The Missing 38
LUST FARM by JX Williams, Ember Book EB939, 1964.
We tend to think of “backwoods” stories taking place in some hillbilly hollow or in the deep South, but LUST FARM takes place in Michigan. Not in any city, but out in a rural setting near a little town called Cold River, down the highway from Lansing. There is no such town in Michigan, but there is a real town on that highway called Coldwater, and LUST FARM is certainly set there. Small town waitress Cora Barnes has a secret. She has fled her previous life, killing the Jack Daniels-guzzling sadist Tony and stealing a package of his money. A kind farmer named Aaron Barr marries her and takes her out to the country to live on his farm. When his college-age foster son Caleb comes home from University up the highway at East Lansing, it's lust at first sight for Cora and Caleb. Then someone disappears and the local sheriff comes out to the farm and starts asking questions. With names like Aaron and Caleb, LUST FARM reminds us of an Old Testament tale like EAST OF EDEN.
The three on the farm are reminiscent of the trio in Jim Thompson's CROPPER'S CABIN. Even though it is set in Michigan, the farmers behave more like sharecroppers in Whittington's DESIRE IN THE DUST than like Yankees. This is Whittington country, not Steinbeck's or Thompson's.
David Laurence Wilson has noted how the story of the beaver dam he heard from Whittington's son appears in LUST FARM, which helped him verify this “lost book” as the first Harry Whittington wrote for this publisher. And there is a Cora. Whittington did not invent the name. There is for example a memorable Cora in Cain's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. But Harry loved to use that name, and we will see it again.
I detect no discernible difference between this book and similar stories Whittington wrote for the digest publishers and other paperback houses. The market had changed, but Harry's masterful knack for storytelling remained as true as always.
Cover art by Robert Bonfils.
FLESH AVENGER by JX Williams, Evening Reader ER739, 1964
Genre: Hardboiled noir
“…when Cora was alive, but that was a long time ago, and Cora was dead, and he'd been in hell. Face it. A hell without women.”
Sometimes Cora is the leading lady, and other times she is offstage, but always remembered, like a phantom, a ghost. In FLESH AVENGER, the haunted Jim Devlin can never forget Cora. He blames three women for sending him to prison, and now that he is out he hunts down each one to extract his vengeance. Along the way he discovers the one who really destroyed Cora, and he romances the Cora-substitute Nora. Harry liked the name Nora, too. Revenge against the people who destroyed you is an ancient theme (see THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO). It's a theme Cornell Woolrich enjoyed, and FLESH AVENGER is in that same world, one we now call “noir”. “Noir” is a pitch-black world of dark streets and darker hearts. Film noir
tends to be set in an impersonal big city, but Whittington's darkness pervades any setting, even the small town in FLESH AVENGER. Jim Devlin joins a long line of Whittington characters who have been to hell and back. When Nora expresses surprise over meeting him again you expect him to say the standard cliché “it's a small world”, but Devlin says “It's a small, vicious world”.
SMALL VICIOUS WORLD would have been my title for this story, but as these titles go, FLESH AVENGER is not far off the mark.
Cover art by Robert Bonfils.
SADDLE SINNERS by John Dexter, Evening Reader ER750, 1964
Genre: Modern Western / Crime
Whittington's records tell us he sold SINNERS IN THE SADDLE in May 1964. The Evening Reader paperback original was in print before the year was out, retitled just enough to mute Harry's double entendre title. This story starts like a romance about frustrated dude ranch cowboy Chad and his frigid wife Margie. But halfway into the book (all of these small-format books are 190 pages, the tall format are all 160 pages), the story takes a sudden left turn when two thugs named Luke and Brud – wanted in three states - arrive at Chad & Margie's place, 30 miles from Reno, and turn their world upside down. Holding Margie hostage, Luke and Brud use Chad to rob the dude ranch. There is a constant threat throughout the story that Whittington plays like a virtuoso. Luke and Brud want to sexually attack Margie, a horrible crime for anybody, but one we sense will completely destroy the fragile Margie.
“Deep in her mind, a dream unreeled like a horror picture…She was in this strange place, like a scene from Dante's Inferno. Far across the last river and into the third or fourth depth. She was one of the wretches in that place. She could even feel the heat of hell, and she writhed in it. But worse than the heat was the eternity of pain in which she had been sentenced to exist. A devil with a sharp prod amused himself by the hour, poking her and thrusting his blade at all the vulnerable areas of her body, putting her into an unbearable agony. She begged for mercy, but there was no mercy in this place, no mercy in the grinning face of the tormentor. She stared at him, trying to find about him some sign of compassion, but she found none. His eyes blinked nervously, and he grinned in a hellish phony manner. In fact he looked that horrible man Luke. Luke! And Brud. Those two men out in the barn. She had to warn Chad….She didn't make it. She tried to sit up, but hands restrained her, thrusting her back on the warm, rumpled bed. For one moment she lay there with her eyes closed, trying to convince herself this was a continuation of a nightmare….They were sitting on the bed beside her. Brud reached for her. She would have screamed, but Luke covered her mouth with his hand.”
In this world, you dream about hell, but then you wake up, and things are even worse.
LUST DUPE by John Dexter, Idle Hour IH425, 1964
Genre: Hardboiled crime
Bank teller Jim Harper falls hard for beautiful blonde Nora, too blinded by desire to see she is part of a bank robbery gang that needs an inside dupe, a fall guy, to pull off the robbery. When the bank is robbed, they take Jim as a hostage.
Reading a lot of Whittington, you notice certain elements that pop up in every book, like the femme fatale named Cora/Nora. Another is his use of the color gray to describe a face, and gold to describe a nude woman's skin. A long study of other Greenleaf writers found very few who ever use “gray” to describe a distraught face. Most writers use flesh or pink to describe feminine skin. From LUST DUPE: “She stared at him, dazed, her face rigid and gray. She jumped up, her nude body glittering like gold, but tarnished in the vague lighting”.
The leader of the bank robbers is Brud Alderman. How many guys named Brud have you ever met? That odd name ties the author of LUST DUPE to SADDLE
SINNERS. Brud travels with a sadistic goon named Sarge (these guys ALWAYS have a sadistic goon) and there is a horrifying scene after the robbery when they are hiding out in a motel room. Jim has been tied up and is forced to watch as Brud, bored and drunk, gives Nora to Sarge for some entertainment. As Jim realizes Nora is excited by cruelty, he is unable to look away, forcing the reader deeper into the dark madness of the scene: “Jim stared at the sadism and brutality. He was sick to his stomach, but fascinated in a sickened way, as if he had been infected by their depravity. He tried, but he was unable to turn away from that orgy of evil. He had thought she would fight them, but she…was wilder than either of the two men. They had carried her past the last outpost of decency, to the searing point of incredible frenzy, and when they tried to fall away, she would not let them.”
In the midst of all this, Jim looks over at Brud. “ He had demanded a show and he got one, partook of it, an actor in a display of power and perversion, weird and nightmarish, vile and yet horribly fascinating.”
There's that word nightmare used to describe reality again. It is not just darkness we visit in Whittington's world; it is the heart of darkness.
Cover artist: Bonfils
PUSHOVER by John Dexter, Leisure Book LB655, 1964
PUSHOVER is about the marriage of Hal and Jeanne Stuart. Hal is an older man, an airline exec who has married his pretty young secretary. Jeanne is fantastic in bed; in fact she's too much, one night a session lands Hal in the hospital with a heart attack. While she waits for Hal to recuperate, Jeanne flashes back to the history of her love life. As a young stewardess she had fallen madly in love with wide-shouldered pilot Don Hansen. Don broke Jeanne's heart by marrying somebody else. Hal has saved her from heartbreak, but now Hal is out of commission. Jeanne tries to be good, but then Don Hansen comes back to town. And Don wants Jeanne again. And Jeanne's always been such a pushover. Don remembers it took about ten minutes to get Jeanne in bed the first time he met her. As Hal rests at home, Don and Jeanne meet at a motel room. Twenty years older than his wife, Hal will have to fight Don if he wants to keep her.
