Friday, February 4, 2011
Be careful now, don’t start hyperventilating at the thought that you’ve somehow missed reading one of Ian Fleming’s small number of novels. You Asked for It was simply the title given to the very first U.S. paperback version of Casino Royale, the book that introduced British super-spy James Bond, Agent 007, to the world.
The original hardcover edition was brought out in Great Britain back in 1953 by publisher Jonathan Cape. Two years later, though, when New York-based American Popular Library arranged to release a cheaper, softcover version in the States, the company’s marketing geniuses griped that the name Casino Royale wasn’t sufficiently saleable. (“Apparently, it was feared that American readers would not be able to pronounce ‘Royale,’” quips a piece at CommanderBond.net). They wanted something different, a replacement that was more in keeping with the tough-guy stories then flooding U.S. bookstores. “Fleming’s suggestions for a new title, The Double-O Agent and The Deadly Gamble, were disregarded,” Wikipedia recalls, “in favor of You Asked for It. The novel was subtitled ‘Casino Royale’ and made reference to secret agent 007 as ‘Jimmy Bond’ on the back cover” (left). Did the Popular Library honchos really believe 007 needed such a nickname to appeal to often folksier Yankee readers?*
CommanderBond.net calls the You Asked for It front “a wonderful piece of Bondamania. ... [I]ts illustrated cover features an alluring Vesper Lynd with a leering ‘Jimmy’ pouring a drink. The spine of the book reads, ‘She played a man’s game with a woman’s weapon.’ One would hardly recognize this book as an adventure of the suave sophisticated 007 of today. This remains a very scarce book, and one that is passionately sought after by Bond fans. On the open market, it tends to be priced at $250 to $300.”
So who painted You Asked for It’s pulpish jacket? Well, there’s a mystery for you. According to novelist Bill Crider, who owns a copy of the paperback, “There’s absolutely no signature on that cover, nor is there any credit given to the artist on the inside.” Hoping for a more definitive answer, and because he’s been helpful to me before in solving this sort of puzzle, I dashed off an e-mail inquiry to Art Scott, the co-author of a comprehensive illustrated bibliography, The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis (2001), and a contributor to a forthcoming book from Donald M. Grant about McGinnis’ portraits of women. Alas, he couldn’t identify the artist here either. “[B]ut my best guess,” Scott wrote, “would be Ray Johnson, who did a lot of Pop [Library] covers in that era, and it looks like his style.” Johnson’s other works include the fronts of The World in the Evening, by Christopher Isherwood (1955); Mr. Trouble, by William Ard (1956); Love in Suburbia, by John Conway (1960); This Is My Night, by Richard Deming (1961); and Some Die Hard, by Nick Quarry (1961).
Fortunately, the rebranding of Fleming’s debut thriller was short-lived. Popular Library’s You Asked for It (released in April 1955) was the only edition to carry that title. Signet Books picked up the U.S. rights to the James Bond novels after 1960 and restored the Casino Royale name.
* A one-hour U.S. TV adaptation of Casino Royale, shown in 1954 as an episode of the suspense/mystery anthology series Climax, also referred to its able protagonist (transferred to the CIA and portrayed by Barry Nelson) as “Jimmy Bond.”