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 get one last hug in, so I can remember you without a smashed in face and broken body.
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.
Avon turns over a new Leaf for a Maugham classic.
Above, pulp art treatment for W. Somerset Maugham by Avon Books for its Modern Short Story Monthly line. The Trembling of a Leaf was a collection of six tales set in Samoa, Tahiti and Hawaii, and dealing the essential incompatibility of colonial Europeans to island life, and a bit about the nature of travel, something Maugham would return to for his immortal novel The Razor’s Edge. It was originally published in 1921 with a more conservative cover, and Avon produced this sexed-up edition in 1946.
Jack Kerouac writes about the road ahead.
Jack Kerouac gets a pulp style cover by Mitchell Hooks for the short, semi-autobiographical (of course) novel Maggie Cassidy. It’s a tale of high school into college, as well as love sought and lost, but you can always count on Kerouac to subvert conventionality. Maybe it isn’t his best, but it has those sparks and flashes of his unique style. The book was first published in 1959 by Avon, and this edition from the British imprint Panther appeared in 1960.
I can’t take it! Please stop! I swear I’ll be austere!
Her name was Europa, and three wealthy, ruthless men enslaved her—two were the almost indistinguishable brothers who went by the initials EC and ECB, and the third was the rogue IMF, he who wielded the whip, extracting whatever he desired from the helpless by threats and force. Okay, actually this book has nothing to do with any of that, but it seemed an obvious joke to make. In reality this tale of European decadence by the important author Robert Briffault is populated by a completely different cast—a violinist named Pravduski, a baroness named Rubenstein, a Russian princess named Zena, and the man who loved her… rugged Julian Bern. Actually, maybe our characters are better. Anyway, Europa was published in 1935 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, and this pulped out Avon paperback edition arrived in 1950 with the above cover and the alternate version below. We saw this for auction online asking $65, by the way. But nobody bought it. In such austere times, who could have possibly afforded it?
Two publishing houses take turns spicing up a classic.
We’ve mentioned a few times how classic literature often got the pulp treatment, and today we have a prime example. Emile Zola’s 1887 novel Pot-bouille was a satire of the French bourgeoisie, and in style it was probably not the sort of thing an average pulp reader would have appreciated. But more than a few of them must have been drawn to Avon’s 1948 version, re-titled Piping Hot and paired with eye-catching art by Ann Cantor. The book also got a pulp treatment from Pyramid in 1953 when they re-titled it Lesson in Love and copied Cantor’s petticoat and exposed leg theme but moved it to the boudoir. We don’t know who painted that cover, but if you want to see a couple more pieces from Cantor, try here.
Not so quiet on the Western front.
The guys at National Road Books have hooked us up again, this time with a cover of Avon Western Reader No. 3, published in 1947. The New York City-based Avon Book Company put out lots of these collections, and their stable of recurring anthologies included Avon Fantasy Reader, Avon Science Fiction Reader, Avon Detective Mysteries, Avon Annual and others. They produced at least four issues of Western Reader, possibly more. This one, besides having great cover art, contains fiction from Ernest Haycox, Stephen Payne, William MacLeod Raine and others. You can see more at the National Road Books website.
Please don’t let him be behind me, please don’t let him be behind me…
We found two nice covers for Murderer's Holiday by Donald Henderson Clarke, one from the original hardback (left), and one from the Avon paperback published in 1951. Clarke is not what you'd call well-known now, but during his heyday of the 1930s and 1940s he was one of the most popular pulp authors, writing a number of risqué thrillers, and seeing five of them adapted for the screen. He was born in the Northeast and became a journalist in New York City, where he socialized with some of Manhattan’s shadier characters, including Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein, who is thought to be the man who fixed the 1919 World Series. Rothstein was murdered in 1928, and the next year Clarke published a biography entitled In the Reign of Rothstein. This was the book that really launched his literary career, leading to bestsellers like Millie and The Impatient Virgin. There isn’t much info on Clarke out there, but we’re going to dig up more.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying
. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
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