Fritz Leiber’s life story was almost as strange and wondrous as those he concocted for his books, Ted Gioia says:
At one point or another in his life he was a movie actor (you can see Fritz Leiber working with Greta Garbo in Camille), chess champion, board game inventor, comic strip writer (for the Buck Rogers series), editor of an encyclopedia, minister, student of psychology, student of philosophy, student of theology, writing teacher, Shakespearian stage actor, inspector for the aerospace industry, skilled fencer, speech instructor (at Occidental College in Los Angeles) and, of course, science fiction and fantasy author. Despite these considerable talents, Leiber spent his final years in humble surroundings, residing in a one-room apartment in San Francisco’s tenderloin district. Harlan Ellison has described Leiber writing his stories on a manual typewriter propped over the sink in his cramped quarters.
Leiber drew on his odd hodgepodge of skills and personal experiences in crafting his stories. His considerable skills as a chessplayer — Leiber won the Santa Monica open in 1958 — are reflected in a number of tales, perhaps most notably in “The 64 Square Madhouse,” which presents the extraordinary concept (at least back in 1964, when it was published) of a computer entering a chess tournament. Leiber’s deep knowledge of Shakespeare — he played Malcolm in Macbeth and Edgar in King Lear — shows up in countless stories, for example “No Great Magic” which features an acting troupe that, through the wonders of time travel, performs Macbeth for Queen Elizabeth I and the Bard of Avon himself. Leiber’s brief stint as a minister is reflected in the religious themes of various tales — he credited it as an aid in writing Gather Darkness, although his teachers at the General Theological Seminary would not have been pleased with the practitioners of witchcraft serving as heroes and the priests playing villains in this novel. And, of course, Leiber’s talents as a fencer are echoed again and again in his adventure stories, especially those featuring Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, the former character modeled after the author himself.