29 June 2011

Another Tie, Another Place

The Canadian and America editions of Neil H. Perrin's Death Be My Destiny, both published by News Stand Library, both bearing covers drawn by the same anonymous hand. How to explain the differences? Do Canadians prefer blondes? Do we choose hard liquor over red wine? Are our ties a touch more garish, our women more modest? Can it really be that our seedy hotels are so luxurious? It all seems wrong... even that bit about the ties.

Still no trigger on that gun, I see.

Update: Over at Fly-by-night, bowdler has posted an image of the uncommon dustjacket that adorned the American edition.

27 June 2011

Words of Hate for Maria Monk

Maria Monk was born 195 years ago today in Dorchester, Lower Canada (now Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec). The "Awful Disclosures" published under her name were just one awful part of an awful life that ended tragically in a New York City prison thirty-two years later. Neither the date of her death, nor her place of burial were recorded, but this didn't stop poet John J. MacDonald (a/k/a James MacRae) from putting poison pen to paper. From his self-published Poems of J. J. MacDonald, a Native of County Glengarry (c. 1877):

Whoever ye are by this tomb that shall go,
Beware lest ye tread on the filth that’s below,
For under this monument lowly are laid
The mortal remains of a comical jade.

Ye swine that by accident hither come round,
Refrain from disturbing or turning the ground,
Or else you will die from inhaling the air;
Ye feathering songsters, be cautious, take care.

The only exception 'tis proper to make:
That Methodist preachers full freedom may take,
For they loved and accompanied her while she lived,
And from them she special attention received.
In actuality, it wasn't "Methodist preachers", but Presbyterian clergymen who used poor Maria in creating the hoax. There is a difference.

An early, hand-tinted photograph of St Marys, Ontario showing MacDonald's church, Holy Name of Mary (right) and one of the town's two Presbyterian churches (left).

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24 June 2011

Burpee's Bad 'St. John the Baptist': Truly Criminal

François-Réal Angers was a truly remarkable man. A lawyer, a gentleman of letters and a strong, articulate voice against slavery in the Republic to the south, he gave light to pre-Confederation Canada. Angers' Les révélations du crime ou Cambray et ses complices; chroniques canadiennes de 1834 (Fréchette, 1837), a fictional account of an outfit known as the Cambers Gang, might just be the first French Canadian novel. Or is it the country's first true crime book? Perhaps it's a nineteenth-century In Cold Blood. I don't know. I've never seen a copy, nor have I looked over the 1867 translation, The Canadian Brigands; an Intensely Exciting Story of Crime in Quebec, Thirty Years Ago!, which is held only by McGill and the Toronto Public Library. Apparently, it more than lives up to its title.

Something for la fête de la St-Jean, "À Saint Jean-Baptiste" is one of Angers' few poems. The above, attributed incorrectly to"F. S. Angers", is drawn from Nouvelle lyre canadienne, published in 1895 by Beauchemin. Respectable verse of devotion, it becomes entirely offensive in Lawrence J. Burpee's incredibly inept 1909 translation.

Songs of French Canada
Lawrence J. Burpee, ed.
Toronto: Musson, 1909

Bonne fête à tout le monde!

21 June 2011

Figuring Out the Queers of New York

The Queers of New York
Leo Orenstein
Richmond Hill, ON: Pocket, 1972

The late Leo Orenstein was a producer, a director, an educator, an illustrator, a playwright and, with The Queers of New York, a novelist. That there aren't other novels in his bibliography comes as a bit of a surprise. As a young man, he played a part with the country's early paperback publishers. Orenstein's art for Fireside Publishing's Baron Munchausen is a personal favourite. "ILLUSTRATED BY GUSTAVE DORÉ"... except, of course, for the cover.

The Queers of New York is the product of a much different time. Its appearance owes a great deal to Pocket Books' belated effort to establish a line of Canadian mass market paperback originals. Orenstein's novel, one of the first, would soon be joined by titles like The Happy Hairdresser, Daddy's Darling Daughter and The Last Canadian, which I maintain is the stupidest novel yet produced in this country.

