Vintage Pulp Apr 1 2021
PRETTY MUCH DEAD
Well, girls, Mai Tai number six did Becky in. Told you she didn't have what it takes to join a sorority.


James Hadley Chase's 1939 debut novel was titled No Orchids for Miss Blandish. He later wrote a sequel with orchid in the title. And here in 1949's You're Lonely When You're Dead—for which you see a 1951 Popular Library edition with Willard Downes cover art—the action is centered around fictional Orchid City. So we guess he liked orchids. No drunk sorority girls in this one. The main character, Vic Malloy, who would star in other Orchid City capers, runs a fixer agency for rich folks, and is called in by a husband to look into the background of the woman he married after a whirlwind romance. Shady history turns up and bodies fall, starting with one of Malloy's operatives. Lonely when you're dead? Not in this book. The dead are a crowd, as characters go bye-bye in quick succession. Revenge, theft, blackmail, action, murder, and effective comic relief combine to make this a nice read. It's not quite Miss Blandish. But then how could it be?

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Vintage Pulp Mar 2 2021
FIX THE PROBLEM
One unlucky spin of the wheel always leads to another.


Above is a cover for James M. Fox's, née Johannes Knipscheer's, thriller The Wheel is Fixed, painted by Willard Downs for Dell Publications in 1951. A while back we put together an entire collection of covers featuring roulette wheels and this one was part of the group. But we hadn't read the book, so a few days ago we took care of that. This is the tale of a down-on-his-luck pianist hired to seduce a music loving femme fatale away from from a gangster's violinist son. It starts out interestingly but loses momentum during the middle stretches. We kept reading it anyway because it has a framing device and we were curious how the narrator and his companion came to be in the sorry state they're in when he begins recounting the tale. Like waiting for a roulette wheel to stop, you'll urge the narrative to hurry. It doesn't, but if you're patient there's a payoff, by which we mean a violent climax and a satisfying denouement. Overall it wasn't bad, but would we take Fox for another spin? Probably not.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 15 2020
NO KITTEN AROUND
Nations to betray, people to murder. *yawn* Let me nap for about twelve hours before I spring into action.


We move from yesterday's canines to today's felines. Pure pinup style art by Willard Downes adorns this Gold Medal paperback of John Flagg's, aka John Gearon's, novel The Persian Cat. Looking at this, we were pretty sure Downes painted it long before Gold Medal came knocking at his studio door, simply because this piece, while wonderful, is also generic enough to front probably a quarter of mid-century thrillers. A read through the tale seems to confirm our suspicion. The main character is ex-OSS agent Gil Denby, who money lures back into the spy game for a high stakes mission in Teheran, where he's supposed to bring to justice a femme fatale who was a Vichy traitor during World War II. The femme does plenty, but she never quite gets around to lounging abed in her undies.

This was published in 1950, a crucial period in Iranian history. Though the narrative doesn't reveal an exact time frame, it's a given that the tale and publication date are closely aligned. That means the story takes place when Iran was ruled by Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, aka the Shah, with some power also apportioned to a series of prime ministers. In fact, there were seventeen prime ministers from 1940 to 1950, which hints at the political volatility of the country. Iranians would eventually elect the reformist Mohammed Mossadegh as PM in 1951, and the U.S. and Britain would promptly overthrow him in 1953, leading to the Shah gaining unchallenged power.

You will learn none of this reading The Persian Cat. It isn't even there as deep background. Also missing is any affinity for language, culture, geography, architecture, or life in the streets. Nor does Flagg mention that the predominant language in Iran is Farsi, not Arabic, and he only hints that the predominant ethnic group is Persian, not Arab. In short, the book lacks a sense of place. When reading about the exotic and distant city of Teheran, this is a letdown. Flagg traveled the Middle East but could have written this novel without ever leaving the U.S. We can't say why the Iranian flavor is so weak, but lack of interest and/or lack of willingness to have learned usable details of the country are leading possibilities. See: David Dodge for how to write exotic locales successfully.

