Fernando Vicente

When She Was Bad

Fernando Vicente Sanchez, born in Madrid in 1963, largely self-taught and who usually goes by Fernando Vicente, is among Spain’s most popular illustrators, doing everything from book covers to editorial caricatures, magazine and book interiors to fashion illustration, and some rather provocative (and by that, I don’t mean sexy) fine arts work. A sampling of his work is shown here, but there’s much more to be seen at the artist’s site and linked blog, which has both Spanish and English versions.

Artist’s Site Link: https://www.fernandovicente.es/en/

Fernando Vincente Bond?Megan AbbottPhoto IllustrationLa Voluptuosa WahineBABBBN001SSS251210CLPL_M000000000000Fernando Vincenet Bond 2?Fernando Vincente

Candy Matson

Candy Matson

Not unlike the zillion cable TV channels which I frequently surf right through, I probably don’t put my car’s satellite radio to good enough use, mostly hopping back and forth between MSNBC and Sirius’ one old time radio channel. But that paid off a couple days ago with a Candy Matson broadcast, a ‘stiletto gumshoe’ I’d never heard of before. But I’ll definitely be shopping for more episodes now.

A west coast regional NBC show, Candy Matson starring Natalie Parks aired from 1949 through the end of the 1950-1951 season, reigning as San Francisco’s most popular crime drama for a while. Written by Parks’ husband, Monty Masters, it was originally planned as yet one more male private eye series (starring Masters himself), but old-time radio legend says that his mother-in-law convinced him to reimagine the show with a female private eye, which he did, and which west coast stations and their listeners liked – a lot.

Unfortunately, like many old time radio shows, they weren’t all recorded. National shows often were performed twice, once for the East Coast and Central time zone, then again later the same day for Mountain and Pacific time zones. Others were transcribed to air later for the west coast, and many of those survive. But Candy Matson was a regional west coast production, with no need for rebroadcasts or transcription, and sadly, only 14 of the show’s 90+ episodes remain.

Former San Francisco fashion model turned private eye Candy Matson worked out of her swanky Telegraph Hill apartment, drove a sporty roadster and had a closet full of stylish threads which she put to good use, being attractive, well aware of it and perfectly content to flirt when it could help solve a case.  She often had to sneak around Homicide Detective Ray Mallard, but managed that handily since the detective was clearly smitten with her, their evolving romance one of the keys to the show’s popularity with listeners. Matson was a witty, sarcastic glamour gal, actress Natalie Parks delivering the well-written wisecracks and classic hard-boiled P.I. style first person narration with real sass. Packing a gun in her purse and not afraid to use it, she was full of bravado, which often got her in trouble with crooks and sundry other dangerous folks, though some of the episodes are more lighthearted.

Unable to secure a permanent sponsor, Parks and Masters reluctantly threw in the towel at the end of the 1950-51 season, but did so with a series finale in which Detective Mallard finally proposed to Candy and she decided to retire. So, West Coast listeners would no longer hear the phone ringing to open the show, or Candy answering with “Hello, Yukon 28209. Yes, this is Candy Matson”. (Note that one of the series audio CD sets depicted with this post managed to get that darn phone number wrong.)

Noir Is Where You Find It.

shaun mcguan taylor swift

“Noir” is where you find it, and it’s not always cloaked in shadowy lighting or filtered through hazy cigarette smoke. The darkness won’t always part to reveal wide-brimmed fedoras shading square jawed private eyes, or purse sized pistols wielded by fetching femme fatales. No, this thing we call “noir” – film noir, neo-noir, domestic noir, rural noir, L.A. Noir, femme noir, whatever noir — is something much more than just all the visual trappings of classic film noir or the pulps, paperback mysteries and crime comics from the same era, or the reimagined pastiches and homages produced since.

