Obviously the poor guy tripped and fell, breaking every bone in his body and bashing his brains out. Maybe someone up there saw it.
The Case of Spiv's Secret by Anthony Parsons was an entry in the Sexton Blake Library series, and came in 1950 from British publishing company Amalgamated Press. The Sexton Blake Library is what was known as a story paper, basically a magazine with illustrations, and this one appeared two to four times a month, starting all the way back in 1915 and continuing until 1968, which is an amazing run. We had to look up the word “spiv”—with serious trepidation. But it turned out to be relatively innocuous. A spiv can be a flashy dresser, but its other definition—which we suspect is Parsons' usage here—is a sort of petty or low-class criminal. The artist on this is Eric Parker. You can see a few more Sexton Blake titles here, here, and here.
Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors—unless of course they happen to look.
You can consider Coulisses d'hôtels an addition to our collection of keyhole themed art from nine years back. We can't determine who painted this, but it's pretty nice, and it wraps around to an eye-catching rear. The book, which originally came in 1962 with this paperback from Éditions Paul Rohart arriving in 1964, purports to be anoymously written by a valet—hence the obvious pseudonym Monsieur Pierre—who worked in various Paris hotels. As the art suggests, he saw many curious and stimulating sights, and we gather the book fits into the category of érotisme.
Which brings us to another PSGP story. He worked at a hotel, an early job, during his college years, as a room service waiter. His story is exactly the one you'd most expect a room service waiter to have. A guest answered his knock completely naked. PSGP delivered the meal, got the signature—which took some time, as the guest had no pen handy—and eventually left. That might sound like a missed opportunity, but to PSGP it felt too much like a hidden camera gag. Plus, how would he have explained his long absence from the hotel kitchen? Clearly, he thinks too much. You can see that keyhole collection here.
You get the feeling he's not her biggest Fanfan.
Above: a well worn cover for André Héléna's Fanfan la douleur, for Éditions le Trotteur's Condor collection, 1953. The art is by Jacques Thibésart, aka Nik, and it caught our eye because it seems to have been inspired by the famous promo image from Gilda of Glenn Ford losing his temper and slapping Rita Hayworth. At least we think so. If that's the case Thibésart wasn't going for an exact duplicate, but it feels about the same. You can check for yourself at our collection of Hollywood stars—including men on men, women on men, and women on women—slapping each other. It's fourth in the set.
She's a love and let love type of girl.
Above: a cover for Love Life of a Hollywood Mistress by Florence Stonebraker, 1950. The artist is uncredited. There's interior imagery in the form of photos of models posing scenes from the story, and as usual when these digests contain such pages, they're difficult to scan without destroying the book. Besides the front, we were able to scan the inside of the front cover and five of the fourteen interior photos. Stonebraker tells the story of Wanda Russell, who one fateful night tries to resist being forcibly taken by a date and accidentally pushes him out a high window to his death. Good on her, but remember, these were the days when a single woman in a man's hotel room could not have claimed self defense, so Wanda goes on the run.
She can't hide without help, so she turns to her acquaintance Chet, who, when he finds out Wanda is a virgin, decides he can make a fortune by pimping her out to a rich acquaintance. Yeah, it's a little flimsy as a method for cop avoidance goes, but this is mid-century sleaze, so you follow where the author leads. Wanda is to become mistress to Shelby Stevens, big time romantic actor, who would love to have a virgin. But wanting to thwart these creepy men in the one way she can, she gives her virginity to her friend Danny, who has always loved her. Danny is crushed when she leaves him and goes to live in Shelby Stevens' beach house for the summer. These triangles are, you know by now, the rocket fuel that powers digest romances.
So Wanda lives with Stevens, but Stevens turns out to be a rat, and Wanda decides to flee. Stevens won't let her go, but Danny, who has sat by in silent suffering as Wanda has been used as a plaything, shows up to beat Stevens within an inch of his life. He doesn't do it because of Wanda. He does it because it turns out his younger sister Thelma had been an earlier plaything for Stevens, and had ended up dead. In one fell swoop Danny gets revenge for his sister, sort of, and rescues his true love Wanda. Oh, and Chet the pimp ends up dead, shot by his girlfriend Bertie, who considers Wanda a rival. We won't even go into all that. And the guy Wanda pushed out a window? That's never truly resolved.
