Thursday, September 3, 2015

Just a Bit of Site-Seeing

• I’ve seen the signature “J. Oval” many times while looking through vintage paperback illustrations, and I included three examples of his cover paintings (for Rona Jaffe’s Away from Home, Gerald Green’s The Lotus Eaters, and Glendon Swarthout’s Where the Boys Are) in my gallery of summer-themed works. But I knew nothing about the artist himself until Pulp International cobbled together this gallery of work he did for UK publisher Pan Books. “Illustrator J. Oval was a Brit named Ben Ostrick,” the blog explains, “who painted under both his pseudonym and real name. His crisp illustrations helped make Pan Books, which debuted in 1944, one of the most eye-catching mid-century imprints.” I especially like Ostrick/Oval’s fronts for Algerian Adventure, Fuel for the Flame, and Pauline. In addition to his book-cover paintings, Ostrick worked as a commercial artist, creating images such as this one for British Railways.

• British comics historian Steve Holland has assembled--for his blog, Bear Alley--what he calls “the skeleton for a gallery dedicated to British gangster writer James Hadley Chase.” There are plenty of covers already, but it sounds as if Holland intends to add more as his time allows. So check Bear Alley once in a while to see what’s new.

• Speaking of James Hadley Chase, one of his novels finds a place among Flashbak’s set of “13 Regrettable Book Titles.”

• Author Martin Edwards alerts me to the recent publication, in Britain, of Tom Adams Uncovered: The Art of Agatha Christie and Beyond (HarperCollins). You may already know that Tom Adams, born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1926, painted the fronts for many Christie paperbacks, as well as Ballantine’s 1971 line of Raymond Chandler reprints. As Amazon notes, “Tom Adams Uncovered is a showcase of the artist’s best work from a career spanning more than 50 years. In addition to his many cover paintings, it features examples of Tom’s broader work, including award-winning advertising, portraits, album covers, poster prints, and his work on the films 2001, Flash Gordon, and Lifeforce. With captions by Tom and a commentary by the Agatha Christie historian John Curran, and concluding with previously unpublished Agatha Christie paintings, this book is a treasure trove for both crime fans and art lovers, and a fitting celebration of one of the world’s finest cover artists.” It sounds like something I’d be pleased to find under my Christmas tree in a few months. Hint, hint …

Quentin Tarantino films, as Penguin-style paperbacks.

• This month, UK-based Pushkin Press launches a new imprint, Vertigo, under which it will reprint “crime classics from 1920 to 1970.” In the blog Creative Review, designer Jamie Keenan “explains the thinking behind the bold typographic direction” he’s taken with Vertigo’s book covers. As Dan Wagstaff observes in The Casual Optimist, “They make for a stunning set.” I’m hoping to get my own hands on some of these releases.

An uncredited but terrific front for Thomas Pynchon’s V.

• Designer Mark Swan recalls the process he went through to create covers for British editions of Walter Mosley’s most recent Easy Rawlins novels, in a piece for Orion Books’ blog, The Murder Room.

• Book publishing’s latest cover-design trend: the flat woman.

Hardcover editions of early hard-boiled crime novels.

• If only it were possible to add these “subtle GIFs” to “iconic book covers” and sell the resulting editions in stores …

• I bought David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest shortly after its hardback debut in 1996, based solely on an Esquire magazine write-up, the author of which admitted that he hadn’t yet managed to get through all 1,079 pages of the book, but was enjoying the reading experience. After reading all 981 pages of Wallace’s story myself (minus the final 100 pages of “Notes and Errata” at the end), I can’t say I was as pleased to have tackled this magnum opus, but it appears that I am in the minority. January Magazine notes that Infinite Jest is the late Mr. Wallace’s “most famous work,” and that to celebrate the upcoming 20th anniversary of its initial release, publisher Little, Brown has organized a contest to freshen up the book’s cover. Designers and artists are invited to submit their own concepts for Infinite Jest’s façade by September 15, and there’s even a $1,000 prize (in the former of an American Express gift card) waiting for the winner. More details of the contest are here.

Wow, 228 covers for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita! There’s a novel that has certainly inspired designers over the decades.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Finds: “A Journey to the
Center of the Earth”

Another in our growing line of context-free covers we love.

A Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne (Scholastic, 1966). Illustration by Mort Künstler.

This paperback was the first edition I read of Jules Verne’s classic 1864 science-fiction tale about a most fantastical expedition to Earth’s mysterious core, via a descent through an extinct Icelandic volcano. But it wasn’t until recently that I learned its cover was painted by American artist Mort Künstler, who just today celebrates his 84th birthday. Künstler is recognized these days for his historical imagery, but he used to be better known for the cover and interior illustrations he created for men’s magazines, many of which featured curvaceous young women in noteworthy states of dishabille.

Künstler’s art for A Journey to the Center of the Earth is unquestionably dramatic, with its gargantuan geological features--dwarfing Frenchman Verne’s human explorers--illuminated by what the reader can only assume are fires raging deep within our planet. However, there are none of his signature lovelies on either the front or back of this volume. If you would like to enjoy some of those, you’ll want to click here.

READ MORE:Po-Man Talks with Artist Mort Künstler,” by Chris Poggiali (Temple of Schlock).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Triple Plays

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

Marijane Meaker was born in 1927 and, as “Vin Packer” (one of her several pseudonyms), composed 20 novels, most of which fit into the crime and mystery fiction field. She also penned 1952’s Spring Fire, which has been deemed the first lesbian pulp novel and was apparently inspired by an affair Meaker had as a teenager attending a boarding school. That same year, 1952, brought a second Packer work, Dark Intruder--about “an even more taboo topic: incest”--to stores and squeaky spinner racks.