That said, The Persian Cat is a reasonably fun, well-written adventure. Yes, we know that assessment seems contradictory. We'd have liked a more atmospheric and informative tale, but Flagg has talent. His hero Denby deals with betrayal, murder, hairsbreadth escapes, and serious doubts about whether he wants to send that languorously stretching femme fatale to her death. The book's biggest flaw—besides the usual behavior toward women that might easily earn Denby a restraining order or prison time today—is a climax built on revelatory dialogue, pages of it, that will leave you screaming in your head, “Enough talk! Just shoot the fucker!” Still, Flagg overcomes these issues to craft nine tenths of a good book. We'll probably try him again down the line.

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Politique Diabolique Jul 9 2015
WITCHES OF WASHINGTON, D.C.
Collier’s goes looking for the commies but finds something else entirely.

Collier’s isn’t the most visually striking of magazines, but this issue that hit newsstands today in 1954 caught our eye because it contains several nice photos of Marilyn Monroe. There’s also a bit of interesting graphic art, specifically a colorful baseball illustration by Willard Mullin. The other item that attracted us was a story called “What Price Security?” about U.S. government overreach in its search for communists. No art to speak of, but the content gives a window onto the Red Scare period of American life. Author Charlotte Knight tells readers that government efforts against communism have been “so irresponsibly administered that it may have done more harm to the United States than to its enemies.” Sound familiar?

Knight slams witch hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy, and characterizes the fervor around alleged subversives in Washington, D.C. as creating a ripe environment for paranoiacs and liars to ruin innocent people. But of course, as well written as Knight’s article is, she should not have been surprised by anything she discovered. Witch hunts always become vehicles for revenge, personal advancement, and profiteering, because society and politics become warped in such a way as to clear a path for these pursuits. History invariably judges such periods as human tragedies and political failures, though sadly, too late for the ruined and the dead. Scans below.

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Vintage Pulp May 2 2015
BLOOD BATHS
They’ve gotten themselves into hot water for the last time.

There’s no safe place in pulp—especially not the bathtub. Above and below is a collection of vintage covers featuring various unfortunates who chose the wrong time to be naked and defenseless. Well, most of them are naked. A few have clothes on for reasons we cannot discern. Art is by Willard Downes, Barye Phillips, Robert Bonfils, Jef de Wulf, and others. See another good example here.

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Sportswire Nov 4 2014
BOXER'S DOZEN
Twelve leading causes of headaches and bodily pain.

The National Police Gazette devoted much of its space to boxing. Above you see twelve pages, some originals and some reprints, from its monthly feature the Gallery of Champions. Of course, Jimmy Carter, at top, later went on to become president of the United States. Really a remarkable story. 

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Vintage Pulp Aug 20 2012
DEATH BECOMES HER
Die young and leave a good-looking corpse.

Above, seven excellent if morbid paperback covers showing a favorite pose of pulp artists—the beautiful supine dead woman with (just to make it extra creepy) nice cleavage. It's amazing how similar these covers are. Art is by Maurice Thomas, Rudolph Belarski, Willard Downes, George Geygan, Harry Schaare, and unknowns. 

Update: We were also sent another example in this style by a reader. Check here.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 18 2010
OH RATS
Another loner is tormented until he kills. Do bullies never learn?


We found this Japanese promo art for the original version of Willard. In the film, a young man trains a pack of rats to do his bidding, which is all fun and games at first. But complications arise when Socrates, who is basically the Frank Sinatra of this pack, is killed, leaving Ben, the impulsive Dean Martin rat, to take over. Eventually Willard sends the pack to dispose of his tormentor, played by Ernest Borgnine, and let’s just say they turn him into a tartare that makes those cooking rats from Ratatouille look like real culinary hacks. But Ben is a mercurial rodent, and when he subsequently feels rejected by Willard, well, we think you gnaw what happens next. Willard and his rat pack swarmed Tokyo for the first time today in 1971.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
December 06
1989—Anti-Feminist Gunman Kills 14
In Montreal, Canada, at the École Polytechnique, a gunman shoots twenty-eight young women with a semi-automatic rifle, killing fourteen. The gunman claimed to be fighting feminism, which he believed had ruined his life. After the killings he turns the gun on himself and commits suicide.
December 05
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
December 04
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
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