Tuesday, November 5, 2013

RAF pilot reading a book during haircut

Here’s a photo of RAF pilot Francis Mellersh getting a haircut and reading Greenmantle by John Buchan. Fairlop Airfield Base, Essex, England, 1942.

This image got alot of buzz early this year when it was posted on reddit. There was an article about this photograph on The Daily Beast.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Farrar & Rinehart logos

I just started reading Hothouse by Boris Kachka. It’s a history of the publisher House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. I read this bit on page 10:

“Cofounder John Farrar had been ousted from his own firm, Farrar & Rinehart, while lying in an Algerian hospital during World War II.”

That reminded me that I had seen logos from Farrar & Rinehart in a Clarence P. Hornung’s book Trademarks (1930). Hornung designed two for the press:

You can read more about Hornung’s career in an earlier post of mine.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Actress Merle Oberon Posing for The Victory Book Campaign, 1943

Merle Oberon Victory Book Campaign publicity photo, 1943.

Last week on eBay I bought this 8 x 10 publicity photo. The caption on the back of the photo says, “Merle Oberon, starring in Columbia’s ‘Attack by Night,’ collects books for the 1943 Victory Book Campaign. The photographer was credited as Tad Gillum, May 1943.

It was an official photo from the movie studio, so I guess Columbia wanted to promote itself as well as the book donation program. I tried looking up the name of the film, but couldn't find it listed anywhere online. Maybe the title changed before it was released.

A friend recently sent me a book that was published by Reader's Digest in the 1960s, Humor in Uniform: Jests, Jokes and Witty Anecdotes from the War Years. It includes this bit: “Merle Oberon, the actress, visiting the wounded in London, asked one soldier, ‘Did you kill a Nazi?’ The soldier said he had. ‘With which hand?’ Miss Oberon asked. She decorated his right hand with a kiss. Then she asked the next patient, ‘Did you kill a Nazi?’ ‘I sure did!’ came the answer. ‘I bit ’im to death!’ —Walter Winchell

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Photo of a GI reading a book

I found this photo of a Gi reading a book on this Dutch WWII reenactment website. Their webpage is a nice little history of the book publishing programs for GIs.

I'd love to know where they got the photo, but their site doesn’t have an email address anywhere! I've checked with the National Archives and Library of Congress, but they don’t seem to have any similar photos (at least not any that are easy to find). If they do have some, the photos are probably shelved under a broad term like “GIs relaxing”.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pearl S. Buck: WWII Freedom Fighter

I grew up just 2-and-a-half miles from Pearl S. Buck’s home in Hilltown, Pennsylvania. My family visited the museum there, and we joined the Easter egg hunt on the estate’s huge back yard several years. As a kid, my takeaway was that Buck was raised in China, she wrote some novels about that country, and she lived in a nice old stone house. And twenty-five years later this WWII history buff learns that she was a forceful defender of freedom.

My interest in Pearl S. Buck’s wartime contribution was sparked by an anecdote I read in Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II. Before America entered the war Buck received a letter from her publisher in Poland. Marian and Hanna Kister and their daughters had fled the country after the invasion by the Germans and Russians. As the Nazis destroyed Poland’s publishing houses and libraries, the Kister family raced across Europe. It was Pearl S. Buck and her husband, publisher Richard J. Walsh, who allowed the Kisters to come to the US. In 1941 Buck and Walsh were sponsors in their immigration process, promising financial support if needed. After settling in Brooklyn, the Kisters quickly returned to the book business. Their new company, Roy Publishers, released English translations of Polish authors.

Buck in 1938
I checked out a few biographies from my library to see what else Buck was doing during the war. I expected that she promoted the purchase of war bonds or encouraged book donations to the Victory Book Campaign. Instead I was impressed to find that she used her influence to combat the racist policies of this country.

During WWII the segregation of American public life was duplicated in the US military. African-American troops received what were considered the most menial assignments, and they often faced degrading treatment from their white commanders. Meanwhile, black civilians were barred from employment in the war industry, and were turned away at Red Cross blood drives.

As Paul A. Doyle’s 1965 biography put it, Pearl S. Buck worked tirelessly to “enlighten Americans about Asian attitudes and the real meaning of the battle against the Axis” and “attempted to to make the people see the folly of their treatment of the Negro.” Buck hosted radio programs, wrote essays, spoke at rallies, and chaired the Committee Against Racial Discrimination.

Pear Buck was one of the few white people to speak out against the US government’s 1942 order to force Japanese-Americans into concentration camps in the Western states. She was dismayed that President Roosevelt choose to support Britain’s colonial subjugation of India, rather than encourage that country’s independence. China, although an ally in the war against Japan, was treated less well than the European allies. Buck worked to end the US government’s ban on Chinese immigration, and she criticized America’s lackluster post-war recovery plan for China.

