Early Cormorant History by Don Hardenbrook

Taken from Irregular Crises of the Late Forties, Jon L. Lellenberg, Ed. Published by the Baker Street Irregulars

"It is 1947, I am a high school senior in Glendale, I have the Garden City Complete; I subscribe to the Baker Street Journal; I own The Misadventures and Profile by Gaslight; seven o'clock Sunday Evening finds my ears glued to the Mutual Broadcasting System's "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," solemnly summarizing each plot as it unrolls on bits of scratch paper, and placing them in the Complete by the story they claimed to be suggested by. "

"I learned of another young man in Glendale who liked Sherlock Holmes. I met Bob Pattrick on October 13, 1947. The Pattrick home, where Bob lived with his parents, was a typical California stucco cottage, circa 1930s, but inside had an indescribably British air. The front room was quiet and shaded. with books and bric-a-brac placed around the room. One could tell that nothing was mere decoration; everything had a personal story behind it. Bob was seated at the end of the room, a tall thin man of twenty-one, his bare feet tucked up on the seat of the chair, one arm resting on a bony knee. The first thing that I noticed about him was a shock of hair and a trim mustache, both of so flaming red hair that thoughts of cobbler's wax flitted through my head. When he rose to greet me I could see that he was not tall, but of average height, the illusion of tallness being produced by his exceeding thinness. We fell at once into the hungry conversation of two enthusiasts who despaired of finding his own madness in another person."

"October 13 was a Sunday, and we had planned our meeting for a Sunday so that at seven o'clock we could turn on the radio and listen to the weekly episode of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, no longer with Rathbone and Bruce, but with John Stanley and Alfred Shirley. We were discussing a possible name for our scion society when seven arrived. It was one of Edith Meiser's scripts, The Affair of the Politician, the Lighthouse, and the Trained Cormorant. We decided that night after hearing that fine program that we must be The Trained Cormorants of Glendale, California."

"Bob wrote to the Mutual Broadcasting System about our plans and received in the mail a copy of the script that inspired us, autographed by John Stanley and Alfred Shirley."
Early Cormorants in Hawthorne

"Dean Dickensheet became, with Bob, the most active of the Cormorants. He was the first of us to attend a BSI meeting in New York, he hosted August Derleth on a stay in LA, and with his future wife Shirley, he edited our newsletter The Cormorant's Ring."

"On January 7, 1955, Bob gave me a mysterious manila envelope, telling me not to open it yet. I would know when the time came. A few days later, I received a letter from Edgar W. Smith saying that I had been awarded the Irregular Shilling with the investiture of 'Huret The Boulevard Assassin.' Bob had received his Shilling the previous year, 'The Politician, the Lighthouse, and The Trained Cormorant,' and before the '50s had passed we garnered three more: Dean Dickensheet, 'Vamberry the Wine Merchant,' John Ball, 'The Oxford Flyer,' and Stuart Palmer, 'The Remarkable Worm Unknown to Science. ' "

The Pattrick family lived in Glendale, and so we began as 'The Trained Cormorants of Glendale'. But Los Angeles is a big place and soon the geographic spread of our membership lead to 'The Trained Cormorants of Los Angeles County'. When Don Hardenbrook settled in Long Beach, the bird changed its address too and we became 'The Trained Cormorants of Long Beach'.

Today we continue geographically to be a very diverse group. Present and past members have travelled some ungodly miles and by doing so have demonstrated great fortitude and loyalty to Sherlock Holmes. They have crisscrossed the freeways, coming from La Jolla, Redlands, Oceanside, San Diego, Laguna Beach. We even had a couple from Hawaii who made it in now and then. So where you will ask does the old bird really reside? "West by one and by one, and so under" and any other place where two or more of us meet to quench our thirst and exchange Sherlockian pleasantries.

One of the major accomplishments for The Trained Cormorants was the mounting of a Sherlock Holmes Centennial Exhibit at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1954. Interesting is a report in the Los Angeles Mirror crediting the Exhibit to lithe Baker Street Irregulars of Los Angeles." A substitution in name most likely prompted by some non-affiliated L.A. Sherlockians who participated in the Exhibit. No doubt too, the use of the name Baker Street Irregulars lends, then as now, prestige to any Sherlockian enterprise. The Exhibit generated letters of congratulations from around the world.

Two Cormorants are renowned mystery writers and recognized as innovators in the genre. In 1 931 Stu Palmer created his spinster sleuth Hildegarde Withers in "The Penguin Pool Murder". Stu went on to write 14 more Hildegarde Withers mysteries. He also wrote numerous scripts for the screen featuring detectives popular in Hollywood - Bulldog Drummond, the Lone Wolf, and the Falcon. In 1954 Stu was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America.
     With Virgil Tibbs, John Ball created the first important black detective. Tibbs' appearance in "The Heat of the Night" won for John the Mystery Writers Edgar award as best first novel. Subsequently it was made into an Oscar winning movie.
     Both these men were devoted students of the Baker Street scene with Palmer invested as a BSI in 1958 as THE REMARKABLE WORM and Ball in 1960 as THE OXFORD FLIER.

Early Cormorants
Glendale Dec. 1956 / Standing L to R: - Ed & Betty Davis, Dean & Shirley
Dickensheet and Cliff McCarty // Front row - Bob Pattrick, Rev. Dave
Riggs, Don Hardenbrook and Don Fitch


Solar Pons in Southern California


     When August Derleth journeyed west in 1953 he visited with the Cormorants in Hawthorne. Don and Bob both pressed him to write a Solar Pons story that would revolve around a trained cormorant. Derleth was more than obliging and before he left California sent this message to Bob, " I thought you might like to know that I have just done the first draft of 'The Adventure of The Trained Cormorant'. The time is the early 30's. As soon as I have more leisure, I'll do a revision .... ". The story sat for awhile but at last appeared in the Oct. 1956 issue of 'The Saint Magazine.'

     The following January Don received a letter from Derleth. "I'm glad,' he wrote, "to know you like THE ADVENTURE OF THE TRAINED CORMORANT. The story, with some minor alterations, is slated for THE RETURN OF SOLAR PONS
     As I think you know, the CORMORANT was written in the summer of 1953, when I was in Hawthorne."
The Saint containing the Trained Cormorant story


Letter from Don Hardenbrook to T.S. Eliot


          "Dear Mr. Elliot;

     The Trained Cormorants have viewed with a great deal of interest your use of the Musgrave Ritual in 'Murder in the Cathedral.' At the present time, when both humor and gravity have become as superficial as a neon light, your sky-blue sense of the absurd, manifested even at times of the utmost intensity of purpose, amounts to a revelation.
     Because of this, and because of your many other contributions to the field of Sherlockiana, The Trained Cormorants would like to present you with an honorary membership in their society, The enclosed card is guaranteed to protect you from French boulevard assassins, air guns, Jezail bullets, and gigantic hounds. "C'est pour les coeurs mortels un divin opium". Baudelaire is always pithy."

     Don treasured the letter of response that Mr. Eliot sent, had it framed and put up in his bedroom for all to see and talk about.