There are different ways to win and lose, cowpoke. You'll find that out if you keep me waiting one more hand.
The temptation to buy Archie Joselyn's 1951 Star Books western Wyoming Outlaw was strong, but we have so many books piled up it's stupid. Plus, the Pulp Intl. girlfriends say—well, actually just PI-1 says this—we have too many books and too many plants. First of all, there's no such thing as too many books. Second, is it our fault that plants grow like viruses in this climate? No. But they win this round. We do have a lot of new books because our Stateside visitors over the last several months were each laden with a set we arranged to be mailed to their homes, which they then muled across the pond for us. Big thanks to them for reducing our mailing expenditures considerably. True friends, they are, and those tend to be thin on the ground as time goes by. You'll see those books begin popping up soon.
Southwest Florida gets obliterated but most of the wreckage is human in MacDonald disaster drama.
The three weather based thrillers we've discussed—A Town Is Drowning, Tropical Disturbance, and Death at Flood Tide—represent a minor fraction of the total in mid-century fiction. It's no surprise, then, that an author as prolific as John D. MacDonald also tested the waters. Murder in the Wind, also known as Hurricane, came in 1956 during the more fertile, less censorious period for MacDonald, and presents readers with a disparate selection of people who all hole up in an abandoned house during a hurricane named Hilda. Eventually the house is swept away entirely, but the story is never less than solidly grounded and engrossing. If your time is limited you might skip this one in favor of The Damned, which is a close cousin, conceptually speaking, but otherwise Murder in the Wind is a necessary read. You get all the fulfillment you'd want from a disaster drama.
Hey, handsome! Ever get tired of all the uncertainty about how a date's going to end?
We finally got hold of one of our favorite George Gross covers. He put together this masterpiece for Harmon Bellamy's Pick-Up, published by Quarter Books in 1949, and everything works here—the colors, the framing, the pose, and the cool urban mood. Some of these digests have photo-illustrations inside, but not this one. It does have an ad on the inside front cover, which is below. We've seen this book go for more than two hundred dollars, but ours cost twenty. That makes for a fine day around the palatial Pulp Intl. metroplex.
Amusingly, the cover has nothing to do with the narrative, nor does the title. What happens is a seventeen-year-old girl named Lois Deane runs away to New York City, is immediately hit by a car, and wakes up in the hospital. The guy who hit her discerns her meager circumstances and gets her a job working for and living with his family. Lois has lied to her hosts about who she is, and her deception eventually comes to light. There are no seedy or criminal aspects at all here—Bellamy has written a straightforward romantic drama. For its type, it's fine, though nothing special.
Oooo... he's rich, widowed, and has a pig valve in his heart? I guess I could learn to love an older man.
Above: Carl Sturdy's classic digest novel Confessions of a Park Avenue Playgirl, 1947, from Phoenix Press. Sturdy specialized in medical romances with efforts like Unlicensed Nurse, Test Doctor, Doctor De Luxe, Suburban Doctor, et al, but this seems to be the book most people remember. Possibly that has partly to do with the striking art. The artist is unidentified, but it felt to us like a zoom of something larger, and it reminded us of George Gross. Working on those two assumptions, it wasn't hard to track down the source. As you see below, it came from the cover of a 1949 issue of Line-Up Detective Cases. It isn't really a much larger piece, but it is George Gross. Add another fun effort from his lengthy résumé.
I never have sex on the first date. It's almost midnight. At 12:01 we'll say we're on our second date.
Above: James Clayford's Tonight for Sure, 1951 from Exotic Novels, with yet another amazing cover by George Gross, plus the original art. Clayford was a pseudonym used by Peggy Dern, better known as Peggy Gaddis. We've discussed a couple of her books, and have still others to read that we'll break down later.
Dammit! First he goes after the sword swallower and now that contortionist. What do these women have that I don’t?