Racism was the unpleasant reality that contradicted America’s idealized fight for freedom. While Pearl S. Buck hated the militant fascism of German and Japan, she feared that the American and British patriotism would strengthen policies of racial inequality. While Buck was a supporter of the war itself, it was brave criticize her government so vocally.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sol Immerman, Illustrator, Book Designer, Art Director

I wrote a little about book designer Sol Immerman in my post about his design of the Armed Services Edition paperbacks. Here’s a little more of a biography for the guy. It comes from The Book of Paperbacks: A Visual History of the Paperback Book (1981):

Born in New York; attended a public school in 119th Street. His original ambition was to be a dentist, but he later changed his plans and, in 1928, graduated from New York University as an art major.

1944. Scan from flickr.
Immerman often hung around his father's nightclub in Harlem, and he came to know many musicians and songwriters there. It was through these connections that he got his first job, as a designer of sheet music covers. He was extremely succesful: at one point his signature could be found on some 80 % of all sheet music published in New York.

He later switches from sheet music work to book cover work; his first paperback cover was for Pocket Books 123, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

He established his own design studio, located at 48 West 48th Street, in 1942; his partner was H. Lawrence Hoffman, their first employee was Robert Holly, and the signature IM-HO, which can be found on several Pocket Book and Popular Library covers, stands sometimes for Immerman and Hoffman and sometimes for Immerman and Holly. The studio produced covers for both hardcover and paperback publishers, and had some 40 firms as clients.

After several years of serving as parttime art director at Pocket Books in addition to his duties at the studio, Immerman became full-time art director for that house in 1947 and turned the studio over to Hoffman. He stayed at Pocket Books through 1975. A collegue says that, although Immerman was a good artist and calligrapher, he was often too busy to produce good work. There were times when he had to design five covers himself and supervise the design of a dozen others, all in the space of a few days. Some of his own covers were quite good; others, to be kind, were not.

In the late 1970s he was employed as art director for Penguin Books. He was, in 1981, a consultant, working out of his home in Yonkers, New York.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

WWII-Era Book Giveaway Boosted Popularity of The Great Gatsby

The 1945 Armed Services Edition of The Great Gatsby.
One might say that this flimsy 5½ x 3⅞ inch paperback edition of The Great Gatsby was ultimately responsible for the book’s film adaptation nearly seventy years later. The Armed Services Edition program was a colossal government-sponsored book giveaway during World War II. Over 120 million paperbacks were distributed to American troops overseas. One of the titles included in the project was F. Scott Fitgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It was released at a time when literary critics were less than enthusiastic about Fitzgerald’s work and book sales of Gatsby were sluggish.

Back cover.

In Books in Action: The Armed Services Editions (1984) writer Matthew Bruccoli theorized on the Gatsby sales boost that returning GIs may have produced:

“There is no way to determine how many converts to literature—or, less elegantly, to reading—were made by the ASE. The fix was free. Moreover, it seems highly probable that some postwar reputations were stimulated by the introduction of authors in the ASE to readers who had never read them before. One hundred fifty-five thousand ASE copies of The Great Gatsby were distributed—as against the twenty-five thousand copies of the novel printed by Scribners between 1925 and 1942. Was there a connection between the ASE publication of Gatsby and Diamond as Big as the Ritz and the Fitzgerald revival that commenced in the late 1940s?”

The Armed Services Edition print run of The Great Gatsby was 155,000 copies, nearly eight times the book’s first printing in 1925. Soldiers and sailors tended to swap their books when they were finished reading. So, the real number of new readers introduced to Fitzgerald’s writing could have been much higher than number of copies circulating in the military. Both Gatsby and Diamond (with a print run of 90,000) were distributed after Germany and Japan surrendered. There were still millions of Americans overseas, and they had a lot of spare time for reading. It’s a convincing idea that these hundreds of thousands GIs who came home after the war sparked the new popularity of Fitzgerald, cementing The Great Gatsby’s reputation as a great American novel.

—Andrew Brozyna

1946 Armed Services Edition of Diamond as Big as the Ritz.

Back cover.
Book scans courtesy of ASE collector Brian Anderson.


You can hear author Maureen Corrigan talk about this online in her September 8th interview on NPR's Fresh Air.


Bruccoli, Matthew J., Editor. New Essays on The Great Gatsby. Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Cole, John Y. Books in Action: The Armed Services Editions. The Center for the Book, Library of Congress, 1984.

Further Reading:

Read about The Council on Books in Wartime, the publisher of the Armed Services Editions.

Read about the history of the Armed Services Editions.

Read about the unique design of the Armed Services Edition paperbacks.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Anatomy of an Armed Services Edition book

Reprinted editions of books popular in the civilian market, The Armed Services Editions were donated to GIs fighting overseas in World War II. The design of these books was driven by a need for minimal size and minimal cost.

