Have you ever been mellow? Hell no answer pulp fiction masters. Particularly the post World War II crew who wrote paperback originals for publishers such as Gold Medal and Lion Books. Though paperbacks got their mass market start in the late 30’s, WW2 pushed them over the hump. Our Boys picked up the paperback habit via Armed Service Editions of classic and popular lit. When Johnny came marching home he wanted more. Reprints of hardcover couldn’t meet the demand. Plus Johnny knew life could be war and war is hell and he craved something which reflected his insight. He craved pulp.
While Ike ruled the roost, pulp ruled the racks. Titles screamed bloody murder. Front covers were eyeball ecstasy with a nightmare twist. Half naked dames clung to or clawed at granite faced guys. Less lively bodies sprawled on the floor. Guns, booze, and cash were accessories in scenarios set in no-exit rooms at Hotel Sordismo. Crazed cops and gangsters were always on their way up. Pulp back covers were more verbal. Blurbs rhapsodized the sack and slug stuff within. Like — Harry knew the blonde was trouble. But the lush promise of Rita’s body blotted out the image of her husband’s punishing fists–
Those who think the 50’s were one big lock down have no idea how hard pop culture partied.
In 2007 pulp marches on, but covers have become more restrained. While some are designed with retro in mind a total revival of gonzo is needed. When Our Boys and Girls finally get back from Iraq, pulp should greet them as exuberantly as it greeted vets after WW2. Back cover blurbs might include:
As another reporter rose to ask a question, Dick felt the rage rise in his throat. Snarling he pulled the trigger.
Aw baby whined Bill as he slipped the Commander-in-Chief’s trousers over her head, you know you’re the only one.
With a groan of pleasure akin to torment, George surged into the Fertile Crescent again and again.
Want apocryphal plot? Try a synopsis of The Flesh is Weak.
After a 40 year stint in Iraq, GI Wes Duncan returns to his hometown of Oleo in upstate New York. Wes is bitter about being discharged. Arthritis is no big deal. Not kissing brass ass was the real squeal. Wes tries to hook up with old girlfriend Lil, who promised to wait forever. But Lil doesn’t remember Wes. Her grandchildren say “Alzheimers” but Wes figures Lil is playing him for a sucker. In retaliation, he takes up with her sister Madge. Madge is married to the mayor of Oleo, Lester Stemrott. Lester is about to retire and wants Madge to move with him into a HUD backed, assisted-living condo complex. But Madge isn’t ready for AARP Land. She wants to live it up on Lester’s graft. After a surprisingly athletic tryst at the Cozy Cocoon Motel (Wes throws his back out but Madge snaps it back) Madge and Wes hatch a plot to murder Lester and pin it on Lil. Madge and Wes kill Lester but the plan backfires. Lil’s memory turns sharp as a tack and she produces an air tight alibi — as well as photos of Madge and Wes at the Cozy Cocoon. Lil blackmails Wes and Madge. Wes sleeps with Lil to get the photos. Madge thinks he’s screwing her over for real. Madge shoots Wes and Lil and makes it look like a murder suicide. The next day a singing telegram from Uncle Sam arrives for Wes. Declaring I Want You Back.
Flesh, The Movie
In 2057 The Flesh is Weak is turned into a big budget movie. (Yup, big budget movies still exist in the second half of the 21st century.) But some changes are made. The title becomes Back to Iraq and the ending is more upbeat. Wes survives being shot by Madge, returns to Iraq, and redeems himself by taking out a nest of Islamo-Fascists intent on blowing up a bus full of school children en route to the U.S. Academy of Islamo-Democracy. Wes is played by an uncannily well-preserved Tom Cruise. However, Tom’s sex scenes with the starlets playing Madge and Lil are performed by his body double. As the film’s producer puts it, “Pastrami makes a good sammy but sucks as eye candy.”
Back to Iraq is box office boffo. Still, film purists remember the low rent piece of fiction on which it was based and reference the late Quentin Tarantino, Saying HE would have made it the right way–
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Sources include but are not limited to:
Over My Dead Body, The Sensational Age of the American Paperback: 1945 to 1955, Lee Server, Chronicle Books, 1994
Books in Action, The Armed Services Edition, Edited by John Y. Cole, The Center for the Book, Library of Congress, 1984
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