Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: What Was Your Name Again?

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

If your eyes were glued to American television back in the 1960s, chances are the name Robert Bloomfield crossed your vision at some point. His page on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) credits him with having penned episodes of Perry Mason, Mannix, The Wild Wild West, Checkmate, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Bonanza, among many other shows. He’s also listed as a writer on the 1964 German crime drama Dog Eat Dog! (Einer frisst den anderen), though his involvement with that cheaply produced picture--about three thieves in Europe who steal $1 million in obsolete U.S. currency, only to end up under threat at a remote Adriatic island hotel--might have extended little further than his having produced the book on which it was loosely based, 1956’s When Strangers Meet. I say “loosely,” because the plot of Dog Eat Dog!--which starred Jayne Mansfield and Cameron Mitchell--sounds nothing like that of Bloomfield’s book. Here’s Kirkus Reviews’ take on When Strangers Meet:
A California ghost mining town harbors three [people] involved in a bank robbery, [along with a] Hungarian who is [guilty of] illegal entry, a storekeeper, an old and a young miner, and the decrepit descendant of the original wealthy family, [as well as] the runaway wife of a tennis player turned pro. The three bandits hold the rest prisoners for six days; there are four deaths, an earthquake and rock slides; rescue brings retribution.
The rear cover of Pocket Books’ 1957 paperback edition of When Strangers Meet, shown on the right, supplies a bit more detail about the dramatis personae in Bloomfield’s story--everyone from Dolph Tierney (“a thug who murdered a bank guard for kicks’) to Darlene Hagan (“former burlesque hoofer and B-girl who likes men and money, in that order”) and Wade Mercer (“a man soured by failure and desperate for cash”). As the paperback’s final teaser attests, “More than one of them would kill!” Certainly it’s that fear of violence erupting in an unpredictable situation that artist Robert K. Abbett sought to capture in his cover illustration for Pocket’s version of When Strangers Meet, embedded atop this post.

By the mid-1950s, Bloomfield had been laboring as a writer for more than a decade, though not under that name. He was born in 1912 as Leslie Edgley, and looks to have published his first book, No Birds Sing, in 1940. Six years later he released a crime novel, Fear No More (subsequently also adapted for the big screen), that he followed up with other such genre efforts as The Angry Heart (1947), The Judas Goat (1952), The Runaway Pigeon (1953), and A Dirty Business (1969, which brought the sole outing for Los Angeles private eye Charles Galahad). Edgley also broke into movie scripting, though sometime after June 1950 he ran afoul of paranoid government and motion-picture company officials who sought to purge the U.S. entertainment industry of alleged Communist Party sympathizers. He wound up on the notorious Hollywood blacklist with writers Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman, Dalton Trumbo, and Langston Hughes, and performers on the order of Lee J. Cobb, Edward G. Robinson, Lee Grant, Ossie Davis, and Kim Hunter. I’m unable to confirm whether his adoption of the Robert Bloomfield pseudonym was inspired by that blacklisting, but it is interesting to see his film and TV credits as Edgley drop away after 1953, just before his Bloomfield résumé begins to build.

As Bloomfield, Edgley published--at least--The Shadow of Guilt (1947), From This Death Forward (1952), Vengeance Street (1952), and Kill with Kindness (1962). Other works he produced under noms de plume such as Michael Gillian, Lawrence E. Pivak, and Brook Hastings (the last of which he used in collaboration with his wife, Mary). Reports say Leslie Edgley died in California in 2002.

Far easier to pin down than Edgley’s biography is that of Evan Hunter, the man behind the other novel showcased at the top of this post, Strangers When We Meet. Hunter, born Salvatore Alberto Lombino in New York City in 1926 (he legally changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952) went on to create--under the pseudonym Ed McBain--one of America’s most beloved series of police procedurals, featuring the oft-eccentric cops of the 87th Precinct. But his first adult novel to see print was The Evil Sleep! (1952), which was recently resurrected by Hard Case Crime under its alternative title, So Nude, So Dead. Not until 1958, after he’d ushered into print five 87th Precinct tales plus a succession of standalones (some of which boasted the byline “Richard Marsten”), did Strangers When We Meet reach bookstores.

The New York Times called that new work “a very moral book about some mildly immoral people,” and provided this plot synopsis:
[Larry Cole] is a successful architect living in one of those familiar post-war subdivisions when he meets Margaret Gault. Both are happily married--though Mr. Hunter rather more than suggests that Margaret’s husband has Oedipus trouble, which makes him a less-than-perfect lover. From the first encounter (at the school bus stop) they are plunged into a torrid pattern of deceit which leads to tragedy. In the end, rather than lose Margaret (and their weekly meetings in carefully selected motels), Larry passes up an opportunity to remodel the island of Puerto Rico, without, of course, telling his wife [Eve] that he has done so. Finally, on his way to another assignation, a hurricane from the Caribbean (is there a symbol here?) blows his car off the bridge. You might say that Larry, having sowed the wind, is spared the real whirlwind of his mistakes.
Kirkus added, in its own assessment of the novel:
Over and above the read-on compulsion here (will Larry leave Eve?, will Eve find out? etc., etc.), sex is the kick and there are many untamed scenes. It is definitely not literature--but it may well be commercial and the publishers will help it along; just as probably, the critics will send it to the shower rooms to cool off.
I’ve never watched the 1960 film made from Hunter’s tale (and scripted by the author himself), but it starred Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak as the two lovers, and was shot amid some of Southern California’s most beautiful scenery. Variety, though, is quoted by Wikipedia as calling Strangers When We Meet “easy on the eyes but hard on the intellect … an old-fashioned soap opera.” And the Turner Classic Movies Web site says it “heralded the end of [Novak’s] reign as a major star. She never again experienced the earlier career heights of such films as Picnic (1955) or Vertigo (1958).”

Someday I shall have to rent the film Strangers When We Meet. Meanwhile, I’m toying with the idea of ordering the paperback edition of Hunter’s novel that appears above. Released in 1959, with cover art by the prolific Barye Phillips (1924-1969), it can be picked up cheaply from the online marketplace AbeBooks.

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