In a New York minute everything can change.
Casanova à Manhattan is another novel in the dekobrisme style by the author for whom the adjective was coined, Maurice Dekobra. In this one a French count rescues a woman from a concentration camp, marries her, and spirits her away to New York City. He gets a job in a nightclub and she finds work as a chaperone of debutantes. Things go swimmingly until the count's sister-in-law turns up with designs to replace the wife. Dekobra was one of the most famous French authors of the 20th century. You can learn a bit more about him from our previous write-ups on him here and here, but the best way to know him is to read him. The cover art here was painted by Aslan, aka Alain Gourdon. He painted some of the most romantic covers and pin-ups of the last century, and some of the most erotic. We've been thinking about putting together a collection of his pin-ups, but have been hesitant because they're pretty explicit. Well, stay tuned. We may do it anyway. Meanwhile, check out our collection of paperback kisses here.
Under the circumstances you’d be singing too.
Maurice Dekobra’s Bedroom Eyes was originally published in 1932 as La biche aux yeux cernés (which means “doe eyes identified”), and this retitled Novel Library paperback appeared in 1949 with excellent Peter Driben cover art of a nightgown-clad temptress. We can’t see her companion, but he’s left a top hat, cane and gloves in view. We think it’s Fred Astaire. Like his song from that era goes, “I just got an invitation through the mails: Your presence requested this evening. It’s formal—a top hat, a white tie, and tail…” Or, er, tails.
There are none so blind as those who won’t see that their blinds are open.
If you lower your shades or blinds all the way it’s a deterrent. But if you leave them an inch or three open, it’s really kind of an invitation, don’t you think? Everything is sexier when viewed through a crack. The Mahatma said that. Anyway, call it peeping, voyeurism, committing a misdemeanor, or just being a complete dick—it’s a time-honored plot device in pulp and sleaze fiction. Above and below are eleven of the best covers depicting the art of enjoying a cheap thrill.
Maurice Dekobra was a skilled mystery writer, but even he’d fail to solve the riddle of why he isn’t better known.
Above you see an Aslan cover for the 1961 espionage novel Bouddha le terrible by French author Maurice Dekobra, who we said we’d look into a bit more. We mentioned that it’s a little embarrassing not to have known about an author who has his own adjective, and in researching his life our embarrassment grew. Born Maurice Tessier in Paris in May 1885, he studied in France and Germany, served two years in the military, and eventually launched a career as an international journalist, writing in French, English and German. He took the pseudonym Dekobra in 1908 and published his first novel Les mémoires de Rat-de-Cave in 1912.
Afterward, the travel bug bit him and he took a steamer to the U.S., where for various European publications he interviewed Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller and other prominent Americans of the time. Upon returning to France he resumed writing fiction, and eventually broke through in 1925 with La madone des sleepings, aka Madonna of the Sleeping Cars, a novel that was translated into thirty languages and sold more than a million copies. The book made him a celebrity author, and he traveled the world in style, crossing paths with people like Errol Flynn, Marlene Dietrich, and Charlie Chaplin. He continued to publish novels, incorporating journalistic techniques in a new style that resulted in the coining of that adjective we mentioned earlier “dekobrisme”.
Dekobra’s books were popular vehicles for film adaptation, and more than fifteen became movies, including his 1925 hit Macao enfer du jeu, which Clemens Klopfenstein directed in 1938. All the while Dekobra kept globetrotting—he visited India, Ceylon (now Sri-Lanka), Japan, Turkey, Pakistan, and became one of the few westerners to enter Nepal. His novels up to this point were “cosmopolites” infused with his travelexperiences. For instance La madone des sleepings follows the adventures of Lady Diana Wyndham as she travels by train from London to Berlin to Russia, broke but determined to use guile and gender to make a fortune exploiting a Russian oilfield about which she’s learned. The book was developed as a film in 1928, again in 1955, and was optioned once more in the ’70s with one of our favorite women Sylvia Kristel in the lead. This third version never came to fruition, sadly, though the project reached a stage where posters were produced (and these would be quite expensive collector’s items, we suspect).
In the late 1940s, Dekobra shifted literary gears and began writing pure detective novels, and he also wrote screenplays and even dabbled in film directing. Dekobra died in 1973 but it’s safe to say that he was a guy who lived to the fullest. His life and career stand as remarkable achievements—he traveled to exotic places almost unheard of in his day, met some of the most interesting people alive, and sold millions of books that were translated into seventy-seven languages. Today in Europe, heremains a twentieth century author of great renown; in the U.S. and many other countries where his books once sold well, he is virtually unknown. It’s a mystery we haven’t solved yet, but we’ll keep working on it. In the meantime, we’re happy to have finally made his acquaintance, and hope you’ll do the same.
Maurice Dekobra invented a style of fiction that is pervasive today.
When we saw the above book in a Paris flea market stall, we wanted it for the Aslan art. But once we looked up author Maurice Dekobra, aka Maurice Tessier, we discovered to our surprise that he was one of the most famous French writers who ever lived. Dekobra started as a subversive author in the 1920s, and pioneered a style of writing called documentary fiction, which is to say, fiction based upon factual investigation of the subject matter. Dekobra used his new techniques as he shifted into whodunits after World War II, and perfected what is now a standard operational model for mystery and thriller writers. In 1951 Dekobra, whose signature style resulted in “dekobrisme” coming into use as a French adjective, was rewarded for his extensive output with the Prix du Quai des Orfèvres literary award. It’s rather embarrassing not to have known about someone who has his own adjective, but we’ll make up for it by getting all dekobrisme and finding out more. We’ll report back later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
1976—Gerald Ford Rescinds Executive Order 9066
U.S. President Gerald R. Ford signs Proclamation 4417, which belatedly rescinds Executive Order 9066. That Order, signed in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, established "War Relocation Camps" for Japanese-American citizens living in the U.S. Eventually, 120,000 are locked up without evidence, due process, or the possibility of appeal, for the duration of World War II.
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