The cover illustration for the February 1971 issue of Real Men magazine might go with the story “He Bet His Babe In A Poker Game…And Lost!” that lurked inside. But with so many so-called ‘men’s adventure’ magazine stories like this particular issue’s “Sex-Hungry Women – Where To Find Them!”, “Give A Dame A Gun And She’s A Killer!” and “I Went To Bed With A Lez…Just To Find Out What It’s Like!” (from ‘an average young wife’, no less), it’s not always entirely clear which story the cover art goes with. Nonetheless, it’s classic 1960’s-70’s style vintage sleaze, and likely could’ve been paired with any of a number of that marketplace’s stories and articles.
A little over a year ago, I got my hands on Stark House Press’ The Best Of Manhunt, edited by Jeff Vorzimmer (see link below for more on that book). A legendary postwar mystery/crime fiction pulp magazine like Manhunt clearly deserves more than just one “best of” volume, so Vorzimmer’s back with The Best Of Manhunt 2 (2020), a 420+ page companion trade pb. Much like the first book, there aren’t a lot of ‘extras’, such as author bio’s or cover reprint images. The stories are the attraction. The book opens with some brief entries including Peter Enfantino’s foreword, Jon L. Breen’s introduction and his 1968 article, “On The Passing Of Manhunt”, and finally a 1970 Robert Turner article “Life And Death Of A Magazine”. Those only take up twenty pages or so, and then it’s on to forty tales culled from 1953 through 1964 issues of Manhunt magazine.
The first book may have included a roster of more ‘marquee’ authors, but this follow-up volume still features familiar names like Fletcher Flora, Bruno Fischer, Erle Stanley Gardner, Wade Miller and Donald Westlake. Manhunt’s gritty, hard-boiled rep didn’t seem to attract many women writers, but you’ll find Delores Florine Stanton Forbes (1923 – 2013) included, appearing here as De Forbes. Helen Nielsen (1918 – 2002) was better known as a TV mystery scriptwriter, but her “You Can’t Trust A Man” from a 1955 issue is short, sweet tale with a gotcha ending, and it’s a real treat.
I don’t know if it makes sense to list “best of’s” from a “best of” book. So I’ll just point out my favorites. While the anthology finds noirish and hard-boiled crime and mayhem in every corner of the U.S. from Florida to Chicago, make-believe burgs and various nowheresvilles, my faves were coastal, one in New York and one in Los Angeles. Frank Kane (1912-1968) is the man behind the long running Johnny Liddell P.I. series of nearly thirty novels and numerous sort stories. His glib NYC gumshoe is too slick and smart-assed for some readers, but Kane’s non-Liddell story, “Key Witness” from a 1956 issue is near-perfect. In part a police procedural, it feels like it could have been written today save for a few anachronisms. There’s no wisecracks or trademark Kane leering, the longish tale was quite dark, gritty and, for me, wholly unexpected.
Heading west to Los Angeles, William Campbell Gault’s “Death Of A Big Wheel” from the April 1957 issue is a lengthy story featuring Hollywood private eye Joe Puma. Some innocent cocktail lounge small talk with a past-his-prime film star finds Puma mixed up with hard-as-nails B-movie studio starlets and gangsters. It’s a real fun read, and was just begging to made into a movie. Still ought to be, if you ask me.
Covers of some of the Manhunt issues the forty stories included in The Best Of Manhunt 2 are shown here. If you’re interested in postwar mystery/crime pulp fiction that’s a couple notches above the repetitious fistfights, gunplay and outlandish mysteries of 1930’s-40’s era pulps, you can’t go wrong with either (or both) of The Best of Manhunt books.
The B&W spot illustration above is from “Murder In Season” by C.A.M. Donne, actually Donald Clough Cameron (1905 – 1954), a prolific novelist, pulp scribe and comics writer who penned many Batman and Superman issues and has been credited in whole or in part with coming up with Wayne Manor’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth, and the Batcave. I’ll have to leave it to true Bat-Experts to correct me on that.
The other illustrations (above and below) are from “Sabotage Salvage” by Jerome Severs Perry, which is actually one of Robert Leslie Bellem’s many pen names (as if he wasn’t cranking out enough material for Dan Turner Hollywood Detective tales). It sure seems like forties frills just couldn’t manage to keep the hems of their frocks from flapping open over their stocking tops, at least in Spicy Detective artwork.
The cover for this December 1940 issue was by the great H.J. Ward. But alas, no credits are available for the interior artwork.
Allan Anderson’s gruesome cover art for the January 1942 issue of Spicy Detective magazine corroborates the assumption that the illustrators were often cooking up ideas (or getting them from the editors) with little regard to the stories inside a particular issue. Oh, there’s all sorts of murder and mayhem in this 128-page Adventure House 2007 trade pb reprint, but nothing about a bride-to-be fending off a knife-wielding killer outside the seamstress’ fitting room.
That the U.S. was officially in WWII by this point is apparent, though the stories were surely written and selected long before Pearl Harbor the month before. Henri St. Maur’s “Go Ahead – Shoot” deals with private op Matt Kerrigan tangling with Axis spies at a precious metals smelter, and Adolphe Barreaux’s Sally The Sleuth 8-page comic “On The Heels Of Heels” finds her infiltrating Nazi saboteurs masquerading as a quiet married suburban couple. For once, it’s someone other than Sally herself who manages to lose most of her clothes (well, mostly).