Meaker/Packer’s 1957 novel, 3 Day Terror, sounds rather more pulpy and shocking than either of those other works. When, in 2013, Prologue Books reissued the novel in paperback and e-book versions, it offered the following plot teaser:
She was hurrying past the field on her way home when the man stepped out from behind a tree and stood spraddle-legged in her path. Ginny Lee was uncommonly pretty, a small girl with unusually long legs for someone her size, good legs with finely molded ankles; and her breasts above the rounded hips and very thin waist were large and full, not in a way that gave her a top-heavy look, but a proud, feminine look. Ginny Lee was happy about her looks except for one thing: she needed glasses. She stood there blinking and squinting, trying to recognize the man who stood there so menacingly. “Who are you” she asked, suddenly frightened. He laughed, took her roughly, and threw her down.
Prologue’s modern cover for 3 Day Terror (seen here) is a meager imitation of Gold Medal Books’ original 1957 paperback edition, which I’ve embedded above. Credited with creating the older, more dramatic artwork is Louis S. Glanzman (1922-2013), a Baltimore-born, Virginia-reared painter who--after contributing some of his earliest efforts to comic books--put his talents to work for the U.S. military’s Aero Time magazine during World War II. He later illustrated stories for periodicals such as Life, The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, True, and National Lampoon. In addition, Glanzman painted 29 covers for Time, among them a famous one showing Neil Armstrong on Earth’s moon in 1969, and illustrated the Pippi Longstocking books for children. You can find his artistry on display in Reader’s Digest Condensed Books as well as on the fronts of novels intended for adult audiences, such as these. In 2009, the design-oriented blog Today’s Inspiration published this fine four-part look back at his career: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV. More examples of Glanzman’s work are here.

Now shift your attention to the other façade atop this post, the one from Three Day Pass--to Kill (Berkley, 1958). The ever-prolific Paul Rader was responsible for the sexy/shocking image on this novel set in Occupied Germany after World War II. “Marty Hunter had only three days to clear himself of murdering his best friend and of raping the all-too-willing Wanda,” reads the back-jacket copy. “Here is a slashing story of occupied Frankfurt by the famous author of The Big Rape--a story of Frauleins who would do anything for a pair of American nylons, and of the men who hated them for it.”

There seems to be some question regarding the authorship of Three Day Pass. Top billing in the byline goes to James Wakefield “J.W.” Burke (1904-1989), who is said to have covered the post-World War II Nuremberg trials for Esquire magazine and to have subsequently reported on the notorious Berlin Blockade for the evening Indiana newspaper, The Indianapolis News. Burke produced a controversial but nonetheless respected novel, The Big Rape (originally published in Germany in 1951), which recounted the dire, even horrific conditions that faced women after the Soviet army conquered Adolf Hitler’s capital, Berlin, in 1945. He later penned such novels as The Blazing Dawn (1975) and non-fiction works on the order of David Crockett: The Man Behind the Myth (1984).

But Allen J. Hubin, in his authoritative volume, Crime Fiction II: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 1749-1990 (revised 1994), suggests Burke didn’t actually deserve credit for writing Three Day Pass. “[T]he sole author of the work,” Hubin notes, was the man awarded second billing on the novel’s front: “Edward Grace.”

Grace was a nom de plume employed by Chicago-born Edward de Grazia (1927-2013), who would eventually become a political activist, a professor of law at New York City’s Yeshiva University, and a playwright. A Web site composed by de Grazia’s brother Alfred contends that Edward penned Three Day Pass--to Kill during what “free time” he was given while training as a pilot with the Army Air Force, but it was “published under the name of an author whom he did not know and for a flat sum without rights.” How such a thing could have happened is not explained anywhere on the site, but if the story is true, then it must have galled Edward de Grazia to see his own contributions disregarded, while Burke’s reputation was burnished on the rear side of Berkley’s softcover edition of Three Day Pass with quotes such as these: “Burke’s stories of World War II have the sock of Hemingway and the shock of Maupassant” (John B. Crane, Europe Day by Day) and “Mr. Burke leaves precarious little erotic detail to the imagination” (The New York Times).

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Finds: “Flamingo Road”

Another in our growing line of context-free covers we love.

Flamingo Road, by Robert Wilder (Bantam, 1957).
Illustration by Stanley Zuckerberg.

As Kenneth F. Kister observes in Florida on the Boil, his 2007 guide to novels and short stories based in the Sunshine State: “Robert Wilder (1901-74), a bestselling novelist from the 1940s through the 1960s, is regrettably no longer in favor with the reading public, though much of his fiction remains as fresh and cogent as that produced by some of today’s most popular storytellers.” Wilder was born in Richmond, Virginia, but spent a great deal of his childhood in the east Florida town of Daytona Beach. In addition to his modern novels (or at least they were modern at the time he first penned them), Wilder concocted “several historical novels that,” Kister says, “trace the state’s progress from the pioneering days of the 19th century to its emergence as a tourist and retirement mecca in the 20th century.” Among Wilder’s better-known works are God Has a Long Face (1940), Written on the Wind (1946), Bright Feather (1948), Walk with Evil (1957), and Wind from the Carolinas (1964).

