The Last Black Samurai: Remembering Marc Olden; an interview with Diane Crafford

22 Feb 2012 Wednesday

There’s some news on the horizon regarding Mark Olden’s seminal series BLACK SAMURAI, as well as other work. I don’t have the thumbs up yet… to break the news, but in the interim I thought it was a great time to re-present this fun and informative interview, to tide you over.

Plus it has been updated with new pics, courtesy of Ms. Crafford. Please Enjoy!

And is it me, or does the new film THE RAVEN bear more than a passing resemblance to Marc Olden’s POE MUST DIE? hmmmm. 🙂 .

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The fact that what you are about to read and hear is a YEAR in the preparation, goes to the absurd vagaries of mi vida loca, my crazy life.

But here finally, before the clock turns over on yet another year is my interview with Diane Crafford, on one of my favorite writers, the late, great and incomparable Marc Olden.

We’ll start with the text portion of the interview, and following that the pretty free flowing audio interview. HUGE, HUGE thanks to Diane for her time, her good humor, her anecdotes, and her extreme patience.

Now without further delay….

1st to set the stage.

Who is Marc Olden?

Marc Olden is a writer I became aware of, oddly enough on an auction site. Being something of a bibliophile I’m always looking to pick up books, and no doubt I was looking for either Warren Murphy’s DESTROYER books, or books by the late great Donald Goines.

And instead I came across this auction of a near complete series of BLACK SAMURAI books by Marc Olden. Being a Blackophile as well as a Bibliophile 🙂 , the title alone, as well as the very impressive 70s art on the paperbacks were enough for me to decide to purchase the books.

So I won the auction got the books, and was… from book one, blown away. This was not the hokey Jim Kelly movie, this was the undiluted source material, and it was pure and gritty, and brilliantly written. I’ve a huge fan of the Warren Murphy DESTROYER books, as well as the James Bonds and the MacK Bolans, but BLACK SAMURAI takes it to another level. BLACK SAMURAI is the BEST of that flooded market that was Men’s Action Adventure Books of the 70s. And the fact that it was so relatively short lived, also makes it a far more accessible body of work, and to my mind, far more prized.

And passion leading to passion, I just became obsessed with collecting all the work, primarily the 70s work, of this somehow inexplicably under the radar writer. Two of the holy grails being the Edgar Nominated POE MUST DIE, and the even more obscure BOOK OF SHADOWS (which I have to thank Diane for really making me aware of).

And reading his books led me to wanting to share with the world more of this, I felt and feel, brilliant, important, and overlooked writer.

So I reached out to the person who was keeping the late Mr. Olden’s web presence alive, the gracious Diane Crafford, and she was both kind and crazy enough to consent to the following free flowing and I believe informative and engaging interview/conversation.

The early part of our interview… the audio does not capture Diane’s, bubbly, fun, immersive personality, so I’m going to transcribe that from notes, and memory as best I can (I have a tendency toward the romantic, so anything that sounds like bs I take the blame for) bullet points mainly, and then we’ll kick into the audio.

HT: Hi Diane, thanks in advance for your time. We’re here to discuss Marc Olden one of my, and I assume your, favorite writers. Now most of this I got from your site as well as my research: He’s done over 40 books. His first work of fiction NARC a series of nine novels. He also produced the eight book BLACK SAMURAI series, made into a bad movie with Jim Kelly. And POE MUST DIE a stunning immersive novel drenched in period detail.

DC: You do your homework.

HT: I try. Now I’m detecting a bit of an accent, and your name Crafford, Londoner?

DC: Welsh, actually.

HT: Ahh, missed it by that much. Now tell me a little about Marc Olden behind the books

DC: Well he was born in Baltimore and was a press agent before he gave it up to become a writer. And once he chose that road, he embraced it completely. He had a strong work ethic, he wrote every day. His Black Samurai series was written at the same time he wrote the Narc series. It was while writing Narc he got to know guys in Law Enforcement. With advanced degree black belts in Japanese Karate and Aikido, he coached and mentored many members of the NYPD in Aikido.

HT: So his writing was an extension of the man.

DC: Yes. Like every good writer he wrote what he knew, of his passions. And after the NARC, BLACK SAMURAI books, he went into stand-alone novels such as INFORMANT. It did well but was not a best seller.

