What a perfect day. It's days like this that make me glad we invested early in cryptocurrency and retired before thirty.
Above is a Charles Binger cover for John D. MacDonald's 1959 novel The Beach Girls. At this point, we know anything he wrote pre-Travis McGee is going to be good, and even the McGee books are mostly entertaining despite the main character's off-putting social judgments. The Beach Girls is a bit different from other MacDonalds we've read, largely written in a sort of round robin style where the final words of each chapter lead mid-sentence into the first words of the next, but with a change in first person point-of-view. The book cycles through numerous characters via this interesting trick before settling into standard third person narration for the finish.
The story deals with the inhabitants of a marina in fictional Elihu Beach, Florida, some of whom are friends, others enemies, some longtime residents, others newcomers, and how jealousy and resentment lead to a shocking act of violence. From the earliest pages you know this event is coming, and as the book wears on you become pretty sure who's going to be the unfortunate though deserving recipient, and who's going to be the giver. The main question becomes whether MacDonald will subvert these expectations and throw readers a curve. We'll just say it wasn't a predictable tale.
The only thing we don't get is why it's called The Beach Girls. The nearby beach area of the town is mentioned only a few times, no scenes are set there, and the book has an ensemble cast, with the women no more important than the men. There are groups of tourist women that pop up here and there, but they don't impact the story at all. Oh well. The title is a mystery, but an unimportant one. We'll get back to MacDonald a bit later. These 1950s efforts of his have been very worthwhile.
It's both appropriate *grunt* and ironic *gasp* that ballroom dancing *argh* is going to give me a hernia!
This 1955 Berkley Books cover for Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is one of the most striking art pieces of the paperback era. It's uncredited, incredibly. Still, the image succinctly gets to the core of McCoy's story—exhaustion in a dance contest, but metaphorically, exhaustion in the contest of capitalism. It revolves around a set of young people who enter a dance marathon in an attempt to win a $1,000 prize. The entire story, more or less, takes place during this dance-a-thon, which goes on for weeks. Those who quit early get nothing. Those who suffer long enough may profit a few measly dollars. Only a vanishingly small percentage desperate enough to exhaust themselves to the point of physical disintegration—in this case one couple—have a chance to come away with the prize.
Some reviewers say the book is a metaphor for life rather than capitalism. Well, that too, but what makes it an obvious capitalism critique is the constant parade of celebrity guests paraded before the dancers. They show that wealth is real, function as suggestions to the dancers that the obstacle is not the rules for victory, but the will to succeed, though the odds are staggeringly, cruelly against them. Oh yes, it's a metaphor for capitalism, alright. The American Dream—generally defined as a decent salary, home ownership, sufficient family and leisure time, and retirement—increasingly really is just a dream. This fact makes mid-century capitalism critiques prescient by definition, but They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is more on target than most. And purely as a piece of fiction it's a total winner.
You know, instead of sitting around watching the clock we can try being naked in the day. Just once. Could be fun.
Puerto Rican illustrator Rafael DeSoto's cover work is always recognizable, not only because he often painted rosy-cheeked women on glowing backgrounds, but because his characters often had knowing or sly looks on their faces. On this piece for Jon Cleary's 1955 war drama Naked in the Night, you see the standing woman and sitting man sending sneaky nonverbal signals to each other and get the feeling that, come naked time, the brooding brunette won't get to join in the fun. That's classic DeSoto. He was a singular artist. See a few more secretly amused expressions here, here, and here.
This has nothing to do with genocide and land theft, English! I just hate your fucking face!
On this cover for Lauran Paine's novel The Farthest Frontier, illustrator Roger Hall depicts how even in the midst of tectonic historical upheavals there are moments of interpersonal drama. Like this knife fight, which started over confusion about whether trade talks were dressy casual, or just casual. 1957 copyright.
The city is fine. It's the men that are in disrepair.
You may have noticed we're looking at photo covers a bit more lately. Here's one for Winchell Barry's Scarlet City. The art here is interestingly tinted, and the moment of struggle depicted while indifferent people occupy the adjacent room says plenty. We showed you the Beacon Signal cover a couple of years ago, but the book was actually first published in the above form by Intimate Novels in 1953. The line at the bottom, “She pandered to the lusts of evil men,” pretty much sums up the story, as the main character Lora tries to sleep her way to the top. If you want to know more feel free to check here.