Let us forget 1942’s Flamingo Road, either.

Kister’s plot synopsis of that “epic soap opera” calls it “the haunting story of pre-World War II love, lust, greed, and corruption in the mythical Florida city of Truro, reputedly modeled on DeLand, seat of Volusia County located northeast of Orlando. Readers quickly get to know the main players: Handsome but morally irresolute Field Carlisle; lovely Lane Ballou, a saintly prostitute who craves respectability and in particular a residence on upscale Flamingo Road; unscrupulous, nasty, ‘elephantine’ Sheriff Titus Semple, the local political Svengali; bosomy Lute-Mae Sanders, whose hospitable brothel does a booming business servicing some of Florida’s finest gentlemen; and Dan Curtis, Lane’s sugar daddy.” A commenter for the Goodreads site remarked that Wilder does “an excellent job” of “plot[ting] the political actions taken throughout the book” and that “the characters are very well done. The depiction of each character is a highlight of Wilder’s work.” Kister adds that the author’s easy prose style “is distinguished by realistic dialogue and pitch-perfect figures of speech, as in ‘If Lute-Mae Sanders ever opened her mouth, honey, this county and most of the state would split open like a dropped watermelon.”

(Right) Flamingo Road, 1942 edition

Together with his wife, Sally, Wilder adapted Flamingo Road into a stage play during the mid-1940s (the script from which, I believe, was subsequently used as the basis for a 1956 episode of the American TV anthology series Lux Video Theatre). He then put together the screenplay for the 1949 film version of his soapy tale, which showcased Joan Crawford in the Lane Ballou role (though she’s called “Lane Bellamy” in that movie) and featured Casablanca’s Sydney Greenstreet as Sheriff Semple. Seven years after Wilder’s demise, Flamingo Road inspired an NBC prime-time melodrama of the same name, starring Howard Duff, Mark Harmon, and the lovely Morgan Fairchild. (You can watch the opening title sequence from that series here.)

There have been many published versions of Flamingo Road, but my favorite is undoubtedly the one atop this post. The over-the-shoulder artistic perspective is outstanding, and the brunette shown with a telephone receiver pressed to her right ear and a lit cigarette dangling from between her red-painted fingernails--the very picture of a gossiper--is ideal for this story about secrets kept and secrets shared. Credit this cover painting to Long Island, New York-reared Stanley Zuckerberg, who also produced illustrations for works by James M. Cain, Patricia Highsmith, Norman Mailer, Irwin Shaw, and Georges Simenon. He also created one of my favorite façade paintings for the 1963 edition of John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner (shown here). You can enjoy more of Zuckerberg’s work here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Patting Himself on the Back

Following on my post last week about Strangers When We Meet, a 1958 novel by Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), I want to draw attention to the cover below, from 1955’s Murder in the Navy.

The author credited with concocting this particular thriller is Richard Marsten, and the promotional blurb highlighted in yellow on its cover (“Superb suspense!”) comes from Hunter. What publisher Gold Medal failed to disclose, and most readers probably wouldn’t have known in the mid-’50s, was that Marsten--like McBain--was one of the several pseudonyms Hunter employed during his writing career. In other words, Hunter was giving a solid thumbs-up to his own book! A “cheeky” development, as the Seattle Mystery Bookshop Hardboiled blog remarked when it posted this same cover last month.

Incidentally, the illustration on this edition of Murder in the Navy was executed by Clark Hulings. Murder in the Navy was subsequently republished as Death of a Nurse, by Ed McBain.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Finds: “The Intimate Ones”

Another in our growing line of context-free covers we love.

The Intimate Ones, by Bonnie Golightly (Hillman, 1960).
Illustration by Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka.

If the family name Golightly brings to your mind a certain Audrey Hepburn film role, it may or may not be coincidental. Not long after Truman Capote’s original novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was published in Esquire in November 1958 (and brought out concurrently by Random House in a book-length collection of Capote’s short fiction), a New York City writer, one Bonnie Helen Golightly, launched a legal suit against Capote and his publishing house. She claimed she’d been the inspiration for Holly Golightly, the country girl turned gadabout party girl at the heart of Capote’s yarn, and demanded $800,000 on the grounds of libel and invasion of privacy.

Time laid out the particulars in its issue of February 5, 1959:
“A twice-married, twice-divorced blonde built along dinner-at-Schrafft’s lines, Bonnie Golightly, 39, is a practicing novelist (The Wild One) and ex-Greenwich Village bookstore owner. Far from being ‘a figment of Truman Capote’s so-called imagination,’ Bonnie claims, Capote’s colorful heroine was constructed from details about Bonnie gleaned by Capote (‘a creative reporter’) from ‘mutual friends.’

“Besides a broad Southern accent acquired from her Tennessee upbringing, Bonnie Golightly points to some other evidence. Like Capote’s Holly, she lived in a brownstone on Manhattan’s fashionable East Side, with a bar around the corner on Lexington. Like Holly, she is an avid amateur folk singer with many theatrical and offbeat friends. Like Holly, Bonnie says: ‘I just love cats. The cat thing corresponds, and all the hair-washing and a lot of things hither and yon.’ One bit of Hollyanna to which Bonnie makes no claim: ‘I’ve never, absolutely never, had a Lesbian roommate.’

