Zumba, huh? Never heard of it. But anything that involves dancing around in this heat I'll take a pass on.
A glance at this Barye Phillips cover for Dan Cushman's 1951 novel Jewel of the Java Sea and you immediately expect it to be filled with lyrical old place names, with their romantic connotations for Westerners of a certain age—Siam, Burma, Celebes, Dutch East Indies, and broadly “the Orient,” names that have dissipated into history, though colonial memory continues to associate them with riches, adventure, and freedom. The name Java is still in use, and that's where Frisco Dougherty, a musician by training, but a fortune hunter and brawler in practice, has been knocking around for fifteen years attempting to make his fortune.
Dougherty has had little luck at this, which is why when he comes into possession of a yellow diamond said to be part of a priceless larger set, he goes into treasure hunter mode with sharp tongue, clenched fists, and hot lead. This jewel he's stumbled upon is supposedly one of five known collectively as the Taj Nipa, with those in turn married to a larger diamond called the Taj-i-nur. The whole kit and caboodle is presumed to reside in the vault of the Maharajah Sir Jagadipendra Bahadur, G.S., C.I., C.C.E.I., LMNOP. But that presumption could be wrong. Maybe the stones were liberated from their vault, though nobody has reported a theft.
Such capers are the core of these types of books, but there are also women. Anna, a Dutchwoman cast adrift in the islands, tells Dougherty she's searching for her missing father, an army major. She's important, but Dougherty is particularly intrigued by Locheng, an exotic dancer in the town of Pontianak, Borneo, and to his eye, a mix of all things good about Asia. He tells the reader she's, “Indo-Chinese, Malay, child of the melting pot, and [with] white blood, enough white blood make her vivid, give her fire.” Uh huh, Frisco loves him some Locheng, though he has a mighty brusque way of showing it:
He decided not to knock. He swung the door open. She sprang up to face him. She was naked. He took a deep breath and looked at her. She seized her sarong and swung it around her hips, tucked it tightly around her waist. Her breasts remained bare, after the fashion of native women.
“Why did you do that?” he asked. “Is it the Western influence that makes you think a body should be hidden? Let me see you as you were. You are so beautiful.”
The Western influence. We didn't notice him wandering around naked to demonstrate his liberation. But maybe that's his point—he's too corrupted to be free, but luckily—his luck, not hers—she isn't. At this point he's met Locheng exactly once before, and she called him a hodah orang—ugly man, according to the book, though not according to Google translate—and showed him the door. But he clearly thinks being cursed out was just a flirtatious prelude to his inevitable conquest of Locheng, and indeed, as these South Seas novels are usually male literary fantasies, that conquest will come soon enough.
Dougherty is interesting. He's impulsive and self-entitled; bigoted, though this appears to be more class than skin based; and sexist, to which we add no qualifiers considering he always wants women to parade around naked. But he's also sentimental and defends the underdog. We think he's an accurate depiction of a certain type of wayfaring American male endemic to the wilder reaches of the world. As former inhabitants of a couple of those reaches ourselves, we've met the type. Cue the Pulp Intl. girlfriends: “Met? You are the type.” Well, not really, though. We've always sought adventures, but our resemblance to Dougherty stops where he demands unearned respect, crosses lines of consent, and calls grown men, “boy.”
In the end, Jewel of the Java Sea is a South Asian thriller that sits neither at the top nor bottom of the genre. Frisco Dougherty might be worth having a beer with, but only until he says something offensive and refuses to apologize. What we'd prefer to hear from him are reflections about something other than how Western influence has ruined his chances to enjoy boobs al fresco. That may yet happen. Reading the book, we got the feeling he was supposed to become a franchise. A series never took root, but he did pop up in one sequel, 1960's The Half-Caste, also set in Asia. We already purchased it a little earlier today, because Cushman can write. What will be interesting is to see if Dougherty can grow.
Gardner and MacMurray juggle love and danger in wartime Malaysia.
We talked about the 1947 war adventure Singapore in August. Here's a beautiful Italian poster for the film, on which co-star Ava Gardner takes front and center, with Fred MacMurray lurking in the background. There are several Italian promos. This one is by Zadro, who painted a number of other brilliant pieces, but about whom little is known today. We'll get back to him. And you can read more about the movie here.
If at first you don't succeed, fly back to Malaysia and try again.
In the movies good girls always seem to fall for bad boys. In the World War II drama Singapore Ava Gardner is the former and Fred MacMurray is the latter, a smuggler of jewels. The two hook up in the titular locale, and when Gardner learns her new love is a crook, she accepts it with a rhetorical shrug. She asks merely if Fred is what the authorities suspect him to be, receives an affirmative answer, then asks if he can't sell jewels legally, receives the answer, “Yes, but at a quarter the price,” and that's it. She doesn't trouble her mind beyond that point, which we consider a major failing of Seton I. Miller's script.
