“The behind-the-scenes novel of a talent agency … whose tentacles reach world-wide into every phase of show business … fascinating.” That’s what the San Francisco Chronicle said of The Flesh Peddlers, when this Stephen Longstreet novel was originally published (by Simon & Schuster) in 1962. Meanwhile, The Columbus Dispatch said it offered “a liberal education in the know-how of bars, bedrooms, and beds.” Kirkus Reviews summed up the book’s plot this way:
COK (Company of Kings), the petulant, arrogant talent organization run by the King Brothers (“money smelled good at the Kings’ place”) is the labyrinth through which numerous crudely drawn characters live out their half-lives “flesh peddling” big and small talent, locally and internationally. A script-type vernacular and a flood of comment on current authors, “pop” idols, and affairs (the lesbian scene and the guilt-laden adultery sequences are here, typically) relate COK to its human communicators. Our “hero,” Garrison, wends his way through this colorful maze, his fast contemporary ear cocked for the nuances. His demise is an inevitable consequence of COK manipulations, for the organization is loyal to nothing. Here is slick stuff about Storyland, USA, to the tune of flashy cars, willing women, and an insatiate business octopus—all cemented in place with a very obvious, hard-money universe. ...Such a wealth of flash and sexual frivolity might not seem especially interesting, or even provocative, nowadays. But during his long and varied career, from the 1930s through the ’80s, Longstreet (born Chauncey Weiner) not only churned out scripts for radio, theater, film, and television (he holds credits for both 1946’s The Jolson Story and 1957’s The Helen Morgan Story), but made a prominent name for himself in book-publishing circles. He started out penning detective yarns, two of which—Crime on the Cuff (1936, published under the alias Henri Weiner) and Death Walks on Cat Feet (1938, bylined “Paul Haggard”)—starred John Brass, a one-armed sleuth and ex-Secret Service man, who also happened to be a cartoonist (an avocation Brass shared with his creator). He went on, under the Haggard nom de plume, to produce other mysteries novels, such as Dead Is the Door Nail (1937), featuring “Mike Warlock, sports reporter for the New York Globe, and his faithful companion and cameraman, Abner Gillaway.” But it’s as Stephen Longstreet that he became a bookstore fixture. Among his best-known titles: Stallion Road (1945); Wild Harvest (1955); The Crime (1959); Geisha (1961, written with his wife, Ethel Longstreet); The Golden Runaways (1964); The Divorce (1974); The Kingston Fortune (1975); and The Dream Seekers (1979). In addition, recalls Longstreet’s 2002 obituary in the Los Angeles Times, this author concocted an “extensive list of non-fiction works,” among them A Century on Wheels: The Story of Studebaker (1952), Chicago: An Intimate Portrait of People, Pleasures, and Power, 1860-1919 (1973), and a number of books relating the history of jazz, including 1986’s Storyville to Harlem: Fifty Years in the Jazz Scene.”
The front and back covers of The Flesh Peddlers, shown here, come from the 1963 Dell edition, with artwork by Mort Engel.
I wish I was equally prepared to say who painted the altogether captivating face of this week’s second showcased paperback, Flesh Agents, by Jean C. Bosquet (Avon, 1957). Unfortunately, I’m not. I did, though, manage to track down a fine short critique of that novel in the Reading California Fiction blog:
Paul DeSilva quits his newspaper job to become a publicist for Triumph Studios. His fiancée thinks he's selling out, but he quickly comes to enjoy the work. He focuses his efforts on boosting the career of Darlene Lamont, a young contract player determined to do whatever is necessary to become a star. Paul launches a successful campaign of newspaper stories, public appearances and photo opportunities which gives Darlene the attention she wants. He also becomes deeply smitten with the beautiful actress. But he can’t determine whether she reciprocates his feelings or is just grateful for his loyalty and dedication.If anybody out there can identify the party responsible for this Flesh Agents artwork, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
This is a straightforward Hollywood insider story. By detailing the activities of the book’s savvy but lovelorn protagonist, Bosquet shows what publicists do and why they are an essential part of the movie business. The author doesn’t emphasize the vacuousness of attention-getting. Paul is not a noble figure—he treats most women in his life callously, for example—but the nature of his work is not one of his shortcomings. Actors, directors and studio honchos, on the other hand, are treated with profound cynicism. As in most plot-driven novels, the characters are delineated rather than developed. Bosquet, however, delivers (if just barely) on the promise that Paul’s story will have an arc of some sort. The book is an fast read and a pretty entertaining one.