“Capote claims that his Holly had three ‘counterparts in reality,’ none of them Bonnie: ‘One of them is dead--she died in Africa; the other two are very much alive and have no intention of suing me.’ Properly Hollyfied at Claimant Golightly’s ‘presumption’ Capote tongue-lashed back: ‘I have never met nor seen this lady … It’s ridiculous for her to claim she is my Holly. I understand she’s a large girl nearly forty years old. Why, it’s sort of like Joan Crawford saying she’s Lolita.”
Bonnie Golightly was hardly the only “girl-about-town” claiming to have provided the model for Capote’s protagonist; at least four others made the same assertion, and in the decades since, there have been a number of other models proposed. But, though her suit was soon dismissed, a blog called West Hollywood Wives makes the case that the Chicago-born Ms. Golightly “had good reason to think she played a part--if in name only--in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

That article is well worth reading, but what concerns us here is Bonnie Golightly’s novel-writing career. She claimed to have “started writing when I was eight years old,” and West Hollywood Wives asserts that she eventually published 20 books, primarily of the pulpish sort. Among those were The Wild One (1957), High Cost of Loving (1958), Beat Girl (1959), The Shades of Evil (1960), The Integration of Maybelle Brown (1961), and The Wife Swappers (1962).

Oh, and let’s not forget 1960’s The Intimate Ones.

I’m sorry to report that I have not been able to track down even a single review of this novel on the Web, and I don’t own a copy myself. Judging by the cover teaser on the Hillman Books edition above--“A novel of New York City girls with unlisted telephone numbers”--it sounds like a yarn focusing on what my father used to call “women of uncertain virtue.” That seems to jibe with the come-on atop a different edition, published in 1966 by Award Books (with cover artwork by Darrell Greene), which I have posted on the left: “One unscrupulous man and two girls without inhibitions parlay an unconventional relationship into a going concern.” Are we talking prostitution here, or perhaps blackmail? Neither of those plotting possibilities fits comfortably with the ostensibly sweet and downright tender illustration Ernest Chiriacka painted for the 1960 edition of The Intimate Ones, featured at the top of this post. Based on that art alone, I’d have guessed Golightly’s narrative was built around a complicated but ultimately satisfying love story. One involving plenty of parties, of course.

Unfortunately, I can’t ask Bonnie Golightly about The Intimate Ones. A longtime smoker, she died as a consequence of lung cancer on October 11, 1998, at age 77. Although she wasn’t successful in her lawsuit against Truman Capote, she did at least outlive him by 14 years. That might have brought her modest satisfaction.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Quick Hits

• It’s interesting to see the same book being treated differently in different countries. Compare, for instance, the U.S. cover of Trigger Mortis--Anthony Horowitz’s coming James Bond novel--with the French version. As The Book Bond blog notes, the latter “adds a nice visual reference to auto racing, a big part of the book.”

• Andrew Nette, the man behind the fine blog Pulp Curry, recently interviewed W.H. Chong, the design director at Australia’s Text Publishing, on behalf of Spook Magazine. The two talked about “what makes a good cover design and [Chong’s] favourite cover designs from the science fiction reading of his youth.” You can look over the results of their exchange here.

These have to be some of the worst covers ever.

• And though I’ve already done enough to publicize the eye-catching blog Pulp International, let me do a bit more. Here you’ll find its selection of Brazilian illustrator José Luiz Benicio’s covers for espionage adventures starring “Brigitte Montfort, nicknamed Baby, a CIA agent posing as a journalist and getting into all kinds of sticky situations during the Cold War.” Then click here to enjoy the front from Corgi’s 1959 paperback edition of Kiss Her Goodbye, a work credited to “Wade Miller” (aka Robert Wade and William Miller). The art in this case was created by Oliver Brabbins, a Brit about whom I’ve not written before on this page (though I should soon). More of Brabbins’ excellent artistry can be appreciated here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: What Was Your Name Again?

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

If your eyes were glued to American television back in the 1960s, chances are the name Robert Bloomfield crossed your vision at some point. His page on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) credits him with having penned episodes of Perry Mason, Mannix, The Wild Wild West, Checkmate, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Bonanza, among many other shows. He’s also listed as a writer on the 1964 German crime drama Dog Eat Dog! (Einer frisst den anderen), though his involvement with that cheaply produced picture--about three thieves in Europe who steal $1 million in obsolete U.S. currency, only to end up under threat at a remote Adriatic island hotel--might have extended little further than his having produced the book on which it was loosely based, 1956’s When Strangers Meet. I say “loosely,” because the plot of Dog Eat Dog!--which starred Jayne Mansfield and Cameron Mitchell--sounds nothing like that of Bloomfield’s book. Here’s Kirkus Reviews’ take on When Strangers Meet:
A California ghost mining town harbors three [people] involved in a bank robbery, [along with a] Hungarian who is [guilty of] illegal entry, a storekeeper, an old and a young miner, and the decrepit descendant of the original wealthy family, [as well as] the runaway wife of a tennis player turned pro. The three bandits hold the rest prisoners for six days; there are four deaths, an earthquake and rock slides; rescue brings retribution.
The rear cover of Pocket Books’ 1957 paperback edition of When Strangers Meet, shown on the right, supplies a bit more detail about the dramatis personae in Bloomfield’s story--everyone from Dolph Tierney (“a thug who murdered a bank guard for kicks’) to Darlene Hagan (“former burlesque hoofer and B-girl who likes men and money, in that order”) and Wade Mercer (“a man soured by failure and desperate for cash”). As the paperback’s final teaser attests, “More than one of them would kill!” Certainly it’s that fear of violence erupting in an unpredictable situation that artist Robert K. Abbett sought to capture in his cover illustration for Pocket’s version of When Strangers Meet, embedded atop this post.

