Prezio’s Crime Scenes.

victor prezio. the scene of the crime

Victor Prezio (born 1924) is one of those unsung heroes of the postwar pulp and paperback cover art era, largely eclipsed by better known names but responsible for a lot of illustrations you’ve likely seen many times at leading retro-art and kitschy-culture sites. These two Prezio pieces almost bookend the artist’s evolving style: Early on, working as richly shadowed and every bit as painterly as a James Avati cover illustration, like the grim piece above appropriately titled “Scene Of The Crime”. Then later, much more casual (and surely faster and for less money) brushwork dashes out the scary image below for a sleazy 1966 Real Men magazine cover. Westerns, gothic romances, and no shortage of women-in-peril illustrations for the “men’s adventure” magazine market, Prezio did it all, and is (I think) still with us, but presumably retired by now.

victor pezio real men cover sept 1966

The Violent Ones.

The Violent Ones Illustration

I can’t tell you much about Fernando Lamas (married to Esther Williams, spoofed by Billy Crystal on old Saturday Night Live episodes…that Fernando Lamas?) much less about the two feature films he directed, which includes 1967’s The Violent Ones. The film’s grim piece of uncredited movie poster illustration above might look more at home as a duotone spot or spread in a sleazy men’s ‘adventure’ magazine from that same era, the film dealing with a southwestern lawman (Lamas) transporting three rape suspects to a safe trial with a lynch mob on their tail. It’s on Turner Classic Movies’ database, but that doesn’t guarantee it’s a classic. I’ve never seen it, and with no TCM anymore, I don’t imagine I’ll be seeing it soon.  Still, it had an interesting (albeit creepy) poster.

A Deadly Kiss.

n saunders mans story 1970 copy

Let’s hope that kiss was really, really worth it, since the revolver digging into that fellow’s chest seems likely to bring this embrace to a very abrupt end. It’s a spot interior B&W illustration by pulp maestro Norman Saunders for a 1970 issue of Man’s Story magazine.

It’s More Than Just A Fetish Picture.

The Artless Heiress 1

The picture”? Scroll way down for that one.

Clarence Budington Kelland (1881 – 1964) described himself as “the best second-rate writer in the world”. But, if he was, he was a pretty successful second-rate wordsmith, credited with 60 published novels and over 200 short story sales from westerns and mysteries to multiple juvenile series, including his story “Top Hat” which was the basis of the 1936 Gary Cooper/Barbara Stanwyck film Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.

The Artless Heiress 2

His story “The Artless Heiress” (AKA “Miss Drugget Takes The Train”) was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1957, later collected with two other novellas in a 1962 Walter J. Black Inc. Detective Book Club hardcover edition. A long-forgotten kind of cozy, even somewhat creaky mystery, Kelland’s tale lives on because of the Post editor’s or art director’s decision to assign popular illustrator Robert Meyer to the series, one illustration in particular appropriated as a kind of a staple at many pulp and even some creepy fetish sites.

The Artless Heiress 3

Columbine Pepper Drugget is the unofficial secretary to her Aunt Egeria Cordwainer, headmistress of the Cordwainer finishing school.  Prim, proper but ‘spunky’ twenty-one year-old Columbine still favors the same severe uniform style shifts, schoolgirl hats, chunky oxfords and thick white stockings she grew accustomed to when a pupil at Cordwainer herself. She hasn’t even gotten her hair cut short and bobbed yet, and wears steel-rimmed specs, considering horn-rimmed glasses a trendy affectation. When a mysterious attorney’s letter that may promise an inheritance prompts her to take a train ride (just like the title says) she’ll quickly become embroiled in a dangerous – make that potentially deadly – mystery that begins with a luggage mix-up, a cache of precious gems, a voodoo doll and a revolver in a stranger’s suitcase. Her inheritance turns out to be a peculiar old Arizona resort hotel. Multiple mysterious mishaps occur while Columbine acquires an entourage of oddly named acquaintances like Roxy Thistlebun and Artemus Thumb, and emboldened by her adventures, eventually exchanges her schoolgirl coif and dowdy duds for an all-new style. Ultimately finding herself in quite a fix when bad guys after the property (or mysterious valuables hidden there) get rough, Columbine triumphs and everything turns out well in the end, befitting Kelland’s typically tame puzzlers.

The Artless Heiress 4

While many pulp and paperback artists never got a chance to read a summary of the material they were illustrating, Robert Meyer’s paintings all faithfully depict actual scenes from Kelland’s tale. It’s just that they put a slicker contemporary spin (for 1957) on a rather obsolete story. Whether that was the illustrator’s intent or he was prodded to freshen up Kelland’s fun but fundamentally fussy tale remains unknown. Regardless, I assume there’s a legion of folks with a squirm-worthy fondness for a pair of damsels in visible distress, even if they’ve never heard of Clarence Budington Kelland, couldn’t care less about Columbine Pepper Drugget blossoming into an independent woman (circa 1957, that is) as she puzzles her way through a series of adventures, and may not even know who artist Robert Meyer (1919 – 1970) was. Yes, that particular picture really is more than just a tawdry bit of provocative perviness, and surprisingly, you can track down Kelland’s story (in either title) quite easily online.

Clarence Budington Kelland Books

A Mid-Fifties ‘Stiletto Gumshoe’.

