For someone so big he didn't leave much of a trace.
You'd think a guy named Bunyan would be a giant, at least figuratively, but after some deep searching we found no mention of Pat Bunyan associated with the mid-century jazz movement in any context other than that offered by the blurb on the back of the jazz oriented 1963 novel The Big Blues. The rear says, “Told by a man who blew the horn in many a night spot from the lowdown dive to way up there...” So you can see why we expected to find him mentioned as a major dude of the bop era. But we found no credits for him—way up there or anywhere, even on the comprehensive music site Discogs. Well regarded jazz players often—if not typically—played on albums as sidemen. No such indications exist for Mr. Bunyan. Of course, he could have performed under a pseudonym.
The Big Blues was originally published in the U.S. in 1958 by Newsstand Library, then again in 1960 as I Peddle Jazz by Saber Books, both low budget outfits that specialized in sleaze novels. That probably tells you all you need to know as far as Bunyan's literary talent goes. As far as confirming his identity, we had hopes when we saw he was referred to as Paul Porto on the U.S. edition. Maybe that was the name he used when he lit a firestorm in the American jazz scene. Maybe he had to change identity or be arrested for terrorism after blowing club after club sky high. To the far corners of the online realm we went and... nope. There's no evidence of a Paul Porto playing music during the mid-century jazz era.
As we've commented before, the internet is just an aperture and only about .000001% of all knowledge makes it through the opening. Someone has to actually take the time to do what we do here at Pulp Intl., which is decide the data is worthwhile to others and upload it. We're constantly uploading from sources we've purchased, for example from old tabloids. That makes us gatekeepers of sorts, and as members of that group we can tell you we're notoriously lazy, repetitive, and biased. But even if the gatekeepers don't do the best job getting all relevant data online, would the internet not have info on a great jazzman who played way up there? For that reason, we suspect Bunyan/Porto was just a hack author taking advantage of the jazz trend.
In any case, Digit saw something salable in The Big Blues and certainly elevated it when it produced its edition. The company often featured brilliant cover art—examples here, here, and here—and the front of this one was painted by the masterful Sam Peffer, aka Peff, who we've talked about a couple of times, notably here. So The Big Blues paperback ended up being more artful than its author probably ever expected, and thanks to its collectible nature survives today. As for Big Pat Bunyan, he wrote one other novel that used jazz as a backdrop, 1966's A Doll for Johnny Marco, then disappeared from the publishing scene. We're curious though. Which means we'll probably pick up one of his books if we find one at the right price.
Update: we received an e-mail with a scan of an item from the Hartford Courant newspaper of June 1957 containing an announcement about a concert by Pat Bunyan and his band. So Bunyan did exist. Corrections from readers are part of the package for bloggers, and we'd be nothing without them. So thanks for the e-mail. Now we'll definitely have to read one of Bunyan's books. In fact, we just ordered The Big Blues a few minutes ago.
Okay, I take it back—you don't hit like a girl.
Above you see a great Sam Peffer cover for Jonathan Latimer's Solomon's Vineyard, originally published in 1941, and banned in the U.S. until 1988. We could go into why it was blacklisted, but as always it doesn't really matter, because save for a brief mention of underage sex the book is not racy by today's standards. Its best quality is not sexual innuendo anyway, but toughness. To give you an example, we'll transcribe one of its many interesting scenes. The main character Karl Craven—a burly ex-football player-turned-private detective—becomes upset at the layered deceptions he's had to deal with and finally loses his temper:
I grabbed her by the arms and shook her. Her false teeth fell out and rolled across the carpet. [snip] I started into the parlour, but a thin man in shirtsleeves was in the way. I hit him and he went down. In the parlour the blonde who'd slugged me with the lamp began to scream. She thought I was coming for her. I went to the big radio in the corner. I picked it up, tearing out the plug, and tossed it across the room. It shattered against the wall. I kicked over a table with two lamps on it. I tore some of the fabric off a davenport. I threw a chair at a big oil painting over the fireplace. I took a metal stand lamp and bent it up like a pretzel. I pulled up the oriental rug and ripped it down the middle.
