Pulp Friday: memoirs of a cover girl

So much of the allure of pulp fiction, whether it was in magazine or paperback format, revolved around the cover art. It was designed to impart a gamut of sensations, from the simply outré and thrilling, to downright lurid and shocking. And the central design aspect of the majority of this material was a woman, usually provocatively posed and scantily clad, depicted ‘in media res’, Latin for ‘in the middle of’ things. Publishers hoped that this would generate interest from the passing buyer, who they believed was usually male and, looking at the cover, would start to fill in the mental blanks and purchase said print material to read and discover for themselves if they were right (how disappointed they often must have been).

We know virtually nothing about the women who were the cover model subjects for these covers. This is what makes Eva: men’s adventure supermodel a vital book. It is the first work I can think of that actually provides the inside story of one of the women who worked in the pulp fiction industry, told by the woman herself.

The individual concerned, Eva Lynd, was born in Sweden in 1937 as Eva Margareta von Fielitz. She arrived in New York in 1950 at the age of 12, eventually started to do theatre and by the second half of the 1950s was appearing in small roles in television and film.

Her looks (a touch of Monroe ora more demur Kim Novak with short hair?) were soon in demand as model for a huge array of mid-century cultural products. ‘The Sweet Swede’ as she was referred to in a June 1957 spread in Real Men, Lynd’s semi-nude form graced the covers of numerous men’s publications. Magazines with names like Swank, Caper, See, Jem, Breezy, and countless others, tame by today’s standards but risqué and provocative in their day. She also appeared as a pin up – a cultural form that had a vital and largely overlooked influence on post war pulp – as well as paperback covers, hotel postcards, movie posters, calendars, catalogues and record covers, albums with names like ‘Music for Melancholy Babies’ and ‘Dreams of a Continental Affair’, and ‘Razzamatazz’.

The book is ordered chronologically in terms of Lynd’s career, her words juxtaposed the visual material. Much of it is from her collection, but a lot is painstakingly sourced by the editors, Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle. In tandem the broader change in the culture, the tone and content of some of the material gets more explicit into the 1960s, including the cover and interior art for the men’s adventure magazines, which feature women based on Lynd being terrorised by a who is who of middle America’s enemies, blow torch wielding Nazi, vicious bikers, evil communists, etc. Lynd also continued work in film and television into the 1980s, an aspect of her career that brushed up against Henry Fonda, Peter Lawford, Cary Grant, Tab Hunter, Sophia Loren, Bobby Rydell, and Nancy Quan, to name a few.

Lynd’s commentary is a bit restrained at times and a lot is left out. For example, she was a showgirl in Havana, Cuba, for a time just before Castro took over and dated one of Batista’s officers, an experience which could no doubt have filled a book in itself but which is passed over very quickly. But that is her decision. What does emerge very clearly is a life lived well and, most refreshingly, without regrets. I have interviewed a number of Australian pulp authors and illustrators and their reminiscences are sometimes tinged with a hint of self-recrimination that with the presumption that what they did would not find favour today before of its salacious content. It is great to see this is not the case with Lynd.

This book provides a fascinating ground up view of the workings of post war pulp culture. The dynamics of pulp publishing were far more intense and fast paced than most people realise. Lynd worked with some of what are now seen as the biggest names in pulp culture, illustrators Al Rossi, James Bama and Norm Eastman, photographer Peter Basch, Steve Holland, her male counterpart, whose face is all over post war pulp art. Speed was always of the essence and Lynd had to work hard and develop a solid, professional sense of what artists and photographers wanted. There was no time to mess around. The book gives a real sense of the constant deadlines and the thinking that involved in taking a photo or making an illustration.

The book is also an invaluable archive of print material that was once ubiquitous on the newsstands and in the dens of 1950s/1960s America (and to an extent Australia), but are now largely forgotten. These cultural artefacts – a selection of which can be seen below – were once key signifiers of the swinging male lifestyle, what some academics have termed an ‘ethic of fun’ that began to sweep much of the world as the economic boom of the 1950s gathered pace. This resulted in major shifts in the configuration of masculinity as more men started to consume leisure products, not just paperbacks and records, but grooming and fashion products.

Regular readers of this site will have previously read me enthuse about the Men’s Adventure Library series of books. The works that Deis and Doyle are putting together in relation to these magazines is vastly entertaining. This book reminded me many of the products my dad had lying around the house, and which fascinated me as a teen, and quite frankly I would have eagerly consumed a book about them twice as long. But Eva: men’s adventure supermodel, is also of vital to anyone interested in the study of mid-century pulp fiction.


5 Responses

  1. Dennis Bedard

    Fascinating insight into the suppressed underground of atavistic male fantasies. Nice that you point out that the postwar pulp industry was made possible by economic growth and spreading communications technology. Whereas Playboy hit the mainstream, these offerings were relegated to the back shelves of drug stores and used book shops. I remember as a kid in the late ’60’s and early 70’s visiting smut shops and seeing these books advertised in a separate section. Hollywood was (and probably still is) filled with A-Listers whose careers began in the gutter.

  2. Dennis Bedard

    Did not mean to denigrate the pulp players by unfavorably comparing them to A Listers. My favorite Robert Mitchum line was when he was asked about his stint in a local jail and how it compared to life in Palm Springs. His retort? “In jail, I got to hang out with a higher class of people.” Touché!

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