Sorry to scare you. Just triple checking. So it's a firm no on that dinner invitation. Any chance you'd meet me for coffee?
In one of our favorite episodes of The Simpsons, Bart is on edge because he's being stalked by Sideshow Bob, who wants to kill him. Homer decides to show Bart a new hockey mask and chainsaw he's bought. He bursts into Bart's room wearing the mask, brandishing the roaring chainsaw, and yells, “Hey Bart! Check out my new hockey mask and chainsaw!” Bart screams in terror, and Homer, realizing he's chosen the worst possible time to show off these purchases, backs out of the room apologizing. Amazingly, a scene exactly like that occurs in Mignon G. Eberhart's 1946 Miami based parlor mystery White Dress, except protagonist Marny Sanderson is terrified of a killer who's been stalking her while wearing a black raincoat with a black scarf wrapped around his head. Another character dons the same costume and walks unannounced into her room with the intention of confirming her description of the killer. He doesn't yell, “Hey Marny, did he look anything like THIS!” But he might as well have. His subsequent apology: “My God, how stupid of me. It never occurred to me that I might frighten you.” We got a hearty laugh from that.
None of this is to say White Dress is bad, but it's certainly obtuse in parts. It's also old fashioned, even for a novel from the period. Authors like Dashiell Hammett had debuted more than a decade earlier and changed the conventions of detective novels, peopling them with hard-boiled men and women. Swooning flowers of maidenhood like Marny continued to exist in the sub-genre of romantic mysteries Eberhart specialized in, but ladies of leisure faced with murder don't react in proactive ways. That's where the romance comes in, as Marny attracts the attentions of a dashing Navy flier who makes it his latest mission to swoop down and save the hot damsel in distress. Though more decisive than Marny, his approach to the mystery is often ridiculous. Without getting deeply into it, suffice it to say he has a couple of dangerously cockeyed brainstorms. But you know what? For all its quirks we still liked White Dress. It's a window onto a romanticized realm we've never understood. Maybe it never truly existed. But viewed anthropologically, it's engaging and amusing.
We just can't say no—to René Roques.
Once again we're charting the output of Éditions R.R. and René Roques. His company produced some of the tastiest covers in French publishing, and this one by Jef de Wulf for the novel Choc!, or “Shock!, maintains the high standard. Just click the keywords “Éditions R.R.” below and you can see four more excellent covers.
It's not just your eyes or your lips that thrill me. It's the entirety of your head.
Above, an amusing cover for 1954's Forbidden by Leo Brattes, painted by an unknown artist. Brattes was a pseudonym for Leslie Raddatz, and this seems to have been his/her only book.
This is one tough dame. I think it's time we tried Thai food, a few glasses of white wine, and a back rub.
No! Not the back rub! Anything but that! It'll work, though. And once she starts talking she'll give up the details on everyone. Occasionally you read a book and it isn't anything like you expected. We knew A.E. Van Vogt was a science fiction writer, but we figured that—like others in his literary niche—he dabbled in crime or sleaze fiction early in his career. And perhaps he did, but not with this book. It starts with a quasi-detective character believing he's rescuing a woman from whip wielding villains, but soon takes a left turn to involve secret Central American cults and an ancient marble house that bestows its inhabitants with eternal life, with the protagonist of course refusing at every step to believe what he's seeing. It's a fascinating concept, but Van Vogt forgot to piece his tale together in a way that allows the narrative to gel. We give it major points for weirdness, but demerits for execution. Interesting effort, though. The cover art on this Beacon edition from 1960 is by Gerald McConnell.
Entry by special invitation only.
Above, a really nice cover for Beach Party by Peggy Gaddis, aka Joan Sherman, Joan Tucker, Pearl Gaddis, Peggy Dern, et al. This was published in 1950 by Venus Books, and the art is uncredited.
It was horrible! *sob* I don't know if I'll ever get over it. I'm so— Are you seriously grabbing my ass right now?
We can't actually see where the man's other hand is on this uncredited cover for Robert Sylvester's 1953 novel Indian Summer, but no matter what's happening around a man he's always thinking about sex. At least a little. It isn't so weird. We know from the Pulp Intl. girlfriends that they're always thinking about chocolate. A little. Fortunately for both of them, they're tiny, so their obsession has cost them nothing. Men thinking about sex all the time? It costs them plenty. Which is what mid-century fiction is mostly about.
What's really a shame is tomorrow he'll probably tell his buddies how great he was.