By the mid-1950s, Bloomfield had been laboring as a writer for more than a decade, though not under that name. He was born in 1912 as Leslie Edgley, and looks to have published his first book, No Birds Sing, in 1940. Six years later he released a crime novel, Fear No More (subsequently also adapted for the big screen), that he followed up with other such genre efforts as The Angry Heart (1947), The Judas Goat (1952), The Runaway Pigeon (1953), and A Dirty Business (1969, which brought the sole outing for Los Angeles private eye Charles Galahad). Edgley also broke into movie scripting, though sometime after June 1950 he ran afoul of paranoid government and motion-picture company officials who sought to purge the U.S. entertainment industry of alleged Communist Party sympathizers. He wound up on the notorious Hollywood blacklist with writers Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman, Dalton Trumbo, and Langston Hughes, and performers on the order of Lee J. Cobb, Edward G. Robinson, Lee Grant, Ossie Davis, and Kim Hunter. I’m unable to confirm whether his adoption of the Robert Bloomfield pseudonym was inspired by that blacklisting, but it is interesting to see his film and TV credits as Edgley drop away after 1953, just before his Bloomfield résumé begins to build.

As Bloomfield, Edgley published--at least--The Shadow of Guilt (1947), From This Death Forward (1952), Vengeance Street (1952), and Kill with Kindness (1962). Other works he produced under noms de plume such as Michael Gillian, Lawrence E. Pivak, and Brook Hastings (the last of which he used in collaboration with his wife, Mary). Reports say Leslie Edgley died in California in 2002.

Far easier to pin down than Edgley’s biography is that of Evan Hunter, the man behind the other novel showcased at the top of this post, Strangers When We Meet. Hunter, born Salvatore Alberto Lombino in New York City in 1926 (he legally changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952) went on to create--under the pseudonym Ed McBain--one of America’s most beloved series of police procedurals, featuring the oft-eccentric cops of the 87th Precinct. But his first adult novel to see print was The Evil Sleep! (1952), which was recently resurrected by Hard Case Crime under its alternative title, So Nude, So Dead. Not until 1958, after he’d ushered into print five 87th Precinct tales plus a succession of standalones (some of which boasted the byline “Richard Marsten”), did Strangers When We Meet reach bookstores.

The New York Times called that new work “a very moral book about some mildly immoral people,” and provided this plot synopsis:
[Larry Cole] is a successful architect living in one of those familiar post-war subdivisions when he meets Margaret Gault. Both are happily married--though Mr. Hunter rather more than suggests that Margaret’s husband has Oedipus trouble, which makes him a less-than-perfect lover. From the first encounter (at the school bus stop) they are plunged into a torrid pattern of deceit which leads to tragedy. In the end, rather than lose Margaret (and their weekly meetings in carefully selected motels), Larry passes up an opportunity to remodel the island of Puerto Rico, without, of course, telling his wife [Eve] that he has done so. Finally, on his way to another assignation, a hurricane from the Caribbean (is there a symbol here?) blows his car off the bridge. You might say that Larry, having sowed the wind, is spared the real whirlwind of his mistakes.
Kirkus added, in its own assessment of the novel:
Over and above the read-on compulsion here (will Larry leave Eve?, will Eve find out? etc., etc.), sex is the kick and there are many untamed scenes. It is definitely not literature--but it may well be commercial and the publishers will help it along; just as probably, the critics will send it to the shower rooms to cool off.
I’ve never watched the 1960 film made from Hunter’s tale (and scripted by the author himself), but it starred Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak as the two lovers, and was shot amid some of Southern California’s most beautiful scenery. Variety, though, is quoted by Wikipedia as calling Strangers When We Meet “easy on the eyes but hard on the intellect … an old-fashioned soap opera.” And the Turner Classic Movies Web site says it “heralded the end of [Novak’s] reign as a major star. She never again experienced the earlier career heights of such films as Picnic (1955) or Vertigo (1958).”

Someday I shall have to rent the film Strangers When We Meet. Meanwhile, I’m toying with the idea of ordering the paperback edition of Hunter’s novel that appears above. Released in 1959, with cover art by the prolific Barye Phillips (1924-1969), it can be picked up cheaply from the online marketplace AbeBooks.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Finds: “Frenzy”

Another in our growing line of context-free covers we love.

Frenzy (original title: Junkie!), by Jonathan Craig (Lancer, 1962).
Illustration by Harry Schaare.

The author “Jonathan Craig” was actually Frank E. Smith (1919-1984). Born in Santa Barbara, California, he moved with his family to Kansas City, Missouri, in the midst of the Great Depression. According to this translated page in the French version of Wikipedia (why there’s no similar biographical information in the English version is beyond me), Smith worked as a clerk for the Kansas City Star newspaper and then relocated to Washington, D.C., to take jobs with the U.S. government. During World War II he joined the navy and, despite still being in his mid-20s, was apparently appointed as head research analyst for the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It’s said Smith later served as President Harry Truman’s advisor at the 1945 Potsdam Conference, during which representatives of the Allied powers met to determine what would become of defeated Nazi Germany and how peace would be restored in  Europe.