Can he live through it? The themes of PUSHOVER are the themes of a soap opera episode or a romance novel. Like the women in several of these books, Jeanne's sex problems are explained with Freudian flashbacks to her formative years and early experiments. Jeanne doesn't want to be such a pushover. But as the author says, she has it thrust upon her.
PUSHOVER has a tired plot, but the collectors of these books do not usually read them for their literary merit. The excitement comes from wading through semi-bad books with a hope to discover an unknown gem, a lost hardboiled mystery classic, a hope several of the books on this checklist will make real. There is also the understanding that the young and hungry writers the Scott Meredith Agency lined up to write these little books were actually destined to become well-regarded authors, names we recognize. Among them were Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, John Jakes, Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, Hal Dresner, Marion Zimmer Bradley, William Knoles, Evan Hunter, Victor J. Banis, and George H. Smith. And now add Harry Whittington to that list.
Cover artist: Robert Bonfils.
SIN PSYCHO by John Dexter, Sundown Reader SR512, 1964.
Harry called this BACK BAY GIRL. Ginny Miller has an idyllic life, two children, her loving husband Bob. But Ginny is also a call girl, meeting all kinds of men in hotel rooms. She's a sin psycho.
Once again we are indebted to David Wilson for the depth of his research on Whittington. Wilson recognized this moment (which by the way has nothing to do with the rest of the book) as semi-autobiographical:
“Ginny remembered the first man who had loved her. It was 1944 – the war years. They lived in the Twin Peaks area of San Francisco, sent there by her father's company. No matter how much money he made in those years, prices were insane. They needed more money. Their cottage had a third bedroom. They'd advertised it for rent and a young sailor moved in. He was twenty-five years old…a shy young man from some country town. He had worked in the post
office in civilian life, and the Navy assigned him to the Fleet Post Office in San Francisco. There were no quarters for the post office personnel, so they were paid living expenses and found rooms where they could in the bay area. He read a lot and didn't go out much, catching a street car and coming home from the Fleet Post Office in the old John Deere Plow Building at the foot of Sixth Street, the moment his tour of duty ended. Her parents had been caught up in the frenzy of living in San Francisco during the war. She heard her mother say that there was no other city in the United States, maybe in the world, quite like San Francisco. You felt differently when you lived there - you had to be out and doing, seeing things and being a part of this wild torrent of life. Nothing was more natural than for the young sailor to offer to baby-sit with Ginny while her parents were out….. Their love affair – as strange as San Francisco itself – began accidentally. He loved to read, and he read to her when she was in her p.j.'s, ready for bed. He sat in her father's club chair and she sat on his knees while he read to her. What was his name? She couldn't even remember his name anymore. …He said, “You tired? You want me to go on reading, Ginny?” “Don't read, Danny –” That was his name! Danny. “But hold me until I go to sleep.” She could still hear him whispering to her, “Ginny, Ginny.”
THE SHAME HIDERS by J.X. Williams, Sundown Reader SR518, 1964
Genre: Hardboiled crime
Guesswork: This book is not in the box found at Harry's house, and has not been linked to any of his other books like the rewrites of MINK and HER SIN. This one started as a guess, a strong possible, presented for your approval. On the list of 38 manuscripts, Harry sold one called ISLAND OF FLESH in 1964. No other book has been linked to that manuscript title yet, but ISLAND OF FLESH would be a fine title for this story. Set in Whittington country, West Florida, SHAME HIDERS is about a stripper who witnesses a mob murder and goes on the run. Two sadistic goons, who seem to be just like the sadistic goons from SIN FISHERS and other Whittington novels, chase her to Satyr Key, a small island off the Florida coast. . The hoods decide to sell Marney, our stripper heroine, into white slavery in South America, Marney is hoping Corby, a drunken boat captain who seems a lot like the drunken boat captain in SIN FISHERS, will save her,
but redemption comes from an outside unexpected source (a plot device that became a Whittington trademark). And the author has a chilling surprise-twist-ending in store for those two sadistic goons. Phrases that appear throughout Whittington's 38, “her body looks like heaped gold ” and “face was gray”, also appear in SHAME HIDERS. Although never a sure thing, so many little things add up throughout this book that we have come to suspect this must be a VERY solid guess for one of those missing Whittington titles.
Reviewing J.X. Williams books from 1964 for David, I felt that this had enough clues in it to suggest Harry as author. I sent it to David Laurence Wilson, hoping to convince him. He makes a very persuasive argument that this must be Harry Whittington in the introduction to the new Stark House volume. He has convinced me.
FLESH CURSE by John Dexter, Sundown Reader SR520, 1964
Subgenre: Evil Twin Story
FLESH CURSE is about two identical twins, Curt & Larry Burgess. Like most fictional twins, and unlike most real-life twins, one of them is good and the other is evil. FLESH CURSE is told in the first person by Larry, the mean twin. We meet them on a westbound train, where Larry is romancing Connice, a golden-skinned doll. “ It seemed to me I'd been running since the day I was born. Running from beer. Running for mink. Grabbing at the brass ring. And missing. Capsule story of my life. If you've ever run for as long as ten minutes without resting, you've some inkling of how tired I was after running for twenty-one years. I was born wanting everything I didn't have. Nothing was going to stand in my way of having what I wanted. Only everything did. I ran into walls…and did things I was ashamed of, even while I did them. I had made up my mind if I got to Grandpa's alive, I would rest until I
wanted to run again. I would forget what I was until I could stand to live in my own skin with myself. What I really wanted was to become something else besides what I was. Larry Burgess. Hound dog. Phony. Unsung song writer. Faithless lover. Libertine. Thief. Welcher. Drunk .”
Larry and Curt travel to their rich Grandpa's mountain home in California, where Larry proceeds with his decision to become something else than what he was before. Grandpa Mickelson doesn't believe in banks, he has hidden his fortune somewhere inside his rambling mansion. Curt befriends the sexy maid Myra, and Larry decides to find that money; and drink a lot of Grandpa's Jack Daniels.
FLESH CURSE is solidly, professionally written, but if you've ever seen an evil twin movie you know what is going to happen.
LUST BUYER by JX Williams, Evening Reader ER765, 1965
Genre: Workplace Softcore
“ He was almost as handsome as he believed he was .” This is the story of Dick Thompson, womanizing hard drinking salesman, who breezes into town with two dollars in his pocket. Good ole Jack, his old buddy, has invited him to apply for a sales job at Blend-Ware. Dick quickly nails the job, and also nails the beautiful buyer Moira, and several secretaries and wives, falling for Good ole Jack's wife as he crawls his way to the top. He destroys Jack and anyone else foolish enough to get in his way. And he burns all his bridges behind him. LUST BUYER is a standard-issue 20 th century American business-world novel with a few degrading sex scenes thrown into the mix. When Dick interviews for a job at the competition's place of business, Sparkl-Wear, his little world begins to come apart. Dick devours his good friend Jack's life. He starts out as Jack's protégé, rises quickly in the business, takes over Jack's
job, gets Jack transferred to Oregon, has designs on Jack's wife and even talks about buying his house. Whittington crafts this tale so Dick starts like a blank slate, with nothing but desire, and over time becomes someone else. This is the same theme that runs through FLESH CURSE, and we will see it again. The greedy, money-grubbing, selfish, self-destructive businessman is not a fresh idea, but Harry has a way of making familiar stories feel new, ring true.
