Hardboiled is a digest-sized pocket pulp magazine that began its life in 1936. The depicted edition is the second issue, for November 1936, with cover art by Ben Martin. Given the current election year, it only seemed fitting to read and comment on this copy, although the cover has zero to do with the short story content within. Further, if anyone has an ideas that the title infers gangsters, mobsters, guns and such, this magazine will disappoint. That was not the point of this publishing venture by Street & Smith.
I’m not altogether convinced as to WHY this publication came into being, but, I suspect part of the reason is that Street & Smith received too many “good” manuscripts to turn away, but, many of them simply had no proper home within their pulp markets, for various reasons. Many of the stories in this mag are good but just don’t quite hit the mark. Regardless of reason and rationale or my own opinions, fact is, the mag lasted only the 9 issues, and after the fifth edition, changed name, to become known as “The Popular.” Ultimately, this doomed experiment vanished less than a year after its creation, and today, is a scarce and collectible pulp publication.
The publication is loaded to the gills with vignettes, short stories, and poems. For my own self-serving purposes, I’m only concerned with the fiction stories….
First up is Marguerite Lindsey’s “Both in the Same Spot.” Now, don’t laugh at me just yet, but this is indeed a crime story. A crime syndicate decides to play hardball with a Senator, and he takes a heavy fall for a dame name of Trix. Thinking to entrap the Senator and blackmail him for countless funds, the Senator is caught in a hotel room and the crooks capture the moment with the bang and flash of a camera bulb. Soon thereafter, he is visited by Trix herself, to obtain the bribery funds. With the aid of his butler, it is fixed to look like the girl drank too much and fell off the balcony, to her grisly death, far below. When her crime lover later comes calling, he informs the Senator that he isn’t a sap and kept copies of the photograph. Rather than be “owned” by the mob, he calmly steps off the balcony and splats in the same spot as Trix.
Thrilled to read one by Captain S. P. Meek, a real pulp fiction contributor here! “When Kali Walked” involves an Englishman assigned to run a road through, yet, the local priest has the people convinced that Kali has appeared in the form of a man-eating tiger, to slay all those that assist the English in their assignment. Creighton, the English-man, with the aid of Durgan Dass, the local part servant and bodyguard, assists him to toppling the priests faux-reign of terror, and kills the tiger. In killing the tiger, he again regains control of the locals and proclaims the man a false priest. It’s a typical yarn of this time from start to finish, but Meek is a damned capable writer and makes even the standard stand out sharply.
“Pick-Up” by Fergus M. Henderson appears to be the typical hoodwink game. Girl in a hotel lobby tries to get some nice soul to help her, give her money and food, etc, but in the end makes off with the guy’s wad. Months later, he comes across her again, in the same hotel lobby. She claims to have been coming there regularly, and repays his “loan.” Turns out she was dishonestly honest about her whole approach. She was destitute, after her husband had been run down by a truck and left her stranded with a toddler. With the stolen funds, she got on her feet again, and she and the baby were doing fine, but she needed to repay the stolen “loan” to everything right again.
Geoffrey Harwood supplies “Broadway Etching,” which is an unusual tale, given that the author had pulp leanings toward air stories. Famous Mann is the name our of protagonist, and his job is to get some fluff off the arm of a man that another dame is in love with. However, the first dame is no lady. She either wants the man’s arm, or, her Hollywood contract. Preferably the latter. Mann convinces the agent to take her back on again, thereby freeing the man to pursue the latter girl, and straightening out matters.
Another pulpster joins the rank in the form of Anthony Rud, with “Claws of the Catspaw.” This a tropical sea story involving murder and deceit. The rose of the sea is a murderous bitch but fucking hot with curves and lips and all in the right place. But, when she attempts to two-time Bunch Gurney, the ugliest man on the earth with a hump back and all working against him, she learns a painful lesson. Just because a guy’s face value ain’t worth looking at, doesn’t mean he isn’t “sharp” upstairs! Convincing him to murder her current lover over some rare pearls, she attempts to deceive him by making off with the goods while leaving him to face the music. However, Bunch Gurney is on to her plot. He gets the pearls AND then kidnaps the girl, taking her away out to sea to rape and pillage!
