AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

SHELLSHOCK


MY TRIBUTE TO A FUN DETECTIVE...
In my teens I used to devour Richard Prather's books of detective fiction, having Shell Scott as their main character. The author died in February 2007, and I'd like to remember him here, as one of my youth's most read writers of fun and games...

Richard S Prather
Thriller writer from a world of sex, violence, Caddys and 'frails'
By Michael Carlson
(The Guardian, 29 March 2007)

In the booming postwar market for paperback detective fiction, the groundbreaking bestseller was Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, but Richard S Prather's Shell Scott was not far behind. Where Hammer's appeal lay in a mix of raw sex and violence, Scott's adventures tended toward the comic, although sex was just as big a selling point, with Scott inevitably encountering women in the nude. The formula paid off for Prather, who has died aged 85. He sold more than 40m books, taking Scott through 40 novels over a period of 36 years.

Scott, like Hammer, was a veteran, an ex-marine. Prather took the name Sheldon from a childhood friend, while Scott was his own middle name. Shell's crew cut was pure white, his nose was broken, and he had lost part of an ear to a Japanese bullet. But where Hammer prowled a dark, shadowy New York, Scott worked in the bright sunshine of Hollywood, driving what was first a canary-yellow 1936 Cadillac, and then a late-model Caddy in "robin's-egg blue". A huge portrait of a naked woman hung over the fireplace in his bachelor pad.

In Strip for Murder (1955), Scott investigates murder in a nudist colony. In Cock-eyed Corpse (1964), it's the filming of an all-female, naked western; Scott disguises himself as a rock to get a better view. It was all very lighthearted. Indeed, Prather's humour was reflected in his punning titles, such as Slab Happy, Three's a Shroud, Trojan Hearse or Too Many Crooks. As the series became more popular, the covers featured Scott's smiling face, with a lightly clothed "frail" in distress behind him.

Prather's influences included Jonathan Latimer's wild plots and Damon Runyon's humour, but as a boy in Santa Ana, California, his desire to become a writer grew from reading detective pulp magazines. He was most impressed by the subtle irony in Raymond Chandler's narration, though neither subtlety nor irony would become his stock in trade.

After a year at junior college, he joined the merchant marine during the second world war, and then worked as a property clerk at March air force base in Riverside, California. But he longed to write, and, in 1949, his wife Tina convinced him to take a year off and try. They moved to Laguna Beach, and he wrote a novel called The Maddern Papers. He also sent a story to Scott Meredith, a New York agent who advertised for writers to pay to have their work assessed by his staff, who included Ed McBain and Donald Westlake.

But Prather's story was good enough for Meredith to take him on as a client, and sell his next novel, The Case of the Vanishing Beauty (1950), to Gold Medal Books, already the leading publisher of paperback detectives.

Prather wrote quickly, usually making only minor corrections to his first draft, and Meredith sold just as quickly. In 1952, Prather saw six novels published. Two were Scott books for Gold Medal, four others came from lesser paperback houses like Lion, Graphic and Falcon. Two were Scott novels with the lead character changed, including The Maddern Papers, now titled Pattern for Murder, written by "David Knight". Eventually, it would be changed back to a Scott novel, again retitled, in best Pratherese, The Scrambled Yeggs. The six also included The Peddler, written as "Douglas Ring", a tough mob novel reprinted in 2006 in the Hard Case Crime series.

Prather collaborated with Stephen Marlowe on the unusual Double in Trouble (1959), in which Scott alternates chapters with Marlowe's detective Chet Drum. The writers worked out a plot, then mailed chapters to each other as they wrote them. Prather also edited an excellent anthology of comic crime stories, The Comfortable Coffin (1960).Then, in 1962, at the peak of his success, Meredith convinced him to switch publishers; Fawcett paid according to the print run, but paid promptly. Pocket Books were offering a 10-year deal, with a then huge $75,000 advance against royalties.

