This Cameron Kay fella might just amount to something one day.
Cameron Kay was a pseudonym used by literary leading light Gore Vidal when he was short of cash and needed to publish and get paid fast. He'd used other pseudonyms for this purpose, including Edgar Box and Katherine Everard. It took him about three weeks to produce 1953's Thieves Fall Out, and he made three grand on the deal. It's one of those books where a money-seeking rando goes to a foreign country and immediately inserts himself into the biggest caper going for hundreds of miles around—and does it, improbably, with great ease, while seeming to think, irrationally, that it's a good idea. This character, named Peter Wells, ultimately turns sour on the venture and must figure out a way to flee Egypt with his true love by his side.
Though Vidal is not at the heights he'd reach in his best writing, you already know that going in. In the final analysis he gets the job done, like a good carpenter working on a quick side project. We glanced at a few reviews after finishing the story and they seem to miss the point that Vidal does exactly what adventure fiction requires. Saying the book's plot is stock is like saying dance music is repetitive. It has to be that way to make you dance. Because of the identity of the author, it feels as if reviewers try to flaunt their intellectual bona fides by trashing the result. We're not going to do that. The book is satisfactory.
What Vidal does especially well is local color—though refracted through a wealthy Western prism that few Egyptians would appreciate. Yet it's clear he tries to be egalitarian, if imperfectly, and he crafts a tale with unique characters. There's a piano playing hunchback who hides behind a wall and looks at his nightclub through a peephole, a beautiful French countess who was once the mistress of Egypt's top Nazi, and a fresh young beauty who's the unrequited love of King Farouk of Egypt—who has her followed everywhere by his secret police. Those ideas are unusual, for sure, but they're not as farfetched as some reviewers would like you to think.
We make that statement confidently because we've lived in the wilder world. In Guatemala we met an ex-judge from a proximate country who had fled because of being targeted for death by the new ruling party, but who was a drunk who craved public enjoyment and had shaved his head and grown a beard in order to hang in dive bars unrecognized. Was his story true? Maybe. He had a judicial identification card he eventually showed us that looked real enough. Real enough, in fact, that we gave him a wide berth from then on, thinking that if he was assassinated we didn't want to be in the line of fire. It may not sound real, but there you go. It happened.
Therefore we don't agree with reviewers who think Vidal's characters are intentionally absurd, and that he was pushing the envelope of how bizarre he could make his cast. Such people exist. Vidal would have found them. They make Thieves Fall Out a fascinating read. The book isn't top of the genre, nor bottom, but it's unique, and has a fun climax tied into the burgeoning Egyptian revolution and the real-life fire that destroyed one of the most famous hotels in the world. Here's what Thieves Fall Out is in summation: readable, distracting, and just leftfield enough to let you know the author is someone with a different take on the world, who'd later distill his ideas into fiction that would make him a literary sensation.
A dozen reasons to love French cover art.
We've done plenty on illustrator Jef de Wulf. Today we have a diverse collection of more of his work. As always, we'll circle back to him later. In the meantime, we recommend looking here, here, here, here, and here.
I could screw my way to the top but this method is so much more satisfying.
Above you see the covers for the 1958 and 1954 Signet editions of Death Before Bedtime, by Edgar Box, who was in reality literary legend Gore Vidal. This novel is the middle entry of a trilogy—the first is Death in the Fifth Position and the third is Death Likes It Hot. All feature public relations exec/amateur detective Peter Sargeant II, and the story in this one takes place in Washington, D.C., and involves a murdered senator, his promiscuous daughter, his widow, and various figures ranging from pure to corrupt. It owes plenty to Agatha Christie in that the murder—via dynamite, by the way—occurs in a house and everyone who was on the premises is a suspect. Unsurprisingly, there's almost as much sex as sleuthing, but there's also plenty of Vidalian wit. The top cover was painted by Robert Maguire and the second was the work of Clark Hulings.
Oh, that Katherine Everard. On second thought, maybe the book isn't so bad after all.