I've been working on some fresh runway poses. I call this one: sociopathicool.
Above: a cover for Australian author Neville Jackson's, aka Gerald Glaskin's 1965 novel No End to the Way. What you see here is a 1967 edition from the British publisher Corgi. This is a significant book, one of the first novels with gay themes to be widely available in Australia. It wasn't legal to mail into the country, so Corgi, the legend goes, flew it in aboard chartered planes to skirt the law.
Plotwise what you get here is a drama about Ray and Cor, two men who meet in a bar and form a relationship that becomes committed, and seems aimed toward permanence—which is exactly when their most serious challenge arises in the form of a bitter ex-lover. This ex is determined to ruin what Ray and Cor have built, up to and including slander, career damage, and more.
We were quite interested in the cover art because Corgi was a mainstream publisher, and with this bright yellow effort they gave this controversial book the full court press. The push, the art, and the quality of the story worked—it was reprinted at least twice, and in fact was Jackson's/Glaskin's best selling book. He was an eclectic and fairly prolific writer, so maybe we'll run across him again later. There's a good bio here. Now we're going to work on that pose.
Herbert Kastle writes South Beach as Sodom in his sprawling kidnap thriller.
Miami Golden Boy is the wrong title for this book. It's too trite for the tale of a plot to kidnap the invalid former president of the U.S., which intersects a plot by Havana expats to return to Cuba and depose Fidel Castro. While the book gets its name from the ostensible central figure Bruce Golden, there's a vast assortment of characters, including a Kennedyesque political clan, that keeps him out of the narrative for entire chapters. These characters have deeply detailed personal lives that add dimension but strain credulity. One secretly has cancer, one is secretly gay, one is secretly sadistic, one is secretly a pedophile, one is being blackmailed, one is secretly a drug addict, one is secretly suicidal. It's a lot. But okay, the only question that matters is does it all work? Well, mostly. Kastle uses these secrets to weave a tale of decadent American decline, with South Beach as a backdrop. A choice example:
“The country is beginning to stink. Our stated goals and our actual goals are drawing farther and farther apart. And the divergence is tearing us apart. We've either got to bring the actual goals closer to the stated goals—reduce the materialism in our lives, the idiocy of our anti-communist crusades, the cruelty and blindness of our dealings with blacks—or admit that the stated goals are false.”
Kastle wrote that fifty-two years ago, and we know how things have gone since then. His abduction plot is a symptom of the greed, hypocrisy, and decline he details. The scheme involves several characters using several other characters as pawns. The lever in most cases is sex, and the book is pretty well packed with sexual content, occasionally explicit, and in one case violent. Then there's that pedo thing too. Kastle doesn't shy away from it, though you may wish he had. The tapestry of duplicity and manipulation, in terms of how it relates to the kidnap, needs to weave together in perfect synchronization, and of course doesn't. The scheme blows up spectacularly. If it didn't there'd be no book. Conversely, Kastle brings everyone's secret stories to miraculous conclusions within the space of the final thirty pages. That's the drawback of so many characters—a few story arcs don't end convincingly.
Even so, the one thing you cannot say is that Kastle doesn't know how to write. His skillful prose makes the slam bang climax almost believable. Bruce Golden, a bit of a shallow playboy, isn't a great guy but at least he isn't a killer, kidnapper, or political plotter, so he's the character you root for. His love interest Ellie De Wyant, on the other hand, is a crucial if unwitting cog in the kidnaping, which means if Golden is to have her he may have to do something he's never done in his entire life—show courage in the face of danger. Will he or won't he? We think Miami Golden Boy is worth a read to find the answer. And speaking of worth, books with Barbara Walton cover art aren't usually cheap, but this one from the publisher W.H. Allen was. We got lucky. Walton was one of the top illustrators of her era. See more from her here and here.
Cino Del Duca and the Nous cool.
This cover for Lucíenne Royer's Toi ma folie (You My Madness) was published in 1950 as part of Éditions Mondiales Del Duca's popular Collection Nous Deux. The company was owned by Cino Del Duca, who we wrote about several years back, after learning about him thanks to a trip to Paris. Shorter version: French resistance hero, publishing genius, movie mogul, and more. We love the Nous Deux aesthetic, particularly that of Nous Deux the magazine. Much of our appreciation has to do with Aslan, aka Alain Gourdon, and Giulio Bertoletti painting numerous stunning covers for the publication. We put together a collection of those a while back. Look here and prepare to be impressed. What would be nice is if Del Duca had decided to credit the above art. No such luck.
