Vintage Pulp Dec 13 2020
CATHERINE THE GREATEST
I won! I knew I would once they restricted track and field to beautiful French actresses! Eat my dust Anouk Aimée!


Catherine Deneuve absolutely flew in this race. It wasn't nearly as close as the art makes it look. Espions!.. à vos marques was written by Paul S. Nouvel, aka Jean-Michel Sorel, and published in 1964 by Éditions de l'Araesque. The cover is unsigned, but it's probably by Jef de Wulf. If we get more info we'll update this. We can't wait for the triple jump. Hopefully, Catherine will win that too.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 11 2020
NIGHT FROM HELL
Wow, that night sucked. And considering we have to jump to the next rooftop, today's not looking so good either.


Every author of detective novels must wrestle with the problem of how to bring the hero into the case. Hartley Howard takes a unique route in 1959's The Long Night—a seeming crank call. A woman rings private dick Glenn Bowman in the middle of the night, drunk, despondent, and hinting at suicide. She sounds sexy as hell, so Bowman coaxes her address from her and speeds over there to prevent tragedy—and get a gander at this honey-voiced, late night phone phantom. The only problem is she isn't planning to commit suicide, and the call was never random in the first place.

From there the mystery takes on a familiar shape, as Bowman must solve a murder in order to stay out of hot water with cops who want to pin the crime on him. Despite the book's title, the tale spans multiple nights. Overall it's okay but it's hard to buy a guy constantly talking people out of killing him. Especially when he's such a pest. Like James Bond, none of the bad guys can seem to take the expedient route of just ventilating Bowman. At times this will leave you scratching your head, but Howard has the hard boiled lingo pretty well mastered, we'll give him that. Some prime examples:

Femme fatale in response hero's flirtations: “You got lots of crust, mister, but not enough pie.”

Hero after fighting a broken armed thug: For a guy with a busted fin he didn't make out so bad.

Hero wondering if a woman is going to shoot him: Deep in her eyes lay an enigma that only the gun could answer.

Hero in a car with distrustful femme fatale: We drove uptown like two people whose marriage had outlived its romance.

You get the picture. We'd never heard of Hartley Howard before, but we looked him up and learned that he was really Leopold Horace Ognall. Born in Canada but based in Britain, Ognall was not as obscure as we'd assumed. The Long Night was number thirteen in a series of thirty-eight Glenn Bowman novels he published between 1950 and 1979, and he also wrote forty novels under the name Harry Carmichel. Which just goes to show that there's always another major writer discover. That's why this pulp gig never gets old.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 9 2020
ODD'S MAN OUT
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. 

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Vintage Pulp Dec 8 2020
FALLEN ANGELS
Yup, that's them, but do they have to go to jail? I felt like they brought a real touch of class to skid row.


A line-up of women at the mercy of a witness and the police? You know this isn't going to end well. Angels in the Gutter is classic scare fiction (i.e. if you're not careful this could happen to someone you know—or even you!) originally published in 1955 by Fawcett Publications for its Gold Medal line, with this second printing coming in 1959. We really should have bought this book. It's cheap and there are no reviews online. That's the daily double for us. Plus the wraparound cover (below) is excellent. But we have about ten times as many books lined up as women lined up at this police station, and that's no exaggeration, so this one was a difficult pass.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 6 2020
HUNTER KILLER
Hell hath no fury like the pious denied.


Above is a beautiful but uncredited 1964 Mayflower Dell cover for Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb, an author we knew only from horror fiction until we read this. We'd seen the movie a few times, and it's brilliant, as everyone knows. Well, so is the book. It's well written, and of course introduced to the world its iconic serial murderer Preacher, aka Harry Powell, who has l-o-v-e tattooed across the fingers of his right hand, h-a-t-e tattooed across the left, and puts those hands to use in his violent quest for hidden bank robbery loot that may be in the possession of two children. This was Grubb's first novel, coming in 1953 originally, and it's as assured a debut as you'll ever read. Every passage in the book is good, but for a typical example, here's a short one:

Her hand rose to her mouth then, the lips gasped suddenly, and presently the teeth settled, gently, grinning, in the glass of spring water, while Icey turned her back on them and fell into the healthy sleep of a fat, innocent child. Yet Walt lay awake. It was something he had learned to do in their marriage: hammering his thoughts into the shape she wanted. It was the price of peace, of sleep itself. Whatever unframed and as yet unshaped suspicions he had of Preacher were gone—stamped and trodden into the soil of domestic orthodoxy.

