You can love her but you can never trust her.
A while back we said we'd skip the 1954 Orrie Hitt novel Cabin Fever because we had several other Hitt books awaiting our attention. But the cover art for 1959's Tawny enticed us, so we bought it and—turns out we didn't pass on Cabin Fever after all, because Tawny is Cabin Fever published under a new name. It was also published yet again in 1974 as Lovers at Night. Lesson: watch out for re-titles in vintage literature. But it's okay. Hitt is interesting if erratic, and since this is an early effort from him—possibly only his third, though we can't be sure because he published four books in 1954—we were curious to have a look.
Tawny follows the travails of Danny O'Conner, who takes a job managing a sprawling lakeside roadhouse/casino/cabin complex called the Flying Red Rooster and quickly becomes romatically entangled with the boss's omnivorous wife, the eponymous Tawny Stone. She hates her husband but divorcing him would mean losing her stake in the business she originally financed. You'd think this would lead to the usual murder-the-husband scheme, but Hitt twists the plot the other direction when the husband approaches Danny and says that he wants Tawny to die or disappear.
So the question is who tries to kill who? Or maybe they both take a whack at homicide. We ain't saying. In the end, though, you still have juicy adultery and a sinister murder plot. We've read a lot of books along those lines, often by better writers, but we've read them by worse writers too. In the hands of a top stylist Tawny might have been a real barnburner. As it is, we can call it readable but not special. The art on this Beacon Signal edition (it was also published by Softcover Library in 1969) is by an unknown, which is too bad because it's one of the better covers on a Hitt novel. The far less tawny original painting appears below.
Put me down, silly. The expression means I want to spend more time outside the cabin.
According to medical folklore you're actually supposed to starve a fever, but that doesn't work with this cover at all, so feed it is. Orrie Hitt's Cabin Fever was published in 1954. We've read five of his books, and while we don't want to claim that once you've read that many you've read them all, it sure seems like he hits on the same ideas every time. So we aren't going to acquire this one, but that doesn't mean we won't revisit him later. One thing about Orrie—he's a quick read. Harry Schaare art on this.
It's a dog sucker dog world out there. Or something along those lines.
It's been more than a year since we read anything from the prolific Orrie Hitt, and that's too long, for though he may not be a literary master, he's always interesting. In 1957's The Sucker, a tough and amoral hustler named Slade Harper gets involved in an auto parts business, decides to cut out the owner, and bed his beautiful business partner as a bonus. Pretty soon Harper and the femme fatale are in the plot together, but the owner of this automotive concern may not be quite as gullible as he seems, and it's not so clear who's the sucker and who's the suckee. Wait, that's wrong. Would it be a... sucker and a sucked? A sucker and a suckered?
Doesn't matter. The point is Hitt's tale of round robin cons is better than usual for him. It's impressively hard-boiled, basically an attempt to channel James M. Cain, and not a bad one, all in all. Hitt often wrote ridiculous sleaze but this is solidly in the crime category, with a bit of kinkiness mixed in just so you know he hasn't gone soft. Erm... so to speak. The one aspect of The Sucker we didn't like were the portentous chapter endings that popped up at regular intervals. Here's an example where Slade Harper is about to do the nasty with a disabled beauty to whom he's taken a shine:
“It's alright,” I said, staring at the metal wheelchair. “I won't be sorry at all.”
And I wasn't.
Here's another one, with a different woman:
“Wait for me,” I said.
“At my place?
“You know where.”
“I know where,” she whispered.
And she did.
It's just a stylistic flourish, a way of ending each chapter with emphasis, but it still feels like overkill. However, in his career Hitt had some misses, so we have to call this one a triumph, considering his spotty oeuvre. The book also has one of the more striking covers you'll find on a Hitt novel, painted by Warren King, whose work verges on impressionistic, particularly in the patch of grass his two figures have chosen to recline upon. Those wheat yellows and sky blues are beautifully combined. He's really grown on us, and if Hitt can maintain at least the level of writing he does here in The Sucker, so will he.
Before we start let me just warm my hands by the fire. Last time your little guys shriveled up like two prunes.
More classic sleaze, 1964's Sexurbia County, by Orrie Hitt, who we've discussed often. We didn't read this, and there's no need—we've braved several of his novels now, and they're all pretty much the same. We're putting together a collection of suburban sleaze covers you should find somewhat entertaining. Look for that in a bit. The art on this is uncredited.
*sigh* This was more fun before the social distancing thing.