The ASEs were sent overseas in supply ships that carried essential military supplies. Small books meant more copies could fit into a shipment, more paper could be used for the military’s massive record keeping, and a soldier could more easily carry one on his person. The US government paid for all publication costs. As a contribution to the war effort printers reduced their fees, while authors and their publishers agreed to forgo royalties. But with millions of books to be published, the government wanted the most economical printing solution.
An example of two ASE books before trimming. From collector Brian Anderson.
Trim Size:

The Army’s graphic arts specialist in the Special Services Division, H. Stahley Thompson, proposed printing books in pairs on magazine/catalog size paper, binding, then trimming them apart horizontally. Many mail order catalogs were discontinued during the war years, so this left the equipment open to use. These roll-fed letterpress rotary presses were ideal for the ASE’s large print runs (50,000 per title).

Presses used to publish magazines like Reader’s Digest (5½ x 7¾ inches) could produce two books, each 5½ x 3⅞ inches. This was the size used for ASE books up to 320 pages. Books up to 512 pages were 6½ x 4½, which was half of a larger magazine or catalog.

5½ x 3⅞ inch ASE book from my collection.
Cover Design:

Illustrator/designer Sol Immerman was hired to create the covers of the Armed Services Editions. Sol ran a book design studio in Manhattan, and he was part-time art director at Pocket Books. His ASE book covers are interesting in that they were treated more like advertisements than actual book cover designs. The paperback cover depicted a photo of the hardcover’s jacket design with its title type treatment repeated to the side. The jacket photos were black and white, while the paperbacks’ background colors varied throughout the series. Sol earned $10 for each cover he designed. Unfortunately, I don’t know what his usual rate was.

Cover of an Overseas Edition.
Although I have not seen documentation explaining the ASE’s approach to cover design, I can use my own experience as a book cover designer offer some educated guesses. Following a simple template, these covers would be much faster to produce than a new cover. The purpose of a unique cover design is to attract the book buyer, but in this case there were no buyers. The Council on Books in Wartime, which published these free paperbacks, could easily have gone with a minimal two-color text-only cover as they did with their Overseas Editions. This approach would have saved even more time and money, but it would not be attractive to the intended readers: young GIs, many of whom were teens fresh out of high school. I’m guessing that it was Immerman who suggested that the printing budget be large enough to accommodate colorful covers.

American book publishers donated their titles to The Armed Service Editions (the publisher received only half a cent for each book printed). While, this contribution was in support of the war effort, I am sure that publishers saw these free books as promotion to future book buyers. If a GI enjoyed reading an ASE book, The Call of the Wild for instance, then it was hoped that he would buy the hardcover when he returned home. The fact that ASE book covers looked so similar to advertisements is probably no accident.

Typical Armed Services Edition back cover.

Interior Design:

Title page to The Armed Services Edition of The Call of the Wild.
The main thing to note about the interior design of the Armed Services Editions is that the text was not set in a single column as with a typical hardcover of the time. Composing the text in two columns was useful because it allowed more text to fit on each page (which means less pages and less paper needed). The text appears to be 10 point Caslon with 11 point leading. Comparing to some 1940s hardcover books I own, the ASE text is one or two points smaller.

Sample page from The Armed Services Edition of The Call of the Wild
Further reading:

Check out this website for a whole bunch of scans of ASE covers.

Schreuders, Piet. The Book of Paperbacks: A Visual History of the Paperback Book. Virgin Books, 1981. This book includes a bio of Sol Immerman, and a description of WWII era paperback book publishers.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Armed Services Editions of WWII

Armed Services Edition of The Postman Always Rings Twice. From my collection.
Thanks to donations by the American public, the Victory Book Campaign of 1942 and 1943 was able to distribute 10 million book to the troops. Unfortunately, this was a very inefficient program: Over 8 of the total 18.5 million books collected had to be discarded because of poor physical quality or undesirable subject matter. The books that were acceptable were bulky hardcovers which took up valuable cargo space aboard supply ships.

American publishers at this time had yet to embrace the more utilitarian paperback. The Army purchased 3 million paperbacks directly from publishers in 1941, 1942, and 1943, but few titles were available in that format. Bestsellers and new books were only released as hardcovers.

The chief of the US Army Library Section, First Lieutenant Ray Trautman, proposed a solution. In January of 1943 Trautman and the chief Navy librarian Isabel DuBois approached the Council on Books in Wartime with a concept for a cooperative publishing project. The enthusiastic CBW, an association of the US publishing industry, sprang into action. Their project called for the publication of current and popular books as lightweight paperbacks paid for by the US government and distributed exclusively to American troops overseas. These were the Armed Services Editions.

“...more popular than pin-up girls.”
NYT Book Review on the Armed Services Editions

Editions for the Armed Services, Inc. was managed by CBW member Philip Van Doren Stern. Stern had been executive editor of Pocket Books (a publisher of paperbacks). As manager Stern had to coordinate the committees of the CBW, representatives of the Army and Navy, publishers, printers, and paper suppliers. In December of 1945 Stern resigned and was replaced by Stahley Thompson who had been working with the Army’s Yank magazine.