I didn't notice you trying to claw your way out of the room, so we're both hitch-hike hussies, in my view.
Above is a 1959 cover for Hitch-Hike Hussy painted by Saul Levine, who we've shown you before, such as here and here. This cover was also used in 1954 for Hans Habe's Walk in Darkness, but with a different male figure and background. The duo of John B. Thompson and Jack Woodford are the minds behind this tale, the story of a hitch-hiking runaway named Sunny Neversen, and her adventures and sexual involvements, which include a young trucker named Jim Bottomly, a man in his sixties named Mumford Basserman, and others. None of it is convincingly erotic, and little of it actually takes place on the road. She mostly works in a gambling hall, and after a few guys get to sample her wares Bottomly turns up again to sweep her off her feet. This is rote sleaze fiction, one of many mid-century books to use the hitchhiking gimmick. The only interesting aspect of this is pondering why it took two people to write it. Nothing to see here, people. Move along...
Packed with flavor and fortified with the recommended daily allotment of vitamin f.
Victor Kalin went the tight focus route with this cover of an orange femme fatale he painted for William Ard's 1958 thriller Deadly Beloved, also published as The Root of His Evil. We love the art, and we loved the book too. An insurance investigator named Tim Dane is hired to transport a $100,000 gambling debt from an unlucky loser to a Miami hood named John Cashman. Cashman plans to use the money to help finance a war in Latin America, but that's just background. The more immediate part of the narrative involves an exotic dancer named Lissa, real name Elizabeth Ann Miller, who he has ringfenced with the help of 24/7 bodyguards and a lifetime management contract. Dane ignores warnings to keep away and is soon giving Lissa deep nocturnal lovin'—a pleasure that could cost his life if Cashman finds out about it. Ard, who also wrote as Ben Kerr, Mike Moran, et al, is a talented stylist with an approach all his own. His way of cutting transitional exposition is pretty neat. Every writer is required to do it, but Ard can cross town within the space of a sentence and still not sound like he's rushing. We're already trawling the auction sites for more from him. Highly entertaining.
Edit: We got an e-mail asking exactly what we meant by "cutting transitional exposition." We don't want to search through the book for an example, so we'll make up one. It would go something like this. "He decided he'd have to drive to Coral Gables to ask Cashman in person, and two days later when the door opened to his knock, he was surprised that it wasn't a servant but Cashman himself who answered."
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1924—St. Petersburg is renamed Leningrad
St. Peterburg, the Russian city founded by Peter the Great in 1703, and which was capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years, is renamed Leningrad three days after the death of Vladimir Lenin. The city had already been renamed Petrograd in 1914. It was finally given back its original name St. Petersburg in 1991.
1966—Beaumont Children Disappear
In Australia, siblings Jane Nartare Beaumont, Arnna Kathleen Beaumont, and Grant Ellis Beaumont, aged 9, 7, and 4, disappear from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide, and are never seen again. Witnesses claim to have spotted them in the company of a tall, blonde man, but over the years, after interviewing many potential suspects, police are unable generate enough solid leads to result in an arrest. The disappearances remain Australia's most infamous cold case.
1949—First Emmy Awards Are Presented
At the Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles, California, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presents the first Emmy Awards. The name Emmy was chosen as a feminization of "immy", a nickname used for the image orthicon tubes that were common in early television cameras.
1971—Manson Family Found Guilty
Charles Manson and three female members of his "family" are found guilty of the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, which Manson orchestrated in hopes of bringing about Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war he believed would arise between blacks and whites.
1961—Plane Carrying Nuclear Bombs Crashes
A B-52 Stratofortress carrying two H-bombs experiences trouble during a refueling operation, and in the midst of an emergency descent breaks up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five of the six arming devices on one of the bombs somehow activate before it lands via parachute in a wooded region where it is later recovered. The other bomb does not deploy its chute and crashes into muddy ground at 700 mph, disintegrating while driving its radioactive core fifty feet into the earth, where it remains to this day.
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