Why I Dig Vintage Sleaze Books


First, the covers — everyone loves those retro sexy covers. Well, a lot of people do; some puritans and provincals do not.

They just don’t do covers like these anymore — some try, some try to be retro sleaze, but an artist (and writer) needed to be working in the 1950s-60s to get the feel Rader or Bonfills did.

Bonfils - Come Sin with me

Beauchamp - Sin on Wheels

I have been fascinated by the sleaze paperback era for many years, wondering what it would be like to work as a writer back then, making good money for sex words.  I have done a lot of freelancing that is similar — I’ve written two dozen Blue Moon books under my name and a couple pen names, have done house name men’s adventures and westerns, have done one paranormal romance that I will never reveal, and a bunch of ghost-wrting.  However, the pay on these have not changed since the 1950s and do not reflect inflation, so while I have made enough to live modest as a writer, I am not making what these guys did back then.  Much of it has to do with distribution — back then they could get 100s of thousnads of copies of a single book on newsstands all over the country, and they were snatched up fast, few were returned unsold.  Everyone was making profit and when the Mafia got wind of it and stuck their ginny noses into the biz, they fucked it up and it’s never been the same.  Plus, with changing laws back then in censorship, landmark cases opening the way to more explicit books, the whole “taboo” aspect of erotic literature is no longer there. It’s no longer a “sin” with little “shame” attached.  Erotic books today sell commercially in the 5-15,000 copy mark; books that do well sell 20-40K copies, but never reach 100K like the old books did.

I’ve written a few articles on the era, about Greenleaf, about the writers, in the San Diego Reader, SF Studies, and the New York Review of Science Fiction.

But it’s also the covers!

Dexter - Prig

Dexter - Shame Dame

Faculty Wife

And some of the wrting ain’t bad, some even quite good, and that’s what I will discuss in this blog over the next year or two, which will culminate in a critical monograph at some point.

Bellmore - Shame Toy

Dexter - Sex ThievesDrufter

35 Responses to “Why I Dig Vintage Sleaze Books”

  1. vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:

    This blog is maintained by Michael Hemmingson.

  2. Hey Michael,

    I have a few of your books and I also worked for the San Diego Reader for a couple years. I remember reading a great piece you did on Greenleaf publishers in the Reader but I don’t have a copy of it. I have been trying to track down the story for awhile. Any chance you have a link to it or have a simple text file you can send me? I would also be interested in anything you wrote about the vintage sleaze era and the San Diego publishers especially. Please let me know what you can do to help. I live in Bankers Hill and I heard that you lived near Balboa Park (don’t know if that’s true) but I would like to get my books by you signed also if you want to meet at a coffee shop sometime.
    Thanks big fan, Rich

  3. vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:


    I never lived near Balboa Park. Weird — more rumors of me? haha. I live in Los Angeles and San Diego, shuttling back and forth. The Greenleaf story was in a May 2005 issue of The Reader, forget the date. Don’t have that version on file, have a different version somewhere I could email, it’s also supposed to be in a future issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction. I talk about it some in a research note in the next issue of Sf Studies, too.

  4. Hey Michael,

    I don’t know where I read the Balboa Park thing but anyway thanks for the reply. I would like to get a copy of the file if you can send to my e-mail address. I love the vintage paperbacks also and I am always on the lookout for some. I have quite a collection and never have enough of them. I am on the lookout for stuff by you as well. I have Wild Turkey, House of Dreams I, II, and III. Also have The Lawyer and the Las Vegas Quartet Book II. I am looking forward to your book on Vollmann. What’s your take on the writer Orrie Hitt? I have a few of his books and they are good. I read where he lived in a trailer with his wife and kids and just pounded out fiction constantly. I write too and would like to make a living at it. Thanks for the time in responding and hope things are going well for you. Rich.

  5. vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:

    Need an email to send file.

    My books are all easy to find on amazon, abebooks.com, biblio, etc. The Vollmann crit book is now out, the Vollmann annotated biblio will be out early next year. My Raymond Carver bio in 2011 — a major novel that same year, a major collection of literary stories next year. A collectuion of porn stories, Sexy Strumpets and Troublesome Trollops, should be up on amazon any day now, from Borgo/Wildside Press.

    There are the three “lost” Carter Brown novels Black Mask just released…hmm, lost? 😉

    As stated earlier, this blog doubles as notes toward my Barry Malzberg monograph as well as something I will call “Sin, Sleaze and Silverberg” which will either be a long essay or a short monograph, I’m not sure yet, but I am considering a longer book about these sleaze books as no one has really done an in-depth academic study that is broad in range, mostly they focus on lesbian, gay, or detective books.

    I have some Orrie Hitts but have not read them, they will be next. Don’t know much about him other than he wrote a book every 2 weeks and made a modest living out of the work. He had a trailer next to his house where he wrote, not a family in a trailer.