I don't know what the name “Mickelson” meant to Harry, but it was Grandpa's last name in FLESH CURSE, and it is Dick's boss's last name here. Like several other books on this list, LUST BUYER starts in a bar with a man drinking a martini. Martinis seem to represent a certain lifestyle to Harry, he uses them again and again. The doctor in PASSION FLAYED calls it “the friendliest drink I know of”. In LUST DUPE he writes “She picked up his spirits like a second martini.”
Somewhere around this period, the publishers decided that “violence against women” cover art would sell more books to their customers. Women are threatened and tortured with a variety of implements on the covers from this era. Of course Whittington had no control at all over the cover art, or the titles, or the pen names assigned to his books.
FLESH MOTHER by Curt Colman, Evening Reader ER782, 1965
FLESH MOTHER is the first of the books Harry submitted that wound up published under the unique-to-Harry pen name Curt Colman. He came to think of it as his name at Corinth. David Laurence Wilson has found notes in Harry's files referring to some of the other manuscripts as “Curt Colmans”. There were two in 1965, six in 1966 and three in 1967.
FLESH MOTHER is the story of Alma London, whose flagrant sexual adventures all over town have driven her husband Brad to drink and despair. The story begins, “ Brad London decided he needed one more martini….It had become almost a habit to drink himself into oblivion every time his wife discovered a new lover. ” Alma's latest young stud is Gil Hailey, one of a continuing series of virile Whittington characters named “Gil”. Alma is “ a swollen package of woman, not easily forgotten or overlooked in a crowd ”.
And “ She was big in every way – in breasts, hips, passion; even in rage she was bigger than life, like some Amazon Queen.”
Brad is a famous burned-out stage actor who has moved to the countryside for some peace and quiet. The Londons have come to Eager Hill, Virginia, where Alma has taken on the persona of a young country woman. The joke is Brad is the actor, but it is Alma who plays all the different roles. She just plays them offstage, in her own little world. Alma dies her gray hair platinum, and she is getting competition for Gil's affections from her nubile eighteen-year-old daughter Carla. Three years earlier, Carla had fallen in love with an older man, her first love, a friend of her father named Harry. Harry was attractive to her because he was the only man she ever met who was not one of her mother's lovers. But three years have passed, Harry is gone now and the London women live out in Virginia, both desiring Gil. Alma visits Gil: “ He stared at Alma. He saw her face was strangely gray….Her large breasts pushed at the sweater, revealing specks of golden flesh between the threads .” (What? Specks?)
PASSION FLAYED by JX Williams, Idle House IH447, 1965
Rita is a nymphomaniac. She should be thinking only of her long-suffering husband Brad, but instead she's shacked up in a cheap motel with a strange man who picked her up. She should be caring for her son, little Tommy, but she has dumped him at daycare so she can be home alone to bang a hot door-to-door salesman. Rita has this hang-up. She likes men, all men, except the one she is married to. She's frigid with Brad, but if anyone else touches her she goes off like a string of firecrackers. Finally she goes to see a psychiatrist, and what do you know, he seduces her too. Men, they are all sex-crazed. Naturally Brad can not go on living like this; he takes Tommy away and divorces her. But then, in one of those wildly improbable solutions that only seem to happen in the of world of these books and movies, Rita realizes that now that Brad is no longer her husband, he qualifies as a sex partner since she will do it with anyone except
her husband. It makes no logical sense, but it is how Brad and Rita achieve a twisted happiness in PASSION FLAYED. Apparently he can overlook the dozens of times she was unfaithful, and who knows what kinds of infectious diseases she has exposed him to. He misses her, bless her mixed-up little heart.
If you like these fast plotless sixties “vintage sleaze” paperbacks, PASSION FLAYED is for you. The books were designed to be cheap and disposable, quickly proofread and sold for seventy-five cents. No one making them ever imagined we would be studying them over 40 years later.
Even though I have suggested these books differ thematically from the hardboiled crime stories, Rita does share certain attributes with the doomed characters of those stories. For example, Rita wakes up after an evening in bed with her psychiatrist, Dr Lazar: “ For one moment she thought that the hours spent with Lazar had not been real at all, but a nightmare....She put the brake to her wishful thinking: her nightmare was her waking life, and Lazar was part of that.”
SHARING SHARON by John Dexter, Idle Hour IH452, 1965
The crime in SHARING SHARON is murder. This is James M. Cain country: Sharon seduces her young lover Steve into murdering Pete, her older, well-to-do husband. Steve does not need much convincing. Cain told this same story in masterpieces like THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY. SHARING SHARON is not a masterpiece. Not knowing just how to classify this genre, bookstores usually group Cain with the murder mysteries. But there is no mystery who killed the husband. We are in on it from the start and ride it out right to the end of the line.
Steve is a punk, arrested for robbing Pete's grocery store by a tough cop named Frank Lock. Pete is a kind-hearted guy, who arranges a job at his store for Steve on probation. That's where Steve meets Sharon. Sharon is all screwed up because she was molested as a young girl by kindly old Uncle Wilbur (the same theme
is used to explain most of the hang-ups of most of the nymphos in most of these books.) Steve wants it all – Pete's fast car, his big house, his hot wife. Sharon and Steve begin their torrid, illicit affair. One day Pete, who is supposed to be out at the range doing some target practice, comes home unexpectedly to find them together.
“ Sharon gazed at Pete's gray face. She saw then that he had planned to come back like this. He had been cooking up the idea of the target practice so he could come back secretly and surprise her with the man who had been with her… Suddenly she wondered how much time he had spent in these past weeks watching this house in the darkness for some sign of that man… He gazed at Sharon and then at Steve. Then his shoulders sagged round and his face muscles relaxed. All he said was “Oh, it's you, kid.”
Pete is expecting a man and makes a mistake discounting some kid from the store. But not long after Pete is found murdered, Frank Lock shows up at Sharon's door with a few questions.
SHAME UNION by John Dexter, Idle Hour IH454, 1965
Genre: Workplace Softcore
“ It was like smoking in a room full of nitro.”
Brad Hudson of the Hudson Furniture Company of Hudson City is the son of Anthony Hudson, the man who built the company. Brad is being groomed to take over the company, but the labor union is threatening to strike. Brad has to be a civic leader, walk the straight and narrow, and behave himself. This proves a problem for Brad because he beds every woman he has ever met. In the course of the day or two covered by this story he does his secretary, the female district labor rep, the local union leader's wife, and even Estelle, his own fiancée. Can Brad save the company, get the union to call off the strike, find true happiness? SHAME UNION is a wild ride, professionally crafted and never boring. Here are some quotes:
“Sometimes his waking life was more confused than any of his nightmares.”
“He had a hellishly wonderful idea. He would free Estelle from her mother, and from herself. It seemed suddenly to his martini-cleared brain that he owed it to her to let her see a part of life that her mother had kept carefully hidden from her for all twenty years of her life.”
“She was what Venus was goddess of; she lived for it. She was sensual excitement from the top of her head to her bared, wriggling toes.”
MAN HATER by JX Williams, Idle Hour IH460, 1965
Carol Hill is raped by her brother-in-law Herb. The incident brings back a flood of repressed memories. She had been molested as a child by a Mr. Mort Engler, a boarder at her mother's rooming house. Full of rage, Carol runs away from home. Brad Livingstone picks her up hitchhiking and takes her to another town, a place called Bluetown. Brad falls for Carol and makes love to her. Carol responds by having him arrested, tried and imprisoned for raping a minor. Unbelievably, the Bluetown police then allow her to roam free. She repeats her “vengeance against all men” plan with older businessmen John Jemson and Nathan Collins. Jemson's wife divorces him and Collins commits suicide. In an unbelievable story that defies reason at every turn, the police leave her alone to strike again. MAN HATER takes place in that fictional world where coincidence and the most farfetched, unbelievable gaps in logic rule the day.
