29 September 2014

The Double Flame Mystery

The first of five sent by Welland bookseller Steven Temple, this photo of James Benson Nablo's The Long November has had me pouring over old notes. Four years ago, my nose was to the ground in dogged pursuit of the figures behind its publisher, Double Flame of Hollywood, California. I enlisted help in the hunt from my man in L.A., Stephen J. Gertz. We got so far as to amass a list of suspects, but then I got hungry and was forced to return nose to grindstone.

Canadian writers should be ever mindful of the fate of John Richardson.

What's someone so focussed with things Canadian care about a Tinseltown publisher, anyway?

Good of you to ask.

Double Flame issued just three books – The Long November, Port of Call by Stephen Mark, and Serge C. Wolsey's Call House Madam – each of which had appeared six or seven years earlier as News Stand Library paperbacks. There's got to be a link between the two fly-by-night publishers, right?

The Long November is by far the best of the three titles, but it's Port of Call that holds my interest. It first appeared – more or less – as Overnight Escapade, one of the strangest books I've read this year. It's not a novel, but a very long short story packaged with some very short short stories and others of a conventional length. Port of Call and Other Selected Stories on the title page, the Double Flame edition not only renames the lead, but drops a couple of others.

It's easy to see why Double Flame was so attracted to the Nablo and Wolsey titles. First published by Dutton in 1946, The Long November enjoyed three hardcover printings and numerous mass market editions (and is back in print with a new Introduction by yours truly). Call House Madam, purportedly the story of the career of L.A. brothel keeper Beverly Davis, enjoyed even greater sales with all sorts of editions stretching from the very early 'forties to the very late 'sixties. "Over 400,000 copies sold at $3.95 " claims the 1963 Popular Library paperback.

But why Overnight Escapade? The book came and went in April 1950; unlike many of its titles, News Stand Library never even bothered issuing an American edition. The 1957 Double Flame repackaging is the second and last we've seen of Stephen Mark and his strange stories.

Looking over these photos has me itching to reopen the Double Flame file.

But now, it's time for lunch. Gotta eat, you know.

Note: My thanks to Steven Temple for the photographs. Those interested in purchasing the Nablo and Mark Double Flames are encouraged to contact the bookseller through his website.

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