Treasured Stories: “The Night Dancer!” (1972)

« If i should sleep with a lady called death… » – E.E. Cummings

This time out, I’ve plucked a delicate story that’s resonated with me since our first encounter… somehow, the tragic plight of a lonely, vulnerable old man touched me deeply, even if I couldn’t have been more than ten years old when first I read it.

In the intervening years, witnessing the rise of elder abuse, the growing fragility of my own parents, and the sometimes desperate loneliness of acquaintances, old friends and strangers alike, Joe Gill and Don Perlin‘s « The Night Dancer! » (Ghostly Tales #99, Nov. 1972, Charlton) has steadily gained in poignancy. Its spirit, theme and mood remind me of some very fine tales by Joseph Payne Brennan*, who conveyed all too convincingly the quiet desperation of a near-destitute life lived with scant hope or companionship.

On a more cheerful note, it happens that (okay, it’s no accident) ‘Dauntless’ Don Perlin celebrates his eighty-ninth anniversary on this very day. While he’s most appreciated for his runs on Werewolf By Night, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight (his co-creation with writer Doug Moench) and The Defenders at Marvel Comics, I steadfastly cling to the notion that his finest efforts were brought to bear on hot rod and ghostly yarns for Charlton at the dawn of the 1970s. Judging by the results, I’d venture that he’s especially inspired by adventures set in the American Southwestern desert country. I’ll return to this topic in due time and present my case.

Without further tarrying ‘n’ foot dragging, meet our hapless protagonist, Cecil Durant… and his tormentors and benefactors.

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While Mr. Perlin never became a superstar (and I suspect it never was his goal), the longevity of his career is easily explained: solid craft, excellent storytelling skills, a clean, unfussy line, and of course that supreme asset: reliability. Incidentally, co-credited Howard Perlin was Don’s young son, who was helping dad out around the studio that day.

Yom hu’ledet sameach, Mr. Perlin… and many happy returns!

– RG

*particularly The Way to the Attic (1967) and Mrs. Clendon’s Place (1984)

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