    It’s not easy making a living from writing, believe me, especially in this economic climate. There was a time my Reader columns (It’s a Crime and Murder San Diego) paid all my bills for 5 years. I miss it, as would anyone. A few screenplay options, ghostwriting, PR copy, and pen name books keep me afloat right now, but am always seeking new angles to keep me from getting a job at 7-11 or teaching somewhere. 😉

    Indeed, I would have made a good living as a sleaze writer in the 60s but I would have also burned out on it like all these guys eventually did.

  6. Hey Michael,

    Thanks for the reply. I will send you an e-mail so you can send the file for me. Thanks for doing that by the way. It’s interesting how you mention writing in the 60’s but probably burning out on it. I can’t imagine how Hitt could churn out a book every couple of weeks and not burnout even after a year. I love writing and write everyday but to put out that many words in a short period of time and know that you have to put out something someone will buy in order to feed your family sounds really stressful. I think he hit upon a formula and just worked that angle over and over again which is actually pretty creative to sound fresh and new despite using a formulatic style.
    What’s your take on the current adult fiction market and what it pays? Are there good markets in your opinion that I could pursue? I would like to get my paying writing career going full steam now that I have some downtime due to this wonderful economy.
    Thanks and take care. Rich

  7. Hello Michael,

    I need to get an e-mail address for you so I can send mine. Do you have an e-mail address that you can share on the site? I tried the Avant pop email but it didn’t go through.

    Thanks, Rich

  8. Hello Michael,

    Thanks for your e-mail. I have sent you mine and I am looking forward to reading your story again.



  9. J. Wellington Thorpe Says:

    I happened to come across your blog and noticed your comment on Orrie Hitt. It’s true there’s a lack of information about “the poet of sleaze”, but here’s a recent and fairly detailed article on the man and his work.


  10. Michael –

    For reasons I won’t get into here, I just “discovered” and started researching the genre, and astonishingly, one of its best authors, who became a brand name in quite a different marketplace than Block, Westlake & Silverberg, et al, has been not just overlooked, but forgotten.

    And that’s William Johnston — the guy who became the king of TV sitcom tie-ins (he wrote book series based on GET SMART, THE BRADY BUNCH, WELCOME BACK KOTTER, THE FLYING NUN, ROOM 222, HAPPY DAYS as well as numerous one-offs) though he had other genres like mystery (IRONSIDE, MY FRIEND TONY), Western (THE IRON HORSE), social drama (MATT LINCOLN, THE NEW PEOPLE) and especially medical (DOCTOR KILDARE, BEN CASEY, THE NURSES, MEDICAL STORY) in his wheelhouse too. (He also wrote filmscript novelizations — his bestselling one may have been either KLUTE or CALIGULA, the latter of which he wrote as “William Howard”.)

    Anyway, he started his career with a darkly comic mystery, THE MARRIAGE CAGE (1960), which got him an Edgar nomination for Best First Novel, and then went right into writing Monarch titles which included sleaze and sleaze-crossover titles (i.e. they’d also qualify as legit in genres such as noir and “nighttime soap” potboiler) as well as medical romances. He also did one out and out sleazer for Midwood-Tower (A MAN IN HER HOUSE) and one for Signal as “Tom Foran” (THE TWISTED ONES, not to be confused with the identically titled Gold Medal novel by Vin Packer). Interestingly, he also did a fairly innocent medical romance for the notorious Neva Publications (TWO LOVES HAS NURSE POWELL). His tie-in contracts started in ’63 — the medical show tie-ins mentioned above — and by ’65 his wholly original work would pretty much disappear save for two more novels under his own name and a smattering of Gothic romances, mostly as “Claudia Susan.”

    He received no meaningful literary recognition in his career due to the marketplace treadmill he never got off (he kept pumping them out to support a large family) and so became very dismissive of his own work, despite a legion of YA fans. Likely this was a defense mechanism, because the best of his sitcom books evidence a delightful sense of whimsy (he was one of a VERY few tie-in writers, and unequivocally the principal one) who actually understood the craft of writing comedy, with Swiss watch plotting and impeccable timing … and his “serious” works — especially those Monarchs — show an ahead-of-its-time psychological understanding and empathy for all kinds of complex, layered and colorfully-drawn characters. Even though his medium was prose, he was a brilliant dramatist. And while he’s absolutely fulfilling the promise of the titles, which might as well be ingredients lists (TEEN-AGE TRAMP, SAVE HER FOR LOVING, GIRLS ON THE WING [stewardesses], LOVE COMES TO DR STARR), once you’re actually into the books, you wind up taking a much more humanist and memorable a ride than you were prepared for, because he is writing SO FAR above the game.

    Anyway, if you’d like scans of the covers, lemme know. The books seem pretty readily available from the usual online used book sources. At least, I got them quickly with no problem.

