What a hypnotic sight. Maybe one day we'll have a Space Force and threaten to rain fire down upon the planet.
In this photo made today in 1969, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and a crowd of others watch Apollo 11 lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Back then it must have seemed almost miraculous. A bunch of theoretical scientists in the U.S. and Soviet Union said manned spaceflight would work, the politicians went, “Great—here's some billions of dollars or rubles to make it happen.” And years later it did when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. But Apollo 11 was the big one, in our opinion. It's one thing to toss a person into space in a hollow cannonball like Sputnik, and another bowl of pancake batter altogether to send people to another world and bring them back alive. Opinions vary, of course, but we think this flight was and remains the most important rung on humanity's celestial ladder. As things are developing, with countries reneging on their promises not to exploit space for monetary or military gain, it would be better for both the cosmos and Earth if there are no more rungs for a while. Neil Armstrong's quote, when he set foot on the moon, was, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” We've taken a giant leap backwards since then.
Small town and home of famed tourist attraction disappears with the stroke of a pen.
Frequent visitors to Pulp Intl. know we love vintage photos of women under the water. We've posted numerous photos of the aquamaidens of L.A.'s Townhouse Hotel, and last year we shared a collection of vintage shots from the famous mermaid show at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The park was in the news this week because the governor of Florida signed legislation officially dissolving the town of Weeki Wachee. It no longer exists. Considering the place had only thirteen official residents, it can barely be said to have existed before, apart from the mermaid show, a Motel 6, and a shitload of parking.
Why was the town dissolved? Reports indicate that it had financial corruption issues, somehow managing to generate over $1 million in unpaid bills, according to a 2019 audit. But who cares about all that? What of the mermaids? They're all that matter. Luckily, indications are that they will swim on. While the park is currently closed because of that damned virus, Weeki Wachee's disappearance should have no effect on one of Florida's oldest tourist attractions, which means you can still make it part of your future vacation plans. Line forms behind us. If you want to find out more about the park and see some amazing old postcards, look here.
If you put your fingers in the honey pot you're bound to make a mess.
We recently read an essay giving Charles Willeford credit as the man who helped originate the genre of South Florida fiction, a profitable niche occupied by John D. MacDonald, Randy Wayne White, and many other authors. Willeford's 1958 novel Honey Gal, originally titled The Black Mass of Brother Springer, is the story of a writer who gets himself appointed minister of a black church in fictional Jax, Florida. He proceeds to use the position to pile up collection money with the aim of stealing it and running away to New York City with a beautiful local girl, the honey gal of the title.
This book is tricky. It's foremost a drama about a man who wants nothing more than a life of leisure, and realizes he's a natural born con man with the gifts to make his dream come true. But the tale is also improbable enough to come across as a farce, funny in parts, though too racially vicious to be considered a comedy, and satirical in the sense that it paints religion as generally a scam. It's a lot to digest, but even so the book, while interesting, is not what we'd call compelling. Willeford has daring ideas, but those who suggest he deserves consideration as a literary author overlook the fact that his writing is not executed at the highest level.
So we think of Honey Gal not as an overlooked classic, but as a somewhat unusual swindle novel written from the point of view of a religious charlatan. In his efforts to gain trust and accumulate cash, the main character accidentally finds himself in a position where his authority as a man of the cloth could do actual good. But will he let his plans for the sweet life be derailed by the opportunity to help others? Will he cool his ardor for that honey gal? Will he have an epiphany on the road to perdition? Hah. You know better than that. Willeford is an entertaining writer, no doubt. Honey Gal is about as different as genre fiction gets.
Florida sleaze in the Florida Keys.
In Offshore Resort, written by Dee Winters and published in 1962, a Key West bartender is enticed into a job on a swanky resort island and finds there's all sorts of sexual mixing and matching going on between its rich denizens, and that he's expected to join the activities as a boy toy. He took the job in the first place to be close to his girlfriend, an unhappily married, idle-rich trophy wife whose husband is a drunken bully. Watching his true love play the perfect wife is hard enough to watch, but the scenario gets more complicated when his neighbor, innocent young Angel, gets a job at the resort too and draws the attentions of the place's worst men. Winters could have gone all sorts of interesting places with this narrative, but reached none of them. Beacon Signal sleaze titles are wildly hit and miss. This one is a miss.
Swamp monster discovers that it's humans who are the real slime.
Who is truly monstrous—beast or man? That pretty much covers The Creature Walks Among Us front to back. When a group of scientists set out to capture an aquatic humanoid that lives in the Florida Everglades, they clash over whether the mission is one of mere discovery or rather cruel experimentation. To wit, the head of the expedition wants to genetically alter the creature as a step on the ladder toward making humans hardy enough for space travel. No, it doesn't really make sense. And it's hard to care, since with three basically identical looking guys as the three male leads we had a hard time telling them apart. And this in a movie in which they also wear lab coats much of the time, making it even more difficult to distinguish them. Lean and lovely co-star Leigh Snowden, on the other hand, is distinguishable as hell, and the three haircuts are soon vying for her attentions. But there's science that needs to be scienced, so they eventually capture the monster. It's upon returning to dry land that their problems really start. As third in the canon of Creature from the Black Lagoon flicks, The Creature Walks Among Us is worth a gander, but not necessarily a recommendation. It's damned funny in parts, though. Unintentionally. Above you see the movie's Belgian poster, with text in French and Dutch. It's far better than the film itself.
