Monday, June 8, 2015

Most Wanton

Being a longtime follower of crime fiction, I’m accustomed to the same words popping up frequently in book titles. How many times, for instance, have I seen dead, death, deadly, dying, murder, kill, killer, blood, darkness, and other such terms--all dog-whistle calls for genre fans like me--decorating covers in the Mystery & Thriller aisles of bookstores? But I wouldn’t have thought that wanton would receive anywhere near so much exposure. Pulling down my copy of The American Heritage Dictionary, I find the word has more than a few meanings, among them “immoral or chaste; lewd,” “gratuitously cruel; merciless,” “frolicsome; playful,” and “undisciplined, spoiled.” Perhaps because the term wanton covers such a wide range of behaviors, it has featured on many more books than I would have imagined before researching this subject.

I’m posting here a variety of covers employing wanton. The beautiful yellow one above is from 1955’s The Wanton Hour, by Lewis Clay. Sadly, I don’t find an artist’s name given on the back cover or anywhere online. (See “Update” at the bottom of this post.) Several of the novels below, though, carry art by prominent illustrators.

The two fronts from editions of Brett Halliday’s Murder and the Wanton Bride, for instance, were both executed by Robert McGinnis, as was the first of two covers shown here for Carter Brown’s The Wanton. (The façade of Richard S. Prather’s Way of a Wanton and the second Brown/The Wanton image are credited to Barye Phillips.) The first, green-backdropped, 1959 front of Peter Cheyney’s Dark Wanton below (the one with the young woman on a bed who, oddly, smiles while observing two men battle each other) was done by Sam “Peff” Peffer. Rudy Nappi created the cover of Weep for a Wanton, by Lawrence Treat. Harry Schaare executed the dark artwork for Michael Gillian’s Warrant for a Wanton. And Robert Bonfils is admirably represented by his work below on The Wanton One, by James Rubel, and Sweet, Young & Wanton, by Don Holliday.

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.

Additionally, I came across a number of vintage paperback books--in the crime-fiction genre and others--that use wanton in their cover teaser lines. Roswell Keller illustrated the front shown here of Patrick Quentin’s Slay the Loose Ladies (originally titled A Puzzle for Wantons). Rudolph Belarski created the artwork fronting Never Walk Alone, by Rufus King. Bonfils was again the ribald genius behind the provocative façade of No Holds Barred. Maurice Thomas was responsible for the painting on the 1952 Signet edition shown here of Cleve F. Adams’ Sabotage. And Harry Schaare gave us the lovely artwork for Crime Cop, by Larry Holden.

Suggestions of more covers for this gallery, anyone?

UPDATE: At the time I assembled this collection of book fronts, I couldn’t figure out who’d painted the cover of the 1955 novel The Wanton Hour, by Lewis Clay. Only in late July 2015 did I stumble upon another, later paperback façade that seems to leave no doubt as to the answer. Check this out: The cover on the left comes from a 1958 edition of the novel The Mustard Seed, written by Vicki Baum, with an illustration by Lou Marchetti. (Click on the image for an enlargement.) Notice the passionate pair in the lower right-hand corner of that image. They look almost exactly like the two young lovers fronting The Wanton Hour. I can only conclude, therefore, that Marchetti was behind both illustrations. He must have created the painting for Clay’s novel first, then three years later employed the same embracing couple in his artwork for The Mustard Seed. Both works were published by Pyramid Books.


Christopher Maffei said...

Great post, good research.

Ed Gorman said...

This is one of your classics, Jeff. I was LOL by the time I hit the sixth "wanton."

Donna Lethal said...

The cover of "Call Her Wanton" is the same as "Hillbilly in High Heels," or maybe it's the other way around?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

You're absolutely right, Donna. Here's the proof: