Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Vintage Paperbacks Part IV

I read once that in the paperback publishing world that romance sold the best, followed by Westerns. I don't have any romances because I never read them. I don't have too many Western novels in my paperback collection, since I only occasionally read them. I guess I got my fill of Western movies when I was a kid, and about the only thing about the West that intrigues me is actual history. I think reading about Lewis and Clark, or Wyatt Earp, is much more interesting in an historical rather than fictional context.

The first of these paperbacks fill that bill, except it doesn't look like it. A Texas Cowboy by Charles A. Siringo, is a 1950s reprint of a book originally published in 1885. It's marketed as a novel until you get inside and see that they've reproduced the original 1885 title page, and then you know you're not reading the latest Max Brand or Louis L'Amour.

All of these books have something in common on the covers: the gun. What would a Western novel be without a gunslingin' cowboy? Hey, podnuh, too bad that image is mythical. If you watch old movies you think that half the people who lived in the west were gunslingers and the other half were ranchers. In real life people who lived in the West were a lot like you and me, just trying to earn a living, and the violent people were like violent people nowadays; nobody wanted to be around them.

For some reason I like the cover on Dell #227, Ernest Haycox's Trail Town. It's got a design simplicity I like, a color scheme almost akin to a paint by numbers kit. No subtleties here. It's just a picture of a sheriff shooting it out with an unseen enemy. Dell "Mapbacks" are popular collectibles. They have a map of the town or location of the events going on in the novel. Ernest Haycox was a very popular author in his day.

I looked at the back cover of The Singing Scorpion, wondering why it wasn't called The Stinging Scorpion, since I think scorpions are more apt to sting than warble "Red River Valley." I checked the back cover blurb. There's a character who has masqueraded as someone named The Singing Scorpion. I thought, "That sounds like the plot of an old Western movie." Sure enough, when I read the names of the characters I saw they were Tucson Smith, Lullaby Joslin and Stoney Brooke. For those of you in the know, those were The Three Mesquiteers, characters in a very popular Western movie series that played for several years. The copyright information says it's originally from 1934, and the Graphic Books edition I have is from 1950. Checking the imdb.com listing for Three Mesquiteers I found that the first of the series of 51 movies with those characters was made in 1936, based on an idea and characters by William Colt MacDonald. So there you go, but the Three Mesquiteers name doesn't appear on the cover or back cover, so by 1950 apparently the publisher decided the audience for the now defunct movie series was not the audience who was going to buy the book.

Stormy In The West by Norman A. Fox is another Dell book, but not part of the Mapback series. The cover art seems confusing. About the only thing immediately apparent is that the cowboy is shooting. On a closer examination you see he is coming out of the broken front window of a saloon. I like the blurb on the first page: "She was like a mountain cat, full-bodied and supple; and she was pretty; the prettiest girl that Sabin had ever known. She brought the horse around and rode it up to the boardwalk till she was beside the porch. She said, "You'll keep your hands off Pitchfork's men!" and she raised her quirt and brought it down hard across Sabin's shoulder."

Oboy, sounds like a little s&m playing out there. It's been a long time since I saw the word "quirt" anywhere. Sounds nasty, doesn't it?

I'm also fascinated by the cover blurb, "He traded blue whistlers with a gunsmoke gang." Blue whistlers? Isn't that when junior high kids or frat boys light their farts on fire?

Mosey on down to the local corral and rustle up some Western readin'. Think I'll go to the local waterin'-hole for a drink. This a'goin' through old paperback books is hot, dusty and dry work.

Ciao for now, El Postino

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