You know, you spend a lot of time looking in the mirror considering I'm dating you for your money.
Above: an uncredited cover of a femme fatale and her preening man painted for Norman Bligh's 1950 novel Waterfront Hotel, about a woman named Brenda Seton who lives in a Maine cannery town and whose only ambition is to marry rich and move from the Flats to the Hill. Or perhaps not even marry. The owner of the cannery wants her for a mistress and is willing to pay in cash, house, and stock. Brenda might just accept the offer if she can't have her true love, local banker Bob Blaine, but because she's grasping, manipulative, and fake you know her plan will go pear-shaped. Just as crime doesn't usually pay in 1950s novels, neither does sex. It often—as in this case—leads to retribution from male characters via predictable means.
But there's one aspect of the book that isn't predictable—it has a couple of bizarre fights. Brenda's main rival Rhoda, who can throw knives with deadly effect, attacks Brenda, strips her naked, and makes her walk home through a driving rainstorm. Brenda gets her revenge during a fight in the cannery in which she disarms Rhoda, pins her prone, and slices her from neck to ass with her own knife. Cannery women—they'll cut a bitch. Is the book good? No. We think only a man would write a woman character who's forgiving about being raped, which happens to poor Brenda. Also, we never understood why her preferred epithet, uttered at least twenty times, was: Let him die! But we'll say this—Bligh conceived something a bit unusual here.
What do you mean you're not in the mood?
It's time for another look at George Gross, one of the true giants of mid-century paperback and magazine illustration. On this cover for 1945's As Good As Married you see that the artist who was a master of ornate clothing and highly sculptural hair was also capable of dialing it back a bit. The author here, Perry Lindsay, was Peggy Gaddis writing under a pseudonym. We recently bought a book she wrote as Lindsay that we'll get to in a bit. She's usually an entertaining author, so we're looking forward to that.
Uh... well... I might consider it, Gloria. Would this third naked soul be male or female?
Above is another high quality cover from Quarter Books, this time for 1949's Three Naked Souls by Ross Sloane. The art isn't credited in the book, but it was painted by Fred Rodewald. You see his signature on the original art, rudely covered up by the folks at Quarter. The book is about an upper crust woman named Gloria Ashton trapped in a bad marriage who's tempted by her husband's best friend. According to the title page, it was published earlier as Three Lovers, but we found no reference to it anywhere. Possibly it was credited to a different name, and with such an anodyne title is simply imposible to isolate online. In any case, nice work from Rodewald. If you want to see him at his best look here and here.
This is right about when every dog person I've ever known starts to rethink their preferences.
Amos Hatter entertained us very effectively with his 1952 Hawaiian romance Island Girl, and since we knew his 1951 novel Untamed Woman was set in the islands too, we grabbed it. Hatter, aka James W. Lampp, Ben West, et al, tells the story of laced up lawyer Natalie Brewster, who jets from Boston to paradise to get a contract signed by her firm's client Bill Grant. When her briefcase disappears at his bacchanalian luau she assumes he stole it to keep her from leaving so he can make advances toward her. After a time she isn't so sure he lifted it after all, but the missing briefcase does keep her there, and she gives in to Bill's overtures, and gets caught up in all of Hawaii's other distractions too.
Hatter is comfortable working within the setting, and punctuates his story with nice local color, as well as quirky humor. Our favorite sequence was a living room destroying fight between Natalie and her fierce rival Dorothy. Amazingly, of all the books we've read, that was the first knock-down drag-out—apart from the Modesty Blaise novels—that we've come across between two women. Hatter writes it well. The hatred is pure enough to set off Mauna Loa. The next day both Natalie and Dorothy are wrecked, which is what happens when you smash coffee tables and hurl vases at each other. The end of the book is a little rushed, and a little dumb, but if you want lightweight, male-oriented, 1950's sex adventure, Untamed Woman will get the job done. The cover on this, by the way, featuring a femme fatale in a leopard outfit, is uncredited.
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.
She's a love and let love type of girl.
Above: a cover for Love Life of a Hollywood Mistress by Florence Stonebraker, 1950. The artist is uncredited. There's interior imagery in the form of photos of models posing scenes from the story, and as usual when these digests contain such pages, they're difficult to scan without destroying the book. Besides the front, we were able to scan the inside of the front cover and five of the fourteen interior photos. Stonebraker tells the story of Wanda Russell, who one fateful night tries to resist being forcibly taken by a date and accidentally pushes him out a high window to his death. Good on her, but remember, these were the days when a single woman in a man's hotel room could not have claimed self defense, so Wanda goes on the run.
She can't hide without help, so she turns to her acquaintance Chet, who, when he finds out Wanda is a virgin, decides he can make a fortune by pimping her out to a rich acquaintance. Yeah, it's a little flimsy as a method for cop avoidance goes, but this is mid-century sleaze, so you follow where the author leads. Wanda is to become mistress to Shelby Stevens, big time romantic actor, who would love to have a virgin. But wanting to thwart these creepy men in the one way she can, she gives her virginity to her friend Danny, who has always loved her. Danny is crushed when she leaves him and goes to live in Shelby Stevens' beach house for the summer. These triangles are, you know by now, the rocket fuel that powers digest romances.
So Wanda lives with Stevens, but Stevens turns out to be a rat, and Wanda decides to flee. Stevens won't let her go, but Danny, who has sat by in silent suffering as Wanda has been used as a plaything, shows up to beat Stevens within an inch of his life. He doesn't do it because of Wanda. He does it because it turns out his younger sister Thelma had been an earlier plaything for Stevens, and had ended up dead. In one fell swoop Danny gets revenge for his sister, sort of, and rescues his true love Wanda. Oh, and Chet the pimp ends up dead, shot by his girlfriend Bertie, who considers Wanda a rival. We won't even go into all that. And the guy Wanda pushed out a window? That's never truly resolved.
