During his school days at Homsey College Of Art, British artist and illustrator Les Edwards (who also goes by Edward Miller for some of his romance work) was told in no uncertain terms that he’d never become an illustrator. Well, he graduated from there back in 1972 and has been incredibly successful in publishing, film posters, advertising and even graphic novels ever since. Probably better known for his SF/Fantasy work (as well as romance novel covers under his nom-de-brush), Edwards has done a bit of horror work too including this mini-gallery of Draculas and sundry other ‘children of the night’, with WWII Polish concentration camp survivor and horror grand dame Ingrid Pitt (1937 – 2010) from The House That Dripped Blood among them.
With my obligatory Halloween season reading complete, and a nifty illustrated hardcover edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula returned to the writing lair’s bookcases till it’s due for another re-read, it’s back to more traditional fare for me, which right now happens to be Stephen Spotswood’s just-released Fortune Favors The Dead. I only started it Tuesday morning, am only 60 pages into the novel as I write this, and will likely be halfway through by the time you’re reading this. So more about that new mystery/crime fiction novel later, though I can tell you that Spotswood’s unique pair of 1940’s private investigators pretty much had me from page one.
The same day I started Fortune Favors The Dead, my Crime Reads e-newsletter (or whatever they call it) listed an article by Stephen Spotswood himself, and on a cherished topic: “10 Classic Radio Mysteries Every Crime Fiction Lover Should Know” (link below). ‘Round here, old time radio fans have long enjoyed a local four-hour Saturday afternoon showcase that aired its share of classic mystery and crime shows, though lately it’s been veering more and more toward big band broadcasts and comedies. But there’s always satellite radio, which I’ll admit I’m kind of off-and-on with (currently on) for a reliable round-the-clock broadcast including a healthy helping of classic mystery and crime programs.
Spotswood’s Crime Reads article highlights a number of well-known and not-so-well known shows from the 1930’s through very early 60’s, two in particular being faves of mine. Candy Matson, starring Natalie Parks, was one of the west coast’s most popular series in its time, short-lived as it was (1949 – 1951). Matson, a former fashion model turned private eye, was a “stiletto gumshoe” if ever there was one, and it’s too bad that of the show’s 90 episodes, only fourteen survived. But they’re a treat. For more about Candy Matson, follow the other link below to an August 2019 post from right here.
My hands-down favorite vintage radio mystery/crime drama is Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, a long-running series (1949 – 1962) with over 800 episodes and one of the very last radio dramas to be broadcast nationally. Johnny Dollar originally was a traditional hard-boiled P.I., but the show was re-tooled in the mid-50’s with the character reimagined as a freelance insurance investigator…”the man with the action packed expense account”. In the show’s audition pilot, Dick Powell played the lead, and then a long list of actors took over Johnny Dollar’s role, including Charles Russell, film star Edmond O’Brien (seen up above at the top if this post with his eyes glued to either the revolver or the shapely limbs), John Lund, Bob Readick and Mandel Kramer…and the actor most fans associate with Johnny Dollar: Bob Bailey. During what many consider the show’s best period, Bailey as Johnny Dollar narrated each story, which ran for one whole week in nightly fifteen-minute episodes. Production values, co-stars and music were all top notch, and the scripts were as good as any mystery/crime fiction storytelling you’d find in Manhunt magazine or on a prime TV show.
I already have several multi-disk sets of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and will surely end up with more, though I have a bad feeling that when it’s time to trade in the current wheels, new cars won’t even have CD players any longer. And for me, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar – or any mystery/crime radio shows – go best with long drives. I don’t know why, but radio dramas just make the miles go by quicker. Now I’ll assume that most vintage radio programs have fallen into the public domain. Candy Matson, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and so many others are all over the place and from multiple companies, with three, four or more versions of disk sets and sometimes even more for downloads. Guessing which ones are good quality is a gamble. That said, if you haven’t tried old time radio mystery/crime shows, do so, and I’d say that Candy Matson and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar are good places to start.
