A Harlem detective learns the rules of engagement in pre-civil rights America.
Ed Lacy is credited by many as having created the first African American detective, Harlem gumshoe Toussaint Marcus Moore. Room to Swing is the novel in which this uniquely named character debuted. The set-up for the plot is also unique. The producer of an unsolved crimes television show called You—Detective! has located a fugitive she wants to arrest on air. She hires Toussaint to keep an eye on this ratings goldmine and make sure he's still around when she and her film crew are ready to spring their trap. Sounds simple, but in 1958 a black detective following a white man 24/7 will run into problems, considering he can't safely go to all the same places. Hell, he couldn't comfortably go to all the same places even today.
And if being a cop magnet isn't bad enough for Toussaint, having a white woman as a client is even more problematic, since they can barely be seen in public together. This is true even in New York and Ohio, where the action takes place. Although the northern U.S. was not part of the Jim Crow system, outside of large cities apartheid generally reigned. Small town Ohio is no different from Alabama for Toussaint. Even getting lunch or using a pay phone is often difficult. Speaking to a white man without calling him “Sir” generally leads to trouble, and being referred to as “boy” in return is standard practice. All of which raises the question: Why did this deep-pocketed producer hire a black detective at all? She has her reasons.
Room to Swing won Lacy the coveted Edgar Award, though we wouldn't say the book is brilliantly written. But it takes readers into fresh territory for a detective novel, and Toussaint is portrayed humanistically and empathetically. The book exemplifies the idea that it's possible for anybody to write about anybody else, regardless of race. Unfortunately, it wasn't a luxury that was often afforded to any but white writers back then, but it certainly should have been. All sorts of insights might have been possible. Room to Swing has plenty of those, and if you can find this Pyramid paperback edition with Robert Maguire cover art, all the better.
Aussie publisher beats the life out of a classic Howell Dodd cover.
Didn't we just share a cover for Whip Hand? We did, but that was a totally different book. That was Whip Hand by W. Franklin Sanders, 1961, and this one is Whip Hand! by Hodge Evens, 1952. And as you can see below, this is yet another book for which the art was copied by a foreign publishing company—Sydney, Australia based Star Books, in 1953. It may seem impossible that Dodd didn't know of this, but back then it was indeed likely he had no clue. And even if he did know, there's little he could have done. Whoever painted this was not credited, and why would they be? Compared to Dodd's original it's pretty limp.
Hi! Yes, the gloves fit perfectly but the rest of my order didn't arrive.
Above, a Technicolor lithograph featuring an unknown model—anyone? anyone?—posing with opera gloves and nothing else. Which will certainly make a splash when she actually goes to the opera. The print is titled “Perfection,” and it came from Champion Line around 1955.
Sabrina Siani is the queen of hearts. Livers, spleens, and kidneys too.
There are a surprising number of cannibal sexploitation movies out there. La Dea Cannibale is one of the better known entries. It's an Italian production with Sabrina Siani in the title role as a little girl found by jungle maneaters who grows up to be fine as hell and becomes the queen of the tribe. As per usual in these movies, an expedition to locate her is mounted by cityfolk. These lunch items comprise the father who lost Siani in the first place—along with his arm—accompanied by several witless adventurers. Or maybe it's fairer to call them brave rather than dumb. But when the group come across stray body parts and gnawed upon corpses yet keep right on trekking into the heart of schlockness, what would you call that? Dumb, right?
Pretty soon the cannibals start picking them off with darts and poisoned arrows, but a few stubborn souls eventually reach the evil village, whereupon daddy is shocked to discover his daughter has grown into a bleached blonde bombshell cavorting in only a thong. The question at that point is whether he can wrench her from the clutches of the godless flesheaters. They won't give her up easily and you can really understand that—other jungle tribes in 1970s cinema have white girl goddesses so why shouldn't they? We'd almost recommend this one for laughs if there were a digital transfer out there, but sadly the version we saw was obviously ripped from a VHS tape and it was annoyingly murky. Sort of like its plot. La Dea Cannibale, which was also called Mondo cannibale, opened in Italy today in 1980.
She's not supposed to kill but she certainly develops the knack for it.
We have two interesting nun themed posters today. The first can be seen in various places around the internet, but the second one is rare and can't be seen anywhere but here, as far as we're able to ascertain. These were made to promote a film called Nidaime wa Christian, aka The Second Is a Christian, starring Etsuko Shihomi as a nun who's desired by both a gangster and a cop. Sounds twisted, right? Well it is. Shihomi is not the devout type, something you may have gathered from the fact that she's brandishing a sword in the top poster. How she comes to use this blade on others is a bit convoluted to explain, but it involves two competing Yakuza factions, a very short marriage, and a murderous ex-girlfriend. One thing is certain—screenwriter Kôhei Tsuka, who adapted the script from his own novel, has unique ideas about nuns. Wanna see more Japanese nun posters? We have a small collection at this link. The promo images below show Shihomi in non-lethal mode. Nidaime wa Christian premiered in Japan today in 1985.
