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.
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.
1962—Canada Has Last Execution
The last executions in Canada occur when Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin, both of whom are Americans who had been extradited north after committing separate murders in Canada, are hanged at Don Jail in Toronto. When Turpin is told that he and Lucas will probably be the last people hanged in Canada, he replies, “Some consolation.”
1964—Guevara Speaks at U.N.
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, representing the nation of Cuba, speaks at the 19th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City. His speech calls for wholesale changes in policies between rich nations and poor ones, as well as five demands of the United States, none of which are met.
2008—Legendary Pin-Up Bettie Page Dies
After suffering a heart attack several days before, erotic model Bettie Page, who in the 1950s became known as the Queen of Pin-ups, dies when she is removed from life support machinery. Thanks to the unique style she displayed in thousands of photos
and film loops, Page is considered one of the most influential beauties who ever lived.
1935—Downtown Athletic Club Awards First Trophy
The Downtown Athletic Club in New York City awards its first trophy for athletic achievement to University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger. The prize is later renamed the Heisman Trophy, and becomes the most prestigious award in college athletics.
1968—Japan's Biggest Heist Occurs
300 million yen is stolen from four employees of the Nihon Shintaku Ginko bank in Tokyo when a man dressed as a police officer blocks traffic due to a bomb threat, makes them exit their bank car while he checks it for a bomb, and then drives away in it. Under Japanese statute of limitations laws, the thief could come forward today with no repercussions, but nobody has ever taken credit for the crime.
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