I’m not clear on exactly when Smith began penning fiction (though it was at least by the late ’40s), or why he adopted the Craig nom de plume, but in 1952 he finally left government service to devote himself to the art and business of writing. He penned short stories for both Western-fiction periodicals (Mammoth Western, Thrilling Western, etc.) and others, such as Manhunt, that specialized in tales of crime. “Given that the editor of Manhunt was keen to have his authors be seen as leading colorful, even mildly gamey lives,” editors Jack Adrian and Bill Pronzini remarked in their 1995 book, Hard-boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, “it’s difficult to ascertain the truth about Craig’s history. But without a doubt Craig clearly had more than enough experience of the hard end of life to become one of the leading chroniclers of the ‘JD’ (juvenile delinquest), or ‘juvie,’ genre, which was so popular with editors and readers in the ‘rebel without a cause’ era of the mid-1950s. He combined a gritty realism with a sardonic outlook and mastered a style that was spare, while at times hinting at lushness and moral decay.” Readers ate up whatever Craig could serve them.

Nowadays, folks who are familiar at all with Jonathan Craig usually think of him in association with his 10-book police procedural series centered on New York City’s Sixth Precinct, the opening installment of which is 1955’s The Dead Darling. “The two detective leads are Pete Selby, who serves as narrator, and his partner Stan Rayder,” explains John “J.F.” Norris in his blog, Pretty Sinister Books. “The police methods are some of the most methodical and bureaucratic I've read in an early novel of this type. Before anyone says, ‘Oh yeah, Ed McBain did that kind of thing and with a bigger cast of cop characters,’ it should be said that the first 87th Precinct novel (which uses a fictitious city based on New York) was published in 1956. Craig started his series of cop novels in 1954 and dares to use the real New York as his setting. McBain has said that he was inspired by the Dragnet TV series. I can’t say where Craig got his inspiration, but he beat McBain at this idea by a couple of years.” The Sixth Precinct series continues through Case of the Brazen Beauty (1966).

But before Craig sent cops Selby and Rayder out on their first call, he produced the noteworthy standalone works Junkie! (1952), Red-Headed Sinner (1953), and Alley Girl (1954, also published as Renegade Cop). The first of those, Junkie! (aka Frenzy), is described by Kirk Reichenbaugh in The Ringer Files blog as a “tawdry little tale of love among squalor … likely written to cash in on the Beat craze going on thanks to [Jack] Kerouac and the gang …” It seems Smith/Craig’s “experience of the hard end of life” came in handy when he was concocting this novel. Here’s Reichenbaugh’s plot synopsis:
It’s set among the jazz alleys and clubs of Washington, D.C., in the ’50s instead of the standard hangouts like Greenwich Village or North Beach. Steve Harper is a horn man, one of the best, who’s burning a torch for a former call-girl and heroin junkie named Kathy. Kathy came out to the big city to find success, but found the needle in a brothel instead. Soon as she meets Steve things start to look up. Sure, Steve has some existential angst and all, falling in love with a prostitute, but damn! Kathy lets Steve have his way with her on their first night together. Well, a bit more than that actually. Steve’s big moment of passion is pretty much raping Kathy in the front seat of his car. He figures in some psychotic way that going all caveman on her is what one does to a chick that’s peddling it for everyone. A good bout of self-loathing immediately follows. Kathy thinks Steve [is] something of a lost and tortured soul. Just the sort of cat to kick the needle for, and ‘toots-sweet,’ Cupid’s flinging arrows at them. There was no mention of how much scratch changed hands, but she definitely leaves some deep scars in his heart.

Jump ahead a couple months and Steve is mooning over Kathy after sleeping with one of his gal-pals, Lois. Lois is a trip. Lois is one of those wound-up kittens who like to scratch too. Not only that, but Lois plays a hell of a boogie on the ivories, and once upon a time Steve could have really gone for her. But Lois ups and marries a clown with dough instead. Lois decided that banging the ivories in reefer joints is the slow boat to Endsville, so why not take a short cut and marry some rich moke for his money. That was the plan, anyway. But Lois’ hubby, Mel, has a problem with the sauce. He drinks and likes to get rough. He’s also got a jealous streak. So it’s not long after the wedding bells stop ringing that Lois resumes slinking around Steve’s pad, sitting around in her sexy underwear, smoking reefers and playing Steve’s records and torturing him about Kathy dumping him. And that’s the scene, until one night a cop friend of Steve’s calls him up and drops the news that Steve’s old mentor Wally Haynes was given the dirt nap. And the chief suspect is … Kathy!

What follows is pretty much Steve running around town playing gumshoe trying to find Kathy, while also trying to nail the gink who offed Wally.
Interestingly, when Junkie! was released by Falcon Books, it was one of two drug-associated novels in that publisher’s 1952 line; the other was The Evil Sleep!, Ed McBain’s earliest adult novel (recently reissued by Hard Case Crime as So Nude, So Dead). I have embedded the cover from the original Falcon edition of Junkie! above and on the left, featuring artwork credited to one Ketor Seach. Meanwhile, at the top of this post is the more artistically refined front from Lancer’s 1962 edition of the book, using the title Frenzy. Illustrator Harry Schaare does his best on that façade to capture the tone and components of Craig’s yarn, giving us a bit of jazz trumpet, a nighttime encounter between hard men fragrant of trouble, and a young brunette (presumably junkie-turned-hooker Kathy) who’s shedding her clothes with an obvious lack of urgency or interest. It’s a beautiful book front, and if I ever find a print copy of that edition to add to my library, you can bet I will--though I imagine it’ll set me back way more than Lancer’s original 40-cent price.

