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Hansen (Joseph) Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement
  • Processing Information

  • Contributing Institution: The Huntington Library
    Title: Joseph Hansen papers
    Creator: Hansen, Joseph, 1923-2004
    Identifier/Call Number: mssHansen
    Physical Description: 40 Linear Feet (92 boxes and 1 oversize folder)
    Date (inclusive): 1880s-2004
    Date (bulk): 1940s-2004
    Abstract: This collection contains the papers of Los Angeles writer and gay activist Joseph Hansen (1923-2004), known primarily for creating the Dave Brandstetter detective series, which was unique in featuring an openly gay detective as the title character. The papers include drafts of published and unpublished work; correspondence; professional papers primarily related to publishing; and personal and family papers.
    Language of Material: Materials are in English.


    Open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, contact Reader Services.
    RESTRICTED: Boxes 83-92 and oversize folder 1: Fragile, available with curatorial approval.

    Publication Rights

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.
    The literary rights for the papers of Joseph Hansen are held by Daniel James Hansen.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item]. Joseph Hansen papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


    The majority of the collection was received as the gift of Joseph Hansen in August 1996 and July 1998. An additional 9 cartons were received as the gift of the estate of Joseph Hansen in April 2013.

    Biographical Note

    Los Angeles author Joseph Hansen (1923-2004) was known primarily for creating the Dave Brandstetter detective series. The first of the series, Fadeout published in 1970, was unique in featuring an openly gay detective as the title character. Hansen was also a noted gay activist, teacher, and poet.
    Joseph Hansen was born on July 19, 1923, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where his father ran a shoe store. During the Depression, the family relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1933, and three years later, moved to Altadena, California.
    After high school in the late 1930s, Hansen became involved with the Pasadena Playhouse, and appeared in a handful of student productions. It was at this time he met a Playhouse student named Ben Ali Bobker (later Bobker Ben Ali) and began his first serious homosexual relationship.
    Around 1940 Hansen moved to Los Angeles, near Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. He worked nearby at the infamous Pickwick Bookshop, where he encountered many of the actors, writers, and agents, that would become characters in his novels.
    In 1943, he met and married Jane Bancroft, an artist who was running a sheet-metal router at Lockheed Aircraft at the time. Though both were openly gay, each engaging in homosexual affairs throughout their marriage, they maintained a committed companionship. They had one child, Daniel James Hansen, in 1944. He was assigned a different name and gender at birth and some documents in the archive use that name.
    Hansen wrote continuously from an early age including novels, plays, short stories, and finally saw publication of his poetry in the New Yorker in the 1950s. He dabbled in television writing (including uncredited episodes of "Lassie" [see Box 19, Folder 4, for teleplay manuscript]), and enjoyed a brief success as a folksinger. He hosted a short-lived radio program called "The Stranger from the Sea" on KFI-AM, and recorded two albums of folk songs accompanying himself on autoharp.
    His first published novels were gay erotica, written for money, under the alias "James Colton," including Known Homosexual and Strange Marriage. While Hansen was frustrated in not finding publication for his real creative work, the 1960s were nevertheless a time of important activity for him. He became involved with ONE magazine, one of the first and most important publications showcasing work by gay writers about gay issues.
    Hansen wrote several pieces for ONE under the James Colton pseudonym, and joined the editorial board in 1962. When ONE was dissolved amid internal conflict, Hansen co-founded the new journal Tangents with the pioneering gay activist Don Slater. Hansen also helped organize the first Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood in 1970.
    Around this time Hansen began a weekly poetry workshop at the Bridge bookstore in Hollywood. This workshop evolved into what would become the Beyond Baroque Literary and Arts Center. In the coming years, Beyond Baroque would develop into a focal point for the Los Angeles Literary Renaissance poets of the 1970s.
    In the late 1960s Hansen created the character of Dave Brandstetter, a happy, openly gay insurance investigator in Los Angeles. The first title in the series, Fadeout, found its way to literary agent Joan Kahn, and the series became Hansen's most successful works, often favorably compared to novels by Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler.
    Hansen also wrote several non-detective novels, and late in life a biographical trilogy, Jack of Hearts, Living Upstairs, and The Cutback Path featuring his alter-ego Nathan Reed. The novels trace his years in Hollywood and participation in a closeted, but vibrant gay world, vividly recounting the bars, characters, and neighborhoods of 1940s Los Angeles.
    In the late 1970s into the mid-1980s he taught extension courses in writing at UCLA.
    Hansen and his wife Jane purchased a house near Culver City in 1958 where they lived until the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Months before the earthquake, Hansen was diagnosed with cancer concurrent with the decline of his wife's health. She was admitted to a nursing home shortly before the earthquake and died there in December 1994.
    Hansen would live another ten years, eventually settling in Laguna Beach. He kept a voluminous correspondence, in some cases for decades with writer friends, fans, and former students. He died of heart failure on November 24, 2004.

