Vintage Pulp Jul 13 2024
Murder hates company.

Rudolph Belarski, whose work is always instantly recognizable, painted this cover for Rufus King's 1944 mystery Never Walk Alone, earlier known as The Case of Dowager's Etchings. The change tells you that Popular Library thought a less old-fashioned title would boost sales for this 1951 re-issue. But the old-fashioned nature of the story is a feature, not a bug. What you get is intrigue at the residence of Carrie Giles, who's opened her large home up as a boarding house called River Rest and had the rooms filled by workers in an arms factory.

Giles is a throwback who's still driven around by horse and carriage in an era of cars and planes. The tale is told from her point of view, and never has a more self-contained observer been committed to the printed page. This derives from her belief in politeness and decorum. Even if you're a bit nosy, as she is, you don't make a fuss. When she finds a body on her grounds she simply leaves it there for someone else to stumble across the next afternoon. Maybe she's not such a throwback after all—we can see that happening even today, so she's an interesting figure created by King.

Her genteel nature is summed up in a passage about Humphrey Bogart. Don't forget that Bogart was a famous film villain before he altered the trajectory of his career. Giles knows only the early Bogart, and is horrified when someone compares one of her boarders to Humphrey: Mrs. Giles shut her eyes. She was fairly familiar with Mr. Bogart's characterizations on the screen, and to have any one of those blood-throttling roles in the house was the last straw.

Can a mystery be fun when told from the point of view of a hidebound busybody? Turns out it can. While other elements of the story are interesting too (she thinks the murder has to do with wartime spies, and particularly suspects an outspoken and modern-minded female guest), Mrs. Giles is ultimately such a fascinating and delicate creation that it was her who kept us turning pages. Never Walk Alone isn't for readers seeking fireworks and sexual intrigue, but as an example of a character-driven mystery, it worked fine.


Vintage Pulp Jul 11 2024
Extreme volatility in the creepy old manor sector forces many from their homes.

It's the worst case scenario. You're forced out of your home in the middle of the night with only the clothes on your back. As recent home buyers, that thought is a nightmare for us. In our case, it would be bankers sending us out the door. But in romance novels it's husbands, crooks, ghosts, or just bad vibes. These are all paintings by Harry Barton made for the covers of gothic romances, which we came across while trying to find out who painted the front for The Minerva Stone, a book we talked about last month. That brilliant piece is the one just above (and we've added a zoom so you can see the details of the work). It surprised us that Barton specialized in gothic romances, but it shouldn't have—he could do anything. Look at more examples of his ability here, here, and here.


Vintage Pulp Jul 10 2024
Look at that view, men! Just think how much money a trip like this would cost us if we were civilians!

Donald Downes' World War II combat and espionage novel The Scarlet Thread originally appeared in 1953, with this Panther Book edition coming in 1959, adorned with cover art from an unknown. Like many mid-century war novelists, Downes saw it all firsthand. He was in the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the British Security Coordination (BSC), and the OSS (we don't need to decipher that one, right?), and saw action against the fascists in Italy and Egypt. This novel, his first, draws on those experiences in telling the story of an aviator sent on a mission to eliminate a suspected double agent. Its French translation won Downes the 1959 Grand Prix de Littérature policière. Mission accomplished. 


Femmes Fatales Jul 10 2024
You know the old saying. Once you go witch you'll never want to switch.

Since we mentioned the television show Bewitched recently, here's its star, the lovely Elizabeth Montgomery, bringing some supernatural qualities to a nightgown in this 1963 photo made to promote her comedy flick Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? She was born into show business as the daughter of legendary actor and director Robert Montgomery, who boosted Elizabeth's fortunes by casting her in thirty episodes of Robert Montgomery Presents. Having launched her career in television, she worked mainly in that medium going forward but appeared in a few movies, notably in 1963's Johnny Cool. She accumulated credits on some sixty television shows, sang on three soundtracks, and even lent her voice to cartoon characters on The Flintstones and Batman: The Animated Series.

