Monday, January 31, 2011

Pulp Fiction Factories: Selling Sin In Sydney

By Nancy Mattoon

W.H. "Bill" Williams writing as Marc Brody.
The Dames In His Death.

Sydney: Horowitz, 1956.

(All Images Courtesy of State Library of Victoria.)

"But I’m just poor, dumb Brody! I can’t write. I’m not in the fiction racket. I’m a wageplug – a slave working for a newspaper. I don’t drive Jaguars or Studebakers, I drive a battered old Chev convertible. All I can do is keep on plugging and plugging, trying to solve crimes that aren’t solved, and at the same time keep out of trouble while I write the story..."

The lament above, from Marc Brody's Sweet, Svelte and Sinful (1959) provides a perfect set-up for a new online exhibit of Australian pulp fiction books from the 1950's created by State Library of Victoria. A half-dozen representative titles from the "golden era for Australian pulp fiction," are part of a much larger online show entitled Mirror of the World: Books and Ideas. The pulps were produced in massive quantities by Australian publishers beginning in the late 1930's, with most written by enthusiastic amateurs willing to sign contracts demanding such insanity as "one 48,000 word crime novel every three weeks for 30 years."

W.H. "Bill" Williams writing as Marc Brody.
Maid For The Morgue.
Sydney: Horowitz, 1956.

The introduction to the pulp fiction section notes that import restrictions on American books and magazines beginning in the 1940's resulted in a "window of opportunity for local publishers to meet a growing demand for American-style fiction." Sydney based Horowitz Publications, now a respectable publisher of glossy magazines and children's books, employed a veritable stable of sleaze slingers in the middle of the last century to churn out "books to order" for the pulp market. Their major competitor was Young's Merchandising Company, which sounds more like a factory than a publisher, because it was.

Don Haring and Des R. Dunn
writing As Larry Kent.
Sweet Danger.
Young's Merchandising Company, 1957.

Series titles ruled the day, each volume bearing the name of a macho private dick, whose hard-boiled adventures were inevitably set on the mean streets of urban America. (In some of the most popular series, the shamus's name served as the author's pseudonym.) The writers of these one-shilling wonders were mindbogglingly prolific. Detective/author "Larry Kent" (nom de plume primarily for American-transplant Don Haring and Queenslander Des R Dunn) lit up his Luckies and got down to cases in 400 separate titles between 1954 and 1983. (At which point Larry apparently left the Big Apple for Scandinavia-- new titles continued to appear there through 1990.)

Audrey Armitage and Muriel Watkins
writing as KT McCall.
The Lady's A Decoy.

Sydney:Horowitz Publications, 1957.

Two of the few fillies in Horowitz's hard boiled stable wrote about 20 novels in just two years under the pen name "K.T. McCall." Audrey Armitage (a professor at the New South Wales Institute of Technology) and her partner Muriel Watkins were described on Decoy's back cover as: "Blonde, beautiful, and with brains." Their Detective, Johnny Buchanan worked for New York City's Silver Star Insurance Company, and never carried a gun. But that didn't mean the books skimped on violence. Decoy begins with Johnny's discovery of a blonde bombshell's disembodied gam: "Anna Karpis had insured her beautiful legs with the Silver Star Insurance Company, and now she was missing...I knew she was dead - I had a leg to prove it."

W.H. "Bill" Williams Writing as Marc Brody.
Write Off The Redhead.
Sydney: Horowitz, 1956.

Between 1955 and 1960 journalist W.H. "Bill" Williams churned out about 80 titles featuring investigative crime reporter Marc Brody. Brody toured the U.S. smoking, drinking, escaping the clutches of double crossing dames, drinking, solving crimes, and drinking. ("Send the lieutenant up… And some liquor. Scotch, rye, bourbon and beer..." Marc Brody in Blackmail Was A Brunette, 1957.) Brody's cases revolved around the newspaper world, and focused on organized crime, police corruption, and the power of the press to put things right. The titles were often the most original parts of the books, for example: Her Column’s a Killer (1955), Dame on a Deadline (1955), The Lady’s Out of Circulation (1957), and Headlines for a Hussy (1957).

Easing of restrictions on book imports and the introduction of television spelled the end of Aussie Pulp's golden era around 1959. But thousands (literally) of these factory fiction titles had been pumped out by then. Meant to be cheap, formulaic, and disposable, these paperbacks are now both rare and highly collectible, especially in pristine condition.


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