Louisiana territory proves extremely inhospitable in 1957 manhunt thriller.
We bought The Tight Corner by Sam Ross because it was cheap. We knew nothing about Ross, and the uncredited cover art is decent but not special. But price sometimes wins, so we found ourselves reading a five dollar paperback about an ex-boxer named Tommy Berk who gets tangled up in a gambling scam gone wrong, is hunted by police for a murder he didn't commit, and after being shot and falling off a ferry in the Mississippi River Delta near New Orleans, is rescued by a Cajun fisherman and his sister as they take their shrimp boat out to sea.
Meanwhile, back on land, Berk's partners in the scam are looking for him to kill him. They're a diverse trio. Steve is a cold, calculating sociopath, but one with a secret weakness; Willy is an addle-brained killer, a trained attack dog; and Vi is a femme fatale who serves as the plot's honeytrap but is looking for a way to get out of the criminal life. It doesn't take long for them to realize Berk is somewhere at sea and has no choice but to come back sooner or later. When he does, they'll be waiting.
The Tight Corner is why we love buying vintage books. It's well written. Its bayou and ocean setting, simple but believable plot, and hard luck main character you end up liking all work in its favor. In addition, the prose has a lyrical style that's pleasing to read:
It was all mixed up in him and he saw himself swirling in her sea-green eyes. All at once, in the way she gazed at him, he seemed to plunge into them. He found himself close to her. And when he kissed her, he felt the sun she had been under all her life melt through him.
There are page-long passages written in that style and they're mostly interesting, though the book's dialogue suffers from name overusage. You know what we mean:
“It takes a lot of living to grow up, Jo.”
“Why'd he leave us, Adam?”
“Animals in a trap do strange things, Jo.”
“But I don't understand, Adam.”
People don't talk like that, so we generally take it as a sign of a bad ear for dialogue, but Ross does well with Cajun vernacular. He doesn't try to write their accents. Instead he uses careful word choices to lightly infuse their speech with the correct flavor. It works, and in the end, that and other positives outweigh the negatives, making The Tight Corner a saga that entertained us greatly. If you see it somewhere at a reasonable price, we think it's worth a read.
For this act you better get your folding money ready too.
This is an item you see other places around the internet, but we like it enough to post it anyway. It's a foldable table tent of Lilly Christine made around 1956 for the dual purpose of promoting one of the world's most famous burlesque dancers, and serving as a price list for drinks. This was made for Leon Prima's 500 Club in New Orleans, and a glance at the other side reveals that the price list was short: all drinks—$2.55; repeat drinks $1.55. Does that strike you as pretty steep for 1956? Us too. Plugging that into the old currency converter we get a 2022 price of—holy shit!—$27.28 for that first drink.
Prices like that will certainly keep the riff-raff out. The back of this particular table tent was written on by a guest (see below). It's dated October 10, 1956, and declares: Lilly is a really beautiful and sensuous creature and an “artist” (quotation marks in original). It also says her harem gave a sensational performance too, and since her harem was male that strikes us as a nicely enlightened comment for the time. We'd think most customers would be dismayed seeing muscular hunks up there with the object of their lust, but not this person.
You'll also notice the table tent advertises a second act named Carrie Finnell. We bet you've never heard of her, but she was an early—if not original—burlesque dancer who was born twenty years before Christine and had carved out an impressive career on the live stage, first as a Ziegfeld Girl, then as a peeler. You see her here checking to make sure her right boob is still where it's supposed to be.
The legend goes that Finnell was famous for the gimmick of the world longest striptease, which involved removing an article of clothing each week to higher and higher admission fees. It lasted fifty-four weeks. That's a lot of clothes, but then Finnell was a lot of woman. It's also a lot to pay, whether you take the entire multi-week journey or show up just for the finale, but since Finnell mainly danced in Cleveland we're betting the drinks weren't $2.55. So that's something, at least.
It's interesting, don't you think, that in the 500 Club a lifetime ago you had nights of gender equality (female and male erotic dancers on the same stage) and body equality (Finnell)? It's amazing the things that were done long before anyone thought to get exercised about them. We've cleaned up the table tent a bit from the form in which we found it, but it's still a bit worn, so we thought we'd give you Lilly—unfolded, unbent, uncreased, and incomparable—below. And of course we have plenty more of her in the website, so feel free to look around. She'll be back. That's a promise.
It's getting late, fellas. I really should be in bed with someone by now.
Sim Albert's 1953 Croyden Books novel Confessions of a B-Girl, which features cover art by Lou Marchetti, tells the story of a New Orleans stripper named Peg Christy who wants to get out of the racket before it turns her into a prostitute. She takes in a naive nineteen-year-old who's arrived in town penniless, and when the girl's hot uncle shows up Peg suddenly develops the courage to take a stab at reform and romance. Of course, she sort of forgets to tell uncle hunk she's a nightclub dancer, and that, along with the club owner's homicidal streak and her young roomie's assorted problems, provide the drama in the tale. Sleaze digests generally give you sex, misunderstanding, sex with the wrong guy, heartbreak, sex, and redemption, and Confessions of a B-Girl does basically that, but with less sex, and a dose of surrogate motherhood thrown in. It's no better than average quality for the genre, but we're glad we bought it because we're suckers for novels about burlesque dancers. Marchetti's art, by the way, fits nicely into our collection of bar covers, which you can see here.
