Hollywoodland Jun 30 2021
THE STACK IS DECKED
Unflappable, incorruptible, untouchable.


U.S. actor Robert Stack is decked out in classic mid-century tough guy regalia, with the cool hat, the dapper suit and vest, the stylish tie, the no-frills gat, and for good measure he has a sweet ride in the background in case he needs to hurry somewhere and look badass there too. This shot was made in 1960 as a promo for the television series The Untouchables, on which Stack played the legendary Prohibition agent Eliot Ness from 1959 to 1963.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 9 2021
MOTH MEETS FLAME
James M. Cain spins a tale about an unusual love and an unusual life.


Vintage Ace paperbacks are considered highly collectible for a few reasons, including the fact that the company popularized the double novel. But we like Ace because it often did well with art. This front for James M. Cain's The Moth is about as striking as cover illustration gets. It's uncredited, but we know exactly who it is. It's Sandro Symeoni. How do we know? Because the cover at this link is confirmed to be Symeoni, and there's no doubt the artist is the same as above. Not only is the style a match, but so is the time period. This came in 1958, and Ace used Symeoni's art several times between ’58 and ’60. That makes this paperback a super discovery, because Symeoni, a brilliant Italian artist who specialized in movie posters, rarely painted book covers. It's possible that, as with Arthur Miller's Focus (you clicked the link above, right?) the art was borrowed from one of Symeoni's posters, but if so we don't know which one. Doesn't matter. Sandro kills again.

Moving on to the novel, Cain, one of the towering figures of pulp literature, stretches himself here to tell the life story of a man through his first thirty-five years, spanning the Great Depression, Prohibition, and World War II; his various jobs, schemes, and hustles; and his ups, downs, ups, downs, ups, downs, ups... We're not putting an end on that sentence in order to avoid giving a hint whether he ultimately triumphs or fails. For a time Cain's protagonist works in the oil business. For years he's a hobo riding the rails. For part of his life he's a renowned soprano. But no matter where he goes or what he does, there's a past destined to come full circle to stare him in the face. This is Cain's longest book, but it's pretty involving. Its only flaw—if it can be called that—is that is doesn't surprise. You know which untrustworthy friend will come back to haunt him, and which unlikely love will reappear to offer a chance at redemption. Still, a good read. We recommend it.

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Vintage Pulp Feb 8 2019
A MAJOR SPAT
Man critically injured after late night shoe-ing.


This cover got us to finally look up spats in a dictionary to find out what they were for. Apparently they weren't just fashion statements. They were designed to protect shoes and socks from mud and dirt. Blood and spittle too—at least on this vintage cover for Donald Henderson's Clark's debut novel Louis Beretti, which deals with the rise of a 1920s era New York City hoodlum. He's an immigrant kid who grows up on the East Side, serves in the army during World War I, and returns during Prohibition to be drawn into bootlegging, which he leverages into restaurant ownership and a position of respect and influence. But you know what they say—you can take the man out of the hood, but never the hood out of the man. The book was originally published in 1929, but this Avon Edition is copyright 1949, with cover art by an unknown.
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Vintage Pulp Oct 2 2018
BATHROOM BREAK
Help... dying... last wish... to see dripping wet naked woman.

The cover art for this 1948 Avon edition of Paul Cain's Fast One kind of looks like a guy's about to drop dead in front of a bathing woman, but actually he's merely been shoved into the bathroom by the story's anti-hero protagonist. It's always interesting which moment an artist (or a publisher directing an artist) will choose for a cover. This is not an important event in the narrative, but the chance to show a woman in the bath was apparently too enticing to pass up.

The backdrop here is prohibition era Los Angeles and the main character Gerry Kells and the femme fatale S (we never learn her first name) are pulled into a maelstrom of trouble when Kells refuses to work for his old crime buddies and in retaliation they frame him for murder. The novel was put together from five stories that appeared in Black Mask magazine, and when it was published Cain—aka Peter Ruric, aka George Sims—was hailed as a giant of hard-boiled fiction on par with Hammett and Chandler. We don't know about that, but Fast One is a good read—bare bones and quick paced and filled with random brutality.

