Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Finds: “Weak and Wicked”

Another in our growing line of vintage book 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.

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