Doc Savage Was Born on…
November 8, 2009 - article
When was Doc Savage born?
Philip Jose Farmer chose a day.
Will Murray thought PJF might have been thinking of the day Lester Dent starting writing the first novel.
But neither answer the question: What was the day Clark Savage, Jr. was born?
Determining the birth date of a fictional character is not a simple task. I began my quest to find Clark Savage’s birth date after reading about the confusion regarding the exact day and time in alt.fan.doc-savage. I had no idea where to start or the path to take, but that never stopped me before.
First, I looked to Doc Savage’s parents. No, not Clark Savage Senior and his wife, but Henry Ralston and Lester Dent. As Doc’s “creators” they had the perfect opportunity to set his birth date in stone.
Nor did any of the numerous “Kenneth Robesons” who followed Dent (including the latest Robeson, Will Murray.) As Doc’s “mentors” these authors had the chance to give us Doc’s birthday. Oh, they hinted, but never a clear cut date.
Finally, Doc’s biographer, Phillip Jose Farmer, set the matter to rest by declaring Doc’s birth date to be November 12, 1901 based on evidence in the novels.
Unfortunately, he was mistaken.
He was close, very close, but in the rush to meet a deadline Farmer missed a few key clues. Just enough key clues to throw him off the track. Let’s look at Farmer’s path to the day and where he went astray.
The Search Begins in Ernest (er, Lester)
In “Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life” Farmer mentions that the editorial page of the May-June 1947 issue of Doc Savage states that “This thing started November 12, 1932. This brusque notation, so it happens, was made the day the writing of the first Doc Savage novel began….”
Farmer continues by relating that the notebook actually reads “This thing started December 10, 1932.” He proposes that “Dent was actually thinking of Doc’s birth date, November 12, when he told the editor about the first day of writing the Man of Bronze.”
In that one clue Farmer decides that Dent’s poor memory pointed to Doc’s birthday. Farmer was so sure that he didn’t investigate further. He took a little trouble to unearth 1901 as the year Doc was born.
That left fans everywhere with the belief that Doc was born November 12, 1901. Simple and end of story. Except, as I said, Farmer missed a couple of clues.
I went back to the canon to check Farmer’s work: the 180 odd novels published between 1933 to 1949.
Consulting them we find that only two mention Doc’s birth. In Peril in the North, Pat Savage mentions that “Monk, Ham, Johnny, Long Tom, and Renny are all getting ready to throw you a birthday party. They have everything all set. The trouble is, they haven’t been able to find you. Where have you been? They thought you’d be at that doings at the Ritz-Astoria.”
The “doings” Pat mentioned was described by Doc to Snooker as “reception for foreign notables and army commanders here at the hotel, and I am supposed to be in the receiving line.” Remember this, it’ll be important.
Of course, Peril in the North doesn’t mention the month or year. We can deduce the latest the events could have occurred though. Peril in the North was published in November 1941. We know it takes awhile to write a novel, edit it, and publish it. So, Doc’s birthday party wasn’t in November 1941. Farmer places the novel in his fine chronology in November 1940. It fits our available facts and with a little more digging we can set the day. Again, remember this, we’ll get back to it.
As an aside:
Doc does have an unusual reaction to hearing about the party.
“Doc Savage did not ordinarily talk a great deal. Now that he thought of it, he had talked more tonight than was his custom. He felt, for some reason or other, more free. It might be because it was his birthday. But the truth was that he had completely overlooked the fact that this was his birthday.”
Now we know why there are so few mentions of Doc’s birthday.
He just rarely noticed.
The Golden Man Knows Where to Start
The other novel that mentioned Doc’s birth was The Golden Man, published in March 1941. (By the way, Bantam published these two novels as a double: #117/#118. Weren’t they just the most considerate company?)
In the novel Doc has his world rocked by the “Golden Man.” Doc meets the Golden Man for the first time and the man recognizes Doc Savage on sight before any introductions are made. Doc is “amazed” and asks the man, “You know me?” Obviously, Doc was being sarcastic. After all, who wouldn’t know a bronze man well over 6 feet tall who has been mentioned in almost every major newspaper of the world for the past decade?
