Hi, what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? Me, I'm trying to score some meth.
Mark Reed's 1952 thriller The Nude Stranger was going for eighty dollars on one website, but we got ours for five as part of a lot. Score. The book has a simple but effective cover painted by an uncredited artist. The story deals with the bizarre, complicated frame-up of a Florida private dick named Chet Egan, which commences when he finds a nude woman in his bed. He lives in a hotel, as people did back then, and she flees into his room from hers after trouble with a man, there to be discovered by Egan when he returns home. He gets the story from her, goes over to her room, takes care of the fella there with the old one-two, and has a corpse on his hands. And from there things go—as they always do—from confusing to confusingest, all written well enough, but unmemorable except for the labyrinthine nature of the central frame-up.
So what we have with The Nude Stranger is another so-so mystery, not a total waste of time, but nothing to go searching for either. And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that it goes over the top with vicious homophobia. There are three gay males in the narrative, and they aren't referred to with anything other than an assortment of slurs except for one specific instance when Egan actually deigns to use one of their names. If you don't read a lot of old books it might surprise you to know that this level of disrespect is rare—not necessarily because the authors were enlightened on the subject, but because gay characters didn't feature much in vintage popular novels. The Nude Stranger, probably a completely forgotten book in the scheme of things, is notable in that respect. If you happen to be working on a thesis on homophobia in mid-century fiction, well, add this to your sources. You won't even believe it.
Hello? Hello? Are you still there? What was that loud thump? Hmph. The line's gone dead.
We get nearly all our crime scene shots from the USC digital archive, but today we have a different source. This one comes from the Los Angeles Police Museum and shows a man named Raymond Gross, who died today in 1953 after overdosing on barbiturates. The shot is unusual because, as you can see, he died while talking on the phone. Gross had gotten the drugs by prescription to alleviate pain caused by a brutal beatdown he'd received months earlier at the hands of a sailor named Lee Roy Collins. Collins broke Gross's nose, jaw, and inflicted a subdural hematoma. The two had met out on the town, Gross invited Collins back to his apartment, and at some point the encounter became violent. Possibly Collins always intended to beat and rob Gross, or he got the idea after a disagreement. In any case, police were able to find Collins thanks to evidence he'd dropped while fleeing. He was arrested and tried for the beating, but acquitted. That's no surprise. Gross was gay, and beating a gay man was not really considered a crime in 1953. Collins may have been gay too, but you can be sure his story in court was that Gross made a shocking and unexpected sexual overture. Back then a story like that would have been like using a get-out-of-jail-free card. Months later, still taking pain pills because of that violent attack, Gross ended up the way you see him above. Suicide? Accident? That remains unknown.
Little Schmo Peep is such a creep and doesn't know how to stop.
1965's Passion Peeper, for which you see a Darrel Millsap cover above, is another sleaze novel credited to Don Elliott, but allegedly written by future sci-fi author Robert Silverberg. The blurb tells you all you need to know, as a voyeur named J. Martin Crispian gets his rocks off by spying on his female neighbors who live across the courtyard from his apartment. He describes himself as a schmo and a loser unliked by women, though he certainly likes them. Among his obsessions: a blonde who does nude calisthenics every night, a high school aged nympho, and this pair:
They were in a tight embrace. Mr. Crispian watched, startled by what he saw. These two young girls, framed in the window, were unmistakably kissing. [The redhead] began rubbing her hand over the brunette's blue jean-covered buttocks.
It had to be, Mr. Crispian thought. Two girls who were just roommates or good friends might kiss each other now and then, he figured. But they wouldn't kiss on the lips the way these two were doing. And they wouldn't go in for buttock grabbing and breast squeezing.
That's pricelessly funny. Interestingly, the peeper doesn't appear much through the middle of the story, as Elliott/Silverberg expands his narrative to encompass the lives of other characters. But everything circles back to him, as his spying puts him in the uncomfortable position, Rear Window fashion, of witnessing a possible crime. A clever ending follows, but future sci-fi legend or not, this is mediocre fiction. Silverberg was just trying to pay bills, which we can certainly respect. He later proved he could do much better.
Soon I realized—you don't mind if I rest my hand here do you?—I realized while at this all girls college that...
We've seen author Clement Wood before. He wrote Studio Affair, which we shared a cover for as part of this large collection, and among his other books was the anthology Flesh and Other Stories. He was multi-talented, a fact demonstrated by his forays into poetry, singing, and teaching, and he strived to be a serious author, with such diverse efforts as Julius Caesar: Who He Was and What He Accomplished, Tom Sawyer Grows Up, The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, and Sociology for Beginners. All of which meant dick to Berkley Books when it published its paperback edition of Desire. Lurid sells—and possibly kills. This appeared in 1950, and you have to wonder if Wood was mortified to death, because he died the same year.
