If asked, I would be hard-pressed to identify a single favorite paperback publisher.  Pocketbooks invented the format; Signet came out with a host of soon-to-be classics, frequently with spectacular covers by Avati and others in their employ; Beacon published many of the most amazing sleaze titles; Ace presented some of the most stunning science fiction books, and so forth.  Forced to pledge allegiance to any one book company, however, I probably would choose Gold Medal Books.

    Gold Medal was one of several labels, including Crest and Premiere, published by the huge Fawcett publishing company, specialists in magazines and pulps, beginning in the post-war era.  The company's biggest contribution to publishing - and indeed, probably the greatest contribution of any paperback company in history - was the "Paperback Original" ("PBO").  Up to 1949, almost all paperbacks were reprints of books originally published as hardcovers.  In that year, Fawcett found itself in an awkward position; it wanted to start publishing its own paperbacks and cash in on the market, but it already had a distribution contract with Signet forbidding it to do so.  Signet had, however, left one small loophole in its contract: Fawcett could publish any book of original material.

    The individual who came up with the bright idea for this exception has never been publicly identified, but I would not be surprised to find out that he or she is currently buried under the foundations of Shea Stadium.  Fawcett seized upon this loophole with a vengeance, and created an entire new kind of original fiction as had never been seen before.

    Faced with a huge potential market, Fawcett offered advances of two or three thousand dollars, and writers came pouring out out of the woodwork.  Some were established writers, but most were getting books published for the first time.  Within a decade, Fawcett had come to publish some of the most important writers in popular fiction, including Louis L'Amour, David Goodis, Chester Himes, Richard Matheson, and Peter Hamilton.  John D. MacDonald, best know for his Travis Magee series, had unbelievable success with Gold Medal, leading to dozens of books from the '50's through the '70's, many of which are still in print long after MacDonald's death.

    The design of these books also seems to exert a strange attraction.  The bright yellow spines of Gold Medals make them stand out from other books (a practice soon copied by others), and the covers always have a striking, in-your-face quality.  Few publishers could so successfully combine class and sleaze in such attractive packages.  A few examples (click on any book cover for a larger copy of the book's cover) include:

  The Decoy, by Edward Ronns (#529, (c) 1951, 2nd printing 1955); cover by Barrye Phillips

  Awakening of Jenny, by Lillian Colter (#829, (c) 1950; 5th printing, 1958)

Hot Dam, by Neil MacNeil (#964, (c) 1960)   Somehow, I've never seen tartans worn in quite this fashion.  She looks like James Doohan's wildest dream come to life.

The Beats (#982, (c) 1960)  On the more literarily redeeming side, we have this anthology including works by William S. Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the late Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Hubert Selby and twenty others.

  College Confidential, by Irving Shulman (#1005, (c) 1960)  The photo cover for this tie-in book for a definitely disreputable movie about a professor trying to research the sex lives of his students features the great Mamie Van Doren.

  Wild Harvest, by Stephen Longstreet (#1068, (c) 1960); cover by McGinnis

  Here Is My Body, by Booth Mooney (#1210, (c) 1952; 3rd Printing 1962)  (What, did you lose it?  Oh, here it is!)

Only a small percentage of Gold Medal books are highly sought after; most of the books above may be had for a buck or two.


Gold Medal came to employ some definitely unusual authors, including the following two I find particularly interesting:

Marijane Meaker, aka "Anne Aldrich" and "Vin Packer"

    Lesbians who grew up in the 1950's mention the works of one Anne Aldridge as having given them the first evidence they had ever found that there were others like themselves in the world.  Her books were very successful, and other publishers were quick to catch on. Lesbian books came to be a pretty much a genre of their own, and are now highly collectible.

  We Walk Alone Through Lesbos' Lonely Groves, by Anne Aldrich  (#774, (c) 1955; 3rd Printing 1958)

    At the same time, many readers of male-oriented books favored the writings of Vin Packer, the author of many hard-bitten suspense novels.

  3-Day Terror, by Vin Packer (#689, (c) 1957); cover by Louis Glanzman

  The Damnation of Louis Blessing, by Vin Packer (#1074, (c) 1961); cover by McGinnis (The women in the audience are probably noting that this cover actually displays no cleavage or nudity, and are probably happy to see a man on his knees for a change.)

    Few outside of the publishing business knew that both authors were one and the same, a young woman from Brooklyn named Marijane Meaker.  Ms. Meaker was already working for Gold Medal when its editor in charge, Dick Carrol, came to her and suggested that she write a lesbian book.  The resulting volume, Spring Fire, published under the Vin Packer pseudonym, was highly successful, leading to the subsequent Anne Aldridge books.  Subsequent "Vin Packer" books focused on juvenile delinquency.  Ms. Meacer wrote a total of 20 books for Gold Medal, and continues to write under the name "M.E. Kerr."

It was hard enough for a woman to be a paperback writer in the 1950's, but for a writer, even under a pseudonym, to write books about lesbians with a generally positive emphasis during this period took a great deal of courage.

John Faulkner

    I obtained my copy of Uncle Good's Girls back when I first started collecting paperbacks a few year ago, from a guy who laughingly asked "Who the hell was John Faulkner, anyway?  William Faulkner's black sheep first cousin?"  Imagine my surprise when I did a little research on the subject and found out that the relationship was quite a bit closer - John was William's little brother, and was a pretty successful author is his own right back in his day, having cranked out a number of novels in the cleavage-and-outhouse rural humor genre.  John was, alas, never given a Nobel Prize for literature, like his brother.  Looking at the covers below, I can't image why.
1.   Uncle Good's Girls, by John Faulkner (#238, (c) 1952) (Cover by Barrye Phillips)

2.   The Sin Shouter of Cabin Road, by John Faulkner (#633, (c) 1955, 2nd printing 1957)

Sources of info for this article:

Geoffrey O'Brien, Hardboiled America
Lee Server, Over My Dead Body
Ed Gorman, "Gold Medal Days", Paperback Parade, #43
Gary Lovisi, "An Interview With Marijane Meaker - The Woman Behind Vin Packer and Ann Aldrich" - Paperback Parade, #47

Click here for further information about these written sources

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