Anything could happen there and it usually did.
We're drawn to books about places we know, so Camilo José Cela's The Hive was a natural. Originally published in 1950 and titled La colmena, the tale is largely set in a Madrid bar known as Doña Rosa's Café. There are also scenes set in apartments, streets, and other cafés, as Cela explores the lives of more than three-hundred characters in brief sketches, slowly weaving these warp and weft strands into a tapestry that ultimately represents a single character—Madrid circa 1943. Maybe that doesn't sound thrilling, but we liked it. Cela was economical yet vivid, like here, at closing time for the café:
Within half an hour the café will be empty. It will be like a man who has suddenly lost his memory.
And here, about a boy who survives by singing on the street:
He is too young in years for cynicism—or resignation—to have slashed its mark across his face, and therefore it has a beautiful, candid stupidity, the expression of one who understands nothing of anything that happens. For [him] everything that happens is a miracle: he was born by a miracle, he eats by a miracle, has lived by a miracle, and has the strength to sing by pure miracle.
Cela was a fascist, a supporter of Francisco Franco's dictatorship. His beliefs came with contradictions, for example he worked as a censor for the government, was himself banned so that The Hive had to be published first in Argentina, yet remained loyal to the regime that had financially and reputationally harmed him. He even became an informer. In Cela's writing there's humor, but also coldness, a sense of observing small and pathetic people. For someone born into material comfort in a Spain where many families retain unearned wealth for hundreds of years, his subtle judgements came across to us as cruel, the product of a person who looked closely at everyone but himself. The book isn't overtly political, though, which makes it easier to focus on the skill that eventually won him a Nobel Prize.
The edition you see here is from Ace Books in 1959 with an uncredited cover. We went back and forth on this artist. We want to say it's Sandro Symeoni, but we don't have enough cred to make that call definitively. It looks like some of the items he painted, but publishing companies sometimes sought art of similar styles, or directed illustrators to produce something similar to what another artist had provided. During the late 1950s and early ’60s Ace Books had many covers in this general style. That said, compare the close-ups below. The first is from the above cover, and the rest are from confirmed Symeonis. If The Hive wasn't painted by the same person, then whoever did paint it went beyond merely working in a similar style—he was a thief.
Walk a city's streets and you never know what you'll find.
We were wandering around town earlier today, and what did we spy outside a sundries shop but a stack of vintage reading material. Wedged between English teaching books and bags of sawdust was a stack of J. Mallorquí and Keith Luger paperbacks, and there were even more inside. All of which reminded us that we had posted something from Luger—aka Miguel Oliver Tovar—years ago, which can see at this link. We didn't buy any of today's pile, but we may mosey back round that way another morning and pick up a few. After all, why not? They're cheap as hell. Also, we want to know why people buy bags of sawdust, and we can only find out by going back to the store and asking. The overarching theme, though, is this: it's nice to be living in a city where we can find a bit of pulp style treasure just by taking a stroll. For years that wasn't the case.
Sometimes you find what you're looking for without even trying.
Yesterday, we were running a bit behind and didn't comment on our vacation. We have time today. We did indeed run across some interesting items. In fact, we stumbled upon an entire comic book convention, the 26 Salón Internacional del Cómic de Granada 2021, with guests of honor that included Howard Chaykin and an assortment of accomplished Spanish artists such as Jaime Martin and Pedro Cifuentes. Chaykin looked a little bored in his booth, indulging various fans with autographs and anecdotes, but that's the gig. When it happens to bring you to a beautiful plaza in an amazing city, you can only thank your lucky stars. There were about sixty or seventy booths total, we estimated, so we wandered around and picked up a few vintage items we'll share later.
We hear Tarifa is terrific this time of year.
Hello. And goodbye—but only briefly. We're taking a little break, heading to a place called Tarifa. It's not far, but after pondering ambitious ideas about going to Italy, Croatia, and Malta, we decided a short trip was best to get back into the swing of travel for pleasure. It's been a couple of years (the move doesn't count—that was back breaking, shin barking work). We don't know much about Tarifa, just that a few friends like it. Will there be pulp there? Only the kind that comes in a mimosa, we're betting, but you never know.
As we've noted before, Spain is one of the countries that actually did generate a fair amount of pulp style art, and it's also a country where you occasionally stumble upon a used book store that has a lot of old crime novels. About the time the pulp craze was in full swing, Tarifa looked like what you see in the photo below. Even if there's no pulp to befound there these days, and despite it modernizing a bit from its quaint form of yesteryear, we expect to have (careful, socially distanced) fun. We'll be back in four or five days. As usual we're linking to a few posts for your enjoyment, and this time, for a change, they're all books. A picnic with a special treat. The shortest car trip ever. The unparallelled work of Giovanni Benvenuti: here and here. It's true, we like to make fun of sorority girls, as evidenced here, here, and here. Fraternity boys are also favorite targets, as we show here, here, and here. A match made in pulp heaven: Robert McGinnis and Carter Brown. And here are thoughts about cowboy fashion, what a real cowboy drinks, what a real cowboy eats, what's a noble ending for a cowboy, whether a cowboy really needs a horse, and whether higher education makes him less of a real cowboy, or more. Everybody sing along—you know the words. Knock down drag out fighting in mid-century art.
And finally, proof here
that the female of the species can be more deadly than the male.
Tropical storm conditions combine with shark migration to form deadly sharkicane
We're circling back to Peter Cheyney's novel Dark Bahama to show you a couple of Spanish covers from Ediciones G.P. These came in 1953 and 1958 respectively and are, sadly, uncredited. And the bad news keeps coming—there's no hurricane in the novel, therefore no sharkicane. Sorry. You can read about the book here.
