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.

No comments: