Thursday, December 25, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Under Cover: The Gene Thurston Mystery


Dust Jackets by Gene Thurston

1930

The Amazing Web
A. L. Burt, 1930

A Bachelor Abroad
Evelyn Waugh
Jonathan Cape & Harison Smith, 1930

Sydney Horler
Mystery League, 1930

Edgar Wallace
Mystery League, 1930

Edgar Wallace
Mystery League, 1930

Miles Burton
Mystery League, 1930

The House of Sudden Sleep
John Hawk
Mystery League, 1930

Edward Woodward
Mystery League, 1930

Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning
Mystery League, 1930

George Goodchild
Mystery League, 1930

George Goodchild
Mystery League, 1930

Sydney Horler
Mystery League, 1930


1931

The Bungalow on the Roof
Achmed Abdullah
Mystery League, 1931

Death Walks in Eastrepps
Francis Beeding
Mystery League, 1931

The Gutenberg Murders
Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning
Mystery League, 1931

The Merrivale Mystery
James Corbett
Mystery League, 1931

Murder in the French Room
Helen Joan Hultman
Mystery League, 1931

The Mystery of Villa Sineste
Walter Livingston
Mystery League, 1931


The Secret of High Eldersham
Miles Burton
Mystery League, 1931

The Tunnel Mystery
J.C. Lenehan
Mystery League, 1931

Turmoil at Brede
Seldon Truss
Mystery League, 1931


1932


The Ebony Bed Murder
Rufus Gillmore
Mystery League, 1932


The False Purple
Sydney Horler
Mystery League, 1932


The Phantom President
George Worts
Jonathan Cape & Robert Ballou, 1932

Spider House
Van Wyck Mason
Mystery League, 1932


The Stingaree Murders
W. Shepard Pleasants
Mystery League, 1932


Two and Two Make Twenty-Two
Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning
Mystery League, 1932


1933

Death Points a Finger
Will Levinrew
Mystery League, 1933

Thurston contributed illustrations to Mystery League magazine.

Erie County Independent
(Hamburg, New York)
October 5, 1933
Thrillers—Ellery Queen, famous masked author of many best sellers, is editor of new monthly magazine, Mystery League. Photo shows Mr. Queen autographing first copy of magazine for the publisher, Sidney M. Biddell.

(Most of the dust jackets were found on eBay.)


Who Is Gene Thurston?

Imprint
Steven Heller wrote: “Before Saul Bass, designer/illustrators, including Arthur Hawkins Jr. and Gene (Eugene Thurston), were doing “Saul Bass” for a book company known as The Mystery League. It is a mystery to me that so little is known about Mr. Thurston. Any hints as to his lineage are gratefully accepted...”

Person of Interest Number One
At first glance, Eugene Bonfanti Thurston (1896–1993), a Tennessee native, seems to have the background and experience to have produced the Mystery League dust jackets. He was in New York City when he signed his World War I draft card (found at Ancestry.com) on September 12, 1918. It’s not clear when he returned to El Paso, Texas, where his family moved when he was a child.

Thurston was profiled in Early El Paso Artists (Texas Western Press, 1983). At El Paso High School, he was editor of the school newspaper The Tatler, and the yearbook. He took a two-year correspondence course in commercial art from the Federal School of Art in Minneapolis. He produced greeting cards, calendars, announcements, lithographs and prints.

But, according to the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, Thurston resided in El Paso, far away from the New York publisher of the Mystery League books. Working from such a distant seems impractical and costly, having to depend on the post office and courier services to deliver designs and artwork. Thurston’s occupation was an artist doing painting, plus he was married and had two daughters. So, I would rule out Eugene Bonfanti Thurston as the man behind the Mystery League covers.

Person of Interest Number Two
At Ancestry.com I searched “Eugene Thurston” and added the keyword “artist”. As I examined each name in the 1940 census, one person stood out because his occupation was “Designer”. Eugene Thurstson, 34, was a native of Michigan and resided in Manhattan, New York City at 178 East 91st Street. He was divorced and his highest level of education was the fourth year of high school. In 1939 he worked twenty weeks and earned 917 dollars.


