New Harry Whittington
In 1986, the prolific “king of the paperbacks” Harry Whittington (1915-1989) wrote an essay about his writing career entitled “I Remember It Well” for Black Lizard Books. Black Lizard used it as an introduction to the 1987-88 reprints of six classic hardboiled crime stories, originally published by Gold Medal and others. In that piece, Whittington revealed this:
“ I signed, in 1964, to do a 60,000-word novel a month for a publisher under his house names. I was paid $1000. On the first of each month. I wrote one of these novels a month for 39 months.”
These 39 unknown books became “the missing 39” for Whittington collectors. When I did a Whittington checklist back in 1995, I mentioned the 39 and the “stone wall” I hit asking Whittington's widow and children for help. I was hoping some intrepid researcher would pounce on that gap in the Whittington checklist. That person proved to be David Laurence Wilson.
The stumbling block, we now know in hindsight, was Mrs. Whittington. Bless her soul, Kathryn Whittington did not care at all for these “adult” paperbacks her husband had written in the mid-1960s. After she passed away, Wilson was working with Whittington's son and daughter on a number of reprint ideas, and they turned up a box of books in a closet at Harry's house in Florida. (This whole story is told in much richer detail in the introduction to the Stark House volume, which you must own if you love to read Harry Whittington. We offer it for sale here.)
The box contained 27 paperback originals published by William Hamling under two house names John Dexter and J.X. Williams, and a third name, Curt Colman. In Whittington's papers, Wilson discovered a list of sales of 38 books, one a month, with original manuscript titles and dates. Many of these titles were changed by the publisher, but several of them matched books in the box. Surely these were the same books Whittington described in “I Remember It Well”.
There are various theories why the list has 38 books and the Black Lizard article said 39 books. My own favorite is that Harry's memory was a little fuzzy 20 years later when he wrote “I Remember It Well”. Harry was asked to submit a sample novel. He sent OF DARK DESIRES in the fall of 1963, and got the job to do a book a month starting in January 1964. OF DARK DESIRES is on the list of 38, but if Harry, writing from memory without the list in front of him, counted it as a separate submission, he might have come up with a total of 39. Another theory suggests he submitted 39 but one was rejected and so unpublished. David Wilson's research in Florida has turned up a couple references to 38 books, so we will go with that number. No matter how many of these books are eventually identified, the group represents a treasure trove of undiscovered Whittington.
When Michael Barson interviewed Whittington for the Summer 1981 issue of PAPERBACK QUARTERLY, he asked him about the Greenleaf Classics on his bibliography. These books (there are three, Barson mentions two) were published by the same people who had previously done the missing 38, almost a decade earlier. “Isn't Greenleaf Classics a porn line?” Barson asked. Whittington replied, “None of the books you mentioned were written as porn, but they may have been spiced up by the editors. I don't know.”
Whittington may have been bending the truth a little. Maybe Mrs. Whittington was sitting there giving him the skunk eye. The lengthy pornographic scenes in the three books are intrinsically interwoven into the feel of the novels. They do not have the earmarks of passages written by other hands, tacked on later.
For the record, those three Greenleafs were :
THE MEXICAN CONNECTION by Howard Winslow, Greenleaf Classics PC1063, 1972
NIGHTMARE ALIBI by Henry Whittier, Greenleaf Classics PC1074, 1972
ANOTHER MAN'S CLAIM by Henry Whittier, Greenleaf Classics PC1089, 1973
And besides, Whittington had written for “Greenleaf Classics” before. At least 38 times.
So David Laurence Wilson found a list of 38 sales, a book a month. And he had a box of 27 of the books from Whittington's closet. There were still eleven more books to be discovered. I'm happy that David invited me to join this research project and search for those books with him, because I love this kind of stuff.
John Dexter and J.X. Williams are well-known house names used by many different authors, but Curt Colman is a more obscure name. No one I've talked to, including Colman's editor Earl Kemp, knew who Curt Colman was. Only eleven of this publisher's books are credited to Curt Colman, and seven of those were in the box in Whittington's house. It was a safe bet to look at the remaining four Curt Colman titles, and all four of them proved to be written by Harry Whittington.
