Since I’ve never actually referred to anyone as a “hellcat,” I had to look up the definition. It apparently means “a spiteful, violent woman.” That certainly comports with Barye Phillips’ illustration above and on the left, decorating the 1951 Dell edition of Hell Cat, a novel by Idabel Williams. And it fits the protagonist who’s described in this short critique of Williams’ novel, from the April 29, 1934, issue of The Pittsburgh Press:
Wherever “Scoots” Frazier went, trouble, torture and scandal seemed to follow. From Springvale, a Missouri valley hamlet where her father was mayor, “Scoots” left a trail of wrecked marriages and disillusioned husbands and wives. …Reviewer Thomas C. Langdon goes on in that piece to describe Hell Cat as “enchanting and easy to read because of its racy dialogue,” and “an indictment of small-town society as well as the corrupt-but-satisfied metropolis. It lays bear the inner rottenness of a certain Younger Married Set in this hangover era of the Jazz Age.”
From high school days until the climax of her madcap career, “Scoots” dominated men, stole them from their mistresses, sweethearts and wives, but she could hold none of them for long because of her violent temper, unscrupulous methods and near-fiendishness.
And, strange as it may seem, this wanton, who was loved by many men, never fell in love herself. She could run the gamut of human emotions and come away from her escapades bearing their scars, but pre-natal marks had doomed her to immunity from Cupid’s darts.
Being unfamiliar with Idabel Williams, I did some research and found that “Williams” was either a nom de plume or the author’s maiden surname. Her married name was Isabel Overlease, and in addition to writing at least a couple of pulpy novels (both Hell Cat and 1933’s The Hussy—an “exciting story of the escapades of a wayward actress”—are commonly mentioned in reference to her fiction), she penned a column for the old El Monte Press, a weekly newspaper in Southern California’s East San Gabriel Valley, and taught creative-writing classes in the area. In addition, during the 1950s she composed scripts for a weekly TV series called Before Your Eyes, one of which imagined the results of Communists taking over the Los Angeles County town of Temple City.
The young, pillowy-lipped brunette pictured on this week’s other spotlighted paperback—Hellcat, by Barbara Brooks (Midwood Tower, 1964)—looks considerably less threatening than the blonde fronting Williams’ work. However, according to the cover blurb, she was “a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who’d do ANYTHING for money.” The back-cover copy elucidates the hazards of such a goal:
They taught her the facts of lifeAh, so this particular Hellcat fits into the genre of lesbian fiction, being one of many such paperback novels published between the end of World War II and the early 1970s. Its cover (illustrated by a sadly uncredited artist) offers none of the usual clues—no use of signal words such as “strange,” “shadows,” or “twilight,” for instance—yet that reference to “a different brand of love” is hardly ambiguous. Would it surprise you to discover that “Barbara Brooks” was a pseudonym, behind which lurked one William Coons? A prolific soft-core fictionist of the mid-20th century, whose yarns often appeared under publisher “house names” such as “Andrew Shaw” and “John Dexter,” Coons also brought the reading public “masterpieces” on the order of Army Sin Girls (1961), Ponytail Tramp (1961), The House of Seven Sins (1961), and The Carnal Crowd (1973).
Dale … the rich boy, who Franny made pay for the privilege of taking her into the woods at night.
Johnny … the poor boy, who couldn’t afford to compete with the men who treated Franny like trash.
Jason … the noble judge, who took Franny into his custody and home for the most ignoble of reasons.
Quentin … the judge’s son, who exploited Franny’s body and corrupted her soul and made her beg for more.
Calvin … the muscle man, who more than met his match when he challenged Franny to a test of endurance.
Rita … the judge’s wife, who instructed Franny in a different brand of love, as delicate and exciting as the sensuous silk of her baby-doll nightie.
By the time they finished with her, there was only one way for her to go, one life for her to lead!!!
Interestingly, Coons/Brooks’ Hellcat preceded, by just one year, the release of a perhaps better remembered work of the same title, that one by Carter Brown, starring his “hard-drinking and womanizing homicide detective,” Al Wheeler.
(Hat tip to Bill Crider.)
FOLLOW-UP: Art Scott, the co-author of The Art of Robert E. McGinnis, has sent me the cover from the original, 1962 Australian edition of Carter Brown’s Hellcat. Check it out here.