42. The Forgotten Planet


Murray Leinster (1876-1975) wasn’t the oldest living author published by Gnome – E. E. (Doc) Smith snuck in at the end when Marty Greenberg rescued two titles from Fantasy Press – but he was one of the few to have been alive in the 19th century. He started at the top, a double dozen of sales to the prestigious magazine The Smart Set from 1915-1918. His first sales were published under the pseudonym of Jean Farquar but he soon swamped then with so many that variations of his given name, William Fitzgerald Jenkins, took over, although at least one story was published as by Murray Leinster (pronounced Lenster), Dozens more, some as by pulpish concoctions like Pepe Gomez, Louisa Carter Lee, Florinda Martel and Rafaele Yborra, followed, in virtually every pulp genre. In August 1922, for example, he had stories appear in Ace-High Magazine, Argosy All-Story Weekly, People’s Story Magazine, Saucy Stories, Telling Tales, and The Black Mask. The Encyclopedia Virginia says, “He published approximately 1,800 stories in more than 150 periodicals and 74 novels and collections in a career that began in 1913 and ended in 1974.”

Where to start his f&sf career is a matter of opinion, choosing when to emphasize weird elements in proto-sf stories. The ISFDB opts for “Atmosphere,” a never-reprinted story from The Argosy, January 26, 1918. Leinster is far more famous for his 1919 story “The Runaway Skyscraper,” one of the most visually evocative SF titles, in the briefly merged Argosy and Railroad Man’s Magazine. When Hugo Gernsback reprinted it for the third issue of Amazing, it was already a seven-year-old story, a relic of the pre-genre past sitting alongside of Verne and Wells and Poe.

The Forgotten Planet is composed of stitched together novelettes, just as the Foundation Trilogy was. Two also predate science fiction as a genre: “The Mad Planet” appeared in Argosy in 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, where “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 a story by Leinster as well as a story by Sewell Peasley Wright titled “The Forgotten Planet.” Maybe it stayed in his memory.

The age and creakiness of the originals proved a problem. Pre-genre sf was at best an acquired taste. Andrew Norton, who worked as a first reader for Gnome, lacked appreciation. She wrote Greenberg, in a letter preserved at the Syracuse University Special Collections, that “I can only believe that this must be a very early attempt of his, brought out of some trunk, under the mistaken impression held by so many writers in the adult field that anything will go for younger readers — when just the opposite is true, standards are very much higher in teen age and juvenile fields.” Leinster was not pleased, but he accepted some of her suggestions along with rewrites by Gnome assistant Joseph Wrzos (whom he knew as Joe Ross), and the final product had extensive revisions. (See The History of Gnome)

Gnome Notes

The back flap has something new: a distributor:

distributed by
118 East 28th Street
New York, 16, New York

Associated Booksellers were a minor publisher whose first appearance in the Catalog of Copyright Entries isn’t until 1955.

Also on the back flap was a cover design credit to Emsh, i.e., Ed Emshwiller, the prolific and very fine artist who 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. As it turns out, Planet has two dust jackets, one by Emsh and one by Binkley.

Libraries were turning into a good market for Gnome. Unlike individual buyers, they were used to dealing directly 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. What is now called “Young Adult” fiction was then a new and booming field, even in f&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 started a “Gnome Juniors” series, a notice placed on the Emsh dj back flap in lieu of the distributor address.


Gnome Juniors are under the editorial direction of Andre Norton, formerly children’s librarian at the Cleveland Public Library. Editor of three well-received anthologies, Miss Norton is also widely known for her nine popular teen-age novels.

Why Greenberg didn’t start with William Morrison’s Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars, a book actually aimed at teenagers and published at virtually the same time as Forgotten, is a mystery. 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 also 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 tree-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 non-library books with the cover exist, although they are extremely scare.

The timing of this disaster is mysterious. Was the Emsh cover produced before, after, or simultaneously with the Binkley cover? A case can be made for any of those. The only explanation I find even faintly reasonable is that the Emsh cover was indeed intended to be used for the library edition, and the Binkley version for bookstores and direct sales. That’s bolstered by the former mentioning the Gnome Juniors and the latter touting the distributor. Moreover, the two back panels have differences in wording, order, and typography, indicating not a substitution but an alternate creative process. The Binkley back panel is used on three other titles, but the Emsh one is a singleton. Although: if they were planned as two separate projects from the beginning, why wouldn’t someone have discreetly whited out Emsh’s name, especially since the Binkley cover was placed on the subsequent variants, one of them not coming until 1957, by which time any number of people must have noticed? Do the boards give a clue? Unfortunately no. My Emsh dust jacket cover tan boards, but I also have tan boards with the Binkley jacket. My guess is that the cream boards were for the trade edition, while the tan boards were for libraries, but that they got recovered with Binkley jackets. Both boards appear frequently, as does the later gray cloth. The green broads are scarce but not nearly as expensive as an Emsh jacket, which is one of the priciest Gnome collectibles.

One additional unique feature of Forgotten is a line on the copyright page: “Designed by Betty Kormusis.” She is not mentioned in any writing about Gnome or the science fiction community that I’ve ever come across. Nor is she never mentioned on any other book. Does “designed by” mean she add the decorative “star” dots to the boards and title page, a motif picked up by a circle to the right of the title on every recto page?

