Hey, hurry up, we're needed at the— Oh. I'm guessing you totally missed the bat signal.
Above, the cover of Allyn Davis's 1967 sleaze caper Backstage Trio, published by reliable smut purveyors Wee Hours Books. In this one you get sexual doings in a touring theater troupe, with all the expected variations, including sex in exchange for funding and sex to secure plum roles, but no woman in a bat (or is it a devil?) suit anywhere. It's a classic cover just the same from Bill Alexander, whose work we haven't featured until now but who we will certainly get back to.
What the hell are you two snickering about? You never seen a guy polish his tommy gun before?
Harry Schaare does nice work on a cover for W.R. Burnett's thriller High Sierra, copyright 1950 from Bantam Books. If anybody snickered it was probably Schaare himself. He had to know how masturbatory this looked, right? Or maybe it's just us. Anyway, this book obviously became a celebrated gangster film noir starring Humphrey Bogart, but the source material is electric. We read it years ago and it stuck with us. Highly recommended.
The Bates Motel offers room service with that personal touch.
When we wrote about Psycho a while back we came across this Yugoslavian poster which we're sharing today, finally. Usually we write about films on their release dates but there isn't an exact one known for Yugoslavia. It arrived there in 1963, though, three years after its U.S. run. This two tone poster is about as low rent as it gets, but it's still effective, we think.
… two... and three. Wait. I screwed up again. That would've been on three and. I meant to do it on three.
Here's something backwards from what we usually share—a novel adapted from a film instead of vice versa. The Camp on Blood Island is a 1958 British-made World War II film written by J.M. White and Val Guest, and when you learn it was produced by schlockmeisters deluxe Hammer Film you could be forgiven for suspecting it was low rent b-cinema, but this is Hammer trying to be highbrow. Near the end of the Pacific War, a Japanese prison camp commandant decides that if Japan surrenders he'll execute all his prisoners. So the prisoners decide to prevent news of any prospective surrender from reaching the commandant by sabotaging communications, and they also prepare to rebel when the times comes. We may check the film out sometime, but we were mainly drawn by the paperback art. Not only did it remind us that prison camp novels are yet another subset of mid-century literature, but we saw the Josh Kirby signature on this one and realized we haven't featured him near enough. Last time we ran across him was on this excellent piece. We'll dig around for more. And we may also put together a small collection of prisoner-of-war covers later. They range from true stories to blatant sexploitation, and much of the art is worth seeing.
If you think this is painful wait until I tell you all the kinky things I did with your husband.
T'as triché marquise was written by the pseudonymous author George Maxwell and published in 1953 as part of Editions le Condor's collection La Môme Double-Shot. This is of the more violent entries in the series and the cover art reflects that. What we like best about it is how effortless the blonde makes her submission hold on the brunette look. Not a single golden hair has moved. Many of these Double Shot covers were painted by Jean Salvetti, but this one is by Jacques Thibésart, also known as Nik, or more likely Mik (we're still avoiding changing all those old posts but we'll get around to it). In any case, fine work.
Bankhead and Co. try to deal with an ocean of differences.
The best thing about Lifeboat is Tallulah Bankhead. Simple as that. Top billed, tasked with bringing a complex character to life, and working in a film with huge expectations because it was written by literary laureate John Steinbeck and helmed by internationally renowned director Alfred Hitchcock, she delivers the goods. If you haven't seen it, it's an adventure and character study about a group of cruise ship passengers who survive a German u-boat attack and find themselves adrift on the Atlantic Ocean. There's a tinge of war propaganda to it, a touch of we're-humans-and-the-other-side-aren't, but when you consider that Germany was a genocidal regime, and news reports had been touching on this fact for two years (though visual evidence wouldn't appear until after May 1945) Lifeboat is remarkably subtle in that regard.
Anyway, if you ever want to see a star go full nova, check this film out—Bankhead is funny, bitter, sly, ironic, desperate, and more, helped along by reliable old William Bendix, as well as Hume Cronyn, Mary Anderson, and Walter Slezak in a pivotal role. And I guess we don't have to tell you one of Hitchcock's most famous stories came from this movie, the one about his camera accidentally getting upskirt shots of a pantyless Bankhead, and the question of whether the problem was one for hair, make-up, or wardrobe.
