Friday, December 13, 2013

Whitey The Irrepressible Infests Europe After Festing With The Queer People Of Hollywood

by Stephen J. Gertz

Cover art by Vincentini.

A lovable and, yes, irrepressible but dissolute American, Whitey, wreaks havoc in Europe in the company of Sonia Varon, a movie star concealing her pregnancy from her producer; Prime Minister Zmiythe, dictator of Gandonia; and various potentates, gangsters, bartenders, and a fat lady - Senorita Francisca Ortiz, in love with Whitey, all 220 pounds of her - who doesn't sing until it's over in Kings Back To Back: Whitey The Irrepressible Infests Europe, the third novel in Carroll and Garrett Graham's Whitey trilogy.

Theodore Anthony "Whitey" White is a New York newspaperman of the Hecht-MacArthur Hildy Johnson/Front Page ilk who, if not exactly a bottom-feeder, avidly grazes on the fringe. So, when he blows into Hollywood, where his dubious reputation in New York and Chicago has not blown west with him, in Queer People - the first Whitey novel - he is at home among the colorful studio folk who populate Hollywood as a colony of bacteria occupy the colon.

Whitey has embraced the past age of enlightenment as the present age to getting lit, and answers any and all questions philosophical or otherwise with "I don't know. Let's take a few drinks and find out." The wisdom of the whiskey bottle is, for him, a modern day oracle at Delphi to be consulted in times of doubt or certainty, which is to say, always, to wit: "By dusk he was always comfortably potted and in a mood for anything." In Whitey, the Playboy of "Queer People" Runs Riot in Manhattan, the second novel in the Graham's trilogy, we are introduced to our hero as he confesses to his fifteenth drink - so far that morning.

Partying was his primary occupation but every now and then, as a result of contacts made at  Hollywood bacchanals, he found work. In a case of mistaken identity,  for instance, in Queer People he is hired by the head of Colossal Pictures to join its story department.

Cover art by Vincentini.

Budd Schulberg, who, as the son of movie pioneer and early Paramount studio chief B.P. Schulberg, knew a thing or two about Hollywood, wrote in the Afterword to the modern reprint of Queer People (Southern Illinois University Press, 1976) that readers may recognize Whitey "as a forerunner of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Pat Hobby, the irrepressible studio hack, part heel, part victim - an All-American, interchangeable with All-Hollywood in these hilarious and desperate days when the Whitey-Pat Hobbys lived off the crumbs from the banquet table of the queer people who combined the decadent flamboyance of Louis XIV with the stupidity of George III."

"Siblings Carroll and Garrett Graham decided to explore the sleazier side of Tinseltown in their novel Queer People (1930)...With its hard-nosed anti-hero, Theodore 'Whitey' White, anticipating Schulberg's newshounds-for-hire, Al Mannheim and Sammy Glick, this disconcerting roman à clef exposed the chasm between fantasy and reality, and suggested that icons and wannabes alike were incapable of distinguishing between performance and life" (Trouble in Tinseltown: Budd Schulberg's Literary Legacy, The Guardian, Aug. 7, 2009)

Cover art by Ann Cantor.

Queer People was a best-seller that went through eleven printings in its first year of publication. It was issued in a paperback digest edition in 1950 under the title, Fleshpots of Malibu (NY: Broadway Novel Monthly), with cover art that does not in any way telegraph that it is a hard-bitten satire but does highlight the book's proto-pulp sensibility.

Little is known about Carroll and Garrett Graham, who appear to have disappeared from the scene faster than a dissident in North Korea. In addition to their Whitey trilogy, the Grahams published Only Human, another from Vanguard Press in 1932 and issued just prior to Kings Back To Back: Whitey The Irrepressible Infests Europe.

Cover art by Vincentini.

"In the ring he was great - a light-footed boxer, and a murderous, relentless slugger who didn't know how to lose a fight and who ploughed his way straight to a championship. Johnny was sure he loved Marjorie, a sheltered, conventional, polished girl to whom he became engaged, but May, who was more at home in a speakeasy than in a drawing room, needed him. And Johnny couldn't disappoint a girl!" (Jacket blurb).

Mention must be made of the beautiful dust jacket art by Vincentini, about whom I've been able to find nothing thus far. The folks at Vanguard Press (in its heyday a Leftist publisher of, among other genres,  novels of social realism) loved his stylish work, so much so that they reproduced Vincentini's DJ art as the front free-endpaper to Kings Back To Back, a highly unusual move not seen from other publishers.

It's very difficult to find first edition, first printing copies of the Whitey trilogy in collectable condition. It's even harder to find them in dust jackets. Vincentini's work is highly desirable. Other examples of his dust jackets can be found here.

As for me, I'm irrepressible, ran riot in Manhattan as a lad, used to run a Hollywood story department, am a whitey in Los Angeles, and only human. So, I'll be exploring the fleshpots of Malibu as soon as I determine whether any actually exist and that Joe's Crab Shack on the coast isn't one of them. You can't be too careful.

GRAHAM, Carroll and Garrett. Kings Back to Back: Whitey the Irrepressible Infests Europe. New York: The Vanguard Press, 1932. First edition. Octavo. 286 pp. Cloth. Dust jacket.

Slide, The Hollywood Novel, p. 113.

GRAHAM, Carroll and Garrett. Queer People. New York: The Vanguard Press, 1930. First edition. Octavo. 276 pp. Cloth. Dust jacket.

Slide, p. 112.

GRAHAM, Carroll and Garrett. Whitey; The Playboy of "Queer People" Runs Riot in Manhattan. New York: The Vanguard Press, 1931. First edition. Octavo. 274 pp. Cloth. Dust jacket.

Slide, p. 113.

With the exception of Only Human and Fleshpots of Malibu, images courtesy of ReadInk and Between the Covers, with our thanks. Ond to Google Books for the titlepage to Whitey...

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