Monday, September 28, 2009

Forgotten Books: Danger Is My Business by Lee Server

I'm feeling a little better so I thought I'd start inflicting myself on you folks again. But first I want to get a plug in for my old buddy John McCarty novelist and writer extraordinary on genre movies of all kinds. Friday night Turner will be running a documentary called Thrillers and John will be one of the people interviewed. Should be great.


Before he became known for his excellent biographies of Robert Mitchum, Ava Gardner and Samuel Fuller, Server wrote and co-edited several books about noir. I collaborated with him on two of them. His knowledge of noir films made me feel like the tourist I am.

He also wrote one of the finest books on pulp fiction I've ever read, Danger is My Business. It's filled with full colors of cover from every genre of pulps and stories about the writers and artists and editors who made them so successful for two decades. Just one example--do you know how Myrna Loy got her last name? I didn't. It turns out the mysterious Peter Ruric, author of Fast One and several classic hardboiled Black Mask stories, gave it to her when she was still a dancer in a nightclub. Very little is known about Ruric who's real name was George Sims and who was born not far from Cedar Rapids.

Each genre gets it own chapter-horror, adventure-western, private eye, romance and sex, hero pulps and science fiction as well as a chapter on the so-called Fiction Factories that ruled pulp land.

The romance and sex chapter surprised me. These pulps took real risks given the prevailing morality of the era. Robert Leslie Bellems set the tone for the naughty hardboiled male writers while women turned in the real erotica.

Same with the horror pulps. Looking at the covers I'm struck by how many of them depicted female bondage. The scantily clad (and usually great looking) heroines were always tied up by some fiend.

We all know how a lot of blurbs work. One writer wants to help another writer so he praises the book. You can usually tell when the blurb writer is log rolling. "I don't think I've ever read a novel as stupendously suspenseful or as monumentally wonderful or as Nobel-worthy as Sure I Killed, I Killed Him Good. And there's print on every page! Honest!"

But here are two blurbs that ring true for sure.

"Danger is My Business Takes me back forty years to my beginnings. Thank God for the pulps!" Elmore Leonard

"Danger is My Business is pure gold. It is so much fun to read. Lee Server's enthusiasm is well-matched to a writing style so witty and a knowledge of the subject so wide-ranging that Danger I My Business is a total page-tuner, as involving as any of the magazines he's opened for us." Donald E. Westlake

This is a book that belongs in your library.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Glad to see you back in the saddle.

mybillcrider said...

As you might guess, the book is in my library already.

Good to hear you're feeling better!

Evan Lewis said...

Yikes! How did I not know about this? It's now on order.

Todd Mason said...

Easing back in, I should be noted that these Horror pulps, despite the actual horror/fantasy pulp WEIRD TALES not shying away from bondage covers on occaision(STRANGE TALES and STRANGE STORIES and UNKNOWN mostly went for other sorts of sensation, when they were sensational) were mostly what have come to be called "shudder" or "weird menace" pulps: DIME MYSTERY in its early years, HORROR STORIES, TERROR TALES, UNCANNY TALES (one or two of the several magazines with that title)...magazines that specialized in "Scooby-Doo" stories, wherein the fantastic element was shown to be the chicanery of some mad evildoer...whose evil was quite real, and usually sexually sadistic. These magazines tended to flourish during the Depression, and DIME MYSTERY changed course and the others folded...though certainly what came to be known as the "Men's Sweat" magazines (TRUE, SAGA, and their lesser [!] imitators) owed something to them, as did such relatively straightforward descendants as WEB TERROR STORIES (the last, ugliest phase of a marginal sf/fantasy digest turned worse crime-fiction digest, then onto shudder/torture) in the early '60s, or Ed Wood's market HORROR SEX TALES and its stablemates and similarly shortlived competitors at the turn of the '70s.

All doing their bit to keep horror's reputation as sterling as it has been over the years. Can I get a WHISPERS?

TM said...

Well, STRANGE STORIES does have at least two bondagey covers, and STRANGE STORIES has one that might as well be considered such ("Webbed Hands" reach toward an apparently unconscious woman).

See the hotlink on my initials for covers from Phil Stephensen-Payne.

Todd Mason said...

That's the unfortunate effect of writing in a hurry, with distractions...misspelling occasion, referring to STRANGE TALES as STRANGE STORIES in the second instance just above, and meaning to write from Phil's website, rather than possibly suggest that the covers were painted by Phil. Sorry.

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Thanks for the heads up. I'm going to keep an eye out for this one.

Juri said...

Excellent book, and to Todd: I've read some noteworthy stories in shudder pulps. Can't forget a boxing story by Wayne Rogers: the boxing maestro kidnaps women and tells the fighter he gets to rape the woman, but only if he wins. (Or then it was that he kidnapped the poor man's wife and said she'll be raped if the guy doesn't win. Okay, sounds really noteworthy, doesn't it?)