We're once again documenting the craze of mid-century publishers sensationalizing literary classics with racy cover art. Today's example is Shame, which is a translation of French icon Émile Zola's 1868 novel Madeleine Férat. It deals with a woman who loves her man but desires his best friend. That sounds exactly like freshman year of college to us, and in real life it was a total drag, but Zola made a literary masterpiece of it. He also achieved something no author would dream of today—he wrote twenty-one novels about two branches of a single family, tracing how environment and heredity were the overriding influences in their lives, even five generations onward, despite the various family members' desires or pretensions to individuality.
Madeleine Férat wasn't part of that epic cycle, and it isn't one of Zola's most celebrated works, though it was made into a 1920 silent film in Italy called Maddalena Ferat, directed by Roberto Roberti and Febo Mari, and starring Francesca Bertini. Ace Books saw it as a moneymaker not just once, but a second time, when it published it as a double novel with Thérèse Raquin on the flip. The pairing represents perhaps the high point of the paperback age in a way—two nineteenth century French literary classics being crammed as a double translation into an impulse purchase meant to tempt people in drugstores and bus stations. It's insanely funny. Also amusing is that Ace wasn't the only paperback publisher to give this book a makeover. But there's an unfunny aspect too—Ace didn't credit either of the cover artists. C'est dommage.
I bet people would be surprised if I told them the hardest part of being a hooker is holding this pose half the night.
Chariot Books is an obscure but pretty interesting sleaze imprint. This cover for Arch Stemmer's Hot Bed Hotel is the fourth item we've shared from them. Should we actually pull the trigger and buy one of their enticing confabulations? We're somewhat tempted, but we have so many books piled up already, including sleaze classics like The Mattress Game and Hitch-Hike Hussy. Well, we'll think about it. This one is from 1961, with art by an unknown.
Okay, losers. Each of you compliment my très chic pinstriped suit. The least convincing one gets pistol whipped.
Très chic is a good way to describe not only pin-striped suits on femmes fatales, but covers painted by Jean Salvetti for Éditions le Condor's and George Maxwell's Môme Double-Shot crime novel collection. We've shared five or six, and they're magnifique, including this one for 1952's San bauvures. Maxwell's star character in these was Hope Travers, and hope is exactly what she denies her enemies. She even once put out a cigarette on a guy's face. You can see that cover and others by clicking the keywords Éditions le Condor below.
I've always had a thing for drummers but this is a major step down since I banged Gene Krupa in his tour bus.
Above, a Victor Olson cover for Eric Arthur's Invitation to Dishonor, 1952 from Eton Books. We probably should buy this while it's still available. From the rear cover: Her apartment, filled with weird voodoo masks and drums, was the tip-off. She gloried in the movements of her near-naked body while I played drum-rhythms for her. You can't go wrong with voodoo in mid-century literature.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Five-Year Old Girl Gives Birth
In Peru, five-year old Lina Medina becomes the world's youngest confirmed mother at the age of five when she gives birth to a boy via a caesarean section necessitated by her small pelvis. Six weeks earlier, Medina had been brought to the hospital because her parents were concerned about her increasing abdominal size. Doctors originally thought she had a tumor, but soon determined she was in her seventh month of pregnancy. Her son is born underweight but healthy, however the identity of the father and the circumstances of Medina's impregnation never become public.
1987—Rita Hayworth Dies
American film actress and dancer Margarita Carmen Cansino, aka Rita Hayworth, who became her era's greatest sex symbol and appeared in sixty-one films, including the iconic Gilda
, dies of Alzheimer's disease in her Manhattan apartment. Naturally shy, Hayworth was the antithesis of the characters she played. She married five times, but none lasted. In the end, she lived alone, cared for by her daughter who lived next door.
1960—Gary Cooper Dies
American film actor Gary Cooper, who harnessed an understated, often stoic style in numerous adventure films and westerns, including Sergeant York, For Whom the Bell Tolls, High Noon, and Alias Jesse James, dies of prostate, intestinal, lung and bone cancer. For his contributions to American cinema Cooper received a plaque on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is considered one of top movie stars of all time.
1981—The Pope Is Shot
In Rome, Italy, in St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II is shot four times by would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca. The Pope is rushed to the Agostino Gemelli University Polyclinic to undergo emergency surgery and survives. Agca serves nineteen years in an Italian prison, after which he is deported to his homeland of Turkey, and serves another sentence for the 1979 murder of journalist Abdi Ipekçi. Agca is eventually paroled on January 18, 2010.
1957—Von Stroheim Dies
German film director and actor Erich von Stroheim, who as an actor was noted for his arrogant Teutonic character parts which led him to become a renowned cinematic villain with the nickname "The Man You Love to Hate", dies in Maurepas, France at the age of 71.
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