First let me show you these, then I'll explain about your mean-ass cat, and that shovel in the yard.
We would often see Arthur Abram's 1952 thriller Badge of Shame online and for years wondered what the story was with the cover art. We learned it was painted by Walter Popp, but what exactly was he depicting with this bleeding woman exposing her injury? Well, we bought a copy and the mystery is revealed early. It has nothing to do with a mean cat. The woman here was deliberately cut by a sadistic thief during the theft of her $10,000 brooch. She hires the protagonist, tough guy Shep Duncan, to retrieve her jewelry, and on the cover she's showing him how she was disfigured by the robber. So plotwise, bad boy steals from nice girl, nice girl finds badder boy to get her property back. Simple, right? Well, not so much.
The story doesn't develop quite as expected. For the majority of the book Duncan wanders through New York City, hunted by both cops and criminals, running, hiding, climbing a bridge, riding a subway to Coney Island, all while looking over his shoulder for unseen pursuers and trying to puzzle out a mystery for which he has no clues. Leaving the lead completely in the dark is deliberate on the part of the author, but it still feels like a misstep. Adding to the book's issues are numerous typos and errors, including a character's name printed in reverse. When the entire hallucinatory adventure ends with the villain explaining the master plot to the tied up hero, it's just a letdown. Badge of Shame has a few thrills but it isn't a book we can recommend.
Marriage to a savage jungle woman is all fun and games until you get on her bad side.
This is a fantastic cover for John Saxon's, aka James N. Gifford's The Tigress, for Novels, Inc, 1952. This poor guy in the art. Takes abuse at the office all day then comes home and has to take more from his wife. Well, it's better than when she ignores him, or worse, perches on the kitchen counter and stares unblinkingly at him for minutes at a time. That's just plain unnerving. But she's worth it, because at her best she's a real pussycat. This cover, sadly, is uncredited.
Update: Some online sources now think this art is by Walter Popp. We'll go with that.
I told you to always stand on a hard 17, and never double down when they deal out death, but you don't listen.
Dealing Out Death is another paperback given to us by a friend. He bought it randomly years ago and passed it along to us when he visited from the States a while back. Of the books he gave us we'd have read this one first if we knew, one, that it had to do with the movie industry (where we once worked), and two, that it was so good. It was written by W.T. Ballard, published by Graphic Books in 1948, and deals with bigtime studio VP Bill Lennox, who tries to figure out who murdered star actress Renée Wilson's husband. Wilson is in Las Vegas to deal with a personal matter—her screw-up brother's desperate plea for money to get out from under a mob boss—but soon discovers that her brother's troubles and her husband's murder are connected to an impending turf war, one initiated by mobsters from the east who want to move in on the legitimate hotel owners. Lennox flies out from Hollywood to find the killer, save his star actress from both danger and bad publicity, and navigate the seething cauldron of Vegas without losing his cool or his life.
In mid-century crime fiction you find tough guys in unlikely places. The various authors, casting about for signature characters, made ass kickers out of insurance adjusters, chemists, charter fishermen, and more. Having known a few movie producers we can tell you they run the gamut. Being a producer generally means you merely have access to money or the ability to raise it, or you have access to a script or treatment and the mandate to shop it. You can get into such a position by working your way up the ladder, but if you come to the party with money already in pocket that buys your entrance. Thus producers in both the old days and today might be former organized crime guys, former drug dealers, and such. Think Chili Palmer in Get Shorty. So the fact that the studio exec hero in Dealing Out Death is so tough is unusual but not unrealistic. Ballard uses the character of Lennox to construct an engrossing plot, imbue it with a strong sense of place, and populate it with numerous competing personalities. He's a very confident writer and he gets the job done in Dealing Out Death briskly and skillfully. The ending is not perfect, but they rarely are. Recommended stuff.
I've come to kidnap you—for another book cover.
