We both said many things last night. By light of day and from a perspective of total sobriety let's admit none of them were true.
The couple on this cover for Gertrude Walker's So Deadly Fair look less than thrilled to be together, but that happens, right? It was painted by Rafael DeSoto, and the book tells the story of a femme fatale who frames a guy for murder—her own. That sounds like we just spoiled the plot but the bulk of the narrative actually deals with what happens when the protagonist is paroled ten years later and has not, shall we say, reached a state of closure about how things went down. Revenge is a dish best served cold, especially when the recipient is your ex. Originally published as a hardback in 1948, this Popular Library edition appeared in 1952.
We're both starving, and frankly, the way he's behaved he's given us absolutely no reason not to eat him.
During the mid-century period, high quality cover art was seen as the key to paperback sales, thus many types of books received makeovers. Aussie novelist Ronald McKie's The Survivors is an example. You'd assume it was fiction but it's actually the true story of the Battle of Sunda Strait, which occurred in Indonesia between the islands of Java and Sumatra during World War II and pitted two Aussie cruisers against a major Japanese naval force. During a battle in which the outgunned Aussie ships fared better than could have been reasonably expected, both were sunk. In the aftermath a group of stranded men battled innumerable hazards in an attempt to survive. The book sprang from the handwritten account of an Aussie sailor who spent four years in a Japanese POW camp. He was a friend of McKie's, and when the author read the dairy pages he immediately decided to write a full accounting of the battle. As far as we know nobody ate anyone, but raft rides get pretty rough. The Survivors came out in hardback in 1953, with this Popular Library paperback appearing in 1954.
I could stop coloring it, I guess. But then I'd be a brunette again, and that's worse than dying young.
Above, an uncredited cover for Blondes Die Young by Bill Peters. The author is aka William P. McGivern, and the book is hard boiled action in Chicago's jazz clubs and dope dens, as the sleuth protagonist Bill Canalli tries to track down the culprit who murdered his girlfriend. Who by the way has barely cooled to room temperature before slick Bill beds another woman, but what's a hard boiled guy to do? Anything to get to the bottom—of the case. The hero's treatment of this woman will raise some eyebrows in this day and age, but this is still an involving tale and we like that it doesn't get too moralistic about the drugs angle. And we got it for four bucks, which is an absolute steal. It was written in 1952 originally, with this Popular Library paperback edition appearing in 1953.
Well, technically I belong to Lester back there, but if you've got the money I'm available as a rental.
Sam Ross was the pen name of Samuel Rosen, a Russian born writer who was brought to the U.S. by his parents, attended school, joined the army, served during World War II, and turned both his immigrant and war experiences into journalism, fiction, and screenplays. He was immediately successful, and later shared his valuable insights by teaching at UCLA. You Belong to Me is a wrong-side-of-the-tracks tale of a married man who gets involved with another woman while his wife is out of town and finds himself in all sorts of trouble. The backdrop for his descent into craziness and danger is Manhattan, and often Harlem, which rarely fails in literature to provide writers the tools they need to craft a picturesque tale. Ross takes his protagonist through jazz clubs and all the rest. The book appeared as a paperback original from Popular Library in 1955, and the top notch cover art is by Owen Kampen.
Don't! That's only for salads or desserts!
This is very nice cover work for Everett and Olga Webber's U.S. Civil War novel Bound Girl. The art is by Sam Cherry, one of the best. After a 1949 hardback debut the book came out as this Popular Library paperback in 1950. The bound girl of the novel is an indentured servant living on the Kansas-Missouri border who experiences both war and various romantic ups and downs. Possibly her love problems stem from bad manners. After all, who'd want to date someone who doesn't even know that a three prong fork isn't for meat courses?
*sob* I thought it stood for horse. Oh, it does? Well, that was the worst ride ever.
This is another one we ran past the Pulp Intl. girlfriends, and guess what? They had no idea horse is a word for heroin. One of them said, “I thought it was called smack.” Well, yeah, that too, but smack doesn't start with “h,” and wouldn't have helped us come up with a header for this cover. Anyway H is for Heroin involves a girl in mythical Coast City, California who starts with the dreaded gateway drug—i.e. marijuana—and slides down the slippery slope until she's riding the white horse, is married to an addict, and crosses the line into dealing. H is for Heroin is both drug-scare and juvenile delinquent fiction, narrated by Amy herself, who digs deep and manages to achieve redemption—lest readers get too bummed out by the story and need to get high to wash away the sadness. The real high with this comes from Rafael DeSoto's iconic cover art, painted for Popular Library, 1954.
Oh, I need the gun, trust me. You'd be surprised how people react when I deny their coverage.
There are more than a few gun toting insurance investigators in mid-century literature, and they tend to be as tough as any regular private eye or cop. In Cleve F. Adams' thriller What Price Murder insurance stud Steve McCloud is tasked with recovering a fortune in stolen diamonds insured by his company West Coast Indemnity. Along the way he deals with crooks, cops, and assorted women, including one named Kay Mercedes—which we think is one of the better handles for a femme fatale. Originally published in 1942, Popular Library issued this paperback version in 1952 with highly effective cover art by Sam Cherry.
