22 April 2012

The Curious and Unknown Leo Orenstein

© The Estate of Leo Orenstein

Leo Orenstein is worthy of much overdue attention for his work as one of this country's early television directors and producers. I hope that a bookish fellow like myself will be forgiven for focussing on his even earlier work as an illustrator.

Curious Relations of Mankind is one of two recently discovered cover designs that come to me courtesy of the late Mr Orenstein's family. Curious, indeed. It would appear that the book it was meant to grace was never published. WorldCat gives us no hits, Abebooks is silent... and yet the identity  of the intended publisher is clear. Those familiar with the eariest days of Canadian paperbacks will recognize the three-sided Fireside Publicatons style in the price.

But what was Curious Relations of Mankind? And who was Doctor J.G. Wood? I step out on a limb in suggesting that the good doctor was Reverend J.G. Wood. I'll even be so bold as to suggest that Curious Relations of Mankind was the clergyman's The Civilized Races of Men retitled and bowdlerized.

It would not have been the only time Fireside gave an fresh title to an old book. Here's their edition of Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon:

Now, to be fair, From the Earth to the Moon is naught but a translation of the true title: De la Terre à la Lune. Yes, it's the most common, but we've also seen the novel published as A Trip to the Moon in Ninety-seven Hours, A Voyage to the Moon, The Moon VoyageBalbicane and Co.,  and The Baltimore Gun Club. The problem I have with Rocket Flight to the Moon is that the novel features no rockets – the adventurers are sent to the moon in a projectile shot from a massive cannon.

Of the two discovered Orensteins, I prefer this mock-up for The Queers of New York (Pocket Books, 1972), his lone novel.

© The Estate of Leo Orenstein
One is left to assume that Those Queers of New York was a working title, just as the cover itself was something that was not quite ready. The Queers of New York is a better title, I think.

A favourite Canadian cover of that lost decade, my only complaint is that Leo Orenstein's name is so very small.

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  1. Well, that was definitely an education as I had never heard of Orenstein before outside of your earlier post on him - was this his only book?

    1. Sadly, The Queers of New York was the only novel, though a handful of plays made it into print. It would seem that the last was Salesmen Don't Ride Bicycles, published sometime around 1990 by the Playwrights' Union of Canada.