Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall ...

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

By this point, I’ve spent so many pleasant hours studying the covers of vintage paperback novels, that a buzzer goes off in my brain whenever I spot one that resembles another. However, the front of Hank Janson’s It’s Bedtime, Baby! (Gold Star, 1964) had been filed away on my computer for some while before I realized what it reminded me of. That goodness I finally got it!

The painter responsible for this most captivating façade of It’s Bedtime, Baby! was Harry Barton (1908-2001), a Seattle, Washington-born artist who--like Rudy Nappi, Sam Cherry, Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka, and Rafael DeSoto--attended the Art Students League of New York. With the help of those last three individuals, Barton received the training and contacts he needed to break into the worlds of freelance magazine illustration and book-cover creation. He went on to paint covers for novels by Ellery Queen, James Hadley Chase, Day Keene, Gil Brewer, and other crime-fictionists, as well as the fronts for soft-core publishers such as Monarch and Midwood. Later, he specialized in fine-art paintings of the Old West.

It’s Bedtime, Baby! was one of more than a dozen Janson novels published over the years by Gold Star, though by the time it hit the newsstands in ’64, the Brit who had for so long been writing under the Janson pseudonym--Stephen Daniel Frances--had turned the reins of that “pseudo-American” thriller series over to other scribblers. Writing not long ago in his blog, Dispatches from the Last Outlaw, author Thomas McNulty opined:
The Hank Janson paperbacks are part of that forever distant past that so many of us recall with fondness. Those were the days when a spinning rack of paperbacks or comic books offered up treasures beyond comprehension. It was the era of five-and-dime stores and Route 66 and the Sinclair green dinosaur outside of gas stations. Hank Janson originated in England. The set-up being he’s a Chicago reporter and these books are his first-person account of his adventures. There are always beautiful women, usually in dire straits, and Janson, being a man that knows what he likes, decides to get involved. He’s in like Flynn, in the grandest of male traditions, and as hard-boiled as an egg but a lot tougher. In It’s Bedtime, Baby! eleven college women get caught up in a weird sorority called The Virgin Club, and Janson discovers one of these gals is behind a string of brutal kidnappings. In order to unravel the mystery, Janson needs to get close to these ladies, real close. Hot and saucy action ensues, along with murder, punctuated by droll he-man dialogue. It’s fun to read, and the pages flip past rather quickly.
Now shift your attention to the cover above and on the right, taken from the 1962 Signet edition of Murder Wears a Mantilla, by Carter Brown (aka Alan G. Yates). It’s immediately recognizable as the work of Robert McGinnis, whose artistry I have showcased many times on this page. As with the fetching blonde in Barton’s cover, the raven-tressed lovely in McGinnis’ painting is nude, playing with her hair, and seated before a mirror (only McGinnis’ subject is actually looking at herself). In keeping with the novel’s title, she’s wearing a mantilla--a lace veil worn by women in Spain and Central America.

Murder Wears a Mantilla, first published in 1957, was the fourth novel in Yates/Brown’s series starring Mavis Seidlitz, the “ravishingly beautiful” Los Angeles private eye “who plays hard and fast with men … money … and murder.” The Nick Carter & Carter Brown blog offers this brief about the story told between its covers:
Mavis Seidlitz … is the dizziest blonde who ever ended up in the Tunnel of Love after buying tickets for the Big Dipper. When she is not trying to fix her clothing, either a brazier, stockings, or chemise, she is a partner in Rio Investigations. As the story goes, Mavis is South of the border on vacation. She meets one bull fighter who she thinks is the dreamiest. The next bullfighter has a knife stuck in his back. So she starts investigating up until things get out of hand. The Black Death, 40 million pesos, The Golden Inca, people with guns. So she sends a cable to her boss, Johnny Rio. HELP.
Mavis Seidlitz (what a moniker!) wasn’t the brightest bulb on the streets of L.A. As chemist-turned-book-art collector Art Scott recalls, she was pretty much a “burlesque caricature with a semi-plausible character voice.” It’s been said as well that her “pulchritudinous assets far outweigh[ed] her mental equipment.” Yet from her first appearance, in Honey, Here’s Your Hearse (1955), until her last, in And the Undead Sing (1974), Mavis somehow managed to solve crimes and not lose her life with the same casualness that she lost her clothes. “At least once in each book,” notes Kathleen Gregory Klein in The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre (1995), “she inhales too deeply and breaks a bra strap with predictable results. … Her body and her tight clothes, peekaboo blouses, or see-through nighties fill her narration and the [male readers’] imaginations.”

Although this is supposed to be only a “two-fer” post, I can’t help offering a bonus of sorts, for in the course of my research earlier today I ran across a third beautiful cover that’s very much in keeping with those previous two. So on the left, I present the front from the 1961 Crest paperback edition of False Scent, New Zealand wordsmith Ngaio Marsh’s 21st novel featuring her familiar “gentleman detective,”
Roderick Alleyn. Again, the illustration comes from Robert McGinnis. And once more it presents a woman ensconced comfortably before a mirror, fussing with her hair. In this case, though, the shadow of a threatening hand reaches into the image from the left. In a cover line, Erle Stanley Gardner promised that this novel was “a superb chiller.” Maybe so, but it’s the cover art that really sells this edition of False Scent for me.

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