We've been enjoying Bewitched immensely. As a classic sitcom, it mixes a lot of zany problems into a suburban marriage, and enlivens the proceedings with a bit of low wattage sexiness. We think Darrin Stevens, as played so far by Dick York, is a terrible husband, but part of the fun is watching the twerp try to stop Montgomery from using her magical powers. It was a plot contrivance meant extol the virtues of earning what you obtain, but these days reads more like marital domination, mansplaining, and unsupportiveness. Whereas we'd be, “You wanna do what? Zap us over to Budapest for the weekend? Well, sure, honey, I suppose I could free up time for that.” Since Montgomery didn't make much in the way of pulp style entertainment she may not appear here again, but what an appearance. See another Montgomery here.


Vintage Pulp Jul 9 2024
Freud probably never imagined they could be used for gambling.

We're down to the last of our dream books with cover art by Gene Bilbrew. This one, Ahmed's Dream Book & Numbers, was published in 1972 by the Wholesale Book Corp. It never occurred to us before, but these could be considered cousins of Freudian psychoanalysis, which was laid out in Freud's 1899 tome The Interpretation of Dreams, and helped legitimize the long held concept that dreams have meaning. Of course, his idea of meaning was that they gave insight into the subconscious mind, while a dream book's idea of meaning is that of prognostication for gamblers. We doubt Freud ever dreamt of anything like that. You can find out more about these books, and see more art from Bilbrew, by clicking this link and going down the subsequent rabbit hole. 


Intl. Notebook Jul 9 2024
The day the sky cracked in half.

There's been increased talk over the last few years about the weaponization of space, however that bridge was crossed a long, long time ago by the U.S. and Soviet Union, with the U.S. getting the ball rolling in 1958 with a series of tests secretly conducted over the South Atlantic Ocean. The above photos, which were made from Honolulu, Hawaii, and the one below made from a surveillance aircraft, and show the U.S. nuclear test known as Starfish Prime. It was one of five explosions comprising Operation Fishbowl, which itself was folded within the encompassing set of tests known as Operation Dominic. The detonation took place in space at an altitude of about 250 miles, and was launched from the North Pacific Ocean's Johnston Atoll atop a Thor ballistic missile. That was today in 1962.

Starfish Prime generated a huge electromagnetic pulse that caused electrical damage in Hawaii, 900 miles away. The pulse extinguished hundreds of streetlights, set off burglar alarms, damaged telephone company equipment so that calls could not be made between the Hawaiian Islands, and, as the charged particles dispersed along the Earth's magnetic belt, caused nine satellites to fail. Electrons released by the explosion were detected in the upper atmosphere five years later. The shot below gives a sense of that, showing the explosion illuminating the sky in the same way as the aurora borealis. A year after the test the U.S. and Soviet Union signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which banned all above-ground nuclear testing. The agreement was violated within three years.

Vintage Pulp Jul 8 2024
I really shouldn't be letting you fondle them this way. Any spike in your blood pressure could be fatal.

Above: classic sleaze from Kimberly Marchand, her 1966 medical romp Sex in White. The rear cover is unusually descriptive, a perfect entry for our burgeoning teaser text-as poetry collection:

His hands moved so gently
and then as he pressed to her
a searing and deep ecstasy took over.
From the depths to the stars, again and again
her body came alive and reached for him
clung and caressed him.
Paul felt the depth of her thrill
and she trembled and shook as if ill.
He'd never experienced
such complete abandon in a woman
such complete giving
without rudeness or excuse.
The result was music—
a symphony...

Love it. It even rhymes a little. Do you need to read the book now? Neither do we. The cover is by the great Bill Edwards, king of absurd erotic paperback art. You can find proof here, here, here, here, and here.

Vintage Pulp Jul 6 2024
She makes sure a Pheasant time is had by all.

