American star adds pizzazz to a pair of Aussie thrillers.
Today we have two more paperbacks from Australia's Horwitz Publications, a company that, as we've documented often, opportunistically used numerous Hollywood celebs on its covers. This time it's Jan Sterling, who appears on 1955's Blueprints for Murder and 1956's The Bride Wore Black, both written by the prolific Marc Brody. Sterling was never a top tier actress but she was in a lot of good movies and earned an Oscar nomination for The High and the Mighty. She also posed for some stunning photos, including the two at this link. These book scans float around online, which means we don't know where they originate, but if we had to guess we'd say Flickr, so thanks to the first uploader.
Loyal wife learns that there's nothing like a really good sidepiece.
This cover for Dominique Napier's 1961 novel House Party, a striking piece of art, was painted by Edward Moritz. We think the woman depicted looks a little like Diana Dors. The main character Betsy is actually a brunette, but this may be one of those paintings that was made independently of the book. Said book is a pretty well written sexual awakening tale about a woman whose husband doesn't ring her bell, and who blames herself. But during a weekend mansion party on the tony Connecticut seashore a longtime crush makes her ladyparts tingle, and she realizes she's not as cold as she thought. She has misgivings about cheating, of course, but for various reasons the idea of getting a piece of side action starts to sound good. Napier's aspirations are F. Scott Fiztgerald-ish, but the literary heft is lacking. If the erotic amperage had been doubled or tripled we think it would have been a much better book, but still, it was reasonably fun.
You try staying calm when there's a killer on the loose.
After several years writing up movies being screened at San Francisco's annual Noir City Film Festival we decided not to do it this year. But we're going to make one exception. The 1946 French drama Panique, for which you see a beautiful promo poster above, is showing at the fest tonight, and since we were able to obtain a copy, we had a look. It isn't a film noir. It's a drama starring Viviane Romance, Max Dalban, and Michel Simon, and it deals with a woman named Alice, her lover Capoulade, and her neighbor Hire, who has a crush on her. The set-up suggests love triangle, but Hire has more than just a romantic interest in Alice. He also believes her boyfriend might be responsible for an unsolved murder. The issue he'll confront is just how strong Alice's loyalties to her boyfriend are.
Every year the Noir City Film Festival draws entries from outside the film noir realm. Panique was probably chosen because its subtext deals with bigotry, an evil that is on the upswing across the globe. The character Hire is Jewish, which leads to serious trouble for him as the film progresses. The powerful screenplay was derived from George Simenon's 1933 novel Les Fiançailles de M. Hire (also the source material for the 1989 film Monsieur Hire), and of course in 1933 in Europe, the flames of anti-semitism were being fanned by demagogic leaders into what would soon be the conflagration of genocide. We can't tell you more about the plot of Panique without giving everything away, but we recommend it. Foreign film buffs will certainly enjoy it.
Something else we recommend is our write-up on Viviane Romance from ten years ago. Many European film performers and artists whose careers spanned World War II either fled the continent, ran afoul of the Nazis, or worked out an accommodation that allowed them to continue in their professions. Romance falls into the third category. The French population was somewhat understanding about stars who decided to keep working even after the Nazis took over the French film industry. They were understanding up to a point, that is. If you're interested in learning more just click this link.
I really like her, but if she lost eighty, maybe ninety pounds, she'd be perfect.
Above is another fun cover from French illustrator Jacques Leclerc, who also signed his art as Jihel, and here works his magic on Roland Patrick's The Lost Nights. We've featured this artist several times. See more here, here, and here.
Famed author Ian Fleming arrested after strangulation rampage at his publishing company.
We talked about how Ian Fleming feuded with his publisher Perma Books over name changes to his James Bond novels. This is another one of the offending paperbacks, 1957's Too Hot To Handle. Not only had this book already been successfully published as Moonraker by the British hardback imprint Jonathan Cape, but the Lou Marchetti cover art Perma used doesn't fit the Bond brand at all. Signet Books did infinitely better when it got the rights in 1960. As far as Fleming trying to strangle everyone at Perma, we can't confirm that as fact. But we bet he thought about it.
Anytime is the right time for great cover art.
Above, a cover for K. Beerman's Baarnse Moord (Murder in Baarn), painted by Dutch artist Martin Oortwijn. We said we'd get back to Oortwijn and here we are, three years later. He remains, in our eyes at least, a unique talent. We were reminded of him because he illustrated the cover of a Christine Keeler biography, and Keeler is back in the spotlight thanks to the new BBC series The Trial of Christine Keeler, which we've been watching. So far so good on that, and we'll try to dig up more from Oortwijn.
Remember when politicians were motivated not by money and power, but by a desire to help people? Neither do we.
Below, a small collection of vintage paperbacks all featuring images of the U.S. Capitol. They're reminders that the building has always been a place of intrigue and treachery. Which is exactly why it's perfect for our website.
It was a different flavor of men's magazine.
Zest magazine, with its bold graphics and cover portraits, looks like a classic mid-century tabloid, but its banner tells you it's really a men's magazine. It lives up to its billing in this issue from January 1956—issue number one, actually—with short stories from Michael Avallone and H.P. Lovecraft, real life adventure tales, scare stories (“Is Your Daughter a Sex-Film Star?), glamour photography, and humor.
The Lovecraft tale, “Rats in the Walls,” is called “the greatest horror story ever written.” We wouldn't go that far, but it's freaktacular, like everything Lovecraft wrote. It had originally been published in Weird Tales in 1924, and we imagine that its bizarro mutant/cannibalism themes were pretty shocking back then. The Avallone story, “The Glass Eye,” is novella length. He had already published three novels and was building a reputation as a reliable author of thrillers, which makes his inclusion a nice coup for a new magazine.
The photography in Zest is just as impressive as the fiction. Readers get to see rare shots of major celebs such as Sophia Loren, Sabrina, and Delores del Rio. All in all Zest was a high budget effort, but it lasted only two issues. Why did it fold? No idea on that. Competition in the market was plenty stiff at the time. On the other hand, maybe two issues are all that were planned. We're thrilled to show you one of them, comprising thirty-plus scans below for your Thursday enjoyment.
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.
You'd be vicious too if you ate only once a month.
When we last saw Bertrand the Werewolf—on a very nice 1951 cover of Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris—he had been unleashed by the full moon and was dining out in decidedly un-French style. On this 1962 Ace Books edition he's finished his meal and is pondering possible desserts. He looks considerably more menacing here than on that previous cover thanks to the skill of the artist, who is, incredibly, uncredited. For that Ace receives a serious demerit, because this is special work and it should have been attributed. Bad publishers! We'll dig around and see if someone has an idea who painted it.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
1976—Gerald Ford Rescinds Executive Order 9066
U.S. President Gerald R. Ford signs Proclamation 4417, which belatedly rescinds Executive Order 9066. That Order, signed in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established "War Relocation Camps" for Japanese-American citizens living in the U.S. Eventually, 120,000 are locked up without evidence, due process, or the possibility of appeal, for the duration of World War II.
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