RANGER, Texas -- Alla Ray Kuykendall was only 18 the day Robert Howard, pulp magazine writer and creator of a barbarian named Conan, killed himself in a small West Texas town 30 miles away.
Today at the age of 64, Alla Ray Kuykendall Morris and her mother, the first Alla Ray Kuykendall, receive thousands of dollars in royalties annually from the works of a man they never knew, Howard, and whose creations -- including Conan -- languished in relative obscurity for more than 20 years.
'It's been very interesting,' said Mrs. Morris. 'It has been very nice to have all this extra money.'
It was a June day 46 years ago in the West Texas town of Cross Plains when Howard, only 30, put a .38-caliber Colt to his head when he learned his comatose mother would never again recognize him.
She died two days later and his father, Dr. I.M. Howard, never got over their deaths.
Before the younger Howard died, he supported himself by selling stories filled with gore, barbarism, black magic and the occult to pulp magazines.
Howard's best-known character today is Conan, a barbarian who lived 12,000 years ago. His adventures have been recorded in new books using Howard's original storylines and in comic books, a comic strip and the movie, 'Conan the Barbarian' -- the first of three films planned about the character.
'He had a marvelous imagination,' said Mrs. Morris, a former English literature teacher. 'He wrote completely out of his environment. He never traveled in any way and yet he wrote with a good deal of accuracy about the various periods and places he describes.'
The Kuykendalls met Howard's father, by then in his 70s, during World War II.
'My father had a small hospital and, during the war years, he was very hard pressed to get doctors,' Mrs. Morris said. 'Through my aunt and uncle, my daddy learned of Dr. Howard's plight and he brought him here. He was simply unable to maintain a practice by himself. It helped daddy and made it easy for Dr. Howard.'
Four years later Howard died of diabetic complications. In gratitude he left his entire estate to Kuykendall.
The doctor's possessions consisted of a couple of thousand dollars in the bank, some manuscripts in a trunk -- and the copyrights to Robert's work.
'It was meaningless to us, comparatively,' said Mrs. Morris.
Kuykendall received a letter from a literary agency informing him of the royalties from the works of his late friend's son.
'My father every once in a while would get a check for a couple of hundred dollars, or maybe $80 once or twice a year,' she said.
About a year after her father died in 1959, the literary agency closed down. It suggested that Howard's property be put in the hands of a Pasadena, Tex., paper warehouse operator named Glenn Lord, who was a fan of Howard's and had collected many of his works.
'It was he who built up the interest in Conan when he took over as literary agent,' Mrs. Morris said. 'He began collecting things and sending copies of manuscripts to publishers and magazines.
'By sheer perseverance and enthusiasm, he created a market. It started growing slowly about the late 1950s. It gradually grew and grew and grew until by the 1960s, Robert became quite a popular writer. From then on, it just burgeoned.
'All this time we didn't know a thing about it except we'd get checks, and they became more regular and larger.'
But along with the bigger dividend checks came copyright problems. So the Kuykendalls and Philadelphia science fiction writer Sprague de Camp established Conan Properties, of which the Kuykendalls own half.
De Camp had edited some of Howard's works for publication in book form and began writing new stories using Howard's characters and storylines.
Although Mrs. Morris declines to reveal the amount of royalties she and her 89-year-old mother have received, she acknowledges it is in the thousands. She says it has been put to good use.
'We've established a permanent collection at Ranger Junior College with museum type bookcases so it will be lasting,' she said.
'We've helped enormously with the library in Cross Plains by supplying them with copies and funds. We've maintained the graves and we've given a good many things in the names of Robert and Dr.I.M. Howard.'