Selection process:
The military wanted recreational reading that would suit a range of tastes. As a result ASE titles were a mix of fine literature and popular fiction. The preference was for current books. Unfortunately, the war years saw a decrease in new writing, so older books from the 1930s and classics were also published. An effort was made to keep the books unabridged, and the writing was not censored. All books entered into the ASE program had to be approved by the CBW committee and representatives from both branches of the military.

To keep costs to a minimum publishers and authors agreed to each receive a royalty of only a half cent per copy. Five printing companies offered rates at half of their usual profit. H. Stahley Thompson, the graphic arts specialist in the Special Services Division (responsible for  entertainment in the Army), had the idea to use magazine printing presses to produce books inexpensively. The books were printed two-up and cut in half, resulting in thin pocket-sized books bound on the short side. The text was printed in a small point size and in two columns per page to lower the pagecount and save on paper.

One of the requirements set by publishers was that ASEs be distributed only outside the US. There was a fear that after the war the military would dump their stock of books, which would disrupt the civilian market. The ASEs were most easily found behind the front lines where troops had the most spare time and access to supplies, but books also made their way to combat troops in action. The largest single distribution was in the run-up to D-Day. Each soldier waiting in the marshaling areas in England was given a single ASE to read while waiting to board the invasion fleet. After their departure the crews cleaning the camps found very few books left behind.

On the whole GIs were happy to have the reading material. Boredom was a key problem in military life, which ASEs helped alleviate. The New York Times Book Review called the Armed Services Editions “more popular than pin-up girls.” A private from Brooklyn who was to be part of the Normandy invasion was interviewed by a New Yorker correspondent: “These little books are a great thing. They take you away... This one I am reading now is called Candide [by Voltaire]. It is kind of unusual, but I like it.” Millions of American sailors and soldiers were exposed to books that they would not ordinarily have read. An Army officer in England wrote to the CBW, “you can find boys reading as they never read before. Some toughies in my company have admitted without shame that they were reading their first book since they were in grammar school.”

By the Autumn of 1946 the Armed Services Editions included 1,180 titles. Over 123 million copies were sent overseas at a cost of just over $7 million. The US War Department bestowed an award to the Council on Books in Wartime, “in appreciation of the patriotic services of Editions for the Armed Services, Inc.” It was the publishers’ view that GIs returned home with a new thirst for reading and contributed to the postwar boost in book sales. The great success of the program helped encourage book publishers to push forward with the “paperback revolution” in America. While the ASEs were meant to be disposable, many have survived to this day and are valued by collectors (check out eBay).


Cole, John Y. Books in Action: The Armed Services Editions. The Center for the Book, Library of Congress, 1984.

A History of the Council on Books in Wartime, 1942–1946. New York, 1946.

Jamieson, John. Books for the Army: The Army Library Service in the Second World War. Columbia University Press, 1950.

www.ArmedServicesEditions.com This website was built by a collector of ASEs, Russ Meekins.

Books Go To War This website was built by The University of Virginia, which held an exhibition of ASEs back in 1996.

Books in Action The Library of Congress put up the full text of this book on their website.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

London Bookstore and Library Bombed in the Blitz

In researching books in Britain during World War II, the two photographs below kept turning up. They appear on numerous bookish blogs, but none of these sites included text to put the scenes in context. I found them on stock photo sites and have included the captions here.

On Corbis I found this top image of the library at the 17th-century Holland House. On the night of September 27, 1940 the building was hit by German bombs. This place was private property, so I don’t know why these men would be browsing the shelves the day after the attack. I suspect that the scene may have been staged and printed in the newspapers to boost morale (to showcase British perseverance in the face of the German Blitz).

Version 1. Holland House, Kensington, London, 1940. Available from Corbis.
The photograph is part of the collection held by English Heritage, which provides the following caption:

Holland House, Kensington, London. An interior view of the bombed library at Holland House with readers apparently choosing books regardless of the damage. Photographed in 1940. The House was heavily bombed during World War II and remained derelict until 1952 when parts of the remains were preserved.

Interestingly, I noticed that there are actually two versions of this photo. The photographer took the shot from two slightly different angles, and there is an obvious difference in the blown-out white center space.

London bookshop after German bombing, 1940. Available from AP Images.
The next photo I kept seeing is a British kid reading amidst the ruins of a bookstore. AP Images includes a caption that was written during the war:

Reading history and seeing it, too an amusing sidelight of the latest chapter in London’s history is this lad who, according to the British caption, sits mid the ruins of a London bookshop following an air raid on October 8, 1940 in London, reading the History of London.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

WWII Victory Book Campaign ceremony on the steps of the New York Public Library

Broadway singer Benay Venuta speaking to the crowd on the steps of the New York Public Library, January 23, 1942.
Headquartered in New York City, The Victory Book Campaign was founded by the American Library Association and the United Service Organizations to provide free books for American troops to read. To bring attention to their nation-wide call for book donations, the VBC held a series of opening ceremonies on the steps of the New York Public Library in January 1942 and again in January 1943.