But Prather soon fell out with the publisher, who wanted changes to reflect the changing times. In 1975 he sued Pocket for back royalties, eventually winning the rights to his books, but the case took five years, during which time he published nothing. He and his wife began a successful business in organic avocado farming. By the time he was free to sell books again, the market for Shell Scott had disappeared. A new paperback house, Tor, brought out two Scott novels in the 1980s. The last was called, typically, Shellshock.

Prather died of respiratory failure in his retirement home in Sedona, Arizona. Tina predeceased him, in 2004.
Richard Scott Prather, thriller writer, born 9 September 1921; died 14 February 2007.


Shell Scott
Created by Richard S. Prather (1921-2007)
Shell Scott drawn by McGinnis

Richard S. Prather's SHELL SCOTT was, without a doubt, the second most commercially successful private eye of the fifties (over forty million books sold). He appeared in a long string of over three dozen Fawcett/Gold Medal PBOs, collections and countless short stories, and even lent his name to Shell Scott Mystery Magazine. Carrying on in the screwball tradition of such eyes as Bellem's Dan Turner and Latimer's Bill Crane, the Scott stories were smirky, outlandish, innuendo-laden, occasionally alcohol-fueled, off-the-wall tours-de-farce that, depending on your point of view, were either a real hoot, or a lot of adolescent, sexist swill and hackwork. The latter viewpoint seems to be the dominant one today, and Shell Scott seems to have slipped out of the public conciousness. Too bad.


And Hollywood eye Shell, at 6'2", with his teal blue suits, bristly white-blonde buzzcut and almost white eyebrows, broken nose and a chunk of his left ear missing, tooling around in a canary yellow 1941 Caddy convertible, is kinda hard to miss.

But as originally envisioned, Scott was pretty much a typical disciple of the post-war Spillane school, a tough-talking, mean streets-walking alpha male with a P.I. ticket and a gun. It soon became apparent that Sheldon was a little different from the other boys.

The 6'-2” ex-Marine didn't so much go down those mean streets as strut. For one thing, Scott had remarkably little angst, and there were several other traits that must have raised a few private eyebrows back at the lodge.

Oh sure, Scott did the job, and the bad guys got theirs, and when the going got tough, Scott was more than willing to rise to the occasion. But the usual sex-and-violence was considerably lightened by a sort of goofy, relentless hedonism. Unlike so many others, he seemed to actually enjoy life, his main concern not so much vengeance or justice as keeping an eye open for the next good time. The next martini. The next babe. And, judging by the numbers, a lot of readers, both male and female, were more than willing to follow him on that quest.

And as the series progressed, the wisecracks and double-entendres multiplied and things just got wackier and wackier. In Way of a Wanton (1952) for example, Scott escapes the bad guys by swinging from tree to tree – au naturel – through a jungle movie set. But it was with the eighth book, Strip for Murder (1955) that Prather and Scott finally, truly found their niche.

Strip for Murder is a full-out hoot, a screwball masterpiece, a loopy romp that features our man undercover at a nudist colony and culminates with a naked Scott landing a hot air balloon in downtown Los Angeles (let's see Lew Archer pull that one off!). From then on, almost anything went in the series.

The Wailing Frail (1956) kicks off with a woman answering the door Scott's just knocked on as “nude as a noodle.”

In Gat Heat (1967) he attacks a gang of blackmailers armed with a crossbow.

In The Trojan Hearse (1964) he rides a wrecking ball through the wall of a building while in hot pursuit.

In The Cock-Eyed Corpse (1964) he disguises himself as a prop on a movie set, which gave rise to one of the most memorable lines in crime fiction when a thug exclaims “You won't believe this but that rock just shot me in the ass!”

There were – as I mentioned earlier – lots of babes in the Shell Scott books, most of them skimpily clad and obliging. And well-endowed, which inevitably got Scott's attention. Despite all the nudge-nudge wink-wink, though, very little actual sex. It was all off-stage, Scott too much the gentleman to kiss and tell. Though he didn't mind looking and telling:

“...she'd just turned twenty one, but had obviously signaled for the turn a long time ago.... she wore a V-necked white blouse as if she were the gal who'd invented cleavage.”—Always Leave 'em Dying

"Her breasts were so full and firm and abundant that each of them might have been both of them"
Everybody Had A Gun

"There was a lot of her already in the room before the rest of her got in"
Everybody Had A Gun

“This was one lovely who looked as if she could be grateful to excess. And some excesses I’m excessively fond of.”
Darling, It’s Death

“Lita was a gal so female that she made most other females seem male.”
Take a Murder, Darling

Mind you, Scott did occasionally notice the world around him, particularly Los Angeles. He's no Chandler, but...

