Rubel Bio – James L. Rubel the writer

Like I said in the “About Us” section of this website, this page has nothing to do with bass.  My grandfather was a writer back in the ’30s – ’50s and I wanted to just honor him with a page or two about him.  He was an interesting guy and I thought his story was cool to read.  Again, nothing here about bass or music although I did hear my grandfather played a mean upright piano.

I am the namesake of my father and my grandfather James Lyon Rubel.  My father is a well-known real estate attorney in the Newport Beach, California area.  My grandfather James L. Rubel was a writer. He is mainly known for being a writer of many Western and Detective novels beginning in the 1930s all the way until his passing in 1960.  While he wrote under the name James L. Rubel, he is better known for writing under the pseudonym of Mason Macrae.  Another pseudonym, Timothy Hayes, was also used for at least three books.

From what I know of my grandfather he lived an intriguing life.  After graduating from Dartmouth College, class of 1917 with a business degree, he served in World War One as pilot of those rickety bi-planes.  We believe the types of planes he flew were Spads and the DeHaviland 4.  These according to his diary were loaded with Samson Radial or Liberty engines.   Flying these planes it turns out was an extremely brave thing to do since the planes of this time were pretty unreliable and very dangerous.  Many didn’t have motors that worked very well as you can see by my grandfather’s complaints in his diary.  Several of these bi-planes were prone to shredding their wings during dives as well as overheating.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, it was easy to get lost and hard to find your way home sometimes.

James Rubel 1918 WW1 Protrait

After the war James Lyon Rubel came back to Chicago and tried his hand at business while he drove about in his Stutz Bearcat automobile.  However, things went a little bumpy after that as he tried different unsuccessful businesses.  I remember at least one story where he bought futures in something like hay and the market closed before he was able to sell it off.  A large delivery of the bails he purchased was going to be sent to his apartment in Chicago and piled in the street.  He had to scramble quickly and sell them off and in the process lost money.

Something else also happened during this time but the exact story is unclear.  Grandfather owed money and back in those days you could go to jail for that.  So the sheriff in Chicago was after him and he decided to leave Chicago.  He headed for California where his mother lived with James’s step father, Acme Steel Company’s president James E. MacMurray.  This was in 1930.

James E. MacMurray had a large house in Pasadena and graciously allowed my grandfather, his wife Betty, who he met on a blind date in 1927, and my then three-year-old father James L. Rubel JR, to live in a guest house they had in the back.  For several years my grandfather tried his hand at selling Electrolux vacuums and also owned a hamburger stand in Pasadena.

In 1934 James Rubel and family, now including my aunt Jane, moved to Newport Beach, California.  They first settled on the Newport peninsula before finally moving into a three story home on the bay on Lido Isle later that year.  At this point James E. MacMurray was still helping support the family.  In his quest to find a vocation he had passion for, my grandfather began to write his first book in the third story tower of the Lido Isle home.

This book called “The Medico of Painted Springs” was published in England and proved to be quite popular in the English Lending Library as well as elsewhere.  This book was later made into a movie in 1941 and turned out to be the only one of my grandfather’s books made into a film.  The movie premiere was held at the Lido movie theater in Newport Beach and was quite the local event.

After that first book, my grandfather wrote another two in 1935, “The Medico Rides” and “Thunder Over White Horse” under his name James L. Rubel.  Then he wrote his first book under the pseudonym Mason Macrae called “The Sheriff of Elk Ridge” also in 1935.  The reason he started using pseudonyms,  as I understand it, had to do with which agent he worked with for each book.  In 1936 he wrote his first book under the pseudonym Timothy Hayes called, “The Two-Gun Parson.”

JamesRubel protrait Mason Macrae
Promotional portrait of Mason Macrae – one of James L. Rubel’s pseudonyms.

He continued to write usually two and sometimes three books a year.  I put an entire list at the end of this article.

Living on Lido Isle in the 30s, 40s, and 50s meant lots of boating and social interaction.  In 1944 my grandfather became Commodore of the Newport Harbor Yacht club.  His picture is still up on the wall there last I looked.  He later also became President of the Lido Isle Community Association and a member of the Balbo Bay Club board.