A much better book, The Queers of New York begins with a "panty-pink Cadillac convertible" being chased through Manhattan. At the wheel is our hero and narrator, charismatic go-getter Paul Norman. A Jewish gag writer for Punch Line – read: Laugh In Paul is doing his darndest to reinvent himself. In the past, he's sunk money into mining and a suicidal daredevil this time it's film production. Paul has gambled on an option for Fruitfly, "a play about homosexuals", which he's trying to mould into something that will sell in Hollywood. The thing is, he knows nothing about his subject, and the play's author, GT Baker, rightly rejects all his ideas. The gag writer thinks he's on to something when he learns that a blackmail ring has been secretly filming the city's wealthiest gays. Adding the blackmail element, along with actual blackmail footage, will make Fruitfly "something every producer in the business would be breaking their neck to get."

What seems too easy a solution becomes complicated when Paul's contact is run down by the crooks while walking away from the panty-pink Caddy. And so, the chase. Paul is also punched, kicked, drugged, kidnapped, shot at, and has a lead pipe thrown in his general direction. It's pretty exciting stuff, relayed with a good amount of humour he is a comedy writer, after all but the pacing is all off.

Blame lies with GT, who encourages Paul to learn a thing or two about homosexuality. His education begins with a visit to Dr Stanhauser, a professor of Anthropology at "the Forensic Clinic of Columbia University". Paul begins with a question:
"Are there any figures on what percentage of the population is homosexual?"
"I think Kinsey provides the most reliable figures so far, on that. At least judging from my work here at the clinic, I have no reason to doubt them. The picture that shapes up in these studies shows that 4% are exclusively homosexual, and another 33% have been involved in at least one enjoyable homosexual experience in their lives."
"Thirty-seven percent altogether? That's more than one out of three!"
"Yes, and that's to the point of orgasm. Mind you, I think Kinsey was a bit too wide on the 33% because he takes it from adolescents on; but altogether its generally assumed that 37% of the male population has at one time in their lives become involved with a male homosexual."
And on it goes, page after page. The whole thing reads a lot like an interview with a sexologist, circa 1970. Who knows, maybe it was. After the meeting, Paul feels it necessary to detail the life story of every second or third "queer" he encounters. Consider them case studies.

Ultimately, what might have been a fun and funny little novel suffers from want of a good editor. Pocket's Canadian branch plant was hardly known for its high standards; one need look no further than the first pages for evidence. No, not the novel itself, but the two-page "GLOSSARY OF YIDDISH WORDS AND PHRASES USED IN THIS BOOK". Not a bad idea, if Paul's own definitions didn't already pepper the narration. Here's our hero in the midst of an otherwise tense break-and-enter:
With all my "potzkehing" around, (potzkehing means fooling around and making a mess of things), I began to worry about Jinx. Could she hear me down here?
Nearly four decades have passed since publication, but I'm betting that in 1972 "Rosh Hashonah", "kosher", "schmuck" and "shmoose" were familiar to the "Goyim" (a word that also features). An equally useless "GAY GLOSSARY" follows the novel. Here, the reader is filled in on obscurities like "heterosexual", "homosexual", "bisexual", "straight", "gay", "queer", "faggot", "fruit", "pansy", "lesbian", "S&M", "narcissism", "buns" and "hooker".

I doubt Orenstein had anything to do with the glossary; there are differences in spelling between it and the novel proper. What's more, Paul's own definitions and those of the OED, for that matter do not match. "Pediaphilia" is "anal enjoyment in sex homosexual or heterosexual" we're told on the last page of the book.

The Queers of New York received only one printing. There was no chance for a correction.

Object: A mass market paperback with a cover illustration provided by Orenstein himself. As bowdler of Fly-by-night noted last year, cover copy tells us nothing at all about the book, presenting instead "an absurdly detailed biography of the author." A loan from bowdler, The Queers of New York is the first book reviewed here that isn't part of my collection.