That's going berserk like you mean it. We won't bother with a long plot summary since you can find those all over the internet, but basically the protagonist is hired to spring a woman from a cult and finds himself neck deep in corpse worship, hidden treasure, police corruption, and sado-masochism. The book is reasonably well written, very hard boiled, and built around a set of unlikely characters—including a femme fatale known by all as “The Princess.” Great Pan published it in 1961, and it had an alternate cover which you also see here. It was re-issued several times after its debut—including by Popular Library as The Fifth Grave—which means it isn't hard to find. We recommend you give it a read.
Wait, wait, wait! Why don't we settle this like real men? By blaming the woman!
Howard Baker, born Arthur William Baker, is an Irish author sometimes referred to as W. Howard Baker, and who also wrote as Peter Saxon, William Arthur, W.A. Ballinger, and Richard Williams. The Big Steal involves a typical cast of misfit thieves trying to make off with a cache of gold bullion from Heathrow Airport, mixed with a plot thread about a killer on the loose. Baker also wrote war fiction, sci-fi and supernatural tales. The great cover art for the 1964 Mayflower Dell paperback you see here was painted by Peff, aka Sam Peffer.
Vintage paperback violence gets up close and personal.
We have another collection today as we prepare to jet away on vacation with the girls. Since the place we’re going is known for rowdy British tourists (what place isn’t known for that?), we thought we’d feature some of the numerous paperback covers featuring fights. You’ll notice, as with our last collection, the preponderance of French books. Parisian publishers loved this theme. The difference, as opposed to American publishers, is that you almost never saw women actually being hit on French covers (we’d almost go so far as to say it never happened, but we’ve obviously not seen every French paperback ever printed). The French preferred man-on-man violence, and when women were involved, they were either acquitting themselves nicely, or often winning via the use of sharp or blunt instruments.
Violence against women is and has always been a serious problem in the real world, but we’re just looking at products of the imagination here, which themselves represent products of the imagination known as fiction. Content-wise, mid-century authors generally frowned upon violence toward women even if they wrote it into their novels. Conversely, the cover art, stripped of literary context, seemed to glorify it. Since cover art is designed to entice readers, there’s a valid discussion here about why anti-woman violence was deemed attractive on mid-century paperback fronts, and whether its disappearance indicates an understanding of its wrongness, or merely a cynical realization that it can no longer be shown without consequences. We have another fighting cover here, and you may also want to check out our western brawls here.
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. Got better ones? Use our reader pulp feature to send them. So here we go. And thanks to the sites from which we borrowed some of these.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1945—World War II Ends
At Reims, France, German General Alfred Jodl signs unconditional surrender terms, thus ending Germany's participation in World War II. Jodl is then arrested and transferred to the German POW camp Flensburg, and later he is made to stand before the International Military Tribunal at the Nuremberg Trials. At the conclusion of the trial, Jodl is sentenced to death and hanged as a war criminal.
1954—French Are Defeated at Dien Bien Phu
In Vietnam, the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which had begun two months earlier, ends in a French defeat. The United States, as per the Mutual Defense Assistance Act, gave material aid to the French, but were only minimally involved in the actual battle. By 1961, however, American troops would begin arriving in droves, and within several years the U.S. would be fully embroiled in war.
1937—The Hindenburg Explodes
In the U.S, at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the German zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg catches fire and is incinerated within a minute while attempting to dock in windy conditions after a trans-Atlantic crossing. The disaster, which kills thirty-six people, becomes the subject of spectacular newsreel coverage, photographs
, and most famously, Herbert Morrison's recorded radio eyewitness report from the landing field. But for all the witnesses and speculation, the actual cause of the fire remains unknown.
1921—Chanel No. 5 Debuts
Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel, the pioneering French fashion designer whose modernist philosophy, menswear-inspired styles, and pursuit of expensive simplicity made her an important figure in 20th-century fashion, introduces the perfume Chanel No. 5, which to this day remains one of the world's most legendary and best selling fragrances.
1961—First American Reaches Space
Three weeks after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly into space, U.S. astronaut Alan Shepard completes a sub-orbit of fifteen minutes, returns to Earth, and is rescued from his Mercury 3 capsule in the Atlantic Ocean. Shepard made several more trips into space, even commanding a mission at age 47, and was eventually awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
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