Long live the King—in Yellow, that is.
The interesting cover above for Five Sinister Characters was painted by Paul Stahr and fronts a Raymond Chandler short story collection composed of "Trouble is My Business,” “Pearls Are a Nuisance,” “I'll Be Waiting,” “The Red Wind,” and “The King in Yellow.” Lovecraft fans probably know that last title via its usage by Robert W. Chambers for his 1895 collection of weird stories, which you see at right, but Chandler's “King in Yellow” is unrelated. Chandler's tale involves a tough guy bandleader named King Leopardi who wears yellow suits, while Chambers' collection is, well, weird. But Chandler knew of Chambers and he also knew of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, of which Chambers' fiction is considered a part. Midway through Chandler's tale a character says, “The King in Yellow. I read a book with that title once.” A clear reference to Chambers' macabre work. The influence of that work continues to grow over time—it even made an impact on the first season of True Detective. Originally published by Avon in 1944, this edition of Five Sinister Characters appeared as part of Avon's Murder Mystery Monthly series in 1945. Recommended stuff.
Hey, Sarge, I'm ready for those nocturnal maneuvers you mentioned.
Not long ago we put together a large collection of lesbian paperback covers from the mid-century period. This one—Harry Whittington's Rebel Woman, 1960, from Avon Publications—we held back. It was just too awesome to mix in with the fifty or so we posted earlier. As we mentioned before, since these were mainly written by men, they reflected male fantasies and assumptions, and this one is prototypical anti-lesbian sleaze. An American mercenary gets involved in a Latin American revolution and is captured by a squad of female rebels. When he realizes the leader of the group is an old flame he figures he has nothing to worry about. But when he “saw the way she looked at the girl Dolores [he knew] the twisted path she had taken.” He decides she'll need to be reconverted to the hetero team, but that may be harder than it seems at first glance. Whittington may have gone to hell for writing this one.
That's right, I'm back. I'll have that fuzzy navel now and anyone who laughs this time is gonna regret it.
Above, a nice cover for Return to Deadmans by Al Cody, who was in reality Archie Lynn Joscelyn, an author who wrote hundreds of westerns under pseudonyms such as Tex Holt, A.A. Archer, Evelyn McKenna, and Lynn Westland. This one involves a group of land thieves and the heroic cowboy who stands in their way. 1963 copyright, cover artist unknown.
Nothing a little dying won't fix.
Narrated from the deck of a boat floating on the crystalline Caribbean, The Root of His Evil is the tale of a money-hungry femme fatale who rises from greasy spoon waitress to NYC union organizer to wealthy woman, all by age twenty-four. James M. Cain originally wrote this tale way back in 1938 as “The Modern Cinderella,” and immediately sold it to Hollywood, where it spawned the 1939 movie When Tomorrow Comes. He ended up suing for copyright infringement when the filmmakers borrowed a scene from another of his novels without paying for it. You can read details of that incident here if you're inclined. Some Cain fans love The Root of His Evil; the more prevalent opinion is that it isn't among his best. We'll say this much—there's no focus on crime here, just on questionable deeds. But we like the cover of this Avon paperback. It's less sophisticated than some good girl art, but strikes the right tone. It appeared in 1952 and is uncredited.
Don’t think too hard, my sweet. You might hurt that pretty head. Now off with the pants.
From Chicago born author Edmund Schiddel comes The Other Side of Night, a chronicle of the troubles and trials of a group of diverse New Yorkers on a particular New Year’s Eve. The menagerie includes an heiress, an aging beauty, a morbidly obese woman, a facially disfigured vet, a nymphomaniac, and a piece of Ivy League man candy. Schiddel was gay, and while he does feature a gay character here, his participation is minimal. We gather this was the norm for Schiddel, inserting gay secondary characters, but never focusing on them in the narratives. He was more interested in peeling back the tawdry layers of accepted society with occasionally controversial results. The Other Side of Night appeared in 1954, and the cover art, which we love for the expression on the male figure’s face, is uncredited.
Mom, why do all these strange men keep coming out of your bedroom buttoning their trousers?
Guy de Maupassant gets updated with this 1949 cover for his 1884 novel Yvette. Unlike other repackagings of classic novels, the art here is actually appropriate for the subject matter, as the story involves a young woman who discovers the lush lifestyle she has led her entire life is due to the fact that her mother is high class courtesan—i.e. an expensive prostitute. How did she not know this before? Chalk it up to innocence. Needless to say, her naïveté soon goes out the window. The artist on this is Barry Stephens.