Stonebraker churned out a lot of these books, some under the names Florenz Branch and Thomas Stone. Thirteen were published in 1950 alone. She would eventually write more than eighty, and she didn't even start until she was forty-one. All of which is to say Love Life of a Hollywood Mistress feels rushed, with its pat ending and central concept that barely hangs together. But Stonebraker, despite her full work schedule, has done well in other tales, so she can have a mulligan on this one as far as we're concerned. After all, she's a sleaze and romance author—expectations need to be kept in check. We have a couple more of her novels lined up, and we'll see how she does.
I agree we should put off getting married. For one thing, we'd both have to get divorces first.
We've said it before—you never what you're going to get when you buy vintage paperback digests. The cover art, as in the case of James Clayford's 1949 novel Marriage Can Wait, often has nothing to do with the content. This looks straightforward but it's one of the stranger tales you'll come across. It was written by Peggy Gaddis under her Clayford pseudonym, and it's about a hard partying yacht trip from New York City to Jacksonville, peopled by six jet-set types and one everyman named Tony Ware.
As the only unwealthy person aboard aside from the crew, Tony takes it badly when the yacht's owner Elaine Ellison jilts him one night. She'd invited him to her cabin for nocturnal fun, but he arrived to find another man there. In embarrassment and disgust he jumps overboard and swims ashore. He thinks he's swimming to the Florida mainland. He actually ends up on an island nudist colony. He's horrified, but since supply boats come only once a month the only way he can eat is to doff his garments and join the colony. And it's there that he finds true love in the form of Eve Darby.
Tony's yachting pals, who are habitually hungover each day, assumed he'd abandoned them in port one morning and they'd simply slept through it. Nobody is concerned except Elaine, who realizes she behaved terribly toward him. Weeks later they sail to the nudist island thanks to a bizarre subplot that has them half-jokingly searching for Blackbeard's buried treasure. They don't know the place is inhabited, but they soon find out, and can only stay if they agree to become nudists, which Elaine and her five idle rich friends do in order to secretly search for the treasure.
They of course find the long lost Tony, and Elaine is ashamed at how she treated him, then smitten as she realizes she loves this newly bronzed hunk. The only way to try and win him over is to stay at the colony—plus the treasure might be there too—so she settles in for an extended nude sojourn. We'll stop the synopsis there except to say that you have to give Gaddis major points for creativity. The cover art, by the way, is uncredited.
They can have her body but her heart's off limits.
Digest sleaze novels are reflective of their time like all media tend to be. They often focus on “career women,” as they were called back then, female characters intent upon pursuing materialistic goals in the realm of white collar work. There are two types—those who intend to become successes in their fields, but at possible risk of their womanly souls, and those who intend to marry men who are already successes, but at possible risk of their virtue and reputation. These dilemmas come across as quaint nowadays, but back then ambitious white collar women were a subject of discussion and consternation. Their migration into the world of wage earning was a sign for many that America was going to hell in handbasket. At least that's what our reading shows. We weren't there.
In Peggy Gaddis's 1950 drama Illicit Pleasure the main character Linda Blaine becomes a secretary to a powerful executive. She's expected to type and file, but her most important job is to make the boss look good by being eye candy. When another top exec wants her for bed candy, Linda decides to sort through her options, and pretty soon she's cheating on her boyfriend, is involved with a married man, and all the rest. This is according to formula—the heroines of these novels generally have sex with three different men, though one of those encounters might be through emotional coercion or trickery. In this case, Linda hooks up with someone in pitch darkness, and doesn't realize until the lights go on that it wasn't the man she wanted, but rather the man she hates and who's trying to destroy her. Gaddis always wraps these messes up tidily, and does so here too. She's a solid genre writer, if melodramatic, and her romps are interesting windows into 1950s sexual mores.
The cover of this was painted by the always adept Rudy Nappi, and we think we've gotten hold of one of his best efforts. In addition, the book is in pristine condition. For that reason, we could scan only two of the interior photos, because to get the third would have meant breaking the binding. We do that with our old magazines when needed but Nappi is a special case, and we didn't want to damage this. Not that we plan to sell it. Print it and frame it? Maybe. So below you get two interior photos, the rear cover, and a nice upload of the original art. The title page of the book says Nappi painted it especially for Illicit Pleasure. Well, maybe, but Linda Blaine at no point haunts the waterfront like this somewhat prostie-looking figure, and she's a brunette, not a blonde. But never let the actual story get in the way of a good sales pitch. Women on docks was yet another extremely popular motif in vintage paperback art. See what we mean here, here, here, and here.
...and I had a shattering orgasm. Let's see, next up, the thirty-second time I committed the sin of lust. I was nineteen...
Above: The Sins of Allie-May by Albert L. Quandt, 1950, from Quarter Books. This company wasn't great at crediting artists, and this piece, predictably, is unattributed. Could be George Gross. Could be Howell Dodd. Could maybe even be Rudy Nappi. But officially, it's a mystery.
You love me for my innocence? How sweet. Um... about that—remember how I said I had an interesting night?
Above, Virgin No More by Charles E. Colohan, author of Accidental Husband and Overnight Blonde. This one is from Quarter Books and was published in 1949. Quarter usually had beautiful art, but it was often unattributed, this one included. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
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