Taylor Swift Vanity Fair 2015 1

I was reminded of this when I scrolled past a Tumblr post at the always intriguing comics and art blog Dirty River (link below) with its repost from artist Shawn McGuan’s Tumblr blog (link also below), showing off his illustration (the terrific art shown at the top of this post) for a Tidal article, “The Delectable Neo-Noir of Taylor Swift” by Alex Segura (and again, link below). If I’d bothered to check my email that morning, I’d have already seen a link to the Tidal article at my 8.24.19 Crime Reads e-newsletter.

Taylor Swift Vanity Fair 2015 2

Alex Segura’s essay begins: “Revenge. Betrayal. Bad blood and knives in the back. Getaway cars, heists gone wrong…these aren’t potential plot threads for a treacherous crime novel. They’re references to songs by Taylor Swift, a beloved pop princess who’s built a name with her catchy, teen-friendly and seemingly All-American odes to lost love and shaking it off. But there’s more to America’s sweetheart…a complex, layered, conflicted character who could easily saunter in front of a film noir’s monochrome and stark stylish camera.”

Taylor Swift Vanity Fair 2015 3

A Taylor Swift expert I’m not. Diana Krall, Beethoven, Joan Jett — those I know, which tells you how screwed up my musical tastes are. But you’d have to be a hermit not to have heard Swift’s music or surfed past her award show performances, each treated like an event. Arriving at the day job’s Friday morning’s staff meeting, for instance, a coworker was being teased for not getting enough sleep Thursday night, everyone but me presuming the dedicated Taylor Swift fan stayed up to get and then give a few listens to Swift’s brand-new album Lover, a midnight release.

It takes more than a pop star – particularly one who started out as a teenage country & western sensation – donning saucy thigh-highs for a duet with Madonna, performing in some provocative cinematic style music videos or sidling up to a bar in a slit dress for Vanity Fair (which is where the 2015 photos for this post all came from, BTW) to make her a purveyor of anything we’d label noir or even neo-noir. But as Alex Segura points out in his essay, “The driving force that propels all noir stories can be summed up with one word: desire…the best works of noir also feature ostensibly good people forced or tempted to do bad things – then dealt some harsh consequences they can’t recover from”.

Taylor Swift Vanity Fair 2015 4

I love the clichés, stereotypes and tropes of classic noir and get a kick out of their redeployment in contemporary neo-noir. But I know full well that the genre – if it is one – isn’t comprised of props, wardrobes, sets and lighting cues. Probing further than the mere look of noir films, crime pulp magazine illustrations and 1950’s private eye paperback covers is what leads us into the dark netherworld of noir, a grim place filled with larceny, lust, greed, amorality, vapid evil and small hope for redemption or escape. Yum. Let me buy my ticket now, please.

So, Taylor Swift as a noir princess instead of just a princess of pop? Well, when you read Alex Segura’s article, you may just agree. Not because of some provocative photo shoots or music videos, but because of the themes in so many of her songs and the canny word-smithing she employs to convey them.

Taylor Swift Vanity Fair 2015 5

Check out Alex Segura’s article. No one’s trying to convert you into a Taylor Swift pop music fan, least of all me. But for dedicated mystery/crime fiction fans and what might be called noir culture enthusiasts, it’s always good to ponder what makes “noir”…well, noir, even when it challenges our notions of what the genre really is.

And while you’re at it, take a look at Dirty River and Shawn McGuan’s blog, though I’ll be posting a few of McGuan’s pieces here shortly, and it isn’t the first time he’s shown up at The Stiletto Gumshoe.

https://dirtyriver.tumblr.com/

https://mcgone.tumblr.com/

http://read.tidal.com/article/neo-noir-of-taylor-swift

The Consummate Illustrator

Austin Briggs

Just ordered mine today from Auad Publishing: Austin Briggs – The Consummate Illustrator edited by Manuel Auad, text by David Apatoff, with a foreword by the artist’s son.

