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Doctor Coffin: The Living Dead Man


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     Kindly old Doctor Coffin owns the Mortimer chain of funeral homes in Hollywood.  But he is secretly Del Manning, Hollywood actor and the man of 500 faces who has faked his own death so that he can now act freely to solve crimes.

     His first few adventures follow a familiar pattern - someone is killed in Hollywood, Doctor Coffin makes himself up as the victim and terrifies the guilty into confessing.  In later stories he travels to New York to battle such criminals as The Monster of Manhattan and The Chicken King.



    When he lived as Del Manning, he avoided the Hollywood social scene, preferring the company of ‘living dead people,’ people whom society had cast aside; the hunchback Shorty, Madame Jane with the figure and voice of an angel but who wears a mask due to the failed work of a plastic surgeon, etc… Tod Browning’s Freaks had come out in 1932 and the author probably wanted to capture some of the film’s shock value in his stories.  This supporting cast is mostly dropped after the first few stories and the concept isn’t developed further.



     Doctor Coffin is an extremely talented actor and makeup artist, as well as an accomplished mimic and is skilled in throwing his voice.

     For his Tiger Claw abilitiy: “...before Kay was half-way to his draw, Doctor Coffin shot out his left - quick and hooked like a tiger’s claw - and pinched a cord in Kay’s neck.  A curious grip - one that could not be shaken off, causing a sort of paralysis… pulled him up by that grip on his neck…  Kay was snaked through the room to a back door.”  Basically Doc has someone in a grab, and uses his casual strength to maneuver the bad guy through a saloon, so that’s the effect I was going for.



     As Doctor Coffin he resembles a middle aged man, in old fashioned black clothes with a gray beard and mustache, resembling a country minister.

     In later stories the bad guys being to refer to him as Skullface, because “there was something about his shadowed eyes and lean, strong jaws to suggest the face of a skull.”  Presumably he isn’t in his Doctor Coffin guise, but beyond the above his appearance is not described.



     “Why do you think I’ve been playing freak parts ever since I came onto the scene?  Did you ever see my photograph so you’d recognize me?  I’m the most photographed man in the world.  Yet no one, except a few of you old-timers, know what I look like.”  Sounds like no need to hide his identity.  On the other hand, he makes a big deal of faking his own death.  On the other, other hand, he routinely implies to his contacts as well as those he is helping that Del Manning isn’t really dead.  The whole thing is just poorly thought through, even for the pulps.  I decided to give Doctor Coffin a social complication as most of the narrative seems to support that.



     Doctor Coffin has no recurring villains, they’re all one and done.  Aside from crooked studio executives and rather generic mobsters he faced:

     The Monster of Manhattan - a brilliant scientist who suffers brain damage and becomes criminally insane.  He plans to blow up Radio City Music Hall with a hand-held atom bomb of his own design unless the world’s pre-eminient scientist agrees to have his brain placed in the monster’s head, in order that the monster will have a working brain.

     The Chicken King - a racketeer that wants to take over the poultry industry.  I mean, his nom du crime isn’t going to scare anyone, but he has a solid achievable goal.


     The Doctor Coffin stories ran in Thrilling Detective magazine, from 1932 to 1933, and were written by former screenwriter Perley Poore Sheehan.  Eight of these stories are collected here:

Doctor Coffin: The Living Dead Man (Thrilling Detective Stories)

     And one that is not collected in the above book is here:

Thrilling Detective v07 n02 [1933-08]

(page 81)

Content warning: these stories contain some racist depictions and slurs.



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