If you're happy and you know it drop your shirt.
Here's a historical curiosity. Above are two pressings of an album from Angelina, aka Angelina the Singing Model, released in 1957. Sharp-eyed readers may notice that the sleeves use the name and title font of the iconic mid-century tabloid Confidential. The platters were put out by Davis Records, owned by recording entrepreneur Joe Davis, and try as we might, we uncovered no connection between him and Confidential publisher Robert Harrison. Anything is possible, though. They were both New York based, were both publishers—though of different media—so we bet they knew each other. Did Harrison have any idea his font had been borrowed? There's no way we can know.
During the summer of 1957, when this album was recorded and hit stores, Harrison was deeply involved in the libel case that would lead to him selling Confidential. The trial was in L.A., and he stayed in NYC, refusing to appear in court out west, but even so the proceedings kept him plenty busy. Too busy to notice that a novelty album infringed on his logo? We doubt it. Someone, somewhere in Manhattan, would have said, “Hey, Robert, have you seen this new record that uses the font from your magazine?” For that reason we can't help feeling there's some link between Davis and Harrison that led to the look of these LPs, but for now that will have to remain a mystery.
Moving on to the singer, Angelina was actually New York City-based Joyce Heath, who later founded Joyce Heath and the Privateers. These platters, unlikely as the possibility seems, may have actually helped launch her career. As we said, they came in 1957, and Heath's first recordings under her own name were in 1959. Maybe she kept her semi-topless starring role on the cover of Confidential quiet, but we think it more likely she embraced it. While she does show her breast on the second cover, one little boob, after all, was not that big of a deal post-Monroe and Mansfield.
The album had either a repressing or was initially released with two sleeves. Since there are two levels of explicitness, we suspect the latter. Davis probably wanted a suggestive cover, and one that was even more risqué. On the other hand, the change in Heath's hair color suggests the former possibility—two pressings at different times with a change of hairstyle between. Both albums have 1957 copyrights, though, which means little time would have elapsed. Alternatively it could be that Heath wasn't the model for both covers. But we think she was. The second sleeve says in white lettering across her red shirt, “This is Angelina.” So there you go. And the first model, if you look past the hair color, resembles Heath strongly. At least to us.
And now we get to the music. You want to know whether it's any good, right? Well, it's a joke record, with double entendre songs like, “All the Girls Like Big Dick,” “Shake Your Can,” and “He Forgot His Rubbers.” We gave it a listen and all the tunes are cabaret style, pairing piano and vocal with no other accompaniment. Twelve tunes of that ilk would begin to sound similar anyway, but in this case, they really are all the same song. Same key, same tempo, same mood, etc. We have it on good authority Heath recorded this in one afternoon and what we heard sure lends credence to that assertion. Still, limited as the music may be, it's pretty fun. If you want to know more about Joyce Heath, check the blog whitedoowopcollector at this link.
Who's the hardest dick in New York City? You know who.
We don't know about you, but we had no idea Shaft was a novel that predated the movie until we saw the above cover art. Written by Ernest Tidyman, this originally appeared in 1970 and was quickly snapped up by Hollywood. That edition was a hardback with a black and white cover by Mozelle Thompson and is rare. The edition you see at top was published in 2016 by Dynamite Entertainment and is widely available.
Plotwise, Shaft is hired to find a drug kingpin's kidnapped daughter with the help of Black Panther style revolutionaries. Tidyman's take on New York City and the social climate of the time is entertaining and the violence is swift and brutal. Because filmdom's Shaft was inclusive in his views, even to the extent of a jokingly flirtatious friendship with a gay bartender, we were surprised by the book's homophobia. Tidyman saw Shaft as ultra tough and therefore anti-gay, but the filmmakers saw right through such silliness and decided to turn that aspect of the book on its head. Another change is the treatment of the drug kingpin's daughter. In the movie she's merely kidnapped, but in the novel her captivity takes the form of narcotic and sexual slavery.
In terms of white authors inhabiting the personas of black Big Apple detectives, the trailblazing Ed Lacy did it better with 1958's Room To Swing, but Tidyman manages well enough, we think, even if his prose sometimes meanders. Though we read Shaft only because it was the wellspring of an excellent blaxploitation flick, turns out the book is worth a gander on its own merits. Tidyman also wrote like five sequels. We know nothing about those, but maybe we'll have a look.
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.
Laura Gemser makes an emancipation proclamation.
As you've deduced from the above Italian poster for La via della prostituzione, also known as Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade, we've performed a quick turnaround to Laura Gemser, last seen two days ago. In this flick she plays a journalist, a role she inhabited often, and heads to exotic Nairobi with sidekick Ely Galleani. In a Nairobi market Gemser sees a man hurrying a woman through the throng. She'd seen the same pair in the airport, except then the woman was in a wheelchair and the man was pushing it. Gemser asks her local tour guide, “Do you know that man?” His response: “That one? Only by sight. I only know that he's American, and that he comes on business, but I don't know what kind of business. Someone mentioned white slavery. But why do you ask?” Did you just cringe a little? We did too, but we get it—the white kind is far more important than the regular kind, init?