Prominent authors and celebrities attracted large crowds. The events were held over several days with different speakers each day. Notables included singer/actress Kitty Carlisle, author Lewis Gannett, film star Katherine Hepburn, Mayor of New York Fiorello LaGuardia, comedian Chico Marx, singer Kay Thompson (future author of the Eloise series), and “strip-tease artist” Gypsy Rose Lee (read more about her contribution to the VBC).

I recognize actor Danny Kaye and Mayor LaGuardia in the center of this photo, but I'm not familiar enough with 1940s stars to know if any of these women are also celebrities. (photo held in the NYPL collection)
Victory Book Campaign opening ceremony on the steps of the New York Public Library, January 23, 1942.
Author Lewis Gannet, Broadway singer Mady Christians, and Big Band leader Benny Goodman at the NYPL, January, 29, 1942.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Nazi-looted books still held in German libraries

Bloomberg Businessweek had an interesting article this week about the hundreds of thousands of books that were stolen by the Nazis and are still housed in German libraries.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Alanson B. Hewes: Book Illustrator and WWII GI

Council on Books in Wartime logo scanned from the copyright page of the book Report from Red China (1945).
The Council on Books in Wartime had a very charming logo (it reminds me of that 1943 Warner Brothers cartoon where Daffy Duck dive-bombs a villainous vulture). One use for the council’s book-toting eagle was on the title pages of books printed during the war. I haven't seen where else it might have been used, but I imagine it was printed on letterhead, business cards, etc. The words, “Books are weapons in the war of ideas” were developed by W. W. Norton (founder of the book publisher). There’s a story surrounding this slogan that deserves its own future post.

The official history of the CBW conveniently named the artist behind the design: “The Information Committee secured the services, gratis, of Alanson Hewes, who designed the Council’s colophon.” I wanted to learn more about Alanson’s career, so I started a Google search. Unfortunately, the only things that turned up were five books that he had illustrated: The Yankee Cook Book, published by Coward-McCann (1939); The Martha Washington Cook Book, published by James Direct, Inc. (1940); Songs of American Folks, published by The John Day Company* (1942); The Lady and the Painter, published by Coward-McCann (1951); and McKay's Guide to Africa, published by David McKay (1954).
Alanson Hewes’ illustration for the Poultry and Game chapter in The New England Yankee Cookbook (1940).

You might notice that there was a nine-year gap between the third and fourth books. I discovered that this was partly because he was drafted into the Army in December 1943. I found Alanson’s enlistment record on the National Archives site. I know for sure that it’s him, because his civilian job was listed as “Artists, sculptors, and teachers of art”. We also see that he was a resident of New York, NY (which makes sense since he worked in publishing). Many of the National Archives’ personnel records for WWII were lost during a 1973 warehouse fire, so we’re not likely to find out where he served during the war. Hewes was 38 years old when he was drafted (an old man by Army standards), so I doubt that he was put in front-line combat.

I was hoping to find a period article or even an obituary that would offer more of a biography, but the enlistment record and his book illustrations will have to do.

Alanson Hewes’ illustration for the Cider Champagne recipe in The New England Yankee Cookbook (1940).

Cover illustration from Songs of American Folks (1942).
Cover illustration from Songs of American Folks (1942).

*The founder of The John Day Company was Richard J. Walsh, Pearl S. Buck’s husband.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Burlesque Star Gypsy Rose Lee Boosts WWII Book Drive

1941 publicity photo for Gypsy Rose Lee’s first novel, The G-String Murders.
(I scanned this from an old magazine tear-out I found on eBay) 

I thought I’d try browsing through Google Books to find period publications mentioning the Victory Book Campaign (1942–43). The books and journals that appeared in the results are all very dry scholarly pieces, so on page two I was surprised to see Gypsy: The Art of the Tease. It turns out burlesque and film star Gypsy Rose Lee used her celebrity to help put books in the hands of GIs.

In January 1942 and again in January 1943 the Victory Book Campaign officially kicked off its call for donations with a series of opening ceremonies at the New York Public Library. Over several days celebrities appeared on the library steps to bring attention to that year’s book drive. Notables included singer/actress Kitty Carlisle, author Lewis Gannett, film star Katherine Hepburn, Mayor of New York Fiorello LaGuardia, comedian Chico Marx, singer Kay Thompson (future author of the Eloise series), and “strip-tease artist” Gypsy Rose Lee.