Above you see two covers for Robert O. Saber's thriller Too Young To Die, the first from Graphic Books, and the second from Australian publisher Phantom. The art at top, which we think is brilliant, was painted by Walter Popp, a well known paperback and men's magazine illustrator who we've talked about several times. You can see some of those examples by clicking his keywords at bottom. His cover was copied by an anonymous artist for Phantom's re-issue. So as always we come back to the question: Why were publishers able to copy original art, but not to use it outright?
Assume you're Walter Popp and you've already been paid by Graphic for the use of your art. Phantom comes along and asks you to reuse it. It's free money in the sense that you've already done the work, and it's more exposure for your talent. So why not say yes? Since there's no reason in the world to say no we can only assume he was never asked. Looking at it from the other side, if you like Walter Popp's cover work but can't obtain the right to use it, how is it that you can get away with publishing a near exact copy? We posed that question to Bob over at the authoritative website menspulpmags.com, and he said that he thinks copycat covers that were not actual reuses of the original skated under copyright laws, and generally nobody paid much attention to them.
Bob also offered these insights:
Some of the artists who worked for mid-20th century men's adventure magazines and paperbacks that I've talked to have said they sometimes got paid small reprint fees for reuses of their work, but often did not. In the case of the men's adventure magazines, I know the artists typically only sold first publication rights and the artists who were most business savvy, like Mort Kunstler, made sure to get their originals back from the company or get fees for reuses. But some artists just turned in their illustrations to the art directors and didn't bother to get them back to track whether they were reused.
Some magazines that published multiple men's adventure magazines, like those put out by Martin Goodman's Magazine Management company, often reused illustrations in several different issues and sometimes used a magazine illustration on the cover of a paperback published by their paperback subsidiary (Lion Books in the case of Magazine Management), or vice versa. I show an example of a Samson Pollen painting used on a Lion paperback and a Mag Mgt. men's adventure mag in a recent post on my blog here.
There are many other examples of men's adventure mag illos being used on both a paperback cover and in a men's adventure magazine. For example, Pyramid published both paperbacks and Man's Magazine and many Pyramid cover paintings showed up as illustrations in Man's. I don't know if artists typically only sold first use rights to paperback publishers or all rights. I suspect it varied with the publisher. I do know many paperback cover paintings were reused both on other paperbacks and in men's adventure mags.
I also know that Gil Cohen, who I recently interviewed for my blog, told me he sold only first rights to Pinnacle for the roughly two-hundred Executioner/Mack Bolan paperback cover paintings he did. I'd guess that whether an artist got paid for reuses depended on how honorable the publishers were. Mag Mgt. and Pyramid actually treated their artists pretty well, from what I have been able to glean.
However, it seems pretty clear that many low budget men's adventure mags and paperback publishers just ripped artists off by reusing their artwork without paying them. I think that practice was pretty common and there was really no way for artists to keep track of all reuses back then. They would just have to happen to run across them on newsstands. And even then, they might not think it was worth the hassle of trying to do anything about it. Pulp art was basically viewed as "disposable" artwork without a lot of resale value back in the '50s, '60s and '70s. I think most artists were more concerned about getting their next assignment than trying to get smaller reprint fees for past work.
So there you have it, from someone who has spoken to many of the creators from the period. The art was just difficult to keep track of back then. As copies go, Phantom's Walter Popp rip-off is a decent one, though we've seen much better. We have another example of the practice you can check out here. And we're now sure our longstanding suspicions about the usage of celebrity images, which we've discussed several times, fall into the same category. Thanks to Bob for his answers, and we recommend that pulp fans check out his expansive and incredibly informative men's magazine website.
That's a hell of a knee you got there, baby. If the rest of you's anything like that knee the sky's the limit.
