What! A big bubble? Well, yours looks like five pounds of potatoes in a ten pound sack!
It seems like Florida novels are a distinct genre of popular fiction, and most of the books, regardless of the year of their setting, lament how the state is being drawn and quartered in pursuit of easy money. But those complaints are usually just a superficial method of establishing the lead characters' local cred. Theodore Pratt, in his novel The Big Bubble, takes readers deep inside early 1920s south Florida real estate speculation in the person of a builder named Adam Paine (based on real life architect Addison Mizner), who wants to bring the aesthetic of old world Spain to Palm Beach—against the wishes of longtime residents.
Paine builds numerous properties, but his big baby is the Flamingo Club, a massive hotel complex done in Spanish and Moorish style. He even takes a trip to Spain to buy beautiful artifacts for his masterpiece. This was the most interesting part for us, riding along as he wandered Andalusia (where we live), buying treasures for his ostentatious palace. He buys paintings, tapestries, sculptures, an ornate fireplace, an entire staircase, basically anything that isn't nailed down, even stripping monasteries of their revered artifacts. His wife Eve is horrified, but Paine tells her he's doing the monks a favor because they'd otherwise go broke.
You may not know this, but Spain is pretty bad at preserving its ancient architecture. That's another reason The Big Bubble resonated for us—because Spain is very Floridian in that it's being buried under an avalanche of cheap, ugly developments. We love south Florida's Spanish revival feel. What's metastasized in Spain is a glass and concrete aesthetic that offers no beauty and weathers like it's made of balsa wood. The properties are basically glass box tax dodges. The point is, reading The Big Bubble felt familiar in terms of its critique of real estate booms, but simultaneously we saw Paine as a visionary. He made us wish Spanish builders had a tenth of his good taste.
Since the book is set during the 1920s (and its title is so descriptive) you know Florida's property bubble will burst. Paine already has problems to deal with before the crash. Pratt resolves everything in interesting fashion. He was a major novelist who wrote more than thirty books, with five adapted to film, so we went into The Big Bubble expecting good work, and that's what we got. And apparently it's part of a Palm Beach trilogy (though he set fourteen novels in Florida total). We'll keep an eye out for those other two Palm Beach books (The Flame Tree and The Barefoot Mailman). In the meantime, we recommend The Big Bubble. Originally published in 1951, this Popular Library edition is from 1952 with uncredited art.
Bogart finds himself stuck on Key Largo when hurricane Edward blows into town.
Above is a West German poster for Hafen des Lasters, which translates as “port of vice,” but is better known as Key Largo. We love this piece of art. It's imitative of earlier posters, particularly a Belgian promo from 1949. But that one is by Wik. This one is signed by a different artist, but illegibly, so we can't tell you who painted it. We'll work on that. We've uploaded the signature in case you have an idea what this scrawl says. This is simply a great film, a crime drama set in a hurricane. Many books using the same idea were written later, such as Theodore Pratt's Tropical Disturbance and Russell Trainer's No Way Back. Whether they were inspired by Key Largo or earlier works like W. Somerset Maugham's Rain we can't say, but any writer will tell you never let a good gimmick go to waste. In any case, Key Largo premiered in the U.S. in 1948 and reached West Germany today in 1950.
Elements and people mix dangerously in Theodore Pratt's weather driven drama.
We ordered Theodore Pratt's Tropical Disturbance long before hurricane season arrived, but as the timing worked out we read it during Dorian, and the news reports reminded us of what the author sometimes didn't. The main plot device here is a love triangle between a rich clod, a poor everyman, and a beautiful virgin who both of the guys would be better off without. Pratt didn't intend for the third to be true. He lost his way because of his desire to contrive a specific type of conflict. But the problem is we don't think a woman who's dating one man can begin dating another, deliberately keeping both on the hook, and act all oops-gee-whiz when everything goes pear-shaped. More importantly, we don't think the author can expect her to remain a sympathetic character the way he obviously intends.