“It was one of those rare, completely smog-free days when you can see Los Angeles from Los Angeles. Often you can’t find City Hall unless you are in it.”
Always Leave’em Dying

“I think they lease Rodeo Drive by the carat rather than front foot.”—Kill Him Twice

Prather was the most successful PI writer of the 50s with the obvious exception of Mickey Spillane. In a Publishers Weekly book called 70 Years of Best-Sellers, there was a chapter on best-selling mysteries (i.e. mysteries that had sold a million or more copies). 150 books were listed. 16 of them, more than 10% of the list, were by Prather.

And he was also prolific in magazines. Prather's work appeared in Shell Scott Mystery Magazine, Manhunt, Cavalier, Thrilling Detective, Menace, Justice, Accused, Suspect, Murder!, Ed McBain's Mystery Book, Adam, Escapade, Man's World, Swank, For Men Only, Tiger, Caper, and several anthologies. Many of them were adaptions of current or soon-to-be-released Shell Scott novels, along with the occasional original short story.

APPRECIATIVE COMMENTS

"I have EVERY ONE of the Shell Scott books. I started reading Prather when I was about a jr in high school, 1959 or so, and his eccentric metaphors have since become regular parts of my own idiom; 'He looked like a man with ten ingrown toenails,' or 'her eyes were blue, like in black and blue.' Yeah, Shell's a sexist pig, but in the 60's wasn't everybody?"
Charles Eisenhart
.
"The Shell Scott books are sort of cock-eyed Spillane. Imagine Mike Hammer, transplanted to Hollywood, injected with a sunny disposition and a sense of humor, and you've got a pretty close approximation of Shell Scott."Jim Doherty
.
"I just wanted you to know that women appreciate Shell Scott/Richard S. Prather, too (but I hate Spillane). I started with The Wailing Frail, which I found in a used bookstore – the cover copy was so silly, I picked it up. I expected it to be the usual sexist claptrap, but found it to be a tongue-in-cheek masterpiece. I now own most of the Shell Scott books and am looking for the rest. By the way, I think Kinky Freidman owes a lot to Prather's style. My favorite Prather line has something to do about mornings – he says that most people wake up in a sunny mood, but for him, no matter the circumstances, when he wakes up, it's always midnight on Halloween."
Cathy Tacinelli

"Richard S. Prather’s death has special meaning for people my age who grew up reading paperback originals. Even kids who hated reading read Prather because he was just so damned much fun. His creation, Shell Scott, was as iconic in his way as all the hard-boiled private eyes he spoofed. Was there an L.A. lass that Shell didn’t get to eventually?
He was a better writer than he generally got credit for, every once in a while he’d slip in a Scott that was darker than the general run and he’d surprise you with how skillfully he could turn from parody to realism. ..."—Edward Gorman

...And perhaps the ultimate tribute:

"Would it surprise you to hear... that my mother enjoyed the stories so much, she named me after Scott?"
Shell Scott Bush

Or two...

"...saw the post from Shell Scott Bush, and had to get in on the game. In my case it was my dad (who had all the paperbacks) who decided that the serendipity of his last name, his enjoyment of the tales, and his having a son was too much to pass up. So in February 1962, Shell Arthur Scott was born, named for my dad's favorite fictional detective and his own father. Not that ol' dad liked Prather's creation better than his own dad, but wiser heads convinced him not to name me Arthur Shell Scott, realizing that my initials would cause me a lifetime of grief and embarassment.
In my youth I would occasionally take one of my dad's old paperbacks to school and sport it atop the pile of books I carried from class to class. Not many people get to show their world a widely-published book with their name on the cover.
And about twenty years ago I had business to conduct one day in an Atlanta office building. When I signed the lobby register, the security officer did a double-take, turned the register around for a closer look and asked, "Is that really your name?"
When I said it was he said, "I used to read detective stories about a man with that name a long time ago."
Shell (Arthur) Scott