Adding the four additional Curt Colman books to the 27 in the box, Wilson then had 31 of the Whittingtons identified. Only seven then remained unknown. The search for those books is recounted in Wilson's essay in the new Stark House collection. Different versions of two of those remaining books, which Harry called TO FIND CORA and LIKE MINK LIKE MURDER - two lost hardboiled thrillers - are collected in the new Stark House collection. (The third book, BODY AND PASSION, not one of the missing 38, was originally published as Original Novel 714 in 1952.)
After I first saw the list of the books in Harry's box, I was anxious to confirm that these books might actually be identifiable as Whittingtons. I didn't have a single one of them then, but the weekend of the LA paperback show I looked at dozens of these little books with pink and yellow spines. The books are known by many names: Greenleaf, Corinth, Nightstand, Midnight Reader, Sundown Reader, Idle Hour, Leisure Books, Ember Books, etc, etc. Everybody has their own name for these books. I know a lot of longtime collectors who call them all Corinths. A man who worked for Scott Meredith, the agent who sold the manuscripts to the publisher William Hamling, told me Meredith always called them Nightstands, no matter which line of books was under discussion. David Wilson told me that the first books Harry did came out as Ember Books, so he always called them Embers. Like many 21 st century eBay sellers, I group them all under the generic term “Greenleaf”. Greenleaf was the street William Hamling started his business on in Evanston Illinois in the 1950s, and he used that name both early and late in his publishing career, even after they left Evanston and became known as Corinth Publications on Mission Gorge Road in San Diego CA. So I tend to call them both Greenleafs and Corinths. Those names are meant to be interchangeable here.
There are hundreds of books under the house names John Dexter and J.X. Williams published between 1960 and the early 1970s, but Whittington sold the 38 between October 1963 and February 1967, so that time frame helped narrow the search. I located a book on Wilson's list called PASSION CACHE by J.X. Williams, Sundown Reader SR580. I had been reading a lot of Charles Williams and Gil Brewer and Harry Whittington, and I was looking for that kind of storytelling. PASSION CACHE sold me from the first page. I was transformed from hopeful skeptic to a believer by this passage, the opening words of the novel:
“It wasn't quite daylight. Fog hardened into a gray wall, and I rode the brake as the car plummeted around the twisting canyon roads. I could see no more than a few feet ahead and less than a foot beyond each of the side windows. It didn't matter because I didn't want to see anything, or anybody. I was finally battered so low, I hated God's world and everything in it, especially myself.
Suddenly a wraith materialized in the fog ahead of me. I cried out, involuntarily.
“Help me! Please help me!” Her cry went through me like the chill of the night mists.
I stomped the brake and the Chevy shuddered to a stop, but when I looked back, she wasn't there.”
I remember saying out loud, “Hell, this really starts just like a Harry Whittington story.” Was there ever a more angst-ridden, doomed, world-hating existentialist protagonist than PASSION CACHE's Nick Phillips? The French love the dark noir stories of Harry Whittington, as much as we do in America if not more. PASSION CACHE is their kind of story. Since we are fairly certain Albert Camus was not writing Sundown Readers in 1965, this must be Whittington.
There is, of course, a real woman right around the next bend, a beautiful half-nude vixen with a murdered millionaire husband and a house full of money. We've been down this road before, we recognize the signposts.
“You know how you get when you've been driving all night? You're bottled up in your car, no way to escape your thoughts. You go over the same treadmill a hundred times, even when you've stopped looking for answers, when you admit there is no answer.”
Harry Whittington created a whole series of such characters with no answers for Gold Medal and Ace and other paperback houses. When Black Lizard started reprinting Jim Thompson and David Goodis and Charles Willeford in the 1980s, Harry was a natural next step, and they reprinted six of his books.