“A first novel that holds little promise of a future.” Thus concluded one 1949 review of Katherine Everard's Cry Shame!, aka A Star's Progress. This assessment is funny because Everard was a pseudonym used by American literary treasure Gore Vidal, who'll be remembered far longer than any of his critics. Cry Shame! tells the story of a girl who becomes a stripper in New Orleans at age thirteen, a wife for a much older man at age fourteen, a Hollywood starlet as an adult, and finally—thanks to romantic misfortune—a broken woman. Today's critics claim they can see touches of Vidalian genius in various details of the book. Of course they can. This Pyramid edition comes complete and unabridged—except for the bottom half inch of the cover cut off by some shoddy work at the printer—with art by Harry Bennett.
New memoir outs pretty much everyone in 1940s Hollywood.
Every year, a raft of Hollywood tell-alls hits the newsstands, all claiming to be filled with juicy revelations, with only a scant few actually delivering on that promise. Scotty Bowers' newly published Tinseltown memoir Full Service falls into the latter group. We think it's destined to be one of the most remembered show business memoirs ever written.
Bowers was a World War II vet-turned-bartender who arrived in Hollywood in 1946 and quickly found that his striking looks opened doors for him. Those doors allegedly led to the bedrooms of such varied personages as Edith Piaf, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Vivien Leigh, and the Duke of Windsor.
Bowers soon became known on the Hollywood fast track as a guy who could arrange trysts for stars too cautious or too shy to manage it themselves, and located sexual partners for Vincent Price, Katherine Hepburn, Rock Hudson and scores of others. Some of his claims are just jawdropping. Among them: he says he procured about 150 women for Katherine Hepburn, had threesomes with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, and learned Spencer Tracy was bi-sexual only when, in a drunken stupor, the star "began nibbling on my foreskin."
There's always a degree of scepticism aroused by books like these, but Full Service dovetails with rumors that have been floating around Hollywood for decades, and has been endorsed by Gore Vidal, who claims to have been privvy to much of what Bowers describes and has called the book "as revelation filled as Hollywood Babylon." Predictably, the relatives of some of the stars mentioned in the book are not happy with its content, but Bowers steers clear of any true libel and probably can't be sued. As to why it took him so long to reveal his many secrets, he said in an interview with the New York Times, "I'm not getting any younger and all my famous tricks are dead by now. The truth can't hurt them anymore."
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1958—Plane Crash Kills 8 Man U Players
British European Airways Flight 609 crashes attempting to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. On board the plane is the Manchester United football team, along with a number of supporters and journalists. 20 of the 44 people on board die in the crash.
1919—United Artists Is Launched
Actors Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, along with director D.W. Griffith, launch United Artists. Each holds a twenty percent stake, with the remaining percentage held by lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo. The company struggles for years, with Griffith soon dropping out, but eventually more partners are brought in and UA becomes a Hollywood powerhouse.
1958—U.S. Loses H-Bomb
A 7,600 pound nuclear weapon that comes to be known as the Tybee Bomb is lost by the U.S. Air Force off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, near Tybee Island. The bomb was jettisoned to save the aircrew during a practice exercise after the B-47 bomber carrying it collided in midair with an F-86 fighter plane. Following several unsuccessful searches, the bomb was presumed lost, and remains so today.
1906—NYPD Begins Use of Fingerprint ID
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Joseph A. Faurot begins using French police officer Alphonse Bertillon's fingerprint system to identify suspected criminals. The use of prints for contractual endorsement (as opposed to signatures) had begun in India thirty years earlier, and print usage for police work had been adopted in India, France, Argentina and other countries by 1900, but NYPD usage represented the beginning of complete acceptance of the process in America. To date, of the billions of fingerprints taken, no two have ever been found to be identical.
1974—Patty Hearst Is Kidnapped
In Berkeley, California, an organization calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnaps heiress Patty Hearst
. The next time Hearst is seen is in a San Francisco bank, helping to rob it with a machine gun. When she is finally captured her lawyer F. Lee Bailey argues that she had been brainwashed into committing the crime, but she is convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, a term which is later commuted.
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