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Master Horror Writer Robert Bloch Dies : Authors: Best-known for ‘Psycho,’ he produced more than 25 other novels, 400 stories and dozens of teleplays and film scripts.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Bloch, a master of the macabre who made the word psycho synonymous with mental disorders and chilling entertainment, has died at his Los Angeles home.

Harlan Ellison, his longtime friend and fellow author, said Saturday that Bloch--who was writing of grisly doings decades before Hannibal Lecter savored his first victim--was 74.

“The death of Robert Bloch closes that door on the Golden Age of fantasy writing,” said Ellison, another noted writer.

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Master science fiction writer Ray Bradbury recalled that he was only 26 when Bloch singled him out at a writers convention and told him he was doing quality work.

“I wasn’t known for anything at the time except some pulp mysteries, which he had evidently read,” Bradbury said. “He invited me to his home in Wisconsin, where I stayed two months and had a marvelous time. . . . He was the first to tell me I was a good writer doing good work. . . .

“You know,” he added, “the number of writers in our field is getting very small.”

Bloch also befriended and encouraged such modern-day mystery giants as Stephen King.

As modest in demeanor as he was outrageous in print, Bloch in August wrote his own obituary for the Writers Guild of America. That was shortly after he learned of the liver and kidney cancer that was to kill him late Friday.

After a modest but comprehensive listing of his many accomplishments, Bloch added this routine denouement:

“Always interested in giving readers a ‘surprise ending,’ Bloch wrote these obituary notes himself.”

Surprise was a mild word from a writer who had shocked readers with deranged characters ranging from serpents to the devil himself.

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Although he undoubtedly was best-known and world famous for Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Psycho,” Bloch sometimes chafed under the identification.

He liked to point out that he had sold his first story when he was 17 (to Weird Tales), had adapted 39 of his own stories for radio (“Stay Tuned for Terror”) and had published more than 25 novels, 400 stories and dozens of teleplays and film scripts.

In a 1980 Times interview Bloch, however, did credit “Psycho” with taking away his anonymity.

His tale was of the Bates Motel and its depraved owner, who kills guests and talks over things with his dead but evidently dry-cured mother. The book, which was the basis for Joseph Stefano’s screenplay, was not written over a weekend, as many have said, but was Bloch’s seventh novel and took six weeks to write in 1958.

MCA bought film rights for $9,500--15% of which went to Bloch’s publisher and 10% to his agent.

But the book--based on a series of slayings by a demented Wisconsin farmer--has been in print ever since the 1960 film was released “and that has helped,” he said.

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Bloch used simple prose to describe tormented, fearful characters, many trapped by horrifying dilemmas.

In one of his best-known tales, “The Hellbound Train,” the devil gives a man a watch to stop time, but the man can never decide when to use it. At the last moment, as he is riding a hell-bound train filled with drunks, prostitutes and gamblers, he uses the watch--and rides on for eternity.

“I think the outstanding thing about him is that not only did every other writer respect him as a writer but they all cared for him deeply as a person,” said author and screenwriter Richard Matheson, who wrote many of the original “Twilight Zone” episodes.

Bloch said that violence was more appropriate for the printed word than for motion pictures or TV, now used by modern writers of the bizarre genre.

“I’m quite squeamish about” such filmed works, he admitted in 1991.

“He really did not like going to horror movies. When films turned bloody, Bob stopped going,” Ellison recalled.

In the late 1950s, Bloch moved to Los Angeles from Milwaukee to try his hand at films and scripts for early TV shows ranging from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” to the original “Star Trek.”

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He wrote low-budget horror films and became friendly with some of the actors who were featured in such pictures--Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone among them.

That part of his career included the 1962 film “The Cabinet of Caligari,” “Strait-Jacket,” “The Night Walker,” “The Psychopath,” “The House That Dripped Blood” and “Asylum.”

Robert Albert Bloch was born in Chicago to a bank cashier father and a teacher mother.

While young he began reading H.P. Lovecraft, an early and significant author of fantasy fiction. He wrote to Lovecraft, who encouraged him.

In one exchange with Lovecraft, Bloch offered as a tribute to make the older writer a character in a story he was calling “The Shambler From the Stars,” about a man who meets a gruesome death.

Lovecraft authorized Bloch to “portray, murder, annihilate, disintegrate, transfigure, metamorphose or otherwise manhandle the undersigned.”

Bloch told The Times that he disdained word processors and worked on an old typewriter each weekday, starting at 9, “until I start turning out more popcorn balls (wadded-up paper) than pages.” His accolades included the Hugo, the science fiction world’s highest award, and career honors from the World Science Fiction and World Fantasy conventions.

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In a recent interview published in the anthology “Contemporary Authors,” Bloch was asked whether--in a time when mass murders and other horrible acts seem commonplace--it was more difficult to come up with original ideas.

“There’s a difference,” he replied, “between what’s happening in real life and . . . an unusual story. So often today, in my opinion, in films and on television, the stories are not necessarily all that unusual. They are merely gruesome and shocking. . . .

“There is a distinction to be made between that which inspires terror and that which inspires nausea.”

In his obituary, Bloch directed that he be cremated and that his ashes be kept in a book-shaped urn at the University of Wyoming.

He is survived by his wife, Eleanor Alexander, and a daughter, Sally Francy, who were with him when he died.

Donations in his name may be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

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