February 15, 2014
My father’s favorite author was Sax Rohmer. I’m not sure if it was literature he picked up as a teenager, or as an adult. But I was practically raised in a household that had his Fu Manchu series in every room in our house. Mostly mass market paperbacks that had stained yellow paper, that looks like if one touched it, the paper will crumble into dust. It has been noted that Rohmer was part of the qabbalistic Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and had ties with the Rosicrucians. It was a mixture of being a ‘pulp’ writer but also attached to secret societies, that made him such an appealing figure to my family.
Before Rohmer became a “weird” novelist, he was a comedy sketch writer for the English Music Hall. One of the people he met and worked with was the great Italian artist Totò, but eventually the language barrier was too much of a strain for the both of them. Even though, they could only communicate through various slapstick skills, both artists became more obsessed with language, which in fact, Totò became known as a great poet. Rohmer, after leaving the music hall, became totally devoted to the Hermetic Order and started writing novels and short stories for Peterson’s Weekly. His first published book was “Little Tich” which was a biography of a well-known music hall performer. Around this time, he invented his masterpiece Fu Manchu.
The character was drawn from the Orient, and of course was part of the “Yellow Peril” fear that was hitting Western countries at the turn-of-the-century. Fu Manchu is a master criminal, who specializes in poison, and most, if not all, his criminal organization is funded by the drug trade and white slavery. There were 10 full length Fu Manchu novels, where he is hunted down by detective Denis Nayland Smith, but by the last paragraph, or the last page, Fu Manchu always escapes from Smith’s clutches.
The escape artist Harry Houdini was a fan of the Fu Manchu series as well as becoming a friend of Rohmer. Their relationship was such an odd one, with respect to Houdini’s desire to debunk mystical ties to the practice of stage magic. He was obsessed with the thought that a magician is an artist or at the very least a craftsman who works the magic as a skill, not someone who gains ‘magic powers. ' Rohmer on the other hand believed in the mystic powers, and was a traveler in the world of secret societies and practices. He eventually spent time in the Orient, learning secrets that were at that time, totally unknown in the West. He was also an expert on the practices of Opium, and it has been rumored that he was the first one to turn Jean Cocteau onto that drug, that eventually he became addicted to it - up to the time he was filming “Beauty and The Beast.”
Rohmer passed away in 1959 from an outbreak of influenza - “Asian Flu. ”