I heard you the first time. I'm just choosing to ignore you.
We've been told that this low rent cover for Justin Kent's 1955 fetish cheapie Touch Me Not! is by sleaze art master Eric Stanton. If so, it's a mere sketch compared to his normal style, but we'll accept that it's him. Last time we checked, Touch Me Not! was selling for $155, which is outrageous for something that looks like it was stapled at a Kinko's. But in this case at least, the buyer would get something historically significant. This book was central to an obscenity case brought in 1959 by the state of New York against Times Square bookstore owner Edward Mishkin that after seven years went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966. Mishkin lost the case, and Touch Me Not!, which had been confiscated with numerous other books, remained under wraps for fifty years. You can see plenty more Eric Stanton art by clicking his keywords below.
Next stop—FBI headquarters, Rome.
Above, a striking cover from Italian publisher Edizioni MA-GA for Wallace MacKentzy's, aka Mario Raffi's, Alla prossima fermata, or “at the next stop,” published in 1965 as part of MA-GA's Federal Bureau of Investigation Stories. The art is uncredited, but was certainly worth sharing. See another nice MA-GA FBI cover here, and another MacKentzy here.
Pram, girl, that thing is the bomb!
Once upon a time in England, some industrious genius came up with the idea of poison gas resistant baby prams. This photo was shot in Kent in 1938, when the threat of war with Germany loomed large and the fear of bombs—gas bearing and otherwise—was in everyone's minds. This pram is not just a historical oddity—it's a sociological statement. Think about it. How many parents could afford one of these things? Certainly not the countless coal miners and haddock fishermen who made up so much of the British workforce, we'd wager. So it's also a symbol of capitalism at its finest—that part where the rich always have better survival odds.
Some websites caption this photo things like, “Mother in gas mask with infant in gas proof carriage.” Are they kidding? It would be the nanny who gets sent out to risk a poison gas attack. Upper crust mommy stays home for tea and scones in the drawing room, and maybe tops that off with a little medicinal scotch for her nerves. If the baby never makes it back she'll just make dirty spoons with the lord of the manor and give motherhood another go in nine months. As for the pram, it would probably be reusable after a gas attack. In fact, it's more than just durable—it's versatile too. Assuming it survives a long, ugly war of keeping German gas out, it can be used during peace time to keep baby gas in.
Everything that can possibly go wrong will.
Nora Prentiss, which stars Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith, has an innocuous title, but it's close to the most ingenious film noir ever made. It's about a mild-mannered doctor who falls for a beautiful nightclub singer and decides he's willing to leave his wife. Exactly how far he's willing to go to accomplish this split is one aspect of what makes the film interesting, but the aftermath of his decision, and how it leads to an ending that is simultaneously literal and metaphorical, is what makes it a top entry in the genre. Reviews of the day complained that the film was not believable, but are any of the pickles leading men get into in film noir believable? The fact that the filmmakers, writers, and actors pull off the plot at all is worthy of praise. We can say nothing more about Nora Prentiss, not even a hint, and we strongly suggest you don't get anywhere near a review before watching it. Just trust us that it's a film noir worth seeing. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
Like all thefts in pulp fiction it was less than perfect.
We were just talking recently about U.S. paperback art being copied by overseas companies, and here we have a good example from the Italian publishing company Gialli Tre Cerchi. This cover for Wallace MacKentzy's, aka Mario Raffi's Allan Beebe spacca tutto meno Gina features art copied from Robert McGinnis. The artist is uncredited, which is probably good because his work, though pleasing, is not close to the standard of McGinnis. But don't take our word for it. Have a look at the McGinnis that was copied—Carter Brown's Who Killed Doctor Sex?, which we shared way back in 2012. You'll also notice it was copied more than once. Well, if you're going to steal from someone, steal from the best.
Pam Grier was the undisputed ruler of the blaxploitation realm.