Of course, you needn’t search used book stores to find Jonathan Craig’s 1952 novel. If you don’t mind reading books on some electronic device, you can buy a copy of Junkie!--featuring Schaare’s cover art--for 99 cents from e-book publisher PlanetMonk Pulps.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More Marchetti Is Good Marchetti

Somebody’s Walking Over My Grave, by Robert Arthur (Ace, 1961), with cover artwork by Lou Marchetti.

As I have been known to do on occasion, today I went back to an earlier Killer Covers post and made some revisions (including adding several additional book fronts). The post in question comes from 2010 and looks at the paperback work of artist Lou Marchetti.

I think you’ll like the changes. Check them out here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: It’s Curtains for You, Lady!

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of the images below to open up an enlargement.

Ever since September 2013, when I penned this “Two-fer Tuesdays” post, I’ve been noticing paperback covers that feature women in danger, concealed behind the flimsiest of drapes or screens--just like the front I featured in that earlier post from H.W. Roden’s Too Busy to Die.

Among the most eye-catching additions to this theme is the front of Side-Show Girl (1952), credited to “Steve Harragan.” As comics historian Steve Holland writes in his Bear Alley blog, Harragan was a nom de plume used by British author William Maconachie, who, during the 1950s, wrote a succession of “tough gangster yarns” under the name “Bart Carson.” Those breezy thrillers included Curves Mean Danger, The Lady Is a Spitfire, Champagne and Choppers!, The Late Demented, and the immortal Death Wore Scanties. Apparently, the novels not only carried the byline Bart Carson, but that was the same moniker given to their hard-boiled protagonist.

The Carson yarns were first published in the UK by Hamilton & Company, but were subsequently reprinted in the United States by Uni-Books, a line of “pulp digest” novels from Universal Publishing, which was also behind the Beacon line of paperback-size “sleaze books.” For the American audience, Uni-Books retitled the majority of Maconachie’s works (1953’s Cuban Heel being a notable exception), and even changed the name of their author and leading man from Bart Carson to Steve Harragan. Side-Show Girl, billed as “a lusty novel of carnival folk--packed with raw love and lurid adventure,” began its print life as This Way, Sister.

Furthermore, notes author James Reasoner in a review of 1952’s Sin Is a Redhead (originally Redhead Rhapsody!), the Carson character was “given an eye-patch” when he became Harragan, presumably to make him seem more rugged and ready for anything. Explains Reasoner: “Harragan the character is a former crime reporter who hit it big playing the ponies and retired to become a man about town/hard-boiled amateur detective. Some websites refer to him as a private eye, but he’s not, at least not in this book.”

Critic John Fraser supplies this synopsis of Side-Show Girl’s plot:
Steve Harragan, a reporter for the NY Saturn, goes out to Coney Island one broiling summer night with a couple of poker-playing buddies, where he letches after a sexy brunette glimpsed on a ride, with “creamy white thighs pressed tight together in that way that makes a guy itch to pry them apart, ending in a little fluff of lacy white panties that certainly weren’t made for doing exercises in.” Tracking her through the crowds, he finds her dead inside a booth in the arms of a mechanical skeleton, with a knife in her back.

… [O]f course she’s vanished by the time he gets back with the barker. Bloodhounding, [Harragan] follows the winding trail of her dragged body in the dark under the booths, is knocked out by sinister figures, comes to on the beach under the suspicious gaze of a beat cop, intrudes on a suspicious gathering of carny figures, chases a suspicious figure, is stalked in a hall of mirrors, is knocked out again, and comes to as the carny strong man carries him up the track of the roller coaster. ...

[He] finally learns what’s made everyone so hostile, and figures out who’s behind the protection-racket threat to the group.
I’d really like to say that I know who painted the artwork for the Side-Show Girl cover embedded above ... but well, I don’t. It might be Owen Kampen, Bernard Safran, or George Geygan, all of whom were lending their artistic talents to Uni-Books in the early ’50s; I don’t have the evidence to reach a definitive conclusion (though if I had to make a guess, I’d say the Side-Show Girl illustration might have been given birth on Safran’s easel).

Fortunately, I know more about the images on Lady in the Tower (Dell, 1947), by Katherine Newlin Burt. The illustration fronting this Dell Mapback edition was created by William Strohmer, who during the 1940s worked as the Racine, Wisconsin-based art director for Dell Publishing. Strohmer hired such talents as George Frederikson (his assistant at Dell) and Gerald Gregg to give the company’s paperback releases their distinctive, often surrealistic look, but for Lady in the Tower, he took on the main art himself; the back-cover map he assigned to Ruth Belew, identified by Mystery Scene magazine as a “Chicago graphic artist.” You’ll find more of Strohmer’s covers here.