Geez, everyone's a damn critic. I mean, look around. I play the blues for a reason.
Chicago based author William Attaway's Blood on the Forge is another of those highly serious literary novels that got the good-girl-art cover treatment. Numerous previously published authors were repackaged in this way during the 1950s. We're talking everyone from George Orwell to Aristarchus of Samos. This Popular Library edition is from the heyday of the makeover era—1953—but the book first appeared in 1941. It's about African American sharecroppers during the early twentieth century leaving their agrarian existence in Kentucky and heading to West Virginia, where they seek better lives and something closer to equality (the rear cover says Pennsylvania, but that happens much later in the story). This era is known historically as the Great Migration, when a lot of blacks got the hell out of the South and the increasingly vicious Jim Crow culture that thrived after slavery. The characters in Blood on the Forge find, like most real life migrants did, that the North is also unfair and difficult.
The cover art isn't as much of a stretch as it often is with these pulped up versions. The guitar player is Melody Moss, a major character, and the woman is Anna, who in the narrative is a Mexican girl of fourteen, but is depicted as well above the age of consent here. It's a pretty nice piece of art, though by an unknown (Ray Johnson? Owen Kampen?). As for the actual fiction, it was neglected for decades but it's now considered a literary classic and Attaway is recognized as an important figure of the Black Chicago Renaissance. Fitting, because Attaway was a real Renaissance man. He stopped writing novels after Blood on the Forge and moved into music and writing screenplays for radio, films, and TV. In 1957 he published the Calypso Song Book, a compendium of tunes he had collected. He also wrote for Harry Belafonte, including the classic "Banana Boat Song (Day O).” By the end of his career he had penned over 500 songs. You have to be impressed.
Sure, you can get a hot coffee—right in your lap if you don't get your meathooks off me
Rudolph Belarski once again shows his unique painterly skill on this cover for Mamie Brandon by Jack Sheridan. The book, which first appeared in 1949 in England, deals with Mamie Thomas, who runs a roadhouse in desolate central California. She becomes Mamie Brandon when she marries an older man for security, but quickly finds when an old flame reappears in town that money doesn't satisfy all her needs. You know the drill—attraction, infidelity, death. This Popular Library edition has two copyrights. The first date is listed as 1950 “by arrangement with the author,” but a second date specifies January, 1951. Since the book is slightly abridged, according to the editors, maybe the two copyrights make sense somehow.
Tallman takes readers on a wild trip to Mexico.
Colorado born writer Robert Tallman achieved his first true recognition from 1947 to 1949 writing the weekly radio program The Adventures of Sam Spade. He went to Acapulco on vacation, ended up staying a year, and that idyll inspired his first novel, 1950's Adios O'Shaughnessy, about a collection of bizarre characters who've fetched up in a fictional Mexican town called Pollo Sabroso. Besides the title character, there's the raven haired beauty Gloria Blackman (described as a blonde in the rear cover blurb either by mistake or for marketing purposes), the young Mexican hunk Manuel Mendoza, and a black child named Miguelito who wanders the town—for reasons we can't discern—naked. It's the precocious Miguelito who provides the title of the book when he notices O'Shaughnessy looks like Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
The plot of the book is barely discernible, but partly involves a fishing boat and the various characters who covet it. Some want to fish in it, while others have more political aims that ultimately lead to deadly violence. The book worked for us not because of its plot, but because of its depiction of gringos cast adrift in Latin America. Despite the serious subject matter, Tallman's writing is ornate and often lighthearted. For example: “Ramirez, acquainted with the eellike elusiveness of this class of quarry, grabbed him by the most convenient handle, the baggy seat of his pants. There was an ominous sound of ripping fabric, and the disaster resulting was such that the poor witness, in all modesty, could not now walk upon the streets.”
Here's another nifty passage that gives an even better sense of Tallman's style: “Had a goddess leaped forth from the limpid, luminous swells, he would not have been altogether astonished. What did leap forth was much more unlikely. A slim, small-breasted woman with a face like an ecstatic mask, legs as long as a fashion drawing, and with the graceful bather's especial gift of emerging from the water without seeming
wet: this is what he saw before he realized it was Ella Praline, stark naked, running up the beach pursued by a naked boy who resembled a faun in more ways than one
.” Pretty cool, that whole sequence, though it ends rather weirdly for poor Ella.
In fact the whole novel is weird, and while it takes its time coming together, it eventually reveals itself to be good entertainment for those who don't mind fiction that's more influenced by Graham Greene than by Dashiell Hammett. Also, it spoke to us on a personal level because, like Tallman, we threw caution to the wind and moved abroad—to Guatemala not Mexico. Tallman
captures the drinking, the fighting, the skinny dipping, the random stupidity, the constant undercurrent of danger, the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the beautiful women who pass through for days or weeks to turn the town upside down, and, most of all, the odd personalities who think all of this is the best possible way to live. We count ourselves among them. Whatever else one thinks of Adios O'Shaughnessy
it has the feel of the real thing.
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