Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dell 274 (1949)

Title : The Body Missed the Boat
Author : Jack Iams
Cover art : William Strohmer
  [New York, Dell, 1949. No. 274. Back cover : map of Hillary Judd’s house/scene of murder, in M’Pile, a residential section of Brazzaville, French Equatorial Africa. Inset : map of Africa]. 
style ***
substance **
collectibility *

I’m not too familiar with William Strohmer, but his front cover art for Dell 274 is a fine example of Dell’s quasi-deco aesthetic in the 1940s -- a highly stylized tableau depicts a woman in front of a casket gazing at a ship on the distant horizon. The bold colors, omnipresent Dell keyhole, and woman’s peek-a-boo see-through dress combine to create an altogether felicitous design.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Popular Library SP 246 (1962)

Title : Tiara Tahiti
Author : Geoffrey Cotterell
Cover art : Photograph of Rosenda Monteros
  [New York, Popular Library, 1962. SP 246. Movie tie-in : cheesecake photo on front cover; film poster on back cover].

style **
substance **
collectibility **

The cover photo for Tiara Tahiti is of Mexican beauty Rosenda Monteros, who was popular in 1950s and 1960s. This was en era in which Hispanics, especially Mexicans, were often cast as Polynesians in South Seas movies, probably the best known example being Dolores Del Rio in Bird of Paradise (1932). Anyway, Rosenda certainly looks the part of a French/Tahitian maiden and the cover of the Popular Library reprint presents her in most beguiling fashion.

BTW the film now seems to be available in its entirety via YouTube

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

James Meese's Favorite Model

I’ve always considered James Meese one of the more under-rated vintage cover artists. He’s perhaps better known today as an illustrator of 1950s men’s magazines but his paperback covers are right up there with the best of them.

Meese was not one of the more melodramatic practitioners of the vintage cover art. His heart was was probably closest to the somber, realistic style of his great contemporary James Avati, but his covers never quite carried the emotional charge of Avati’s. This, along with his lack of a signature style despite proficiency in a variety of settings, may account for his somewhat obscure status in the vintage cover artists pantheon.

In any case, like so many practitioners of the paperback art in the glory years of the 1940s and 1950s, Meese specialized in covers which featured beautiful, frequently dangerous women. His beauties didn’t have the outright glamour of the women portrayed by Barye Phillips or Robert Maguire, or, in the case of Robert McGinnis's covers, the sexiness. Nevertheless, his sensitively wrought portraits revealed subtle insights into character which frequently eluded other artists of the era.

Of all the women which Meese portrayed, he seemed to have a favorite model; she appears again & again in various guises but always recognizable -- tall, brunette [1], with sharp, somewhat chiseled, vaguely exotic features. Quite the mystery woman, and quite the beauty .... does anyone know who she was?

[1] Meese's cover for Kiss Me Deadly is also included below. Although the woman on the cover is blonde she bears a slight resemblance to the model in the other covers and may well be the same person.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Confederacy of Dunces (Grove Press, 1982)

Title : A Confederacy of Dunces
Author : John Kennedy Toole
Cover art : Roy Colman (design); Sanjulian (painting)
  [New York, Grove Press, 1982. Revised Black Cat edition. Foreword by Walker Percy. Colman & Sanjulian's absurdly whimsical cover art nicely captures the spirit of Toole's cult classic].

style **
substance ***
collectibility *

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Popular Library SP-85 (1961)

Title : Ritual in the Dark
Author : Colin Wilson
Cover art : uncredited

style ***
substance ***
collectibility **

Wilson, Colin. Ritual in the Dark. N.Y.: Popular Library, 1961. Number SP-85. For Wilson’s Jack-the-Ripper-esque thriller set in mid-twentieth century London, the uncredited cover art for the Popular Library reprint presents a solitary blonde amid an inner city backdrop that's both gloomily sinister and brightly lit at the same time.

Hardcover edition,
Houghton Mifflin, 1960

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pocket 601 (1949)

Title : Lani
Author : Margaret Widdemer
Cover art : Robert Graves
  [New York, Pocket, 1949. No. 601. Fourth printing. "Tense drama unfolds against the colorful backdrop of the flaming tropics."]
style **
substance **
collectibility *

  For this steamy plantation romance in Old Hawaii, artist Robert Graves [1] gives us a cover in a quasi-expressionistic style that’s a nice contrast to the hyper-realistic vintage covers in favor in the late 1940s. Pocket 601 features the main characters in the novel, rendered in a rather cartoon-like fashion, with the title character being the the well-coiffured, fully dressed, Eurasian(?) woman on the left. 

  More interesting, however, is the depiction of the half-naked native woman on the right. It’s a good example of an obscure but important unwritten rule which contributed to the spicy brew that was vintage paperback cover art in its golden age. This was the practice of presenting selected, usually female, character types -- artists’ models, sci-fi amazons, mythological characters, and ‘native’ (i.e. non-Anglo) women -- in more risqué fashion, up to [sometimes] fully unclothed [2]. In contrast, Caucasian women - even femmes fatales - had to be treated somewhat more discreetly. Artists usually opted for the suggestive approach : various states of dishevelment and undress, or tight fitting clothes which emphasized the subject's décolletage charms.

[1] Presumably no relation to the famous author.

[2] oops! apparitions & hallucinations, too; see Maguire’s famous cover for Black Opium, with the vision of a naked blonde emanating from an opium pipe.