The arc of Pam Grier's blaxploitation career is interesting. To us it seems pretty clear that once her studio American International realized they had a true star on their hands the projects they cultivated for her moved toward the cinematic center and became tame and uninspiring. We noted this when we talked about 1975's Friday Foster a while back. Sheba Baby, which was made the same year and premiered in the U.S. today, suffers from the same problem. It's too cute and too palatable, too eager to please in its attempt to draw in mainstream audiences. Grier loses her grit. She plays Sheba Shayne, whose father is harassed by organized crime hoods and needs help to fight their plot to take over his business. Grier leaves her Chicago detective agency and heads down south to Louisville, Kentucky to kick ass and take names. The hoods are black men from around the way, but the real villain is a white guy on a yacht in the river. He's archetypal. He could just as well be a white guy in a mansion on a hill, or in a penthouse uptown. Whoever and wherever he is, he's going down hard and it's going to hurt.
The importance of blaxploitation is that it centered stories on the black experience—family, neighborhood, crime, racism, and the predations of America's two-tiered policing and court systems. This focus on core black issues existed even in films that represented alternate realities, such as horror and martial arts blaxploitation. The eventual sanitization of the genre was due to pressure from two directions at once: from the mainstream to avoid alienating white audiences, and from the black counterculture to avoid caricatured portrayals of blacks. Caught between these two forces, the center of blaxploitation shifted. Meanwhile, inside the subculture, initial euphoria at seeing black stories onscreen evolved into annoyance that the control and profits belonged almost exclusively to white men. It seemed like a plantation system on celluloid, and helped take the bloom off the rose. 1976 and 1977 would remain strong years for the genre, but by 1978 blaxploitation, as it was generally agreed to exist, would all but disappear. Sheba Baby is an important film in the pantheon, but in watching it you also see the genre losing its bite.
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.
Her motivation for this scene is to survive.
Directed by the Devil was written by Bruce Kent for Australia's Phantom Books, and the publishers have graced the book with unusually striking cover art by an uncredited artist. Close to 100% of Phantom's covers were reworkings of art from U.S. paperbacks, but if this is a copy we can't identify the original. It'll turn up, though. They always do. But for now we'll give Phantom's mystery artist full credit for a brilliant cover. Storywise, everyone is chasing a letter that outs the sexual improprieties of Hollywood's biggest stars and studio heads. It was penned by an actress who turned up dead, passed along to a tabloid journalist who also ended up dead, and is presumed to be in the possession of screenwriter Steve Duane. The problem is Duane doesn't have it. But every crooked cop, slippery hustler, and evil gangster in town thinks he does, which is a state of affairs that could lead to him following the actress and journalist to the great beyond. His only solution? Find the letter. Pretty nice set-up for a Hollywood thriller. 1956 copyright.
Damn. Nothing but fifties and hundreds in here. Oh, and my diamond ring too. I wondered where that went.
Second book in Ed McBain's famed 87th Precinct series, The Mugger deals with a smug purse snatcher (he bows and thanks each of his victims before slapping their faces) who eventually hospitalizes one target and kills another. Or at least is suspected of the killing. The murder victim turns out to be a cop's sister-in-law, which brings Patrolman Bert Kling into play—though the book actually details a large cast of precinct detectives McBain would write about repeatedly during the series. The Mugger is a procedural, so you get an inside look at detecting techniques, banter, etc. The book was adapted for a 1958 film of the same name starring Kent Smith and Nan Martin. The art for this 1956 Perma Books paperback, showing a prospective robbery victim who seems to have chosen the most secluded bus stop in New York City, was painted by Lou Marchetti.
You know that whole forbidden fruit concept? I've never agreed with it.
Above, a nice shot of blaxploitation star Marilyn Joi, aka Tracy King, who appeared in notable efforts such as Black Samurai and the unforgettable Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, but is probably best known as Cleopatra Schwartz from the mainstream comedy Kentucky Fried Movie. This photo appeared on the cover of Players magazine in 1980.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
1950—The Great Brinks Robbery Occurs
In the U.S., eleven thieves steal more than $2 million from an armored car company's offices in Boston, Massachusetts. The skillful execution of the crime, with only a bare minimum of clues left at the scene, results in the robbery being billed as "the crime of the century." Despite this, all the members of the gang are later arrested.
1977—Gary Gilmore Is Executed
Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah, ending a ten-year moratorium on Capital punishment in the United States. Gilmore's story is later turned into a 1979 novel entitled The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
1942—Carole Lombard Dies in Plane Crash
American actress Carole Lombard
, who was the highest paid star in Hollywood during the late 1930s, dies in the crash of TWA Flight 3, on which she was flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after headlining a war bond rally in support of America's military efforts. She was thirty-three years old.
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