Um, Georgia Boy—see if you can put down that unrest you've got happening down around Savannah.
George Mayers does the cover work for the Erskine Caldwell short story collection Georgia Boy, which first appeared in 1943, and in this Avon paperback edition in 1947. While it's a story collection, all the tales are narrated by one young character and mainly discuss the poor Stroup family and their friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. This is Caldwell in a more humorous mode than normal, but the underlying themes of his work—particularly poverty and racism—remain, as in the tale "Handsome Brown's Day Off," in which a black character becomes a living target at a carnival.
We recently encountered this phenomenon in a Jim Thompson novel, and what we thought, or at least hoped, was a case of literary flourish was actual reality—in the Jim Crow south white carnival goers paid to throw baseballs at black men's heads. The balls were generally of a novelty variety, which is to say heavy enough to fly straight, though not hard enough to be lethal, but still. Making the tableau even more horrific was the requirement that the target stick his head through a hole in a jungle backdrop and that he grin and mug for the assembled whites as he tried to dodge the baseballs. We checked it out in other sources and confirmed the prevalence of this barbaric practice. We also found that carnivals in northern states did it too, though it was far more common down south. Apparently the big fun with these spectacles occurred whenever some college or professional pitcher showed up and thrilled the crowd by nailing these poor guys' heads at high velocity.
We found a 1908 article, which you see at right, about a group of pro baseball players who substituted normal baseballs for novelty ones and repeatedly beaned a man, putting him in the hospital, where it was feared he might not survive. The target was said to have taken the punishment “courageously,” and of course there was no suggestion of charges being filed.
We also found two other mentions of “African dodgers”—the gentlest term used to describe them—being killed. Things like these need to be remembered, especially in light of today's cultural battles wherein a segment of people seek to propagate a myth of the south as misunderstood. But literature, besides its other value, is often useful for preserving history, as Erskine Caldwell shows. That said, in Georgia Boy we preferred the stories about sex and we have a feeling you will too.
Hey solider—ever made it in a smoking ruin with the stench of death in your nostrils?
We don't know if there were enough prostitution-in-the-ruins novels written during the postwar period to qualify as a sub-genre, but it seems to us we've seen quite a few of them. We highlighted Scott Graham Williamson's Torment around this time last year, and now we have another—Erika, aka Fräulein, by James McGovern. The book revolves around a woman who is tricked into becoming a prostitute in divided Berlin before finally finding Mr. Right and escaping. She's named Erika Angermann, a symbolic name if ever there was one, hinting at what the men in her life put her through. Erika aka Fräulein was a hit when published in 1956, and became a 1958 movie with Dana Wynter and Mel Ferrer. The book is bit obscure today, but was well regarded in its time. We'll look into how many novels like this are out there and if there are enough maybe we'll put together a group post.
This is loaded, so answer this next question carefully. Who's the star of this movie?
Jean Arthur, née Gladys Georgianna Greene poses for a promo photo made when she was filming the romantic comedy A Lady Takes a Chance with John Wayne. Arthur was a very big star who began in silent cinema, made the transition to talkies, and reached the height of her fame in her mid-thirties. She was billed above Wayne for Lady, and he was a huge star himself. Some of Arthur's other efforts include Shane and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The photo above dates from 1943, and A Lady Takes a Chance premiered in the U.S. today that same year.
The Devil went down to Georgia looking for souls to steal.
We found a little piece of real world pulp and thought we'd share it because it relates to what we wrote last month about Sean's Penn's El Chapo interview. A news story yesterday revealed that in the U.S. forty-six current and former officers of the Georgia Department of Corrections were arrested for running a drugs and contraband ring in prisons around the state. Yup, you read that right—forty-six officers. These cops and guards facilitated cocaine and meth deals both inside and outside of prison, and smuggled liquor, tobacco and cell phones inside in exchange for money. Convicts used the phones to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and identify theft. And we should point out that none of this is unique to Georgia. In 2014 a North Carolina convict orchestrated a kidnapping in Atlanta using a contraband cell phone.
In our Sean Penn piece we quoted Roberto Saviano, the internationally respected author and researcher, who has said the illegal drug trade has an influence on the global economy similar to that of oil or gold. That is to say, it's so lucrative international law is ignored, and people are killed by the thousands to keep the profits rolling in. The main difference is all the millions of dollars have to be cleaned in the legal financial system. But that's no problem. Several huge banks, including Wachovia and HSBC, have intentionally laundered drug money and gotten away with mere fines. Other huge institutions, such as Bank of America and J.P. Morgan, are known to have been used for money laundering but claim it all somehow happened without their knowledge.
