Vintage Pulp Dec 5 2022
MOON OVER SOUTH BEACH
Miami, Florida: sunny weather, shady people.


We shared a cover for and talked about Herbert Kastle's 1970 thriller Miami Golden Boy back at the beginning of this year. Above you see the 1971 paperback edition from Avon. We could have bought this version, but we were too taken by the hardback's Barbara Walton sleeve art. The effort above, on the other hand, is uncredited, which is always a shame. Miami Golden Boy was good, if a bit forced (the main character's last name is Golden, to give you an idea how Kastle thinks), but the execution is at a high level. You can read more about the book here

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Musiquarium Dec 4 2022
A REALLY GOOD JO
A jazz legend shows her stripes.


Above you see a live concert photo of musical pioneer Jo Thompson, who broke segregation barriers as a jazz performer, particularly in Miami, where she played often and where this image was made by famed photographer Bunny Yeager. Thompson also performed in Detroit, where she was based, New York City, Havana, London, Paris, and other European hotspots. She isn't well known today but she's considered by jazz lovers to have helped pave the way for black performers who came along slightly later, and critic Herb Boyd said about her that she was, “a consummate storyteller whether standing or at the keyboard."

That being the case, we'll highlight a story Thompson occasionally told about Frank Sinatra, the hipster gadabout of the mid-century, who came to see her one night at the Cork Club in Miami. He was with Ava Gardner, and after the show invited Thompson to join them at their table. The Cork, being in the deep south, didn't allow black performers to sit at the tables, let alone with white companions. But Sinatra being Sinatra, the rule crumbled, at least for the night. Thompson greatly appreciated that. And the jazz world appreciated her. She was a trailblazer. She lived a very long time, long enough to receive many overdue tributes, before finally dying just two years ago of COVID-19. 

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Vintage Pulp Oct 24 2022
DON'T GO IN THE WATER
But I don't want to swim with you. Walking with you was already enough of an ordeal.


The front of Robert Wilder's Walk with Evil calls it the author's most exciting suspense novel. We wouldn't know, because we've read only this one, but it's good. The dispersed narrative follows a reporter who vacations in the environs of Palm Beach and stumbles upon one of the most famous missing persons in recent history—a federal judge who vanished without a trace years ago. Meanwhile, a recently paroled crime kingpin is cruising the Florida coast in a yacht. The missing-now-found judge and the kingpin are connected. The former once presided over the trial that sent the latter to prison.

Wilder's tale skips around between the kingpin and his henchmen, the judge and his daughter, the reporter, and an insurance investigator also poking around. We soon learn that the kingpin is searching for a million robbery dollars that are hidden somewhere along the coast, and that the judge may hold the key. The plot threads which inexorably twist into a knot of tension and danger are very competently managed by Wilder. The only weakness—as usual with these vintage thrillers—is the love story, which once again is perfunctory, with the woman given no concrete reason to fall for the hero other than that he's there.

But it's a minor issue. The story works, and the characters are interesting and diverse. We'll never know if Walk with Evil is really Wilder's most exciting novel unless we try a couple more, so maybe we'll do that, assuming we can find some with reasonable price tags. The cover art on this was painted by Barye Phillips—yes, again. The man was simply among the most ubiquitous illustrators of his era. The copyright is listed online as 1958, however ours says clear as day on the inside that the original publication year was 1957, with this Crest edition arriving in 1960.

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Femmes Fatales Feb 15 2022
A FINE BALANCE
Disaster looms if she moves even a millimeter.


Not only is Monica Bannister precariously positioned on her pedestal, but her gown is precariously positioned on her body. One wobble and she'll end up on the floor showing plenty more than planned, but it just so happens she's too graceful for that because her show business career was based on coordination. As dancer and actress she appeared in more than thirty films, including 1933's Mystery at the Wax Museum, 1941's Moon over Miami, and 1945's The Picture of Dorian Gray. All her film appearances save two were uncredited, but she went on to open a dance school and teach others how to be graceful too. This photo came out of the studio of famed lensman Murray Korman, who photographed thousands of famous and would-be famous people from the 1920s into the 1950s. There's no exact date on this, but it's from the mid-1930s. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 12 2022
MIAMI VICES
Herbert Kastle writes South Beach as Sodom in his sprawling kidnap thriller.


Miami Golden Boy is the wrong title for this book. It's too trite for the tale of a plot to kidnap the invalid former president of the U.S., which intersects a plot by Havana expats to return to Cuba and depose Fidel Castro. While the book gets its name from the ostensible central figure Bruce Golden, there's a vast assortment of characters, including a Kennedyesque political clan, that keeps him out of the narrative for entire chapters. These characters have deeply detailed personal lives that add dimension but strain credulity. One secretly has cancer, one is secretly gay, one is secretly sadistic, one is secretly a pedophile, one is being blackmailed, one is secretly a drug addict, one is secretly suicidal. It's a lot. But okay, the only question that matters is does it all work? Well, mostly. Kastle uses these secrets to weave a tale of decadent American decline, with South Beach as a backdrop. A choice example:

The country is beginning to stink. Our stated goals and our actual goals are drawing farther and farther apart. And the divergence is tearing us apart. We've either got to bring the actual goals closer to the stated goals—reduce the materialism in our lives, the idiocy of our anti-communist crusades, the cruelty and blindness of our dealings with blacks—or admit that the stated goals are false.”