Carol meets her next potential victim Ed Bailey in a bar. In a rare moment of remorse, Carol admits to the police that she had turned in a false report against Brad Johnson. Carol is sent to prison for a year, and when she gets out, Ed Bailey is waiting for her, because Ed apparently senses the good person under that rock hard double-thick veneer of deceit, hatred, revenge, destruction and emasculation. Ed's love cures her of hating men, and they go off together in a ludicrous happy ending that no sane reader could wish for.
Professionally told but unengaging, MAN HATER is similar is several aspects to PASSION FLAYED, which also has a twisted female protagonist messed up by the sexual traumas of her youth.
MAN HATER reminds me of pre-code Warner Brothers melodramas. Young Barbara Stanwyck or Bette Davis would have played Carol. Maybe they could have breathed some heart into this soulless character.
FLAMINGO TERRACE by Curt Colman, Leisure Book LB694, 1965
Genre: Peyton Place
After writing these for over a year, Whittington must have noticed an editorial phenomenon several other writers have mentioned in interviews. No matter what wonderful title the author came up with, the editors would give the book a two-word re-title that, after a while, made all the books seem the same. The first word would be Flesh or Sin or Lust or something similar, the second word would be School / Hotel / Pad / Lodge / Pool / whatever.
Whittington figured he could play their game, and he gave this manuscript an apt title: SIN VILLAGE. The editors then retitled it FLAMINGO TERRACE. The book is named for the modern suburban development where the characters live, lie, cheat, steal, murder and make love. Everyone has different taste, but for me this is the worst of the 38 because every character is irredeemable. As a reader, I need to have someone, anyone, to root for, to identify with, to follow, in order to care about what happens.
But everyone here is mean, drunk, self-involved, deceitful, wicked or various combinations of all of these things. One story line is about a lust-crazed drunken husband who drives his big car over a little neighbor kid on a tricycle as he swerves through Flamingo Terrace. A great deal of the rest of the story involves his family, friends and crooked authorities trying to cover up this horrendous deed. I know that great drama can be carved from tragedy, but this isn't great drama. It's light entertainment, a diversion. And I don't believe you can make a light entertainment about a drunk killing a child and trying to hush it up. So for me anyway, that makes the story a complete failure.
THE WEDDING AFFAIR by John Dexter, Leisure Book LB1103, 1965
From 1965 on, Corinth Publications used a taller format for many of their paperbacks, starting with their Ember Library and Leisure Books imprints. These books, with their clean lines, white spines and colorful cover art by Robert Bonfils and his staff, have become “vintage sleaze” ” paperback collector's items. The earlier books, short and squat with pink or yellow spines, are fine. These books are just cooler. I confess to liking them better because I'm a 0008 fan, and those Clyde Allison books appeared first in Ember Library and Leisure Books. Most of Harry's books are short format, but there are a couple taller Leisures, like THE WEDDING AFFAIR, measuring about 6.6 inches high.
As with several of the books in this set, THE WEDDING AFFAIR begins with a man drinking martinis. His name is Gil Taylor, and he is having a drink in the hotel room of his friend, world-traveling hot shot Randy Lawrence.
Randy has arrived to be the best man at Gil's wedding to the sweet virgin Ann. Randy has had every kind of woman in every kind of situation all over the world. There is just one thing he wants, one thing he's never had. Unfortunately for Gil, Randy wants to have some other man's virgin bride on her wedding night. The lengths Randy is willing to go to in order to get Ann into bed with him make up the main body of THE WEDDING AFFAIR. It's all a big game to Randy. He tells Gil his plan first just to drive Gil crazy, but when Randy sees Ann for the first time an unexpected surprise throws him for a loop. It's love at first sight.
Since this is a softcore wedding, everyone else is getting it on as well. Ann's father has a mistress and her mother lusts after a groomsman, but the groomsman is doing one of the bridesmaids and the minister has a repressed love life with his longsuffering wife and, well, you get the idea.
Cover art by Robert Bonfils.
PASSION HANGOVER by JX Williams, Leisure Book LB1105, 1965
Genre: Hardboiled crime thriller
“It grew quiet outside my closed windows. Inside my room, Elva stretched and writhed her naked body beside me. Watching her loveliness, I was able to forget everything else for the moment, even the chilled certainty that she was still lying to me. Her laugh was shaky.
“You could buy me a mink jacket, Sammy. Would you do that?”
I lay beside her and stroked the firm rise of her breasts. I felt numb, as though this moment, too, belonged five years in the past.
She nuzzled my throat with her parted lips. “Please, Sammy.”
I was thinking that when I broke from the side of the law this time, it was forever. It was a long, narrow one way street, and you gambled that a jackpot was at its end instead of Death beckoning you into the electric chair.”
PASSION HANGOVER is the title they gave Whittington's hardboiled thriller MINK. He submitted it as LIKE MINK, LIKE MURDER. It's about a milkman named Sam Baynard (Maynard in the 1957 French version) who has a past. He is on parole and trying to go straight. But his old friends Collie and Scotty and Elva, friends from the days he spent robbing banks, find him and want him to help them rob the Dairy payroll. Sam had fallen hard for Elva in his past life, but she treated him like dirt, slept with other men and told him if he really wanted her, he would buy her a mink coat.
“ Once I robbed banks. Now I deliver milk .” Sam is a true Whittington protagonist, tough, angst-ridden, trying to live on “the side of the law” with his innocent girlfriend Lois, tempted as always by the raw sensual Siren call of Elva. With these thrillers you never know which way a man might go, will he arrive at the end of the story a happy man or a dead one? Harry wrote this for Gold Medal, and the editors there, who had done so many things right throughout the 1950s, passed on it. They were fools.
Finally, in 2009, wiser heads prevailed, and this book was published in English with the author's real name for the first time. Wilson's editing for the new Stark House Press collection includes eliminating the added-on PASSION HANGOVER character Peggy, and is thus much truer to the original manuscript.
Cover artist: Robert Bonfils.
BAPTISM IN SHAME by John Dexter, Nightstand Book NB1728, 1965
Kathy Crawford divorces Ben and is immediately seduced by her divorce lawyer Collier Thomas, and then by his lesbian secretary Myra. Kathy's brother-in-law Dr. Bill Darklen then asks her to care for his two teenage sons. In classic sleazebook fashion, Kathy finds herself trapped in a torrid, extremely illicit affair with 16-year-old Bill Jr. Bill Sr. catches her fellating his son. Kathy screws everybody in the book, including Bill Sr., Bill Jr. and weak-willed Judge Talbot Hobart. In the mind-boggling happy ending out of nowhere, Kathy's husband Ben returns and hooks back up with her. At least we have had some inkling of all he has been missing!
BAPTISM IN SHAME is a terrible title. Wilson found a notation in Harry's records for a manuscript sale in Oct. 1964 called TEENAGE LOVER, and this must be that story. On the list of 38 manuscript titles Harry calls his October
1964 sale MAD AFFAIR,
and that's another better title for this one. Harry often had more than one title for books at different times, and knew the editors would probably retitle them anyway.
BAPTISM IN SHAME seems to be deliberately plotted only to tell a sleazebook story.
It has no connection to any other universe. It is more reminiscent of the hardcore books to come in the 1970s and 1980s than the tame plots of many of the other books in this collection. Perhaps this was a conscious attempt to write a dirty book, to make his editors happy. It does not immediately remind me of a typical Harry Whittington book. But it was one of the books in the box found in his home after his death.
Cover art by Robert Bonfils.