That aside, the Golden Man does let slip an important piece of info for our quest: “Since that stormy night when you were born on the tiny schooner Orion in the shallow cove at the north end of Andros Island, you have done much good, and many things that are great.” Wow, not exactly an impressive piece of biography, is it? But “Doc was floored, figuratively.” Doc knew of no living person who knew of his birthplace. It wasn’t even something he had shared with his crew.
So add two mentions in the novels to some generous research and add a smidgen of conjecture and, viola, Doc’s birth date! We’ve given you the novel excerpts. Let’s move on to Farmer’s conjecture. Though much research recounted in his book, Farmer set Doc’s birth year as 1901. The clues seem solid. We’ll leave it to you to investigate his reasoning. We’ll call this one a given.
The Golden Man states Doc’s birthplace is Andros Island. There are actually two islands called Andros. The first is off the coast of Greece. The second is one of the Bahama Islands. Farmer believes it is the latter island. He barely explains his reasoning for that decision. We can’t call the location a given. We’ll leave it to another article to decide this question.
I consulted world weather patterns and as many weather records for the time as I could find. I wasn’t able to unearth weather records for 1901 for either island and had to rely on seasonal averages. Both islands have a rainy season in November. According to the Climate Advisor (Gilbert Schwartz, 1977) this is the end of the season for the Bahama islands. The mean annual rainfall there ranges from more than 150 cm for the Northern islands to less than 65 cm for the Southern. Hurricanes occur primarily from May to September. The gist of the weather information is: a storm is easily possible on both islands in early November.
What about 1940?
Now on to the fun stuff. Just what was happening in New York City in November 1940? (Remember, we set that month as the “true date” for the events written as Peril in the North.) Let’s look first at November 12th, 1940 in NYC. There were showers and the weather report mentioned that it was “colder” than it had been. The New York Times reported that the forecast was for “rather cold” on the 13th. In the news there was still talk about the death of Neville Chamberlain on November 9th, and reports on the activities during the 22nd anniversary of Armistice Day (November 11th).
Nowhere in Peril in the North is any of this mentioned. The weather doesn’t seem to be cold. No one is mentioned wearing coats. There is not a hint of the cold causing breath to be visible. And especially, no mention of the death of one of the world’s leaders just days before.
Why? The answer is simple. Doc’s birthday is not November 12th. Farmer didn’t have the time to check every fact while writing the book. Some things he just had to propose and let history debate the question.
So when was Doc born? Well, Farmer was close. Very close. I started investigating the events of the city for the month of November. Some days fit the weather, some had events that were close, but no day fit as well as November 7, 1940.
Remember the “Ritz-Astoria” we mentioned earlier as the site for the conference? Street and Smith had no desire to allow a mention of THE Waldorf that might bring a lawsuit. Obviously, the various Robeson’s were instructed to tweak the names of actual locations. So, enter the actual location for the conference: on November 7, 1940 there were two conferences at the Waldorf-Astoria.
The first was the First Annual Medical Meeting of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The agenda included information by Dr. Herbert Hipps regarding their new operation to “improve the strength of selected muscles in victims of infantile paralysis that have failed to improve with rest.”
Can you imagine Doc, one of the world’s foremost surgeons, not attending that event? Immediately after the medical meeting was a meeting of the Allied Relief Fund and British War Relief Fund at the same hotel.
Remember that Peril in the North mentioned that Doc was at a meeting of foreign dignitaries and war types at the hotel. A war relief fund meeting would certainly attract “foreign dignitaries and war types.” Not to mention one of America’s leading citizens: Doc Savage. These two conferences are perfect for the events as related in Peril in the North.
Moving on to the weather for the 7th: The New York Times reported that the weather was mild for the day and the forecast was simply for “partly cloudy.” Sounds like another match for the 7th.
And so we conclude…
No date fits better than November 7th, 1901. It fits everything we know about Doc’s birthday. The possibility for storms exist at Andros Island in 1901. Moving to 1940 we find the reception that Doc attends in Peril in the North. The weather is just as was described in the novel. The facts simply favor the 7th. I guess you owe him a belated birthday card.
No, Phillip Jose Farmer didn’t already give us Doc’s birthday. He just looked at a old notebook. He didn’t do the research. On the other hand we did. And we can tell you that Doc’s birthday is….absolutely in this article.