But back in the mid-1960s the market was shifting, and editors changed, and the prolific Whittington could no longer sell his books. So he changed agents and joined the group of authors supplying the Scott Meredith Literary Agency with a book a month for William Hamling's paperback lines. As the others have told us, sooner or later it just naturally became a grind to have to come up with a new novel every 30 days. But Harry had a lot of manuscripts on hand, and he dusted off many of them to meet his quota. For example, he had an unsold nurse book, so he spiced it up a little and called it NURSE'S SECRET. The editors at Greenleaf didn't do titles like that, they changed it to REMEMBERED SIN, one of the books found in the box.
REMEMBERED SIN was one of the many titles on the list I got from my friend Tony Jacobs, bookman extraordinaire, without whose assistance I might never have completed my collection of these books.
American Whittington collectors have long wanted to read a book he wrote for Gold Medal called MINK. Gold Medal rejected MINK so he sold it to his French publisher Gallimard. They had been doing a successful set of Serie Noir thrillers, in French-language hardcover editions, of Harry's Gold Medals, and MINK fit right in. We always thought that was forever our loss, but David Wilson found LIKE MINK LIKE MURDER, Harry's MINK manuscript, on the list of the 38 books. It had been published in America in 1965, just not under Harry's name. And it wasn't one of the books in the box. It was one of the missing titles. The only way to find the unknown American paperback of LIKE MINK LIKE MURDER would be to read the story in French and look for a John Dexter or JX Williams that matched it. Unfortunately, I don't read French. Luckily, I have a friend who does, and he translated some of the first chapter of the French version of MINK, enough to let me know it is about an existential milkman. Now that was something I could work with:
“ I returned to the dairy….I have my problems, like everyone. Life has misdirected me more than it has others, and only promises to continue to do so.”
Another good friend is Robert Speray, a collector who has amassed a library of thousands of paperback books. I went to visit Speray and explained I needed to look at all of his John Dexter, JX Williams and Curt Colman books. As always, Speray jumped in with both feet, a leap of faith that inspired me to find MINK. And we found it for David. It took a while, because the opening of the American version does not match the opening chapter of the French edition. The first scene, the milkman returning to the dairy, is not found until page 12 of the American book, PASSION HANGOVER by J.X. Williams, Leisure Book LB1105. The first scenes of chapter one take place in bed, not at the dairy, and seem tacked on at some later date to match the Robert Bonfils cover illustration. The woman in bed is not even a character in the original edition. The new Stark House edition recreates Harry's original conception.
Since Harry is recycling a manuscript written for Gold Medal, it is only fitting that Bonfils is recycling the cover art. His cover is a reworking of a Newsstand Library book he had painted back in Chicago called TORCH OF DESIRE (NL U139, 1960).
As David Laurence Wilson explains in his introduction to the new Whittington book, he looked at every Ember from that era to find LUST FARM by JX Williams, Ember Book EB939, which is Harry's first manuscript sale from 1963. Harry called it OF DARK DESIRES, and we can imagine the editor at Ember Books writing the before-title page blurb for the new book with that manuscript title in front of him, because LUST FARM begins: “ DARK DESIRES pursue Cora Barnes …” Another clue in LUST FARM is that name, Cora. Whittington used “Cora” or “Nora” for a key female character again and again in many of his books. Cora is also a name used in FLESH AVENGER by J.X. Williams, Evening Reader ER739. Nora is the name of the missing wife in FLESH SNARE by JX Williams, Sundown Reader SR585, which felt like Whittington to me. When I described the story to David Wilson he recognized it as a variation on TO FIND CORA, a Harry Whittington book published by Novel Books in 1963. With their usual sense of good taste and decorum, the guys at Novels Books retitled it CORA IS A NYMPHO. That book was once very hard to find, but the new Stark House collection reprints it (the Novel Books version, not FLESH SNARE) under Harry's original title.