Stonebraker churned out a lot of these books, some under the names Florenz Branch and Thomas Stone. Thirteen were published in 1950 alone. She would eventually write more than eighty, and she didn't even start until she was forty-one. All of which is to say Love Life of a Hollywood Mistress feels rushed, with its pat ending and central concept that barely hangs together. But Stonebraker, despite her full work schedule, has done well in other tales, so she can have a mulligan on this one as far as we're concerned. After all, she's a sleaze and romance author—expectations need to be kept in check. We have a couple more of her novels lined up, and we'll see how she does.
Grand theft auto, first degree murder, and concealment of a corpse, eh? Well, you've paid your debt to society. Hop in!
Above: the front and rear covers of Whit Harrison's Girl on Parole, for Venus Books. We would've bought this, but the seller was asking more than three... Excuse us for second—Hahahahahaha..! *wiping tears away* Sorry, he was asking more than three-hundred dollars. We buy a lot of books but you know our rule—never pay more than it costs for a train to Paris. Remember, we live in Spain, so we're talking thirty euros. We've gone as high as forty a few times, but that's our absolute ceiling for a single paperback. Nine times out of ten we pay seven or less. Anyway, Girl on Parole is from 1953 and the art is uncredited, but it's probably by Herb Tauss, who was painting for Venus during the period and whose style is a perfect match. Check what we mean here and here.
Don't cry, baby. They don't shoot horses. They take them to magical horsie land where they eat oats and apples forever.
Above: another cover for Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses Don't They?, very different in mood from the 1955 Berkley cover we showed you earlier. This one was painted in 1938 by Tony Varady, who we've seen before illustrating a different McCoy book, No Pockets in a Shroud, published in 1948. We loved They Shoot Horses Don't They? on its own merits, but because it's a social and political critique it has extra resonance in an era when most people have lost faith in the American dream (don't shoot horses, and don't shoot messengers—it's simply true, that's all). We talk a bit more about the book here.
There are a lot of members, but they all come away satisfied.
Arthur Adlon's Key Club Girl is pretty limp for a sleaze novel. If we planned to resell it we'd be depressing its value by saying that, but we can't lie—it has no spark. It's about a virginal woman named Lena who's unable to consummate relationships with a series of men, including her husband. She solves the problem with the help of an eager man named Lee and the behind the scenes action at the Golden Key Club. She doesn't end up with Lee, though. Her husband Quentin, who was so disappointed when he learned on the wedding night that Lena abhored sex, and has since divorced her, ends up with her after all. We won't bother with more of a plot summary. Life's short, we have these sleaze novels coming in all the time, and most of them are better than Key Club Girl. The art on this, however, is sublime. It's what enticed us to buy it. Paul Rader painted it, and if you look closely you'll see a topless reflection in the vanity mirror, and in the background, way back, a man straddling a chair. Nice work.
Some people wait for success to come. Some people go out and grab it.
Lou Marchetti painted this cover for Chance Elson by W.T. Ballard, and as always does a good job. This came in 1958, and by then Ballard, who had been publishing since the days of Black Mask magazine, was an extremely experienced author. All that practice shows as he weaves the Depression-era tale of a Cleveland nightclub owner who's driven out of business and town by the mafia and crooked cops, fetches up way out west in a wasteland city called Las Vegas, and tries to build a hotel/casino empire. His rival in this endeavor turns out to be the same mafia thug who precipitated his departure from Cleveland.
There's an interesting subplot here involving Elson taking in an orphaned girl of fourteen named Judy, who grows into a beautiful woman and the main love interest. Because she had escaped from a reform school, he at first passes her off as his younger sister, but as she nears adulthood it's pretty clear to most that Woody and Soon-Yi—oops, we mean Chance and Judy—have something more than guardian/ward feelings for each other. As you might suspect, in the deadly game of dueling casinos that develops between Elson and the mafia, she becomes the pawn.