In L.A. you need all the help you can get staying afloat.
Hollywood can be so rough you sometimes need a life preserver even on dry land, which we assume is why model, vaudeville performer, and film actress Leila Hyams has a firm grip on one in this Warner Brothers promo image. She appeared in more than fifty films in a dozen years during a very successful career, including 1932's Island of Lost Souls, so the floatation device seems to have worked.
I love the way you wait for the hole to open then just pound it in there.
It's amazing how explicit sports commentary can be. In baseball you hear phrases like, “He shortened his stroke,” and, “He likes to go hard inside.” In basketball you'll hear, “He's always around the rim,” or variations thereof. But the winner has to be football, where you'll hear quite often, “His tight end was wide open.” Ben West's Confessions of a Co-Ed falls squarely into the sports sleaze niche of fiction, and the cover falls even more specifically into what we think of as locker room sleaze. We wouldn't go so far as to say it's an official genre, but we've noted many covers of this type.
Confessions was actually written by James W. Lampp using a pseudonym early in his writing career, and in this book he tells the story of a Broadway showgirl named Sally who enrolls in high school and pretty soon is distracting the football team so much they can't win games. As noted on the book front she's being paid by an organized crime ring. The idea is for the crooks to make a killing betting against the team, and of course the boys are pretty much powerless against Sally. But complications ensue when she finally comes across a player she actually likes—the studly quarterback. 1952, with cover art by Owen Kampen.
An afternoon on the South Side.
The above photos show the Regal Cinema in Chicago one afternoon during the spring of 1941 as locals flock to see The Philadelphia Story, starring Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Cary Grant. The shots were made by Farm Security Administration photographer Edwin Rosskam, who had been tasked with documenting life in Chicago's black belt, which is where racist housing practices forced African Americans to live. Most of Rosskam's photos made abundantly clear that the underclass status forced upon blacks by redlining—the utilization of mortgage and insurance practices to hem them into tightly packed areas—led to less than desirable conditions, but many of his shots showed joyous moments and bustling civic life. These images of people decked out for a matinee are examples. They're part of the Office of War Information Collection maintained by the Library of Congress.
In this game everybody gives their all.
Above, a poster for Kôkôsei banchô: Bôtate asobi, aka The All-Out Game, the second film in the High School Gang Leader franchise. The movie stars Kimisaburo Onogawa, Kei Wakakura, and Saburo Shindo, but Eiko Yanami stars on the poster. Basically, a high school boxing group comes into conflict with a high school judo club thanks to differences between their two leaders, one of whom is a top student and the other of whom is a moron. When we were in high school smart kids couldn't fight but maybe Japan is different. This premiered there today in 1970. See two more posters from the series here and here.
We both said many things last night. By light of day and from a perspective of total sobriety let's admit none of them were true.
The couple on this cover for Gertrude Walker's So Deadly Fair look less than thrilled to be together, but that happens, right? It was painted by Rafael DeSoto, and the book tells the story of a femme fatale who frames a guy for murder—her own. That sounds like we just spoiled the plot but the bulk of the narrative actually deals with what happens when the protagonist is paroled ten years later and has not, shall we say, reached a state of closure about how things went down. Revenge is a dish best served cold, especially when the recipient is your ex. Originally published as a hardback in 1948, this Popular Library edition appeared in 1952.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Arrest Made in Lindbergh Baby Case
Bruno Hauptmann is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the famous American aviator. The infant child had been abducted from the Lindbergh home in March 1932, and found decomposed two months later in the woods nearby. He had suffered a fatal skull fracture. Hauptmann was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and finally executed by electric chair in April 1936. He proclaimed his innocence to the end
1919—Pollard Breaks the Color Barrier
Fritz Pollard becomes the first African-American to play professional football for a major team, the Akron Pros. Though Pollard is forgotten today, famed sportswriter Walter Camp ranked him as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen." In another barrier-breaking historical achievement, Pollard later became the co-head coach of the Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back.
1932—Entwistle Leaps from Hollywood Sign
Actress Peg Entwistle
commits suicide by jumping from the letter "H" in the Hollywood sign. Her body lay in the ravine below for two days, until it was found by a detective and two radio car officers. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.
1908—First Airplane Fatality Occurs
The plane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Flyer, crashes with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge aboard as a passenger. The accident kills Selfridge, and he becomes the first airplane fatality in history.
1983—First Black Miss America Crowned
Vanessa Williams becomes the first African American Miss America. She later loses her crown when lesbian-themed nude photographs of her are published by Penthouse magazine.
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