The bio page for Fast One says Cain “has lived as he writes—at high speed and with violence.” It's a phrase that makes you want details but none are provided. We imagine the description is accurate, though, because Cain published this single novel, as well as some screenplays (including for The Black Cat), then vanished into obscurity and eventually died of alcoholism. 

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Vintage Pulp Jul 30 2017
SCARE B & B
You liar! Your website promised high speed internet!

You ever stay in a place and the internet sucks? It happens to us all the time. The amenities are also sorely lacking at Guido d’Arpino's San Francisco rooming house, but at least his daughter Emma is sexually available to most of the guests that roll through, including touring saxophonist Harry Purcell. Their involvement produces an unexpected customer bonus: pregnancy! The impending arrival of the little d’Arpino sets into a motion a series of events that leads to murder. Since the story is told in flashback at Harry's trial, none of this is a surprise, but the details of how he ended up in the dock are interesting, and in the end the lesson of this Prohibition era tale is clear—never get involved with a musician. And we say that as musicians. We're the worst. Pretty good book, though. In the same way San Fran exteriors are used in some of the best mid-century noir movies, author Fred Malloy (a pseudonym too involved to work out on a perfect beach day, sorry), uses San Fran specificity to spice this one up. For people interested in the city, that alone probably is worth the price of the book. 1954 copyright on this edition, and cover art by Saul Levine. 

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Intl. Notebook Jul 14 2017
DAWN OF THE SKYBOATS
Flying through the air with the greatest of ease.

Pan American World Airways knew how to imbue travel with an aura of romance. It launched in the late 1920s with mail service from Key West to Havana, and quickly expanded to become a passenger airline. Business boomed—well heeled Americans took flights to Havana in droves in what became known as the Cocktail Circuit, escaping U.S. prohibition to enjoy a weekend of decadent nightclubs and gambling before returning in time for Monday's real world obligations. Soon Pan Am expanded service throughout Latin America and the world. It bought seaplanes to get around the problem of many cities not having proper airports. With the ability to use docking facilities, virtually no destination was inaccessible.

The company dubbed its seaplane fleet “clippers,” evoking the masted sailing ships of the oceangoing era, and their draw was not just their mobility but their luxury. Some say it was a different era of corporate governance, a time when the mandate in the commercial travel industry was to earn loyalty with good service rather than to blackmail customers into avoiding misery. This is partly true, but it's also important to remember that air travel was initially considered a luxury indulgence. It was with the advent of travel for the masses that airlines began to exchange services for profitably packing people in like sardines. In that sense, their priorities have not changed much in fifty years.

Pan Am soon began promoting its services with colorful posters, many of which were created by a talented artist named Mark von Arenburg. These prints, which promised to take passengers around the world by clipper, hung mainly in airports and travel agencies and gave passersby fantastic glimpses of faraway destinations—indeed, it's difficult to look at any of them without feeling the pull of the exotic wider world. The company produced hundreds of these promos in various styles and multiple languages, but for our purposes we're interested today only in the posters advertising travel on that elegant Pan Am clipper.

Over the years the fleet evolved from seaplanes to jets, and while all were called clippers, it's the lovely skyboats that are most fondly remembered—and which provided so many entertaining settings in old movies and pulp fiction. The posters you see below are scans of both originals and reproductions, and there are quite a few. Even so, it isn't a complete collection. Some of the most famous posters are so rare they simply can't be found online at the moment. While it's true that air travelers are mainly treated like cattle rather than customers today, and commercial flying is a form of voluntary torture, the destinations are still there to make those difficult hours in the air worthwhile. Let these posters inspire you.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 9 2016
HEATING UP THE '20S
Monroe, Curtis, and Lemmon give jazz a swing.


