Some Vintage ‘Stiletto Gumshoes’

Klassik Komix Holywood Detective Front

Mini-Komix’ (or is it Klassik Komix?) Hollywood Detective is a 100-page trade paperback combining several Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective stories (most of which I already had in other compilations or pulp reprints) with some relative rarities, including genuine ‘stiletto gumshoes’ from the 1940’s – 50’s. Now I’m no vintage crime comics historian, but I think the non-Dan Turner pieces aren’t from Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective magazines, but from the vintage crime pulp Speed Detective, which included (and actively promoted) a comics section in most issues, including Ray McClelland’s “Gail Ford – Girl Friday” and Gene Leslie’s “Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood” along with Newt Alfred’s “Ray Hale – News Ace”.

3 Super Detectives

This book includes all of those, plus a “Betty Blake” four page shortie. H. L. Parkhurst’s Betty Blake was a contemporary of Alphonse Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, both launched in the Spring of 1934, though Betty only managed to survive for a half dozen appearances while Sally The Sleuth continued (in evolving forms) well into the 1950’s. Additionally, Betty, the daughter of a New York police inspector, somehow managed to keep her clothes on while solving crimes, unlike Sally The Sleuth. I’d tell you more, but Hollywood Detective includes no introduction, back matter, dates, details…nothing. There’s a write-up on this early female detective pulp/comics character from Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective site. Check it out.

Gail Ford

For me, the real treats in this slim book are the Gail Ford – Girl Friday story, “Girl Snatchers” (a sample page shown above) and the three Queenie Starr – Glamour Girl Of Hollywood stories. I’d read little snippets here and there about these characters, perhaps seen some random panel art (typically unidentified or credited) at a Tumblr blog, Pinterest or elsewhere. But now I finally got to read a few complete pieces. If you’re into the roots of female detectives, cops, reporters and sundry snoops from the mid-twentieth century, they were a real find.

Queenie Starr

McClelland’s Gail Ford and Leslie’s Queenie Starr (Ms. Starr shown right above) have a bit of the era’s pervy peekaboo Good Girl Art feel to them, no question. Queenie Starr in particular, seems to spend a lot of time posing for cheesecake photos or sunning poolside in a bathing suit…reasonable enough, perhaps for a ‘Hollywood Glamour Girl’. But not unlike Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth, she spends an inordinate amount of time getting dressed and undressed. Unfortunately for the various Hollywood crooks, schemers and murderers she gets mixed up with, prancing about in negligees or lingerie doesn’t seem to hinder her ability to solve Tinsel Town’s crimes. All in all, quirky retro stuff, but very interesting.

Super Detective May 1950

 

 

The Poetics Of Pulp.

Spicy Detective Reprint

The Poetics Of Pulp? A couple weeks ago, I commented about precisely that (link below).

Each mystery/crime fiction enthusiast (or writer) has to find their own way to process what’s merely retro-fun vs. what’s infuriating in mid-twentieth century pulp fiction. I noted in that prior post that W.M. Akers, author of the newly released novel Westside (just got my copy a few days ago) grappled with this very issue when using old pulp tales to do research for his re-imagined hard-boiled fantasy 1920’s New York City. The rampant racism, homophobia and relentless misogyny that was so pervasive in old pulp tales is hard to digest, yet the allure of the rapid-paced storytelling and slang-filled vintage prose can be so addictive.

It’s the language that always gets me, rarely the plots. Imagine yourself a 1930’s – 1950’s pulp scribe, churning out tales month after month for multiple titles and publishing syndicates in order to reliably put three squares on the table. The most imaginative writer might dream up some nifty set-ups and create a compelling scene or two for each story, but eventually it would become increasingly difficult to concoct genuinely unique solutions for so many mysteries. Inevitably, things start to become contrived, maybe even outlandish, if not downright silly.

So be it. While the best of the bunch might still suffer from those contrived plot resolutions, they were wrapped up nice-n-neat in wonderful language brimming with authentic (or entirely fabricated) street vernacular that could sometimes be — dare I say it – ‘pulp poetry’ when done right.

There aren’t many actual pulp magazines in my bookcases, not being a collector. Reprints and omnibus books? Those I have. Adventure House reprints of Spicy Detective and Spicy Mystery, for example, are a real treat since they’re cover-to-cover reissues of the original magazines, complete with all ads, illustrations and even the crummy two-column linotype typesetting that can make your eyeballs spin.

The July 1941 Spicy Detective Stories (a 2005 Adventure House reprint, 128 page glossy cover perfect-bound trade pb) has seven stories plus a four-page “Sally The Sleuth” comic strip. A couple of the stories are a snore, a couple are actual stinkers. But the two that lead off the book are gems (albeit gems with ridiculous conclusions). “The Second Slug” by Justin Case (get it?) is from that writer’s long-running “Eel” series about a gentleman thief of “courageous action and questionable morals”. Here the Eel earns an easy C-note just to accompany racketeer Knuckles Orio to an after-hours nightclub audition of a naïve young fan dancer, supposedly to ensure that Knuckles behaves himself. But it’s just a setup to provide the gangster with an alibi when his fiancée is murdered. The ‘Eel’ has to keep the law at bay and duke it out with Knuckles’ thugs, but manages to romance the young fan dancer while solving the crime. Some clues and even the final resolution are a bit far-fetched, but what makes the fast-paced story sing is the Damon Runyon style prose. ‘Justin Case’ – one of several pen names used by writer High B. Cave – was an ardent fan of the Bard of Broadway’s stylish “present-tense, first-person narrative style”.

