When girl meets girl sparks fly.
Above and below is a small percentage of some of the thousands of lesbian themed paperback covers that appeared during the mid-century period, with art by Paul Rader, Fred Fixler, Harry Schaare, Rudy Nappi, Charles Copeland, and others, as well as a few interesting photographed fronts. The collection ends with the classic Satan Was a Lesbian, which you’ve probably seen before, but which no collection like this is complete without. Hopefully most of the others will be new to you. Needless to say, almost all were written by men, and in that sense are really hetero books reflecting hetero fantasies (fueled by hetero misconceptions and slander). You can see plenty more in this vein on the website Strange Sisters.
Southeast Asia escape epic features murder, sex and everything between.
This issue of Male magazine published this month in 1958 features James Bama cover art illustrating Richard Farrington's story “The Incredible 'Blood and Bamboo' Escape,” which is the true tale of Dutchman Klaus van Tronk's flight from a Japanese internment camp in Malaysia during World War II. The story is a book-length special, and one of the more harrowing and interesting details involves one of the prisoners being tied spread-eagled on a bamboo mat elevated six inches above the ground. Beneath the mat were living bamboo shoots. As Farrington tells it (via van Tronk's account), “The shoots are tough, the tips as sharp as honed steel, and they can push through a plank floor [two inches thick]. They grow rapidly in the Pacific sun, about six inches on a good hot day. It had been a hot day.” When van Tronk's work detail came back that evening from a long grind of slave labor in the jungle the bound man already had bamboo shoots growing through his chest, and was still alive, screaming.
We did a verification check on this arcane torture and found that no cases confirmed to scholarly standards exist, but that it is well known in Asia, and experiments on substances approximating the density of human flesh have shown that it would work. As little as forty-eight hours would be needed to penetrate an entire body. Fascinating stuff, but what you really want to know in terms of veracity is whether scantily clad women helped the escapees paddle to freedom like in Bama's cover art, right? Well, this depiction is actually a completely accurate representation of what van Tronk described, or at least what biographer Farrington claims van Tronk described. The women were the daughters of a sympathetic Malay farmer, and indeed they wore virtually nothing, and were considered quite beautiful by the prisoners, save for the minor detail of having red teeth from the local tradition of chewing betel nuts.
The risk taken by these women was extraordinary. Other women who had helped van Tronk and his companions during their months-long odyssey were tortured and raped, and at one point a village was machine-gunned. Why would these Malays take up the foreigners' cause if the risks were so high? Van Tronk attributes it to a cultural requirement to help strangers in need, but we'd note that people have taken these sorts of risks everywhere, cultural norms or no. Often the suffering of others simply brings out the best in people. A historical check on Klaus van Tronk turned up nothing, though, so maybe the entire true story is a piece of fiction. If so, it's a very good one. We have some scans below with art by John Kuller, Joe Little, Al Rossi, Mort Kunstler, and Bruce Minney, and more issues of Male magazine at the keywords.
Screenland was one of the earliest and biggest cinema magazines.
Actress Claire Windsor appears on the front of this October 1923 issue of Screenland magazine, one of the U.S.’s most venerable celeb publications, launched in Los Angeles in 1920 and surviving, under the control of several owners, until finally folding in 1971. The beautiful cover was painted by Rolf Armstrong, and within the magazine’s sprawling 108 pages are Gloria Swanson, Rodolph (aka Rudolph) Valentino, Phyllis Havers, and many other personalities, plus art from John Held, Jr. and writing from Delight Evans and Robert E. Sherwood. You can download your own copy of this here.
For better or worse, in sickness and health, women in pulp don’t have a heck of a lot of choice about it.
Pulp is a place where the men are decisive and the women are as light as feathers. We’ve gotten together a collection of paperback covers featuring women being spirited away to places unknown, usually unconscious, by men and things that are less than men. You have art from Harry Schaare, Saul Levine, Harry Barton, Alain Gourdon, aka Aslan, and others.
Anyplace she goes suddenly becomes a hot spot.
She was born Ann-Mari Birgitta Bengtsdotter Petré, but that’s a mouthful so she went by simply Gio Petré. Under that name she appeared in nearly thirty films between 1955 and 1974, mostly of the sexploitation variety, but also serious films such as Ingmar Bergman’s classic Smultronstället, aka Wild Strawberries. This shot is from the late 1960s.
Winning against the Odds.
Punchboards such as the one you see above originated during the 1700s, and by the early 1900s were being produced at a rate of millions per year. They hit the peak of their popularity during the 1930s and 1940s and were generally found in bars and other places of merriment. So, what were they? Basically, you’d pay pennies to select numbers and if you punched out the right one you’d win something. That something used to be money, which made these similar to lottery tickets, but when that type of gambling came under legal pressure from state governments, the prizes became goods such as beer, cigarette lighters or, in this case, cigarettes. What makes this Odd Pennies punchboard particularly collectible is the art by pin-up king Rolf Armstrong. Probably 1940-ish on this item.
Update: We got an email from Joe R., who writes: "RE: the Lucky Pennies post, the Lucky Strikes package went from green to white in 1942 (the famous "Lucky Strike Green has gone to war" ad campaign), so there's a good possibility that this punchboard goes back to the 1930s.
Joe: Thanks for writing in. Now that you mention it, we think you're right. We took a detailed look around the interwebs and some of the other punch boards Armstrong illustrated actually go all the way back to the late 1920s, apparently. So mid-1930s seems like a good deduction on the date here.
Pull the blinds and turn out the lights.
We’ve explored several cover motifs in pulp art, and another we’ve grown to appreciate is the use of venetian blind shadows or silhouettes. Always a dramatic addition to a cover, we could probably compile fifty of these, at least, but here are twenty examples. The artists—Olivier Brabbins, Emilio Freix, Robert Maguire, James Hodges, and others—use them to greater and lesser degrees, and opt for both literal and stylized renderings. For instance, the above cover from Maguire shows vertical shadows, but the sense of venetian blinds remains. As always, thanks to all the original uploaders, particularly Pulpnivora for the very nice front to La llamada de la muerte.
Put down that knife right this instant buster or you’re seriously grounded.
This great dust cover is by Barbara Walton, one of the best illustrators ever to take up a brush. She did most of her work in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, and was quite prolific along with her equally talented sister, so we’ll be sure to get back to her a bit later. Charlotte Armstrong was an award winning mystery writer, the author of twenty-nine novels, and this one has a Shakespearean set-up as a young man decides that his father was murdered by his new stepfather. He has little evidence save for a cryptic note and a general belief that his mother should not have remarried as quickly as she did, so rather than go to the cops he plots his own brand of revenge. Problem is, he might be wrong in his basic assumption. The above hardback appeared in 1964 for the book’s British run, and the Ace paperback edition below is from a year earlier in 1963.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
1947—HUAC Hearings Begin
The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its investigation into Communist infiltration of Hollywood, resulting in a witch hunt that destroys lives, ruins careers, and makes Senator Joseph McCarthy the most feared politician of the era.
1968—Jackie Kennedy Marries
Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy marries Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The marriage comes as a total surprise to the American public, and results in a terrible backlash against her and also makes her the number one target of paparazzi for years.
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