NOVELS

Case of the Vanishing Beauty (1950) ...Buy this book
Bodies in Bedlam (1951) ...Buy this book
Everybody Had a Gun (1951) ...Buy this book
Find This Woman (1951) ...Buy this book
Way of a Wanton (1952)
Darling, It's Death (1952)
Ride a High Horse (1953; aka "Too Many Crooks")
Always Leave 'em Dying (1954) ...Buy this book
Strip For Murder (1955) ...Buy this book
The Wailing Frail (1956)
Slab Happy (1958)
Pattern for Murder (1958; aka "The Scrambled Yeggs")
Take a Murder, Darling (1958)
Over Her Dead Body (1959)
Double in Trouble (1959) ...Buy this book or Kindle it! Co-written with Stephen Marlowe, featuring Chester Drum
Dance with the Dead (1960) ...Buy this book
Dig That Crazy Grave (1961)
Pattern for Panic (1961; originally published as a Cliff Morgan novel)
Kill the Clown (1963)
Dead Heat (1963)
Joker in the Deck (1964) ...Buy this book
The Cockeyed Corpse (1964) ...Buy this book
The Trojan Hearse (1964)
Kill Him Twice (1965)
Dead Man's Walk (1965)
The Meandering Corpse (1965)
The Kubla Khan Caper (1966)
Gat Heat (1967)
The Cheim Manuscript (1969) ...Buy this book
Kill Me Tomorrow (1969)
Dead-Bang (1971)
The Sweet Ride (1972)
The Sure Thing (1975)
The Amber Effect (1986) ...Buy this book
Shellshock (1987)
The Death Gods (2011) ...Kindle it!

COLLECTIONS
Three's a Shroud (1957; three novellas)
Have Gat, Will Travel (1957)
Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters (1961) ...Buy this book
The Shell Scott Sampler (1969)

SHORT STORIES
"The Best Motive" (January 1953, Manhunt; Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters; aka "Death's Head")
"Murder's Strip Tease" (February 1953, Thrilling Detective)
"The Sleeper Caper" (March 1953, Manhunt; Have Gat-Will Travel)
"Sinner's Alley" (April 1953, Adam; Have Gat, Will Travel)
"Hot Rock Rumble" (June 1953, Manhunt; Three's A Shroud; aka "Hard Rock Rumble")
"The Double Take" (July 1953, Manhunt; Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters; aka "The Blonde Twist")
"Squeeze Play" (October 1953, Manhunt; Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters; 1960, Dames, Danger, Death)
"Pattern For Panic" (January 1954, Manhunt)
"Way Of A Wanton" (June 1954, Cavalier)
"Butcher" (June 1954, Manhunt; Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters)
"Blood Ballot" (November 1954, Menace; Three's A Shroud)
"Crime Of Passion" (December 1954, Manhunt; Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters; aka "The Barbequed Body")
"Code 197" (June 1955, Manhunt; Have Gat-Will Travel)
"Trouble Shooter" (January 1956, Accused; Have Gat-Will Travel)
"The Build-Up" (June 1956, Suspect; Have Gat-Will Travel; aka "Wired For A Frame")
"The Live Ones" (January 1957, Escapade; Shell Scott's Sampler; aka "Too Many Girls")
"Dead Giveaway" (February 1957, Cavalier; Three's A Shroud; aka "The Case of the Three Wild Blondes")
"Kill The Clown" (June 1957, Manhunt)
"Dead Giveaway" (March 1957, Three's a Shroud; March 1966, MSMM)
"Babes, Bodies and Bullets" (April 1958, Cavalier; Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters)
"Film Strip" (January 1960, Ed McBain's Mystery Magazine; Shell Scott's Seven Slaughters)
"The Morgue The Merrier" (October 1960, Cavalier)
"The Bawdy Beautiful" (April 1961, Cavalier; Shell Scott's Sampler)
"Sin Gang Blonde" (September 1965, For Men Only)
"The Guilty Party" (1965, Come Seven, Come Death; also The Shell Scott Sampler)
"The Da Vinci Affair" (February 1966, Shell Scott's Mystery Magazine; also The Shell Scott Sampler)
"The Kubla Khan Caper" (April 1966, Shell Scott Mystery Magazine)
"The Bloodshot Eye" (June 1966, Shell Scott's Mystery Magazine)
"Gun Play" (August 1966, Shell Scott Mystery Magazine)
"The Kubla Khan Affair" (April 1966, MSMM)
"Blood Ballet" (September 1966, MSMM)
"The Cautious Killers" (November 1966, Shell Scott's Mystery Magazine; The Shell Scott Sampler)
___________________

