Recently, I read and enjoyed THE MIKE SHAYNE PRIVATE EYE COMIC COLLECTION.
That book is a new release from Pulp 2.0 Press, an indie imprint founded by the self-described “Mad Pulp Bastard,” Bill Cunnigham.
It reprints a series of comic books published by Dell in 1962 starring Michael “Mike” Shayne, the famed Private Eye character created by writer Davis Dresser under his best-known pen name Brett Halliday.
The introduction to the Pulp 2.0 Shayne comics collection was written by Paul Bishop, a writer, editor and vintage media maven I greatly admire.
Paul’s intro provides an overview of appearances by the tough, red-headed, Miami-based PI in books, television and radio shows, Dresser’s MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and the Dell comics.
The Pulp 2.0 book lead me to contact Bill Cunningham and find out more about what he’s up to. I ended up doing an interview with him that will appear in an upcoming post on this blog.
It also got me started on a hunt for Mike Shayne stories in men’s adventure magazines (MAMs).
There’s very little information online about Shayne stories in MAMs.
The most significant clues about them are in a list on Philsp.com, the awesome, indispensable “Galactic Central” site that provides information about thousands of different vintage magazines.
As I looked through the Galactic Central list, I realized it wasn’t quite complete.
I knew of several appearances of Mike Shayne stories in MAMs that were missing. I’d seen them while reading issues in my collection. But, as far as I know, there isn’t any book or website that provides in-depth information about the Mike Shayne stories published in MAMs and shows the illustrations used for them.
So, I decided to fill that gap by doing a series of posts on this blog, starting with this one.
The hardboiled detective genre of stories and books was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s in pulp magazine stories and novels by writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.
Davis Dresser’s Shayne novels are close relatives of those stories and novels, which he probably read as a young man.
Dresser was born in Chicago in 1904, but grew up in Texas. He lost an eye to barbed wire as a boy and wore an eye patch throughout the rest of his life. As a teenager, he enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry and served for a couple years.
After leaving the service, Dresser travelled around the US doing various odd jobs, then went to the Tri-State College of Engineering, where he earned a certificate in civil engineering.
He worked as engineer and surveyor for a while, but he had the bug to become a writer. During the ‘30s he was mostly a wannabe with few sales until he created his Michael Shayne character in the novel DIVIDEND ON DEATH.
After being rejected by 21 publishers over a period of four years, it was finally accepted and published in 1939 by Henry Holt & Co., under the pseudonym Brett Halliday.
Dresser followed DIVIDEND ON DEATH with THE PRIVATE PRACTICE OF MICHAEL SHAYNE, published by Holt early in 1940.
Later that same year, elements of both books were adapted into the film MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, with Lloyd Nolan starring as Shayne.
Thus was launched what became a multi-decade multimedia empire that went on to include: over 70 novels and 300 stories written by Dresser and other writers using the Brett Halliday pen name; a dozen movies; a television series; a radio series; a short-lived comic book; and, the long-running MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE.
Copies of Holt’s first hardcover edition of DIVIDEND ON DEATH now sell for anywhere from $500 to thousands. The dust jacket features a vignetted painting of a tropical beach at night with a lone figure walking along the shore. At the bottom of the painting is the signature “Baron-Ancona,” an artist I could find little about other the fact that he did artwork for some other hardcover dust jackets around that time.
A classic paperback edition of DIVIDEND ON DEATH was published by Dell in 1952. It features a cover painting by Robert Stanley, showing Shayne kicking a handgun out of the hand of a woman dressed like a nurse. Bob Stanley was one of many artists who started out doing covers for pulp magazines in the 1930s, then went on to do hundreds of paperbacks cover paintings and cover and interior illustrations for men’s adventure mags.