Briggs isn’t the first name that’ll come to mind when you think of so-called golden and silver age illustrators from the mid-twentieth century, at least among pulp, mystery and crime fiction enthusiasts. He worked primarily in the glossies (lucky fellow) and in advertising, but his enormous body of work included no shortage of dark and mysterious pieces from high profile magazine story assignments. Check out a previous post of mine on Austin Briggs (link below) for a few more examples of his work and more about the artist.

Austin Briggs Cosmopolitan 1947Austin Briggs

And try the link to Auad Publishing while you’re at it. What an interesting operation. I have a couple Auad books, so I know that Austin Briggs – The Consummate Illustrator will be a handsome piece. Manuel Auad produces a small but impressive list of titles, each a labor of love and honoring classic American and foreign illustrators. These are well made books done in short runs, most sold direct from the publisher, not in stores, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. There’s only so much to browse there, some of the titles already sold out. But the site’s definitely worth a visit for its Links page, with a great list of artists’ and illustration sites you’re bound to probe a bit.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/07/24/austin-briggs/

auadpublishing.com

Dorothy Gets The Last Word.

Dorothy Parker Quotes - Writers Digest

Pleased as always to see a new Writer’s Digest magazine tumble out of my mail box, this one the Annual Agent Roundup issue with multiple articles and interesting dialog with literary agents about their wants, pet peeves, and more. If you’re a writer currently ‘enjoying’ the humbling querying process or about to be, I suppose it’s kind of a must-read. If you’re not, then Ericka McIntyre’s Alice Hoffman interview alone makes this WD issue worth looking for.

Writers Digest

Though I follow Writer’s Digest’s e-newsletter and blog posts via an aggregator, I confess that I don’t read every single one. Poetry? Screenwriting? Memoir? Not every thing is my thing. Blogs and e-newsletters like theirs have to please a diverse audience, after all. But you don’t even have to be a writer to get a kick out of “10 Dorothy Parker Quotes For Writers And About Writing” in the 8.20.19 edition. Not everyone’s a Parker fan, and there are still some Parker detractors out there. But count me on the fan side. Sharing a Dorothy Parker bon mot or two may not make any friends at your next writers’ coffeehouse whine-fest or score points at a university writing program’s after-class soiree, but you’ll feel a kinship with one of the writing profession’s most acerbic wits. Check it out (link below).

writersdigest dot com

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/10-dorothy-parker-quotes-for-writers-and-about-writing

The Chelsea Girls

The Chelsea Girls - Fiona Davis

Looking to take a break from dark, noir-ish crime fiction after James Ellroy’s This Storm, I knocked off Joy Fielding’s All The Wrong Places, taking a refresher course in the world of thrillers, suspense fiction and serial killers, those enormous categories so closely aligned with mystery/crime fiction, but not always quick to consider themselves a part of the genre.

But the bigger departure from my more customary reading material was Fiona Davis’ The Chelsea Girls (2019), Davis’ fourth novel, the second I’ve read, and the second using an iconic New York residential hotel and mid-twentieth century setting as a backdrop (her debut novel The Dollhouse was set in the Barbizon in the 1960’s).

Ambitious, outgoing head-turner Maxine Mead and comparatively mousey Hazel Ripley partner up on a USO tour during the end days of WWII in war ravaged Italy. After VE Day they drift part, Maxie to Hollywood while Hazel returns to New York where she flees from her manipulative stage mother to take up residence in the Chelsea Hotel, home to actors, writers, artists and a colorful cast of the postwar Boho set’s hangers-on. Reunited over a provocative Off-Broadway play penned by Hazel and starring Maxie, the two friends fall under the watchful eye of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Just when Hazel and Maxie should triumph, self-appointed boycotting blacklisters ruin everything, and unexpected betrayals tear the friends apart, only to reunite in the late 1960’s for a sort of reconciliation revealing that, the era’s injustice notwithstanding, not everyone swept up in the Communist witch hunt’s net was entirely innocent.

