Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sal Lombino/Evan Hunter/Ed McBain Pulp Covers

image source fantastic fiction
an excerpt from a January Magazine article about McBain (Hunter, Lombino..)

In Carr's The Craft of Crime: Conversations With Crime Writers (1983), McBain recalled that "I was born right here on 120th Street [in New York's Italian Harlem], between First and Second avenues, October 15, 1926, on the kitchen table. My aunt Jennie was a midwife and she delivered me and referred to me for the rest of her life as 'my baby.'" In 1944, not long before World War II ended, and just prior to his 18th birthday, the then-Salvatore Lombino joined the U.S. Navy, principally, he acknowledged, "to get out of going into the army. Anyone at the time who was drafted was being sent to Italy, to get their asses shot off," and he certainly didn't want that. Instead, he was dispatched to Hawaii, and then reassigned to Japan. It was during his navy stint that he wrote his first story, called "Chalk" ("a detective story really, a madman story -- about a guy who commits a murder, and it was sort of poetic and all that"). Though he'd once thought to become a cartoonist, "Chalk" helped convince him to pursue the life of an author, instead. After leaving the military in July 1946, he studied literature at Hunter College in New York, eventually graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He subsequently taught high school "very briefly" -- an experience he would draw upon when penning The Blackboard Jungle (1954), which he published as "Evan Hunter," a name he had legally adopted in 1952. (As his friend James Grady, a screenwriter and journalist, explains in Slate, McBain reasoned "that publishing would buy a WASP moniker more easily than the 1950s ethnic- and class-conscious marketplace would buy the books of a novelist with a name like Lombino.") That gritty tale about a young teacher whose idealism is challenged by the reality of an urban vocational school filled with troublemakers, was quickly adapted for Hollywood, the film version starring Glenn Ford and a very youthful Sidney Poitier. (Asked years later what he thought of the 1955 picture, McBain called it "a pretty good movie," though "I don't think there was a line of dialogue in the movie that came from the book.")
Curiously, despite the fact that McBain's 87th Precinct novels -- with their multiple plot lines and an ensemble cast of cops old and young, progressive and bigoted, married but mostly not -- stimulated the development of a score of memorable U.S. TV crime dramas, a 1961 NBC series called 87th Precinct, based specifically on the books and starring Robert Lansing, Norman Fell and Gena Rowlands, didn't manage to stick around past its debut year. The author had better success with movies, both for the large and small screens, several of which (including 1958's Cop Hater, 1972's Fuzz and the 1995 teleplay Ed McBain's 87th Precinct: Lightning) were adapted from 87th Precinct novels. McBain/Hunter even wrote the screenplays for some adaptations, as well as for series that had nothing to do with his books, such as Ironside and Columbo. However, he was undoubtedly best recognized as a screenwriter for having penned the script from which Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1963 suspenser, The Birds, was made.
In many ways, McBain was a pioneer. In the 1950s and 60s, his "cops resembled the real America, not the Dragnet straight arrows playing on TV sets in wood-paneled rec rooms," writes Grady, who adds that McBain "bucked the clichés of police fiction, in which cops were nearly always Irish or almost certainly white." New York Times crime-fiction critic Marilyn Stasio concurs, writing in her obituary of the novelist that he "took police fiction into a new, more realistic realm, a radical break from a form long dependent on the educated, aristocratic detective who works alone and takes his time puzzling out a case." And South Africa-born author James McClure, whose own procedurals, featuring Afrikaner Lieutenant Tromp Kramer and Zulu Sergeant Mickey Zondi (The Steam Pig, The Sunday Hangman) were clearly prompted by reading McBain's police yarns, applauded the New York writer's skill at making gold from "cop corn." McBain, he explained, "accepts things as they are; if the field that engrosses him is knee-high in clichés, so be it. In he goes, as eager and uncompromising as a child, to grasp the thistle that grows between the rows."

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