Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Curious Gems Amid the Jumble

Last November, I mentioned on this page that I was helping to clean out the phenomenally jam-packed residence formerly occupied by my wife’s mother and stepfather, both of whom have now passed away. Well, we’re now in the seventh month of that project—and probably halfway through, at best, though we’ve at least moved out of the garage and into the heated house. There’s just so much stuff to sort through and dispose of, and only a limited number of free hours that members of the family can devote to the cause. I can’t believe how many boxes we have already gone through of items—glassware, picture frames, stuffed toys, hard-to-recognize knick-knacks, etc.—that my mother-in-law purchased at garage or estate sales over the years, then stored away in corners of the house and never used. (The price tags are still on them!) And we haven’t yet touched the basement, which is stacked shoulder-high with boxes, containing 80 years of possessions from multiple households.

What makes this arduous experience bearable, is that I enjoy the other people who have volunteered to share the task. And every once in a while, I chance upon an item, usually squirreled away among well-thumbed magazines and other random clutter, that makes all of the lifting and hauling and dust-incited sneezing worthwhile.

Take, for instance, the copy I unearthed this last weekend of Ted Mark’s I Was a Teeny-Bopper for the CIA. I’d heard of this 1967 Berkley paperback novel, but never imagined that a copy (with its cover illustration by Stanley Borack) might someday fall into my hands.

“Ted Mark” was a pseudonym used by Theodore Mark Gottfried (1918-2004), a magazine editor and prolific author of non-fiction books for schoolchildren. Under the Mark moniker, though, he is most widely recognized for having penned a 15-book comedy spy-porn series starring sex researcher-cum-espionage agent Steve Victor, “The Man from O.R.G.Y.” (the Organization for the Rational Guidance of Youth). Teeny-Bopper was a standalone work, but no less steamy than its predecessors. In Black Gate, Sean McLachlan calls it “a fun bit of ’60s pulp with lots of cultural insights into a ‘square’s’ view of the anti-war movement and suburban spouse swapping.” Here he synopsizes the novel’s plot:
Vance Powers [is] a recently divorced corporate lawyer whose boring life gets turned upside down when a Congressman he knows hires him for a secret mission—infiltrate his local suburban amateur theatrical group in order to find some missing CIA money. Amateur theater, you see, is a front for the Commies, and the CIA operative who was investigating this group, Arch Fink, died recently. A bunch of CIA dough disappeared with him.

Powers joins the theater group and meets a menagerie of suburban types, most of whom are hopping into bed with one another. He soon hops into bed with Joy Boxx, a bored housewife and one of the many characters with joke names. The titular teeny-bopper is named Lolly Popstick! Anyway, Powers doesn’t get much joy from Boxx because his ex-wife has an almost psychic ability to call him long distance when he’s just about to have some fun. This happens all through the novel, meaning the sex scenes are all played for laughs. While this may have been a racy book for its day, it would barely get an R rating today and the sex is watered down even more with all the witty banter and slapstick acrobatics.
While Teeny-Bopper was definitely the weekend’s most unlikely discovery, it was not the only one worth mentioning.

In the course of digging through an upstairs bedroom, I found two small bookcases, the first of which revealed a 1947 Sun Dial Press reprint of Rogues’ Gallery, an Ellery Queen-edited anthology of stories built around crooks, rather than crime fighters—“the first of its kind,” according to the jacket copy. Among the authors represented in this thick volume: Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers, Leslie Charteris, Agatha Christie, and less-well-remembered writers on the order of Roy Vickers, H.B. Marriott Watson, and Arnold Bennett. Not far from the Queen release was a 1977 Doubleday hardcover copy (the book club edition) of Stephen King’s The Shining. I have to confess that, while I have watched the big-screen adaptation of King’s first best-seller, I have never read the original tale. So naturally, I scooped this one up for my own library.

Those same shelves offered a handful of entries from the early 20th-century Motor Boys series. I’d never heard of that Stratemeyer Syndicate line before. Wikipedia says it comprised 22 volumes (published between 1906 and 1924), all popular adventure yarns for boys, and all starring the trio of Bob Baker, “son of a rich banker”; Ned Slade, “son of the proprietor of a large department store”; and Jerry Hopkins, “son of a well–to–do widow.” The books were credited to “Clarence Young,” but that was apparently a Stratemeyer house name behind which labored several authors, principally (in the case of the Motor Boys) Howard R. Garis.

Because it was stuck away at the shadowy end of a bookcase’s bottom rack, I nearly missed spotting the pocket-size, red-covered 10th volume of The World’s Best One Hundred Detective Stories, edited by Eugene Thwing and published by Funk & Wagnalls in 1929. Sadly, I didn’t also locate the preceding nine volumes of that collection. However, the 10th includes short stories by the Baroness Orczy, Herbert Jenkins, and the “largely forgotten” Karl W. Detzer. It also boasts an author and title index to the whole collection, so I know what I’m missing. Among the other stories deemed the “best 100” are works by G.K. Chesterton, Octavus Roy Cohen, Anna Katharine Green, Freeman Wills Crofts, Marie Belloc Lowndes, and Vincent Starrett. There’s no Hammett here, but then the Black Mask bunch were often overlooked by literary critics in those days, and Hammett’s first novel, Red Harvest, had only just come out in 1929.

The balance of my latest surprise finds are all paperbacks: the 1969 release of Charlotte Armstrong’s The Balloon Man, with cover art by Harry Bennett; a distinctive 1970 Fawcett Crest edition of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, also with a Bennett illustration; a 1958 copy of Divine Mistress, by Frank G. Slaughter (cover artwork by Charles Binger); Cardinal’s 1959 version of Frank Yerby’s The Foxes of Harrow (again fronted by a Binger painting); Pocket Books’ 1961 release of Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister; and a 1966 edition of John D. MacDonald’s Cry Hard, Cry Fast.*

As I said before, we still have a long way to go before my in-laws’ house is clean, so there may be plenty of odd treasures yet to excavate. I’ll let you know what else I come across.

* Several sources around the Web claim the cover art on this Fawcett Gold Medal edition of Cry Hard, Cry Fast was painted by Robert McGinnis. But McGinnis expert Art Scott says that identification is incorrect.

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