Anyway, while were still marvelling over the sad but somehow uproarious tone deafness of those dialogue exchanges, Gemser was busy jetting from Nairobi to New York City to find more info about this American slaver. After promising her editor the biggest scoop of her career, she manages to charm her way into a slave auction taking place—in an amazing stroke of luck—right there in the Big Apple. She watches as girls as young as seventeen are sold to hairy-knuckled jetsetters, including that mysterious Yank, played by hirsute Italian Gabriele Tinti. Now that she knows the basic shape of the wrongdoing taking place, she needs evidence. How does she gather it? That's right—by infiltrating the slave racket as product. She's accepted as a high priced prostitute, and from NYC she's off to San Diego to work in a private club, where she hopes to blow the racket wide open.
You may be asking yourself, Wait, how is this all voluntary for her if it's a slave ring? That question is never fully answered. Somehow, though, she's accepted in the game as a freelancer, while all the other girls seem to be wholly owned chattel. It doesn't matter. This is sexploitation cinema, and what matters are nudity and sex, which means that mixed into the confounding plotline are an amazing number of sex scenes, which consist of cast members slithering softcore style against each other like salamanders while soporific music drifts across the soundtrack. It's all very silly, but the entire point of these films is to create gauzy eye candy, not dazzle you with cinematic mastery or make social statements more than a micron deep. Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade fulfills all the requirements of the genre, not brilliantly, but certainly adequately. It premiered in Italy today in 1978.
It's time for a Man to Man discussion.
Man to Man magazine was launched in December 1949 by New York City based Volitant Publishing, the same company behind Sir, Laff, and True. And indeed, sir, the magazine's a laff, true enough, not in the sense that it's terribly funny, but in the sense that it's wonderfully distracting. The issue you see here was published this month in 1952, with cover model Loris Pederson, and interior photos of other models, showgirls, and beauty pageant contestants, all striving for celebrity status, but all pretty much lost in the mists of time. Not that we're denigrating them in any way. With celebrity status usually comes financial independence, and the possibility of achieving that is reason enough to grasp for the brass ring, even if, like all the women here, you don't make it. Besides, we all grasp for that ring, one way or another. It's just that in show business, you do it in public.
Along with the many figures in Man to Man, there are also facts. At least, things purported to be facts. For instance, you learn that in 1952 London was the “world's largest paradise of prostitutes.” By definition, that sounds more like an opinion, but whatever. It struck us that only in a men's magazine would you come across the words “paradise” and “prostitutes” in the same sentence about civilization's oldest vice. There's also an article about taxi dancers, women who worked at nightclubs and took payment to dance with men. Apparently the going rate was a dime, and the article asks if the practice was immoral, its insinuation being that the practice groomed women for prostitution. We suspect most customers probably just wanted momentary companionship, but it only takes a minority of bad apples to spawn more vice, and those unpleasant men—like death, elections, and the end of baseball season—always seem to come around no matter what you do.
At least women get their revenge in this issue. An article on supernatural strength features art by Mark Schneider depicting an angry woman slinging a seated guy airborne across a room, chair and all. It's possible she had just learned what's in a typical men's magazine. If the photo had a caption it might be, “For the last time my name's not honey, cutie, baby, or sweetie!” We wouldn't even think of defending men's magazines from accusations of sexism—it's their overriding characteristic. But we will say that they're gold mines for Hollywood anecdotes that have been long forgotten and obscure celeb photos previously unseen online. Since many of our visitors are by now under some sort of quarantine or other, we recommend killing time with a digital stroll through our website, where you'll find many other men's magazine. We'll start you off with this one, this one, and this large group, plus, of course, the forty scans below.
But it's important to make sure the pain is someone else's.
American author Frank Kane is well known for his many Johnny Lidell detective mysteries, which appeared from from 1947 to 1967. The Living End, from ’57, sets the world of detectives aside and tells readers about aspiring songwriter Eddie Marlon's meteoric rise from assistant at a radio station to the biggest disc jockey in New York City. Along with that, naturally, comes the usual doses of greed, betrayal, hubris, and the sowing of the seeds of his own potential destruction.
The cover art by Victor Kalin depicts the moment Marlon's ascent begins. A big shot record exec whips an ambitious singer until she's close to death, slumped shirtless in a chair. Marlon is called in to take the blame. It's a huge risk, because if she dies he's up the creek, but if she doesn't he'll be rewarded with anything he wants, which is his own radio show. The singer survives, keeps her terrible abuse a secret because she wants a career in music too, and Marlon gets an on-air slot and is soon rising through the ranks of FM radio deejays. The whole incident feels a bit Weinsteinian, which makes it all the more visceral.
But did we mention those seeds of destruction? Getting to the top is hard, but staying on top is harder, particularly when you've stepped on so many people. The Living End is a good book, but one thing we didn't like was Kane's insistence on constantly—sometimes four or five times in a few pages—referring to Marlon as “the thin man.” Everyone within the narrative calls him “the kid.” So why not use that as his non-name reference? Strange. But otherwise, decent work, and a fun depiction of the payola days of FM radio. Apparently Kane revisited the music industry with a novel called Juke Box King. We'll try to find that and report back.