Next up is “The Black Widow” by Hazlett Kessler, an author best known for westerns. “Big Tom” Flint arrives in a remote town to pursue the love interests of local black widow beauty, Rose le Coigne. Rumor has it that this insatiable beauty has had more lovers walk into her loving embrace than walk out of her isolated cabin alive. Seeking to conquer her, he beats her when necessary and ties her up at night to keep her from killing him. She eventually breaks down his intelligence by coyly playing up sexually to him, over time. One day, she eventually runs him through with a long knife, makes off with his money and flees town, because, unlike prior occasions of murder, this time murder can not be concealed. For all its simplicity, it is a good story.
“Red Ribbons” by Denslow M. Dade is a sea-horror story, of sorts, but simply doesn’t quite grip you. A fellow leaves a bunch of evil sailors to face death in the hold of a ship that catches fire. Rather than let them out and save their lives, he leaves the hold barred, in order to save a young girl that the kidnapped upon shore. Having saved the girl, the ship burns to a cinder but the man goes through life always hearing those screams, until, one day, he is found dead, frozen to death in a meat locker.
George Lowestoft presents us with a short tale involving a restauranteur siccing one of his useless staff upon an eccentrically wealthy woman. She is a raving lunatic and the owner likes to keep a proper, quiet atmosphere. She refuses to calm or leave, so he baits her with his staff member, a young, very handsome foreigner. They vanish, and the owner later receives a phone call stating that the fellow quits and the woman, well, “She Married the Bait.”
“Special Pressure” is a one-page vignette by John Cogswell. Guy is hanging up coat in men’s closet at a party. Woman wants him to get her compact from her husband’s coat pocket. They look for it together and then they have an illicit affair right there. The husband walks in but only laments that his top-hat is squashed. Um, okay….
Jon Swan brings us “Hot-Water Baggers.” His wife drives his bonkers with hot water bottle requests. Eventually he divorces her for a hot young thing whom years later cheats on him as he did on his first wife and she puts him off repeatedly by lamenting the usual wife story to all us poor slobs of husbands, my back hurts, I’m tired, get me a hot water bottle, etc. So, the story repeats itself, until, she puts some detectives on him and catches him in a precarious position. Now he pays her a monthly alimony and continues her love affairs but is smarter than he was: she doesn’t marry!
Any pulpster knows the name Wyatt Blassingame, right? Maybe not, but he supplies “No New Answers” to no new questions. It’s the old story of a decent, innocent girl coming into a police station being evicted due to inability to pay rent and can’t get a job, but the landlord won’t let her back into her rooms to obtain her clothes, etc. The cops refuse to help her, since the landlord is within their rights! She leaves, disheartened. Many months pass, she is brought in, arrested, and no looks the part of a hardened hooker. On her heels, comes another young, decent, innocent girl, with the same origin story…we all know how THAT will end.
Bill Gray’s “The People’s Choice” is a clear bell-ringer for this mag’s cover art. A political story involving a man running for office finally realizes that he is dead broke and NOT going to win despite his backers lying to his face and assuring him that he will. Finally, he cracks and they send him to a hotel to rest up, before pushing his butt out the door to finish his bid for office. Waking up, he finds himself on the wrong end of a gun, and the dame is confused why HE is in THAT hotel room. Turns out the Senator (the backer) usually sleeps there on his hideaways, and the woman was one of his affairs! Wanting to plug him for ditching her, she got a job at the hotel. Leaving him at the hotel, she seeks out the Senator, and lo, what should happen? The Senator is a smooth talker, convinces her to take up with him again, and he’s in such a good mood, relinquishes his seat to allow the guy in the hotel run now for Senate!
“Killed” is a simple yet ironic tale by Kenneth Andrews. While making out and proposing, Bill confesses to robbery and murder in a prior life but has mended his ways and that he is no good for her. She forgives him and informs that he is not the same man he was before and she loves him forever. But, when he flips the story and says it was all a lie, a “test” to see how much she really loves him, she drops him like a hot potato, stating that he has killed her love for him after that, swifter than a murderer could.
Thomas Edgelow supplies one of those smart-set sort of human interest stories with “Earth and Earthly,” in which a country girl in the city learns that just because a man claims to love you, and put you up in a house, doesn’t mean he really does love you or will ever marry you, especially if he already is.