Orrie Hitt turns his sleazolicious talents to the subject of nudism for the succinctly titled Nudist Camp, published by Beacon Signal in 1957. We're treated to the story of an Icelandic immigrant to the U.S. named Della who finds herself needing to earn her keep due to a looming divorce, and turns her patch of rural land into a nudist resort. Problem is her partner in this scheme is secretly planning to photograph the visitors and blackmail them with the prints. When Della finds out, she's aghast, and bends her efforts toward thwarting this rude plan, leading to a scheme to steal the photos and hopefully burn them. Mixed into the intrigue is a bit of romance, and lots of waxing rhapsodic about Iceland and its beautiful women. That part Hitt actually got right. We've been there, and the women do in fact often have perfect ivory skin. Despite these factoids, and the exploration of body-free culture, Nudist Camp is a preposterous tale, uninspiringly told, signifying very little. You know what would have made it a lot better? More nudity. Go and figure. The cover art here is by Bernard Safran, and was adapted from a piece that originally appeared on the front of 1953's Male Virgin.
It looks amazing, baby. Er... aaaand should look even better on my lovely wife. Thanks for letting me test it on your neck.
Sometimes when you're caught you're caught. You can try and brazen the moment out, but it usually does no good, at least in mid-century fiction. From there it's just a short distance to mayhem, murder, trials, prison, and all the other fun stuff that makes genre fiction worth reading. From James M. Cain's iconic The Postman Always Rings Twice to J.X. Williams' ridiculous The Sin Scene, infidelity is one of the most reliable and common plot devices. What isn't common is cover art that depicts the precise moment of being caught. Of all the cover collections we've put together, this was the hardest one for which to find examples, simply because there are no easy search parameters. We managed a grand total of sixteen (yes, there's a third person on the cover of Ed Schiddel's The Break-Up—note the hand pushing open the door). The artists here are L.B. Cole, Harry Schaare, Tom Miller, Bernard Safran, and others. And we have thre more excellent examples of this theme we posted a while back. Check here, here, and here.
So she likes to have fun. Do we really need to put a label on it?
The lush of Orrie Hitt's The Lady Is a Lush is the character Amy Collins mentioned in the cover blurb, but her husband Chip really deserves the title. Like his wife he's screwing around, and like her he makes terrible decisions under the influence of booze, but lacks the sense to avoid getting one of his flings pregnant. At one point he finds condoms in Amy's purse and is relieved she's being careful about her extracurriculars, but does he follow her example? No. Things get pretty dark, but after some drama and soul searching he basically comes up roses. Not so for Amy, who does the full downward spiral. We'll say this much—this is a better-than-usual effort from Hitt. The characters are believable and the backdrop of a small-time trucking company works. If you're going to read him, this is one to try. The Beacon-Signal cover is iconic, yet uncredited.
So I gather *smooch* we're not going to make it *smack* to the movie?
Orrie Hitt's 1957 sleazer Untamed Lust is better-than-usual work from him about a strapping farmhand and trapper named Eddie who lands a job on a big spread peopled by a sadistic invalid, his highly sexed wife, and his highly sexed daughter. Eddie has a girlfriend, highly sexed, who wants to marry him, but Ed, who's highly sexed, wants to nail the wife and daughter, not lose his job as a result, and avoid a murder-for-inheritance plot. Complications ensue.
Is it just us, or is it way too exhausting to consider trying to bed three women who are part of the same household? Maybe we're not highly sexed enough. Eddie spends a lot of time snaring defenseless animals, and we think there's a metaphor in there, but for the life of us we can't puzzle it out. Hitt is just too subtle for us. The cover art here is obviously in no way farm related. It looks more like office or suburban sleaze.
Beacon assistant editor: “But this art has nothing to do with the story. Eddie's a trapper who never wore a suit in his life, and the chicks are all earthy farm girls.”
Beacon head honcho: “You're fired.”
The cover art is obviously something Beacon-Signal picked up, possibly from an earlier paperback, just because it was easier than commissioning a custom cover. They didn't even bother to credit the artist. But whatever. You like highly sexed farm girls and hunting? This book is for you. But keep in mind, though we said above it's better than the usual Orrie Hitt, it's still nothing approaching a masterpiece.
I know you were expecting a trio, but that third chick was too freaky even for us.
We don't know why only two women appear on the cover of Three Strange Women. Sleaze author extraordinaire Orrie Hitt occupies the Kay Addams pseudonym for a story of underwear models, nudie photos, dirty movies, and the always popular lesbian evil. There's Norma, Gail, Susan, and a male love interest, and as our subhead hints, one of the women does end up too freaky for polite society and finds herself in the legal system being sentenced for violent crimes. We have several efforts from Hitt we'll discuss in more detail later. This one is from 1964 with cover art by unknown.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
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.
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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