Starting in 1960 with DIVIDEND ON DEATH, Dell launched a new series of Mike Shayne reprints graced with cover art by Robert McGinnis. His cover paintings, typically featuring bold colors and tall, eye-poppingly gorgeous women, have become some of the most iconic images associated with paperback editions of detective, crime, mystery and action novels published in the ‘60s and ‘70s. (If you’re a McGinnis fan, there are several excellent books about him you’ll want in your collection: THE ART OF ROBERT E. MCGINNIS, THE PAPERBACK COVERS OF ROBERT MCGINNIS and TAPESTRY: THE PAINTINGS OF ROBERT MCGINNIS.)
After Davis Dresser began writing Shayne novels, he also started selling short stories about Mike Shayne to the detective and mystery pulp digest magazines that were being published in the 1940s.
Galactic Central’s list of pulp and pulp digest magazines that published Shayne stories under Dresser’s Brett Halliday pseudonym includes DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, STREET & SMITH’S DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, BLACK MASK, THRILLING DETECTIVE, MYSTERY BOOK MAGAZINE, and POPULAR DETECTIVE.
Often, they were the featured cover stories. For example, the Shayne story “Death Rides A Winner” is the cover story in DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, January 6, 1940, which has a terrific cover painting by the prolific pulp artist Emmett Watson. The Shayne story “The Dead Don’t Cry” is the cover story on THRILLING DETECTIVE, December 1944, which has cover art by the great pulp, paperback and men’s adventure magazine artist Rudolph “Rudy” Belarski. And, the Shayne story “Murder Before Midnight” is the cover story for POPULAR DETECTIVE, March 1950 (cover artist unknown).
In the 1950s, the men’s adventure magazine genre began providing many professional “pulp” style writers, like Dresser, with additional markets for their work in three ways — as first time sales of new stories, reprints of old stories and “Book Bonus” versions of their novels.
Interestingly, a few of the Brett Halliday Mike Shayne stories originally published in MAMs were later expanded and published as novels.
That’s the case with the first Shayne story I know of in a MAM, “The Naked Frame” in BLUEBOOK, February 1953. The story is touted in the magazine as “Bluebook’s COMPLETE Book-Length Novel by BRETT HALLIDAY.” At that point, no novel version had been published.
“The Naked Frame” includes six illustrations by artist Al Tarter. The first, a red two-color illo on page one of the initial two-page spread, is shown at the top of this post.
The cover of BLUEBOOK, February 1953, featuring a painting by MAM and paperback cover artist John Floherty, Jr., is shown below, along with the second Tarter illo for “The Naked Frame,” a green duotone.
Next to them is a scan of the first page of the issue, the Editors’ regular “Strictly Personal” column. It provides short profiles of the writers of the stories inside.
Two writers mentioned in that column are still very well known: Brett Halliday (Dresser) and Evan Hunter. Evan Hunter was the first pen name used by Salvatore Albert Lombino. He used that pseudonym for his blockbuster novel THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1954) and legally changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952. Then a few years later, he started using the pen name Ed McBain, his best known the pseudonym. That’s the name he used for his famed “87th Precinct” police procedural novels. The Evan Hunter story in BLUEBOOK, February 1953 is a grim survival-at-sea yarn titled “Two,” with artwork by Ray Houlihan.
The opening paragraphs of the “Strictly Personal” column in the February 1953 issue of BLUEBOOK provide this description of Halliday.
Virtually everyone who’s ever read a mystery novel, or who has enough intelligence to find his way to the corner movie, has heard of Brett Halliday and his fictional detective, Mike Shayne. Which is why we’re shooting off small rockets over having landed Brett’s newest (his 25th) Mike Shayne thriller, “The Naked Frame,” which you will find if you have the strength to turn to page 91.
Brett, who was born Davis Dresser, is one of the few mystery-story writers we know who is married to a mystery-story writer, a pretty fair yarn-spinner named Helen McCloy. Between them, they have turned out some of the country’s best detective fiction, as well as a product known as McCloy Dresser, age 5, who’ll probably grow up to write mysteries herself.
Although they have traveled darned near everywhere, the Dressers now live in Westport, Conn., in a house decorated primarily with books, one of which we hope is a first draft of the forthcoming 26th Mike Shayne story.
Al Tarter’s two-color illustrations for the Shayne story and most others illos in this issue combine what appear to be line art drawings with selected areas of a single color added as overlays.