Another Whittington that we turned up in Bob Speray's collection was BABY FACE by JX Williams, Idle Hour IH504, which proved to be a rewrite of Whittington's obscure 1947 backwoods novel HER SIN. PASSION HANGOVER, BABY FACE, LUST FARM and FLESH SNARE gave us 35 titles. A JX Williams paperback called SHAME HIDERS is a very solid guess at number 36. There are still two more books out there, awaiting rediscovery. We can make guesses, but we don't have any solid confirmation - yet.
Since all eleven of the Curt Colman books are by Harry Whittington, David Laurence Wilson's research has added another identity to the list of authors behind the Greenleaf pen names. As with many of the others, it turns out to be a name well-known to paperback collectors. And Curt Colman is another name for the long list of Whittington pseudonyms.
The chronological list of 38 manuscripts includes some generic titles like LOVE'S LOVELY LUST and DESIRES OF THE FLESH. It's nearly impossible to match these to the retitled books (all of which feature love, lust and desires of the flesh), so my list here is presented in order of year of publication. To bring some semblance of order to a haphazard group, the books are then presented here, by each year from 1964 to 1967, in alphabetical order of the publishing line, so an Ember comes before a Sundown Reader, for instance, even though the Sundown Reader may have been published earlier in that year. We know what year they came out in, but usually not what month.
Also I felt it might be helpful to identify the various genres Whittington used for these books because there are so many different genres at play. Whittington once told an interviewer he could successfully write in every genre except science fiction. Identifying genres is easy when the book is a crime novel or a murder mystery, but what do you call the genre of most “60s sleaze” paperbacks? There are no mysteries, no corpses or bank robberies. Various people pair off in various couplings and make love. It's very similar to soap opera, but it's not quite the same. It's like romance, but more slanted toward male readers with all the salacious innuendo. It ain't literature. You might call some of it “drama”, kind of a video store catch-all. But sometimes there's not really too much drama going on. Some of them I call “Introduction to Psychology 101” because they remind me of the case histories from a sex survey. 21st century eBay sellers have used the generic term “vintage sleaze” to differentiate these more innocent offerings from the hardcore porn that followed it. I use that term “vintage sleaze” every day in my book dealing, but, like the late Donald E. Westlake, I don't really love that second word for these particular books. I'm old enough to remember when “sleaze” described something much worse. Harry's work is always better than sleaze. Since there are sex scenes, but tame by later standards, I've chosen the term “softcore” to describe books without any other storyline other than who's doing who. Like those cable TV movies with simulated sex scenes, our 60s paperbacks are not hardcore, but often still too erotic for the young and easily offended readers. Softcore books have an advantage over softcore movies. When you read a book, you become the casting director. The characters are as attractive and desirable as you wish to make them. They may even look like your favorite movie stars. With softcore movies, someone else has already done the casting, and now your hero is a creepy-looking guy with back fur like a gorilla and questionable teeth. They are bound by the real world. I'll opt for the fantasy world of a book any time.
There are sex scenes in every book on this list, required by the publisher and formulaic. The lawyers read them first to make sure they were not obscene. Euphemisms are used in place of dirty words, and much is left to the imagination. After a while such scenes begin to blend into each other, and in that respect they are like those softcore movies where the actors are obviously just going through the motions, simulating sex. Whittington wrote these scenes as well as anybody. Sometimes they even seem to flow from the narrative instead of feeling tacked on only because it's been twenty pages since the last sex scene. Sometimes it works. In SIN DEEP, however, for example, a small town professor has sex with almost every woman he meets, including a world-famous movie star. Not too real, but then all such stories seem to exist in a parallel universe where anything goes.
Naturally, with 38 books at a pace of a book a month, not every title is a gem. Some of them are better than others, but the best of them are as engaging as many of the other paperbacks published that year. The prolific Whittington always wrote in many different genres, and the books reflect that rich talent. Not only are they not all the same book, they are not even the same type of book. What follows is an introduction to each book, a look at the cover art, a first attempt to classify the various genres, and a brief overview of the story without spoiling too many surprise endings.
The Missing 38