Katherine Burt (1882-1977), the author of Lady in the Tower, had--with her husband, fellow fictionist Maxwell Struthers Burt--homesteaded the Bar B C Ranch (a dude ranch) near a town in northwest Wyoming called Moose. She later lived in Jackson Hole, before retiring in Southern Pines, North Carolina. The Wyoming Authors Wiki says Lady in the Tower was Burt’s ninth novel, and Kirkus Reviews provides the following mini-review of that work:
Melodramatic to martyred touches for the tragi-romance of the house, Castania, where young Philip Grise was found murdered, and suspicion was centered on the governess, Enid Ambrose, his latest flirtation. Spending a lifetime in hiding, Enid never knows security, and her daughter, Jenny, returns to Castania determined to clear her mother. There many engage her affections--and her doubts: Felicity Grise, Philip’s wife, saintly and invalided; Adam, her son, who suspects his mother; Roger Dean, a doctor, faithful to Felicity; Old Mrs. Grise, reviving hatreds and suspicions. Finally, it is Jenny who clears the mystery of the past and prepares peace for the future of Felicity and Roger, Adam and herself. A renter, which if more generous is considerably more agitated than the average.
Although I promised only a “two-fer” of covers this week, I’m going to violate that limit by giving you a couple more paperback fronts showing women behind curtains. Click here to enjoy those. And never let it be said I’m not a generous guy.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Finds: “Weak and Wicked”

Another in our growing line of context-free covers we love.

Weak and Wicked, by Al James (Midwood, 1961).
Illustration by Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka.

Here’s something I didn’t know until recently: Day Keene (1904-1969), the prolific author who penned such memorable works as Too Hot to Hold (1950), To Kiss or Kill (1951), Home Is the Sailor (1952), Dead Dolls Don’t Talk (1959), and Dead in Bed (1959)--had a son who also wrote fiction. Sometimes rather bad fiction. Keene’s real name was Gunard Hjertstedt, and he’s said to have been half-Swedish, half-Irish. His son, Albert James Hjertstedt, usually used the byline Al James, though he also wrote under such “house names” as “John Dexter” and “Al Jenkins.” His oeuvre included soft-porn “gems” on the order of Born to Sin (1960), Captive Wanton (1962--yet another candidate for my recent gallery), Miami Call Girl (1973), Not for Free (1973), and The Shameful Breed (1973).

Oh, and in 1961 Hjertstedt/James saw the release of his mass-market paperback original, Weak and Wicked.

I might never have known about James were it not for the outstanding artwork fronting Weak and Wicked. That painting was created by Ernest Chiriaka (1913-2010), an American artist of Greek descent who, signing himself “Darcy,” produced some of the most captivating and collectible paperback covers of the mid-20th century. The façade of Weak and Wicked is certainly no exception, with its seductive image of a seemingly in-control redhead who looks just on the verge of breaking free from one or more of her delicate undergarments. “Men Wanted What She Gave--and Deserved What They Got,” warns the main cover line, while the text on the back jacket (shown at right) offers clues to this novel’s salacious storyline:
Mike stood in the doorway of the hut. It was twilight, and behind him was the raucous night sound of the swamp coming alive. Mike stared at the girl who lay on the rumpled cot. A fade cotton wrapper hung loosely upon her supple contours. She smiled in the maddening insolent way of a woman sure of herself.

He had run from the passions that nearly destroyed him … But now he knew Myra … And she was everything he feared.
I searched the Web over the last several days, hoping to find out more about Al James. Information was incredibly sparse; he’s overshadowed tremendously by his father. I did, however, stumble across a note at the end of a profile of Day Keene on the Mystery*File site that says Hjertstedt/James had once lived in Franklin, North Carolina, where he was “involved in publications for recreational vehicles,” but that he “died in 2001.” If anyone reading this post can provide additional facts about the author, please share them in the Comments section below.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

This Is a Temperate Climate?

Yes, I know, I know: I was just complaining back in early February about how dreary and damp conditions were here in Seattle. But it’s now mid-July. And with the city experiencing what one local TV weatherman says is the “third straight summer that’s had way more warm days than average” (“So far this year … Seattle has had 25 days at 80 degrees or warmer, 15 days at 85 degrees or warmer, and a whopping 6 days at 90 or hotter.”), I am ready for rain again. What’s often said about Seattleites is really true: we are never happy with the weather, no matter what’s happening outside.

These hot days put me in mind of the following vintage novel, a different edition of which (illustrated by Ron Lesser) appears in my recently expanded gallery of summertime book covers.

Dead Heat, by Richard S. Prather. Illustration by Barye Phillips.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Vive la France!

As any fortunate resident of Paris or any Francophile living elsewhere in the world could tell you, this is Bastille Day (aka French National Day), commemorating the July 14, 1879, public storming of the Bastille Saint-Antoine, a fortress-prison in the French capital that was seen as symbolizing King Louis XVI’s increasingly oppressive and oblivious monarchy. The attack marked the beginning of the French Revolution, a decade-long period of political and social upheaval that would feature the execution of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, and lead to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.

By way of contributing to this celebration, I’ve put together what I think is a very handsome gallery of more than 50 book fronts that owe their inspiration to France or, specifically, Paris. Artists represented here include: Robert Bonfils (French Fever), Paul Rader (Girl Running), Raymond Johnson (Dark Streets of Paris), James Avati (King of Paris), Robert Maguire (Inspector Maigret and the Strangled Stripper, Dateline: Paris), Victor Livoti (Maid in Paris), George Ziel (Night Boat to Paris), Rudy Nappi (French Alley), Mitchell Hooks (Murder on the Left Bank), Verne Tossey (Left Bank of Desire), Rudolph Belarski (Streets of Paris), Barye Phillips (Lili of Paris), Stanley Zuckerberg (Angelique and the King), James Meese (The Long Sword), and of course Robert McGinnis, who painted the cover--seen above--for A Certain French Girl (Gold Medal, 1964), by author, screenwriter, and TV producer Nathaniel “Nat” Tanchuck.

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.