Very early in the war Gypsy was active in promoting patriotism and supporting the troops. In magazine articles she praised American servicemen and even offered to send an autographed pin-up portrait to any GI who asked for one. She encouraged women to take jobs in the war industry and participated in a benefit to raise money for an organization that provided child care. Gypsy performed at dozens of USO shows in a 1943 tour that visited forty Army and Navy posts across the country. The expenses for these shows were all paid from her own pocket. She toured military hospitals, sold War Bonds, and made appearances for the Red Cross and various other fund-raisers. Naturally, she was a huge hit with the boys in uniform.

Dust jacket for The G-String Murders (1941).
The Victory Book Campaign organizers must have been extra pleased to have Gypsy appear at their January 22nd rally. Her past career as a stripper commanded a lot of attention, but she was also successful author. She was there to encourage Americans to donate books to the armed forces, while she herself contributed autographed copies of her own novel. Gypsy had written a mystery novel The G-String Murders published by Simon & Schuster in 1941, and second book was released later in 1942.

That day Gypsy was joined by big band drummer & composer Gene Krupa and distinguished author Clifton Fadiman. When speaking to the huge crowd Gypsy showed off her sense of humor. She grabbed the script meant for Fadiman and began to read, “All my life has been spent in the world of books.” This got a big laugh (because, you know... strippers aren’t supposed to read). This sounds like a planned comedy bit to me, but some newspapers assumed it was a genuine mistake. Missouri’s St. Joseph Gazette reported that when Gypsy “saw the size of the crowd she became panicky and wanted to read from a prepared script. There was no opportunity to write anything, so she grabbed the first script she saw, which happened to be Clifton Fadiman’s.” Years later a magazine interviewed her, asking about that day. She quipped, “How would you like to stand up there before such a mob, with all your clothes on?”

Title page for the 1942 edition
of Mother Finds a Body.
The New York Public Library’s 1942 rally wasn't the only time Gypsy supported the Victory Book Campaign. In 1943 she joined several other famous women authors in a PR event. Ilka Chase, Frances Lockridge, Alice-Leone Moats, and Katharine Cornell met on February 11th to publicly donate copies of their books. A representative from the New York Committee of the VBC was there at Saks Fifth Avenue to receive their ceremonial donations. Joining her were three military men representing the Army Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines. The New York Times wrote, “All three looked hopefully at the book titles they gathered in the haul. Their pleasure was loudly expressed at the contribution brought in by Miss Gypsy Rose Lee—twenty copies apiece of her books The G-String Murders and Mother Finds a Body.” The article ended with a notice that collection bins would be left in the store’s vestibule for the duration of the book drive.
University of Chicago graduates with the famous striptease artist and author Gypsy Rose Lee, and her book "the G-String Murders." Found on the University of Chicago Library site.

There were claims that Gypsy’s novels had actually been ghost written by her editor. Later biographers such as Noralee Frankel have been able to find enough written evidence (letters, manuscripts, etc) to show that Gypsy did indeed write the books herself.


Frankel, Noralee. Stripping Gypsy: The Real Life of Gypsy Rose. Oxford University Press. 2009.

“Book Appeal Continues: Midday Rally at Library for Army Attracts 3,000 persons” in The New York Times, January 22, 1942.

“Women Authors Aid in Book Drive: Group of Them Takes Scores of Copies of latest Volumes to Collection Center.” in The New York Times, February 12, 1943.

“Literary Note” in the St. Joseph Gazette, March 30, 1942. Missouri, vol 98, no 30.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

1943 Book List Poster Design and Notes

Note from the advertising company.
After writing my post about the Council on Books in Wartime I wanted to learn who designed their eagle logo. I contacted the library at Princeton University (where the CBW’s records are held), but they couldn't find a reference to the designer. What the researcher did find was an advertising firm’s poster design comp with a note.:



Here is a very rough idea of what the Recommend Books poster should look like. The size would be 14" x 22" which is well within the size for library use recommended by S. John On a machine weight card board, for 750 posters it would cost in one color $120, for 2 colors $136 (maybe a trifle more) to which you should allow a little extra for art work—maybe $25 or $50 (on which will depend how good an artist we can get to do the picture at the top. Incidentally we’d be able to keep the same art over for subsequent posters & then[?] save money. hope you agree to do this!

Rough poster design submitted to the CBW for approval.
Posters such as this one appeared in bookstores and libraries across the country. According to the CBW's official history, the aim of the reading lists was “to present to the public the best and most interesting titles which would help Americans understand the war.” Early in the war the CBW announced their reading lists by simply mailing mimeographed letters. In 1943 the R.R. Bowker Company offered to print and distributed them at no cost. The CBW later commissioned more eye-catching poster designs (such as this one) to better promote the listed books.