HT: Going back to BLACK SAMURAI series for a second, what did he think of the film?

DC: He had no input into the film. And resigned himself to it being something distinct from his work.

HT: Well let’s backup a bit, and tell us bit about you and how you met Marc.

DC: -I met him here at New York. He was a press agent for a restaurant, and I was working in film. We hit it off immediately. He had a way of carrying himself. –Later I was in London working for a film Producer, Sidney Dujer. The film was THE TWELVE CHAIRS starring Frank Lagella.

It’s amazing the little decisions that make all the difference. Marc went from Press Agent to writer, writing magazine articles. And then was approached to write a book on Angela Davis. And at that time I was looking for work, and became his transcriptionist. He had a head full of stories, he loved to tell them. And at the center of them was his belief in Justice.

HT: Now how did one of his earliest books, and what I consider not just one of his best books, but one of THE best books, POE MUST DIE come about? It seems a very ecletic work and ahead of its time work, mixing historical fiction and figures, mystery, horror, action, and adventure.

DC: He loved Edgar Allen Poe and he loved Charles Dickens. And POE MUST DIE at its heart is his love letter to those influences, but done as only he could do it. Dicken’s Christmas Carol, all about redemption, at the heart of this elaborately researched and gothic murder mystery,

HT: I can definitely see that. The book is so full of period detail, and authenticity, it puts you there in that place and in that time, of a wilder and younger England and America. What were some of his other inspirations?

DC: He thought Raymond Chandler was the best American writer. He was inspired by Eastern Philosophy through his mother and father (his father was George Olden, an art director). This filtered down to the type of man he was. Very calm, very contained, very brave and strong. I once asked him, “What is it that makes you so together?” and he said, “Good looks and the power of prayer.”And while he said it with a smile, that was sincere, it was how he lived his life. In balance.

“It was a different breed of man who sat in the cherrywood chair, his legs crossed under a cashmere robe, a thin volume on his lap. His graying hair, immaculately groomed, seemed to highlight a strong-lined, somber face… An aura of greatness and elegance seemed to permeate his being, as if his presence lent dignity to the book-lined walls. He seemed like what men should be, but never were.“
….THE DESTROYER: CREATED, THE DESTROYER by Warren Murphy.

HT: You can see that balance in his work. It’s very measured and… sincere. Which is an odd thing to say about fiction, but he wrote fiction with Authenticity.

DC: Yes. All his work was an extension of his interests. Take BOOK OF SHADOWS, he got the idea for that on one of our annual trips to England. He loved history and was a real Anglophile. He became intrigued by the canals that snaked through England, and that was the impetus for BOOK OF SHADOWS about vacationing American’s who stumble across things best left undisturbed.

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Okay that brings our text portion to an end. Onto the audio. You’re going to hear a lot of paper shuffling, that’s me jotting down notes, and flipping back and forth in my book, to consult my notes. I don’t think it distracts too much, Diane does a great job. So please enjoy! And bottom line, if you haven’t read anything by Marc Olden, go to Diane’s site and get acquainted. I would also suggest purchasing through her site.

Diane’s great site on Marc Olden

For more on Marc Olden, and particularly BLACK SAMURAI also see the following sites:

Great overview of the 8 Book BLACK SAMURAI series
More great Marc Olden/Black Samurai coverage

The below audio is a little over 33 minutes,, and the audio has been noise reduced to minimize the sound (my frantic note taking) as much as possible. Not great audio, but definitely listenable, and DEFINITELY informative.

Okay! You can listen to it HERE!

Copyright 2000-2012 Masai Inc and other specified writers. Images copyright their respective owners.

THE BEST OF THE FORGOTTEN! Favorite Movies, Books, and Music by David W of BADAZZ MOFO!

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I’ve actually got a nice little backlog of articles, but as way of excuse, a couple of the articles I’m hawking to paying outlets. One is in the can. Three more are toying on the lip.

But here is one entry, that I actually conceived of a while back for a New Years resolution style presentation, but it was a delay getting the feedback from one of the presenters… He knows who he is! But, I’m being facetious, ultimately other things just kept bumping it, but now some of the Web’s coolest personalities consent to answer my questions and present you a pretty damn amazing selection of their favorites.

Without further ado, read and be awed!!!

Modest aren’t I?