Demongeot heats up and cools down.
There are Bardot people and there are Demongeot people. We're Demongeot people. Well, not really, because there's no need to make a choice. But we like French actress Mylène Demongeot quite a bit. Like Bardot, she made many romantic comedies, but also succeeded in dramas and was nominated for a BAFTA in 1957 and two César awards in 2005 and 2007. What's more she's still working. Her latest film is this year's Maison de retraite. The above issue of the French pop culture magazine Cinémonde features Demongeot on the cover keeping cool with a Spanish fan. She's one of the hottest stars in French cinema at this stage, in July 1960, with hits like 1961's Les trois mousquetaires and 1962's Copacabana Palace just around the corner.
The magazine also offers four pages of Demongeot inside, including a photo with the interesting caption, “Mylène Demongeot – une flamme pure de l'enfer,” which means “a pure flame of hell.” We assume that's a compliment. Another of the photos is our favorite of Demongeot. It shows her in some sandy niche of Torremolinos, Spain playing guitar (or seeming to) during the filming of The Singer Not the Song. Are you feeling a sense of déjà vú with her and this magazine? That may because we've featured her in two other issues. You can see those here and here. If you aren't Demongeot aficionados we recommend watching Bonjour Tristesse or Upstairs and Downstairs. Also, for those of an aesthetic mindset, you can see her at her most beautiful here and here.
Lange novel has plenty of friction but not enough heat.
This photo cover was made for the 1968 thriller Zero Cool, written by John Lange, who was in reality a guy named Michael Crichton. Zero Cool is a fantastic title for a crime novel, but there's little else to suggest Crichton would become the zillion-selling author of Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, except possibly a flair for gimmicky ideas. In this case, several unlucky people are dispatched by a means unknown, their bodies torn as if they had been attacked by a madman wielding a scalpel. The truth of how these killings are accomplished is classic Crichton—i.e. high-concept and probably impossible. The deaths are ancillary—the main plot involves an American doctor in Spain coerced into performing an autopsy, and forced to insert an unknown object into the body. This act leads to dangerous repercussions, but there's no heft or menace to the narrative, which means we can't recommend the book. For Crichton and crime, you're better off with later, more accomplished efforts like The Great Train Robbery and Rising Sun. In Zero Cool he's just warming up.
Don't hate the Playa, hate the games.
Playa prohibida was a Mexican-Spanish co-production filmed on Mallorca, starring Rossana Podesta, that premiered in Mexico today in 1956 and reached Spain the next year, in March 1957. Above are the Mexican and Spanish posters, both quite nice we think. They're differentiated by the fact that one gives second billing to Carlos López Moctezuma, who was Mexican, while the other gives second and third billing to Spanish actors Fernando Rey and Alfredo Mayo.
Podesta plays a woman living in a beach town, and everyone thinks she's daft. When she's found on the beach standing over a corpse and looking guilty, the cops want to pin the crime on her, but a screenwriter passing through takes up the mystery and—with the help of his story construction skills—tries to figure out what happened. He narrates a significant part of the film, but other characters apply voiceover too, including the allegedly mad Podesta. The puzzle is eventually solved, and as you'd expect it's layered with jealousy, greed, betrayal, and all the usual games.
If you're thinking this sounds a bit familiar, that may because the setting bears some resemblance to Podesta's 1953 Mexican made thiller La red, in which she was also a somewhat enigmatic woman living in a small seaside community. We suppose when Mexican filmmakers thought "exotic beach beauty" Podesta came to mind, and why not? Just look at her. Her presence alone makes Playa prohibida worth a viewing, at least for us. And possibly for you too. For the moment—i.e. while the link lasts—you can watch it on YouTube and decide for yourself. Spanish required.
Should she stay or go? The chair may be the factor that tips her one way or the other.
This rare poster of U.S. actress Candice Bergen was printed and distributed in 1972 by a company called Nats Co-operated Reproduction. The shot was made in 1968 by famed photographer Terry O'Neill. There are other photos from the session. A couple even feature the same weathered beach chair that looks set to snap at any moment like something made from chopsticks, but as far as we know only Nats Co-operated used a color shot of Bergen in this particular pose. We've seen a black and white on Getty Images, but never one in color until this treasure. The beach, incidentally, immediately looked to us like our occasional stomping grounds the Balearic Islands, and sure enough, when we checked it turned out Bergen sat for this when she was filming The Magus in Mallorca. Another shot from the session appears below.
Red eyes at night, Merle take warning.
Above, a great Spanish poster for the Andre de Toth thriller Aguas turbias, better known as Dark Waters, with Merle Oberon as a woman living in a bayou mansion inhabited by dodgy relatives who may want to kill her. The film premiered in the U.S. in 1944 and reached Spain this month in 1946. The poster is similar to the U.S. version, but the predominant color was changed to a bright red-orange, including—weirdly—Oberon's eyes. In our opinion the poster is actually creepier than the movie. You can read about it here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1915—Claude Patents Neon Tube
French inventor Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube, in which an inert gas is made to glow various colors through the introduction of an electrical current. His invention is immediately seized upon as a way to create eye catching advertising, and the neon sign
comes into existence to forever change the visual landscape of cities.
1937—Hughes Sets Air Record
Millionaire industrialist, film producer and aviator Howard Hughes sets a new air record by flying from Los Angeles, California to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds. During his life he set multiple world air-speed records, for which he won many awards, including America's Congressional Gold Medal.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
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