Years ago we wrote a two sentence blurb about Val Munroe's 1952 novel Carnival of Passion, with its excellent cover art by George Gross, but we never got around to reading it. What can we say? It got lost in the shuffle. But we finally cracked it open and decided to move that old post to today, delete what we wrote before, and share our many impressions. This is a first. We pride ourselves on our thirteen years of new content every day, which is why we initially resisted doing this. We'd already used the cover. But we read it anyway, and we're glad we did. There are many mid-century carnival novels. This one qualifies as ironic, because carnivals separated suckers from their money by any means necessary and rarely delivered as promised, while Carnival of Passion is the opposite—entertainment like this can only be considered a bargain.
The story centers on burlesque dancer Liz Danby—young, tough, beautiful, and carny to the core. When her swindler boyfriend cuts a vengeful townie and leaves her holding the bloody switchblade, she's forced to flee the pursuing sheriff while clad in only a g-string. Stranded in a rainstorm in nowheresville and starting from nothing, she manages to find clothes, a bus east, a Nebraska carnival town, and a new stripping job. Something else that's new is the hulking Swedish boxer Lars who she falls for in a big way. The two of them get together, sparks fly, and they plan to make a future together, but the violence and treachery of carny life presents obstacles, and of course there's that old boyfriend, also on the run, who'll never let Liz go. When he finally reappears it's in the midst of multiple subplots of clashing carny tension, and his presence is the spark that's liable to set the tinder ablaze.
Val Munroe, who was in reality an author named Frank Castle, will never be mistaken for a top talent, but his descriptive abilities are more than adequate to the task of detailing hard knock carny life, with its ballyhoos, hot kooch shows, and brutal cash boxing matches. He explains some terminology, but often doesn't bother, and just plows ahead concerning Clems and clems (upper and lower case), blow-offs, 10-in-1s, tips (not money), and more. But the real value of his writing is in the swiftness and conciseness of his story, and how effectively he portrays his protagonist Liz. You know what else is a real value? We were lucky enough to buy this back when it was cheap. We checked today and some joker is trying to sell it for $105. Talk about carnivals separating suckers from their money. It's a fun book, and it even has a couple of photos inside, but a hundred bucks? No. But if you happen to see it for twenty? Jump at it.
Land ho! Shiver me timbers! Spring break ahoy! Pieces of eighteen year olds!
We've shown you many George Gross covers, all brilliant. This one is a little different for him. Morgan the Pirate was published by Dell in 1961 as a tie-in for the Italian adventure film Morgan il pirata, starring Steve Reeves, that indispensable icon of the sword and sandal era of the ’50s and ’60s. We haven't seen the movie, but this illustration has tempted us to queue it up. More than that, it makes us want to go raise hell somewhere. Actually, we had this one ready to go last year around this time when we had a trip planned, but we cancelled the travel and warehoused the image, figuring, okay, spring 2021. But the gag still doesn't really work, because there aren't any spring breaks (for careful people). But we don't want to sit on the cover another year, so here it is. Come on vaccinators, get to innoculating, so we can get to vacationating. Wooo! Shots! Shots! Shots!
Oh, come on, we're not that bad. Most of the guys we date would tell you their wives are the ones that are out of hell.
Above, Girls Out of Hell! by sleaze vet Joe Weiss, published in 1952 by Falcon Books. Weiss was also behind such titles as Gang Girl, Love Peddler, and Forbidden Thrills, for which he paired up with Ralph Dean. All those books will cost you a pretty penny. The question is whether it's because of the often excellent cover art on sleaze digests—this one is by George Gross—or because of the literary content. We intend to find out soon.
This is where being deputy in a one-horse town really sucks.
Elmore's Leonard's second novel The Law at Randado was published in 1954, and it debuted in paperback as this Dell edition with evocative George Gross cover art. Leonard wrote scores of fascinating characters during his long career. The villain here is yet another. Arizona cattleman Phil Sundeen inherited his wealth but pretends he earned it. Though he doesn't truly have a head for business the sheer size of his fortune prevents his numerous failures from ruining him. He commits transgressions that range from the rude to the unethical to the outright illegal. Men work for him knowing they'll eventually be humiliated or cheated, but they tell themselves that maybe there's a way to benefit from the relationship before it implodes.