It's just a couple going to bed, with one of them beginning to have doubts about the preacher who's come to town and infiltrated several lives. But even in minor passages Grubb shines, showing that good writers work hard to describe even less significant moments well. That level of attention to detail helps Grubb build tension to the point where it's hard to bear—almost to the level of one of his horror tales—as Preacher psychologically dominates the children at the center of his obsession. His mental tortures are mere precursors to his physical violence.

Night of the Hunter became a great movie because the source material was as deep and rich as a seam of buried of gold. Filmmakers often make major changes to material and produce something amazing. Other times it's best to keep riding the same horse that took you to the rodeo. For those who have never seen the film, Grubb's novel will be a special—if terrifying—treat. But we think the book is worthwhile even for those who know what's going to happen. And we consider Preacher, whose twisted interpretation of scripture is designed to serve his lust for money and power, a relevant character in 2020.
 
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Vintage Pulp Dec 4 2020
THE DEVIL MADE HER DO IT
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.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 3 2020
DEAD IN THE WATER
A favor turns fatal in MacDonald mystery.


This is just the sort of eye-catching cover any publisher would want from an illustrator, an image that makes the browser immediately curious about the book. Since so many John D. MacDonald novels were illustrated by Robert McGinnis, and the female figure here has the sort of elongation you usually see from him, you could be forgiven for assuming at a glance that this is another McGinnis, but it's actually a Stanley Zuckerberg effort, clearly signed at lower left. We've run across only a few of his pieces, namely The Strumpet City and Cat Man. This is by far the best we've seen.

The story here is interesting. It begins with a woman having drowned in a lake and a sister who disbelieves the verdict of accidental death. She's right, of course, and the detective she hires soon agrees with her. The mystery is quickly revealed to involve taxes, deception, and money—specifically money the dead woman was supposed to keep safe and which has now disappeared. In an unusual move, MacDonald unveils the killer two thirds of the way through the tale, and the detective figures it out shortly thereafter. The final section of the book details his efforts to trap the villain.

This is the last book MacDonald wrote before embarking on his famed Travis McGee franchise. It was within the McGee persona that MacDonald indulged himself in often tedious sociological musings. In The Drowner his characters ring more true, but you can see signs of what is to come in several existential soliloquies concerning the state of the world and the various frail personality types that inhabit it circa 1963. For all our misgivings about the McGee books, they're still good. But we especially recommend any novel MacDonald wrote that came earlier, including this one.

Update: We got an e-mail from Pamela, who told us, "The plot seemed familiar, and sure enough - it was an episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre back in 1964."

We had a look around for it, with no expectations of success, but lo and behold, we found the episode on Archive.org, which often has public domain films and television shows on its platform. We watched the episode, which stars Aldo Ray, Clu Gallagher, and Tina Louise, and we have to say, John. D. MacDonald was probably thrilled. The adaptation is almost exact, with only a bit of license taken with the climax. The only thing he would have hated is that he's credited as John P. MacDonald. The only thing we hated was the lo-rez quality. Oh well. You can't ask for perfection when it comes to early television.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 1 2020
A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
A future literary star puts audiences on notice with a downbeat debut.


Mario Puzo published The Dark Arena in 1955. He would be world famous fifteen years later thanks to his blockbuster novel The Godfather, but here readers find him exploring post-World War II Bremen, Germany, which is bombed out and partitioned between American and Russian troops. His main character Walter Mosca tries to find purpose in this blasted landscape, but his own nature and the chaos around him prevent him finding the humanity he lost in the war. Even the love of his girlfriend Hella can't seem to fill the hole inside him. The book is overwhelmingly tragic in mood from the very first pages, and it becomes obvious which character is going to bear the brunt of the inevitable sad ending, but those aren't criticisms. Puzo's talent in this, his debut novel produced at age twenty-five, shines in the darkness. Like a lot of first books it could be pared down, but on the other hand it's interesting when Puzo stretches his literary wings in lengthy descriptive passages obviously derived from personal observation. He was clearly a star in the making. That may sound like 20/20 hindsight, but it isn't. If The Dark Arena had been the only book Puzo ever published it would be an underground classic today and people would wonder why he never built on his promise. Luckily for world literature, he did.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 27 2020
ROPE A DOPE
Stop your damn whining! I always ask you nicely to help out around here but you never listen until I act like a bitch!


A bit of western art today, a cover for Hot Town, from Perma Books and Frank Malachy, aka Frank McAuliffe. This is from 1956, with art by veteran frontier painter Tom Ryan.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 23 2020
HE'LL HAVE WHAT THEY'RE HAVING
Hemingway's lament for the downtrodden working class is supposed to be his worst novel. But is it really?