On this promo poster for the Marilyn Monroe comedy Certains l'aiment chaud, aka Some Like It Hot, it looks like Russian illustrator Boris Grinsson went a little strong on Monroe's wink, making her look like she got a splinter of glass in her eye, but Monroe actually looked that way in the promo photo used as the basis of the art, which you can see at right.

You know all about this movie, so we won't bother to go over it. We'll just mention, if you haven't seen it, don't be surprised that it's in black and white. There are so many color production photos from this one—like the several we've shared below—that we even forgot. And we'd seen the movie several times, though not in about ten years. When it opened with documentary style footage of a car chase and shootout followed by a title card reading “Chicago, 1929,” we were thinking, “Ah, this is where it shifts to color.”

But of course it didn't, and we suddenly remembered that this was a later black and white production, made the same year Technicolor films such as Ben Hur and North by Northwest hit cinemas. According to our research, Monroe actually had a stipulation in her contract that all her films had to be in color, but director Billy Wilder wanted black and white because the heavy makeup worn by Curtis and Lemmon—who spend most of the movie disguised as women—looked green in Technicolor. He lobbied Monroe and she finally agreed her co-stars could not be green.
 
Does Some Like It Hot fit under our self-defined umbrella of pulp? Of course—there are gangsters, the aforementioned shootout, and it's about two jazz musicians on the run. And few Hollywood figures are more pulp in essence than Monroe. The character of nightclub singer Sugar Kane is one of her better creations. Sit back and enjoy. Some Like It Hot premiered in the U.S. in February 1959, and opened in Paris as Certains l'aiment chaud today the same year. Another promotional poster by Grinsson appears below, and you can see the very different West German promo poster here.

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Intl. Notebook Feb 21 2013
TIP OF THE ICEBERG
Better dance fast—it’s freezing in there.

Remember our two write-ups on early 20th Century programmatic architecture in the Los Angeles area? No? They’re here and here. Check ’em out. Oh, and if you’re really interested, there’s another amazing example here with an entire story behind it. Anyway, here’s a new structure to add to the collection. This is the Mt. Baldy Inn, an iceberg-shaped dance hall built in 1927 that was located in the Pico Rivera area of greater Los Angeles. The inn was popular during the Depression, and was supposedly famous for using freshly squeezed oranges in its signature orange freeze drink. We're guessing the orange freeze was basically a non-corporate Slurpee. This would have been during those sad, alcohol aversive years known as Prohibition, but we bet an extra fiver would've gotten your drink pimped out with a shot of whisky. If the booze didn't get you hopping around, the brain freeze would. This image originally came from the Los Angeles Public Library, but we saw it on the excellent architecture forum skyscraperpage.com, so thanks to those folks for doing the hard work of finding this photo.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 14 2013
JACKSON JIVE
Something about that gal just makes him want to play with his wood.

We had completely forgotten about Fred Ross’s Jackson Mahaffey until we ran across this great cover. We read the book back when we first got into pulp literature. Our version was a Riverside Press hardback, but we wish we’d had this Bantam mass market paperback. Note the stick at crotch level and the masturbatory motion that would be required to whittle it. Also note the unsuspecting lass and the mixing bowl between her legs. As it turns out, though the book is indeed about a man trying to get his stick in a girl’s bowl, it’s also a very funny square peg/round hole story in a broader sense.

Published in 1951, with the paperback appearing a year later, Jackson Mahaffey is set in Prohibition era North Carolina, and is told in first person by the eponymous Jackson, an orphan who has grown up to be a master liar, consummate hustler, and inveterate horndog. When he catches a glimpse of beautiful Molly Burns, he decides he simply must have her, but in order to do so he must appear to be a respectable gentleman. Just a few of the things poor Jackson gives up to woo the girl: cussing, brawling, smoking, cock fighting, and drinking. Pretty tough makeover for a guy who manages the meanest fighting cock on the Rock River and carries brass knuckles and a pistol in his pocket, but he gives Southern gentility a go anyway, even though the subterfuge cannot possibly last.