When Sundeen's stupidity and vanity catalyze a deadly mob, deputy sheriff Kirby Frye wants to hold him to account. Though Sundeen encouraged the chaos, rather than physically taking part, there's no doubt he's responsible for the deaths. But most of the people in the town of Randado defend Sundeen. They all harbor fantasies that by staying on his good side fortune will one day smile upon them. His inner circle protect him, but they know he's wrong. They've gained considerable prestige clinging to him, but they try to make him face the reality of his situation anyway, only to learn that their enablement of him—and the enablement of all the sycophants who came before them—have warped Sundeen's sense of reality:
Sundeen looked up now, faintly grinning. “R.D., you old son of a bitch, you telling me [I'm] wrong?
“I'm facing the facts!”
“Facts don't mean a thing.”
“They do when you're faced with them!”
“I don't see 'em facing me. George, you see any facts facing [me]?”
And presented with this, Sundeen's enablers toss what remains of their integrity into a ditch. In public they claim his obvious crimes are not crimes at all, but they know they're lying, and in private they realize he will only get worse. So does Deputy Frye, which is one reason he's determined to apply the law to Sundeen, same as anyone else. His legal authority comes straight from the county seat in Tucson, but that authority means little to a group willing to see their meal ticket as oppressed by an illegitimate government. Frye has no inkling of where his ideals of evenhanded justice will lead, or what they will cost.
Elmore Leonard was a clever conceptualist—one of the best. The Law at Randado is at its core a tale of order versus chaos, central government over local law, and of whether people believe in the oft-cited principles of what America claims to be. When push comes to shove, those who support Sundeen want those principles binned. Even Frye's girlfriend wants Sundeen to be given a pass, and not just because her father is one of Sundeen's clan. She believes what other townspeople believe: that politicians in Tucson have no right to tell people in Randado what to do. Frye's stubborn insistence on law and order is at first an irritant to Sundeen, then an affront, then a legitimate threat that must be destroyed.
One magical aspect of fiction is that, in skilled hands, what seems murky in real life can be made utterly clear on the written page. Elmore Leonard died nearly a decade ago, so The Law at Randado isn't about events of recent years, but it's relevant because it's about the willingness of some to view the enforcement of the law as transactional. To such people the law is sacrosanct, but only as long as it's applied to others. Leonard explores a foundational civic paradox—that people accumulate power thanks to the stability and protection of the law, then suddenly believe the law exists only as a tool for their ambitions and desires. The Law at Randado explores that idea and does it exceedingly well.
Headquarters, my gas mask has failed! I'm throwing a grenade! How the hell does this thing work? Over!
George Gross art fronts this January 1956 issue of Hanro Corp's bi-monthy magazine Man's Illustrated. It's an interesting image, but here's where we show our age, or lack of industrial background, or something, because we have no idea what the hell Mr. Flinty Eyes on the cover is holding. Hand grenade? Gas mask? Some kind of steampunk style microphone? Combo of all three? Well, not knowing is not a problem. We still like the image.
It's been a while since we featured this magazine, but we're glad to get back to it because inside this issue there's art from Walter Popp and Rudolph Belarski, and a nice feature on Rear Window actress Georgine Darcy, who we've talked about once or twice before. As far as written content, you get plenty of war and hunting action, of course, but we were drawn to, “The Hottest Town North of the Border,” an investigative piece by journo B.W. Von Block. What town is he talking about? Montreal, which apparently back in ’56 was the one of the best places in the world to get your ashes hauled. These type of stories, which were standard in old men's magazines, always give us a laugh because with their breathless focus on subjects like legal prostitution, nude beaches, and dusk-to-dawn nightclubs they show how repressed the U.S. was compared to so much of the world. It still is, actually. Trust us, we've been around, lived abroad for a long time now, and greatly enjoyed the more permissive societies in which we've resided—including our current one. The U.S. does have many good points, though, one of which is that no country's inhabitants preserve its popular media so prodigiously—which is why we have so many vintage books and magazines to share on Pulp Intl. in the first place. We've pondered many times why Americans hoard more than other cultures and we've finally come up with an answer: garages. Two thirds of Americans have garages. So here's to American garages. They give millions the joy of being their own museum curators. |
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