I refined my search by including the birth year, 1906, and birthplace, Michigan. In the 1930 census is “Eugene E. Thurston”, age 24 and from Michigan. His occupation was designer in the commercial art trade. Thurston’s wife, Edith, was 45 years old and a New York native. They married when he was 21 and she 42. They resided in Manhattan, New York City at 527 West 121st Street. A 1931 Manhattan directory had the same address for him.



I did not find Thurston in the New York, New York Marriage Index at Ancestry.com. Presumably he had married out of state, probably in Michigan.

Apparently, Thurston resided in Brooklyn for a time. His wife returned from Europe on September 4, 1929. The passenger list recorded her address as 200 Washington Park in Brooklyn.


The Nassau Daily Review (Freeport, New York), August 10, 1935, published an item about Thurston visiting brother-in-law, Austin Long:
Mr. and Mrs. Austin O. Long of Hamilton street, Rockville Centre have as their week-end guests, Dr. and Mrs. Gould Cloud of Elizabeth, N. J., and Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Thurston of New York city.

Thurston has not yet been found in the 1910 and 1920 censuses.

Regarding Thurston’s wife, Edith, there is considerably more information. According to Ancestry.com, she was born in Buffalo, New York, on February 26, 1885, and passed away in Florida, February 27, 1975. Her parents were Eli and Alice Long. In the 1900 census, Edith was the first of four children; her brothers were Austin, Raymond and Edwin. In the 1920 census and 1925 New York State Census, Edith was a widow who had the name, Robertson, and lived with her parents in Buffalo, where she was a self-employed landscape architect. In 1930, her book, High-Lights of Architecture, was published, and at Columbia University, Edith received her Bachelor of Science in Fine Arts (see column two). The 1940 census recorded her as an art teacher in Buffalo where she resided with her parents. The census said she had been a resident of Detroit, Michigan, in 1935.

What became of Thurston after the 1940 census is not known. A World War II army draft card has not been found for him. It’s possible he enlisted in another service such as the marines, navy or air force. At Ancestry.com, an artist named “Eugene E. Thurston” was found in two city directories: Pasadena, California, 1947, and San Francisco, California, 1959. Directories at San Francisco Genealogy for 1960, 1962 and 1963 list the firm, Shawl, Nyeland & Seavey as Thurston’s employer. It’s unclear if this artist was Thurston the designer, who would have been in his mid-fifties in the early 1960s. Thurston has not been found in the Social Security Death Index.

I believe Michigan-born Eugene E. “Gene” Thurston can be charged for the crime covers of the Mystery League books.


Mystery League Dust Jackets by Arthur Hawkins Jr.

The Mystery of Burnleigh Manor
Walter Livingston
Mystery League, 1930

Seldon Truss
Mystery League, 1931

The Maestro Murders
Frances S. Wees
Mystery League, 1931


More Mystery League Dust Jackets

For Sale—Murder
Will Levinrew
Mystery League, 1932
Signature Illegible

The Mardi Gras Murders
Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning
Mystery League, 1932
Designer Unknown


About the Mystery League, and the United Cigar Stores,
Whelan Drug Stores and Harpers Drug Co. Advertisements

Reading Times
(Pennsylvania)
June 20, 1930
“Books, 50 Cents at Cigar Stores”
Wallace Mystery Tome to Launch New Cut Rate Plan
By William Lipman (World News Service)
New York, June 19. One week from today 1,500 United Cigar stores throughout the country and Whalen and Neve drug stores associated with them, will offer you for 50 cents a copy of “The Hand of Power,” Edgar Wallace’s latest mystery novel, printed on good paper and bound in boards. And thus, my dears, will be written another chapter in the hectic history or the book business which seems to be going blotto. This new wrinkle was explained yesterday by Sidney M. Biddell, president of the Mystery League, and William A. Ferguson, secretary of the United Cigar Stores company of America. Educating magazine readers to buy books at prices within their reach is the aim of the Mystery League. Several hundred mystery books are published annually, its president pointed out, and his firm will not publish more than 24 in a year, so he feels that the new venture will not cut into the trade of book stores. “For one thing,” he said, “we expect to create a new class of book readers.” The impression seems to be fairly common that what the book business needs is “a new class of readers,” so thus worthy aim, as voiced by Biddell, isn’t exactly original. Ferguson thinks that selling you a book when you drop in to buy a pack of cigarets or a cigar, will be easy. Here and there, he said, some of his firm’s stores had been experimenting with the book business and things came off beautifully. Well, it seems Biddell got this idea about the Mystery League and needed a distributor for his wares, and there was Ferguson wishing he could get some books to sell. And then just to show you how things turn out, sometimes they met and talked it over. And now, as you tarry with dame nicotine, you may also select yourself a book. And remember the price only 50 cents. The idea has its possibilities, but we don’t quite agree with Biddell when he says it isn’t going to hurt the business of book stores. You’ll probably learn more about that angle after the booksellers catch their breath and proceed to have their say.