Has your husband ever kissed you on the neck like this? No? Well, it's called foreplay, and we lesbians do it all the time.
Above is a cover for Odd Girl by Artemis Smith. The book, published in 1959, is often called a lesbian classic, and since we just read Satan Was a Lesbian, we thought we'd double up on this theme. But there's really no comparison between the two books. Satan Was a Lesbian is a crude joke, while Odd Girl is the incisively written tale of Anne, a New York City beauty who thinks she's gay and goes about searching for her true self in a world of lesbian bars and among an assortment of friends and lovers. The other women—Cora, Skippy, Beth, Esther, etc.—run the gamut from butch to femme, and in Smith's competent hands have distinctly different personalities too. As far as the men in this tale go, the focus is on one—Anne's youthful mistake of a husband Mark, who she's desperate to get rid of via divorce or annulment. If only it were that simple. If vintage fiction teaches any lesson it's that bad men don't go away easily.
We liked this book. It was serious and adult, wasn't exploitative, and had the feel of realism. The latter quality we couldn't have confirmed through personal experience, not being gay women, but the tale simply felt accurate for the period. And no wonder, because when we checked into Artemis Smith it turned out she was actually a gay woman who lived in New York City, was the author of the lesbian oriented novels The Third Sex and The Bed We Made, and was active in the mid-century civil and gay rights movements. She's probably better known today as Annselm L.N.V. Morpurgo and has a very active Twitter feed of a progressive bent. If you intend to take a foray into early lesbian fiction, Odd Girl is about as good as it gets. It's not a literary masterpiece, but it's as well written as most genre novels, and is a consistently entertaining read.
Excellent work! Now make them submit sexually while I get back to those mortgage bankers I'm slow roasting.
We'd been planning to read Satan Was a Lesbian for a while, but because we have plenty of experience with sleaze novels we didn't have high expectations. The good news is those expectations were surpassed. The bad news is the book still isn't good. The title alone makes it sound like a punchline in search of a publisher, but author Fred Haley—actually a pseudonym for Monica Roberts—tries to be serious as she tells the story of Charlene Duval: turned to lesbianism when barely a woman, initiated into rough practices by the violent Billie and her partner Karen, emotionally touched by her innocent young lover Cynthia, eventually case-hardened into a take-no-shit woman of the world. Is she really Satan? Come on, would Satan be named Charlene?
Think of Satan Was a Lesbian as the Thelma and Louise of vintage lesbian fiction, with the added tragedy that the book sometimes sells for as much as $350. Really? Yes. Just because of a catchy title and a piece of lurid Doug Weaver cover art? Yes, and not only that, but even refrigerator magnets and posters of this cover go for fifteen bucks, so to say everything associated with it is inflated in value is an understatement. But if you poke around and show some patience, you might not have to pay a fortune. The thing about these types of books is that eventually someone always sells them without knowing what the market is because they just want to get rid of grandpa's dog-eared old smut. Alternatively, you could buy a refrigerator magnet, stare at it, and make up your own story. It would probably be nearly as good.
Sir Squeezalot starts slow but once he gets warmed up he's a hell of a lot of fun.
1967's Diary of a Dyke was published by Greenleaf Classics for its imprint Pleasure Readers, and the, er, interesting cover was painted by Tomas Cannizarro. The book was written by Robert Silverberg under his Don Elliott alter ego. The distinguished Silverberg is of course famous as the mind behind award winning novels like A Time of Changes and Lord Valentine's Castle, but early in his career he paid the bills by surreptitiously cranking out sleaze classics like LSD Lusters and Sin on Wheels. When these serious writers are outed for their early smut we always picture them reacting like vampires suddenly exposed to the light, shrinking into a far corner and hissing eternal curses. But Silverberg seems pretty chill about having worked in soft porn. He even wrote the foreword to one of the reprints. We'll undoubtedly run across more from him and his worse half later, but until then feel free to click his/their keywords below and explore our previous postings.
Coffee isn't going to get the job done today. You got any of that 8-ball left over from last weekend?
Based on the bummed expressions on the faces of the coffee drinkers on this cover for Larry Tuttle's The Bold and the Innocent, they've just come to the conclusion that they need stimulation of a higher order than caffeine. At least that's what it looks like to us. But this is a swinger sleaze novel, which means the only way they'll get their hands on 8-balls is if they have sex with 4 guys. That doesn't happen. Instead the story deals with two married women who cross the line with each other. You know the one. The lesbian line. That always leads to serious trouble in mid-century fiction, and The Bold and the Innocent is probably no exception. 1965 on this, with uncredited art, though it's possibly Bill Edwards.
Welcome to Wilson's house of pain and leather.