THE SIN FISHERS by John Dexter, Sundown Reader SR542, 1965
Genre: Crime story
Maggie, on the run from the evil gambler Harry Gildhurst, lands in a little fishing village on the Florida Gulf Coast called Jezebel Landing. “ She wanted to laugh, but was afraid to because she knew there would be hysteria in her laughter. But the name was so right, so perfect for her. Jezebel Landing. They must have named it knowing she'd end up here one day.”
Maggie gets a job as a waitress in a place run by Charlotte. Charlotte is trying to bed her son-in-law, a new widower. Son-in-law is a drunk, a fishing boat captain named Rafe Fuller, mourning his wife Angie. The first time Rafe sees Maggie, late at night and crocked on moonshine, he calls her Angie. He thinks his dead wife has come back. This transference of identity is a theme Whittington likes to have fun with. Soon Rafe is protecting Maggie, just as he wanted to save his dying wife Angie.
And when Harry Gildhurst arrives with his two sadistic goons, Rafe is put to the test. Can he sober up long enough to save Maggie's life? The storyline of a woman on the run from killer gangsters on the Gulf Coast echoes a book called THE SHAME HIDERS (see above).
Verification of authorship: “the golden mounds of her breasts.” “Her face was rigid, gray”. Harry does not mention golden skin and a gray face in every book, but he does it so often it becomes noteworthy for a researcher. For example, this is from WEB OF MURDER, a 1958 Gold Medal paperback original by Harry Whittington: “Edie's face was gray.”
All hell breaks loose when Harry and his two goons arrive at Jezebel Landing, brought there by a call from the jealous Charlotte. The story then erupts into violence and murder, and the local Sheriff has his hands full. Nobody asked me, but if they had, I would have called this one JEZEBEL LANDING.
PASSION BURNED by John Dexter, Sundown Reader SR569, 1965
PASSION BURNED is about loneliness. Lots of other things happen, including the shooting pictured on the cover, but at its core it is a tale of two lonely, heartsick people. Don's wife has died in childbirth, and he drifts from town to town trying to fill up that huge emptiness in his heart. He meets Ginny, who reminds him of his late wife. Ginny's husband Paul is one of the first men drafted in the Vietnam War (“a war nobody wanted” is how Whittington describes it here.) He is gone after only three blissful months of marriage, leaving Ginny alone and despondent, aching to be held. Don wants to hold her. We learn from David Wilson that this story was also sold to DARING ROMANCES, and PASSION BURNED is a romance, spiced up a just a little and passed off as a sleazy paperback. Don may be screwed up emotionally, but all the women in the book want him. The way he is described we imagine he has a manly voice as deep as Cal Meacham in THIS ISLAND EARTH. This is how Ginny sees him:
“He was about thirty, muscular and probably much heavier than he looked because he appeared slender and sun-bronzed. He looked as if he belonged on a space ship, a Viking galley, a pirate galleon. Business suits seemed to impede him. He was handsome, she admitted, in a rough, hard-boiled way and yet there was a sadness in those black eyes of his that no laughter ever dispelled.”
The sadness that is never dispelled marks Don as a Whittington anti-hero. Ginny is quite unique for a book like this, where women are normally all nymphos or porn bimbos. A battle is going on in Ginny's soul as she wrestles with the age-old question of flesh vs. spirit: “Oh God, she whispered, help me. Please help me. I want to be good and decent and faithful to Paul….She closed her eyes. Don had shown her the majesty of loving, the ultimate delight of a man and woman as God must want them… – how could she equate this sin with what God wanted? She didn't know the answers .” Wait, was that a prayer? In a Sundown Reader??
REMEMBERED SIN by John Dexter, Sundown Reader SR576, 1965
Genre: Nurse romance
Harry was writing nurse romances for Ace Books under the pseudonym Harriet Kathryn Myers, and when he took the job to provide a new book each month, he dusted off some unsold manuscripts like this one. REMEMBERED SIN is the story of a nurse named Lenora Comstock. Lenora's one true love Paul has married somebody else. Paul's wife turns out to be a nutjob named Claire. When Paul and Claire arrive for a visit, Claire starts to do crazy, criminal things. In the shocking climax of the story, she even slashes another character with a pair of scissors. This comes as quite a surprise to anyone who has not read the back cover of the book, which says SCISSOR SLASHER! in large letters. David Laurence Wilson noticed in his research that the publisher often gave away surprise endings, plot secrets and twists with the cover blurb, or sometimes even the new title (see THE ABORTIONISTS, below).
From REMEMBERED SIN: “ Living with Claire now was like living in a small cage with a wounded lynx. At the least word, the most unexpected moments, she flew into a turmoil of passions and tried to kill herself or Paul, or both of them. She toppled down on him now, working her nude body upon his in a violent effort to stir his old needs for her. But Paul winced. It was as if she were a patient in a hospital. He could never get excited over a sick body”
PASSION CACHE by JX Williams, Sundown Reader SR580, 1965
Genre: Hardboiled murder mystery
A burned-out man driving through the night stumbles upon a gorgeous blonde with a missing rich husband named Harry and a fortune in cash. It is only a matter of time before he finds himself arrested for the murder of a man he never saw alive. This is the stuff of many fine thrillers by writers like Gil Brewer, Harry Whittington and Charles Williams. This should have been a Gold Medal or an Ace Double or a Black Lizard, but it's a Sundown Reader, a sixties sleazy throwaway paperback. How did this happen? The solution to this question proved to be that one of those great Gold Medal writers also wrote these little beauties too.
PASSION CACHE is gripping, engrossing reading if, like me, you love pitch-black noir and that brand of trapped relentless doom that Whittington captured so well.
“You won't leave, will you?”, she said.
I sighed. “No. I won't leave. Not yet.” But I sweated with more than the fierce desire the sight of her stirred in me. I kept waiting for someone to walk in. She wriggled on the bed, moving over to make room for me. I gazed at that body…Lovely? Devastating? Worth getting killed for?
She put out her arms to me. “Come here – closer.”
There was the answer. I was going to have her. Nothing else even entered into it or mattered. Who she was, what terror drove her, who I was, the woes I'd already managed to accumulate without her – Nothing had any meaning except the nylon-smooth curves and planes of that heated flesh awaiting me there, even it were mindless. At that moment we both were.”
“All that body. All that money. And now her husband was missing. She should wear a poison label.”
“She'd offered me a package deal, a quarter of a million dollars and enough wild loving to put me in a wheelchair.”
From PASSION CACHE: “she was like heaped gold on the white covers”, “her legs shone like pale gold”.
HELL BAIT by Curt Colman, Evening Reader ER1264, 1966
Genre: Hardboiled murder mystery
Two brothers, one a successful business owner with a wife and property, the other a wandering adventurer who comes home to visit his brother. The wanderer, Steve, is seduced by his ex-lover Maxy, now his brother's wife. Not long after they couple at the house, her husband is murdered in his office at work. This plot is familiar to genre fiction lovers, and Whittington himself used it more than once (one of his other books was even called HIS BROTHER'S WIFE). Familiar or not, I love these little Curt Colman books with their fireworks-style writing. A few words about the cover artists: By the time Whittington began sending a book each month, Robert Bonfils had taken over as art director at Corinth and provided many memorable covers for Harry's books. Bonfils did some fantastic, colorful covers throughout the 1960s, but as Corinth increased the number of books it was publishing each month, Bonfils needed help. (They did
almost 3000 covers before Bonfils retired in the early 1970s.) So Bonfils hired a group of young artists starting with Ed Smith. Some of Smith's early covers “in the Bonfils style” are so true to the source they are often mistaken for Bonfils' work.