Cleveland Plain Dealer
(Ohio)
June 26, 1930
The Hand of Power

Evening News
(North Tonawanda, New York)
June 27, 1930
“Smokes and Books”
A big cigar store chain, in association with a chain of drug stores, is taking up books as a side line. That makes a couple of thousand stores altogether. The book distribution will be done through an organization known as the Mystery League, operating on the book-a-month plan.

Book-lovers, whether they smoke or not, will be interested in the fact that these books, of regular novel size, will be printed on good paper, bound in durable boards and sold for 50 cents apiece. This may have some effect on the general book market.

The idea of selling books in a tobacco store isn’t funny. It’s sensible. Smokers, being inclined to thoughtfulness, probably read more than non-smokers. Their taste for reading might be encouraged by giving a book with every box of cigars. But there ought to be many kinds of books offered besides mystery tales.

(New York)
July 2, 1930
The Hand of Power

New York Evening Post
July 5, 1930
Dashiell Hammett review of Edgar Wallace’s The Hand of Power
I managed to leave one of the three books that came to me for review this week in either a taxicab or a Pullman car somewhere between New York and Baltimore (finder please read and review, or at least review), and, to make a thorough job of it, also managed to forget its title and author, though I think the author’s name had a Louis in it. Luckily, I seem to have saved the right two books. The ones I have on hand are both excellent of their kinds: it is doubtful if the lost brother was so, good.

“The Hand of Power” is the book with which the United Cigar Stores make their entrance into the current cut-price publishing shindig. It is Wallace at his best, at his least adult, at his most naively melodramatic; the Wallace who can juggle complete sets of false whiskers with mustachios—trapdoors, the secret passages they lead to, and forged wills, birth certificates and whatnot with his left hand: an occult poison or two, the necessary hypodermic needles, stolen heritages and at least one impersonation with his right; while balancing a stack of cowled menaces, a kidnaping and as many murders as you like on his head and managing a typewriter—using the ribbon’s red stratum—with his feet.

There has only been one man who could beat, Wallace at this game and he, George Bronson Howard, has been dead some seven, years and is completely forgotten. Herman Landon can sometimes hold the pace for a chapter or two, but seldom for longer than that. Sydney Horler’s warehouses are well stocked with hocus-pocus but in action he is all thumbs. M. P. Shiel, mechanically Wallace’s one undoubted superior in this dizzy field, is often enough—even in such essentially dull opera as “The Purple Cloud”—too authentic a magician to deserve a place among the masters of claptrap.

“The Hand Of Power” starts off with a pair of cowled Proud Sons of Ragousa whispering in the sinister ear of the sinister Dr. Laffin on a desolate Dartmoor road, then jumps to dirty work la London—including some amazingly delightful nonsense in a shop-window, with the heroine in a green gown sitting at a desk in front of a single red rose—and culminates in much filthier work aboard the S. S. Escorial in the Arctic Circle. Noteworthy among the villains herein assembled is Captain Harvey Hale, “seventy-five by fifty coarse inches of muscle and bone.” This is just the sort of story Wallace can do if done at his best. I would not care to recommend it as a steady diet but it has its place. For instance, it makes swell reading when somebody who bores you is talking. Perhaps you do not care for this sort of thing even then. Then you should pay no attention to Wallace at any time, for when he tries to be reasonable he is simply dull.