True-Detective-October-1954 mort kuntsler copy 2

This particular true crime pulp cover has been one of my personal favorites and residing in a ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’ folder stuffed full of 1950’s/60’s photos, ads and historical references. Sure, you’ll find more exciting, violent, lurid or blatantly ‘sex-ified’ covers among 1950’s crime fiction and true crime pulps than this October 1954 issue of True Detective magazine, which touted cases inside like “The Murder Minded Lawyer Of Lake Wales” and a double-length feature, “Daughter’s Revenge”. This particular plainly attired snoop was but one of many vintage paperback and pulp magazine covers that planted the seeds of inspiration for my own current projects, and could almost be ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’ herself.

Often as not, postwar pulp and paperback covers weren’t even credited. I’ve seen this one attributed to Mort Kunstler at more than one site now, but in what may or may not be more authoritative art auction sites, it’s credited to Lu Kimmel (1905 – 1973), so I’ll go with that. Smack my forehead…I always thought it was a photo, not an illustration.

A Pulp Godfather.

Mort Kunstler Book

Mort Kunstler – The Godfather Of Pulp Fiction Illustrators by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle (and Mort Kunstler) was the first book to arrive as I replenish my woefully empty to-be-read spot on the writing lair’s endtable. Mind you, the actual reading went quick, this very handsome 130+ page 2019 hardcover being a little light on text. But the nine-page intro by Mort Kunstler himself (as told to Robert Deis) was an intriguing read nonetheless. As he explains right at the start, “The word Kunstler means artist in German”, his immigrant father (an amateur artist himself) kept the spelling, and the rest was probably destiny.

The book’s heavy on Mort Kunstler’s pulpy ‘men’s sweats’ and adventure magazine illustration work, filled with WWII combat scenes, Cold War era spies and exotic safaris, with only a few examples of the master’s crime pulp work included. But trust me, it’s worth it for that intro alone, even if you’ve already seen many of the illustrations included here at any of your favorite pulp, vintage illustration and retro-kitsch sites and blogs.

Elaine And John Duillo, Continued…

john duillo 2

More about the husband and wife team of 20th century illustrators, Elaine and John Duillo:

Meanwhile, husband John was an in-demand illustrator for PBO’s as well, known most for westerns and doing some 500+ covers during the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s estimated that his Zane Grey, Max Brand and Louis L’Amour books sold over 100 million copies. Late in his commercial career, Duillo also did numerous covers and interior illustrations for the men’s adventure and so-called men’s sweats market, including a number of notorious women-in-peril pieces typical for that market (and the kind we’ll skip here). He retired from commercial illustration in the mid-1970s to focus on western art and historical Civil War painting and etchings. John was a President of The Society Of American Historical Artists.

See a prior post for art and info from Elaine Duillo.

John Duillo 1John Duillo 4john duillo 3

More From Barbara Walton

Shadow of Katie - B Walton 1977

More intriguing covers from UK illustrator Barbara Walton, a prolific cover artist of late 1950’s through late 1970’s British paperback and hardcover books, who’s not nearly as well known to contemporary art/illustration fans here in the U.S. as she ought to be. (I didn’t know abut her!) Scroll back to the preceding posts for more Barbara Walton info and covers, and go ahead to the next posts to see work from Barbara’s sister, Eileen Walton.

Murder With A Kiss - B Walton 1963Prey For The Dreamer - B WaltonThe Evergreen Death - B Walton 1968The Zebra Striped Hears - B WaltonWhere Is Janice Gentry - B WaltonShot At Dawn - B Walton 1964

Who Are The Walton Sisters?

Label It Murder - B Walton 1963 - Art

Seems like I only stumbled across a previously unseen (by me) edition of John D. MacDonald’s One Monday We Killed Them All this morning or the day before (image below). But I’ve already forgotten where, and scrolling backwards through my WordPress Reader, Tumblr feed, Pinterest and BlogLovin’ hasn’t revealed the source. (So, if it was you posting this provocative cover art, please shout out so I can say thanks…at least, thanks for sending me on a merry goose chase!)  Wherever it appeared, the signed cover illustration intrigued me enough to go rooting around, hoping to learn more about British artist and illustrator Barbara Walton. And as I then soon discovered, about fellow British artist and illustrator, her sister, Eileen Walton.

One Monday We Killed Them All - B Walton

Biographical info on the Walton sisters is sparse. Make that nearly non-existent, at least from what I could find, though I’m no vintage pulp/paperback cover art archeologist. If a reliable go-to source like J. Kingston Pierce’s Killer Covers Of The Week blog could only yield sketchy details, a rank amateur like me could do no better.

When were they born? Are they still with us? Who came first? Sorry, I don’t know. All I can deduce from dated work is that Eileen Walton began working in advertising and editorial illustration in the mid-1950’s, her sister Barbara in book cover illustration in the late 1950’s, both of them the most prolific throughout the 1960’s, with their intriguingly evolving art seeming to vanish altogether by the late-1970’s. But then, they wouldn’t be the only illustrators who migrated from the rapidly shrinking cover art marketplace around that time, as photography and image-free graphic design swiftly dominated the industry.

THis Is For Real - B Walton - Art

Both Barbara and Eileen Walton did contemporary and historical romance titles and even children’s books, but it’s their exciting work for Fontana Books, Robert Hale Ltd. and other UK publishers’ mystery, thriller and crime fiction titles that fit here. So browse the next few posts to discover (as I did) some truly intriguing work from two women you may not have even known about, perhaps overshadowed for many retro illustration enthusiasts by the likes of Reginald Heade or David Wright among the UK artists, and a long list of faves from Maguire to McGinnis and others among American illustrators.

Accessory To Murder - E Walton 1968 - Art

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