Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Two-fer Tuesdays: Lush Life

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

I’ve long been a fan of paperback fronts created by Ron Lesser. The Web site for publisher Hard Case Crime offers the following brief biography of this artist: “In addition to painting covers for numerous paperback crime novels in the 1950s and ’60s, Ron Lesser is a successful and versatile historical artist and created Western movie art for High Plains Drifter, Paint Your Wagon, and The Way West, and the storyboards for the dream sequence in A Man Called Horse. The highly respected New York Art Directors Club, in existence since 1921, has twice honored Lesser for Best Movie Art of the Year and The Society of Illustrators, founded in 1901, has bestowed on him numerous Gold Medals for his paintings.” To date, his work for Hard Case has decorated Lester Dent’s Honey in His Mouth, Max Allan Collins’ Quarry in the Middle, and Jack Clark’s Nobody’s Angel. But over his career, he has created façades for paperback tales by Frank Kane, Erle Stanley Gardner, Jonathan Craig, Richard S. Prather, Harold Q. Masur, Thomas B. Dewey, John D. MacDonald, and others. You’ll find additional selections from his portfolio here.

And of course, the cover of The Love Lush (Pyramid, 1965)--shown above and on the left--was executed by Lesser, as well. It’s an eye-catching piece, featuring a shapely brunette whose deceptive languidness conceals a raw animal energy. (OK, I may be reading a bit much into that art, but I’ve been staring at it for quite a while now.) It’s easy to see why Lesser’s canvases are often mistaken for the work of Robert McGinnis: Both men paint their female subjects with a loving appreciation for intimate details.

The Love Lush first appeared in 1957 under the title Bachelors Anonymous. A 2011 review of the book in Pornokitsch calls it “a novel of two halves. Or, more accurately, it is two completely different novels wrapped in the same cover. The first half is the silly story of ‘Hearts Ahoy’--a group that’s less ‘therapy for sex addicts’ and more an underground guerrilla movement battling the feminist overlords. The second half, called ‘The Three Mr. Browns,’ is a thoroughly serious tale of international espionage. The two are connected by a minor character and the glue of the book’s spine.”

Although you would not recognize it immediately from the byline, author Vivian Connell was a male--“an Irish writer who wrote a number of novels and plays. The Chinese Room (1942) was his biggest popular success, selling over 3 million copies,” reports this page about the late 1960s film adaptation of that book. “It was reprinted a number of times in hardback and paperback. The New Republic (9 November 1942) review said, in part: ‘A curious novel about the private life of a British banker that functions on three levels: as a mystery, as a clinical study of the disintegration and reintegration of a marriage, and as a what-not shelf for the sexy and exotic.’” Kirkus Reviews called The Chinese Room “an uninhibited novel largely about sex, which wanders now and again into perversion, psychiatry, and Oriental eccentricities. The publishers claim affinity with D.H. Lawrence, which might be recognizable only in the very obviously exerted efforts of the characters to find physical passion.”

Connell had previously penned A Man of Parts (1950) and Monte Carlo Mission (1954), the latter of which won him plaudits here as a “master of the sophisticated suspense novel. … Meet Corinna Lang, a goddess of the movies, who was bored with mammoth swimming pools, small MG’s, fat directors, and slim leading men. Bored with the whole great golden illusion of Hollywood, this smart cookie decides a mere vacation in Monte Carlo would be just too tame. She’s looking for adventure, and has the right amount of moxie and courage to take advantage of it when she finds it! Take a journey with this enchanting heroine to the wicked, extravagant Riviera where the golden Corinna, undertaker of a top-secret mission, lives in the shadow of international intrigue, and matches her quick wit with the most dangerous men in Europe.” That sort of yarn sounds a lot more up my alley than The Love Lush, but I still adore Lesser’s cover for the former release.

So let’s move over this week’s second paperback cover, from The Lady Is a Lush, by novelist Orrie Hitt--“the shabby Shakespeare of Vintage Sleazecore.” That novel was published by Beacon in 1960, and this review calls it “a dark one, a very good one.” I’ll leave it to you to read the entire critique, but I do want to quote the last, summarizing paragraph: “Love does not exist in an Orrie Hitt universe. People pretend at love, through the haze of booze and fornication and poverty. ‘Poverty and sex went hand in hand on the South Side’ is one line, and that seems to sum it all up in this bleak but great little lost novel of a lost American literature.” If you’d like to read more, note that in 2012 The Lady Is a Lush was made available in e-book format by Prologue Books. Unfortunately, the “teen romance” cover of that edition pales by comparison to the original, the artwork for which was reportedly unsigned.


Anonymous said...

It's noteworthy that the earlier Pyramid edition of Love Lush, 1960, had a cover by Robert McGinnis. Same "lost weekend" blurb on both.
Art Scott

J. Kingston Pierce said...

The Pyramid cover to which Art Scott is referring can be seen here: