Not very promising is it to run away to Salem. Will it solve anything? Yet on a drizzly November day in 1938 a young man, call him Frank, in the throes of repeating his senior year in high school, with his little sister in hand, caught a bus in Tacoma and headed south to refuge.
Things were falling apart at home. Money was tight. The folks were fighting; divorce loomed. Frank feared for the welfare of his five year old sister Pat. Salem and the home of his maternal aunt Violet looked attractive.
Violet quickly settled the crisis. Pat was returned to her parents. Frank stayed in Salem. He enrolled in Salem High School and joined the Clarion, the school paper. While not a good student, the kid could write. At Lincoln High in Tacoma he had had a column in the paper. He’d been a copyboy at the Tacoma Ledger. He even wrote a western story, sold it to a publisher and received $27.50 in cash for his efforts.
Frank did not leave many tracks at Salem High. He is pictured along with other members of the Clarion in the annual but enrolled too late to have his senior portrait included. In the group picture he is one of 20 or so; his face is blank under a pile of light brown hair. Wearing a nondescript white shirt, he is not Destiny’s Child.
Frank graduated in June, 1939. By fall he had rejoined his parents who were then in San Pedro, California. He got a job as a copyboy with the Glendale Star. But in the summer of 1940 he was back in Salem looking for work. Rejected by the Oregon Statesman staff he went to the 23rd Street home of Steve Mergler, City Editor, and made his pitch: He had experience, could write and could take pictures. Mergler was impressed. In October he put the lad “on call” just days before his 20th birthday. Soon Frank was a full time employee.
While at the paper Frank honed his skills. He covered civic events, wrote mundane stories, edited wire material and became an accomplished photographer. In the spring Frank married a young girl, Flora Parkinson. In August 1941 the couple left Salem and returned to San Pedro where Frank continued his journalism. Eventually it took him to papers up and down the West Coast: Portland, Seattle and a stint as a feature writer with the San Francisco Examiner.
On the side Frank wrote fiction, science fiction mostly. It was difficult, but he produced many fine short stories and a novel, The Dragon in The Sea, a futuristic submarine thriller set in an oil shortage.
One effort at straight journalism, highlighted by a flight over the drifting sands of the Oregon Dunes, resulted in an essay that lies unpublished even today; but it inspired a fictional tale set in a distant galaxy, about a planet, withered by drought, torn by war – a case of global warming run amok.
Dune was published in serial form in 1963. It was issued as book in 1965 to bad reviews and slow sales but it had legs. Dune became one of the blockbusters of the 60’s and 70’s. Millions of copies sold worldwide. Hollywood produced a major motion picture. A spawn of sequels followed. If you want the details read Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert by his son Brian. It is a good read and shows that for Frank Herbert at least running away to Salem was the start of something very big.