Saturday, August 29, 2009

Porny Mason

Throughout the two decades prior to the 1970s publishers had pretty much saturated the market with reprinted science fiction, adventure and mystery and were searching for new consumers. The 1970s offered a new opportunity in marketing. Continuing the practices of the 1950s and 1960s previously published stories were repackaged and some cases edited to take advantage of the perceived growing culture of sexual adventurism.

Sex and sexuality was explored as never before in popular culture media as cinema, television and print added eye-catching imagery to their products. One of those franchises that took advantage and one might say suffered from the advertising culture were the Earle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason collections of the 1970s. The Perry Mason character had been in nearly continual print and produced in other entertainment forms since the first story was published in 1933.

The photographic covers of the 1970s re-issues of the Perry Mason stories are a perfect example of recognizing, understanding and exploiting pop culture. Gone were the bombshells and hard-boiled dames of previous years. Now the books attracted a new audience by taking advantage of the pornography industry's emerging though short-lived legitimization.

Thematically most of the photographs would not be out of place if transferred to the film box covers of 8mm skin flicks. They were unapologetic come-ons. While the sexy covers may have generated some sales I recall that my mother and grandmother, who were ESG and Perry Mason fans from way back and read mystery novels on a regular basis, would not touch these books when they debuted. The idea put forth by the covers of Perry Mason, a mental image undoubtedly influenced by years of exposure to Raymond Burr, boinking his clients during huge orgies must have been a turn-off for them. I know that it is for me.

As far as I know new scenes of swinging, weed-fueled bacchanals were not edited into the old stories, though that was not true for all of the work in other fields. Sex scenes were often added semi-randomly to many reprints, most predominately for the science fiction crowd. Often I was surprised to discover SF stories that I had read in old collections when reprinted had several paragraphs tossed in devoted to sex scenes. Undoubtedly in order to keep the interest of a reader and hook them for future sales.

If Diamond Bomb had existed to have her adventures reprinted in the early 1970s then her artistic covers may have been similar to all the others on the news stands and would have been just as exploitative. One exception to the sexy themes of the covers would be the intent of the art. Being a female character it would be unlikely that Diamond would be portrayed as dominant a character as Perry Mason had been. In diametric opposition to whatever established characterization existed, Diamond would almost certainly be depicted not as strong or an aggressor but as being submissive, willing and sexy, a toy for the other characters and an intriguing tease for the prospective buyer.

5 comments:

  1. Actually, a lot of the illos for Perry mason stories serialized in the SatEvPost in the 1950s and early 60s were pretty racy for the time & venue. The biggest criticism about the photo covers is that there's no emotion, personality, or individuality among them; artists like Robt. McGinnis (who did a fair number of Perry Mason covers in the 1950s and 60s) usually put some sort of emotion or personality into the women on their covers. These covers just look...clinical.




    (,,,uh,,,BTW, I presume you meant to type "Raymond" instead of "Aaron" Burr...)

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  2. Oh, I remember these. I was starting to read a lot of mysteries at that point—Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie...and I'd buy stacks of them at a used book store. Whenever I saw one of these ESGs, however, I'd have to pass it by unless it was a coverless stripped paperback. I knew that despite the geniality and harmlessness of the stories within, Mama Bull would not approve of those covers. And she's the one who got me started on Perry Mason books.

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  3. (Psst: you can delete this comment after you read it, but you wrote AARON Burr—it's Raymond. Didn't want to be "that guy," but better than somebody poking stupid fun at you in your comments.)

    (And I'm loving the Diamond Bomb posts!)

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  4. Yes, Raymond, darn it!

    And the painted covers of the 50s and 60s were pretty racy for their era.

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  5. Thanks Bully, but if I was worried about being made fun of I'd never post again.

    And thanks for the kind words of those liking the DB entries. Hopefully by adding a bit more content than just a ripped off illustration that I tweaked they are more enjoyable.

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