Don't let the cover blurbs fool you. In general To Have and Have Not is considered by critics to be Ernest Hemingway's worst novel. Originally published in 1937, it was completely rewritten and became a great 1944 movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. If you've already seen the movie but never read the book, hold onto your hats, because this is extraordinarily rough stuff from Hemingway, a tale of desperation and murder in the depths of the Great Depression. Harry Morgan is a Key West boat captain who's stiffed for $825 after his three-week charter skips town. That would be about $15,000 in today's money, so it's no surprise that losing this bundle means Morgan, who's married, has three kids, the usual assortment of bills and responsibilities, and has spent his life fighting to get ahead, is now destitute.

If you opt to read the book, make sure not to gloss over exactly how far in the hole Morgan is. $825 dollars would bend the morals of most people in 1937, just as $15,000 would today. After being cheated out of this cash he makes a fateful decision to turn criminal himself by running illegals from Cuba to Florida. That's when things go from bad to worse. If you look closely at the cover art on this Perma Books edition from 1953 you'll see what the result of Morgan's criminal foray was. That's one reason cover art is so interesting. The scene the artist chooses to depict—in this case it's Tom Dunn—can sometimes be so specific as to give away an important plot point. If you can't tell what we're talking about by looking at the art we'll give you a hint. What happens to Morgan is the also title of an earlier Hemingway book.

But moving on, To Have and Have Not is—we'll just come out and say it—brutally racist. There are some who would like to gaslight you into thinking you're seeing something that isn't there, and others who would prefer you to ignore this, but you shouldn't, because racism is actually pivotal in the narrative. Morgan's initial foray into crime is against people he clearly feels are subhuman. They and other ethnic groups are referred to with slurs, and these come not just from Morgan's mouth, and from his thoughts, but from the writer's thoughts too. There are places where Morgan uses actual names to refer to characters that Hemingway still refers to by slurs. Think: “Hey Joe, give me a hand with these poles,” said Harry. The [slur] put down his coffee and helped Harry with the poles. So while it's always good to separate the author from their fiction so they have freedom to create any sort of characters they wish, it still raises an eyebrow when you read something like that.

Another aspect of To Have and Have Not that may jar is its lack of sympathetic characters. Morgan's ex-prostitute wife Marie is probably the nicest person in the book, and even she drops n-bombs all over place. But you have to root for someone, so it's her and Harry. You do it because they're at the economic mercy of terrible people. Most of these folks—who are generally of a better class—wouldn't use racial slurs, but they also wouldn't think twice about ruining someone for a few dollars. And while Harry employs a black man and gets along with him fine, you can be sure none of his rich charters would let a black man deign to speak to them. So in its way, To Have and Have Not is relevant in 2020 by starring a working class character who's uncouth, uneducated, and devoid of genuine empathy, but who constantly deals with people that think they're better than him and really aren't.

This is why losing the charter and those $825 bucks is such a clever way to open the novel. The charter, Johnson, flies away and doubtless never gives what he did much thought, but in shafting a working man creates wreckage that crushes not just the man he cheated, but those around him. We think this is the way to focus on the book if you read it—acknowledge the obvious deficiencies of Harry Morgan, but pay close attention to the secondary characters. This is what Hemingway wanted, which is why Morgan's narration lasts for only a while. Everything after his first crime caper is told from outside his point of view. As the book goes on, Hemingway drags you deeper into the lives of these ancillary characters, dispassionately leaving a struggling Morgan to recede into the distance.

So is To Have and Have Not Hemingway's worst book? We don't like it as much as his other works, but with its changes in point-of-view, mood, and even narrative tense, it's also more challenging than those books. Ultimately, the most serious indictment of To Have and Have Not comes from the author himself—he thought it was his worst book too. And who are we argue with Ernest Hemingway? But on the other hand, when you write The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and win a Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, and later win a Nobel Prize for your body of work, your worst book can still be pretty good. 
 
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
January 27
1967—Apollo Fire Kills Three Astronauts
Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee are killed in a fire during a test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Although the ignition source of the fire is never conclusively identified, the astronauts' deaths are attributed to a wide range of design hazards in the early Apollo command module, including the use of a high-pressure 100 percent-oxygen atmosphere for the test, wiring and plumbing flaws, flammable materials in the cockpit, an inward-opening hatch, and the flight suits worn by the astronauts.
January 26
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.
January 25
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.
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