Unstoppable forces meet immovable opinions in John D. MacDonald's novels.
John D. MacDonald is a polemical writer. We've jumped around his lengthy bibliography enough to be intimately familiar with his strong opinions about a wide ranging array of subjects. His basic approach is, “I've thought about this social phenomenon/cultural development/historical factoid much more carefully than anybody and here's the ironclad dogma I've developed about it.” Which is fine, we guess. His observations about the inexorable direction of civilization remain insightful half a century later. We've built a house of cards and MacDonald took pains to point that out, with intelligence and some wit. But in seven books we've read, which he wrote in three different decades, he consistently cheats when writing about people, choosing in general to portray them as weak willed cardboard cutouts so they serve as foils for his sociological philosophizing.
This, more than any other reason, is why so many contemporary readers say MacDonald's writing hasn't aged well. But in our opinion he's still worth reading. There's real menace in his work, which is job one for a thriller author. In 1953's Dead Low Tide his hero is suspected of using a spear gun to skewer his boss, seemingly over either a real estate project or the man's slinky wife, and someone may be setting him up for the crime. His actual prospective love interest, a longtime neighbor, is drawn into the mess in her efforts to provide an alibi. MacDonald dishes out the twists, despairs the loss of Florida wilderness to fast-buck builders, and laments what's in the hearts of men. It's a good book, but you don't need us to tell you that. The man sold a skillion novels for a reason. We're moving on to The Executioners after this, which is the source material for the film adaptation Cape Fear, and we have high expectations.
If you'd just asked for directions like I told you we wouldn't be in this mess.
This is a nice acquisition—Vereen Bell's Swamp Water with George Gross art on the front. The book is a rural slice of life novel dealing with a young trapper named Ben Ragan who ventures into the Okefenokee Swamp in search of his lost hunting dog, Trouble. Nobody, aside from Indian tribes of earlier times, is thought to have entered the dreaded swamp and returned. Ragan goes in and finds Trouble—and trouble. Bell expertly catalogs swamp flora, fauna, and topography, which makes for a backdrop so vivid you can almost feel the humidity. This is an extraordinarily enjoyable tale, a sort of a revenge novel/chronicle of the deep South/backwoods adventure, written when the vast Okefenokee straddling Georgia and Florida was nearly uncharted territory. 1941 on this originally, with Bantam's edition coming in ’47.
Yes, we'd like two medium pepperoni pizzas, please. And the delivery boy will need scuba gear.
What's the collective noun for a group of mermaids? A school? A shoal? A bevy? No idea. But above and below we have some beautiful Technicolor postcards featuring a— Well, since they seem to be having so much fun let's call them a party of mermaids, who were participants in a popular aquatic show in Weeki Wachee State Park, Florida. A 430 acre water park was built there in 1947 with numerous areas, and the mermaid show made its home in a large pool dubbed the Underwater Grand Canyon. By the 1950s Weeki Wachee State Park was one of the nation's most popular tourist stops, and a small outpost town called Weeki Wachee also sprang up.
The spot reached its zenith during the 1960s, when the swimmers staged ten performances a day, but its popularity waned from that point. Usually these stories of protracted decline end with something wonderful and weird disappearing forever, but just when it looked like the mermaids might go extinct, the Florida government stepped in and converted Weeki Wachee Springs into a state park. Thanks to that bit of legislative goodness the party of mermaids exists to this day, spreading fun and making memories. These cards are all from the 1950s and 1960s. Want to see more underwater beauty? Check out the Los Angeles Aqua Maidens here, and the famous Belita underwater here.
As long as you're already feeling terrible I might as well tell you he landed on your cat.
For such clever animals cats do get underfoot at inconvenient times, don't they? But fret not—no felines are flattened in Day Keene's Wake Up To Murder. There's barely any character development at all, let alone time for extraneous animals. What happens here is the protagonist James Charters decides to save a woman from death row. Sound familiar? That's because it's the same set-up Keene used for Death House Doll. Plotwise the books diverge from there, as Charters gets blamed for a couple of murders and has some mobsters chasing after him for $10,000 they think he has. Put this in the Florida thriller bin, copyright 1952.
Rural heist goes way south.
The Big Caper by Lionel White is a bank robbery thriller written in multi-p.o.v. style, with more than a dozen characters ranging from compassionate to psychopathic all getting to describe the action. It's a good book. The crux of it is that a career bank robber sends his girlfriend and an associate to act as the advance team for the robbery. They go to the Florida town where the bank is located, set up as husband and wife, and spend six months gathering intelligence for the operation—from pacing out bank dimensions and vault location, to befriending local cops, uncovering data on important people and town operations, to renting a big house and hosting other members of the crew as they trickle into town. The boss has told his vanguard that their husband and wife act is just that—an act. Do they pay attention? No. And it's from there that complications begin to arise. The plot is carefully structured and the writing is a cut above the usual genre fare, but the ending is a bit pat. Still, it's basically a winner. Gold Medal published this edition in 1955 with cover art by Barye Phillips, and the book became a 1957 film noir of the same name starring Rory Calhoun and Mary Costa. We may check that out later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1929—Stock Market Crashes
Black Thursday, a catastrophic crash on the New York Stock Exchange, occurs when the value of stocks suddenly declines and continues to decline for a month. The event leads to a subsequent crash in world stock prices and precipitates the Great Depression. This after famous economist Irving Fisher had declared that stock prices had reached a permanently high plateau.
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying
. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
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.
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