It isn't the only failing. When it comes to areas of love and desire, the dripping melodrama of the dialogue puts MacMurray and Gardner in tough spots, and neither comes out unscathed. The good news is that in other areas Singapore fares better. The film weaves the tale of how MacMurray's plan to smuggle priceless pearls is cut short when the Japanese unexpectedly bomb the city. The love story, the smuggling plot, and the bombing are all told in reminiscence, bracketed front and rear by MacMurray's return five years after the tragedies and errors of his previous stint there. Now, with the city recovering from conflict, MacMurray tries to put together the puzzle pieces of the past.
We love old Hollywood's foreign fetish, its eagerness to set films in exotic locales. When it works well, as in Casablanca and its deft usage of Morocco, the result is magic; when it doesn't, as in, say, Miss Sadie Thompson and its setting of Pago Pago, the bells and whistles are a glaring reminder of missed opportunities. Singapore falls somewhere in the middle. We get to see a bit of Singapore when it was still part of Malaysia, which is interesting, but the most exotic sight to be seen is still Ava Gardner. For us, she was reason enough to take the trip. But just barely. Singapore premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
You can also write in it, in theory at least.
Nice diary, right? Well, don't worry about using it to set down your innermost thoughts—they're already in there, because this little baby is filled with pure smut. Way back we shared some scans from a couple of true oddities we acquired—porn from Malaysia disguised as mini diaries. The first one was stamped with the logo of Syarikat Great Wall Advertising, and the second was tucked inside a cover from the Tan Liat Seng Tea Company. When we posted the Tan Liat Seng diary we mentioned that we had a third example and promised to post it soon. Well, soon is relative, especially on Pulp Intl. But we're finally getting around to keeping that promise five years later.
Above you see the cover of diary three, which is logoless save for the year—1977. Below are assorted scans from inside. Japanese actress Mari Tanaka appeared in the Tan Liat Seng diary, and she pops up in this one too. Some of the other women may be celebrities, but we can't place them. When we shared the first of these we thought they were all printed by the same company, but now we wonder if these were more like Tijuana bibles, printed by numerous companies and sold on the sly. We may never know the answer, but in any case these diaries are priceless treasures, at least to us.
Southeast Asia escape epic features murder, sex and everything between.
This issue of Male magazine published this month in 1958 features James Bama cover art illustrating Richard Farrington's story “The Incredible 'Blood and Bamboo' Escape,” which is the true tale of Dutchman Klaus van Tronk's flight from a Japanese internment camp in Malaysia during World War II. The story is a book-length special, and one of the more harrowing and interesting details involves one of the prisoners being tied spread-eagled on a bamboo mat elevated six inches above the ground. Beneath the mat were living bamboo shoots. As Farrington tells it (via van Tronk's account), “The shoots are tough, the tips as sharp as honed steel, and they can push through a plank floor [two inches thick]. They grow rapidly in the Pacific sun, about six inches on a good hot day. It had been a hot day.” When van Tronk's work detail came back that evening from a long grind of slave labor in the jungle the bound man already had bamboo shoots growing through his chest, and was still alive, screaming.
We did a verification check on this arcane torture and found that no cases confirmed to scholarly standards exist, but that it is well known in Asia, and experiments on substances approximating the density of human flesh have shown that it would work. As little as forty-eight hours would be needed to penetrate an entire body. Fascinating stuff, but what you really want to know in terms of veracity is whether scantily clad women helped the escapees paddle to freedom like in Bama's cover art, right? Well, this depiction is actually a completely accurate representation of what van Tronk described, or at least what biographer Farrington claims van Tronk described. The women were the daughters of a sympathetic Malay farmer, and indeed they wore virtually nothing, and were considered quite beautiful by the prisoners, save for the minor detail of having red teeth from the local tradition of chewing betel nuts.
The risk taken by these women was extraordinary. Other women who had helped van Tronk and his companions during their months-long odyssey were tortured and raped, and at one point a village was machine-gunned. Why would these Malays take up the foreigners' cause if the risks were so high? Van Tronk attributes it to a cultural requirement to help strangers in need, but we'd note that people have taken these sorts of risks everywhere, cultural norms or no. Often the suffering of others simply brings out the best in people. A historical check on Klaus van Tronk turned up nothing, though, so maybe the entire true story is a piece of fiction. If so, it's a very good one. We have some scans below with art by John Kuller, Joe Little, Al Rossi, Mort Kunstler, and Bruce Minney, and more issues of Male magazine at the keywords.
Monroe may wobble but she won’t fall down.
