A murder by any other name would kill as dead.
This is a rather pretty cover painted by Charles Copeland for E.M. Harper's 1960 novel The Assassin, the story of Alec Jordan, who's spared the guillotine in an Algerian prison but must repay the shadowy government operatives who freed him by murdering an Arab political figure. We've seen convicts turned into assassins a couple times in vintage literature. What sets this story apart is its many flashbacks to Jordan's youth, from the time he was witness to his moonshiner father's killing by cops, to being sprung from reform school to play high school football (seems someone always wants to put his skills to use), to his various war experiences.
The story begins in Paris, from which Jordan pursues his target to London and Vienna, world weary, haunted by the past, and hounded by the people who are operating him. There's, unsurprisingly, the requisite woman-from-his-past for whom he still has feelings—a beauty named Renée who married an Austrian count while Jordan was hors de combat. Conveniently, she's now a widow, but is reclaiming the past an option for Jordan? To survive but lose your soul, to resist corruption but be killed, to find redemption in love. You've read it before, and though Harper breaks no new ground plotwise, he wrote a contemplative iteration of the story that offers some enjoyment.
Live, survive, thrive—she covered the entire spectrum.
Above is a lovely image of a person we guarantee you'll find very interesting. Her name is often given as Elizabeth Bagaaya, or Elizabeth Bagaya, but she's also known as Princess Elizabeth of Toro, and she's a Ugandan lawyer, diplomat, politician, and model—not in that order. Let's see if we can get her incredibly wild life story straight. First of all, Bagaaya was a princess because her mother was married to the King of Toro, an ancient kingdom that spanned not only Uganda, but parts of present-day Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zaire. Next she was a brilliant student, the first black woman to win admission to the English Bar Association, and, in 1965, Uganda's first female lawyer. In 1967 the Ugandan government under Milton Obote abolished the monarchy and Bagaaya lost her title and became merely a person from a powerful family.
In 1971 Idi Amin overthrew Obote and installed himself as dictator. Taking notice of Bagaaya, who in addition to her legal background had been modeling for a few years, he appointed her Minister of Foreign Affairs. He had an ulterior motive. He wanted her to become one of his wives. Her answer—a hard no.
Amin was displeased by her reticence, and placed her under house arrest. He allegedly had her hair forcibly shaved, and generally made her existence hell, all of which prompted her to escape to Nigeria.
Just as an aside—Amin killed up to 300,000 people, maybe even more, but to get a sense of how dangerous he was in his personal life, consider the fact that his second wife, Kay, died under unknown circumstances and her body turned up dismembered, and his fifth wife, Sarah, had a previous boyfriend who vanished and is thought to have been beheaded. Amin wanted Bagaaya, but she was in no way safe because of that.
Anyway, moving on, some of Bagaaya's doings overlap, but the bulk of her modeling came after fleeing from Amin, and when she undertook that profession she gave it her all, becoming the first black woman to have a spread in Vogue, and the first to appear on the cover of Harper's Bazaar. As it was a chic thing for models to do at the time, she posed nude, with the results you see. She also acted, appearing in the films Things Fall Apart and Sheena—yeah, the one with Tanya Roberts.
In 1979 she returned to Uganda because Amin was gone, and the country was having elections. She helped former president Obote win, later served as Uganda's ambassador to Germany and the Vatican, and was Uganda's High Commissioner to Nigeria. There's more, but why go on? What we've described, ladies and gentlemen, is called a life, one that is ongoing, as Princess Elizabeth remains an important figure, aunt of the current King of Toro, and an outsize and complex personality.
The world of professional ballet is absolute murder.
Suspiria is a legendary giallo, praised by horror fans and mainstream critics alike, and slated for a splashy 2018 remake. The fact that it's being remade is understandable—from Hollywood's perspective it fits with action and horror movies such as Turistas, Hostel, A Lonely Place To Die, Land of Smiles, Taken, et al that over the last decade or so have warned Americans that horrific things will happen to them if they travel overseas. In Suspiria an American dancer gains admittance to a prestigious West German ballet academy, but arrives just in time for a nightmarish series of murders. Jessica Harper stars as the ingenue trapped in this mostly blood red dance academy, a stranger in the strangest land, beset by unexplained illnesses, hallucinatory events, and vicious nocturnal terrors.
