Azef, Evno. Evno Azef (1869-1918) was a Russian revolutionary who worked for the anarchist Socialist-Revolutionary Party while also acting as a double agent for the Russian secret police. Azef appeared as the enemy of Sexton Blake and Sâr Dubnotal in 1909 and of Knut Gribb in 1910. In 1909 Azef appeared in the Russian Celebrity Pulp novel Evno Azef, The Anarchist Detective. In the novel Azef solves a murder mystery in St. Petersburg.
Celebrity, in the modern sense of the word, is impossible without modern media and the apparatus for the mass production and distribution of popular literature. On that basis, the figure of the celebrity can be traced back to the early 18th century.
More specifically for our purposes, the use of a celebrity–in this case a living person–in adventure fiction can be traced back to later that century. Possibly the first major celebrity who was used as the protagonist of a work of adventure fiction was George Barrington (1755-1804). The Irish Barrington moved to England in 1773 to avoid arrest and took up thieving in the theater foyers and pleasure gardens of London. Many of his thefts became famous, such as his notorious pickpocketing of the diamond snuffbox of Prince Orloff of Russia in Covent Garden in 1775. Barrington was arrested fourteen times, but his eloquence and gentlemanly carriage so impressed the courts that he was forced to serve only three short prison terms. Barrington became a favorite of the press, who called him “the Prince of Pickpockets,” and at the turn of the 19th century he appeared in popular songs, melodramas, and fiction as the archetypal Gentleman Thief, a Lupin avant la lettre.
The success of fiction based on Barrington (among other figures) served as an example for other authors and publishers of popular fiction, and over the next eighty years publishers occasionally used living men and woman with reputations (earned or unearned) for heroism as the protagonists in fiction, such as the novelettes of the 1840s about frontiersman Christopher “Kit” Carson (1809-1868). But the modern practice of not just using celebrities as protagonists but basing entire ongoing fictional series on them–what I’ve dubbed the “Celebrity Pulps”–began on May 18, 1901, with the first issue of Street & Smith’s The Buffalo Bill Stories, which contained the story “Buffalo Bill, the Border King.” William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917) had been an irregularly-appearing fixture in dime novels since the 1869, when Edward Judson, better known as “Ned Buntline,” wrote the first Buffalo Bill serial, “Buffalo Bill, the King of the Border Men” (New York Weekly, Dec. 23, 1869-Mar. 10, 1870).
Judson gave Cody his initial burst of fame in this serial, which is a fictionalized account of his work as a U.S. Army scout, and Cody helped further his own reputation by winning the Medal of Honor in 1872 for “gallantry in action.” Cody propelled himself to international fame by entering show business, beginning in 1872, by joining touring companies. In 1883 he formed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a touring company which at its height employed over five hundred people, from Lakota Sioux to Mongols, and which performed across North America and England over the next twenty years. By 1901 Cody was, in the words of Larry McMurtry, the most famous living American, much more even than President Theodore Roosevelt, and given the widespread nature of his persona it was merely good business sense for Street and Smith to publish a series of adventure stories based around that persona.
However, what was new about Buffalo Bill Stories, and what established the model for successive Celebrity Pulps, was the premise that the ongoing series would consist entirely of new stories about Cody’s life, rather than stories which tied in (however tangentially or fictionally) to real events from Cody’s past. Future writers and publishers of Celebrity Pulps would no longer feel the need to pretend to historical accuracy when describing the adventures of a living celebrity, and now had the freedom to indulge their imaginations and (not coincidentally) tell stories more suitable for adventure fiction.
For the first decade following Buffalo Bill Stories’ debut, most of the Celebrity Pulps were not of actors. There were a few actors who were fictionalized, such as Gomecillo & Peliculez, but most Celebrity Pulps in this initial stage were of men and women who, like William Cody, were famous for things they had done in real life, as opposed to what their screen personas had accomplished. Among the men and women in this list were Father Gapon, Thomas Alva Edison, Harry Houdini, and Edmond Pezon.
However, the rise in the production and distribution of film, especially Hollywood films, led to a new type of celebrity, those who were primarily associated with fictional, filmic exploits rather than real-life adventures, and by 1915 Shirley Temple, Max Linder, and Tom Mix were appearing as the protagonists of Spanish comic strips. Celebrity Pulps about celebrities other than actors and actresses didn’t disappear, as with the examples of Al Capone and Pancho Villa, but the majority of Celebrity Pulps after 1915 were of actors and actresses.
Celebrity Pulps were primarily pulps, but in some countries they appeared in the form of comic strips, rather than pulps. Great Britain never had a true Celebrity Pulp, but the comic book Film Fun (1902-1962) published the adventures of, among others, Ben Turpin, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. In the United States, the comic book Super Magician Comics did the same from 1941 to 1947.
Despite their origins in the United States Celebrity Pulps were far more popular in Europe than in the U.S., and many of the protagonists of the Celebrity Pulps were European celebrities, including Harry Hill, Luciano Albertini, Carlo Aldini, and Billy Jenkins. This was not always the case, of course, and some actors who were popular in the U.S. appeared in European Celebrity Pulps, including Jackie Coogan, Harold Lloyd, and Ken Maynard.
One type of Celebrity Pulp that did enjoy a brief vogue in the United States was the Celebrity Pulp-as-radio-show, with both Jimmy Mattern and Harold Noice being the subjects of radio Celebrity Pulps, and Basil Rathbone starring as Basil Rathbone, actor-detective, in the radio show Tales of Fatima (1949).
Most of the Celebrity Pulps were of actors, but actresses were represented as well, both European (Lee Parry, Ossi Oswalda) and American (Pola Negri, Mary Pickford). Nor were actresses the only women to appear as the leads in Celebrity Pulps, as can be seen with the curious example of Shi Jianqiao.
Most Celebrity Pulps were straightforward action/adventure, but some had overtly ideological bents: the Indonesian Celebrity Pulps with Patjar Merah were explicitly anti-Dutch, while the East German Cliff Aeroes stories were Communist agitprop.
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, the celebrity who most commonly appeared in a Celebrity Pulp was Charlie Chaplin. Like the Celebrity Pulps as a genre, most of Chaplin’s appearances in Celebrity Pulps took place in the 1920s, and appeared across Europe, from his appearances in France and Italy as Charlot from 1922-1923 and in Turkey, as a detective in ?arlo Polis Hafiyesi ve Gülünçü Sergüze?tleri #1-16 in 1924.