Access: Held by Library and Archives Canada and just thirteen universities – even the Toronto Public Library fails. Scarce and highly collectable; any decent copy offered for under $40 is a bargain. Of the three copies are currently listed online I recommend purchasing the most expensive. Yes, it's US$75, but the thing is signed.

My thanks to bowdler for the loan, and for the images used in this post.

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15 June 2011

The Squire Hardman Hoax: Naughtiness Abounds

Squire Hardman
George Colman [pseud. John Glassco]
[Foster, QC]: Pastime Press, 1966

Squire Hardman ranks as John Glassco's most accomplished, audacious and outrageous hoax. It's also by far the least common of his books – fifty copies – which pretty much explains why it has received so little attention. Infamous, yet unknown, like the very best literary hoaxes the work's history is as complex as it is entertaining.

At 1320-lines, Squire Hardman is one of the very few poems that Glassco wrote with any ease – but then, he rarely struggled when writing pornography. His inspiration was The Rodiad, a flagellantine fantasy in verse that is ascribed erroneously to the nearly-forgotten English playwright George Coleman the Younger. Glassco's Squire Hardman is similar in style and theme, though it does depart in one important manner; where in The Rodiad the flagellator is a man, the hand wielding the whip in Squire Hardman belongs to a woman. Here Glassco's own fantasies and desires hold sway.

Squire Hardman would be Glassco's only self-published book. In 1966, fourteen years after composition, he hired a printer in Waterloo, Quebec to produce the fifty, along with a handbill offering the book at ten dollars, postage-paid. This advertisement, describing Squire Hardman as “unquestionably the most brilliant flagellantine poem ever written", was subsequently mailed to academic institutions in Canada and the United States.

As he had in composing the poem, Glassco went to great lengths to mimic the early nineteenth-century style that had been employed in The Rodiad, right down to the title page. He was justifiably proud, writing poet Daryl Hine: “The introduction is in my best dated and documented style of Hoaxery; the nice title-page, decorations, layout are all mine too; I even stuck the labels on the covers."

Central to the hoax was a five-page Introduction, written by Glassco, in which he discusses Colman while comparing and contrasting The Rodiad and Squire Hardman:
The truth is that the two poems can be ascribed to Colman on the basis of internal evidence alone; and strong as this is, it is not really conclusive. All that can be affirmed with certainty is that both poems are by the same hand, and that their brilliance cannot lower the reputation of a writer who usually compounded coarseness with the graver faults of hypocrisy and dullness – from both of which these two poems are at any rate free.
In this mischievous bit of prose, Glassco feigns wonder that The Rodiad has been "reprinted many times”, while its "companion piece", Squire Hardman has been all but ignored. The hoaxter himself considered reprinting, even going so far as to commission illustrations from Philip Core (then a 15-year-old schoolboy). However, the idea was abandoned and the artwork was relegated to a brown paper envelope. A Gentleman of Pleasure, my biography of Glassco, features one of Core's previously unpublished illustrations.

Object: A well-constructed 68-page book with grey card stock cover. Issued in an edition of fifty copies, each is numbered in Glassco's hand.

Access: Fifteen copies are held by libraries in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. The remaining 35 are, presumably, in private hands. My copy was purchased twenty-two years ago for US$100 from a New York bookseller – I've not seen a single copy for sale since.

Though Squire Hardman has never been reprinted on its own, the poem is currently available alongside The Rodiad, "Punishment Day", "I Never Saw Her Coming" and "The Nursery Tea" in an anthology titled Punitive Poetry. The publisher, AKS Books of Bexhill-on-Sea, Essex, also sells Glassco's other flagellantine classic The English Governess. Both are published without the permission of the author's estate. Very naughty.

Cross-posted – with minor variations – at A Gentleman of Pleasure.