Occasionally it's instructive to think about fictional situations with characters swapped or reimagined, just to be sure you're making objective judgments, and again, we don't think a man who's dating one woman, then starts dating another while telling the first she just has to wait around until he makes up his mind, would be labeled anything but a tremendous douche. But Tropical Disturbance is a good book anyway. When the anticipated hurricane finally comes those sequences are vivid and effective, and because Pratt has maneuvered all three members of his love triangle into the same house to weather the storm, almost anything can happen—and does. 1961 on this, with uncredited art, but which the experts say is by Robert McGinnis.
I guess I'll just wait until they're finished before I tell them I only date women.
Danger Trail, written by Theodore Pratt, is about a mailman in Florida who braves storms, gators, thieves, politics, and more, along a seventy mile route from Miami to Palm Springs, to get a difficult job done. If it sounds like an unusual and imaginative tale, you're right. Pratt was an experienced writer who knew his stuff, and had five books adapted to the big screen. Danger Trail was originally published in 1943 as The Barefoot Mailman and was made into a 1951 movie with that title. This Bantam paperback arrived in 1949.
What kind of monster do you take me for? Of course it's not real—I only wear faux female.
Above, a cover for Handsome by Theodore Pratt, 1951, from Gold Medal Books. Pratt turns the time-honored sleaze staple of nymphomania on its head by writing about a man who's addicted to sex.
I know what the damn island is called! Lemme go! After I kill him we'll change the name!
Novels set in South Florida and the Keys are basically a sub-genre of popular literature today, but Theodore Pratt was one of the earlier writers to continually set his work there, using the area for thirty-five novels. Mercy Island involves a group—local captain, youthful crewman, hard-headed sportsman, and beautiful wife—who are stranded on a deserted island when their fishing boat runs aground. But the island isn't empty. It's occupied by a man with a criminal past who has been hiding out there to dodge the law. As tensions rise and food runs short it becomes less clear who is the real danger to the group. Originally written in 1941, the book was immediately made into a hit movie starring Ray Middleton, Gloria Dickson, and Otto Kruger. This Dell paperback appeared in 1954 with uncredited cover art.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1919—United Artists Is Launched
Actors Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, along with director D.W. Griffith, launch United Artists. Each holds a twenty percent stake, with the remaining percentage held by lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo. The company struggles for years, with Griffith soon dropping out, but eventually more partners are brought in and UA becomes a Hollywood powerhouse.
1958—U.S. Loses H-Bomb
A 7,600 pound nuclear weapon that comes to be known as the Tybee Bomb is lost by the U.S. Air Force off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, near Tybee Island. The bomb was jettisoned to save the aircrew during a practice exercise after the B-47 bomber carrying it collided in midair with an F-86 fighter plane. Following several unsuccessful searches, the bomb was presumed lost, and remains so today.
1906—NYPD Begins Use of Fingerprint ID
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Joseph A. Faurot begins using French police officer Alphonse Bertillon's fingerprint system to identify suspected criminals. The use of prints for contractual endorsement (as opposed to signatures) had begun in India thirty years earlier, and print usage for police work had been adopted in India, France, Argentina and other countries by 1900, but NYPD usage represented the beginning of complete acceptance of the process in America. To date, of the billions of fingerprints taken, no two have ever been found to be identical.
1974—Patty Hearst Is Kidnapped
In Berkeley, California, an organization calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnaps heiress Patty Hearst
. The next time Hearst is seen is in a San Francisco bank, helping to rob it with a machine gun. When she is finally captured her lawyer F. Lee Bailey argues that she had been brainwashed into committing the crime, but she is convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, a term which is later commuted.
1959—Holly, Valens, and Bopper Die in Plane Crash
A plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa kills American musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, along with pilot Roger Peterson. The fault for the crash was determined to be poor weather combined with pilot inexperience. All four occupants died on impact. The event is later immortalized by Don McLean as the Day the Music Died in his 1971 hit song "American Pie."
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