This was a common illustration technique in BLUEBOOK and some other magazines that had only evolved part way from their pulp magazine origins the early 1950s. (For more about the evolution of BLUEBOOK and other top pulp magazines that became top men’s adventure magazines, see this previous MensPulpMags.com post.)
Color overlay illustrations are simpler and more stylized than the lush style of painted interior illustrations that became common after World War II, thanks to new printing technology and better quality paper.
Painted interior art, including duotones that were painted as such instead of being made with overlays, became the more common style of interior artwork in MAMs and other magazines in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
But two-color overlays done by masters of the technique are very cool and Al Tarter was very good at them. I don’t know much about him other than that.
I did find a folder of some of his artwork in the excellent Today’s Inspiration Facebook Group created by artist Leif Peng (an outgrowth of his TI blog).
Most of the Tarter illustrations I could find were done for BLUEBOOK and its affiliated periodical REDBOOK in the early ‘50s.
Before that, according to a post on the CartoonResearch.com site, Tarter did some background drawings used in Friz Freleng cartoons.
There’s also an interesting set of drawings Tarter did for an unproduced WWII-era documentary in the online library of the Wellcome Collection, a UK museum that features artwork related to science and medicine.
Here are the other four Tarter illustrations created for the Shayne story “The Naked Frame” in BLUEBOOK, February 1953.
In addition to being the first Mike Shayne story published in a men’s adventure magazine, “The Naked Frame” was first of several Shayne stories in MAMs that Dresser expanded and published as novels.
In 1953, he created the Torquil Publishing Company with his wife Helen McCloy, a successful mystery writer in her own right.
The company published books by them and other writers until it folded in 1965. One of the first novels Torquil published, maybe the first, was Dresser’s Mike Shayne novel ONE NIGHT WITH NORA.
That novel is an expanded version of “The Naked Frame,” published by BLUEBOOK in February 1953.
According to U.S. Copyright Office records, Torquil copyrighted ONE NIGHT WITH NORA the following month, on March 15, 1953.
Typically, the copyright date is the date when a book is released. So, it seems likely that Dresser already planned to publish “The Naked Frame” as a novel when the condensed version appeared in BLUEBOOK.
I suspect the BLUEBOOK editors came up with the title used for it in the magazine. “Naked” was a good marketing word for men’s magazines and MAM editors often changed the titles used for “Book Bonus” versions of novels to make them sound sexier. In fact, for stories involving women, four of the most common MAM story title words are naked, nude, nymph and nympho.
This particular story actually does start out with a naked woman who surprises Mike Shayne by coming into the bedroom of his apartment in the middle of the night. The “frame” angle comes when it turns out that the woman, named Nora, has a dead husband laying in an apartment on the floor above and claims she didn’t kill him.
The 1953 Torquil edition of ONE NIGHT WITH NORA is a hardcover, with a stylized orange-and-grey cover illustration on the dust jacket. (Artist unknown.)
In 1954, Dell published what I think is the first paperback edition of the book, with a cover painting by Robert Stanley.
Bob Stanley was an excellent artist who did many classic paperback covers and cover and interior illustrations for men’s adventure magazines.
However, like many Mike Shayne books, the best-known paperback edition is the one from the ‘60s Dell reprint series that features cover art by Robert McGinnis, one of the most popular of all paperback cover artists.
That second Dell edition, published in 1960, is among the many covers by McGinnis that became pop culture artifacts. His covers continue to pop up in online posts, on the covers of recent book reprints, and in various other places.
For example, in 2017 the fashion company Prada used McGinnis paperback cover paintings — including his artwork for the cover of ONE NIGHT WITH NORA — on its fall line of blouses, skirts and dresses.
Coming up, more examples of Mike Shayne stories in men’s adventure magazines. But first up is an interview with Bill Cunningham, the creative mind behind the Pulp 2.0 imprint and MIKE SHAYNE: PRIVATE EYE, COMIC COLLECTION — which got me started on my recent Mike Shayne trip.
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