10 June 2011

A Lionel Shapiro Cover Cavalcade

Either you hit the jackpot or get nowhere. There are much better writers than myself who can't even get to first base for coffee money.
– Lionel Shapiro, 1956
Having endured all 351 pages of The Sixth of June, I doubt I'll ever find the strength to open another Lionel Shapiro book – but if I do, A Star Danced, Gertrude Lawrence's 1945 "autobiography" will be the one. The English chanteuse maintained that the words were her own, but credit really belongs to Lionel Shapiro, ghostwriter.

A Star Danced was not the war correspondent's first book. The previous year saw They Left the Back Door Open, a rushed, but worthwhile piece of reportage on the Allies in Italy.

Shapiro turned next to fiction with The Sealed Verdict (Doubleday, 1947), "the tale of Major Lashley, whose reward for his brilliant and successful prosecution of a German war criminal was an official commendation... and an unexplainable feeling of guilt." One 1948 wire service story puts the first printing at 250,000, while another reports that Paramount had paid as much as US$200,000 for the rights. Though Walter Winchell thought The Sealed Verdict had the makings of an important film, no one was particularly taken by the results. The Bantam movie tie-in, which was never reprinted, marks the last time the novel saw print.

For Winchell, Torch for a Dark Journey (Doubleday, 1950) was "better than his first click The Sealed Verdict," but this time Hollywood didn't come calling. However, the novel did make it to the small screen in a 1950 Philco Television Playhouse broadcast. A California bookseller currently lists a souvenir of the effort, an inscribed copy of the first edition:
Signed for Delbert Mann - to whom I am greatly indebted for an incisive job of direction in the first dramatization of this book - and for whom I confidently predict an immense future in the world of dramatic arts. Lionel Shapiro, Nov. 24, 1950.
Mann was director of the television adaptation. His future in the world of dramatic arts wasn't exactly immense, but he did win the 1955 Best Director Oscar for Marty. And the further dramatizations? Still we wait.

Published in 1951, the Bantam edition enjoyed no second printing, though the uncredited cover image was recycled for by Corgi three years later.

Seen here through the fog of war in 1958, what Doubleday peddled as "a truly tender love story", Fontana pitches as a blood and guts war novel. In fact, The Sixth of June has just one battle scene, and it barely covers ten pages. Did I mention there are 351 pages in all? I read them all.

The Gazette, 6 August 1955

08 June 2011

Six Sixth of Junes (Two Astonishingly Bad)

Reporting Lionel Shapiro's death, an anonymous journalist for The Canadian Jewish Review wrote that the late author's books had sold more than two million copies. I don't doubt the figure for a second. The Sixth of June continued to hit bookstore shelves for two decades, the last edition being a cheap 1975 paperback from New York's Pinnacle Books.

The Americans seemed particularly taken by the novel – it's very much an American story – but the Finns showed even greater dedication. As Kahdet jäähyväiset, the 1956 first Finnish edition (above) was followed by a string of unattractive books that continued into the 1990s.

With Brad Parker cast as a doughboy and John Wynter as a voyeur, one might assume this 1985 cover is the worst.


Blame Gummerus, the original publisher of the translation, which issued this five years later.

The 1956 Dutch edition is much more accomplished, gracing the work with a multipurpose illustration suitable for a use on thrillers, political tracts and almost anything featuring Sherlock Holmes.

Au sixième Jour, the Presses de la Cité translation, was the one that appeared in Montreal's French bookstores. Published in 1956, it features the illustration Len Oehman provided Doubleday.

The Spanish edition, also published in 1956, presents a curious reworking of the Oehman painting in which it appears that Wynter gets the girl. Actually, the Lt Col is killed when he steps on a mine.

There, I've spoiled it for you.