Another artist was Darrel Millsap, who had his own unique sense of style (see BALCONY OF SHAME below). Another was Tom Cannizaro, who often used a cartoon-like style that really sets his covers apart from his fellow artists. HELL BAIT is a Cannizaro. I learned all this information about these paperback artists from the groundbreaking research done by Bruce Brenner.
From HELL BAIT: “They quivered, exposed in gold soft nakedness.”, “his face (had) a gray patina of defeat.”
Cover art by Tom Cannizarro.
BABY FACE by JX Williams, Idle Hour IH504, 1966
Don't let that cover art, or the first chapters that take place on a college campus fool you. This is the story of Lois Brand. And after some trouble at college, Lois is driving cross-country when she makes a wrong turn and winds up on Shady Road, way back in the woods, with the apparently inbred Harmon family, their voluptuous daughter Tessie Mae and the lovable and handsome young country “doctor:”, Dan Whitney. This set-up is immediately recognizable to anyone who has read Harry Whittington's backwoods novels. David Wilson told me Tessie Mae is strongly reminiscent of the character Talcie Mae in HIS BROTHER'S WIFE, a Whittington Beacon. In fact, BABY FACE is a reworking of an early Whittington backwoods novel called HER SIN. Lois has driven down the highway and made a left turn into a Harry Whittington book.
I guess we have Erskine Caldwell to blame, or maybe Al Capp, but every backwoods story is required to include an
oversexed, underage, underwear-shunning busty bombshell, and BABY FACE's Tessie Mae Harmon fits the bill. She's built like a brick outhouse.
“ Tessie Mae's full-breasted young body strained at the faded cotton dress her mother had bought for her three years before…Three years ago, Tessie Mae had been fifteen. Much had happened to her body in those three years…Three years had taken a lot out of that little print dress. And Tessie Mae put more and more into it, somehow. Its strained fabric revealed the firmness of her hips, the roundness of her buttocks, even the fullness of her thighs. Her upthrust breasts fought it at the seams, and the thinness of the material showed that she wore no bra. She wore no stockings. Her legs were toasted by the sun and slightly scratched from walking through briar patches. Her honey-colored hair was cropped about her head in a careless halo that was quickly combed and easily managed. Who was going to see her in this God-forsaken part of the world?”
Another memorable line from BABY FACE is the opening: “Lois hated the way Mott Lanier looked at her, as if she were something in a bakery window and he a starving urchin .”
SINSURANCE by Curt Colman, Idle Hour IH511, 1966
Updating the oldest scam in the book, insurance salesman Bill Mapes sends his desirable wife Paula out to meet his potential clients for a drink. When they suggest adjourning to a motel, Paula talks them into going over to her house. When the love session has ended, Bill drives up and sells a huge insurance policy to the embarrassed sucker caught with his pants down. It's a great scam, but Paula tires of being used this way. The con game backfires when Bill tries to insure Cal Oliver, using Paula as bait. Cal passes out, it turns out he has a weak heart, and therefore is ineligible for insurance. No big commission for Bill. And Paula falls in love with weak-hearted Cal, leaves Bill and marries him. Bill winds up in bed with faceless substitutes he calls Paula. “Paula? My name is not Paula .” Unable to live without the woman he had degraded, Bill goes to Cal and Paula's house one fateful night.
SINSURANCE is one of those “funny” made-up titles they used to sell these books (GREAT SEXPECTATIONS, SEXCESS, etc.) And Tom Cannizarro's cover art is equally goofy. From the ship's porthole with an ocean view we know that this must be the last scene in the book, which ends on an ocean liner. In the book she is wearing a bra and panties; on the cover art she wears a strange harem girl get-up with a heart over her hoo hoo. The guy looks like Fred Astaire.
Familiar lines: “His face was gray.” “Her skin was the gold of new minted coins . ”
Cover artist is Tom Cannizarro.
THE TASTE OF DESIRE by Curt Colman, Leisure Book LB1163, 1966
Genre: Southern novel
Using the same logic that states that a great writer churning out a novel a month for three years is bound to write some clunkers, it follows that he should write some great books too. Several of the hardboiled stories on this list approach that designation, but THE TASTE OF DESIRE is a surprise because it is not a mystery, not a hardboiled murder yarn. But it is a fine story. On our previous catalog, writing about a book called FIRES OF YOUTH, I proposed a theory that certain “sleazy” paperback originals, if reprinted by a prestige publisher with a different title, would be hailed as great literature and win awards. THE TASTE OF DESIRE is one of those paperbacks. Involving and professionally written, this is a story about a country high school boy named Calder Fenton and his beloved hound dog Fanny. Calder's Dad is a no-account drunk. Calder falls for the rich landowner's daughter Lu Ann, who spends winters in Cottonseed County. Whittington never names the state this takes place in, but the nearest big city is Jacksonville.
THE TASTE OF DESIRE has the usual authorship clues (Lu Ann's skin is “ golden loveliness ”, “ my face was gray ”); and a surprising lack of the usual obligatory sex scenes. There are some, but they flow out of the story like natural occurrences; it's not just everybody trading partners like a standard sleaze book. I suspect this might be one of the best of the books found in Whittington's box. Anyway, it's one of my favorites of the missing 38.
In 1966 the tall format Leisures books got even taller, meeting the industry standard mass-market PB height of 7.01 inches. TASTE OF DESIRE and the next two Leisures are all that size.
Cover art: Robert Bonfils.
SIN DEEP by Curt Colman, Leisure Book LB1167, 1966
Genre: Hollywood story
SIN DEEP is the story of David Phillips, a small-town professor who has written a novel called SUMMER OF DISCONTENT. Right after David's wife divorces him, he gets a call to come to Hollywood and write the screenplay for the movie version of his book. Whittington's own frustrations in Hollywood probably color what happens to David.
One of the unexpected added attractions of Harry's 38 are the sudden tangents he goes off on. Many of these probably arose from his need to pad an existing story into a 60,000 word book. But sometimes, like the San Francisco sojourn in the middle of SIN PSYCHO, they have their own magic. This is David's first look at Los Angeles, from the window of a jet:
“Abruptly, Los Angeles County lay before them. Holding his breath, David stared down through his window and forgot the woman beside him and forgot (his wife).
He could think of nothing but the incredible beauty of the night-burning towns below him. Staring through the plane window, David could not believe it was real at all. It was as fantastic as his being here, as wild as that call from (Hollywood) . It was the magic of Arabian nights, its absurd beauty giving everything a fevered sense of unreality. In five hours of flight time out here tonight, he had seen nothing like it. They'd flown in darkness into deeper darkness, the night coming from the west toward them. In thirty-one years he'd never seen its likeness, nor anything even to prepare him for it….He gazed at the lights, gold fragments, blaze-encrusted brilliant embers in banked fires of light, glowing sapphires, oriental pearls, stretching into eternity, carpeting the world for him with lights of every hue. It bothered him that he couldn't find the language in his mind to express the emotional impact that stunned him at his first sight of Los Angeles by night from the air. Many similes occurred to him, but all were old, obvious, hackneyed by overuse. A jewel box, a fire in a paint factory… It was as if the prisms and colors and gems – rubies – had been spilled carelessly by some giant who didn't even glance back because three were plenty more in this rich, wild, wealthy place, more where that came from.”
Yeah, “absurd beauty”, that's right. He's captured a purely visual sensation using words.
SINNERS AFTER SIX by Curt Colman, Leisure Book LB1179, 1966
Marve Crockett is a gigolo. He enjoys the good life, having wealthy women pay his way. Marve has a secret. The last rich lady he romanced died accidentally in a way Marve is sure the police will view as a murder. And he was there. Now she haunts him. Her name is Cora.