Marilyn Monroe shows up just about everywhere, and here she is yet again where we didn’t expect to see her—fronting a Malaysian film publication that appeared today in 1953. The magazine, called Filmalaya, is in English, which marks it as aimed at the British colonial community that occupied the upper stratum of society in Malaysia and Singapore. The cover photo is from a publicity series made when Monroe filmed the movie Niagara in Ontario, Canada in late 1952, and let’s just assume her perch is not as precarious as it seems and there’s a handy ledge or lawn behind her in case she goes heels up. But if she does, there are other stars in the magazine, such as Joan Collins, Betty Grable, Rhonda Fleming, Ava Gardner, and Nat King Cole.
Filmalaya represents an interesting snapshot into colonial society, as in the article about Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in London, which describes the thrills and excitement in Malaysia during the event. Doubtless, the mood around the Commonwealth probably seemed festive when viewed from inside the colonial bubble, but we doubt actual Malaysians were particularly moved. Needless to say, this magazine is rare, but luckily items from Asia are often a bargain, so this cost a mere six U.S. dollars. While the inside is nothing special visually speaking, that doesn’t matter when the magazine has this great cover and is such an informative slice of history. We’ve uploaded a few of the best pages below. Enjoy.
Example of Malaysian cover art from 1959 isn’t classically pulp, but we’ll take it.
Here’s something we found that’s a bit different than usual. It’s a copy of Nyawa di-hujong Pedang, which we gather is a pretty famous book written by a pretty famous author (Ahmad Murad Nasruddin). In English it’s called Life at the End of the Sword, it’s about the struggle against Japanese aggression circa World War II, and the year of publication was originally 1946, with this edition appearing in 1959. Perhaps the art doesn’t perfectly fit the definition of pulp, but it is international and since it’s as close to pulp as we’ve ever seen out of Malaysia we’ll expand our parameters a bit to squeeze it into the website. The art is signed, but we can’t decipher the artist’s scrawl. As a side note, you may remember we shared two amazing items from Malaysia a while back. If you missed those, they’re something you should see, and they reside here and here. We’ll have a few more Malaysian tidbits later.
Need porn right this instant? We may have the solution to your problem.
Back during the summer, we posted a Malaysian pocket porn diary and mentioned that we had found three of them. Well, today seems like an appropriate day to share another of these gems. The last one was produced by the Syarikat Great Wall Advertising Co., whereas this one is the work of the Tan Liat Seng Tea Co. Which tells us that neither company is legit, and they were actually produced by a bunch of hosers working at some after hours printing press. Like Tijuana bibles, we suspect they were made and supplied in bulk, then sold under the counter at corner stores to various discerning customers. The previous one was all Asian, but this one, made two years earlier, has a mix of Western and Asian women, and we especially appreciate the creative use of cabbage for obscuring the last woman’s, er, patch. We also are absolutely certain the woman in scan five (and four) standing next to a bureau is Japanese actress Mari Tanaka. We’ll get around to posting the third one of these diaries pretty soon.
Is that a diary in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?
If necessity is the mother of invention, then we’ve entered a whole new realm of need. At right you see a pocket sized appointment diary produced in 1976 by the Syarikat Great Wall Advertising Co. of Penang, Malaysia. The fact that the place is supposedly located on Love Lane should be a clue what this item truly is, for while it may seem on the outside to be a standard issue journal, on the inside it’s in fact a portable porn collection.
The discreet cover allows you to take a gander at the interior babes pretty much anywhere, with nothing to give you away except perhaps a tell-tale bulge in the trousers. But if anyone notices you can simply smile and tell them your day's slate of meetings and errands are that exciting. The personal memoranda page says that if the diary is found it should be returned to the owner, but we doubt anyone who found it would give it up, and we also doubt the previous owner would admit it was his.
On the whole we really can’t figure out if this book is perverted or wonderful, but either way it’s certainly one of the most unusual items we’ve ever come across. The good folks at Syarikat Great Wall must have churned these out in droves, because guess what? We found three of them, all different. We'll defnitely be sharing the other two a little bit later. As for right now, we're calling it a day. We have to, er, jot down a few ideas.
You can have my guns when you pry them from my cold dead hands.
We ran across another cool publication from Singapore, this one an English-language movie magazine called Movie News. This issue is from 1951 and features black-clad cover star Randolph Scott about to ventilate somebody with his sixguns. Inside the magazine are a couple of faces that are new to us— Zachary Scott and Miroslava. Zachary Scott, in panel nine, is unrelated to Randolph Scott, but had a moderately successful Hollywood career of his own, appearing in some westerns, as well as in the acclaimed noir classic Mildred Pierce. He died of cancer in 1965 at age fifty-one. Miroslava, née Miroslava Sternova, in panel four, was born in Prague in 1925 but fled that war-torn city for Mexico in 1939. A beauty contest opened doors in Hollywood for her, and she acted in about a dozen films and even once graced the cover of Life. At the age of thirty she committed suicide over a failed love affair. What we’ve read about her is quite interesting, so we’ll get back to her at a later date.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying
. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
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