  11. I have been fascinated by the sleaze paperback era for many years. I would like to know where I could find a bookstore in NYC, desirable Manhattan area, to look at them alive, browse and purchasing these paperbacks. Appreciate any hint about

  12. Hi: I have written about 25K wprds of the sleezy part of my army experience and would like to know where I could send it for consideration. Any ideas? Thanks. Paul Hogan

  13. Anyone know how or where I can find out which books are in the Public Domain and therefore free of copyright? I would like to offer similar titles for download. All suggestions welcome…

    • vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:

      The New Olympia Press has beaten you to the punch, as they offer hundreds of sleaze books without copyright renewal and in public domain for a nominal price.

  14. Yep! They sure have that covered! What a great site. Has anyone covered Pulp fiction – fantasy/sci-fi/detective etc? Not as titilating as the vintage sleaze but still incredibly popular. Thanks for the advice!!

  15. David L. Vineyard Says:

    Check out my article on THE SCREWBALL WORLD OF PAUL SAVOY about the Australian pulp writer. Just follow the link at http://www.mysteryfile.com .

  16. Hi- i love your site! Do you have any info on the publisher Unique Books?
    I just acquired a copy of NO ESCAPE by George Post UB #145 circa 1967?
    Any info would be great. Thanks!

    • vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:

      Don’t know anything about Unique Books. Uni-Books was the original name of what became Beacon Books in 1954.

  17. I have a medium-sized box of vintage bondage/s&m paperbacks that I inherited. Any ideas of who I could sell or donate them to in NYC? They are pretty hardcore and I don’t know that a “normal” used book store would be interested.

    • vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:

      You could try selling them piece meal or as lot on ebay, or contact one of the major dealers in paperbacks like Graham Holroyd or Hang Fire Books.

  18. I remember reading as a young teenager a story that had in the title I think Million Dollar….. It was likely written in the early 60’s. I think the deal was to sleep with someone for a million dollars. Does this ring a bell with anyone?

    • vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:

      Million Dollar Mistress by Clyde Allison (Midwood 64, 1960), which Indecent Proposal seems to ripped off — but ripping off a book with no living author or existing copyright seems to be an easy way to come up with a film script. I understand that Block and Westlake had renewed copyrights on their old sleaze books.

  19. I have some of the old 1960-late 70″s…in pretty good condition. Lots of the Greeleaf …any suggestion on where best to see these…I am told some are worth close to $100 a piece these days.

  20. Lately I’ve discovered the sf writer Margaret St. Clair published some stories in the late 1950’s “laddie” magazines (DUDE, GENT). Any knowledge of her writing for the adult novel market at the same time?

  21. Irishrover1947 Says:

    Just found via google your excellent website. I’ve always enjoyed the sleeze genre for various reasons but mostly for obvious ones. Years ago I found a 1973 Midwood Publication titled “Call It Sin” by Austin Barr. An extremely sexy 1870’s novel of a couple hundred pages of the Western-type. Just a one of a kind, titilating, arousing freakin’ book! I’ve still got it; and my newest lady friend absolutely loves westerns..Lonesome Dove, etc…so she has read it and “perused” excerpts many, many times.
    Anyhow, my question, has Austin Barr written any other novels to your knowledge? As is many times the case, he/she used a pseudonym so what can you tell me about him? Thanks and Soooo glad I found your website. I’m subscribing today.

    • vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:

      Does it have a blank cover? In the 70s, Midwood was just churning out trashy sex novels, books that did not have the quality of these books in the 1950s-60s, where you had actual stories going on with some modest sex tossed it (all having to do with the changing views of what was or was not obscene, and to what extent publishers were protected in the First Amendment). Geneally, Midwood was not using house pen names anymore and tossing out one-time pen names with these books.

  22. Phil Spade Says:


    I love your blog, and I’ve been a reader (though not a commentor) for some time. I’ve written articles and analysis about similar books before, and I was wondering if you would accept guest content on your site. If you’re interested, I’d be happy give you samples of what I’ve written in the past so you can see for yourself. If not, no worries. I’ll keep on reading your blog regardless. It’s great, regardless!

  23. William Lee Says:

    Absolutely love your blog, and I’m curious about cover rights. I’m about to publish a book about Tangier, and I would love to use the Beacon cover for Van Wyck Mason’s Two Tickets for Tangier…but who owns these images now, or who might I contact to find out. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

    • vintagesleazepaperbacks Says:

      Those covers are in the public domain…they were never technically copyrighted by the publishers, same with the text—they didn’t want to own up to the smut. Many people reuse these covers.

  24. clay brimson Says:

    i am seeking a copy (paperback or digital of a sleazy incest novel i first read back in the mid 80’s as a 14yr old – called betsys first time (i beleive it had other titles too) it was about a grandfather catching his granddaughter giving a blow job, he blackmails her into sex, she likes it so much she has him deflower all her friends. If anyone has a copy – i would dearly love it – happy to pay reasonable price.

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