Next up is Robert Leslie Bellem with a Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective story, “Death By Arrangement”. Bellem’s Dan Turner tales are notorious for logic-defying solutions to their crimes, and this one’s no different, a spin on the locked-room mystery with a pistol rigged up to a grand piano’s keyboard. I adore Dan Turner pulp stories and even the Dan Turner comics, though I’m tempted to skip right over the final paragraphs or panels when the crimes are finally solved. But Bellem’s language always gives me a thrill. Here’s the opening of “Death By Arrangement”, where the Tinsel Town gumshoe has just arrived at a Hollywood bigwig’s swanky cocktail party:

“The read-haired cupcake in the low cut emerald evening gown dished me a kiss that jostled me all the way down to my fallen arches. And then somebody hung a hand on my shoulder, spun me around and measured me for a swift poke on the horn.” Dan recovers his composure before returning the blow. “But I braked my duke when I tabbed the bozo who was trying to paste a mouse on my smeller…it isn’t polite to lower the boom on a half-pint drip like him, not with my dimensions. You don’t drive tacks with a sledgehammer.”

 I can only fantasize about crafting a phrase as cool (and as corny) as “paste a mouse on my smeller”.

Adolphe Barreaux’ Sally The Sleuth series was a Spicy Detective staple with two to four page B&W comic strips in each issue. In “Dangerous Delivery”, Sally investigates a refugee murdered over a rare stamp worth $35,000, and of course manages to end up in trouble and out of her clothes by the second page. This July 1941 Spicy Detective issue’s cover by Allen Anderson depicts a damsel in distress who could almost be Sally The Sleuth herself, and not unlike Sally, isn’t waiting to be rescued but using a conveniently placed candle to burn through her bonds…and also just like Sally, is doing so in powder blue silkies.

Hate ‘em. Love ‘em. Or simply find a way to compartmentalize the vintage pulps to process the bad and savor the good. Me, I’ll stay conflicted even while binging on the ‘poetry of pulp’.

https://wordpress.com/post/thestilettogumshoe.com/1841

Not The Best, Only The Better

Spicy Detective Stories

Spicy Detective Stories is a used bookstore find, a 1989 Malibu Graphics trade paperback reprinting six stories and a Sally The Sleuth strip from various 1935 – 1937 issues of the iconic pulp magazine of the same name, all re-typeset, but including the original interior B&W illustrations. It leads off with a Robert Leslie Bellem Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective story, “Temporary Corpse”, the dialog and period slang a real treat. Not Bellem’s best, perhaps, but still fun. In fact, the book’s Tom Mason foreword notes, “This collection of Spicy Detective Stories is not intended to be a ‘best of’ collection. It’s more like a ‘better of’, a sampling, as close to a better-than-average issue of the real thing”.

Uhm…well, if they say so.

Strangely, the book doesn’t use a piece of cover art from the era…something by H. J. Ward or Norm Saunders would seem in order. Instead, there’s an original contemporary illustration by “Madman” (don’t know who that really is) which is nice, though looking like a better fit for a Spicy Mystery or Spicy Adventure pulp reprint than Spicy Detective. The book closes with a short 13-panel 1937 Sally The Sleuth strip, “Matinee Murder”, where Adolphe Barreaux’ sassy snoop finds herself (no surprise) in jeopardy, but being tied up in lacy lingerie never stopped Sally from landing a well-placed kick to the snoot of any villain, and then solving the crime. All in a dozen-plus panels, mind you.

I don’t know if this was a stand-alone book or part of a Malibu Graphics series. I’ve noted before that I don’t collect pricey pulp magazine originals, but I do have some Adventure House trade paperback reprints, those being complete single issues using the original typesetting, capturing all the original art and even the hilarious ads, right down to the classifieds. They’re not “best of’s” or even “better of’s”, but a pretty affordable way to understand the 1930’s – 40’s pulp era in all its tawdry glory. I’ll profile some of those here soon…promise.

The Last Comics.

dan turner

Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective: The Last Comics: This is a Fiction House Press trade pb collecting fifteen Dan Turner tales from the late 1950 through March 1953 Crime Smashers comics, all written by Robert Leslie Bellem, illustrated by Adolphe Barreaux (of Sally The Sleuth fame), Robert McCarty, Max Plaisted or Tony Tallarico. Bellem was the creator of the Dan Turner character, originally appearing in a 1934 issue of the pulp magazine Spicy Detective and later having his own title that ran from 1942 to 1950. But these aren’t prose pulp tales — they’re short 8-page comics stories and, no surprise, the mysteries are pretty contrived and sometimes more than a little repetitious. The fun, though, is in the period dialog. To a starlet being framed for a murder, whose only alibi is a secret tryst: “You’re in a jackpot, kitten. To nix a murder rap, you’ll have to confess you were indulging in neckery with a boyfriend”. When Dan discovers the gun used in a murder: “And here’s the croakery weapon, begosh!” Interrogating a female suspect: “I’ll have another chin-fest with the Laverne quail”. And so on.

dan turner - girl fight

Actually, many of the individual panels from these very stories have been circulating all over comics and other sites and blogs for ages, particularly the girl-fight scenes, of which there are quite a few, the stories all set among Hollywood studios, and it is Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective after all. The five-panel piece above, for example, depicts Fifi Valcour (I swear, I’m going to steal that name for something!) and Brenda Lee staging a Paris café brawl for a movie scene they’re shooting, which results in the murder of Monarch Pictures director Baldy Boyd. Fun stuff.

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