Suspiria piles the horror stylings on—from Dario Argento and his surreal direction, to Luciano Tovoli with his baroque lighting schemes and supersaturated colors, to the maggot wrangler who produced many more maggots than could have been reasonably expected, to the scorers (Argento among them) who came up with a percussive and discordant soundtrack that could rattle a bomb disposal robot. The first murder is nothing short of operatic, complete with a shot of a knife piercing the victim's exposed heart. The only real question going forward is whether Argento can possibly keep reaching such heights. And the answer is Suspiria, its brilliance outshining its flaws, is a classic for a reason. The poster above is a classic too. It was painted by Mario de Berardinis to promote the film's premiere in Italy today in 1977.
He's judge, jury, and executioner.
Mickey Spillane's first novel I, The Jury has been reprinted innumerable times since its 1947 debut. Of all the art that fronted the book, the painting on this White Circle Pocket paperback published in Canada by HarperCollins in 1948 is our favorite. It's scarce, and the art is uncredited, unfortunately. As for the story, we won't bother to tell you much about it, since it's been well covered by numerous outlets. We'll just say it introduced Mike Hammer to the world, and though the novel isn't perfect it's more than worth your time.
James Stewart sees the sights without ever leaving his apartment.
Belgian movie posters are often quite beautiful. We've already shared frameworthy examples for Vanessa and A Thousand and One Nights, as well as a few others, and above you see a promo for Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window. The movie premiered in 1954 and first played in Belgium today in 1955, where it was titled Fenêtre sur cour, which means “window on the courtyard.” The poster was printed by S.P.R.L. Belgique and the artist is Wik, someone who is simultaneously well represented in vintage poster circles while being a total mystery. We plan to dig around, see if we can find more info on this person.
Everyone has a favorite Hitchcock movie. Rear Window is ours. The story, the stars, and the look of the film are all great, and the idea of everyone's lives under a microscope foreshadows the world in which we live in today. Raised shades aren't needed, though—metadata tells corporations and governments more than a glance in a window ever could. In Rear Window, once Jimmy Stewart realizes he is able to spy, he does it even though he knows it's wrong, and once he suspects a crime has been committed, any sense of guilt disappears—instead he feels entitled to intrude. Maybe that's why today's digital spies always claim to be ferreting out crime—because they know most people will accept that as an excuse.
But you don't need us to analyze Rear Window. More qualified writers have gone over every frame of the film. Instead we've decided to show you below what Stewart was looking at, thanks to series of promo images we managed to locate. Thus you see, from top to bottom, the rear courtyard which encompasses the story, the newlyweds Rand Harper and Havis Davenport, the murder suspect Raymond Burr, Miss Torso played by Georgine Darcy, Miss Lonely Hearts played by Judith Evelyn, and Grace Kelly with sidekick Thelma Ritter digging for body parts in the garden. If you haven't seen the film, definitely watch it. You'll have fun.
Minor noble causes major scandal.
On the Q.T. labeled itself “The class magazine in its field.” In practice that was less than true. This cover from September 1962 offers teasers about Liz Taylor’s inability to be made happy, the fatal ring beating of boxer Kid Paret, and the inside story about Ivy Nicholson’s suicide attempt. But the banner goes to the nude countess who shocked America. That would be Christina Paolozzi, aka Christina Bellin, who was a New York City fashion model and the offspring of United Fruit Company heiress Alicia Spaulding and Italian conte Lorenzo Paolozzi. The photo was shot by Richard Avedon and appeared in Harper’s Bazaar. Paolozzi was already considered “the first of the ’60s free spirits” by the tabloids, and by stripping for Avedon she became the first recognized fashion model to pose nude, a practice that is now common.
While Avedon earned widespread recognition for the shot, which you see at right, Paolozzi was dropped from the New York City Social Register, shunned by Manhattan’s upper crust, and subjected in the press to what is today sometimes called “body shaming.” Columnist Inez Robb wrote that Paolozzi was “no more favored by nature than the average daughter of Eve,” and added for good measure, “Harper’s Bazaar, with its excursion into overexposure, has unwittingly proved that not diamonds but clothes are a girl’s best friend.” If that wasn’t bad enough, just imagine what people wrote in the comments section. They had those then, right?
