Saturday, June 25, 2011

Site of the Month 2

  Pulp Curry. "Crime, hard-boiled and curried."
   Commentary on crime fiction and film which focuses on Asia and Australia. Maintained by Andrew Nette. Has a nice representation of Australian pulp covers from the 1950s and 1960s. One of my favorite posts is Executives behaving badly : sixties Australian pulp part 2.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Avon T-135 (1956)

Title : The Moon Pool
Author : A. Merritt
Cover art : Art Sussmann
  [N. Y. : Avon, 1956. No. T-135. 'Compete and unabridged.']

style ***
substance **
collectibility **

Art Sussman’s cover art for Avon T-135 is a good example of the stylized, collage-like, and vaguely expressionistic aesthetic favored by cover artists and art directors in the mid and late 1950s. If the present cover doesn’t quite have the Good Girl Art panache of the earlier Avon #370, it nonetheless can be appreciated as a well-heeled representative of the late vintage style. The cover of Avon T-135 also scores points by sneaking into the design a fully unclothed naked woman [1], which was pretty risqué for the 1950s, even within the science fiction context. At this late date Avon was still pushing the envelope! [2]

  [1] To be precise, and though the image is hazy, she seems to be wearing high heels, a curious adornment given the science fiction setting.

  [2] Avon Books always liked to test the limits of cover art decorum. Science fiction, and the Merritt novels in particular, gave them some of their best vehicles to do so. Along with Moon Pool, in the 1950s they published a series of Merritt sci-fi/fantasy novels which featured covers with scantily-clad or fully-unclad [if slightly obscured] heroines in peril -- The Ship of Ishtar, Dwellers in the Mirage, Metal Monster, and, perhaps most memorable of all, Seven Footprints to Satan. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Berkley D-2012 (1959)

Title : Messalina
Author : Vivian Crockett
Cover art : Robert Maguire
  [N. Y. : Berkley Books, 1959. Berkley Diamond #D2012, 2nd Printing, October 1959. Robert Maguire, illustrator. “Complete and unabridged.” First published, London, Jonathan Cape, 1924.]

style ***
substance ***
collectibility **

Ancient Rome’s ultimate wicked witch certainly doesn’t lack for fictional depictions. Berkley D-2012 is a sizzling entry in the Messalina sweepstakes by an author with the unlikely name of Vivian Crockett, with Robert Maguire’s front cover art displaying comparative restraint compared to other versionsBy the way, what’s with the gesture? You may kiss my hand & leave? 

There is no story. There is no plot, no sequence of events, no development of character and no clash of wills.... the contents of the book must amaze any trained classicist."  -- Edward Lucas White, The Nation, 1924.

Messalina looks to me like the kind of book that is supposed to give old men a glittering eye, and which wears, as protection, the cloak of history.” Review (anon.) of original hardcover edition, Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 20, 1924, p. 12.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quote of the month

"Perhaps paperback publishing's most bizarre instance of self-censorship occurred in Great Britain. Allen Lane, Penguin founder, was 'particularly affronted' by a book his company published. With a friend he staged a midnight raid on his own warehouse. After breaking in, he loaded the offending books on a truck and carried them to his farm some miles away, where they were immediately burned."

  - Thomas Bonn, UnderCover : An Illustrated History of American Mass Paperbacks, N. Y., Penguin, 1982, p. 55.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Site of the Month

Familien Olsens web-sted 
  This is a fun site which features a Danish family’s various collectible stuff. My favorites include the pages on Danish hardboiled imprints from vintage era, and the collection of hot Carter Brown covers. Another plus is the exceptional quality of the cover scans. About the only criticism is that the organization is a bit of a mystery to me. Site map is here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dell S11 (1961)

Title : My Wicked, Wicked Ways
Author : Errol Flynn
Cover artist : photograph
  [N. Y. : Dell, 1961. No. S11. Cover photo of Errol Flynn. "First Dell printing, January 1961."]