A novel like Fiona Davis’The Chelsea Girls provides valuable lessons for writers even as it delivers the goods for readers. Davis crafted a page-turner, but does so without any gunplay, car chases, ticking time bombs or steamy sex scenes. It’s just a damn good tale expertly told with two characters that engage the reader pretty much right from their initial introductions. Make that three characters, because the Chelsea Hotel itself is a character as much as Hazel and Maxine, much like the Barbizon was in Davis’ first book, The Dollhouse.

Not to suggest that The Chelsea Girls lack of suspense tricks made it all sunshine and sweetness. It’s definitely not, dealing with the end of the war and the Red Scare after all. But reading it right after This Storm was akin to listening to Taylor Swift after hours of thrash metal. I won’t say ‘soothing’, but it was something like that. For me, it did what it was supposed to do. With the Barbizon and the Chelsea under her belt, I don’t know what other iconic retro residential hotels are left for Fiona Davis, but wherever she goes with her next novel (and clearly, there’ll be a next one), I’m making my reservation now.

 

Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer

Betty Bates 2

Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer (AKA Betty Bates – Attorney at Law, Betty Bates – Lady at Law and just plain ol’ Betty Bates) is one vintage female crimefighter comic series that needs no apologies or caveats. Created by Stanley Charbot, pen name for Bob Powell, and sometimes drawn by artists Al Bryant, Nick Cardy and Alice Kirkpatrick, Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer appeared in Hot Comics for ten years from 1940 through 1950. The early issues’ art is, frankly, pretty crude, though no worse than many other comics were at the time (peek at the earliest Batman issues for comparison). But with Cardy and Bryant wielding the pencils, inking pens and sable brushes later on, there are spots in the series that could rival even some of Matt Baker’s fluid panels.

Betty Bates 1

Consider: Betty Bates wasn’t just one more in a long line of assistants, secretaries or girlfriends. Bates was the D.A. In fact, Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer was the longest running series led by a lawyer – man or woman – till Marvel’s Daredevil passed the ten-year mark, and it was one of the longest running non-super powered/non-costumed comic heroes of the golden age.

Betty Bates 3

But Bates doesn’t spend too much time in the court room, far too busy fighting crooks, looking for trouble or getting caught up in it. Using her wits and falling back on some handy martial arts skills when needed, she normally prevails on her own and without the aid of some hunky cop or boyfriend, though some stories include ‘Larry’, a reporter who’s obviously smitten with the lady lawyer.

Betty Bates 5

Two things leap out at you: The drawings foregoe the then customary ‘good girl art’ look, with its intrusive peekaboo bathing suit and undressing scenes. Similarly, though Betty falls into some bad guys’ clutches, it’s no more frequent than in any other crime comics or costumed superhero series, and no one could label Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer as a ‘damsel in distress’ or ‘women in peril’ comic. In fact, the stories are really quite good, several stand up well even today, and with ten years of material, there’s a lot to read.

Betty Bates Attorney At Law 2

The Gwandanaland Betty Bates – Lady At Law Readers Collection is a hefty volume, with over 400 pages of Betty Bates stories. Strangely, they’re all black and white, though the comics were full color, of course (I’ve included some online finds here, the book too fat to open in my scanner). A couple came from awful originals, were scanned off of second-generation copies or perhaps just poorly scanned and not corrected, and I was pretty disappointed that the publisher would include such barely readable pieces. But with so many in the book, quantity made up for quality…I guess.

I don’t know why, but they also decided to tack on a few unrelated ‘bonus’ pieces: several Jungle Lil and Miss America stories, also with some mighty uneven scanning and in black and white. I’m not much for adventure pulps/comics, whether Jungle Jane’s, Jill’s or Lil’s, and 1940’s era costumed superheroes aren’t really my thing. But I’ll be bringing up the Miss America stories in another post nonetheless (you’ll see why). No idea why Gwandanaland added this material…the Betty Bates, Lady Lawyer stories really made for a nice fat book all on their own.

