…with Danger Gravy
365 People, Places & Things #95
Lots of private investigators can be called hardcase, but this guy is the real deal.
Alt. Rocks: Stoney Flint, Elemental Detective
On the Elemental Plane of existence, no fictional detective was more popular than Stoney Flint, Elemental Detective. First published in 1932 by Hydro & Pyro Press, the series lasted in the pulp magazine format until 1956. In 1969, the first paperback reprints began appearing in the popular double story format. In 1974, the first all new stories began and the series continued monthly for the next 15 years. Most of the original stories were written by prolific pulp author Herman Sulphur, with the remainder by Frank Stream (a Water Elemental later known for creating the comic book hero Blue Mist), but all appeared under the house name of Lance Coal. Paperback originals have been written by a number of authors, but all are published under the Coal byline.
The series was notable for sometimes crossing into other genres than that of straight up detective stories. At various times, Stoney dealt with spies, the supernatural, masked vigilantes and even aliens. During World War Two, Stoney regularly went up against foreign agents or traitorous businessmen.
Stoney Flint was, as described by his secretary, Polly Zephyr, “a half a ton of real man” with “a strong chin, a chipped nose and eyes that could look right through ya”. Stoney had his office on the third floor of the Hydrogen Building (a real place) in Venice, California. His three room bungalow was variously described as either four or two blocks away, but always across from Quartz’s Pool Hall. His car varied over the years, but was always 5 or 6 years old and “almost paid off”. He carried many weapons over the years, but most often favored a revolver.
Many supporting characters appear in the stories. Notable among them are his best friend, Captain Smokey La Flame of the LAPD Homicide Division, Rocco Quartz (owner of Quartz’s Pool Hall, Mac Liquido (his Water mechanic and sometimes backup) and his ex-wife, Augusta “Gussie” Flint (assistant to the Mayor of Los Angeles). The only supporting character to appear in every story was Polly Zephyr, who also narrated the 15 stories not told by Stoney himself. Polly was different from the classic P.I. Secretary in that she did not carry a torch for her boss and was happily married. She was also far from helpless and on more that one occasion pulled Stoney’s fat from the fryer.
The stories also featured several recurring villains, most prominently Vic Magma, the half Fire/half Earth crime boss who ruled the Mob in L.A. Stoney crossed paths with him 44 times before Magma met his death in the 1986 story “The Lonely Photographer Case”.
Other recurring criminals included Colonel Kurt Storm (Nazi spy master), Mr. Tsunami (Japanese scientist and spy), Lydia Snow (master thief and old flame), Zangar Deathdealer (a supernatural being called a “human”, who was a serial killer) and Nick & Nora Charcoal (a husband and wife team of grifters).
In 1935, the NBC Blue channel began airing The Adventures of Stoney Flint over the radio. The series was an instant hit and went from an initial set of 16 half hour episodes straight into one hour episodes that ran until 1953. Until 1948, Stoney was voiced by famed character actor Bob Iron. After Iron retired, the role was taken over by Paul Diamond until the series ended.
On television, Stoney Flint ran from 1957 until 1971, but was later revived as a series of television movies on HBO between 1986 and 2003. In the original series, Stoney was portrayed by Dan Copper. In the HBO movies, he was played by James Sand.
Many Stoney Flint feature films were made between 1937 and 1952 by ROK Studios. Various actors played the part of Stoney. All of these films are now available on DVD.