10 June 2011

A Lionel Shapiro Cover Cavalcade

Either you hit the jackpot or get nowhere. There are much better writers than myself who can't even get to first base for coffee money.
– Lionel Shapiro, 1956
Having endured all 351 pages of The Sixth of June, I doubt I'll ever find the strength to open another Lionel Shapiro book – but if I do, A Star Danced, Gertrude Lawrence's 1945 "autobiography" will be the one. The English chanteuse maintained that the words were her own, but credit really belongs to Lionel Shapiro, ghostwriter.

A Star Danced was not the war correspondent's first book. The previous year saw They Left the Back Door Open, a rushed, but worthwhile piece of reportage on the Allies in Italy.

Shapiro turned next to fiction with The Sealed Verdict (Doubleday, 1947), "the tale of Major Lashley, whose reward for his brilliant and successful prosecution of a German war criminal was an official commendation... and an unexplainable feeling of guilt." One 1948 wire service story puts the first printing at 250,000, while another reports that Paramount had paid as much as US$200,000 for the rights. Though Walter Winchell thought The Sealed Verdict had the makings of an important film, no one was particularly taken by the results. The Bantam movie tie-in, which was never reprinted, marks the last time the novel saw print.

For Winchell, Torch for a Dark Journey (Doubleday, 1950) was "better than his first click The Sealed Verdict," but this time Hollywood didn't come calling. However, the novel did make it to the small screen in a 1950 Philco Television Playhouse broadcast. A California bookseller currently lists a souvenir of the effort, an inscribed copy of the first edition:
Signed for Delbert Mann - to whom I am greatly indebted for an incisive job of direction in the first dramatization of this book - and for whom I confidently predict an immense future in the world of dramatic arts. Lionel Shapiro, Nov. 24, 1950.
Mann was director of the television adaptation. His future in the world of dramatic arts wasn't exactly immense, but he did win the 1955 Best Director Oscar for Marty. And the further dramatizations? Still we wait.

Published in 1951, the Bantam edition enjoyed no second printing, though the uncredited cover image was recycled for by Corgi three years later.

Seen here through the fog of war in 1958, what Doubleday peddled as "a truly tender love story", Fontana pitches as a blood and guts war novel. In fact, The Sixth of June has just one battle scene, and it barely covers ten pages. Did I mention there are 351 pages in all? I read them all.

The Gazette, 6 August 1955

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