Marty Greenberg reached far into the past for this book, early material by one of the oldest still-active writers in SF. Born in 1896, William Fitzgerald Jenkins had such a long career that when he appeared in the very first science fiction magazine, Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories, it was with a seven-year-old story, “The Runaway Skyscraper,” one of the most visually evocative SF titles. That story, his first SF tale ever, appeared under his non de fantastic of Murray Leinster in the February 22, 1919 issue of Argosy; he also wrote numerous works under variations of his real name and, like any good pulpster, used other pseudonyms for other genres.
The Forgotten Planet started with three novelettes, although Leinster apparently did some rewriting. Groff Conklin said that the result was “a genuine novel, not just three tales loosely jointed together.” Two of the three predate science fiction as a genre: “The Mad Planet” appeared in Argosy in the June 12, 1920 issue and “The Red Dust” followed in Argosy All-Story Weekly for April 2, 1921 (same magazine, with a slight name change). Gernsback lured him back to a short-lived magazine, Science Fiction Plus, and “Nightmare Planet” appeared in the June 1953 issue. Greenberg hurriedly brought them together as a novel. I don’t know who thought of the new name, but it happens that the July 1930 issue of Astounding had in it a story by Leinster as well as a story by Sewell Peasley Wright titled “The Forgotten Planet.” Maybe it stayed in his memory.
The back flap credits the cover design to Emsh, i.e. Ed Emshwiller, the prolific and very fine artist would would go on to do another dozen covers for Gnome. The problem with the credit is that the actual cover art is signed Binkley, obviously Ric Binkley, one of the 15 covers he did for Greenberg. Even for Gnome this level of misattribution is weird, so there must be a story behind it.
Libraries were turning into a good market for Gnome. Unlike individual buyers, they were used to dealing direct with publishers and distributors. Most of the mentions of Gnome Press books in newspapers were simple listings of new books being added to library collections. (And not in tiny towns, either. The Forgotten Planet is mentioned in papers from Helena, MT and Reno, NV.) What is now called “Young Adult” fiction was then a new and booming field, even in SF, as proved by Robert Heinlein and the many others who followed him. Greenberg, always looking for that slight edge that might somehow get him to profitability, saw an opening. He planned on starting a “Gnome Juniors” series, first announced on Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson’s Undersea Quest earlier in 1954. You’d think that pre-Golden Age pulp fiction, already creaky and musty in tone, wouldn’t be appetizing for atomic age teens, even if it did feature a 20-year-old hero. Whatever we think, Greenberg thought differently. (That inadvertently sums up the entire history of Gnome Press.) He commissioned a cover from Emsh, a beautiful painting of a human caveman pointing a spear at a beetle much larger than he is, under a redwood-sized mushroom. CURREY quotes Greenberg as saying that it wasn’t commercial and that he pulled all the covers off the market. CHALKER says that this cover went on all the library copies but the book was pulled when they complained about the cover. All we can say now is that books with the cover exist, although they are extremely scare. The usual claim is that they went exclusively on the second state of cream boards, but I can’t confirm this.
The timing of this disaster is mysterious. If the variant cover was for the second state boards, then the first state, easy to come by, must have been paired with the Binkley cover. So why in the world would they leave Emsh’s name on the reverse? How do you forget something like that? Possibly the Emsh cover was indeed planned for the two states simultaneously and the Binkley version substituted at such a last minute that the change couldn’t be made. But if that’s true, then why wouldn’t someone have discreetly whited out Emsh’s name on the three subsequent printings, one of them not coming until 1957, by which time any number of people must have noticed? And the back cover of the beetle variant has a different title listing, so somebody as paying attention to it.
Adding to the confusion is a line on the copyright page that says, “Designed by Betty Kormusis”. Who? She is not mentioned in any writing about Gnome or the science fiction community that I’ve ever come across. A Betty Kormusis is listed as a designer in a variety of titles from the 1950s: Sut Lovingood, by George Washington Harris, from Grove Press in 1954 (and printed by H. Wolff, Gnome’s printer); the first and very rare 1955 edition from Vanguard Press of Patrick Dennis’ famed Auntie Mame, under the name Betty Kormusis Crumley; John O’Hara’s Sweet and Sour, from Random House in 1954; line drawings in Chafing-Dish Specialties, by Nedda Casson Anders, published by Hearthside Press also in 1954. Don Crumley mentions in a post on the Flushing High School website that he married his 1949 classmate Betty Kormusis in 1955, explaining that 1955 change in name. She is also mentioned as an alumni of the Pratt Institute, a New York college with a strong art program, of the class of 1952. It all fits together into a short-lived career as a freelance book designer, probably derailed by marriage and housewifery. Unknown is what role she could have played at Gnome. She is never mentioned on any other book. Did she add the decorative “star” dots to the boards and title page, a motif picked up by a circle next to the book page on every recto page? Yes, it’s a Gnome mystery on top of a Gnome mystery.
Groff Conklin reviewed the book in the January 1955 Galaxy:
It is Leinster at his exciting, skilled best.
The Forgotten Planet, by Murray Leinster (pseud. of William Fitzgerald Jenkins), 1954, title #43, 177 pages, $2.50, 5000 copies printed.
Hardback. “Jacket design by Emsh” stated on rear flap [but cover signed by [Ric] Binkley]. Boards have colored dots on front, repeated on title page. “First Edition” stated on copyright page. Designed by Betty Kormusis. Printed by H. Wolff, New York. “Preface” by Murray Leinster; “Bibliography.” Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., New York 3. Back cover: 32 titles listed, through Prelude to Space.
Variants, listed in probable priority
1) CURREY (A) Cream cloth, spine and “star” dots lettered in yellow-green, printed 1954
2) CURREY (B) Cream boards with yellow-green marbled pattern, spine and “star” dots lettered in green, printed 1954
3) CURREY (C) Tan boards, spine and “star” dots lettered in green, printed 1954
4) CURREY (D) Gray cloth, spine and “star” dots lettered in red, printed 1957
Variant, Not In Currey
5) Green boards, spine and cover “star” dots printed in black ink.
6) Emsh cover of man fighting giant beetle. Back cover: 31 titles listed (Iceworld is missing) in different order than on main cover. Probable CURREY (B) boards.
NOTE: The “marbled pattern” is a series of dots, probably indicating stars or planets, that appear on the front cover. Although CURREY mentions them only for the (B) state they appear on every variant I’ve seen. I believe they are unique to this title. The CURREY listing is under Leinster’s given name of William Fitzgerald Jenkins.