Marve is having a martini in a bar as the story begins. He strikes up a conversation with the man on the next stool, a stock broker named Ed Pauling who needs some moral support, someone to accompany him as he tries to win the business of a rich man named Hobart. He offers to pay Marve money to go with him and pose as an associate. Marve is broke, he accepts the job. They go to Hobart's hotel room. Ed's face is gray. Hobart is out of town but his voluptuous redheaded wife Ronica answers the door. Ronica is described as possessing “ golden smooth skin ”. Ed is too straight-laced or too stupid to read her signals, but Marve is a pro. After they leave, Marve goes back and makes love to her for four days, leaving only when her husband is due.
Next Marve answers a newspaper want
ad for a chauffeur and is soon working for a rich lady named Genny Acheson. Marve wants a real job but he's hungry. But Marve's motto is “ water seeks its own level ”, and it is not long before he is doing more for Genny than just driving her car. Genny wants him to spank her as she calls him “Daddy”. Genny has a wall safe filled with riches. She also has a beautiful young secretary named Grace, who “ was more beautiful than ever when she was angered and her face glowed like Genny's spanked bottom.” Marve can't get Grace out of his mind. He wants her, but he's afraid his past will catch up to him. He has a nightmare that later turns out to be the end of the book, a neat bit of foreshadowing from a masterful author. Finally he gets Grace alone in the car: “ She opened her mouth to him, waiting. He touched the sweet, warm tasting lips, felt her hot breath like all the goodness on earth. His tongue went into her mouth, beyond her teeth, deep in her throat…. Knowing he could have it all, he knew she was a virgin. “Oh for hell's sake”, he says, breaking away and going back to his sordid life, unwilling to drag Grace down with him. He is robbing Genny's wall safe when, to his horror, Cora walks in.
THE SINNING ROOM by John Dexter, Nightstand Book NB1776, 1966
THE SINNING ROOM is one of the books in the box that matches a manuscript title on the list of 38. The editors did not change Harry's original title. Whittington's records (courtesy of David Laurence Wilson) tell us he submitted this manuscript on November 1, 1964, and received payment dated November 17, 1964. The book does not appear until early in 1966, about a month before BLOOD LUST ORGY, which Whittington submitted a full year after THE SINNING ROOM. Nightstand editor-in-chief Earl Kemp has verified that there was no set turnaround time from acceptance of the manuscript to publication. Some of the books were in print very quickly, others languished in a “slush pile” waiting for editing.
Tough guy Vietnam vet Cord Silvers is hitchhiking his way up the Coast when he gets involved with a racket called The Retreat of Eternal Life, run by a phony
medium, a bearded prophet in a purple robe named Theodore Francis Minor. Soon Cord has fallen in love with Minor's daughter named – what else – Asia. Asia Minor.
Confirmations: “the creamy gold of her bare shoulders”, “her face gray”, “her face looked gray, pale.” (This last is a bit ironic because Whittington is normally uses “gray” instead of “pale”. Many writers would use “Her face looked pale” for this type of description.)
Set near San Rafael, California, THE SINNING ROOM weaves an exciting story as Cord struggles to free Asia from her father's weird grasp. Several of the books have this dynamic: a strong man strives to rescue his lover from the grip of a powerful older man.
BLOOD LUST ORGY by John Dexter, Nightstand NB1780, 1966
Genre: Hardboiled mystery
A guy drops his girlfriend off for some shopping at a department store. He waits in the car. She never comes back out. Cornell Woolrich wrote stories like this called “All at Once, No Alice” and “You'll Never See Me Again.” Harry Whittington wrote one too, but this is like Woolrich on crank. Harry wrote the tense mystery story called “The Crooked Window”, published by SHELL SCOTT MYSTERY MAGAZINE in 1965. That same year - apparently no one noticed this in 1965, and never noticed it until now - he expanded it as a fast-paced John Dexter Nightstand. The editors there retitled it BLOOD LUST ORGY, a very intriguing title until you read the book and notice there are no lust orgies and very little blood. But there is a gripping story, well told by a fine writer, and to tell you all the surprises and twists would only spoil your fun.
“The last thing she ever said to him was, ‘I'll hurry, darling. I'll be right back.' He slumped under the wheel, feeling the sun reflected from the department store window and the forty-acre parking area of the shopping center… She pushed open a door and entered the store. One of the store windows was set at an angle, or its glass was faulty – perhaps the way the sun glare reflected from the black pavement obscured his vision, something - … it was as if she simply disappeared beyond that glass.”
THE ABORTIONISTS by John Dexter, Nightstand Book NB1790, 1966
Genre: Southern Gothic
David Wilson tells us this is one of the stories Whittington also sold to a romance magazine. While it is a nurse romance to be sure, the setting qualifies it as a true Gothic.
Virginal nurse Mary Hood fights off all the advances from the lecherous doctors at home and takes a job offered by her Uncle in the Deep South. She travels to Mayesville, a town run for years by the Mayes and Conline families, called there by her handsome Uncle, Dr. Mayes Conline. His hospital is located on the grounds of his decaying Southern mansion, complete with insane relatives locked in upstairs rooms and strange goings on throughout the dark nights. On page 100, there is a shocking surprise: Dr. Conline is performing abortions late at night at his hospital. That is, it was designed to be a shock, but the editors put a new title on Whittington's manuscript, one that gives everything
By then Mary has fallen in love with the brooding and mysterious Dr. Mayes Conline, and the plot twists and thickens from there. Whittington's challenge was to describe sexual activity without using any naughty words. I think he fares well here when he refers to Mary “taking her pleasure from the obelisk of his strength .”
“ It erupted into a quick and furious climax. The bold delights she sought thrust her to a crest and dropped her as if the earth had fallen away under her. She lay, trembling and quivering with the warm delight of fulfillment… She lay sleepless that night in her bed, going over it again and again. She wanted to make it last forever in the aching sweetness that was never meant to last, too violent to last, too agonizingly pleasurable to end.”
My theory that Harry uses “gold” for flesh and “gray” for a color of a human face runs rampant through THE ABORTIONISTS: “the gold and pink of the swollen flesh”, “face gray”, “his face grayed out”, “his face was the gray of dead ashes”, etc .
For a while in 1966, probably during a court case, they experimented with a handful of these “modern art” designs for covers. The entire cover, words and all, is printed in reverse on the back cover. Soon after this they went back to painted covers.
FLESH SNARE by JX Williams, Sundown Reader SR585, 1966
Genre: Hardboiled noir thriller
A line from FLESH SNARE captures and distills the dark, tough essence of Whittington's world:
“ Just a feeling that I was no good, and other people were pretty much like me inside.”
FLESH SNARE is a different telling of a classic Whittington story called TO FIND CORA. Unfortunately there is absolutely no way to write about the difference here without giving away the surprise twist, the “floor just dropped out from under you” ending of one of the books. Just wouldn't be fair. FLESH SNARE tells the same story with a different kind of twist, and both versions have their fans.
In one way, FLESH SNARE is like a sequel to all stories where the guy gets away with all the loot and the woman. There is a holdup man named Gil here who has run off to backwoods Florida with $200,000 and a hot honey.
tells us what happens next. Gil, a character name Harry used several times, is named for Harry's friend Gil Brewer, who wrote a lot of fine stories that were variations on this same theme. Gil is only one of the fascinating characters in FLESH SNARE. Another is Tom, the man shackled to the floor of a backwoods cabin on the cover. And then there's Nora. Nora (she is called Cora in the Novel Books version of this story) is a femme fatale, a woman who simultaneously attracts and repels our hero. She is alluring and dangerous in equal measure. She represents danger, arrest, even death, but still he is drawn in, he can not turn away, can not run away, can not escape. She usually arrives in these stories with a suitcase full of money, or a plan to get some. The guy should know better, but she is something else again. Harry Whittington understood these people, he wrote dozens of books about characters just like these. And he remained the consummate professional from first to last. The thing that strikes me most about Whittington is his sense of style. He writes in a breathless, relentless, nonstop forward-moving manner that reminds me of a hungry shark. The first Whittington I ever read, YOU'LL DIE NEXT, hit me like that. So does FLESH SNARE.