 Boston Herald
(Massachusetts)
July 24, 1930
The Curse of Doone

 New York Sun
September 5, 1930
The House of Sudden Sleep

 Boston Herald
(Massachusetts)
September 30, 1930
Jack O’Lantern

Lockport Union Sun and Journal
(New York)
October 2, 1930
Jack O’Lantern

Dunkirk Evening Observer
(New York)
November 5, 1930
The Mystery of Burnleigh Manor 

 The Times-Picayune
(New Orleans, Louisiana)
November 25, 1930
The Invisible Host

 Cleveland Plain Dealer
(Ohio)
December 10, 1930
Five-book Gift Set

Dunkirk Evening Observer
(New York)
February 3, 1931
The Monster of Grammont

 Trenton Evening Times
(New Jersey)
March 26, 1931
Death Walks in Eastrepps

 Elmira Star-Gazette
(New York)
June 18, 1931
The Gutenberg Murders

 Trenton Evening Times
(New Jersey)
August 6, 1931
The Tunnel Mystery

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
(Pennsylvania)
July 22, 1932
The Ebony Bed Murder

New York Evening Post
August 22, 1932
“Women Like Gore”
Sixty Per Cent of Mystery Novel Readers Feminine, Publisher Finds.
If statesmen like to escape from the intricacies of statecraft and industrial giants choose to forget the problems of industry by tucking their noses between the covers of a mystery novel, so do housewives hasten to wash their hands of the breakfast dishes and cooks yearn to curl up with a good (i. e.. hair-raising) book.

Even more so, in fact. According to Sydney [sic] M. Bidden, the young executive of the Mystery League which supplies a book a month to the detective-minded public, 60 per cent of the buyers of mystery novels are women. They will have their mysteries, even if they have to go into cigar stores to get them. For this particular check-up was made through the chain cigar stores which are in many cases the distributors of Mystery League books. A general check-up among all the distributors would, Mr. Biddell opined, reveal an even higher percentage of women readers.

“And here’s an even more startling figure for you,” Mr. Biddell went on. “When we held our Baffle Book contests, 80 per cent of the solutions were sent in by women, and only 20 per cent by men.

“That proves something more than just numbers. It proves that, contrary to what most people think, women, don’t just read these stories to pass the time. They are interested in following the clues. They like to pit their wits against the author’s and see how quickly they can arrive at the solution.”

Love interest? Mr. Biddell shook his head. It seems that over in England, where those cold Anglo-Saxons live, they like books in which the love interest predominates over the mystery. But here in sentimental America the heart is subordinated to the intellect.

“There has to be a thread of romance, of course,” said Mr. Biddell, and he rummaged through hie files and brought out a letter from a woman reader. 

“I missed the love story in ‘______’,” the lady wrote, commenting on a recent novel. “Put a bit more in and all will be serene. Romance and mystery mix well. I for one can’t stand a straight love story.”

Among the 7,000 to 8,000 letters that come to the Mystery League’s office in the course of a year, the majority are from women. Ladies sit themselves down before their scented violet and baby blue sheets of letter paper in Melrose, La., and Mount Vernon, Iowa; in Danielson,  Conn., and 
San Juan Bautista, Cal., take pen in hand and inscribe their opinions of such and such a book or such and such an author.

“They are both more loyal and more critical than men readers,” said Mr. Biddell, who has women folks of his own (he showed your reporter, pardonable pride, a snapshot of his young daughter, who will probably grow up to be a mystery writer herself). “Women demand that the background be bizarre—they want to read about a life as different from their own as possible.

“They are quite impartial about whether their authors are men or women—there are about as many women writers as men, and Mary Roberts Rinehart, M. G. Eberhard, Agatha Christie, Carolyn Wells and Dorothy L. Sayres are as popular as any of their male colleagues—but they don’t take kindly to a woman sleuth.

“I suppose,” Mr. Biddell ventured slyly, “that’s because even women don’t believe a woman could solve a really heinous crime. After all, have you ever noticed that even at the most successful mystery plays the matinee audiences are very sparse? Even the bravest women seem to like having a masculine arm within reach, and so they go in the evening when they can have a male escort.

“Why do they read mystery stories, then? Well, psychologists tell us that we read mystery stories because our civilization is so refined that we miss the dangers of primitive life. Women, on the whole, live even less dangerous lives than men. Perhaps that is why their taste in literature is more gory than men’s.

“Or perhaps,” said Mr. Biddell wickedly, “It‘s just because they have more time.”


The Bookshop Blog
The Mystery League: Great Crime Fiction or Only Super Deco Dust Jackets?” Diane Plumley’s research on the Mystery League books.

Related post: Theodore Nadejen

(Next post on Christmas Day)