Betty Bates 4

A Rogues Gallery Of Roxies (Or Are They Velmas?)

christie brinkley

I’d think the choreography alone would scare the pants off all but the hardiest stage stars…well, the dark stockings in this case. But evidently a lot of actresses – and even non-actresses – are eager to slip into a flimsy flapper dress on Broadway and in Chicago road show tours, with just a few of those jazz-baby bad girlz shown here (Christie Brinkley above):

prince_smokingun_2

Brooke Shields

Emma Bart

Emma Bart

jennifer nettles

Jennifer Nettles

marilu henner

Marilu Henner

rita wilson

Rita Wilson

lisa rinna

Lisa Rinner

paige davis

Paige Davis

Rumer Willis

Rumer Willis

The Real Chicago.

Velma And Roxie

Understandable if you only think of Chicago as Broadway darling Bob Fosse’s brainchild (along with John Kander and Fred Ebb), the hit musical debuting in 1975, revived in 1997 and adapted for the 2002 film with Renee Zellwegger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere. But it really begins with journalist, playwright and screenwriter Maurine Dallas Watkins’ creation, originally running on Broadway in 1926, adapted to a 1927 silent film and again in 1942 as Roxie Hart starring Ginger Rogers.

Ginger ROgers - Roxie Hart

Louisville, Kentucky native Maurine Dallas Watkins (1896 – 1969) attended college back east, studying to be a playwright, but ended up in Chicago where she landed a job as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune in 1924. The Trib was one of seven dailies, each competing for attention in what may be the then Second City’s most colorful era, with Prohibition in full force, speakeasies on every corner, Al Capone-Bugs Moran gang wars turning the streets into a war zone and Chicago’s legendary political corruption overseeing it all. Watkins had no shortage of tawdriness to cover, including the Leopold And Loeb kidnapping/murder case and the sensational trials of two photogenic ‘jazz babies’ accused of crimes of passion: Cabaret singer Belva Gaertner, “the most stylish on murderess row” and Beulah Sheriff Annan, “the beauty of the cell block’. Far from sympathetic, Watkins was frustrated by the ease with which the two women managed to manipulate her male colleagues, particularly since she was convinced that both women were guilty as hell.

old posters

Soon after leaving the Tribune, Watkins returned to school and drama workshops, where she penned The Brave Little Woman, which she soon revamped into Chicago, in which Beulah became Roxie Hart and Belva morphed into Velma Kelly. The play debuted on Broadway in 1926 and was an immediate hit, spawning successful road tours (one with a very young Clark Gable) and inevitably landed in Hollywood…Watkins ending up there as well. Her play was adapted to the silent screen by Cecil B. Demille, and with major changes, into 1942’s Roxie Hart. Meanwhile, Watkins became a moderately successful screenwriter, her best-known film being Libeled Lady from 1936 with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow. She retired to Florida, quite well off and by then deeply religious, turning down further offers for the rights to Chicago, regretting the part she played in glorifying two murderers who escaped justice. But after she passed away in 1969, her estate sold the rights to Bob Fosse, who glammed up the jazz baby killers more than ever.

He Had It Coming Book

The story behind all this will be told in detail soon. Chicago Tribune Publishing will release Kori Rumore and Marianne Mather’s He Had It Coming – Four Murderous Women And The Reporter Who Immortalized Their Stories in November. The book grew out of Tribune photo editor Mather’s discovery of decades-old boxes of photo negatives of the ‘real’ Roxie, Velma and others collected by Maurine Dallas Watkins, which led her to research the fifty-plus Watkins’ Tribune bylines. The result is a biography of Maurine Dallas Watkins and a profile of the sensational Belva Gaertner/Beulah Sheriff Annan trials — a long overdue honor for one of the Trib’s own, and aiming to set the story straight on a couple of flapper-fatales from history and the real story behind Roxie, Velma and Chicago.

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