To the FBI's credit, they're not treating this as a one-off. Special agent Britt Johnson, who you see above, hinted at wider problems, commenting at a news conference, “It makes a huge challenge for law enforcement. After you chase down, arrest, and prosecute criminals and put them away for life, they continue to direct crime on the streets from their jail cells.”
So what's the solution? Make the prisons even harsher? Legalize drugs? We have no idea. We're not suggesting that anyone have sympathy for the guards that got arrested, but you have to admit, when drug profits are so vast they corrupt entire third world political systems and entire first world banking systems, it's a lot to expect lowly prison guards not to try and join the party.
He really appreciates the wilder side of life.
Last year we posted the front and back covers of an issue of He magazine. As usual, it’s taken us longer than we intended, but today we’re back with more. The above cover appeared this month in 1953 and features a masked model shot at New York City’s annual Artists Equity Ball, which, according to He, pretty much turned into an orgy. We don’t know about that, but the photos do reveal a rather racy scene. You also get shots of (we think) Rocky Marciano knocking out someone or other and lightweight champ Jimmy Carter mashing some hapless opponent’s face, photos of Laurie Anders, Lili St. Cyr, Lilly Christine, Daniele Lamar, and other celebs of the day, an amazing still of Julie Newmar, aka Julie Newmeyer, dancing in Slaves of Babylon, plus a back cover featuring highly touted but ultimately underachieving actress Mara Corday. We don’t have to bother too much with a description today, because these digest-sized magazines have text that scans large enough to be read even on small computers. So read and enjoy.
That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang.
Dalton Stevens’ cover for this January 1931 issue of True Detective looks a bit like a horror illustration, but it's actually supposed to represent Robert E. Burns, who in 1922 helped rob a Georgia grocery, earned himself 6 to 10 at hard labor, but escaped and made his way to Chicago, where he adopted a new identity and rose to success as a magazine editor. Years later, when he tried to divorce the woman he had married, she betrayed him to Georgia authorities, and what followed was a legal battle between Georgia courts and Chicago civic leaders, with the former wanting Burns extradited, and the latter citing his standing in the community and calling for his pardon. Burns eventually went back to Georgia voluntarily to serve what he had been assured would be a few months in jail, but which turned into more hard time on a chain gang.
Angered and disillusioned, Burns escaped again, and this time wrote a book from hiding, which True Detective excerpts in the above issue and several others. This was a real scoop for the magazine—it was the first to publish Burns’ harrowing tale. The story generated quite a bit of attention, and Vanguard Press picked it up and published it as I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang, which led directly to Warner Brothers adapting the tale into a hit 1932 motion picture starring Paul Muni. The movie differed somewhat from the book, of course, which differed somewhat from reality (Burns himself admitted this later), but his account cast a withering light on the chain gang system. The exposure helped chain gang opponents, who claimed—with some veracity—that the practice was immoral because it originated with the South's need to replace its slave labor after defeat in the U.S. Civil War.
Burns continued to live life on the run, but was eventually arrested again, this time in New Jersey. However, the governor of the state refused to extradite him. The standoff meant Burns was, in practical terms, a free man. That practical freedom was made official in 1945 when he was finally pardoned in Georgia, and his literary indictment of the chain gang system helped bring about its demise. Well, sort of—it returned to the South in 1995, was quickly discontinued after legal challenges, but may yet be reintroduced as politicians push for more and more extreme punishments to bolster their tough-on-crime credentials.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Carole Lombard Dies in Plane Crash
American actress Carole Lombard
, who was the highest paid star in Hollywood during the late 1930s, dies in the crash of TWA Flight 3, on which she was flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after headlining a war bond rally in support of America's military efforts. She was thirty-three years old.
1919—Luxemburg and Liebknecht Are Killed
Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, two of the most prominent socialists in Germany, are tortured and murdered by the Freikorps. Freikorps was a term applied to various paramilitary organizations that sprang up around Germany as soldiers returned in defeat from World War I. Members of these groups would later become prominent members of the SS.
1967—Summer of Love Begins
The Human Be-In takes place in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park with between 20,000 to 30,000 people in attendance, their purpose being to promote their ideals of personal empowerment, cultural and political decentralization, communal living, ecological preservation, and higher consciousness. The event is considered the beginning of the famed counterculture Summer of Love.
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