"The bare facts just as Flynn himself dared to reveal them. This and only this book includes them all."
style ****
substance ****
collectibility **

  The [uncredited] cover photo for Dell S-11 complements the book’s sensational contents : brandishing a cigarette holder and wearing a smoking jacket, Flynn is rendered in most impish, rascally fashion. But the picture also hints at other qualities we don’t usually associate with Errol Flynn -- grace, dignity and sophistication, qualities which, by the way, appear in My Wicked, Wicked Ways

  Which brings us to the fact that - for better or worse - more books have been written about Errol Flynn than any other film actor. Biographers have not always been kind, however. Flynn’s second wife Nora Eddington was, perhaps appropriately, first out of the gate with her warts and all memoir Errol and Me, which appeared a year after the actor’s death. In the following decades authors cranked out Flynn biographies which progressively upped the ante in character assassination and scandal recollection [1]. But it may be that the wily Flynn had outflanked his critics all along, in the process getting in the last word preemptively [2]. Flynn wisely got his peccadillos out in the open in Wicked Ways, and all the trashy tomes which followed merely expanded or enlivened what was already known more than half a century ago. And no, he was not, after all, a sadist, closet gay, or Nazi spy, but all the other stuff was pretty much true, having been confirmed early on by Flynn’s own pen. 

  At any rate, there have been many movie star biographies [3], but Flynn’s is my choice as the best [4] : he was a born raconteur; had great subject matter to work with [his own life story]; and wrote very well.

I leave the last word to Irene Palfy at All That Glistens Could be Old, because it sums up my thoughts so well:

  " . . . I enjoy that much that I'd like to read it forever. So I just read a bit and put it away - and then read again a little bit later."

  [1] There’s a certain belated justice in the generally good press which Flynn enjoys today, which eluded him during his lifetime and the first four decades or so after his death.
  [2] Flynn might have beaten his critics to the punch in another way, albeit in a different context. Much has been made of Wicked Ways' playing fast and loose with the truth -- certain facts are incorrect and some recollections have been exaggerated, fabricated or otherwise 'improved.' However, perhaps an equally compelling case can be made for the book's emotional truth, in that it gives us an insight into the inner nature of the man. Flynn was not exactly the first celebrity to write a somewhat fictionalized autobiography, but one could say that he mastered and crystallized the genre, much in the same way that Truman Capote, with In Cold Blood, perfected the ‘nonfiction novel’ without actually inventing the form. 
  [3] There's also been much commentary on Wicked Ways’ ghostwritten status, and it’s true that author Earl Conrad spent three months in Jamaica in 1958-59, assisting Flynn on the book. However,  sources are vague as to Conrad’s actual role in the mechanics of writing Wicked Ways. Flynn was a great storyteller, and his writing credentials were well-established by this time, with a couple of books and numerous articles and journalistic dispatches to his credit, along with various half-completed projects. Moreover, the book has a quintessentially and uniquely Flynnian voice and attitude. It may well be that Conrad’s contribution to Wicked Ways is much less than traditionally credited, and that his role consisted mostly of more prosaic, if eminently necessary, tasks like keeping the project on track and thus assuring its completion. Flynn hinted as much when he insisted that only his name be listed as the author. In any case it seems that the ghosted meme over-rates Conrad’s role in the book and shows far too little appreciation of Flynn’s genuine literary skills. 
  [4] Even the best biographies like Thomas McNulty’s Errol Flynn : the Life and Career and Peter Valenti’s Errol Flynn : a Bio-Bibliography seem flat and colorless when compared to the original.

Reviews : Piddleville; Via Margutta 51; MissRosenSee also : Scott Eyman, Tragic, Tempestuous Life of Palm Beach’s Forgotten Star, Lili Damita, Palm Beach Post, April 8, 2011.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hue and Cry (Jefferson House, 1944)

Title : Hue and Cry
Author : Thomas B. Dewey
Cover art : uncredited
  [N. Y. : Jefferson House, 1944 Released in the UK as The Murder of Marion Mason].

style ***
substance **
collectibility ***

 One of the more unjustly neglected of mid-twentieth century mystery writers, Thomas B. Dewey is perhaps best known for two series private eyes, Pete Schofield and ‘Mac’. Another series character was the less well known Singer Batts, who appeared in four novels. Batts owns a hotel in ‘Preston, Ohio’ and is also a bibliophile and Shakespeare expert. He made his first appearance in Hue and Cry, coincidentally also Dewey’s first book. Alas there never seems to have been a paperback release (in the U.S.). Note the 1963 French take, which is no.10 of the ‘Haute Tension’ series. The unattributed cover for the Jefferson House first printing has a quirky charm with its vaguely surrealistic/cubist, mildly risqué rendering of an [almost topless] woman. The use of chalky greys for woman’s flesh is actually kind of refreshing; also nice off-yellow lettering.