Ron Goulart, a remarkably prolific science fiction, fantasy, mystery and romance novelist who cast Groucho Marx as a detective and collaborated with William Shatner on a series of books set in the 22nd century, died on Jan. 14 in Ridgefield, Conn. He was 89.
His wife, Frances Sheridan Goulart, said the death, at a nursing home, was caused by respiratory arrest.
Mr. Goulart wrote at least 180 books — and that number may underestimate his output. His goal was to write as many books as Isaac Asimov, who at his death was credited with having written about 500.
“He might have gotten writer’s block at some point, but it didn’t last long,” his wife, who herself has written 16 books, said in a phone interview. “He would just switch from one genre to another if he got stuck.”
Well known to aficionados but without a best seller to his name, Mr. Goulart was also a comic book historian; the writer of a syndicated comic strip in the 1970s (“Star Hawks,” drawn by Gil Kane); and a cultural critic. His book “The Assault on Childhood” (1969) scorned parents for not protecting their children from being exploited by toy makers, television and the Walt Disney Company, which he wrote “may be cuter than a slot machine” but “thinks the same way.”
“The guy was a chameleon,” Mark Evanier, a fellow comic book historian, said. “He was really good at nailing the style of whatever work was available to him.”
But his son Sean said that Mr. Goulart’s heart was mainly in science fiction.
“Deep down, he wanted to be the Ray Bradbury of humorous science fiction,” Sean Goulart said by phone.
One of Mr. Goulart’s best-known science fiction novels was “After Things Fell Apart” (1970), which is set in 1995 after the collapse of the United States and tells the story of a detective who is sent to investigate murders by a radical lesbian separatist organization called Mankill. The book’s locations include Vienna West, a recreation of Freud’s Vienna; a motel run by the F.B.I.; and the Monterey Mechanical Jazz Festival, which showcases the music of pinball and laundry machines.
“After Things Fell Apart,” which was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America, was the first of five books in Mr. Goulart’s “Fragmented America” series, which he wrote in the 1970s and ’80s. It was just one of several series he conceived.
By the time he started working with Mr. Shatner in the late 1980s, Mr. Goulart had written dozens of science fiction novels. “TekWar,” the first of their nine novels in a series published through 1997, is the story of a former police officer who is released from imprisonment in suspended animation after being framed for dealing a brain stimulant called Tek.
In 1993, Mr. Goulart told Entertainment Weekly that he was a consultant on the “Tek” series, although his family later said that he wrote them all and was unhappy that Mr. Shatner had taken as much credit as he did.
Mr. Shatner told Entertainment Weekly that Mr. Goulart was “a great help, and I’ve tried to give him as much credit as possible — short of putting his name on the covers.”
Ronald Joseph Goulart was born on Jan. 13, 1933, in Berkeley, Calif. His father, Joseph, was a factory worker, and his mother, Josephine (Macri) Goulart, was a homemaker.
He studied English and art at the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated in 1955. He edited The California Pelican, the campus humor magazine, for two semesters. “Letters to the Editor,” a parody of fan letters in pulp magazines that he had written for The Pelican, earned him his first professional credit when it was reprinted in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1952.
Mr. Goulart wrote more short fiction in the 1950s and ’60s while working for a San Francisco advertising agency as a copywriter. At the agency, Guild, Bascom & Bonfigli, he developed for its client Ralston Purina what looked like a newspaper’s front page on the back of Chex cereal boxes, with puzzles, serialized stories, letters to the editor and weather reports.
One of his earliest books was “The Hardboiled Dicks” (1965), an anthology of eight detective stories from old pulp magazines; one was by Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason. He edited the stories and wrote an introduction, in which he asserted that the tales “demonstrate that the pulp detective was buried prematurely.”
For the next 50 years, Mr. Goulart toggled between science fiction, detective, fantasy and romance. He also tossed in novelizations of films like “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” “Cleopatra Jones” and “Capricorn One,” as well as three “Laverne & Shirley” tie-in books.
“Let’s understand,” he told the Knight Ridder News Service in 1981 when his oeuvre had reached more than 100 books, “you don’t compare this to, say, ‘David Copperfield.’ But I’ve never written a book I was ashamed of. I’ve written a good 20 books I’d put up against anything. Thirty maybe.”
Mr. Goulart wrote under his own name and also under numerous pseudonyms, including Kenneth Robeson, for novels inspired by the Avenger, a globe-trotting, face-changing pulp magazine hero; and Con Steffanson, for several “Flash Gordon” novels based on Alex Raymond’s comic strip and for the “Laverne & Shirley” books.
He turned to the romance genre when his publisher, Warner Books, had too many science fiction books on its schedule and needed a 19th-century comedy of manners.
“That was the age of Beau Brummell, when crazy King George was on the British throne,” he told Us magazine in 1980. “So I said, ‘What the heck!’ — and did one.” As Jillian Kearny, he wrote “Agent of Love” (1979) and “Love’s Claimant” (1981).
Mr. Goulart’s love of mysteries, and of Groucho Marx, led him in the late 1990s to turn that wisecracking comedian into a wisecracking private eye in six novels, including “Groucho Marx, Secret Agent” (2002).
Kirkus Reviews said that another book in that series, “Groucho Marx and the Broadway Murders” (1999), was “silly, slight, good-natured slapstick that suggests the whodunit hasn’t forgotten or learned a thing since 1939.”
In addition to his wife and his son Sean, Mr. Goulart is survived by another son, Steffan.
Mr. Goulart turned his passion for comic strips and comic books into histories like “The Great Comic Book Artists” (1986), “The Funnies: 100 Years of American Comic Strips” (1995) and “Comic Book Culture: An Illustrated History” (2000).
Gary Groth, editor in chief of The Comics Journal, said that Mr. Goulart was one of the first of the nonacademic historians of comics and pulps who emerged in the 1950s and ’60s.
“Ron had an enormous expertise in the history of what were previously thought of as the more lurid side of pop culture: comics, newspaper strips, pulps, dime novels,” Mr. Groth wrote in an email, “and invested his histories with the same attention to factual detail and the same respect historians of highbrow culture invested in their subjects.”