Pulp fiction paperbacks sold by the millions, for a dime, in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite their lapel-grabbing, shocking, often tawdry, salacious covers and contents, they’re interesting cultural relics because they repackage some of the most basic plots, fantasies, fables and parables of their times. They’re a kind of common denominator cultural genre. Here are some of my favorite and some of the funniest covers, apropos marriage, sex, romance, seduction, mistresses, “unnatural loves,” and the sex-crazed suburbs of the 1950s.
To see thousands of additional covers I recommend a wonderful and very conveniently-organized online archive of pulp covers and original cover art from all genres, ranging from romance to science fiction, at WWW.PULPCOVERS.COM.
THE FEMINISTS. It’s 1992 and “The top dog is a bitch! A small band of men and their women go underground to fight the final battle of the sexes!” I’ve had this cover perched on my desk for two decades and it still makes me laugh. This is pretty much Rush Limbaugh’s political and sexual subconscious, with jack-booted Femi-nazis waging battle. If only Hillary Clinton had won!
SATAN WAS A LESBIAN. The missing chapter of the Bible tells us so. Just… go with it.
THE SMALL BACK ROOM: THE STORY OF AN INADEQUATE MAN. “I suddenly felt very tired and hopeless. ‘it’s odd that you think I don’t try.’” I’m not getting the in media res dialogue entirely, but from the looks of things it’s not the smallness of the back room that’s the problem. A Kafkaesque offering.
YAMA, THE HELL-HOLE. The Classic Story of a Russian Brothel. What happens in Yama, the Hell Hole, STAYS in Yama, the Hell Hole.
WHISPERING GORILLA. The whole of the dark continent is terrorized by a gigantic gorilla, a gorilla who is not a gorilla, but a man. Officer! A soft-spoken gorilla abducted my sex-crazed wife! Or, wait a minute… It was the kind of gorilla who is a non-gorilla! It’s a very postmodern gorilla!
I KILLED STALIN. And got laid
FOR MEN ONLY. Convict Love Colony in the Sewers of Paris: Exclusive Story. Find Lt. Sommers: Last Seen in India’s ‘Many Woman’ Village. Does this look like the Sewers of Paris? As for Lt. Sommers, marooned in “Many Woman” village, just let the poor man be. I don’t think he wants to be rescued and re-deployed to Afghanistan.
DOUBLE UP. Wanton Wives…Playful Husbands…Traded Loves…Their incomes were high—their morals were low—their parties were pleasure-fests where sex was served like wine… Pulp fiction for the 1%. Lust served up with that luxury item of—wine!
THE DECEIVERS. SEXUAL MISBEHAVIOR AMONG SUBURBAN COUPLES! Here are the shocking facts about extra-marital affairs, secret aberrations, and loose morality on the New Sex Frontier—THE AMERICAN SUBURB! Lots of pulp fiction exposed the “unnatural love” (lesbianism) and sexual exploits of the strange new world of the suburbs, especially among the bored wives left behind by their commuting husbands.
FORBIDDEN PLEASURES… An exploration of non-monogamy and polyamory, as so much of 1950s romance pulp fiction was, and “the mysteries of triangular love.” Is the triangle isosceles or scalene? Whatever. Pythagoras rocks so hard.
DOLLS AND DUES. The Sordid Story of a UNION BOSS AND HIS WOMEN. A piledriver of a novel—naked as lust—timely as tomorrow. Unions. Always with the dues and the dames, and drunk on simile.
AS GOOD AS MARRIED. Better than married, from the looks of it.
MY BED HAS ECHOES. Yes, but does it have any sense of discretion? I like this one for the caption: “A story of a man who at last finds what he is seeking in a woman… But, can he marry a nymphomaniac?”
HONEY BABE. The caption reads: “Selling door to door is poor loot. But with all the free stuff you meet, who needs money?!” Death of a Salesman: The Real, Uncensored Story
MADIGAN’S WOMEN. PART-TIME PARTNERS IN PASSION. Do you get benefits with this part-time gig? Pulp fiction, HR-stye. I love this subtitle. It makes extramarital lust seem so can-do and managerial.
STRANGE THREE. Check out the erudite caption: One of the three…a sister…who strongly opposed the basic convention and taboos against incest. Was this caption ghostwritten by a frustrated Ph.D. student in anthropology, or what?
PRINCESS OF THE ATOM. Two Worlds Meet in a Desperate Struggle for an Atomic Beauty’s Secret. The two worlds met in the Princess’ cleavage, where the secret was found to be hidden.
DEATH COMMITS BIGAMY. Death. You never know what he’ll think of next.
WHEN DOCTORS MARRY... Oh, let me tell you. It ain’t pretty.
THE FIRES OF YOUTH: A Novel of Juvenile Waywardness. This looks like the tamest “juvenile waywardness” you could hope to find. “Hey, come over here, big boy. Let’s talk some STRING THEORY.”