There were several different committees within the CBW that issued reading lists. Their suggested books included nonfiction books about the Allied and Axis countries, the armed services, and novels dealing with events in the war. Each month the Library Committee created a list that included any pertinent books in print. There was a Children’s Book Committee suggesting war books to kids. Every two months the Recommended War Books Committee selected newly-published books and mailed out posters such as the one above. It was distributed to about three hundred libraries and bookstores.

When a book was published that the committee felt was especially useful it received the distinction of “Imperative Book”. On this poster we see Wendell Willkie’s One World, published by Simon and Schuster. This program was thought up by advertising executive Franklin Spier, the same man who wrote the note above. Spier was the chairman of the  CBW's Promotion Committee. His firm (known more recently as Spier New York) specialized in book publishing promotion. Appearing on a CBW reading list as an Imperative Book was an honor (there were only six chosen during the war), and it was a sure way to boost sales. The first was They Were Expendable, by W. L. White. The publisher, Harcourt Brace and Company (now Harcourt Trade), wisely donated the money to print the posters. I would not be surprised to learn that Simon and Schuster paid to have this poster produced.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Council on Books in Wartime, 1941–46

The Council on Books in Wartime logo designed by Alanson Hewes.

The attack on Pearl Harbor sparked great call to action by Americans. Patriotic young men volunteered for military service, while nearly everyone else looked for ways to offer their time and resources in support of the war effort. In early 1942 book publishing executives were meeting to figure out how they could contribute on an industry level. The Nazi party's infamous burning of books rallied American bookmen to the defense of free expression. Our nation's book publishers, libraries, and book sellers came together to form the Council on Books in Wartime.

The aim of the CBW was to promote the reading of books as a way to increase morale, share information, and encourage critical thinking among Americans. The happy side-benefit to the publishing industry was more book sales. Early in the war the CBW held public lectures and hosted radio dramatizations of books, but its most influential programs were the nonprofit publication of millions of paperbacks. First published in 1943, the Armed Services Editions were miniature format paperbacks of best-sellers which were freely distributed to American troops. These boosted the morale of homesick soldiers and fostered their post-war habit of book reading. First published in 1944, the Overseas Editions were translations of American authors which were given to the newly-liberated people in Europe and Asia. These were the first books available to a public which had suffered under totalitarian censorship.

The directors of the CBW included some of the most important American publishers of the decade. The men most recognizable today would be:
John Farrar, co-founder of Farrar & Rinehart (after WWII he founded Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Donald S. Klopfer, co-founder of Random House
Alfred A. Knopf, founder of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Frederic G. Melcher, editor of Publishers Weekly (he helped found the children's book awards: Newbery Medal and Caldecott Medal)
William Warder Norton, founder of W. W. Norton & Company
Richard L. Simon, co-founder of Simon & Schuster

The war ended, and American servicemen began returning from overseas. With its job done, the council ceased operations on January 31, 1946. Records of it operations were donated to the Princeton University Library for posterity.

P.S. The Council on Books in Wartime enjoyed unprecedented cooperation among publishing competitors. From its beginning, the CBW's efforts worked with the coordination and support of the US government's Office of War Information. It's interesting to contrast this positive wartime relationship with a very recent example of publishers attempting to band together: To defend against Amazon.com's industry-damaging practices, five major publishing houses each worked out a deal with Apple to sell their eBooks at their preferred prices. This time the US government did not look kindly on the publishers' cooperation. Claiming antitrust laws had been violated, the Department of Justice brought suit against Apple, Penguin, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster in the spring of 2012. To avoid legal costs each publisher settled out-of-court, paying a hefty fine.

Friday, March 1, 2013

World War II New York Tabloid covers

Graphic design historian Steven Heller has a nice collection of WWII era tabloid covers on display on Print magazine's imprint blog.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Librairie de France, 30 Rockefeller Center, 1939

Librairie de France, March 3, 1939. From NYPL.
On the New York Public Library website I found these 1939 photos of a small press and bookshop housed in 30 Rockefeller Center Plaza. Jewish immigrants Isaac Molho and Vitalis Crespin opened Librairie de France in 1935. During WWII their shop served as an important voice of the oppressed people of Nazi-occupied France. It featured the books of French authors who had fled their country after the German invasion. The most famous of these books would have to be The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry.

Interior. From NYPL.
In October of 1944 (after the Allied liberation of France) the exiled French writer Jacques Maritain voiced his great appreciation for Librairie de France:

I congratulate the effort the Librairie de France made to help maintain French culture in the New World during the Second World War. In the very dark days of 1940, when disaster overwhelmed hearts, when the surrender accepted by the Vichy government announced publicly that France was defeated, and American schools diverted the study of French language in favor of Spanish—the launch in New York [of a publisher] in French editions appeared foolish. Aware of their moral responsibilities towards France, the directors of the Librairie de France had enough energy and ambition to take this initiative. They began their task as editors in the Autumn of 1940.