THE LATENT LOVERS by Curt Colman, Sundown Reader SR606, 1966
At first glance we assume the editors have given the Curt Colman pen name to an author with a different agenda. They did it with Don Holliday, whose books changed from heterosexual to homosexual stories when the brilliant novelist Victor J. Banis took over the pen name. But THE LATENT LOVERS is written in Harry Whittington's distinctive style. He wrote all of the Curt Colman books, including this one. This was one of the books in the box discovered at Harry's home in Florida.
Apparently in 1966 the editors recognized a lucrative new market for male homosexual stories to add to the hetero and lesbian tales they had been publishing for six years. Eventually they would get it right and use talented gay authors to ensure a realistic and successful story.
But first they must have put out a call to see if any of their existing stable of writers could or would create new gay novels for male readers. Sundown Readers published a dozen of them in 1966, and then other lines like Pleasure Reader took up the banner. Of the Sundown Readers, the most successful of them were written by Victor Banis using the pen names J.X. Williams and Don Holliday. Dean Hudson wrote one, and Curt Colman wrote this one. Hudson's book THE LAVENDER ELVES is marred by the author's obvious homophobia. He was the wrong man for this assignment. It's one of those books where the leading man suddenly reverses lifestyles and unbelievably finds a forced happy ending with a woman. LATENT LOVERS is at least not that bad, it is not homophobic. Harry is obviously trying to meet the editor's request, and he never ridicules or judges his characters for their choices. But this was not Harry's forte, and either he or the editor decided this would be the only gay Curt Colman book.
THE LATENT LOVERS is the story of the love affair of Robert Hunter and Arn Price. Robert is gay and Arn is curious, interested in Robert but still seeing a girlfriend named Fran. When Arn is forced at a turning point in his life to choose between Robert and Fran, he goes with Robert. Complications ensue.
Cover art by Darrel Millsap.
BALCONY OF SHAME by Curt Colman, Companion Book CB507, 1967
Genre: Hardboiled murder mystery
Long before he learned Curt Colman was Harry Whittington, this was one of Corinth collector Bob Speray's favorite Companion Books, just on the power of the outrageous cover by Darrel Millsap alone. Our man is surrounded with a pitcher of martinis, a redhead with her martini glass nestled into her cleavage, a pack of smokes, and a big red juicy steak! What more could any man possibly require? “ He liked his steaks rare, his hostess bare!” As an added treat, the story told under this cover is equally intoxicating. An innocent man, a TV crime show writer who makes up plots like the one he finds himself trapped in, is framed for murder. He escapes and goes on the run with his girlfriend Connice. “Connice” is also used for a character name in FLESH CURSE. My theory is Harry called this BY FLESH BETRAYED.
That is one of his manuscript titles, and the before-title page of this book starts with the words “By Lust Betrayed”. BALCONY OF SHAME was a title added by the publisher. There is no balcony in the story until the last scene of the book. The classic Hitchcock theme of an innocent man unjustly accused and on the run was also used in BLOOD LUST ORGY.
“Nora liked men who looked like Cary Grant – which he didn't – men who belonged in the Cary Grant tax bracket, which he never would. He looked like what he was, an ordinary character, not good-looking, but attractive, and Caroline had told him he looked honest.”
“Sit down, darling, I won't bite you... I never bite until after my third martini.”
“For the first time, despite all the murder scripts he'd written, he really knew how the cops looked at you when they talked murder.”
“But it was more like a nightmare than all the nightmarish things that happened to this moment.”
Cover by Darrel Millsap.
MASK OF LUST by Curt Colman, Companion Book CB512, 1967
You are at home one evening when a brute of a man comes to your door and says, “Are you Mrs. Harper?” He tells you your husband is shacked up in a motel across town with his wife. You can't believe him, but he talks you into going to see for yourself. This is insane, you don't normally take automobile rides with strange men, and when the car stops and the fat detective jumps in you start to worry. But soon you are at the motel and there is your husband's car. And, inside in a room, there is your husband Bill on a cheap blonde. MASK OF LUST is the story of what Kelly Harper does to exact her vengeance on her wayward husband, and the terrible trap she sets and falls into herself as she realizes she has fallen in love with Jeff, her husband's best friend. The story is told in a hard-as-nails style that is set from the arrival of the tough talking visitor in the opening scene. Curt Colman / Harry Whittington keeps it moving at a
Since MASK OF LUST is about a woman who falls into her own trap, we suspect that this is the 1967 Whittington manuscript PRIVATE GALLOWS.
“ Her hips pounded upward and her fingers dug into his shoulders holding him down close and tense upon her. Her legs locked around him and her mouth parted wide with her breathless reception…..”You could kill me like this”, he protested in pleasure. She lifted her bruised, flushed face to his, her eyes damp. Her blonde hair was wild about her cheeks but for the first time she looked truly lovely to him. There is nothing lovelier to any man than a woman who wants him passionately and does everything she can to prove it. She smiled, kissing at him with her parted lips. “I could try”.
They experimented. Bill saw she knew more about unusual sex positions and strange delights than he did. He surrendered himself to her passionate ministrations…. The bed was an island and they were happily marooned there on it.
They had done it, they had shared unbridled passions but when they walked out of here it would be over. It would be finished. At least, this is what he thought. But at that precise instant the door thrust open and the world caved in around him.”
Cover by Ed Smith.
THE GRIM PEEPER by Curt Colman, Pleasure Reader PR106, 1967
After more than three dozen books in three years, not relying on a team of ghostwriters like other authors faced with a monthly assignment, it is only natural that anyone, even a titan like Harry Whittington, would grow weary. In “I Remember It Well”, he wrote:
“The novel a month with the other work I was trying to do, plus the tensions and the debts, exhausted me. Emotionally. Mentally. Physically. I cried at weather reports. Then came the coup de grace .” Harry was ripped off by his agent and publisher (Ace Books), receiving no royalties for the huge bestseller THE MAN FROM UNCLE #2. “ So, sadly, I closed up shop .” After 1968, Whittington sold only the three Greenleaf Classics over the next seven years, before returning in full force as Ashley Carter in 1975.
He lived long enough to see his early work re-discovered by a new generation of readers, thanks to Barry
Gifford at Black Lizard and the French fans (who published the first book about him) and his American champions like Bill Pronzini and Ed Gorman and Bill Crider. Ed Gorman wrote of Whittington, in THE BLACK LIZARD ANTHOLOGY OF CRIME FICTION: “He was hailed as the King of the Paperbacks. And what paperbacks they were – tight, dramatic, colorful, suspenseful. Many of them are permanent additions to the literature of crime fiction”.
We figure THE GRIM PEEPER was Harry's last effort for Corinth Publications. It is perhaps the weakest, not so much a novel, more like three or four unrelated stories strung together by the device of having Death arrive as a meddlesome old man. (Death is the Peeping Tom, get it? The Grim Peeper. It's a painful pun.) Having Death as a character pushes this into the realm of fantasy stories, the only time Harry tried that stunt in this series. One of the stories, in which two goons working for a gangster threaten a stock car driver, is just like a scene in Harry's screenplay FIREBALL JUNGLE, a low budget oddity that starred Lon Chaney Jr. and John Russell.
And so it ended, like the man said, not with a bang, but a whimper.
Cover art by Tom Cannizarro.
PAPERBACK QUARTERLY Summer 1981 featured Michael Barson's interview with Harry Whittington.