Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Two-fer Tuesdays: Just a Little Off the Top

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

Midwood Books was an American paperback-publishing house that, from 1957 to 1962, churned out myriad works of “sleaze fiction” targeted at a primarily male audience (though they attracted lesbian readers, as well). Employing the early—and often pseudonymous—talents of such authors as Mike Avallone, Donald E. Westlake, and Orrie Hitt, Midwood competed for sales with Beacon Books, Nightstand Books, and similar enterprises. Southern California bookseller and vintage books historian Lynn Monroe recalls the company’s origins in this piece from his Web site:
Harry Shorten came from the Midwood section of Brooklyn, NY. With his partner, artist Al Fagaly, Shorten made his fortune with a comic strip called “There Oughta Be a Law.” Shorten thought up the ideas and Fagaly would do the drawings. Looking around for somewhere to invest all the money he was making from his cartoon, Shorten decided to become a paperback-book publisher. He looked at the success of Beacon Books, a series of slick cheap throwaway melodramas and sexy romances with flashy girlie art covers marketed to men and published by Universal Distributing. Shorten figured he could do the same, and at 505 8th Avenue in Manhattan, in 1957, he started a paperback book line named for his old neighborhood. The first batch of Midwood Books were either “There Oughta Be a Law” paperbacks or unnumbered experimental forays in the Beacon style. By Midwood 7 in 1958, the authors and artists we recognize as Midwood Books were in place. Midwood 7 [Love Nest] is by Loren Beauchamp [aka Robert Silverberg] and has a cover by Rudy Nappi, Midwood 8 [Carla] is by Sheldon Lord [aka Lawrence Block] and has a cover by Paul Rader. Shorten was getting his early manuscripts from the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, where Meredith’s band of employees and clients were soon churning out a book a month for Nightstand Books, too. And he was getting his cover paintings from the Balcourt Art Service, the same agency that supplied many of the covers for Beacon.
As provocative as some of Midwood’s titles could be—from Anybody’s Girl and The Seduction Game to Morals Charge and Ladder of Flesh—its illustrated covers could be still more titillating. Just two examples are shown atop this post. The one on the left the comes from 1961’s Intimate, by Martha Marsden, while its next-door neighbor graced 1963’s Take Me, by John B. Thompson (who also penned such never-bestsellers as Hitch-Hike Hussy and Male Virgin). The term “male-fantasy novel” might have been created to describe both these works, with their images of women enthusiastically stripping off their tops. According to its back cover, Intimate focuses on a woman named Linda Gardner, “who dared throw herself into the whirlpool of life and reach its most intimate depths”—where both male and female partners craved her companionship. Take Me promises “a completely uninhibited sex story” that’s “shockingly candid.”

The painting that fronts Intimate is credited to award-winning Connecticut artist and graphic designer Victor Olson (1927-2007), who produced a variety of cover illustrations for Midwood over the years, and about whom I have written before on this page. The façade from Take Me has also been identified as Olson’s work, though not with quite the same confidence. If anyone can confirm Olson as the creator of Take Me’s artwork, or supply a correction to that attribution, I’d be most grateful. Click on the image for an enlargement.

Finally, since I hate not to overwork a theme, let me just leave you with one additional example of a paperback featuring a woman removing her shirt in alluring fashion. The front on the left comes from Bedroom a Go-go (Brandon House, 1965), by “Amy Irwin,” a nom de plume employed by an author named Harry Kantor. Its illustration was done by Fred Fixler.

LEARN MORE: A Web site called Book Scans features collections of covers from Midwood releases, as well as those from books published by Beacon, Greenleaf, and other mid-20th-century houses.


Art Scott said...

A small oops here. Lynn Munroe is a him, not a her! Always has been, as far as I know, which for me goes back nearly 40 years.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Oops! I have now fixed that error. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Art.


RJR said...

I spend a lot of time on Book Scans and I never see Midwood or Beacon covers there. How am I missing them?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

It can sometimes be difficult to navigate the Book Scans site. Both the Midwood and Beacon covers can be found here: