Despite my reputation the odds are very much against you.
Above is a cover for 50-50 Girl by Thomas Stone for Chicago's Merit Books, published in 1952. The title refers not to the odds of getting the lead character in bed, but the fact that she's forced to share her favors with two men. It isn't a consensual agreement, technically, because she gives herself to man number two—a rich playboy—as the price of freeing her sister from her former manager, an amoral hustler named Eddie. The author Thomas Stone was actually none other than Florence Stonebraker, the brain behind more than eighty novels. Which is quite a feat, considering she didn't get published until she was forty-one. We have plenty from her in the website but our favorite is this one.
That was interesting. Next time can we just do it the normal way?
There's no festish sex or podophilia in With Naked Foot. This is actually a serious novel about whites coming to ruin in Africa, which is a crowded literary niche, but one in which Emily Hahn carved out an important place for herself. In fact, maybe the adjective “Hahnesque” should be used alongside “Hemingwayesque.” This is a person who wrote fifty-four books and more than two hundred articles and short stories, whose works were significant in romanticizing Africa and Asia for western readers, who lived in Florence and London in the mid-1920s, traveled to the Belgian Congo where she worked for the Red Cross, lived with a pygmy tribe for two years, crossed Central Africa alone on foot, and journeyed to Shanghai where she taught English for three years while becoming acquaintances with political powerhouses the Soong Sisters and the Chinese poet Zau Sinmay. With Naked Foot is, therefore, unusually well informed. It revolves around a beautiful Congolese girl named Mawa whose relationships with various lustful white men bring disaster. The reviews were rapturous, though some critics protested that it was too focused on sex. That's never a complaint you'll hear from us, though some of the usual flaws of mid-century racial fiction are evident. The cover art on this Bantam paperback was painted by an unknown, and the copyright is 1951.
So those four cards with A's on them mean you might win, right?
First published as an Ecstasy Novel with different art the previous year, this edition of Reno Tramp, appeared in 1951 on the Rainbow Books imprint with uncredited art. But the cover is by either Howell Dodd or Rudy Nappi, two artists whose work was similar, though we think Dodd tended to be a hair more precise—literally, as he expended more effort on his women's coiffures, in our opinion. In any case, the story in Reno Tramp deals with a girl from an impoverished childhood who arrives in Reno, Nevada as a beautiful young woman seeking a divorce, and whose need for money is a pathological drive. She finds just the rich pigeon she wants, but naturally another man comes along to complicate matters and make her question whether cash is really king. We'll keep an eye out for updated info and see if we can identify this cover artist down the line. In the meantime, you can see more from Dodd here, and Nappi here.
Her final answer simply raised more questions.
Above you see two photos of actress Carole Landis, dead on the bathroom floor of her Pacific Palisades home, where she was found today in 1948. She had been dumped by her married lover Rex Harrison the night before, and responded by killing herself with an overdose of prescription medication. She had tried suicide before but had been rescued by friends. This time she took forty Seconal tablets, which leaves little doubt as to her firm intent—one fifth the amount would have killed her. She fell into a coma early in the morning with her head resting on a jewelry box, which is the reason for its elevated position. She also left a note on her dresser for her mother:
Dearest Mommie - I'm sorry, really sorry, to put you through this but there is no way to avoid it - I love you darling you have been the most wonderful mom ever and that applies to all our family. I love each and every one of them dearly - Everything goes to you - Look in the files and there is a will which decrees everything - Good bye, my angel - Pray for me - Your baby
Hollywood suicides are part of the town's lore. Landis's is more remembered than most, not for what Landis did, but for what those around her did. Harrison had been calling her throughout the morning but her maid had told him she wasn't awake. She wasn't going to disturb her employer, so Harrison dropped by himself, entered her bedroom and found Landis non-responsive. He felt her wrist and said he felt a faint pulse, but instead of calling an ambulance rifled through her address book, hoping to call her private doctor and thus keep the disaster under wraps. While he did that, Landis died. After failing to find the number he sought, he went home, called studio head Darryl Zanuck, and set about damage control. The maid, left to deal with the situation, asked a neighbor to call police.
It wasn't unusual for press to have access to death scenes, as we've documented frequently in our Naked City posts. Landis's death photo appeared on the fronts of hundreds of newspapers by the next morning. By then questions had begun to arise. Some said Landis had written a second suicide note that Harrison destroyed. When asked at a coroner's inquest whether there was a note, he said no. Her friend Florence Wasson said there was a second note, but it only asked that the cat be taken to the vet because it had a sore paw. The inquest was closed with no new findings, but years later a policeman who had been at Landis's house that day said he had seen a second note addressed to Harrison, and that the cat had seemed in perfect health.