When he inevitably falls off the wagon, the only way he can think of to get back into Molly’s good graces (and hopefully into her panties) is to run for state senator. It should be an impossible task for a rootless hick like Jackson, but it turns out that everything he’s learned during his years of double dealing and raising hell suddenly work to his advantage. This is politics, after all, and he’s uniquely equipped with malleable morals and lots of friends in low places. Filled with backwoods humor and Jackson’s particular brand of countrified wisdom, this one is well worth a read.

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The Naked City Nov 28 2012
BOSTON INFERNO
How it started nobody can remember for sure. How it ended nobody can ever forget.


Above is a photo of the aftermath of the Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942. Its appearance belies the scope of the disaster that took place there. The Cocoanut Grove had been founded as an illegal speakeasy and, after the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, became Boston’s trendiest nightspot. It consisted of several properties that had been consolidated into one, and was a labyrinth of tropical-themed bars, lounges, and dining rooms, complete with a famous “rolling roof” that allowed patrons to dance under the stars during warm summer nights. The club’s cobbled together construction meant there were many points of egress, but owner Barnet “Barney” Welansky was preoccupied with the possibility of people using these to dash without paying their checks, and had hidden some exits behind curtains, locked others, boarded up a plate glass window, and bricked over an emergency exit.

About 10:15 p.m. one frigid November night a fire started for the most banal of reasons. A soldier in the Melody Lounge, which was in the basement, had either loosened or removed a light bulb in an artificial palm tree to create the privacy he desired in order to make out with his date. A busboy was ordered to replace or tighten it. He climbed onto a chair and lit a match so he could see, very likely using one from a matchbook like the one at right. Moments later the canopy of artificial palm fronds overhead caught fire. Whether it was the match or the light bulb that started the blaze nobody ever figured out for sure, though the busboy unambiguously blamed himself and the match.

But in any case, flames blossomed through the paper and rattan decorations. Waiters tried to douse them but they quickly became what witnesses described as a fireball. This fireball raced up a staircase to the lounges and bars on the ground floor and men and women ran upstairs with their hair ablaze. The flames burst into the main level and triggered a deadly crush at the revolving door entrance, which was immediately rendered useless as patrons tried to escape by pushing in opposite directions. Another crush formed at a set of double doors that opened inward from the street. In the panic, the patrons couldn’t organize themselves enough to step back so the exit could be opened. As people struggled, passed out, and piled up before the doors, the flames consumed everything.
 
Many people escaped. They ran through the kitchen, or squeezed through barred windows. The house band’s bass player, Jack Lesberg, who later went on to perform with Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan, among others, smashed his way out using his stand-up bass. Five survivors barricaded themselves in a walk-in freezer. In all, about half the occupants escaped, but in the end the fire killed 492, which was thirty-two more people than were legally allowed to inhabit the building. Some patrons were so quickly overcome by fumes that they died sitting at their tables. Firemen described charred corpses with glasses in their hands. Barnet Welansky went to jail for multiple counts of manslaughter, but was pardoned after only four years by Massachusetts Governor Maurice J. Tobin, who had been the mayor of Boston at the time of the fire. Helps to know people, and helps even more to drink with them. The Cocoanut Grove fire—or inferno might be a better word—was today in 1942.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 22
1910—Duke of York's Cinema Opens
The Duke of York's Cinema opens in Brighton, England, on the site of an old brewery. It is still operating today, mainly as a venue for art films, and is the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.
1975—Gerald Ford Assassination Attempt
Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant who had been evaluated and deemed harmless by the U.S. Secret Service, tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. Moore fires one shot at Ford that misses, then is wrestled to the ground by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.
September 21
1937—The Hobbit is Published
J. R. R. Tolkien publishes his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit, aka The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Marketed as a children's book, it is a hit with adults as well, and sells millions of copies, is translated into multiple languages, and spawns the sequel trilogy The Lord of Rings.
September 20
1946—Cannes Launches Film Festival
The first Cannes Film Festival is held in 1946, in the old Casino of Cannes, financed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and the City of Cannes.
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