In this posting David W of the magazine and blog BADAZZ MOFO, and filmmaker of the extremely well received short BLACK SANTA’S REVENGE is at bat.

HT: what are your 5 favorite movies that most people haven’t seen?


David W of BADAZZ MOFO
: In terms of blaxploitation, my five favorite films that haven’t really been seen, or at least haven’t been seen as much as they deserve to be seen, the top one would be Melinda. This is hands down one of the best films of both the genre and the era, but it’s never even had a release on home video.

(This is me, HT, interrupting. David and I have pretty different tastes in movies [How do you not love the Poitier/Cosby Trilogy?!] , but I picked up Melinda on his recommendation. The first few minutes, I have to tell you… wasn’t impressed. But I stuck with it and it just kept getting better, and better, and better… it’s absolutely fantastic! WoW! The flick has everything, and at its heart is about a self-centered man, who learns to care deeply for something other than himself, and what happens when that is taken away. I don’t subscribe to the term blaxploitation, think it is a dismissive term for what was an empowering time/movement, but however you want to label MELINDA… it’s great! Okay, back to David’s list:)

David W of BADAZZ MOFO:My list of favorite “seldom seen” classics of the blaxploitation era looks something like this (in no particular order).

1. Melinda – Calvin Lockhart and Rosalind Cash, both at their finest.
2. Together Brothers – Barry White’s score is enough to make this movie a classic, but it also happens to be a very well put together thriller that holds up to repeated viewings. It has yet to get a legitimate release on home video, but it’s turned up on cable recently.
3. The Spook Who Sat By the Door – This is not only my favorite blaxploitation film, but one of my favorite movies, period. It finally got a release on DVD, but most people have never even heard of it.
4. The Landlord – The directorial debut of Hal Ashby isn’t quite blaxploitation, but it comes close, and it is one of the greatest movies of the 1970s. People know Ashby mostly for films like Harold & Maude or Shampoo, but this is really his best, most provocative film.
5. Gordon’s War – This is just balls-out great blaxploitation, with Paul Winfield leading an ensemble cast of ex-Green Berets who decide to clean up the streets. I can’t help but think if this starred Charles Bronson, it would be modern classic.

HT: Good list there David. I’ve seen 3 of the 5 you list, and plan on seeing THE LANDLORD and TOGETHER BROTHERS in the next couple weeks. But yeah the 3 I’ve seen are definitely great films. Okay onto the next question, what are five great books that most people haven’t read?

David W of BADAZZ MOFO: I feel like I’m something of a populist reader. I’m trying to think of books I’ve read that no one else has read that were great, but that combination is difficult to come up with. I have a ton of pulp novels from the blaxploitation era, but most of them aren’t that good, or that memorable. The one exception is Roland Jefferson’s The School on 103rd Street , which I think is an incredible political thriller with a great blaxploitation vibe. Jefferson ’s book reminds me of the novel The Spook Who Sat By the Door, also an all-time favorite, which I guess deserves a place on this list.

1. The School on 103rd Street – Roland Jefferson’s paranoid thriller involves the discovery of underground concentration camps in black communities throughout the United States .
2. The Spook Who Sat By the Door – Great movie, even better book. The first black agent in the CIA leaves the agency to start a guerilla war against the United States .
3. Donald Goines’ Kenyatta series – I’m sure plenty of people have read master crime novelist Goines series Crime Partners, Death List, Kenyatta’s Escape and Kenyatta’s Last Stand, but all four are required reading for fans of urban action thrillers.
Honestly, I’m not sure if Goines wrote the last book in the series, which came out shortly after he was murdered. The writing style is a bit different, but it, just like the other three, is a gritty, action-packed bit of pulp fiction.
4. Joseph Nazel’s Iceman series – Nazel cranked out seven Iceman books, chronicling the adventures of a badass killer. Honestly, I can’t remember anything about any of the books, other than the fact that they were better than other series from that era, with the exception of maybe Marc Olden’s Black Samurai series.
5. If I’m So Famous, How Come Nobody’s Ever Heard of Me? – This has no place on this list, as it’s the autobiography of B-movie actress Jewel Shepard, but I love this book. Shepard is brutally honest about her life and her career, and this book has stuck with me over the years.