That’s “Interview With A Vampire”, not The vampire, so no corrections from the Anne Rice cliques, please. Karl Lagerfeld goes goth-couture in a 2011 photo suite for Harper’s Bazaar magazine, “Interview With A Vampire”.
Seasonal movie watching has been a little sparse this year, and I don’t mean the Hallmark Channel ladling out a new batch gooey sweet Christmas romances. No, I’m talking about the Halloween season. My fault, though, since I’m not much of a fan of most of the contemporary horror films cluttering the cable channels, finding most of them gross at best or sadistically vile in a few cases. Universal 1930’s – 1940’s classics (even the silly multi-monster-fests) are more to my taste along with a few of the 1950’s – 1970’s Hammer horrors (partial to the Dracula and other vampire films, even the later sex-ified lesbian-vampire bared-breast-fests). I’ve caught a few of all these on cable or my own DVD’s. And though I’m kind of indifferent to most of the 1950’s – 1970’s Roger Corman/AIP shockers and their kin from that time, I do like one flick from that era: Shock-meister William Castle’s The House On Haunted Hill from 1959.
1959 being the same year in which my own personal writing projects are set (that being “The Stiletto Gumshoe”), The House On Haunted Hill even merits a mention in the first novel currently making the rounds (still). And that film was on in primetime Wednesay evening, so I was sprawled on the couch in the dark watching it. Sure, the movie’s kind of silly, but it’s more eerily subdued than most drive-in fare from that time…dark and claustrophobic throughout, and I bet it was spooky enough in a dark movie theater sixty years ago…especially with showman Castle’s “Emergo” in-theater special effects (a dummy skeleton floating on wires over the audience).
Vincent Price plays an eccentric millionaire who’s invited a seemingly random group of guests to spend the night in a notorious haunted house. Anyone who can survive till morning earns a cool ten grand. They’re joined by his very reluctant (and presumably unfaithful) wife, played by Carol Ohmart, and watching Price and Ohmart chew up the scenery while they try to out-bitch each other is quite a treat. There are sudden shocks aplenty, but one sequence in particular absolutely un-nerved me when I first saw this movie on TV as a kid. Carolyn Craig plays Nora Manning, the ingenue among the guests, and she bears the brunt of the frights and ghostly attacks. Not long after Carol Ohmart’s found dead – hung over a stairwell, though whether it was suicide, murder, or by some otherworldly hand is unclear – her spirit appears outside young Nora’s bedroom window. The very rope she was hung by slowly snakes in through the window, slithering across the floor towards Nora, circling her feet, ready to loop into a noose…and –
Well, I’m not sure what it was ready to do. Hang Nora by her heels? No matter. That rope pulling tight around her shoes along with the sight of the presumed dead Carol Ohmart floating outside the window was (and still is) pretty chilling. I’m sure I saw much scarier things in my wayward youth, even scarier things in The House On Haunted Hill, but this sequence still lingers with me..
The House On Haunted Hill wraps up with a pretty standard if slightly implausible haunted house tale resolution to chase away all (or most) of the supernatural. And though I usually consider it a sacrilege, there’s even a colorized version of this movie that’s not un-watchable, the hues much more subdued than most colorized hatchet jobs.
As if the movie’s eerie sense of dread and the macabre wasn’t enough, it even intruded on real-life when the lovely Carolyn Craig (1934 – 1970), who’d only started working in films three years before appearing in The House On Haunted Hill and whose resume already included 8 movies (even the critically acclaimed A Face In The Crowd), tragically took her own life, dying from a self-inflicted gunshot, and only 36 when she died.
Cue the spooky music now…
Oh, I know this one’s seen everywhere, but it is almost Halloween, after all, and who better to help celebrate the season here at a “noir culture” site like The Stiletto Gumshoe than Lauren Bacall, in a now-famous Harper’s Bazaar cover photo from 1943. I’ll assume the photo had more to do with serious business like wartime blood drives (it being right in the middle of the U.S. involvement on WWII) than Bacall posing as a stylish creature of the night contemplating a blood bank raid.
But then, who needs an excuse to post a picture of Lauren Bacall?