06 June 2011

A Fabulous Bachelor's Final Novel

The Sixth of June
Lionel Shapiro
New York: Doubleday, 1955

Time was that copies of The Sixth of June were pretty thick on the ground. I saw them at thrift stores, garage sales, church bazaars, and once scooped one up while shovelling the walk. This was in Montreal, Shapiro's hometown and mine, and yet I've never heard anyone mention the man or his novel. For a decade, Shapiro was amongst Canada's highest-earning writers – he probably led the pack – so why is it that his was not a household name? A 1955 Canadian Press story, published just as The Sixth of June landed in bookstores, reports:
This fabulous bachelor, who at 47 has produced three novels without a rejection, is known to few Canadians outside the newspaper field or show business. In Hollywood, which has bought two of his books and accounted for most of his earnings, he is a personal friend of stars and many producers.
The same article tells that his three novels, all published within the ten years that followed the end of the Second World War, grossed $350,000. The Sixth of June, the last of those three novels, was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection – which explains all those copies I tripped over walking home from the Peel Pub.

A competent commercial novel, The Sixth of June was crafted from the author's experiences as a war correspondent. Its hero is Brad Parker, an energetic newspaperman from fictional Malton, Connecticut. Three years married to Jane when his country enters the war, Brad enlists and soon finds himself in London. Within days, the Nutmegger falls in love with crisp and prim Valerie Russell, who in turn is being politely pursued by Lt Col John Wynter. All resembles something of a soap opera, and amongst the sordid suds there is little stuff of substance. Social historians might find something in Shapiro's depiction of promiscuity in blitz-ravaged London. A few Canadian readers will be interested in the chapters dealing with Dieppe.

"Strictly experimental, just to find out if the Jerry is on his toes in the port areas," says Brad's commanding officer before the raid. "Between ourselves, Brad, I think it's murder."

The climax, as the title hints, takes place on the bloodied sands of Normandy, not in Brad Parker's bed. Shapiro, who was on Juno Beach that day, describes the action with a journalist's keen eye, then muddies things up with Brad's thoughts and speech.

"The greatest story of love and war since Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms", pitches the 1956 Bantam paperback. But Hemingway never wrote like this:
He thought, how wrong the English are about us. We Americans are the most disciplined people on earth. Especially this American. We got where we are because we're dumbly dedicated to home and career, to a routine that would drive us nuts unless, once in a lifetime, a war comes along and we can get up on our hind legs and holler and wear a holster low on the hip the way our grandfathers did and test whether we've still got the toughness they had. You, Val, were part of the process for Brad Parker, American, dumbly dedicated to wife, mother, and career, but it didn't turn out that way, not by a long shot. I'm in love with you and can't go on without you.
That is what he thought
Worse still is the dialogue, much of which reads like something from a bad movie. In this early snippet, Brad is accosted by a buddy at a New York night club:
"As I live and laugh," he whooped as he came up to their table, "it's the printer and his doll! H'ya doll!" He grabbed at Brad's hand and at the same time planted a kiss on Jane's cheek. "H'ya Brad! What the hell you doin' here? I figured you over with the Limeys helpin' Whoosenhauer or Ossenpoofer or whatever his name runs our show – and here you are livin' it up—"
Sure enough, the novel was made into a bad movie. Titled D-Day: The Sixth of June, it's remarkably faithful to the novel, and includes much of Shapiro's dialogue (though not the above). Screenwriters Ivan Mowat (Giant, Tender is the Night) and Harry Brown (Ocean's Eleven) deserve some credit in managing to cram 351 dense pages into 106 minutes.

The Sixth of June brought Shapiro a certain level of recognition. He followed former Soviet cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko in receiving a Governor General's Award, and made the news with a speech in which he credited Lester Pearson for having averted a third World War. But by this time, things were coming to a close for Shapiro. The author's bibliography ends with this book. A victim of cancer, he died at the Montreal General Hospital on 27 May 1958, mere months after his fiftieth birthday. His death was covered in the city's dailies.

Object: An extremely ugly hardcover. Printed on thin paper, the book is typical of Doubleday's cheap and nasty mid-20th-century productions.

