I could stop drinking any time. But I'm no quitter.
Above: a pretty cool Charles Copeland cover for Martha Crane by Charles Gorham, originally 1953, with this Berkley Books edition copyright 1957. This could have fit into our cocktail tease collection, but as with Les affriolantes, which we talked about recently, we thought this needed its own spotlight because of how unusual the art is. As for the story, it's a look at the hard life of the titular Martha Crane, who deals with unwed motherhood, a descent into prostitution, a sociopathic pimp, and murder. It's a book meant to shock. We have a lot of Copeland art in the site, but for a quick glimpse at just a couple of pieces, check here and here.
I'm sort of a paradox. I'm a terrible wife, but I'm incredible at everything that gets a woman a husband.
Above is a cover for Don Tracy's novel The Cheat, originally published as Criss-Cross in 1934, with this Lion edition coming in 1956 with Charles Copeland cover art. This is a good book, but if you're seeking artful prose you might as well keep looking. 1934 was early in the game for hard-boiled fiction. A few authors were doing visionary work but the form was still establishing its parameters. What attracted readers was that these were new types of stories—frank, violent, and centered around hard luck protagonists, ruthless villains, and women who were to varying degrees breathtakingly beautiful, sexually ravenous, and totally amoral.
The Cheat is about a boxer named Johnny Thompson. The Depression has drained the profit from boxing, so for the moment Johnny is an armored car guard, riding shotgun for payroll deliveries. He's occasionally going out with Anna, who's far too beautiful for the likes of him and mainly just likes to have money spent on her. Johnny doesn't have much of that, which means he has no real shot with Anna. He coasts along in financial and romantic limbo until Anna breaks his heart by suddenly marrying a neighborhood slickster named Slim Dundee.
So many of these pulp novels hinge upon sex, but it couldn't be explicitly stated. Tracy is fairly clear about it here, though. Johnny thinks he's ugly yet refuses to consort with women he considers to be of inadequate quality, so he's sexually inexperienced. He isn't a virgin, but it's been years since his first couple of sexual encounters. Anna is his unattainbale dream. He's never even kissed her, but her willingness to associate with him provided his life with hope. He lost that when she married, but she later shocks him by finally offering herself to him, vows be damned. We get a clear sense of what it means to Johnny:
I bit my knuckles thinking about it and how sweet—oh my God—it would be, but I wouldn't take it. [snip] Every hour was full of pictures of Anna. Anna as I'd seen her and Anna as I'd never seen her, but could if I went there the next night. Anna, naked. Anna, in my arms, looking up at me. I kept seeing her and feeling her body under me and her open mouth on my mouth.
So hot she makes him bite his knuckles. That's hot. Johnny virtually flogs himself, telling himself not to give in, not to betray Slim, not to accept Anna's baffling out-of-the-blue offer, but it's useless of course. He goes, she meets him at the door in a kimono and nothing else, his fuses all blow, and nature takes its course:
I remember sobbing, although I wasn't really crying, when the first deep contentment began to rub out the ache I'd had in me for so long.
Well, that gets to the point. And it's a point we've been making for years. These guys don't get into trouble because of mere sex. They get into trouble because of sex as they never imagined it could be—in this case sex that makes him “not really” cry. Yowsa. His reaction has largely to do with finally attaining what he thought he was not good enough to have, in effect validating his entire existence, but there's no doubt the heights of sheer physical pleasure bring it on too. We picture him drying his wet eyes with a corner of the sheet and telling Anna, “I'm sorry. It's not you, it's me.” Needless to say, he's hooked, and who wouldn't be?
During subsequent sessions Anna keeps her, ahem, guard up, and Johnny enjoys every moment, despite feelings of guilt for being a backstabber. Then comes the pivotal day when Slim approaches him with an idea to rob the armored car—with Johnny as the inside man. Anna is on board with the plan, so clearly if he refuses she might not let him be her inside man anymore. Where it goes from there we won't reveal. We'll only say that The Cheat overcomes its rudimentary feel and provides considerable entertainment, which is the next best thing to actually being well written. And for those who enjoy their crime thrillers with motion and sound, a pretty good movie was made of it in 1949. Chose either or both. You'll win regardless.
That's right, I'm looking at you. Read this magazine and learn how to be a real man.
It seems to us that the purpose of men's adventure magazines was to teach ordinary schlubs a little something about how to keep it real, and this issue of Male published in April 1962 fulfills the mandate. Behind the steely-eyed cover art by Harry Schaare, and mixed between interior art by Charles Copeland, Rafael de Soto, James Bama, and Walter Popp, readers learn how to navigate big city vice, survive a nuclear attack, avoid appliance repair scams, pick the perfect car to cruise the open road, and—most importantly—get a raise at their soulsucking office jobs.