(Source: http://www.thrillingdetective.com/scott.html — Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Jim Doherty for his help. And the legendary Dean Davis for his word to the wise...)

...An excerpt from Mark Ellis' MOSTLY PULP:

[...]
Gold Medal, an imprint of Fawcett, was the original publisher of the Shell Scott novels—as such Shell stood in good company with such luminaries as Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Stephen Marlowe’s Chet Drum, Edward S. Aarons’ Sam Durrell, Philip Atlee’s Joe Gall and “Richard Stark’s” Parker.

Gold Medal, with its focus on series characters served as the direct precursor and inspiration for Harlequin’s Gold Eagle imprint…except Gold Medal’s output was vastly more diverse and vastly superior in quality. The Big Guns were Matt Helm, Travis McGee, Parker and Shell Scott.

The Gold Medal authors were the guys who taught me how to write…particularly Dick Prather. These were writers who had led real lives and so they didn’t rely on movies, TV shows or computer games to give them inspiration. There was no single follicle of fake chest hair to be found in any of their books. Their series heroes didn’t need to pack .50 caliber penis extenders or roar “Boo-Yuh!” and bump knuckles with absurdly over-armed “teams” or “forces” in order to come off as legitimately tough.
My dad read several of the Gold Medal series and at around age ten, I happened to come across Kill The Clown on his nightstand… intrigued by the cover and the blurbs, I started sneak-reading it. Since it was a “grown up” book, I couldn’t be caught openly reading it… not in those days. 

I was immediately taken with the tone and the character—the book was action-packed, graphically violent by the standards of the time but more importantly—even I knew it was funny.

Shell Scott punched, shot and smart-assed his way through Kill The Clown accompanied only by his sharp appreciation of the ridiculous. After flipping through other Gold Medal books in my dad’s rather small library I realized quickly that Prather’s Shell Scott was unique among their roster of professional thieves, spies and salvage experts—he had a sense of humor that carried him through the most lethal situations.

And of course…there were the babes—all types, all colors, all states of dress and undress. Platinum blonde starlets and dusky-skinned Voodoo priestesses were all the same as far as Shell was concerned—babes.

The Shell Scott novels were more screwball action-adventure than hardboiled detective stories and that could be one reason they remained so popular for so long. There were any number of private eye book series in the 1960s and whole lot of them were set on the same Hollywood turf as Shell, but few of them possessed the color, the elan’ and joie d’vivre as Dick Prather’s creation. The books sold in the tens of millions and there wasn’t a place that carried mass market paperbacks in the 1960s where you couldn’t see Robert McGinnis’ iconic portrait of Shell grinning at you.

The novels were hip, paced at a blinding speed, sloppin’ over with wise-ass remarks. You could almost hear West Coast jazz blaring whenever you opened a book. Set in glitzy 1960s Los Angeles, Shell wasn’t prone to gloomy ruminations in dark alleys with a Fedora tugged down over his eyes and the collar of a trench coat up by his ears.

Shell joked and smoked and got drunk and drove too fast in his Cadillac convertible and woke up with hangovers. He had bad taste in clothes but not in women. By today’s standards, he’s gloriously politically incorrect but the books had their share of female fans.



👉A couple of interesting blogs on Prather:
👉 In italiano vedi il blog Gli Archivi di Uruk, al link "EROI: SHELL SCOTT"