“Nice Guys Finish Dead” – and Other Hard-Boiled Visions

I’ll get back to film-related subjects shortly, but in the meantime, there’s this.

Started by Fawcett Publications in 1950, Gold Medal Books was notable for introducting paperback originals. Other paperback publishers dealt in reprints. No one had done this before, and they made sure you knew it. At the bottom of many of their covers was the statement, “Original Gold Medal Novel — Not a Reprint.”

Per Wikipedia, “Gold Medal’s obvious success…revolutionized the industry.” They had a staff of artists, and the first thing that hit you at the newsstand was the covers, which were sexy, violent, and melodramatic — sex and death, all of it scantily clad. The covers and titles were often noirish and hard-boiled, not to mention incredibly sexist. Gold Medal wasn’t the only publisher who used this approach, but they excelled at it. Other paperback publishers had covers and titles that were just as lurid and sensational, but Gold Medal takes the cake. The majority of the covers I’ve selected for this post are theirs. They also attracted interesting writers, including David Goodis, John D. MacDonald, W. R. Burnett, Louis L’Amour, MacKinley Kantor, and one of my personal favorites, Richard Matheson. I was the proud owner of the two great horror novels seen below (and still have this edition of I Am Legend, held together by rubber bands, somewhat the worse for wear).












One of Gold Medal’s titles in 1950 was Women’s Barracks by Teresksa Torres, reportedly the first lesbian pulp novel.


I think now I’ll let the covers speak for themselves (with occasional asides).























































“…in a world of lonely women.” Whew! I like how he’s adjusting his tie.












There were Westerns, too.











It’s interesting when the pulp approach is used to market literary classics.


Some may not be “classics,” but were written by established authors in their field. This Raymond Chandler cover is really out there. I wasn’t sure if it was real or a parody, but as far I can find, it’s authentic.


Here are two written by Patricia Highsmith. Strangers on a Train (1950) was the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film version with Farley Granger and Robert Walker. Highsmith used the pseudonym Claire Morgan for The Price of Salt (1952). She didn’t want to be identified as a writer of lesbian fiction. It was the basis for the Todd Haynes film Carol (2015), with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in the lead roles.


This is one of the more subtle titles.


 The image here is less lurid than many of the others and captures a feeling I’m not sure I could define, but there’s definitely something going on. This is one of the more interesting covers.


I’ll end this politically incorrect collection with the only science fiction title in this post. This cover really pops.


That’s all for now. I hope this has been interesting. See you next time. — Ted Hicks


Wait, one more, a book I’d never heard of by Harlan Ellison. It has a very kinetic cover. Ellison is better known for his science fiction.


About Ted Hicks

Iowa farm boy; have lived in NYC for 40 years; worked in motion picture labs, film/video distribution, subtitling, media-awards program; obsessive film-goer all my life.
This entry was posted in Art, Books, Fiction, Film. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to “Nice Guys Finish Dead” – and Other Hard-Boiled Visions

  1. David M Fromm says:

    Many are new to me.Most interesting.

  2. Sharon van Ivan says:

    AND THIS!!


  3. Melanie B says:

    Intriguing, arresting images, but have to add “not woke”!

  4. tainui says:

    Ted–what a collection! Most evocative. There was an Australian pulp writer named Carter Brown whose covers raised my temperature as a young teen. Great piece of scholarship….now for the ones you censored?

  5. Ted Hicks says:

    Yeah, I’m thinking of doing a followup with the covers I left out. I think I started to think it was too much of the same thing to include in one post. Just a failure of nerve on my part. Carter Brown was Australian? Interesting. I thought I’d included one of his books. Must be one of the ones I left out. I think he wrote a lot of stuff. Thanks!

  6. Vic Losick says:

    Just great stuff. Scary and informative

  7. Hi, Ted,

    Nifty write-up, with great visuals.

    A couple of things I was struck by and wanted to share with you:

    Lovers Are Losers by Howard Hunt Does that name ring a bell? This was one of many books written in his earlier days by E. Howard Hunt — one of the Watergate conspirators. Here’s a bit from his Wikipedia entry: Hunt was a prolific author.[4] During and after the war, he wrote several novels under his own name, including East of Farewell (1942), Limit of Darkness (1944), Stranger in Town (1947), Bimini Run (1949), and The Violent Ones (1950) . He also wrote, more famously, several spy and hardboiled novels under an array of pseudonyms, including Robert Dietrich, Gordon Davis and David St. John. Hunt won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his writing in 1946. Some of his writings found parallels in his espionage and Watergate experiences.[5]

    You can buy an updated version of the book on Amazon: A novel by the former CIA Agent and Watergate Conspirator – Instead of a well-deserved vacation from his gun, Christopher Powell finds himself in Los Angeles with a beautiful young girl and a slick but sinister group of characters dealing in death and drugs. Turns out he needs his friend – a .38 Special.

    Night Light by Douglass Wallop Another author who had a life way beyond pulp novels. In this case, he hit it big with ’The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant’ — the baseball fantasy novel that went on to become Damn Yankees, with all those great musical numbers (Whatever Lola Wants….Hernando’s Hideaway….etc).

    Decades before Field of Dreams there was The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, the classic baseball fable that became the hit movie and musical Damn Yankees. Now a new generation is ready to discover this delightful book, restored to its original title, with a new introduction by baseball writer Bill James. https://www.amazon.com/Year-Yankees-Lost-Pennant/dp/0393326101/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1GEJ8TL6HPO94&keywords=the+year+the+yankees+lost+the+pennant&qid=1563207872&s=books&sprefix=The+Year+the+Yankees%2Cstripbooks%2C128&sr=1-1

    Hope all’s well with you!

    Ira Wolfman POE Communications 917.319.6522


  8. Ted Hicks says:

    Thanks! I totally missed the Howard Hunt connection. I was more concerned with the covers than the authors and content. It would have been interesting to have gone deeper, but another time. I’ve already started put together part 2 of this post, because I had so many great (and sleazy) covers left over, a couple of which I didn’t have the nerve to include because they’re so not-PC. Still not sure if I’ll post those. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, Nancy & I flew up to Martha’s Vineyard this morning to stay with friends. Back to NYC this Friday. Nice change of scenery.

  9. One more fascinating tidbit: check out the plot of the Douglass Wallop cover you featured (from Wikipedia):

    His first novel, 1953’s Night Light, concerns a father’s search into the background of his child’s murderer. Anne Brooks of the New York Herald Tribune Book Review said he “created characters who are both real and colorful, and he has delved into a maniac’s mind with considerable understanding.” R.G. Peck wrote an article for the Chicago Sunday Tribune and said it was the “first novel that’s well constructed, carefully written, and free of painful mannerisms.” Al Hine of the Saturday Review said it’s a “novel that is moving and tautly interesting from first page to last. Mr. Wallop writes fluently and without affectation, even when he is exploring the subcellars of bop.”

    Ira Wolfman 917.319.6522


  10. Ted Hicks says:

    Thanks again! I should hire you to do research.

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