|Vintage Pulp||Aug 31 2023|
Well, you both meet the basic requirements, but a job like this also hinges on having a big personality.
It's been a couple of years since we featured paperback illustrator Gene Bilbrew, so above you see a piece he painted for Hugo Paul's novel Topless Waitress, from Chevron Books in 1967. Paul allegedly wrote as many as 700 sleaze novels under more than forty pseudonyms. That level of output usually makes for rushed and mediocre final results, which was worry enough, along with a thirty dollar price tag, for us to pass on this book. Then we found an electronic copy going for virtually nothing, took the leap, and found ourselves reading the tale of Jody Moran, virginal and headed toward marriage, and her mother Marian, far from virginal and headed toward divorce.
The heart attack death of their father/husband followed by financial need brought on by a business scam sends mother and daughter into the San Francisco nightclub scene, with mom eventually taking a job as the topless waitress of the title, and daughter becoming a topless “a-go-go dancer” in the same club. Along the way they deal with many opportunistic men, including one nightclub owner who manages to bed down both women, pitting them as rivals. Does decadent San Francisco ruin the pair? We won't say. They're sufficiently taken advantage of to satisfy prurient readers. Paul goes lyrical rather than graphic with his sex scenes, which is fine we guess. He's a competent storyteller. In the end, though, we wouldn't say Topless Waitress is anything more than a typical mid-century sleaze novel built on various sexual (and a few sexist) tropes.
The cover art, on the other hand, is far from typical. It features one of Bilbrew's more striking scenes, with his trademark pneumatic women and almost comic book-style execution. He had a singular vision—clearly, considering one woman has a beehive and the other a bucket hat—and was, significantly, one of the only black paperback illustrators during the mid-century period. Since we've seen books with his art go for a hundred dollars, pricewise thirty is actually okay, even enticing, if we were inclined to resell one day. But somehow we never get around to reselling, so we think the cheap e-book route was a good decision. You can see more Bilbrew by clicking here.