Kastle wrote that fifty-two years ago, and we know how things have gone since then. His abduction plot is a symptom of the greed, hypocrisy, and decline he details. The scheme involves several characters using several other characters as pawns. The lever in most cases is sex, and the book is pretty well packed with sexual content, occasionally explicit, and in one case violent. Then there's that pedo thing too. Kastle doesn't shy away from it, though you may wish he had. The tapestry of duplicity and manipulation, in terms of how it relates to the kidnap, needs to weave together in perfect synchronization, and of course doesn't. The scheme blows up spectacularly. If it didn't there'd be no book. Conversely, Kastle brings everyone's secret stories to miraculous conclusions within the space of the final thirty pages. That's the drawback of so many characters—a few story arcs don't end convincingly.

Even so, the one thing you cannot say is that Kastle doesn't know how to write. His skillful prose makes the slam bang climax almost believable. Bruce Golden, a bit of a shallow playboy, isn't a great guy but at least he isn't a killer, kidnapper, or political plotter, so he's the character you root for. His love interest Ellie De Wyant, on the other hand, is a crucial if unwitting cog in the kidnapping, which means if Golden is to have her he may have to do something he's never done in his entire life—show courage in the face of danger. Will he or won't he? We think Miami Golden Boy is worth a read to find the answer. And speaking of worth, books with Barbara Walton cover art aren't usually cheap, but this one from the publisher W.H. Allen was. We got lucky. Walton was one of the top illustrators of her era. See more from her here and here.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 7 2022
ORANGE CRUSH
Packed with flavor and fortified with the recommended daily allotment of vitamin f.


Victor Kalin went the tight focus route with this cover of an orange femme fatale he painted for William Ard's 1958 thriller Deadly Beloved, also published as The Root of His Evil. We love the art, and we loved the book too. An insurance investigator named Tim Dane is hired to transport a $100,000 gambling debt from an unlucky loser to a Miami hood named John Cashman. Cashman plans to use the money to help finance a war in Latin America, but that's just background. The more immediate part of the narrative involves an exotic dancer named Lissa, real name Elizabeth Ann Miller, who he has ringfenced with the help of 24/7 bodyguards and a lifetime management contract. Dane ignores warnings to keep away and is soon giving Lissa deep nocturnal lovin'—a pleasure that could cost his life if Cashman finds out about it. Ard, who also wrote as Ben Kerr, Mike Moran, et al, is a talented stylist with an approach all his own. His way of cutting transitional exposition is pretty neat. Every writer is required to do it, but Ard can cross town within the space of a sentence and still not sound like he's rushing. We're already trawling the auction sites for more from him. Highly entertaining.
Edit: We got an e-mail asking exactly what we meant by "cutting transitional exposition." We don't want to search through the book for an example, so we'll make up one. It would go something like this. "He decided he'd have to drive to Coral Gables to ask Cashman in person, and two days later when the door opened to his knock, he was surprised that it wasn't a servant but Cashman himself who answered."

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Femmes Fatales Nov 30 2021
FROM HER PERSPECTIVE
Sometimes you have to look at things from a whole new angle.


How many mid-century actresses began as Playboy models? An absolute raft of them. The 1957 photo above shows Dolores Donlon, who was the magazine's centerfold in August of that year. Donlon was an unusual case. She had been toiling in Hollywood since 1944, landing minor film roles and scattered magazine covers. She managed to earn seventh billing in 1954's The Long Wait, and third in 1957's Flight to Hong Kong, but they weren't major films. When she finally posed nude it was much later than usual—she was thirty-seven. It's hard to determine whether the new tactic directly paid off, but from that point forward she became a well established television actress, racking up more than twenty-five credits on shows such as 77 Sunset Strip and Miami Undercover. It wasn't movie stardom, but it was success. Was it Playboy that made the difference? Probably only she and her agent knew, and neither of them are around to tell us.

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Vintage Pulp May 13 2021
MIDNIGHT VISITOR
Sorry to scare you. Just triple checking. So it's a firm no on that dinner invitation. Any chance you'd meet me for coffee?