The title of the photo suite these images come from might make you think of Halloween. Wrong holiday. I suppose I ought to repost this group come February 2021. From “My Bloody Valentine” by Dallas, Texas based photographer and artist Tom Hussey.
“The Toff” (the Honorable Richard Rollinson) opens his mail and discovers a beautifully crafted doll of a naked woman – with a dagger plunged into her chest – which lures him into the bizarre world of the Obeah and a dangerous occult mystery. Maybe mystery, crime fiction and the supernatural (or at least the exceedingly eerie) ought to intersect more often. This one’s a pulpy adventure in John Creasey’s long running series of some sixty “Toff” novels published between 1938 and 1977. The piece of cover art above is from a 1967 Hodder & Stoughton UK paperback edition of A Doll For The Toff, though sadly without an artist credit that I know of.
Coincidentally, a few weeks back I pulled Russell Atwood’s 1999 novel East of A off the shelf for an overdue re-read, recalling that I enjoyed the book enough the first time around to earn a spot as a keeper in the writing lair’s over-stuffed bookcases. But there were other new arrivals on the to-be-read pile, and Atwood’s novel eased back into place.
But not this time. East Of A will get its re-read, so I can revisit NYC private eye Payton Sherwood, a man with more than his own share of backstory, who tries to help a teenage runaway, only to end up taking a beating from some street thugs and having the girl run off with his Rolodex. Call it noir, neo-noir, post-modern noir or whatever the hell you like – this one was damn good. Normally novels that feel like travelogues and spend too much time taking the reader on a tour of their setting can leave me wanting. Not East Of A and its gloriously gritty romp through after-hours clubs, drug dens and the underbelly of New York City, neatly conducting its guided tour by way of the storytelling. It left me wanting more.
Which is good, since J. Kingston Pierce’s 10.24.20 edition of The Rap Sheet Blog happened to be one of those long lists of newsworthy mystery/crime fiction miscellany (that post called “A Basket of Oddments”), including a mention of Atwood’s Payton Sherwood mysteries (East of A from 1999 and Losers Live Longer from ten years later), and the news that there’s some new Atwood work available, though not a Payton Sherwood crime novel this time. I suppose I’ll get Atwood’s new Apartment Five Is Alive a little late for Halloween, but I’ll still be in the mood for a haunted house (make that apartment) book.
In addition to being a writer, Atwood runs Blue Umbrella Books in his Westfield, Massachusetts hometown, which like many indie booksellers already had a tough enough time of making a go of things, and has taken a beating during the pandemic and its shut-downs. Apartment Five Is Alive can hopefully put some coin in the kitty. Hey, I’m in.
For more (with links) about Russell Atwood and his books, head to The Rap Sheet blog, which if you don’t already, you really ought to. Link below…
The Daily Mail’s men’s style feature “If Looks Could Kill: This Season’s Noir Fashion” (though it’s from a few ‘seasons’ ago) tells us “If you want to turn heads and get the girl, you need to look the part. Dress like this and don’t be surprised if trouble walks through your door with eyes like marigolds. You might even get a job offer about a mysterious statue, or receive a visit from a beautiful brunette with a dark secret. Thankfully, roscoes and heaters are no longer de rigueur accessories”.
Well, I don’t know about the copywriter’s take on hard-boiled patter, but the selections from Ian Derry’s photography looks just fine.
Pennsylvania artist and illustrator Laurence ‘Larry’ Schwinger’s full color illustrations made my recent used bookstore find of the 1997 Illustrated Junior Library hardcover edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula a real jewel. And all for less than ten bucks. His non-stylized, no-nonsense illustrations added a lot to the classic vampire tale.
Schwinger didn’t do a lot of horror work that I’m aware of. Or that much mystery/crime fiction material either. But he did some, and they’re nifty pieces, including a series of Cornell Woolrich 1980’s Ballantine paperbacks like I Married A Dead Man (at the top), The Bride Wore Black and The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, and more recently, some Hard Case Crime novels, including Spiderweb, Shooting Star, Witness To Myself and Robbie’s Wife.