Friday, 14 December 2012

H. A. DeRosso - Western Noir pulp author

[A tip of the Stetson to James Reasoner of Rough Edges for pointing out this excellent forgotten writer who doesn’t have a Wikipedia article. I have only read a few stories of his so far, of which one is a short story from Ranch Romances, but even there the dark, noirish tone of the story stands out. Almost like Cornell Woolrich in the feeling of despair that he’s able to evoke. I’ll be posting that short story this week and keeping an eye open for more stories from him.

I wasn’t able to find a photo of him. If anyone has one, maybe one from a book cover, please post a link in the comments section.  Finally found an image of him from the August, 1953 issue of Gunsmoke magazine. More after the break.]
Author H. A. DeRosso (1917-1960)
Image from Gunsmoke magazine, August 1953

H. A. (Henry Andrew) DeRosso was born on July 15, 1917 in Carey, Wisconsin. He was the son of Italian immigrants, Bartolo De Rosso and Giustinia Piazza, who owned a farm there. Bartolo had come to the United States in 1902, possibly from Velo d'Astico. He was the third of five children, and grew up with three brothers and a sister.

He studied at the Hurley High School, and before he graduated from there in 1935, he knew that he wanted to be a writer. He wrote his first story while confined at home with an attack of measles, and since then he had a “burning desire to achieve success as an author”.

From 1937 to 1939, he attended the Gogebic Junior College, where he was an “A” average student in the first semester. While at Gogebic college, he was the editor of the college monthly magazine, The Jaysee Journal. During his tenure, it was ranked high among nearly 600 college newspapers by the Journalism Department, University of Minnesota.

He attended one semester at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1940. All this while, he was writing stories and sending them out to magazines. At Wisconsin, he decided to make one last effort to realize his ambition – he allowed himself one more year, and if he didn’t have a story published in that time, he would seek another profession.

Luckily for us, he sold his first story, Six Gun Saddlemates, in July 1941 to Street and Smith’s Western Story Magazine. This was after he had written nearly 80 stories and attempted to get them published. He was working with a literary agent, and this made the difference. When he wrote his first stories, he had never actually been in the west, and most likely, had never been out of his county. He obtained background material on the west through extensive research, and accumulated a library of western history books to help him write his stories.

I am not sure whether he served in World War 2. In 1941, his draft classification was eligible, but exempt because he had someone depending on him. As he seems to not have married, it was probably his parents. By 1943, he had been reclassified 1-A, which means eligible and selected. His output seems to have dropped in 1944 and 1945, possibly the result of military service.

After coming back, he seems to have worked some time as a farmer, and on other things than writing. In 1946, he went on his first tour of the west with his parents. By 1953, he  was producing a steady stream of stories for the western magazines. During that period, he wrote an average of at least 12 stories a year. By one account, he was writing close to 2000 words a day, and managing to sell around two-thirds of them. 1951 saw the publication of his first paperback, Tracks in the Sand, a PocketBook. His second book, .44, was published in 1953.

From 1954, his output seems to have declined till his death seven years later in 1960. Many web sites call his death in 1960 a suicide; I don’t know on what they base this. The only newspaper report I could find of his death states that the coroner ruled that the death was accidental and no inquest would be held. He was living alone when he was found by the man delivering the Sunday newspaper. He was lying near the outside door of a shed, with a .44 caliber pistol on the floor near his body. The coroner concluded that he slipped on a rug and the gun accidentally discharged as he was walking out of the shed. The date of death was estimated to be 14th October, 1960.

The vast majority of his stories were westerns, set in New Mexico, Arizona and California. He wrote a couple of science fiction stories as well, and appeared in Manhunt and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine with mystery stories as well. He mostly wrote novels or short stories, very few novellas. Even the titles of his stories sound like they could fit comfortably in Black Mask - Death Stacks the Deck, This Bullet Has Your Name on It!, Silent Are the Guns, Guns Were Made to Kill With - and some of them sound like the western noir blend they are - She Had Red Lips, He Had a Six-Gun; The Badman and the Bad Girl; Ride a Dead Horse; A .44 Is My Best Friend.

Here's a short story of his, Hide-Away, that's out and out noir (courtesy

Links to books still available:


  1. I've read many of his stories in the pulps and enjoyed them. Concerning his death, often such gunshot deaths are called accidents or death by misadventure, etc. Also accidently shooting yourself while cleaning or handling your gun. Often these deaths are really suicides but the coroner is reluctant to state suicide without witnesses or a note. I would say probably suicide.

  2. Mitchum could have played some of his protagonists.

    1. Those would have been good - noir movies set in the West. And Mitchum would have been great in those roles, I agree.

  3. Thank you for this information. He was my Mothers Uncle. My sisters and I know very little about him. We didn't know his name, she just said he was a writer.

    1. You're welcome. Glad it was useful, he was a talented writer, and I'm happy he's remembered today. If you have any photos of him to share, please send me an email at

    2. I don't think we have any photos. My Uncle, his nephew, spoke a little about him this past weekend at my Aunt's funeral. He said he use to have a brown suitcase with some of his published works. We would like to get together him my Uncle and try and pick his brain for information. Do you have a list of Henry's works? I would like to try and find some of them. As I said, my mother told us very little about him, he was crazy and he wrote like Edgar Allen Poe stories and that he shot himself. After my Mother's parents died in a boating accident, I think she had a falling out with her family. That's why she didn't talk much about them. I'm not sure. I will keep a look out for a photo. Have a good day.

  4. Short stories These stories were published in pulp magazines. If you want to get hold of copies, EBay is usually a good place to look.

    Books on Amazon

    Those two should be a good start.

    Edgar Allan Poe seems like a good comparison. Most of the De Rosso stories i've read have a feeling of impending doom through the story; Cornell Woolrich's stories inspired similar feelings. Drop a line in the comments/email as you learn more about the man or his stories.

  5. It's a shame the DeRosso family doesn't know more about him. He actually is fairly well known as one the better hard boiled western authors. There are several collections of his stories available and The FictionMags Index lists his short stories that he wrote. After all these years since his death he still is being read. That says something about his talent.

  6. He also has one original TV tie-in novel to his name; THE REBEL, published by Whitman in their line of books for younger readers. If I could upload a JPG of the cover here, I would, but the image is an easy Google (orange cover with an artist's rendering of Nick Adams in close-up, you'll know it right away) and the book fairly easy to find, which means it sold quite a few copies in its day. (Not to be confused with REBEL OF BROKEN WHEEL by Dean Owen, published by Monarch, also based on the series, nor THE REBEL a years-later book by series creator Andrew J. Fenady that was published as his retelling of the origin story but *not* with any tie-in indicia.)