    Scope and Content

    This collection contains the papers of Los Angeles author and gay activist Joseph Hansen and includes drafts of published and unpublished work; correspondence; manuscripts of works by some of Hansen's friends, family, and students; professional papers primarily related to publishing; and personal and family papers. The bulk of the material dates from the 1940s through the early 2000s.
    Works by Hansen
    The collection includes works by Joseph Hansen, which consists of chiefly typescript drafts for most of Hansen's novels (including those published under the pseudonyms Rose Brock and James Colton), poetry, essays and articles, and television and play scripts. While there are some handwritten edits and corrections among the drafts and proofs, the majority do not have annotations. There are also two boxes with copies of various publications, primarily literary magazines and newspapers, containing Hansen's published work.
    Note: Some drafts of manuscripts are also located on computer disks (Box 81), which are unavailable for paging until reformatted.
    Works by others
    There are two boxes with various manuscripts of work by friends and family of Hansen including poems by FrancEyE, and drafts of novels: In Search of Truth by Chris Gugas and People Talking to Themselves by Armine D. Mackenzie. There is also a ledger and manuscript by Belle Race from the early 1900s, who presumably was a relative of Hansen's wife Jane Bancroft Hansen.
    The correspondence includes both personal and professional letters sent and received by Hansen.
    There is a sizable amount of correspondence between Hansen and his publishers and agents including Collier Associates, Countryman Press; Holt, Rinehart & Winston; Harper & Row; the John Johnson Agency; Joan Kahn; and Penguin Books. Note that some contracts, agreements, and royalty statements are filed separately in the Professional and Personal Materials series, while others are filed with the correspondence. In addition, there are also five folders of rejection letters sent to Hansen.
    Within Hansen's personal correspondence, notable correspondents include: British author Beryl Bainbridge, who befriended Hansen in the 1970s while Hansen was living in London; English composer and musician Richard Rodney Bennett; the publisher Brandon House, who put out Hansen's Colton books; gay filmmaker Arch Brown, who collaborated with Hansen on a playscript of Hansen's novel Backtrack, which was not produced; American crime fiction writer Dorothy Salisbury Davis, with whom Hansen corresponded regularly; poet, and girlfriend of Charles Bukowski, FrancEyE (aka Frances Dean Smith); American author Philip Gambone who published a profile of Hansen in Something Inside: Conversations with Gay Fiction Writers; poet and literary critic Diana Gioia; gay activist William "Billy" Glover, who worked at One magazine and after helped form the Homosexual Information Center in 1968; poet and literary critic William Harry Harding; gay activist Ross Ingersoll; poet Bill Mohr; critic Terry Teachout, who reviewed some of Hansen's novels; and crime writer Charles Ray Willeford. There are also insignificant pieces of correspondence from well-known individuals: James Blish, James Broughton, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillerman, George Plimpton, Julian Symons, and Andrew Vachss.
    Professional and personal materials
    This series includes a variety of materials related to many different parts of Hansen's life, including business, publishing, and financial documents; miscellaneous ephemera, research materials; family papers, with writings and papers by Jane Bancroft Hansen as well as the Hansen's only child Daniel Hansen; press features on Hansen and reviews of his publications; materials related to Hansen's KFI radio program "Stranger from the Sea"; documents related to Hansen's teaching, chiefly at the UCLA extension school; miscellaneous materials related to Hansen's involvement with the gay community such as the Gay Community Services Center and the homosexual Information Center; and some materials related to his work on a 1970 issue of the literary magazine Beyond Baroque.
    The collection contains one box of photographs with images of Hansen throughout his life, as well as family members including Jane Bancroft Hansen and Daniel Hansen, and some friends and residences.
    Oversize drawings
    This series contains approximately 70 drawings on paper presumably by Jane Hansen from the 1960s, of which many may have been created as part of art class.


    Organized in eight series:
    1. Works by Hansen
    2. Works by others
    3. Correspondence
    4. Professional and personal materials
    5. Photographs
    6. Computer disks and audio cassettes
    7. Oversize materials and index cards
    8. Oversize artwork

    Processing Information

    In August 2023, narrative description and folder titles were edited to update outdated and offensive language regarding gender and identity.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Authors -- United States -- Archives
    Gay authors -- United States -- Archives
    Gays -- United States -- 20th century
    Detective and mystery fiction -- United States -- 20th century
    Letters (correspondence) -- United States -- 20th century
    Personal papers -- United States -- 20th century
    Photographs -- United States -- 20th century
    Bancroft, Jane, -1994 -- Archives
    Bainbridge, Beryl, 1932-2010, correspondent
    Bennett, Richard Rodney, correspondent
    Brown, Arch, correspondent
    Davis, Dorothy Salisbury, correspondent
    FrancEyE, 1922- author
    Gambone, Philip, correspondent
    Gioia, Dana, correspondent
    Glover, William, 1932- correspondent
    Harding, William Harry, correspondent
    Ingersoll, Ross, correspondent
    Mackenzie, Armine D., author
    Mohr, Bill, correspondent
    Teachout, Terry, correspondent
    Willeford, Charles Ray, 1919-1988, correspondent