In the free land of the United States, the works of French expression could thus continue to appear, and try to give a voice to the gagged people of France. Through the walls of [German] censorship, French authors could continue to appear in spirit and in reality—along with a few books passed as contraband, and a day will come when the French people will read [the books] that where written for them. [It would be many months before book publishing and book sales returned to the newly-liberated French]

[The directors of Librairie de France] could also continue to give witness [to work written from within occupied France]. No longer receiving anything from France, the general public was for a moment disconcerted. And all those in the New World who cherish French language and thought could continue to hear the voices of the oppressed writers of France who did their best during the silence imposed by force. The liberation of the country will finally allow them to make known in France and the world the works prepared during four years of darkness or heroically published as clandestine editions.

Since 1940 the Librairie de France has been a considerable achievement, which proclaims both the vitality of French culture in this country and the depth of the Franco-American friendship, and it served usefully this culture and friendship. I would like to express to the Librairie de France the recognition of a French writer who found with her the most dedicated cooperation in everything he undertook to serve on this hospitable land the cause of France and freedom.

I copied the above quote from this page on the store's history. I ran it through Google Translate and cleaned up the broken English. I added my own notes in brackets.

Librairie de France closed its doors in 2009, but it still runs a mail order business online.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Minnesota's Remote Library Program, circa 1940

Bookmobile, Minneapolis Public Library. This photo is not dated, but judging by the women's clothing I'd say it was the 1940s. From MNHS.
Some time around 1940 the libraries in Minnesota's District 4 (the area around St. Paul) had a special lending program where books were shelved in stores around town. This must have been a valuable service in the days when inexpensive books were hard to come by. Remember: paperbacks were not yet widely available. These images all come from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Man reading book while getting his hair cut; books available in a Minnesota barber shop, c. 1940. From MNHS.

Woman reading a book in the Minnesota store's paint department. c. 1940. From MNHS.

Boys looking at books from lending book shelf in Kvalo's Variety Store, MN. c. 1940. From MNHS.

Man selecting books from a small lending library in a Minnesota store, c. 1940. From MNHS.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

WWII Victory Book Campaign to be Aided by Milkmen

Schenectady Gazette, August 26, 1942
I came across this 1942 newspaper ad while researching my book (my grandfather welded tanks at ALCO, which this ad congratulates for being awarded a military production award).

During WWII American dairies were eager to seen as important contributors to the war effort. Reading the ad copy, I almost laughed at the self-important tone: "Always the number one defender of public health, the dairyman today assumes a heavy role in the critical task of keeping a nation at war strong and healthy." I suppose the claim isn't too far off the mark when one considers the health risk unsafe milk could pose. The older generation would have remembered a time when pasteurization was not yet in widespread use (and foodborne was illness more common). Still, illustrating a milkman with the marching troops and tanks seems a bit much.

In 1943 the nation's dairies joined the Victory Book Campaign in collecting books to donate to the armed forces. The January 18th issue of The New York Times reported:

"The 1943 Victory Book Campaign for the collection and distribution of books for men in the armed forces will receive practical support from milkmen throughout this area within the next few days. Housewives who have been in the habit of writing notes for the milkmen, telling him how much milk and cream to leave, will now receive notes from the milkman, urging them to wrap up and leave some books alongside their empty milk bottles.

The milkmen will pick up the books and take them to milk distribution centers from which they will be handed on to the nearest library for ultimate distribution to the armed forces. In this plan, such milk companies as Borden's*, Sheffield's and the Dairymen's League have received support from the milk drivers' union.

The Victory Book Campaign is being conducted under the sponsorship of the American Library Association, American Red Cross and USO."

Cloverleaf Dairy bottle,
Springfield, MO.
Image from eBay.
Wartime milk bottles and caps were often printed with patriotic graphics and messages like, "Buy War Bonds," "It's Great to be an American," and "Food Fights Too. Plan All Meals for Victory."

In the US and Britain milk supplies were low due to the bulk of food sent to feed the troops. Food rationing began in Britain in 1940, and in the US in 1942. Priority was given to households with pregnant women and babies.

Over in Britain the milkmen truly were in the line of fire. British dairies kept up deliveries during the German bombings. If a milkman reached a home that had been bombed he would still leave the bottles, trusting that a neighbor would get it to the customers if they had survived. British customers were encouraged to save the aluminum foil caps and donate them as scrap metal.

Determined London milkman making deliveries, 1940.
*As an amusing aside: do you remember Borden's milk? We used to get it when I was a kid. The cartons pictured a cartoon cow as their mascot. Elsie the cow was married to the bull from Elmer's glue! I've never heard any other corporate mascots being romantically involved.


"Victory Book Campaign to be Aided by Milkmen" in The New York Times, January 18, 1943."

Phelps, Tom. The British Milkman. Shire Publications, 2010.

Zebrowski, Carl. "Enough to go Around" in Home Front Life: a special publication of American in WWII magazine. 2012.