, Octopus of Crime. It is an odd story from the onset. The Agent even uses a retired policeman named Thomas McGrath in the story, which reminded me of Thomas Gregg from the Phantom Detective,and Captain McGrath of the Black Bat. But it's Tasha Merlo that's important to the present discussion. She is:
"A redhead, beautifully molded in face and figure, with heavy-lidded violet eyes. The lines of her face showed little outward character and were deceptively mild, almost babyish. Her laughter was a silvery tinkle. She was a jewel fence of international fame and had two fierce leopards, Satanand Nero, as pets."
Fleming-Roberts' first short story in the Secret Agent Xmagazine appeared in the September 1934 issue, titled The Murder Masterpiece. It's not surprising, then, that he read the lead story, Octopus of Crime, and liked the character of Tasha Merlo, whom he must have found fascinating. When he wrote Legion of Living Dead, he brought her back, somewhat changed of course. She is:
"Felice Vincart - The Leopard Lady. Her face was small, nearly round, and dark complexioned. Her lips slightly voluptuous, were rouged a striking shade of red that was almost like Chinese lacquer. Her nose was slightly tip-tilted and her eyes were actually arresting: true emerald green they were beneath long, penciled brows that curved upwards at the outer extremities. Her every movement was feline grace. And at her side are two fierce leopards!"
Her youth remains a mystery, though it is believed she grew up in a circus atmosphere. Her parents were probably circus performers. She found that she possessed a power over animals, especially the big jungle cats. She became an animal trainer, and left the circus to perform on stage in New York. Her stage act consisted of a wild barbaric dance with two great leopards, and she was dubbed, The Leopard Lady.
While performing on stage, she met and fell in love with a young millionaire named Phelps. He swept her off her feet in a swirling courtship, and took her away from the stage. On a honeymoon voyage around the world, he died somewhere in the Orient, and when she returned to the States, his family would not accept her, claiming she had murdered her husband, but could not prove it. Assuming her maiden name, she ended up on the wrong side of the law.
Although she was secondary to the mastermind in the story, Felice Vincart is the center attraction in Legion of Living Dead, and has the distinction of being the only major villain to oppose the Secret Agent more than once. She escapes at the end of the story, and I'm sure the readers at the time figured that was the last they would ever see of her. But she would return in February 1936, in Dividends of Doom.
I think what separated Paul Chadwick (the originator of Secret Agent X) and G.T. Fleming-Roberts was in the latter's ability at characterization. Chadwick's stories are steeped in horror and mood, and you remember that about them. But with Fleming-Roberts, you remember his characters first. And he was especially good when creating the many vamps that dominated his stories. Whether minor characters, or leading villains, the females always took center stage.
Although she had turned to crime, Felice Vincart will always be remembered in the annals of Secret Agent X!
I would like to think that, in some way, this article is a tribute to her.