In a New York minute everything can change.
Casanova à Manhattan is another novel in the dekobrisme style by the author for whom the adjective was coined, Maurice Dekobra. In this one a French count rescues a woman from a concentration camp, marries her, and spirits her away to New York City. He gets a job in a nightclub and she finds work as a chaperone of debutantes. Things go swimmingly until the count's sister-in-law turns up with designs to replace the wife. Dekobra was one of the most famous French authors of the 20th century. You can learn a bit more about him from our previous write-ups on him here and here, but the best way to know him is to read him. The cover art here was painted by Aslan, aka Alain Gourdon. He painted some of the most romantic covers and pin-ups of the last century, and some of the most erotic. We've been thinking about putting together a collection of his pin-ups, but have been hesitant because they're pretty explicit. Well, stay tuned. We may do it anyway. Meanwhile, check out our collection of paperback kisses here.
Under the circumstances you’d be singing too.
Maurice Dekobra’s Bedroom Eyes was originally published in 1932 as La biche aux yeux cernés (which means “doe eyes identified”), and this retitled Novel Library paperback appeared in 1949 with excellent Peter Driben cover art of a nightgown-clad temptress. We can’t see her companion, but he’s left a top hat, cane and gloves in view. We think it’s Fred Astaire. Like his song from that era goes, “I just got an invitation through the mails: Your presence requested this evening. It’s formal—a top hat, a white tie, and tail…” Or, er, tails.
There are none so blind as those who won’t see that their blinds are open.
If you lower your shades or blinds all the way it’s a deterrent. But if you leave them an inch or three open, it’s really kind of an invitation, don’t you think? Everything is sexier when viewed through a crack. The Mahatma said that. Anyway, call it peeping, voyeurism, committing a misdemeanor, or just being a complete dick—it’s a time-honored plot device in pulp and sleaze fiction. Above and below are eleven of the best covers depicting the art of enjoying a cheap thrill.
Maurice Dekobra was a skilled mystery writer, but even he’d fail to solve the riddle of why he isn’t better known.
Above you see an Aslan cover for the 1961 espionage novel Bouddha le terrible by French author Maurice Dekobra, who we said we’d look into a bit more. We mentioned that it’s a little embarrassing not to have known about an author who has his own adjective, and in researching his life our embarrassment grew. Born Maurice Tessier in Paris in May 1885, he studied in France and Germany, served two years in the military, and eventually launched a career as an international journalist, writing in French, English and German. He took the pseudonym Dekobra in 1908 and published his first novel Les mémoires de Rat-de-Cave in 1912.
Afterward, the travel bug bit him and he took a steamer to the U.S., where for various European publications he interviewed Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller and other prominent Americans of the time. Upon returning to France he resumed writing fiction, and eventually broke through in 1925 with La madone des sleepings, aka Madonna of the Sleeping Cars, a novel that was translated into thirty languages and sold more than a million copies. The book made him a celebrity author, and he traveled the world in style, crossing paths with people like Errol Flynn, Marlene Dietrich, and Charlie Chaplin. He continued to publish novels, incorporating journalistic techniques in a new style that resulted in the coining of that adjective we mentioned earlier “dekobrisme”.
Dekobra’s books were popular vehicles for film adaptation, and more than fifteen became movies, including his 1925 hit Macao enfer du jeu, which Clemens Klopfenstein directed in 1938. All the while Dekobra kept globetrotting—he visited India, Ceylon (now Sri-Lanka), Japan, Turkey, Pakistan, and became one of the few westerners to enter Nepal. His novels up to this point were “cosmopolites” infused with his travelexperiences. For instance La madone des sleepings follows the adventures of Lady Diana Wyndham as she travels by train from London to Berlin to Russia, broke but determined to use guile and gender to make a fortune exploiting a Russian oilfield about which she’s learned. The book was developed as a film in 1928, again in 1955, and was optioned once more in the ’70s with one of our favorite women Sylvia Kristel in the lead. This third version never came to fruition, sadly, though the project reached a stage where posters were produced (and these would be quite expensive collector’s items, we suspect).
In the late 1940s, Dekobra shifted literary gears and began writing pure detective novels, and he also wrote screenplays and even dabbled in film directing. Dekobra died in 1973 but it’s safe to say that he was a guy who lived to the fullest. His life and career stand as remarkable achievements—he traveled to exotic places almost unheard of in his day, met some of the most interesting people alive, and sold millions of books that were translated into seventy-seven languages. Today in Europe, heremains a twentieth century author of great renown; in the U.S. and many other countries where his books once sold well, he is virtually unknown. It’s a mystery we haven’t solved yet, but we’ll keep working on it. In the meantime, we’re happy to have finally made his acquaintance, and hope you’ll do the same.
Maurice Dekobra invented a style of fiction that is pervasive today.
When we saw the above book in a Paris flea market stall, we wanted it for the Aslan art. But once we looked up author Maurice Dekobra, aka Maurice Tessier, we discovered to our surprise that he was one of the most famous French writers who ever lived. Dekobra started as a subversive author in the 1920s, and pioneered a style of writing called documentary fiction, which is to say, fiction based upon factual investigation of the subject matter. Dekobra used his new techniques as he shifted into whodunits after World War II, and perfected what is now a standard operational model for mystery and thriller writers. In 1951 Dekobra, whose signature style resulted in “dekobrisme” coming into use as a French adjective, was rewarded for his extensive output with the Prix du Quai des Orfèvres literary award. It’s rather embarrassing not to have known about someone who has his own adjective, but we’ll make up for it by getting all dekobrisme and finding out more. We’ll report back later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1967—First Space Program Casualty Occurs
Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies in Soyuz 1 when, during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere after more than ten successful orbits, the capsule's main parachute fails to deploy properly, and the backup chute becomes entangled in the first. The capsule's descent is slowed, but it still hits the ground at about 90 mph, at which point it bursts into flames. Komarov is the first human to die during a space mission.
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder
, Carmen Jones
, The Man with the Golden Arm
, and Stalag 17
, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
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