HT: Wow, he schooled me! As I like to think I’m on the cutting edge of the best books and films out there, but some of this list has flown under my Nubian Noir detector. Only ones on this list I’ve read are Goines KENYATTA’S LAST HIT, and also the phenomenal Marc Olden BLACK SAMURAI series (took me forever to collect, but well worth it!). Speaking of Marc Olden I also highly recommend his absolutely brilliant and ahead of its time (in its construction) POE MUST DIE (I have a review in the works). But yeah, definitely intend to get all these books. This is real literature, not the poorly packaged hood stereotypes that passes for Black literature today. And moving onto # 5 definitely interested, David did a great interview with Jewel Shepard in his essential, if short lived magazine, BADAZZ MOFO! I highly recommend pestering David for issues while supplies last! Tell him HT sent ya!

Okay David, I see you’re getting sleepy so let’s wrap up this BEST OF LIST by providing your five favorite songs or albums that most people haven’t heard.

David W of BADAZZ MOFO: They are…

1. Street Justice by The Rake – An epic, ten-minute rap song about a guy who’s family is attacked by thugs. When the punks go free, he tracks them down and kills them. Fucking brilliant. “You gotta meet the punks on the battle front/You gotta beat the punks/Street Justice!”
2. Spider-Man – From the bizarre, mid-1970s Album Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superhero. Both the song and the album are incredibly cheesy, but I still listen to it like I was eight years-old.
3. Thunder and Lightening by Thin Lizzy – Makes me want to go out and kick someone’s ass.
4. Daddy’s Little Girl by Khaleel – The most depressing song after Cat’s in the Cradle.
5. Big Dumb Sex by Soundgarden – From the Louder Than Love album, which came out before anyone knew who the were.

HT: Wow. From Spider-man to SoundGarden, talk about eclectic. 🙂 . Great lists David, I intend to pick up all the above. Thanks for taking the time to put up with my nagging and provide these. And we’ll have to do this again.

And in closing readers, you can find more from David W at his site WWW.BADAZZMOFO.COM. And he also has a BADAZZ MOFO book on the horizon, so that’s one you should keep an eye out for.

Okay we have a few more of these lists, as soon as I hunt them up. So keep an eye on this site for move. And if you dug this, drop an email or leave a comment.

That’s all folks!

Holiday Recommendation of the Day! BADAZZ MOFO

Okay, Okay Holiday stuff. Today’s Holiday Recommendation:
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BADAZZ MOFO is a great magazine, covering the world of Soul Cinema, as well as Pop Culture in general. I mentioned the mag over a year ago (use my search engine to the right). They are currently running an unbelievable Holiday deal at their site, where you get multiple back issues for one low price! Just a great deal.

How great is the magazine? Well this is from the intro of issue #6 (cover the kids’ ears and eyes):

“Well here we are again. It seems like a long time since we were here last (and to be honest, it has been a long time). If you’re someone who’s returning, thanks for coming back. If this is your first time reading BADAZZ MOFO, allow me to offer this warning: there are things within the pages of this magazine -both ideas and language- that will offend you. I don’t give a sh**. If you can’t handle being offended, then get the f*** out now, because it’s only going to get worse.”

That paragraph when I first read it, made me laugh out loud, and tells you all you need to know about the magazine and the man behind it, Big D.

Having done my bit at self-publishing, I completely appreciate the passion that goes into a project like this. And his design layout is fantastic.

Now I have to say I enjoy the heck out of the magazine, but I disagree with almost all of the reviews. If the mag says a movie is great, I usually think it’s horrible or so-so, and if the mag says a movie is horrible or lukewarm (COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT, BROTHER JOHN) I rate them as FANTASTIC! (Especially BROTHER JOHN, which I think is one of the most lyrical, and subversive, and poetic films of the last 40 years. And for me Sidney Poitier’s most haunting and hopeful performance and film:) .

But knowing our tastes are completely different, I just flip his reviews. 🙂 .

So our differing tastes aside it is just a must have magazine. Witty, funny, vulgar, brilliant, and insightful. Go to the site pick them up, and send him some words of support. He’s thinking of ending the magazine, so some commitments of support/subscribers for the next issue would go a long way to keep the issues coming.

So yeah, go and buy a great mag that will put a smile on your face, and support a publisher that needs to stay around. A win/win situation. 🙂 .