Friday, June 11, 2021

Boeckman Title Overdrive

Not unlike the young man who served as the amorous quarry in Velvet Jackpot (Beacon Softcover Library, 1965), this paperback’s cover illustration really got around. Painted by Victor Olson, it had featured previously—and with only minor variations—on two other Beacon releases: 7 Days to Love (1963), by “Colin Johns,” aka John Bentley and Cornelius J. Collins; and What Makes Sherry Love?, by John Burton Thompson (1970). There’s no question about it: that publisher certainly got its money’s worth from artwork purchases.

In case you’re wondering, “Alex Carter” was a pseudonym employed by Charles Boeckman Jr. (1920-2015). Born in San Antonio, Texas, he was a self-taught jazz musician, skilled with both the clarinet and the saxophone. But he was likewise a fast, accurate typist and an enthusiastic tale-spinner, and he dearly wanted to become a short-story writer. So in between playing gigs all across the United States, Boeckman mailed his yarns off to one publication after another. Finally, after collecting numerous rejection letters, he found the first buyer for his fiction in 1945, when he was 25 years old. He went on from there to bat out mystery, suspense, and western stories (mostly under the byline “Charles Beckman Jr.”), his work being picked up by pulp magazines on the order of Manhunt, Justice, Detective Tales, Dime Mystery Magazine, Pursuit, Star Western, and Dime Western. He even saw one of his stories, “Ambition,” adapted as a July 1961 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, starring Leslie Nielsen.

In addition to penning bookstore-acceptable novels such as Honky Tonk Girl (1953), which exploited his familiarity with the music world, Boeckman—like Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, and others—fed the fast-growing mid-20th-century market for sleaze-and-scandal fiction, the sort of titles usually tucked beneath newsstand counters. As Alex Carter, he churned out not only Velvet Jackpot, but also Traded Wives (1964, with cover art by Clement Micarelli), Change Partners (1963), They All Ran Naked (1967), Boy-Lover (1963, again boasting a Micarelli-painted front), The Games She Played (1966, with an illustration by George Gross), Sex Around the Clock (1965, offering art by Robert Maguire), and Love Too Soon (1966).

Recent years have brought some renewed interest in Boeckman’s work. In 2011, Borgo Press reprinted Honky Tonk Girl. A couple of years later, a collection of his stories from the western pulps—Saddles, Six-Guns & Shootouts—saw print. And in 2015, Bold Venture Press issued Strictly Poison and Other Stories, gathering together 24 of his pulp magazine contributions.

If you’re interested, the late Bill Crider featured in his blog this 22-minute videotaped conversation between Boeckman and fellow author Talmage Powell “sitting in Powell's back yard in Asheville, North Carolina, around 1995 and discussing pulp magazines, digests, paperbacks, writing, and writers.” Great fun!

UPDATE: What do you know, a few months after writing this post, I discovered two more of Boeckman’s “Alex Carter” novels: The Affair (Beacon, 1965) and Nice Girls Finish Last (Beacon Signal, 1964). Unfortunately, in neither case is the cover artist identified.

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