Whatever it is that girl put a spell on me.
Yes, we know. We've mixed and matched Jimi Hendrix. The line about putting a spell on him is actually from “Purple Haze” not “Voodoo Chile.” Doesn't matter. It fits. Above, returning for yet another engagement at Pulp Intl., is legendary burlesque dancer Lilly Christine, aka The Cat Girl. These shots were made, as were the last we shared, at the 500 Club in New Orleans, where she performed regularly. In the final one, in case it isn't clear, she's drinking or pretending to drink out of a gourd. After which... maybe she spit liquid all over herself to make her skin all slippery and gleaming. Not that something like that would turn us on. But it would some people. In any case, these photos are interesting not only for Christine's outfit and gyrations, but because they show a bit of the crowd, and the presence of two female heads gives an indication of how co-ed burlesque shows were back in the day. Women wanted to see erotic spectacles too, and we can only imagine they left highly impressed. The guys, meanwhile, we're sure left highly inspired. And when those two reactions meet! Sparks fly in the coital bed. That's what burlesque is all about. Yes, it's an art form, but it's an art form designed to give you a boner. Don't let anyone tell you differently. See plenty more burlesque imagery here.
U.S. Adam goes in search of adult entertainment after dark.
We're taking a break from the Australian Adam magazine to remind everyone that the unrelated U.S. men's magazine Adam was also filled with colorful art, fun fiction, weird facts, and beautiful models—in this case Danish pin-up and centerfold Elsa Sorensen, aka Dane Arden, who you see on the cover. We still think the down under Adam is the best, but northern Adam is always worth a look, and this issue published in 1960 is a representative example. Actually, there were two northern Adams. There was a French magazine of that name too, unrelated to the others. We've been meaning to locate one to buy online, but the price hasn't been right yet.
Anyway, this issue of Adam contains the usual fiction and humor, plus features on strip clubs in Paris, Tokyo, and Long Beach, a profile on New Orleans torture mistress Madame Delphine Lelaurie, and other pleasures of the evening. It also highlights the “dirtiest book ever written”—supposedly Il Commandante di Pompeii, which we suppose can keep you company on lonely nights if you don't get to Paris, Tokyo, or Long Beach. We have many scans below, and other issues of U.S. Adam you can find here, here, here, and here. And if you're interested in the Aussie Adam we have scans from almost seventy issues in the website, and you can see them by starting here.
Sparks fly when Hollywood bigshots tangle.
The above photo, which was made today in 1952, shows Los Angeles film producer Walter Wanger entering the L.A. Hall of Justice. Wanger was one side of a Hollywood love triangle, and perpetrator of one of Tinseltown's most storied crimes. He had learned that his wife, actress Joan Bennett, was cheating on him with her agent Jennings Lang. Wanger decided to deal with the issue by trying to shoot Lang in his wanger. Stories vary concerning whether he actually managed to Jake Barnes the guy, but most reputable sources say he missed his target and instead hit Lang in the thigh, groin, or both, depending on which account you read. That was in December 1951. Wanger would be arrested for assault with intent to commit murder.
In the photos below, also from today 1952, you see Wanger inside the courthouse preparing to answer for those charges. At his side is Hollywood superlawyer Jerry Giesler. You'd think even a superlawyer would have a difficult task defending a client who tried to to eunuch a guy, but this was Giesler. Beating impossible odds was his calling card. He opted for the temporary insanity defense, and thanks to him, Wanger drew a mere four months at a country club jail called Castaic Honor Farm—fitting for an inmate who claimed to be defending his honor. There Wanger worked in the sun planting cabbages and probably pondered what had gone wrong in his marriage leading up to that fateful 1951 shooting. Some accounts claim Wanger merely suspected Bennett of cheating, but others claim convincingly that Wanger knew it for a fact, because he'd hired a detective who found that the lovebirds had met in New Orleans, the Caribbean, and in a Beverly Hills apartment owned by one of Wanger’s friends, the agent Jay Kanter. Despite his wife's transgressions, Wanger must have found some form of peace out there under the Castaic sun, because he remained married to Bennett for fourteen more years. The wounded Lang recovered fully, and presumably used his wanger on safer partners. A few years after his near miss he married and stayed married until he died. As for Bennett, her career declined sharply, and she believed it was because of the shooting. She felt she had been blacklisted. She once said, “I might as well have pulled the trigger myself.”
Here's to us waking up bewildered and trying to piece together tonight from fragmentary memories and vague sensations of shame.
