Harry Clay Hervey Jr. was born in Beaumont, Texas, on November 5, 1900, to Harry Clay Hervey Sr. and his young wife Jennie. Harry Sr. was a dutiful father until he vanished for unknown reasons, abandoning his family along with the Hervey Hotel Company, which had properties in Florida, Alabama, and Texas. Harry Jr. grew up in hotel lobbies, watching the comings and goings of beautiful women and handsome men. He read voraciously, swooning over pictures of half-naked men in faraway places like Angkor Wat. He adored exotic garb and became fascinated with women, their wardrobes, ways, and wiles. His mother Jennie enrolled her effeminate boy in military school, snatching him away from a school at Sewanee, Tennessee (which he would later use as a setting for a homoerotic story), to Atlanta’s Georgia Military Academy, from which he graduated just before World War I. (Jennie would wisely give up reforming her son, eventually living comfortably with him and his lover, shaving years off her age to become, as some reporters called her, the youngest mother on record.)
Harry’s academic career had not been distinguished, but amazingly, at sixteen, he sold a lurid adventure story to a magazine edited by cultural critic H. L. Mencken. Harry cut his teeth on Black Mask, one of the greatest of pulp magazines, where other young writers like Dashiell Hammett honed their skills. Harry published some half-dozen stories about far-off places, most with allusions to damnation and devils in their titles. In his tales, men seemed to avoid women, preferring the company of other men. In the highly camp “More Deadly than the Viper,” for instance, the hero finds his male pal and other once virile men virtually emasculated by a seductive vamp; he rescues them, banishing the evil woman, who turns into a bat, allowing our hero and his buddy to ride off into the sunset together, a theme the author would return to again and again.
By his mid-twenties, Hervey had published two adventure novels