Gerald Jenks rips the gut-buster with “One on His In-Law.” Horace is sent upstairs to stop his new neighbor, whom has a dog, from peeing on the balcony, which is slatted, and ruining his wife’s clothes. Upon knocking, the door is opened by the most startlingly young and beautiful girl ever. Truly, this ruins the story, as she is far from the focus of the plot. She could have been an ugly hag for all that she matters. He meets the dog, Bingo, whom goes out onto the balcony that moment, and sprays a fine gusher …. down on top of his mother-in-law’s head !!! He is now best friends with Bingo.
“Fledging” by Eustace L. Adams, is slightly a weird ghostly tale. A young lady is in love with an aviator pilot that is old enough to be her father. She fears for his life, since he is a risk-taker and daredevil. Famous for his deeds, many rise for his autograph, etc. But, when she and he approach the civilian airport to pick up his son, whom is returning from school, she sees a younger version of her heart-throb and becomes emotionally confused. The father is upset because his son has a fear of flying, and prefers to be an architect. While his father is a way on the California coast, he secretly decides to prove his father wrong, by taking up flying lessons. The girl watches him from the ground. Deciding to take things to the extreme, and commits the plane through dangerous maneuvers and then decides to die a quick death by dashing the plane to bits on the ground, but in the end pulls her out of the uncontrollable spin and dashes up to safety, but only after his ghostly father shows him how to pull out of the death dive and right his plane. Believing that his ethereal father was with him in spirit, he finally lands, happy, knowing that he has conquered his fear of flying and that his father will be proud, even if he still intends to become an architect. But, his glee is dashed when the girl approaches with news that his father died in a plane crash and would never see the son fly, to which, he proclaims, “He–he did see it!”
“Hollywood Friendship” by Lawrence Bowen insinuates that you can’t trust anyone in Hollywood. When Sigmund divests himself of New York interests to pursue a directing career in Hollywood, he learns that New York play conquests mean nothing in the home of the silver screen, and friendships are hollow.
Walter Brooks supplies the time-worn beaten-to-death classic “The Worm Returns.” In this tale, Petheridge is under the ruling tyrannical thumb of his wife, whom, despite all things, he truly loves. He caves in to her every desire in his interest toward keeping her happy. But, when she tosses his newly acquired affection for a certain musical instrument out the window, he becomes enraged and leaves her. Leaving a note of abandonment behind, she informs the local society that he went big game hunting, rather than face the fact that she has been dumped. Years pass, Petheridge went to Europe to become properly trained in the instrument. Returning to the United States a changed man, both inside and physically in appearance (sporting a messy beard, etc), he purchases a home behind hers and watches through binoculars as suitor after suitor make plays on her. However, this once quiet man of society knows all these rich men, and knows intimately their digressions. He writes each one letters of warning, threats, etc and each one vanishes to parts unknown. Eventually, he comes across his estranged wife at a function, and they “date,” sort of, then he informs her that she will marry him, whom, by the way, lives under the name of Protheroe. He takes things too far when he commits the ultimate mistake: he takes out the musical instrument and plays “Onward Christian Soldiers,” a song that only HE would play. She immediately discerns his true identity, laughs in his face, and tells him to cough up the instrument, with the intention, clearly, of tossing it out the window. He nearly caves, then, pockets the piece, bends her over his knees and spanks her repeatedly. Initially she laughs but when he ceases to relent and continues, it is she who begins to break down, begging Mr. Petheridge to stop. Mister WHO? he says!!! Protheroe, she corrects. Yup, he beats into her that Petheridge is no more and that he is now Protheroe. Weapingly, she begs forgiveness and prays that if he still loves her, play something nice for her. So, he tortures her, by playing the same song, again, and again, and again, and again…..
The mag wraps up with “Hey! Hey! Hotcha!” by C. Douglas Welch is a vignette filler that should never have been included, let alone, hardly as the last piece to this mag when the prior tale by Brooks was sensational enough, even if redundant in nature. This tale is a short narrative of a guy trying to convince a woman to dance the rhumba with him then decides she is better suited for something safer, like a waltz.