Above, a cover for Robert Tallant's Mrs. Candy and Saturday Night. Basically, a woman who runs a New Orleans boarding house filled with unusual renters and a ghost decides to throw a party, which turns out wilder than she expected and leads to some startling revelations about the occupants. Written to span twenty-four hours, the book was well received enough to spawn two sequels, Love and Mrs. Candy and Mrs. Candy Strikes It Rich. The success was not a surprise. Tallant was born in New Orleans, was already experienced writing about it through other published books, and obviously loved the place, quirks and all. If you're looking for real Crescent City feel in a mid-century novel, with jambalaya, voodoo, and all the rest, Mrs. Candy and Saturday Night is it. It's originally copyright 1947, with this Popular Library paperback with Earle Bergey cover art coming in 1951.
Oh, just hanging around the apartment making sure my liver knows who's boss. What about you?
Above is a promo photo of U.S. actress Dorothy Mackaill having a confab and several nightcaps in the 1931 crime drama Safe in Hell, in which she played a New Orleans prostitute who accidentally kills an abusive man and tries to escape to the Caribbean. Like many films made before censorship came into effect in the form of the Hays Code, it's racy stuff for the era, made for an audience of mature, intelligent adults. It's also quite good, though possibly hard to find. If you get a chance, be sure to check it out.
These two are just dying for a vacation.
Yes, it's another book about people stranded on a boat. We just finished the excellent Dead Calm a few days ago, and wrote about it yesterday, and afterward we read all of Return to Vista in time to write about it today. Yes, it literally took one day to blaze through, and we even mixed in a few glasses of white wine and assorted interactions with the Pulp Intl. girlfriends. Return to Vista is not as ocean bound as Dead Calm. In fact, most of it takes place on dry land. Well, semi-dry—the action starts in New Orleans, moves to Vista Island, and stars a cynical journalist back home from some tough years covering the Korean War.
Various online sources say Return to Vista led to an obscenity bust for publisher Sanford Aday. We came across mention of it more than once. But we dug a bit deeper and as far as we can tell it isn't true. It can be difficult to keep track of this stuff, because Aday had run-ins with legal authorities everywhere from his hometown of Fresno to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and all the way out to the Hawaiian Islands. Today in 1961 police raided his facility on North Lima Street in Burbank, empowered by a search warrant that specifically mentioned the novel Sex Life of a Cop, discussed here.
However, the warrant also said police could gather additional relevant material, so they loaded up other books, as well as mail, packages, cartons, bank statements, checks, bills of lading, work records, labels, rubber stamps, et al. They basically emptied Aday's offices with the intent of depriving him of the ability to conduct business. Return to Vista was seized in the raid, but it was part of a haul that included sixty-two titles comprising an astonishing 400,000 paperbacks. Thus we don't think it's accurate to say Return to Vista specifically resulted in an obscenity bust. Unless there's more info out there than we know about—which is always possible.
Return to Vista's purplest passages deal with interracial sex. Also, the two characters you see on the cover decide one last romp is in order before they starve at sea. Sex must bring them luck, because they survive to fight commies. Or at least, they think they're dealing with commies. Turns out the people they're up against are actually even purer utopians than the political sort. Return to Vista wasn't good, exactly, but it was fun. Author John Foster, whose actual name was John West, showed some imaginative touches. He went on to write 1961's Campus Iniquities before fading from the literary scene. The above is from 1960 with uncredited cover art.
Novedades Editores takes readers on a five city tour of street crime and murder.
Mexican pulp art has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to the efforts of vendors and collectors. It differs from U.S. pulp in that it was produced decades later—during the 1970s and forward. The covers you see here today are prime examples of what is generally classified as Mexican pulp, made for the comic book series El libro policiaco, or "The Police Book," and published by Novedades Editores during the early 2000s. The series was so popular that, like the U.S. television show C.S.I., the books diversified into multiple cities—New Orleans, New York City, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco. Each city's stories centered around a local police department staffed by a multi-ethnic array of cops and support personnel. And as the banner text proclaims, the interior art was indeed in color, ninety-two pages of it per issue. All the covers here were created by Jorge Aviña, an artist who began his career during the 1970s, and has had his work exhibited in London, Switzerland, Barcelona, and Paris. We'll have more from El libro policiaco a bit later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1957—Ginsberg Poem Seized by Customs
On the basis of alleged obscenity, United States Customs officials seize 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl" that had been shipped from a London printer. The poem contained mention of illegal drugs and explicitly referred to sexual practices. A subsequent obscenity trial was brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore, the poem's domestic publisher. Nine literary experts testified on the poem's behalf, and Ferlinghetti won the case when a judge decided that the poem was of redeeming social importance.
1975—King Faisal Is Assassinated
King Faisal of Saudi Arabia dies after his nephew Prince Faisal Ibu Musaed shoots him during a royal audience. As King Faisal bent forward to kiss his nephew the Prince pulled out a pistol and shot him under the chin and through the ear. King Faisal died in the hospital after surgery. The prince is later beheaded in the public square in Riyadh.
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
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.
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