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.
Finally! I've been waiting here an eternity for a man who looks like a success. Wanna get married?
This cover for 1951's She Had What It Takes by Kermit Welles is uncredited but it was definitely painted by Rudy Nappi, an amazing stylist, whose work is not always immediately identifiable due to the variations he showed when painting femmes fatales. The bangs and heavy eyebrows you see on this one mark her as Nappi all the way, but often his work resembled that of George Gross and Howell Dodd. We've never seen a less-than-excellent cover from him, though, and this one is especially good.
The story deals with a smalltown journalist named Jan Flowers who wants to make it to NYC, have her own society column, and marry rich. She dumps her true love Tony Bennett (not that one), jets to the Big Apple, and promptly finds every worm. The worst of her problems is probably that the cousin she's living with is consorting with a local gangster who's always in the apartment giving Jan the eye and threatening to take her by force. Or maybe the worst of her problems is the blackmail scheme she gets involved in to advance her career. Or maybe it's the employer who wants to play slip and slide and makes Jan feel that if she does he'll open doors for her.
Well, take your choice. The point is New York is can be rough on a single girl. But She Had What It Takes, while being a drama and a quasi-crime novel and a morality play about what can happen when you ride the sell-your-soul train, is also largely a romance, and a particularly saccharine one, which means things won't end up too terribly no matter what kind of bonehead decisions Jan makes. Despite the lack of real suspense, overall the book was alright. Ultimately lightweight, but readable and reasonably fun. For what we paid, we can't complain.
He fell for her—hook, line, and sinker.
Above is a nice cover for Ed Lacy's Blonde Bait. We talked about Lacy recently—he was a white writer who lived much of his life in Harlem and wrote many black characters. Blonde Bait isn't one of those books. It's about a guy named Mickey who's sailing the Florida Keys on his yacht and comes across a woman stranded on a sand bar. Strangely, she has a suitcase. Her name is Rose, and how she got there, as well as what's in the bag, is what the book is all about. That and whether she's telling the truth about highly connected and dangerous men trying to kill her. Lacy wasn't a master stylist—at least not this time around—but for those who like books with boats, islands, and mysterious femmes fatales, this one will fill the bill. The art on this beautiful 1959 Zenith Books edition is by Rudy Nappi.
Just let me out! I know a little about cars and I don't think that's what four-on-the-floor really is.
Four-on-the-floor. Too easy, right? What can we do? We're only human. 1959's Night of Shame deals with anonymous partners in a one night stand whose lives are complicated by their constant desire for each other. Later, they meet again by chance and rekindle their affair, only to discover, as Mr. Spock once so eloquently put it, that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. The beautiful cover on this is unattributed, but it could be Rudy Nappi. We reached that conclusion because it's very similar stylistically to this cover, which is identified as Nappi's work in Gary Lovisi's Dames, Dolls and Delinquents: A Collector's Guide to Sexy Pulp Fiction. Problem is, we don't actually think that cover is Nappi either. We think it's Howell Dodd. This wouldn't be the first time we've doubted Lovisi, but what do we know? We didn't write a whole book on the subject. So, okay, call this one Nappi.*
Next challenge—getting the potato chips from the kitchen without moving any part of my body.
Reefer Girl is one of the most collectible vintage paperbacks in existence. How collectible? We saw someone selling it for $750, which is quite an ask, considering it was going for $125 just five years ago. Both prices are an awful lot of money for something that, if you leave it on a table for a few minutes, you might walk back into the room to find your girlfriend swatting a fly with it. We've uploaded the rear of the book below so you can see how funny author Jane Manning's, aka Ruth Manoff's take on weed is. The book was published in 1956, and here we are sixty-one years later having made the journey from marijuana being an object of total hysteria to it reaching legal status in multiple parts of the U.S. That's progess—for as long as it lasts, at least. The cover art here is by Rudy Nappi, and his stuff is always top quality.
You're finally here. Your apartment's on fire. Someone threw matches in the window. Someone who doesn't like waiting I bet.
Whenever we see this sort of distinctively sculpted red hair on a cover femme fatale we think the artist is Howell Dodd, but Gary Lovisi's Dames, Dolls and Delinquents: A Collector's Guide to Sexy Pulp Fiction says this is actually Rudy Nappi's work on the front of Orrie Hitt's Sheba. Nappi did his share of sculpturally coifed redheads, so Lovisi is probably right. The cover banner says Sheba Irons would sell anything, which might be true, but her actual job, once she secures it, is to sell cars. She and the other employees at the dealership sucker customers into unscrupulous financing deals, but this is Hitt fiction, which means the details of the business are minimal—the recipe here is sex and scandal. The men at the dealership all want Sheba, and when they eventually find leverage they seek revenge for having been rejected. We've seen this called one of Hitt's worst books, but anyone who would say that really doesn't know Hitt. There's no worst—they're all bad. This one is solidly middle-of-the-road for him.
Then she realized she had an aptitude for it and today she's the very best.
Above, She Tried To Be Good, by the prolific Florence Stonebraker for Venus Books, 1951. The cover is the flawless work of Rudy Nappi, whose output we've shown you before. We think this is one of the most beautiful illustrations of the mid-century era, and we suspect we're not alone in that opinion. We'll have more from Nappi a bit later.
When girl meets girl sparks fly.
Above and below is a small percentage of some of the thousands of lesbian themed paperback covers that appeared during the mid-century period, with art by Paul Rader, Fred Fixler, Harry Schaare, Rudy Nappi, Charles Copeland, and others, as well as a few interesting photographed fronts. The collection ends with the classic Satan Was a Lesbian, which you’ve probably seen before, but which no collection like this is complete without. Hopefully most of the others will be new to you. Needless to say, almost all were written by men, and in that sense are really hetero books reflecting hetero fantasies (fueled by hetero misconceptions and slander). You can see plenty more in this vein on the website Strange Sisters.
What happens in the sticks stays in the sticks.
More hicksploitation from Hallam Whitney, aka Harry Whittington—Backwoods Shack, for Carnival Books, digest format with great cover art by Rudy Nappi. A love triangle in the Florida outback is centered on hot-to-trot “backwoods trash” Lora and her two suitors, uptight Roger and proudly countrified Cliff. 1954 copyright.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
1916—Rockwell's First Post Cover Appears
The Saturday Evening Post publishes Norman Rockwell's painting "Boy with Baby Carriage", marking the first time his work appears on the cover of that magazine. Rockwell would go to paint many covers for the Post, becoming indelibly linked with the publication. During his long career Rockwell would eventually paint more than four thousand pieces, the vast majority of which are not on public display due to private ownership and destruction by fire.
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