The poster above is a really nice piece of mid-century promo art and we spent a lot of computer time trying to discover who painted it, but to no avail. That wasn't a surprise, though. It's a painted version of the photo-illustration used on the panel length promo you see below, which means it's basically a copy job that numerous artists could have executed. But it's still nice compositionally, with its beautiful blue coloration, bright yellow title, and diagonal arrangement of faces. Lifeboat premiered in the U.S. today in 1944.
Um, Georgia Boy—see if you can put down that unrest you've got happening down around Savannah.
George Mayers does the cover work for the Erskine Caldwell short story collection Georgia Boy, which first appeared in 1943, and in this Avon paperback edition in 1947. While it's a story collection, all the tales are narrated by one young character and mainly discuss the poor Stroup family and their friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. This is Caldwell in a more humorous mode than normal, but the underlying themes of his work—particularly poverty and racism—remain, as in the tale "Handsome Brown's Day Off," in which a black character becomes a living target at a carnival.
We recently encountered this phenomenon in a Jim Thompson novel, and what we thought, or at least hoped, was a case of literary flourish was actual reality—in the Jim Crow south white carnival goers paid to throw baseballs at black men's heads. The balls were generally of a novelty variety, which is to say heavy enough to fly straight, though not hard enough to be lethal, but still. Making the tableau even more horrific was the requirement that the target stick his head through a hole in a jungle backdrop and that he grin and mug for the assembled whites as he tried to dodge the baseballs. We checked it out in other sources and confirmed the prevalence of this barbaric practice. We also found that carnivals in northern states did it too, though it was far more common down south. Apparently the big fun with these spectacles occurred whenever some college or professional pitcher showed up and thrilled the crowd by nailing these poor guys' heads at high velocity.
We found a 1908 article, which you see at right, about a group of pro baseball players who substituted normal baseballs for novelty ones and repeatedly beaned a man, putting him in the hospital, where it was feared he might not survive. The target was said to have taken the punishment “courageously,” and of course there was no suggestion of charges being filed.
We also found two other mentions of “African dodgers”—the gentlest term used to describe them—being killed. Things like these need to be remembered, especially in light of today's cultural battles wherein a segment of people seek to propagate a myth of the south as misunderstood. But literature, besides its other value, is often useful for preserving history, as Erskine Caldwell shows. That said, in Georgia Boy we preferred the stories about sex and we have a feeling you will too.
Stop playing hard to get! I just want to make sweet love to you!
The Woman Aroused tells the story of a man who allows a confused and mysterious woman to stay with him, then finds he can't get her out of his apartment. He basically can't even get her off his sofa. The woman calls herself Lee, but that isn't her real name. She has no family, no friends, no past. She has a strange accent that hints at origins somewhere in Europe, but conversely she has an American flag tattoo on her forearm.
It emerges that Lee is short for “liebchen,” a nickname from when she was a worker and sex slave in a Polish concentration camp. The tattoo is a cover-up for her Nazi serial number. But even after these discoveries the issue remains how to get rid of her. The narrator is no match for her physically because she's six feet tall and labor hardened, he has limited hope of outsmarting her, and due to complications he can't involve the police. Quite a pickle, and quite an inversion of the usual male-female relationship found in mid-century fiction.
Ed Lacey, aka Ed Lacy, née Leonard Zinberg is not a polished writer, at least not working under this pseudonym, but he certainly dreams up thought provoking tales. This one is just weird enough to sustain interest throughout its short length. The cover on this Avon edition, which gives vivid form to the physical turning of the tables depicted in the narrative, is by famed pin-up artist William Randall, aka Bill Randall, and the copyright is 1951. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1915—Claude Patents Neon Tube
French inventor Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube, in which an inert gas is made to glow various colors through the introduction of an electrical current. His invention is immediately seized upon as a way to create eye catching advertising, and the neon sign
comes into existence to forever change the visual landscape of cities.
1937—Hughes Sets Air Record
Millionaire industrialist, film producer and aviator Howard Hughes sets a new air record by flying from Los Angeles, California to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds. During his life he set multiple world air-speed records, for which he won many awards, including America's Congressional Gold Medal.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
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