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Las Vegas Review (21/Jan/1993) - At 75, 'Psycho' author Bloch keeps imagination pumping



At 75, 'Psycho' author Bloch keeps imagination pumping

When the man who wrote "Psycho" warmly whispers that he enjoys telephone interviews almost as much as major surgery, certain discomforting images are conjured.

Such images are Robert Bloch's business.

In a career spanning six decades, Bloch has produced a staggering amount of creative work. Some of it drips blood. Much of it presses the envelope of the science-fiction and fantasy genres.

But to attempt to compartmentalize Bloch's work is to try to rope, not just one steer, but a literary herd. In town this weekend for the Las Vegas Antiquarian and Used Book Fair at the Sahara Hotel, Bloch's bibliography is a prodigious thing.

For starters he is the author of 55 books, more than 400 short stories and nine films. He also has written dozens of radio and television scripts and enough advertising copy to clog Madison Avenue.

Although "Psycho" remains his most recognized work, titles such as "Blood Runs Cold," "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," and "Tales in a Jugular Vein" give you the idea he takes to the typewriter with something dastardly in mind and carves out his stories in wet red ink.

They also make you wonder whether the fellow who created Norman Bates, the psychotic mama's boy, just might be the right man to guide the eerie Nevada Legislature this session.

Although analysis of his work would send a psychotherapist to babbling, his creativity has not been stoked by a preoccupation with the macabre. Much of his writing was produced out of the same hunger that motivated the Great Depression's best boxers and gangsters. Money, that is.

At 75, Bloch remains a man with a grand imagination but damn few delusions.

"My motivation was purely economic. I couldn't afford to go to Spain (a la Hemingway) let alone a distant planet," Bloch says from his Los Angeles home. He published his first short story as a teen-ager. "Growing up in the Great Depression, reality was a little bit too grim for an adolescent. I much preferred to turn my back on it, plunge into fantasy, distant worlds, the supernatural. It was an escape for me as well as the readers."

The great escape eventually led him to Hollywood, where he would learn a difficult lesson in movie-industry economics. Thanks to an inexperienced agent, he signed away the movie rights to "Psycho" for $9,500. Alfred Hitchcock's rendering of Bloch's book grossed millions and still defines the suspense thriller.

Long after the the latest exploding-head fantasy flick has stopped scaring you, the memory of "Psycho" sizzles in your synapses.

Excuse Bloch for having a somewhat less fond recollection. Today a similar script would fetch several million dollars. After the agent and publisher finished slicing off their percentages, Bloch was left with barely enough for a night's stay at the Bates Motel.

"All I retained were the literary rights," Bloch says, spitting out words. "It seems as though I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. That's the way it goes. One accepts it. It's still rather disappointing."

Unlike others, he did not seek revenge by writing a "Day of the Locust" style book about the evils of the Hollywood hustle. Instead, he continued to do what he does best: create frightening other worlds and ask you to visit them.

Of late, he is busy polishing his autobiography, "Once Around the Bloch," which is set for a summer publication in hardcover by Tor books. He also is editing a science-fiction anthology titled "Monsters in Our Midst." After that, he has signed a contract to write yet another novel.

His first story was published at 17, his next in the summer of his 75th year. Although he is at least somewhat financially comfortable these days, he still approaches his work with a certain old-style hunger. Obviously, he has no intention of slowing down. Somewhere inside him lives a kid from Chicago who decided nearly a lifetime ago to write his way out of the Great Depression.

"I have never seen any change in the pattern, except small change," he says, laughing now. "It has been a very interesting experience, and it still is."

Robert Bloch remains ravenous.