Chapter 5: The Books

Part 3

 

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Fellow collector Jim Parsons threw a monkey wrench into my “complete” list when he came up one day for a book swapping session and handed me the December 1956 issue of Male Magazine carrying the novella “Back Street Doll” featuring Timothy Dane and profusely illustrated by Samson Pollen.

The book, in which Dane takes on a corrupt New York City Hall to save a girl who is the target of a lecherous cop and her framed brother who killed the cop, was obviously hastily written. Characters are only briefly sketched. The skeleton plot is full of coincidences and new characters who happen to appear at just the right moment. One flashback passage is so out of place it is disorienting. Even Dane himself is two dimensional, getting beaten up and carrying the wounded brother from place to place in what becomes an unwitting comedy.

But in nearly every Ard novel there is a scene or insight or descriptive passage that is pure gold. At the end of the book, Ard again sees the future.

The defendant youth is brought to court. The defense attorney, who is destined to become the next New York mayor, in a surprise move brings in the media, including the TV station. Remember, this is 1956.

The attorney knows that when the evidence is read, everyone in New York will understand the corruption of the city government and will bring the administration to an end. Even the corrupt district attorney immediately understands this and refuses to prosecute, instead using his moment in front of the camera to begin campaigning.

Ard fully understood the power of the print media (the subplot is the battle between the newspaper under the corrupt government’s control and the good newspaper out to bring the truth), but more importantly, he foresaw the all pervasive power of TV, the immediacy, the emotional impact and its ability to sway, change and shape public opinion.

Four decades before the event, William Ard described the framework of the O.J. Simpson trial.

Ard returned to his love of theater in Cry Scandal, one of the slower moving but more interesting books. We learn how Dane got his start in the business with a man named Barney Glines. Dane left the partnership when Glines turned to unethical ways of making money in the private investigation business. Now Dane is trying to find him.

The plot revolves around an upcoming Broadway musical opening and a new scandal sheet that mysteriously appears around strategic places in the theater circles, threatening to ruin the careers of various people.

The plot is thin and Ard spends inordinate amounts of time giving long backgrounds to characters for little purpose. Coincidences abound, with someone turning up to save someone else because they happened to be following them–which we find out after the fact.

But the author does provide intimate glimpses into the business which he obviously knew first hand.

Perhaps the most startling insight is into the character of the successful actor’s agent who spends energy to build an actress’s career, then destroys it.

“Could he explain it to her? he wondered. Explain the unexplainable? That for all his work to make her an actress, there was a counter-effort to destroy her? . . .some need to tear down what a person has created. There was much more thrill in destruction.”

What Ard describes is a microcosm of the American psyche, the need to create star, elevate him/her on a high, rickety pedestal, do some worship, then with a kick, watch in perverted fascination as the star falls.

Ard, at times, seemed to probe into the very soul of our society. As a by-product he was able to see society’s future.

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