The interior illustrations shown here (unfortunately uncredited, as usual) accompany the issue’s lead story, “A Pile of Publicity” by Justin Case. That would be pulp maestro Hugh B. Cave (1910 – 2004), a one-man story factory who sold over 800 pulp magazine tales, most of his horror, science fiction and weird menace tales penned under his real name. “Justin Case” was used for The Eel series, The Eel one of the era’s many gentleman thief anti-heroes who dabbled in private investigations. Case/Cave wrote seventeen of them between 1936 and 1942, this one the second to last. An admirer of Damon Runyon’s style, Case mimicked that same present-tense first-person format for his Eel tales. Here, The Eel’s hired by a wealthy artist to protect a just-completed full figure nude portrait to be unveiled during an elaborate gala at the painter’s Connecticut estate, and wouldn’t you know it, some folks wind up dead during the highbrow art set’s decadent shenanigans.
For anyone who’s only used to browsing the 1930’s-40’s era’s mystery/crime pulp’s covers but hasn’t given the stories themselves a try, I encourage you to do so (mystery/crime fiction writers in particular). Every hoary hard-boiled genre cliché began here, sometimes awkwardly plugged into really clunky prose, but often as not, really leaping off the page, particularly when you keep in mind they weren’t quite so cliched yet. For example, try this passage from the issue’s second-to-last story, “Two Little Rocks” by Clark Nelson, a nifty bit of nastiness dealing with murderous jewel smugglers:
“The instant Steve Carnahan, proprietor of Carnahan Detective Agency, entered that frowsy hotel bedroom, he knew he’d led with his chin.
A dame opened the door to his hairy-fisted knock. She was a tall, slinky redhead in a black silk dress that was tighter than a bandage on a sore finger. She had green eyes, red lips and a sardonic smile. She also had a pearl-handled .38 caliber persuader, which she proceeded to jam against Carnahan’s middle vest-button.
“Freeze, flatfoot,” she remarked distinctly.”
A tall, slinky redhead in a black silk dress that was tighter than a bandage on a sore finger…I’ll never manage a line like that. If you can compartmentalize the wince-worthy bits of non-politically correctness, there are real genre gems to be enjoyed in those ancient pulps. I’ve still got four or five more late 30’s and early 40’s Spicy Detective issues to work through.
Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, as someone learned the hard way in this cover illustration from the May 1959 issue of Guilty – Detective Story Magazine.
“35 Dolls Of Memphis” is a Neil Pritchie story from the January 1956 issue of Stag magazine, which lucked out with this two-page spread duotone illustration by Illustrators Hall Of fame inductee James Bama, well represented in the “men’s adventure magazine” market at that time, his solid run on Bantam paperback covers still a few years away.
“There weren’t enough detectives in Memphis to question all the inmates of Daddy Samples’ harem,” the story’s tease stated, “a collection of luscious females, each a murder suspect.”
Would it surprise us if the Bama art turned out to be the best part of the tale?
Originals? Yeah, sure. Like I have that kind of dough. No, they’re all Adventure House Spicy Detective trade paperback reprints, handsome books with crisp reproduction, using the original page layouts with the ads included and all. That these particular 1930’s and 1940’s era issues all happened to include Robert Leslie Bellem “Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective” stories should come as no surprise to observant followers here. About time to get my mitts on a few more, I think.
This work week’s enough to drive me to drink. And it calls for a really large drink (and I’m not much of a buzzer, mind you).
Just like the gal down to her last few smokes in the Howell Dodd illustration from the June 1953 issue of True Fact Crime magazine, I could use a large one too. In fact, I’d be happy to pay more than thirty cents for it. But we all know that two bits and a nickel will only buy trouble, and in her case, will lead her down a bloody road “from muskrat, to mink, to murder” as the magazine’s lurid teaser lines stated.
You just gotta love those old pulp magazine copywriters.
Given a choice, I’ll always go for illustration over photography when it comes to vintage pulp fiction and true crime magazines and paperback covers. Frankly, I’ve never really gotten into the whole true crime magazine arena anyway, finding the oldies a little ho-hum and most of the ‘modern era’ stuff really, really creepy. (Though that’s based on browsing only a few issues, to be fair.)
But, I’ll be the first to concede that the genre boasted its share of nifty covers, many of the artists working interchangeably between the mystery/crime fiction titles and true crime mags. The photographers? Well, they were usually a bargain-basement lot shooting on the cheap in low-rent set-ups with models who definitely hadn’t just come off Vogue assignments. Still, there are some good ones, and the March 1952 issue of Startling Detective magazine happens to be one of my favorites. I may have no interest in reading about the “Murder Trail Of The Roving Rapist”, “Irma’s Night of Horror” or any of the other gruesome stories inside, but Fawcett art director and art editor Al Allard and Phil Cammarata got got it right for that issue.
Originally from Drive In Theater Of The Mind (via Browse The Stacks) at Tumblr: Apparently no one had to wait for Kindles, Nooks, 99-cent eBooks or bargain-priced bundles to pen their deathless prose for every possible perversion. The “Famous Jack Woodford” already knew way back in 1938 that anybody can write a sex novel.
Damn, I think I’ve been wasting my time agonizing over these noir-ish hard-boiled crime manuscripts all along…