We were attracted to the 1958 John Boswell thriller The Blue Pheasant not only because of the lovely cover art, and the tale's setting in East Asia and New Zealand, but because the title suggests that a bar plays a central role. We always like that, whether in fiction or film. The teaser text confirms it. The title refers to a fictional bar in Hong Kong. Irresistible.

The book stars professional photographer, amateur painter, and rolling stone Chris Kent, who's at desperate ends and takes a job to travel from Hong Kong to far away Auckland to recover two Chinese scrolls that are the keys to a vast inheritance. Needless to say, there are other interested—and ruthless—parties. In addition there are three femmes fatales: Sally Chan, the bar dancer who puts Kent onto the job; Sonya Sung, whose family are the rightful owners of the misplaced scrolls (or are they?); and Ann Compton, mystery woman who becomes Kent's reluctant partner.

We were amused by how easily Kent's head was turned by all three women. He's tough, but he's also an all-day sucker. In trying to sort out why women are so confounding to him, there are numerous moments of, “Well, what's a guy to do when women are ________” By the end, though, he starts to wonder if he's the problem. Spoiler alert: pretty much. The actual caper is well laid out, with a lot of sleuthing and surveillance, a few moments of swift action, a suspicious Kiwi cop, a love/hate dynamic between Kent and Compton, and precise local color in both Hong Kong and Auckland.

We consider The Blue Pheasant to have been a worthwhile purchase. That was actually almost a given, considering the low price for the book (Seven dollars? Sold!). But our point is that you never know what you'll get with a writer as obscure as Boswell. Well, now we do. And we have his sequel, 1959's Lost Girl. We'll get around to reading that later.

Turning back to the cover for a moment, the example at top is one we downloaded from an auction site because the William Collins Sons & Co. edition, which is a hardback with a dust jacket, shows the wonderful art painted by British talent John Rose to best advantage. The edition we actually bought is a paperback from Fontana Books, and our scans of that appear below. They're fine, but the cleaner Collins version is frameworthy. We have another Rose cover at this link, and we'll be getting back to him again shortly.


The Naked City Jul 6 2024
Oh, you said a straight line? I misheard you. Let me start over.

Once again you have to  marvel that it was legal for press photographers to intrude on crime scenes, criminal trials, and—now it seems—traffic stops. You see the evidence above. An unidentified woman is put through the paces of a sobriety check by a Los Angeles patrolman, and it looks to us like the shots capture a spectacular failure. Either that or she's busting into “The Night They Invented Champagne” from the musical Gigi. She was arrested either way—for drunkenness or flippancy—and presumably had hours of idle time in a drunk tank to ponder the error of her ways. That happened today in 1958. 


Vintage Pulp Jul 5 2024
Young, wild, and free—of conscience, worries, and inhibitions.

Celebrities on paperback fronts are a (yet another) weakness of ours. We've been seduced into reading books by cover imagery from the likes of Kitty Swan, Elke Sommer, and Christina Lindberg, among others. Greenleaf Classics put Spanish star Soledad Miranda on the cover of Alan Marshall's 1974 novel Wild Young Flesh. The shot is a variation of an image of Miranda we shared years back. You may remember she died young in an automobile accident in 1970 at age twenty-seven, but left behind a few interesting movies, such as El diablo que vinó de Akasawa and 100 Rifles. And now, this cover.

Alan Marshall was a pseudonym, and while it was sometimes used by known authors such as Donald Westlake, in this case the actual writer remains unknown. The story deals with the carnal goings-on among a group of high schoolers. In addition to it being a creepy experience reading its explicit underaged sex, about a quarter of the story takes place in a utility closet. If you know anything about sleaze novels and the talent level involved, the fact that the author couldn't be bothered to set scenes outside of a single small room tells you that the narrative is extremely minimal. But we couldn't resist Soledad. We'll just try to put this one behind us, though, and we recommend that you don't put it in front of you.


Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 14
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
July 13
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
Richard Speck breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
July 12
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
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