In any case, Paolozzi was a bold personality, and she went on to make waves yet again with her many wild parties and open marriage to cosmetic surgeon Howard Bellin, commenting in a mid-1970s newspaper article, “[It’s] just the way life is today—one man is simply not enough.” But she didn’t just spend the years having a good time. She also raised money for hospitals in Cambodia and Gabon, orphanages in Afghanistan, and supported eighteen foster children. In a sense, she gave the shirt off her back. Twenty-eight scans from On the Q.T. below.
What do you call forty dead men? A good start.
Two years ago we shared five covers of women standing over men they had just killed and mentioned that there were many examples in vintage cover art of that particular theme. Today we’ve decided to revisit the idea in order to reiterate just how often women in pulp are the movers and shakers—and shooters and stabbers and clubbers and poisoners and scissorers. Now if they do this about a billion more times they’ll really be making a difference that counts.
French publishers, interestingly, were unusually fond of this theme—so egalitarian of them. That’s why many of the covers here are from France, including one—for which we admit we bent the rules of the collection a bit, because the victim isn’t dead quite yet—of a woman actually machine gunning some hapless dude. But what a great cover.
We also have a couple of Spanish killer femmes, and a Dutch example or two. Because we wanted to be comprehensive, the collection is large and some of the fronts are quite famous, but a good portion are also probably new to you. Art is by the usual suspects—Robert Maguire, Barye Phillips, Alex Piñon, Robert Bonfils, Robert McGinnis, Rudolph Belarski, et al. Enjoy.
More precious than gold.
This cool image features American actress Pamela Tiffin, who appeared in films such as Harper with Paul Newman, Kill Me My Love with Farley Granger, and the Italian production I protagonisti with Pulp Intl. fave Sylva Koscina. This photo session, from 1968, also produced the image below, which you see on the cover of the Japanese cinema magazine Movie Information/Movie Pictorial. See another Tiffin shot at the bottom of this post.
Does this look like one of the top sixty pulp book covers of all time to you?
No, it doesn’t look like that to us either. Don’t get us wrong. It isn’t bad. But top sixty? Ever? Yet we found it on a site that included it in its top sixty, along with a collection of other covers of which we can honestly say only three were excellent. There was not one Fixler or Aslan to be found. Nary a J. David, nor a Peff, nor even a hint of a Rader. Clearly, whoever put the feature together took sixty random images off Flickr (yet watermarked the art they borrowed) and called it a day.
This highlights one of the main problems with the internet: it’s difficult to know which sites are primarily focused upon providing information, and which exist solely to generate traffic revenue. A site can do both (as we try to do here with our very minimal ad presence), but when some corporate pulp site that possesses endless resources somehow misidentifies the pulp era as lasting from the 1950s to 1970s, and asserts that the term “pulp” was popularized by the movie Pulp Fiction, it’s clear that information has not only taken a back seat to traffic revenue—it’s being dragged 100 feet behind the car on a rope.
We would never presume to do something as subjective as select the best covers of all time, because who the hell are we? But we have, we hope, earned some credibility over the last three years. So on this, our official third anniversary, we're going to do a pulp cover collection of our own. We don't claim these are the best—only that we like them very much. We’re posting twenty-four because we’re too lazy to do sixty, but we think all of them are winners. A few have already appeared on our site; most have not. So here we go. And thanks to the sites from which we borrowed some of these.
The lullaby of birdland.
Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize winner To Kill a Mockingbird happens to be one of our favorite books. Actually, strike that. We think it’s one of the ten best American books ever written. So imagine our excitement when we found that the French hardback had been illustrated by Aslan, aka Alain Gourdon, one of the top artists of the pulp era. Interestingly, the title of the novel is slightly different in France. A rossignol is a nightingale, rather than a mockingbird. In French a mockingbird is a moquer, but that also means simply “to mock,” so that word would have given the title a slightly different meaning to the French. In any case, we love this cover.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1922—Challenge to Women's Voting Rights Rebuffed
In the United States, a conservative legal challenge to the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing voting rights for women is rebuffed by the Supreme Court in Leser v. Garnett. The challenge was based partly on the idea of individual "states rights" to self determination. The failure of such reasoning as it applied to basic human rights created a framework for later states rights losses involving the denial of voting rights to African-Americans.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
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