I have a vision... It's getting clearer... It's you... buying the updated and revised edition of my book.
Above you see the cover of Old Aunt Dinah's Dream Book of Numbers. We've already talked about Gene Bilbrew's covers for 1970s dream books. We're revisiting the subject today to give you this additional look at his work, but also to take a historical angle on his specifically African American art. Playing daily numbers was an African American invention, part of an underground economy that flourished in many large cities, but reached its apotheosis in Harlem.
It's impossible to know when playing the numbers began—certainly long before the turn of the twentieth century—but the practice took off during the 1920s when a black West Indian man named Casper Holstein began using bank-to-bank transaction data published in New York City papers as the selection mechanism for his daily numbers. Previously, numbers had been chosen in various unreliable ways, but Holstein's innovation placed the selection of numbers in public view, removed any suggestion of corruption, and as a result Harlem's daily lottery thrived.
Which is exactly why the city of New York decided to take it over in 1980, a coup it managed in part by promising to use a portion of the numbers revenue toward public education costs. And of course, proving once again that politicians are the lowest creatures that ever crawled from beneath slime covered logs in miasmic swamps, the city then cut its contributions to the education budget so there was ultimately no net gain for schools, while profits were neatly excised from the black community.
Old Aunt Dinah's Dream Book of Numbers is the third dream book illustrated by Bilbrew we've shared. We're fascinated by the exotic, made-up personae on the covers. The idea of gypsies, Arabs, creoles, Asians, or very old people somehow tapping into mystical power thrived in pulp fiction, early movies, cartoons, and, as you see, even on the covers of dream books. Old Aunt Dinah is our favorite dream book invention, but the characters Madame Zodia and Princess Shaharr—the latter of whom we'll show you later—are close runners up.
For those who don't know what books like these are about exactly, we explained that in our typically roundabout way in previous write-ups, here and here. Shorter version: Dream until your dreams come true. We already have a couple more to share, and we'll keep an eye out for others. And of course we'll continue to be on the lookout for paperback art by Gene Bilbrew. You can see what he's about by clicking this link.
You're too late. We all got dressed ten minutes ago.
Above, The Naked Hours by Wenzell Brown, for Popular Library, 1956, with unusual bright green art by an unknown. We knew nothing about the book or the author, but this cover, battered as it is, attracted us, so job well done there. The book is good. A guy with a serious alcohol problem goes on a bender and wakes up in a strange bed with a girl he doesn't remember meeting. But she's sexy as hell so he embarks on an affair with her that evolves into a half-serious plot to kill his rich wife. Once he realizes the plot is real, he can't get out because the original transgression—that of his infidelity—will get him divorced and booted out of the Upper Manhattan good life if it becomes known. So he keeps trying to finesse his way to a solution, which involves outsmarting two hitmen intent on spousal murder. Odds on getting out unscathed are not good, but in effective crime fiction the odds should never be good. Nice one from Brown. We'll be looking for more.
This one has arms and she knows how to use them.
From meager expectations often great entertainment arises. Such is the case with Ralph Carter's 1945 melodrama Blonde Venus. It's the story of a Kansas farm girl who goes to New York City to become a writer and finds that people are more interested in her body than her brain. We were surprised by this one. It's better than we expected for three reasons.
First, its protagonist Wandalee Fernald is uniquely likeable for a female character playing out a male writer's outdated Madonna/whore dichotomy. Often male writers fumble that theme, but Carter makes his take on it work.
Second, the narrative explores the change in attitudes toward sex that occurred during World War II, a time when the idea of female virginity before marriage was being temporarily tossed out the window due to the realization that life could be cut short.
And third, in a country that was rapidly urbanizing, the story makes good use of the tension between smalltown provincialism and big city cynicism, a struggle Wandalee internalizes as she tries to find out who she is.
Throughout the book we wondered whether she would end up with the backward hayseed hurt by her loss of purity or the jaded urbanite who accepts her as is but can't offer love in the romantic sense. Well, it turns out she chooses neither, and finds real love in New York City after all. That's a spoiler, but are you really going to seek out this flimsy old paperback? We don't think so. But if you happen to run across a copy, it's worth a read.
Himes' Harlemites take the prize.
Above is an unusual orange cover by an uncredited artist for Chester Himes' crime yarn The Big Gold Dream. We're Himes fans, but for us this wasn't as enjoyable as For Love of Imabelle or The Real Cool Killers, nor as well written, in our opinion, but the author's flair is undiminished in a tale about a lottery winner whose $36,000 cash prize is stolen. The most interesting character here is Dummy, a man permanently deaf from a beating and mute from having his tongue cut out, but whose disrespectful nickname belies his tenacity. And of course franchise detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones also star. There are caricatures many readers will find offensive, but that just makes Himes like most writers of the period. No matter what, with him you can count on a portrayal of Harlem that's quirky and insightful, and that's probably reason enough to read the book. It originally appeared in 1959, and this Signet edition dates from 1975.
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