Chance Elson has a timeline that runs for over a decade, so the book moves beyond the boundaries of most crime thrillers into life story territory, and a major theme concerns whether Elson, who's trying to keep a growing Las Vegas from being overrun by organized crime, can win that battle without becoming as bad as those he seeks to thwart. Or more to the point, his business dealings hinge upon ruthlessness, but his personal dealings and opportunity for true love hinge upon becoming a better human being. Are there flaws in the book? Well, we weren't happy with certain aspects of the woman-in-danger subplot. But like we said, Ballard was experienced. His fictional retelling of the rise of Sin City is expert work.
You can make it, honey. Just imagine the future satisfaction you'll get blaming me for coming here in the first place.
This is a dramatic piece painted by Ed Emshwiller for Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's 1955 novel A Town Is Drowning. Did Emshwiller run out of paint, or is the fact that the town in the background is a mere ink drawing symbolic of its fragility and impermanence? We're pretty sure it's option two, and the result is a very striking cover, with some nice color bleeds as one of its main features.
The story is exactly as the title suggests, with fictional Hebertown, located somewhere in the American northeast, being hit by precipitation from a hurricane that sends the local river well over its banks to destroy large portions of the town. The rains and flooding are over by the halfway mark, at which point Pohl and Kornbluth focus on various aspects of social collapse, from infrastructure breakdown to looting.
Disaster-triggered social regression has been written many, many times. Some of the best efforts along those lines kill the soul to even read. A Town Is Drowning is a decent pop fiction undertaking on a non-apocalyptic but still somewhat harrowing scale. It isn't bad, but we think it's a little too impersonal. We'll concede that the authors' ambitions were to have a large array of people to show many different perspectives, but that makes getting to know them—hence caring about them—difficult. At least two characters could have been ditched to allow others to come to the fore.
But what do we know? Pohl and Kornbluth collaborated half a dozen times, so they clearly loved the result. They would go on to much acclaim, with Pohl peaking with the Hugo and Nebula Award winner Gateway, and its sequel Beyond the Blue Event Horizon. A Town Is Drowning is not on that level but it's interesting to catch Pohl here early in his career.
But you can't refuse, or I'll release your shameful sex tape and you'll be ruined. How does becoming a reality star change that? And what the hell is it anyway?
We became interested in the thriller Blackmailer because it was by George Axelrod, who would later go on to become one of Hollywood's most respected screenwriters, scripting such films as Bus Stop, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Manchurian Candidate, and How To Murder Your Wife. Some reviewers really like this novel, but we thought it was middle-of-the-pack. The bones of the story are good. It's about a publishing executive offered one of the world's most famous author's final, posthumous manuscript—which we quickly learn may not be genuine. The reasons the ultimate villain wants it published are unexpected, but we think Axelrod should have ended up with a better final result. Even so, he supplies the usual thriller ingredients—some twists, a couple of beautiful women, a few beatdowns, and a lot of drinking—which means Blackmailer is worth a read. This edition came in 1952 from Fawcett Publications and Gold Medal Books, and the cover art of a woman lounging with the world's largest pillow is uncredited.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—Rasputin Survives Assassination Attempt
Former prostitute Jina Guseva attempts to assassinate Grigori Rasputin in his home town of Pokrovskoye, Siberia by stabbing him in the abdomen. According to reports, Guseva screamed "I have killed the Antichrist!" But Rasputin survived until being famously poisoned, shot, bludgeoned, and drowned in an icy river two years later.
1967—Jayne Mansfield Dies in Car Accident
American actress and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield dies in an automobile accident in Biloxi, Mississippi, when the car in which she is riding slams underneath the rear of a semi. Rumors that Mansfield were decapitated are technically untrue. In reality, her death certificate states that she suffered an avulsion of the cranium and brain, meaning she lost
only the top of her head.
1958—Workers Assemble First Corvette
Workers at a Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan, assemble the first Corvette, a two-seater sports car that would become an American icon. The first completed production car rolls off the assembly line two days later, one of just 300 Corvettes made that year.
1950—U.S. Decides To Fight in Korea
After years of border tensions on the partitioned Korean peninsula, U.S. President Harry Truman orders U.S. air and sea forces to help the South Korean regime repel an invasion by the North. Soon the U.S. is embroiled in a war that lasts until 1953 and results in a million combat dead and at least two million civilian deaths, with no measurable gains for either side.
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