Don't cry, baby. They don't shoot horses. They take them to magical horsie land where they eat oats and apples forever.
Above: another cover for Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses Don't They?, very different in mood from the 1955 Berkley cover we showed you earlier. This one was painted in 1938 by Tony Varady, who we've seen before illustrating a different McCoy book, No Pockets in a Shroud, published in 1948. We loved They Shoot Horses Don't They? on its own merits, but because it's a social and political critique it has extra resonance in an era when most people have lost faith in the American dream (don't shoot horses, and don't shoot messengers—it's simply true, that's all). We talk a bit more about the book here.
It's both appropriate *grunt* and ironic *gasp* that ballroom dancing *argh* is going to give me a hernia!
This 1955 Berkley Books cover for Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is one of the most striking art pieces of the paperback era. It's uncredited, incredibly. Still, the image succinctly gets to the core of McCoy's story—exhaustion in a dance contest, but metaphorically, exhaustion in the contest of capitalism. It revolves around a set of young people who enter a dance marathon in an attempt to win a $1,000 prize. The entire story, more or less, takes place during this dance-a-thon, which goes on for weeks. Those who quit early get nothing. Those who suffer long enough may profit a few measly dollars. Only a vanishingly small percentage desperate enough to exhaust themselves to the point of physical disintegration—in this case one couple—have a chance to come away with the prize.
Some reviewers say the book is a metaphor for life rather than capitalism. Well, that too, but what makes it an obvious capitalism critique are the celebrity guests intermittently paraded before the dancers. They show that wealth is real, function as suggestions to the dancers that the obstacle is not the rules for victory, but the will to succeed, though the odds are staggeringly, cruelly against them. Oh yes, it's a metaphor for capitalism, alright. The American Dream—generally defined as a decent salary, home ownership, sufficient family and leisure time, and retirement—increasingly really is just a dream. This fact makes mid-century capitalism critiques prescient by definition, but They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is more on target than most. And purely as a piece of fiction it's a total winner.
I always knew my movie career would end one day. But I thought it would at least start first.
Having spent some years in L.A., and having worked in entertainment there, we're drawn to Hollywood novels. Horace McCoy's I Should Have Stayed Home tells the story of Ralph Carston, twenty-something hot shit from Georgia, who heads out to Hell A. and learns that stardom is not easily achieved. This is a simple and unlayered tale, and considering what we know firsthand can happen in Hollywood, Ralph doesn't actually go through anything earth-shattering. Most of his problems stem from the fact that he's a pompous dumbass. He tries unsuccessfully to make connections, hooks up with a rich cougar who has a sexual fetish, goes to some parties, is warned he can't be a star with his southern accent, spends a few chapters infuriated by an interracial couple he sees at someone's house, battles professional envy, has a bit of strife with his roomie Mona, and deals with tragedy concerning his friend Dorothy. By the end he's grown terminally discouraged and cynical in a town that runs on hope. Dare we say it? He should have stayed home.
And if this goes as well as I hope, you can kiss the day after that goodbye too.
Above, a cover for Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy, for Signet Books with art by James Avati. McCoy was one of the more hardboiled writers of his era, often swimming in the same end of the pool as Jim Thompson and James M. Cain. We'll talk about a couple of his books in detail later. This one was adapted into a film of the same name in 1950 starring James Cagney and Barbara Payton. It's one we haven't seen, but we'll get around to that too.
You're absolutely right! Because corpses don't need money, keys, gum, or any of that stuff. What was I thinking?
First of all, when we see a title like No Pockets in a Shroud and see an angry guy with a crushed piece of paper it seems to us that he's just decided to go back to the drawing board with something, possibly shroud design. Which is how we came up with our silly subhead. But the book isn't about shrouds at all. What happens is a newspaperman's rigid personal ethics compel him to expose corruption in the big city, including bribery in professional baseball, a crooked abortion ring, and a racist group that bears a strong resemblance to the KKK. This truth-telling will cost him of course, but exactly how much is the question.
The book was written by Horace McCoy, who is often called an underrated writer, but once multiple sources use that term, maybe you aren't underrated anymore. He wrote numerous tales for the classic pulp magazine Black Mask, as well as for Detective-Dragnet Magazine, Man Stories, et al, before branching out to author classic novels like Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Generally, No Pockets in a Shroud is considered substandard for McCoy, but it has an interesting point of view. The rather intense cover art is signed “T.V.,” which we take to mean Tony Varady. And the title, incidentally, is just another way of saying: You can't can't take it with you.
Getting what you want is all in how you ask.
It seems as if no genre of literature features more characters in complete submission to others than mid-century sleaze. And how do these hapless supplicants express their desperation? They break out the kneepads. Above and below are assorted paperback covers of characters making pleas, seeking sympathy, and professing undying devotion. Though some of these folks are likely making the desired impression on their betters, most are being ignored, denied, or generally dumptrucked. You know, psychologists and serial daters say a clean break is best for all involved, so next time you need to go Lili St. Cyr on someone try this line: “I've decided I hate your face now.” That should get the job done. Art is by Harry Barton, Barye Philips, Paul Rader, et al.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet
, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
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