James Rubel Commodore Newport Harbor Yacht Club, 1944
Commodore of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, 1944

During this time period many well known guests came to their home on Lido since many celebrities enjoyed boating down in Newport Beach.  Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall used to come by as well as Johnny Weissmuller.  Errol Flynn would sail by the house with his shirt off and a martini flag flying from the mast.  He’d yell for everyone to come by for cocktails as he cruised past the homes.   I still have a photo he signed and gave to my grandmother whom he called, “Balboa Betty.”

My aunt, Jane Rubel Kuhnert, told a great story about when she was a little girl and she convinced Anthony Quinn and much of the crew of a movie he was filming on Lido to come by the house.  It ended up being quite a surprise for my grandparents when 40 plus people showed up at their door.

My grandparents loved to party and that involved music, dancing and alcohol.  At some point they had had a hidden bar built in the home.  Prohibition was over but my grandfather’s step father, James E. MacMurray was very religious and a teetotaler.  He didn’t approve of alcohol in the least.  And since he was still helping the family out here and there, no one wanted to upset him by having a bar out in his presence.  So a bar that rotated out of sight and into the wall like something out of a spy movie was built.  According to my dad, he or my aunt Jane accidently told MacMurray about the bar because being kids; they thought it was pretty neat.  To say the least MacMurray was not too happy and my grandfather took some heavy heat.

In 1950 my grandfather wrote “No Business for a Lady.”  This is noted as being recognized as the first book written with a female detective as the lead character.  It is also noted by some as being a fun book to read while drinking because the lead character drinks a variety of mixed drinks.  In fact some people like to play a game and follow along with Eli Donovan making each drink as she makes hers during the story.

Portrait of author James L. Rubel
Promotional portrait of author James L. Rubel

Throughout the 50s my grandfather continued to write detective and western pulp novels and go boating.  He passed away from colon cancer in 1960.

James Lyon Rubel book list:

The Medico of Painted Springs – James L. Rubel -1934
The Medico Rides – James L. Rubel – 1935
Thunder over White Horse – James L. Rubel – 1935
The Sheriff of Elk Ridge – Mason Macrae – 1935
Prairie Dust – James L. Rubel -1936
Renegade Guns – James L. Rubel – 1936
The Two-Gun Parson – Timothy Hayes – 1936
Cyclone of the Sage Brush – James L. Rubel – 1937
The Lazy L Brand – James L. Rubel – 1937
King of the Mesa – Timothy Hayes – 1938
The Medico on the Trail – James L. Rubel – 1938
Fighting Sheriff – Timothy Hayes – 1939
Two-Gun Troubadour – Mason Macrae – 1939
The Outlaw of Clover Creek – Mason Macrae – 1939
Limberleg of the Lazy Y – Mason Macrae – 1939
Gun Gospel – Mason Macrae – 1940
War on the Range – James L. Rubel – 1940
The Salty Six-Guns of Pinto – James L. Rubel – 1941
Rawhide – Mason Macrae – 1943
The Sheriff of Hangtown – Mason Macrae – 1943
The Distant Hills – Mason Macrae – 1944
The Doctor of Painted Springs – Mason Macrae – 1944
The Scarlet Saddle – Mason Macrae – 1944
The Fiddle-Back Brand – Mason Macrae – 1945
The Gun-Slammer – Mason Macrae – 1945
The Bounty-Hunters – Mason Macrae – 1946
Greenhorn – Mason Macrae – 1949
Black Sheep – Mason Macrae – 1950
Four Frightened Horses – Mason Macrae – 1950
No Business for a Lady – James L. Rubel – 1950
Bitter Basin – Mason Macrae – 1952
Rocking M Ranch – Mason Macrae – 1952
Six-Gun Serenade – Mason Macrae – 1953
Coffin Canyon – Mason Macrae – 1954
Thunder Valley – Mason Macrae – 1956
The Man from Tucson – Mason Macrae – 1956
Showdown at Sundance – Mason Macrae – 1958
Shoot-Out – Mason Macrae – 1959
The Fraudulent Broad – James L. Rubel – 1959
Death Was Their Business – Mason Macrae – 1960