Internet research finds a Betty Kormusis mentioned as an alumnus of the Pratt Institute, class of 1952, Pratt being a New York college with a strong art program. Koumiss is credited with line drawings in another 1954 book, Chafing-Dish Specialties, by Nedda Casson Anders, published by Hearthside Press. She also is listed as a designer in a variety of titles close in time: a sampling includes Sut Lovingood, by George Washington Harris, from Grove Press in 1954; John O’Hara’s Sweet and Sour, from Random House in 1954; and the first and very rare 1955 edition from Vanguard Press of Patrick Dennis’ famed Auntie Mame, under the name Betty Kormusis Crumley. Don Crumley mentions in a post on the Flushing High School website that he married his 1949 classmate Betty Kormusis in 1955, explaining that sudden change in name.

Fortuitously, I heard from Betty’s niece, Nancy M. Crumley, who connected all the dots.

My aunt was a book designer at H. Wolff Book Manufacturing Company, followed by a long freelance career designing books for Random House, Vanguard, Simon & Schuster, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, etc.

She has a bookcase filled with copies of many of the books she designed over the years, including THE FORGOTTEN PLANET. And yes, it was she who came up with the planet motif!

Dave Kyle, who had done most of the design work, left Gnome in 1954. Coincidence? I hardly think so. Much more likely is that Greenberg to his publisher, H. Wolfe, for assistance, before bringing on W. I. van der Poel as art director.

CURREY writes that the earliest binding of “cream cloth lettered in yellow green” is found on the “copy thus deposited in the Library of Congress.” I’ve never seen one or a mention or image of one in the wild. Greenberg did sometimes change his mind about his releases at the last minute (see Northwest of Earth) but no other unused boards are known. If this is a true variant, collectors can forget about acquiring one. It presumably has the same dust jacket as the other map covers, but I can’t confirm that.

Kirkus Reviews gave the expected publication date as June 25, 1954.


P. Schuyler Miller, Astounding Science Fiction, April 1955
The old master is at his best in this one.

Groff Conklin, Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1955
It is Leinster at his exciting, skilled best.

Contents and Original Publications

• “Preface” (original to this volume).
• “Prologue” (rewritten from “Nightmare Planet,” Science-Fiction Plus, June 1953).
• Chapters 1-5 (rewritten from “The Mad Planet,” Argosy, June 12, 1920).
• Chapters 6-8 (rewritten from “The Red Dust,” Argosy All-Story Weekly, April 2, 1921).
• Chapters 1-5 (rewritten from “The Mad Planet,” Argosy, June 12, 1920).
• “Epilogue” (rewritten from “Nightmare Planet,” Science-Fiction Plus, June 1953).
• “Bibliography” (original to this volume).

Bibliographic Information

The Forgotten Planet, by Murray Leinster (pseud. of William Fitzgerald Jenkins), 1954, copyright registration 21Jul54, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 54-7255, 177 pages, title #42, back panels #26,27, $2.50. 5000 copies printed. Hardback. “Star” dots on boards. “First Edition” on copyright page. Printed in the USA by H. Wolff, New York. Designed by Betty Kormusis. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., New York 3.

            Variants, 1) through 5) listed in probable priority

1). (CURREY A) Cream cloth, 1954. “Jacket design by Emsh” stated on rear flap [but cover signed by [Ric] Binkley]. Back panel: 32 titles. [not seen]

2). (CURREY B) Mottled cream boards, 1954. “Jacket design by Emsh” stated on rear flap [but cover signed by [Ric] Binkley]. Back panel: 32 titles.

3). (CURREY C) Tan boards, 1954. “Jacket design by Emsh” stated on rear flap [but cover signed by [Ric] Binkley]. Back panel: 32 titles.

4). (CURREY D) Gray cloth, bound 1957?. “Jacket design by Emsh” stated on rear flap [but cover signed by [Ric] Binkley]. Back panel: 32 titles.

5) Green boards, 1957?. “Jacket design by Emsh” stated on rear flap [but cover signed by [Ric] Binkley]. Back panel: 32 titles. [Not in CURREY]

6) Emsh [Ed Emshwiller] signed jacket of man fighting giant beetle. Tan boards, spine and “star” dots lettered in green, identical to (3), printed 1954. “A NOTE ON GNOME JUNIORS” replaces “distributed by ASSOCIATED BOOKSELLERS” on rear flap. “Jacket design by Emsh” stated on rear flap. Back panel: 31 titles, arranged in different order as 1)-5).

Variant dust jacket, no priority known

6) Emsh [Ed Emshwiller] signed jacket of man fighting giant beetle. Tan boards, spine and “star” dots lettered in green, identical to (3), printed 1954. “A NOTE ON GNOME JUNIORS” replaces “distributed by ASSOCIATED BOOKSELLERS” on rear flap. “Jacket design by Emsh” stated on rear flap. Back panel: 31 titles, arranged in different order as 1)-5).


The Forgotten Planet, jacket front, variants 2-5

The Forgotten Planet,
jacket flaps, variants 2-5

The Forgotten Planet,
jacket front, variant 6

The Forgotten Planet,
jacket flaps, variant 6

The Forgotten Planet,
mottled cream boards, green lettering, variant 2
The Forgotten Planet, tan boards, green lettering, variants 3 and 6
The Forgotten Planet, gray cloth, red lettering, variant 4
The Forgotten Planet, green boards, black lettering, variant 5