Those are all fine offerings, but we particularly like the story, “Let's Let the Russians Beat Us to the Moon,” which suggests that if the Russians are so eager to get to the moon let them serve as sacrificial lambs—since the place is filled unknown dangers. Journalist and skeptic Ray Lunt reasons, “For all our scientists know, the moon may be 10,000 miles from where we think it is, paved with quicksand 90 feet deep, and full of brain gas instead of air.” Instead of air? Sounds like he was the one inhaling brain gas.
We checked out the story just to find out what brain gas was, and learned basically nothing. He mentions that some scientists—unnamed of course—believe the moon might harbor poisonous gas, but the brain thing never comes up. What a tease. He does, though, run through a long list of other moon horrors fit for a Heinlein novel. He must have been really bummed in 1969 when it turned out to be just a big, dusty rock. We have scans below, and more Male in the website. Feel free to click the keywords.
So far I've had malaria, dysentery, dengue, hookworm, and schistosomiasis, but baby, you make it all worth it.
Once again cover art works its intended magic, as we made the choice of reading Georges Simenon's African adventure Tropic Moon solely due to being lured by Charles Copeland's evocative brushwork. This edition came from Berkley Books in 1958, but the tale was originally published as Coup de lune in 1933. It's set in Gabon, then a territory of French Equatorial Africa, and poses the familiar question: does Africa ruins whites or were they bad beforehand? The main character here, Joseph Timar, is done in by heat and booze and easy sex, but he was surely a terrible person before he ever set foot in Gabon, and of course he's a stand-in for all white colonials. All we can say is we get the message. We got it way back when Conrad wrote it. What would be great is some sense of evolution in all these Conrad-derived works, for instance if occasionally the human cost of colonial greed were shown to be black lives and prosperity rather than white dignity and morality, but literary treatments of that sort had not yet come over the horizon during the pulp era. On its own merits, though, Tropic Moon is interesting, a harrowing front row seat for a downward spiral in the equatorial jungle.
What a nice surprise! Let's eat dinner then we'll dump his corpse in the woods.
Above, nice Charles Copeland art for Harry Whittington's 1957 thriller Married to Murder. There's nothing like the occasional thoughtful gift to keep a marriage fresh.
The list is long, cowboy, and you're nowhere on it.
There aren't quite enough dude ranch sleaze novels to consider them a distinct subset of mid-century fiction, but we've noticed a few books similar to Lee Thomas's 1963 effort A Woman's Desire. Like E.L Scobie's Man Handled, for example, which we talked about a while ago. A Woman's Desire deals with a group of guests at the Slashed Lightning Ranch, and the revolving affections of Lauri (nice girl), April (man eater), Bob (real cowpoke), and Craig (city slicker). Round and round it goes, and just like in rodeo whoever stays mounted the longest wins. Style points for getting out of the saddle without landing on your face. Charles Copeland cover art.
Membership is costing her the shirt off her back.
Charles Copeland is the brush behind this cover for The Friendship Club, and he's done his usual bang-up job. The book was written by Dean McCoy, which was a pseudonym used by Dudley Dean McGaughy for several novels, including Beach Binge and Juice Town, which also sound like winners. In this one a swinging couple puts together a swapping club for like-minded residents of their small town community, and everything goes well until one of the members decides swapping means woman on woman too. The guys are dismayed to learn their services aren't required, or for that matter desired, and countermeasures follow. Put this in the dangerous lesbians bin, 1963.
When the dean's away the wife will play.
Above, another entry in the school sleaze genre, The Dean's Wife, by Lee Thomas for Beacon Books. Thomas was a pseudonym used by author Lee Floren, who also wrote as Matt Harding, Will Watson, and possibly other entities. He didn't just write sleaze—he authored numerous westerns, and generally wrote those under his own name. The Dean's Wife is copyright 1963, and the art is by Charles Copeland.
When girl meets girl sparks fly.
Above and below is a small percentage of some of the thousands of lesbian themed paperback covers that appeared during the mid-century period, with art by Paul Rader, Fred Fixler, Harry Schaare, Rudy Nappi, Charles Copeland, and others, as well as a few interesting photographed fronts. The collection ends with the classic Satan Was a Lesbian, which you’ve probably seen before, but which no collection like this is complete without. Hopefully most of the others will be new to you. Needless to say, almost all were written by men, and in that sense are really hetero books reflecting hetero fantasies (fueled by hetero misconceptions and slander). You can see plenty more in this vein on the website Strange Sisters. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
The newspaper Pravda is founded by Leon Trotsky, Adolph Joffe, Matvey Skobelev and other Russian exiles living in Vienna. The name means "truth" and the paper serves as an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party between 1912 and 1991.
1957—Ferlinghetti Wins Obscenity Case
An obscenity trial brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of the counterculture City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, reaches its conclusion when Judge Clayton Horn rules that Allen Ginsberg's poetry collection Howl is not obscene.
After a long trial watched by millions of people worldwide, former football star O.J. Simpson is acquitted of the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Simpson subsequently loses a civil suit and is ordered to pay millions in damages.
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