Landis's family claimed Harrison was guilty of murder—and not just for dithering about when he thought he felt a pulse. They claim he killed her outright to keep news of his affair from damaging his career. However, his relationship with Landis was a poorly kept secret, and tabloids were making sly references to it, identifying Harrison and Landis by their initials. Also, Harrison already had a terrible reputation. People behave irrationally in high stress situations, and Harrison made bad moves at every stage, especially when one considers that there was no way he could hope to hide his involvement. But that shows merely cold-hearted concern for himself, and possibly a lack of awareness how near death Landis was. Add it all up and you have one of Hollywood's most storied suicides—one where an act meant to be a final answer left endless questions.
He doesn't know what he's looking for in a woman. He just knows he'll find it eventually.
If you're thinking of writing a book but fear you're too late to start, take note: Florence Stonebraker published her first novel at age forty-one and went on to write more than eighty books. In 1952 alone she published eleven novels. True, her stuff was not literary fiction, but dollars are green no matter your audience, right? What's beyond doubt is that she is a well-regarded genre author and her books are collectible today. Love-Hungry Doctor came in 1953 and is exactly what it seems in the cover art by Lou Marchetti—an exploration of a shy doctor's romantic troubles, which are enlivened by the arrival of a new woman in his life. We've been doing a lot on Stonebraker lately, but it's because her books had the very best cover art of the era. Check what we mean with three more examples here, here, and here.
Then she realized she had an aptitude for it and today she's the very best.
Above, She Tried To Be Good, by the prolific Florence Stonebraker for Venus Books, 1951. The cover is the flawless work of Rudy Nappi, whose output we've shown you before. We think this is one of the most beautiful illustrations of the mid-century era, and we suspect we're not alone in that opinion. We'll have more from Nappi a bit later.
Red-headed femme fatale looks mighty familiar.
Gary Lovisi's guide to mid-century paperback cover art Dames, Dolls and Delinquents: A Collector's Guide to Sexy Pulp Fiction attributes this cover to George Gross but many online sources say it's the work of Howell Dodd. Though the internet is incredibly useful for replicating errors, we think the onliners are right this time. While the femme fatale here has some Gross-like elements to her, she has some Dodd traits too. For instance, Dodd's hair is a bit more sculptural than Gross's and his women's faces tend to be more severe.
And speaking of faces, we think we know this one. Doesn't it belong to legendary red-headed actress Ann Sheridan? Yup, it's her—right down to the little bump in her classic nose. And he used her more than once, we think. A basically identical face appears in several other pieces of his. We're taking full credit for this discovery. Unless of course we're wrong, in which case we deny making any Sheridan related statements. Hey, if it works for presidential candidates it can work for us, right?
It’s true I’m a little devil. But by morning you’ll say I made you see God.
And now for some beautiful art to wipe the memory of Rope Cosmetology from our heads. Above is a George Gross cover for Nora’s No Angel by Tom Stone, aka Florence Stonebraker, aka Ted Stratton. This came from Rainbow Books and you can see that Gross has his femme fatale dressed in the same style of off-the-shoulder drawstring blouse we pointed out before. 1951 copyright.
To every action there is always an equal reaction.
The top photo shows an LAPD policewoman named Florence Coberly, who in a dangerous undercover operation, was asked to lure a serial rapist named Joe Parra. This would require placing herself in harm’s way so police could catch him just before the act. Supported by more than thirty cops hidden in unmarked cars and stationed around the neighborhood, Coberly did exactly that, drawing the suspect, which in turn drew her backup. Parra tried to run, and photo two shows him after he was gunned down. Strangely, Coberly was later arrested for shoplifting and drummed off the police force. But that would be several years later. These shots are from 1952, a year at the end of which she would win the LAPD’s Policewoman of the Year award. These images come from the USC digital archive of mid-century Los Angeles Examiner photos.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1911—Team Reaches South Pole
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, along with his team Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, becomes the first person to reach the South Pole. After a celebrated career, Amundsen eventually disappears in 1928 while returning from a search and rescue flight at the North Pole. His body is never found.
1944—Velez Commits Suicide
Mexican actress Lupe Velez, who was considered one of the great beauties
of her day, commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. In her note, Velez says she did it to avoid bringing shame on her unborn child by giving birth to him out of wedlock, but many Hollywood historians believe bipolar disorder was the actual cause. The event inspired a 1965 Andy Warhol film entitled Lupe
1958—Gordo the Monkey Lost After Space Flight
After a fifteen minute flight into space on a Jupiter AM-13 rocket, a monkey named Gordo splashes down in the South Pacific but is lost after his capsule sinks. The incident sparks angry protests from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but NASA says animals are needed for such tests.
1968—Tallulah Bankhead Dies
American actress, talk show host, and party girl
Tallulah Bankhead, who was fond of turning cartwheels in a dress without underwear and once made an entrance to a party without a stitch of clothing on, dies in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.
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