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.
Let me have one last kiss before you go out there, so I can enjoy your face the way it was.
W.R. Burnett followed up his 1929 gangster novel Little Caesar with 1930’s Iron Man, the story of a boxer named Kid Mason who is laid low not by his ring opponents but by the machinations of unsavory hangers on and a femme fatale—who’s unfortuntately also his wife. We showed you the hardback dust jacket to this a while back. This paperback from Avon goes full pulp with the teaser, promising a “toboggan-slide of passion, a headlong express that rips through the heavens and plunges to the bottom of hell.” That sounds fun, and indeed it was well reviewed, and was adapted into a film in 1931 with Lew Ayres as Mason and Jean Harlow as his wife. The cover art is uncredited.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
1923—Yankee Stadium Opens
In New York City, Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, opens with the Yankees beating their eternal rivals the Boston Red Sox 4 to 1. The stadium, which is nicknamed The House that Ruth Built, sees the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball history. It is eventually replaced by a new Yankee Stadium and closes in September 2008.
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