Ma’am, we're highly trained professionals who can spot guilt a mile away… Okay, you’re clean. Have a nice day!
Night Cry is a thriller about a cop who accidentally kills a murder suspect and covers it up. Seems pretty straightforward until the suspect turns out to be innocent, which will fray the nerves of even the meanest cop a bit. The body, which the cop had dumped in a river, turns up and he’s assigned to investigate the crime, which is even more nerve-racking. But there’s more—the beautiful girlfriend of the deceased soon becomes everyone’s prime suspect. Night Cry is a well-regarded book that inspired the movie Where The Sidewalk Ends, directed by Otto Preminger. The 1954 paperback front above followed earlier versions from 1948 and 1949, and the art is uncredited.
Well, I suppose we can. But only as long as you keep a peel on it—I don't want those little seeds of yours taking root.
You ever get the feeling publishers sometimes used whatever art they had sitting around? You certainly would in the case of David Dortort's 1948 paperback Burial of the Fruit, which is a “gripping novel of youth in the slums.” A slum that had a nice expanse of wetlands and recreational boating, apparently. Yes, there's nature around Brooklyn, where the novel takes place and the anti-hero takes his sweetheart out there, but you'd think this was a rural saga if not for the cover blurb. Later editions had more appropriate art. The book tells the story of Honey Halpern—a male—who becomes the leader of a gang of killers for hire. Basically, it's the story of Murder, Inc., turned into fiction. This was Dortort's debut and it got rapturous reviews and earned him comparisons to some of the greatest contemporary authors alive. But he wrote only one other novel and never did become an immortal in the literary world. Instead he's remembered for creating the television show Bonanza. Maybe that isn't as respectable as being a master novelist, but we bet he made way more money. The cover artist here is Ann Cantor.
The meek shall inherit starvation wages.
Originally published in 1949 as Spit and the Stars, which is a title we really like, Tough Kid from Brooklyn is the story of a Jewish youth who seeks love and gets involved in union organizing only to see owners strike back violently via the usual methods. The book is a reminder of two important facts—organizing or striking for better pay is often illegal, and that puts cops on the wrong side of justice, as well as literary protagonists. This was Mende’s only novel, though he apparently had thirteen others tucked away in a trunk. The first abridged edition from Avon appeared in 1951. The one you see here is from 1955, with a slightly different logo treatment than the 1951 paperback, but with the same uncredited cover art.
Avon Publications dared to ask—will readers pay to be turned on?
Avon Publications launched in 1941 as a direct competitor to the revolutionary Pocket Books. But while Pocket was basically a literary house, Avon directed itself toward the popular market, working with lesser known authors focused on pure entertainment, and promoting books by featuring more visually arresting covers. The company veered further in the mass market direction when it launched a subsidiary called Novel Library, which saw it begin experimenting with racier fiction. Jack Woodford, born in 1894 as Josiah Pitts Woolfolk, was one of the early practitioners of what would later become sleaze fiction. His books, mostly written during the 1930s and 1940s, were pretty chaste by later standards, but helped prove that pulp readers would pay for sexual thrills. Above are seven of the eight Woodford books published by Novel Library between 1948 and 1950. Some originally appeared under other titles, for example Free Lovers, which was aka Fiddler's Fee. The cover artists here are, top to bottom, J. Biernacki, Perlowen (not Perl Owen, as seen on many sites), D. Trager-Phillips, Ann Cantor, and unknowns. You can see Woodford's eighth Novel Library book in this group.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—Disneyland Begins Operations
The amusement park Disneyland opens in Orange County, California for 6,000 invitation-only guests, before opening to the general public the following day.
1959—Holiday Dies Broke
Legendary singer Billie Holiday
, who possessed one of the most unique voices in the history of jazz, dies in the hospital of cirrhosis of the liver. She had lost her earnings to swindlers over the years, and upon her death her bank account contains seventy cents.
1941—DiMaggio Hit Streak Reaches 56
New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio gets a hit in his fifty-sixth consecutive game. The streak would end the next game, against the Cleveland Indians, but the mark DiMaggio set still stands, and in fact has never been seriously threatened. It is generally thought to be one of the few truly unbreakable baseball records.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
It's easy. We have an uploader that makes it a snap. Use it to submit your art, text, header, and subhead. Your post can be funny, serious, or anything in between, as long as it's vintage pulp. You'll get a byline and experience the fleeting pride of free authorship. We'll edit your post for typos, but the rest is up to you. Click here
to give us your best shot.