Saturday, March 17, 2018

Bennett’s Beauties: Cuddled or Cursed

The Wakefield Witches, by Daoma Winston (Pocket, 1975).
Cover illustration by Harry Bennett.

Connecticut artist Harry Bennett (1919-2012) is probably best remembered as an astoundingly prolific painter of covers for paperback detective, thriller, and mainstream novels. However, he may have been equally productive as a creator of artwork in the fiction fields of Gothic romance, romantic suspense/intrigue, and horror. Over the decades, his talents were applied to façades of books by Mary Stewart, Charlotte Armstrong, Dorothy Eden, Virginia Coffman, Barbara Michaels, Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, Andre Norton, Joseph Shearing, and others. Bennett apparently painted the first, 1973 paperback cover for Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (a satirical tale originally released in the States in September 1972). He was also kept busy developing imagery for a frequently ignored sub-genre of love stories: nurse romance novels.

For the final installment in Killer Covers’ “Bennett’s Beauties” series, I have pulled together more than 50 of this artist’s book fronts from the romance and horror categories, all issued by one of three publishers: Pocket, Fawcett Crest, and Berkley. You may notice—as evidenced in, say, Susan Howatch’s The Waiting Sands and Holt’s The House of a Thousand Lanterns (both published back in 1975)—that many of the covers displayed below boast a classic, color-rich character that can be quite different from the paintings he supplied for crime novels. Barrymore Tebbs observes in his Gothic-fiction blog, The Midnight Room, that Bennett, “along with Pocket Books’ art director, Milton Charles [1921-2002], … helped create a lushly romantic and easily recognizable style that was often imitated by other artists throughout the genre’s two-decade heyday.”

“Easily recognizable”? Yes, in many instances Bennett’s diverse artistic touch is clear. But the ubiquity of his handsome covers on the Web seems to have left many folks overconfident that illustrations similar to his must, indeed, have flowed straight from his paintbrushes. (The same thing happens frequently with Robert McGinnis.) It’s hardly uncommon to find novel fronts online that have been mistakenly attributed to Harry Bennett.

Knowing how paperback publishers don’t always go to the trouble of crediting cover artists, Bennett sought to make identifications of his efforts easier by prominently signing his paintings. However, “publishers cropped much of the work to exclude signatures,” explains his youngest son, Tom (who I interviewed here). “My father learned to sign in specific places to ensure his name showed up.” (Notice, for instance, on Whitney’s Sea Jade [1965], how the autograph “Harry Bennett” has been neatly integrated into the wharf planking just to the left of the red-dressed woman. There was no neat way to excise that from the picture).

Tom Bennett, himself an artist, was remarkably patient in helping me to cull cover scans from my computer files that did not actually represent the fruits of his father’s labor. If there are mistakes in the selections below, the fault is mine, not his.

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.

Incidentally, that last cover—from an early 1970s Fawcett Crest edition of Ammie, Come Home, by “Barbara Michaels,” aka Barbara Mertz—was the second of two fronts Bennett painted for the same novel. His 1969 version is shown below, on the left. The same artwork was adapted (with more mesmerized eyes on the floating woman) for the 1973 Five Star release of The Black Dog, by Georgena Goff.


Old Folkie said...

Artwork I grew up with, still makes me want to immediately pick-up some of those books. <3

nikki dunay said...

I have all of Harry's b&w photos I purchased from him years ago.
His reference morgue; taken at Bob Osonitch studio in NYC.Looking to unload/sell them. Take a look!

Raymond said...

A really godawesome post!
I love your blog... thank you for all your effort
with the wonderful scans and the very interesting texts/articles.
Every visit, especially every new post, makes me smile and saves the day.