Access: Predictably, the book has pretty much disappeared from our public libraries – look to the universities. Though long out of print, hundreds of copies in many different editions are listed online. Beginning at a dollar, all but a handful can be had for under US$20. At US$200, the most expensive is a signed first edition offered by a California bookseller. A fair price – out of all those copies I've seen through the years, not one has been signed.

01 June 2011

Global Warming as Nationalist Dream

Erres boréales
Florent Laurin [pseud. Armand Grenier]
[Montreal]: [Ducharme], 1944

Graced with a cover that looks every bit the sorry result of an elementary school geography assignment, this is one peculiar looking book. The interior is nicely laid out, quite professional in appearance – but then we hit the drawings. Twenty-seven in number, nearly one per chapter, they're the work of author, journalist and sometime civil servant Armand Grenier. It's no great compliment to describe Grenier as a much better writer than illustrator; Erres boréales is a pretty poor novel, but it is interesting.

Set in the year 1968, the book presents global warming in the most positive light, a great achievement made possible through a network of gigantic radiators installed beneath the Labrador Sea. This project is part of a nation-building exercise. In Grenier's post-war world, Quebec has left Canada taking with it not only the territory granted in 1898 and 1912, but the eastern islands of the Arctic Archepelago. The old Dominion of Newfoundland seems to have ceded Labrador. That Grenier is vague here is odd because, Erres boréales isn't so much a novel as travelogue, taking the reader through the wondrous land created by those humongous heaters. Lest we become lost, the book features a tipped in map (cliquer pour agrandir).

Our journey begins in Quebec City; Montreal, which does appear on Grenier's map, is neither seen nor mentioned. Never mind, the ultimate destination lies in the islands of the Arctic; this new New France reaches north, not south. Amongst our eager travelling companions is Louis Gamache, a man who last visited these lands when they were still covered by snow and ice.

The ten years since the "reseau d'appareils electoniques" where switched on have seen sudden, very dramatic changes. There has been no downside. Sea levels pose no danger, weather patterns have only improved and the gulf stream continues to warm Europe. The Arctic, however, has melted, revealing fertile soil and so very many sources of rich minerals. Palm trees now grow on the shores of what was once known as Baffin Island.

As is typically the case with utopian literature, Grenier focusses very little attention on the people in the land he describes. That said, every journey is touched by romance. In Erres boréales this comes when Louis Gamache encounters Toutillia Kamagniak. An "Esquimaux" cutie-pie, she is as two-dimensional and poorly realized as her portrait.

Toutillia lives with her family in one of the stone structures refered to as the "anciens iglous". No, not pools of water. Stone structures they owe much more to California's Huntington Mausoleum than anything in the Canadian north.

Ultmately, Erres boréales is a throwback to the Victorians. In Grenier's mid-20th-century world, the environment is something to be conquered for economic gain. This view is stated quite clearly in reference to the Northwest Passage: "la disparition des glaces a rendu au rôle économique qui lui revenait." The melted north is a territory to be colonized – its people, like Toutillia, are to be converted into good God-fearing Catholics. Take away Grenier's naiveté concerning climate change and we see something rather insidious. The Esquimaux remain, absorbed and forever altered by this New France. They seem happy enough, but where are the Cree, the Huron, the Montagnais and the Abenaki? Like the Anglo Quebecers, who are also absent, their place names and history have been replaced on that tipped-in map.

Trivia: In 1953, as Guy René de Plour, Grenier self-published a second novel, Défricheur de hammada. Set in the future, it tells the story of pious Catholic colonists from Quebec who live under great domes in the Sahara desert. The Future Laid Out in the Unknown, a third novel – presumably written (or to be written) in English – was announced, but never appeared.

Object: A paperback, similar in size to today's mass markets. My copy, a discard from Montreal's public library, has been bound in red cloth. If the library card is to be believed, it was checked out only once.

Access: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec has a copy, as does the Toronto Public Library. Canadians without access to those fine institutions might try their local university – thirteen hold the book in their collections. Britons, look to the British Library. Americans, you'll find a copy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. There are no copies listed for sale online.