The Promoter, which appeared in 1957 from Beacon Books, is about the dirty picture racket, which is ironic considering how often author Orrie Hitt skirted obscenity laws. When the lead character Bill Morgan, normally a writer for an auto magazine, is recruited by a minister to investigate the big city under-the-counter porn racket he finds himself at first thwarted, then in over his head. He's also supposed to find the minister's missing daughter. Hmm... wonder where she'll turn up? You really get the feeling Hitt is speaking from experience when he describes how the porn industry worked during the mid-1950s, but the book isn't well written. Hitt churned out a novel every couple of weeks, and the haste shows. The best thing we can say is that the scenario is interesting. We know—we aren't exactly promoting sales of the book, but what can we do? At least the cover art is great. It's by the excellent Walter Popp, and had been previously used in 1953 for Harry Whittington's Wild Oats. Click Popp's keywords below for more visual treats.
Just stay over there a minute. I want you to get the full effect of this awesome pose.
In Evan Hunter's 1954 novel Don't Crowd Me an NYC advertising copywriter seeks tranquility in the lake region but instead finds himself encountering two sisters with very different temperaments who both seem to find him irresistible. Then, of course, there's a murder to spoil everything, and it looks like he's the only one who can solve it. The plot may sound improbable, but Hunter, born Salvatore Albert Lombino, was better known by his pseudonym Ed McBain, which means you would expect this to be decently written. And in fact you would be correct. The cover art, which is great, was painted by Walter Popp.
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
We love this Walter Popp cover art for Graphic Books' 1954 edition of Milton Ozaki's Dressed To Kill. He painted a couple of favorite covers, including A Time for Murder and New York Model, which we showed you here and here. In Dressed To Kill a private eye takes a job repossessing cars, and the first one he goes after is driven by a beautiful blonde and has a corpse in the trunk. The corpse of course leads to loot, and the loot of course attracts the villains—a bunch of Chicago mobsters. Generally well reviewed, but not Ozaki's best, according to most sources.
Screw you and the horse you rode in on.
We recently scored a stack of thirty vintage men’s magazines, and here’s the first of that group we’re posting—Rugged Men from this month in 1958. Inside is art from Walter Popp, Ed Franklin, Russ Huban, and Irv Doktor, and the cover of a man taking a tumble after his unfortunate mount gets shot is by Ted Lewin. Probably the most notable aspect of the issue is a story on how members of the Croatan tribe broke up a Ku Klux Klan rally and sent its hooded denizens scattering in terror. The incident is written of with admiration for the tribe’s efforts, and this during an era when Klan rallies were common and open racism was not only acceptable, but actually encoded in federal law. But then, deep admiration for a people that were virtually wiped out by violence is one of many quirks of the American psyche. We're sure a sociologist would have something illuminating to say about it. Seventeen scans below.
No, the other gun, silly. The one that matches my shoes. The one with the pearl inlay. Geez, men are so dense.
Above, the cover for Robert O. Saber’s, aka Milton K. Ozaki’s Chicago-based tale of crooked cops and robbers A Time for Murder, 1956. The artist here is Walter Popp.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—Lou Gehrig Dies
New York Yankees baseball player Henry Louis Gehrig, aka The Iron Horse, who set a record for playing in 2,130 consecutive games over the course of fourteen seasons, dies of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, two years after the onset of the illness ended his consecutive games streak.
1946—Antonescu Is Executed
Ion Antonescu, who was ruler of Romania during World War II, and whose policies were independently responsible for the deaths of as many as 400,000 Bessarabian, Ukrainian and Romanian Jews, as well as countless Romani Romanians, is executed by means of firing squad at Fort Jilava prison just outside Bucharest.
1959—Sax Rohmer Dies
Prolific British pulp writer Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, aka Sax Rohmer, who created the popular character Fu Manchu and became one of the most highly paid authors of his time writing fundamentally racist fiction about the "yellow peril" and what he blithely called "rampant criminality among the Chinese", dies of avian flu in White Plains, New York.
1957—Arthur Miller Convicted of Contempt of Congress
Award-winning American playwright Arthur Miller, the husband of movie star Marilyn Monroe, is convicted of contempt of Congress when he refuses to reveal the names of political associates to the House Un-American Activities Committee. The conviction would later be overturned, but HUAC persecution against American citizens continues until the committee is finally dissolved in 1975.
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