American actress Ajita Wilson was born in Brooklyn but became a big star in Italian sexploitation and porn movies. She was transsexual, having been born George Wilson, but opting for gender reassignment in the mid-1970s. She launched her career in New York City, making a name for herself in the red light district of the era, which back then was centered around Times Square, these days aka Disneyland east. Not long after she launched her adult career she was seen by a European producer and offered a chance to work across the pond in historic Rome. She jumped at the chance.
Wilson appeared in close to fifty movies, starting with 1976's The Nude Princess. In Perverse oltre le sbarre, which is known in the U.S. as Hell Behind Bars, she plays a killer and jewel thief named Conchita who gets tossed in the prigione and has to negotiate the usual women-in-prison staples—corruption, violence, lesbianism, and a sadistic warden. Oh, and let's not forget screechy girl fights, and sexual harassment showers. Did we leave anything out? Ah, cavity searches. Can't forget those. Torture by high voltage shock. Illicit drugs. Karate chopping double-crossers. Breathy sexploitation soundtrack. Maybe that doesn't count, though, because the prisoners theoretically can't hear it.
Yes, this prison Ajita ends up in is pretty bad, but it could be worse—at least the warden lets the women wear lingerie. Rita Silva and Linda Jones co-star in what becomes a standard WIP escape drama, and of course the escape is more fraught than anyone expected. As prison sexploitation Perverse oltre le sbarre is the same as most others, with the exception that the budget is obviously lower. With nearly fifty films to her credit Wilson almost certainly made something better. We'll take a look and see if we can find which efforts those might be, and you'd be advised to do the same and skip this one. We'll see Wilson again, though. Perverse oltre le sbarre opened in Italy today in 1984.
National Spotlite gives readers a Halloween fright.
Another colorful National Spotlite cover, another set of wild stories to go along with it. In this one, published today in 1971, a couple of alleged New York models named Joan Goddard and Ursula Daniels expound upon the joys of same-sex love. These stories get explicit. How explicit? See if this doesn't make you sit up and take notice: “Her tongue quivered inside my sheath, licking its moistness and crawling up to flick and toy with my love-button. Then she sucked in the lips of my sex, taking my entire vagina in her warm mouth, scratching the delicate folds of flesh with her teeth and licking it all with her marvelous tongue.”
Written by a guy, don't you think? We can't confirm that. We can't—shall we say—put a finger on it, but it's a strong suspicion. Know why? Because generally these magazines were put together by balding forty-somethings in smoky offices as they burned through caffeine by the cup and anti-hemorrhoid cream by the tube. In any case, you see once again that these ’70s tabs were just sleaze literature in disguise, and in this case the goal was to titillate male readers, but also leave them disconcerted about being left out of potential woman sandwiches. If women were no longer sexually interested in men, surely the world was going to hell in a handbasket.
Lesbian models are fine as far getting male readers hot and bothered, but the story that's really meant to blow minds is “Sexual Witch Cults, U.S.A.” Again, more sleaze in disguise: “In the name of Beelzebub our Lord and Master, I consecrate thee. In this act we join with His Satanic Majesty in recognizing his power over our bodies and minds.” And the fucking begins. A naked man, his penis jutting solid from his thighs (!), strides up to the slim, dark girl on the altar and slides his full length into her waiting triangle.
The idea here is sexual devil cults—filled with men whose penises jut directly from their thighs—are spreading across the U.S. like hellfire. After two full pages of sexual detail that would make even a confessional priest blush, expert mystic Paul Rashau is wheeled out to admonish readers that, despite all the multiple orgasms and red hot sexual ecstasy, the cultists are “monkeying with forces they don't understand, and will surely destroy themselves.” Hmm... Scary, but even so, we might take the multiple orgasms now and worry about burning in hell later. But that's just us. See extensive scans from Spotlite here, here, here, and here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Arrest Made in Lindbergh Baby Case
Bruno Hauptmann is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the famous American aviator. The infant child had been abducted from the Lindbergh home in March 1932, and found decomposed two months later in the woods nearby. He had suffered a fatal skull fracture. Hauptmann was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and finally executed by electric chair in April 1936. He proclaimed his innocence to the end
1919—Pollard Breaks the Color Barrier
Fritz Pollard becomes the first African-American to play professional football for a major team, the Akron Pros. Though Pollard is forgotten today, famed sportswriter Walter Camp ranked him as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen." In another barrier-breaking historical achievement, Pollard later became the co-head coach of the Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back.
1932—Entwistle Leaps from Hollywood Sign
Actress Peg Entwistle
commits suicide by jumping from the letter "H" in the Hollywood sign. Her body lay in the ravine below for two days, until it was found by a detective and two radio car officers. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.
1908—First Airplane Fatality Occurs
The plane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Flyer, crashes with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge aboard as a passenger. The accident kills Selfridge, and he becomes the first airplane fatality in history.
1983—First Black Miss America Crowned
Vanessa Williams becomes the first African American Miss America. She later loses her crown when lesbian-themed nude photographs of her are published by Penthouse magazine.
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