In one of our favorite episodes of The Simpsons, Bart is on edge because he's being stalked by Sideshow Bob, who wants to kill him. Homer decides to show Bart a new hockey mask and chainsaw he's bought. He bursts into Bart's room wearing the mask, brandishing the roaring chainsaw, and yells, “Hey Bart! Check out my new hockey mask and chainsaw!” Bart screams in terror, and Homer, realizing he's chosen the worst possible time to show off these purchases, backs out of the room apologizing. Amazingly, a scene exactly like that occurs in Mignon G. Eberhart's 1946 Miami based parlor mystery White Dress, except protagonist Marny Sanderson is terrified of a killer who's been stalking her while wearing a black raincoat with a black scarf wrapped around his head. Another character dons the same costume and walks unannounced into her room with the intention of confirming her description of the killer. He doesn't yell, “Hey Marny, did he look anything like THIS!” But he might as well have. His subsequent apology: “My God, how stupid of me. It never occurred to me that I might frighten you.” We got a hearty laugh from that.

None of this is to say White Dress is bad, but it's certainly obtuse in parts. It's also old fashioned, even for a novel from the period. Authors like Dashiell Hammett had debuted more than a decade earlier and changed the conventions of detective novels, peopling them with hard-boiled men and women. Swooning flowers of maidenhood like Marny continued to exist in the sub-genre of romantic mysteries Eberhart specialized in, but ladies of leisure faced with murder don't react in proactive ways. That's where the romance comes in, as Marny attracts the attentions of a dashing Navy flier who makes it his latest mission to swoop down and save the hot damsel in distress. Though more decisive than Marny, his approach to the mystery is often ridiculous. Without getting deeply into it, suffice it to say he has a couple of dangerously cockeyed brainstorms. But you know what? For all its quirks we still liked White Dress. It's a window onto a romanticized realm we've never understood. Maybe it never truly existed. But viewed anthropologically, it's engaging and amusing.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 3 2019
DEAD MAN WALKING
Reports of his death are greatly anticipated.


Octavus Roy Cohen's The Corpse That Walked is an interesting book. A man who wants to help his fiancée with a debt takes a shady but well-paid job doubling for a millionaire investor. He's instructed to be highly visible to press and public in Miami Beach while the rich man goes quietly to South America, where his newly rented anonymity will allow him to ace competitors out of a profitable minerals deal. The only problem is it's all a lie. The rich man is about to be indicted for various financial crimes and faces years in prison, so he's found a double with the intent of having him murdered. Thus freed from federal pursuit, the rich man plans to adopt an entirely new identity. Plastic surgery figures prominently in the narrative, so if you accept that one man can made to look like another, this is reasonably entertaining stuff. The copyright on this Gold Medal edition is 1951 and the cover art is uncredited. 

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Femmes Fatales Apr 30 2017
HARDT LUCK
The saying goes that no parent should have to bury a child. Somebody didn't hear the saying.


The above Colombia Pictures promo photo of U.S. actress Eloise Hardt first appeared in 1941, when she was still performing in uncredited roles. Her first star turn came in 1947 in the twenty minute short The Luckiest Guy in the World, followed by a role in Homecoming in 1948. But her career in movies never really took off. It was in television that she made her mark, appearing in dozens of series beginning in 1956. Some of those included Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Miami Undercover, and Dr. Kildare. But for all her acting credits, it was for events outside of show business that she seems to be remembered today.
 
In 1968 Hardt's daughter Marina Habe was kidnapped, murdered, and her body left in the woods off Muholland Drive. Speculation over the years is that one or more members of the Manson Family did the deed. This would have made Habe an early victim, as their famous murder spree didn't occur until 1969, but according to Ed Sanders, author of The Family, members of Manson's circle admitted they knew Habe, and newspaper reports in 1969 suggested the same weapons that killed Habe were used on Sharon Tate. However no arrest was ever made in the murder. As for Hardt, she's still alive and residing in California, which means she's outlived her daughter by nearly fifty years.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 01
1920—Royal Canadian Mounted Police Forms
In Canada, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka Gendarmerie royale du Canada, begins operations when the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, founded 1873, and the Dominion Police, founded 1868, merge. The force, colloquially known as Mounties, is one of the most recognized law enforcement groups of its kind in the world.
1968—Image of Vietnam Execution Shown in U.S.
The execution of Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem by South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan is videotaped and photographed by Eddie Adams. This image showed Van Lem being shot in the head, and helped build American public opposition to the Vietnam War.
January 31
1928—Soviets Exile Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky, a Bolshevik revolutionary, Marxist theorist, and co-leader of the Russian October Revolution, is exiled to Alma Ata, at the time part of the Soviet Union but now located in Kazakhstan. He is later expelled entirely from the Soviet Union to Turkey, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov.
January 30
1933—Hitler Becomes Chancellor
Adolf Hitler is sworn in as Chancellor of Germany in President Paul Von Hindenburg's office, in what observers describe as a brief and simple ceremony. Hitler's first speech as Chancellor takes place on 10 February. The Nazis' seizure of power subsequently becomes known as the Machtergreifung.
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