Despite being considered one of the all-time greatest mystery writers, Dashiell Hammett wrote only five novels. The most famous, of course, is the Maltese Falcon, in part because of the film noir masterpiece starring Humphrey Bogart.
His final novel, The Thin Man is as successful in its own way. It was adapted into a film that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1934. That film was followed by five sequels and a television series that aired 72 episodes between 1957 and 1959.
But The Thin Man started life as a Redbook Novel in December 1933, illustrated, of course, by Joseph Franké. The Redbook novels look a lot different from their Blue Book counterparts. These consist of a title page with a small picture, one full-page illustration, and a number of small vignettes scattered throughout the story.
Here we go, for as the title page tells us, “As hard-boiled and thrilling a murder-shocker as you’ve ever read — written by a man who was once a Pinkerton detective, and knows more about real murder than any other living writer!”
Here are the illustrations from the second part of When Worlds Collide by Phillip Wylie and Edwin Balmer as published in Blue Book Magazine, October 1932.
From the editor:
The astronomer is your only successful prophet: He predicts an eclipse of the sun on a certain day, a certain hour—and lo, on that certain day and hour the eclipse occurs! It is for this reason, among others, that “When Worlds Collide” has a special fascination: it is based on man’s one real achievement in the tempting art of prophecy.
The rest of our prophets lack inspiration, apparently, or they venture to deal with the unpredictable. One thing only are they safe in predicting: change—change in knowledge, in science, in government, in human viewpoint if not in human nature. And it is because of this, of course, that each month a magazine can give you stories essentially new, even though a thousand stories based on the same theme have been written before.
The Editor of Blue Book
If you’d like to see the illustrations in context and read the story you can do that here:
Here are the illustrations from the first part of When Worlds Collide by Phillip Wylie and Edwin Balmer as published in Blue Book Magazine, September 1932.
Immense gratitude is owed to Archive.org which is an extensive online library with a virtual treasure trove of content. This website wouldn’t be nearly as robust without it. For example, I had not seen any of the art in this issue before it was finally published on that site. I first wrote about Archive.org here.
Blue Book was enthusiastic about When Worlds Collide, saying this in their introductory editorial.
In this issue, for example, appears one of the most remarkable novels any magazine has printed in years—“When Worlds Collide,” the collaboration of two of America’s best writers: Edwin Balmer, who wrote “Dangerous Business” and “That Royle Girl;” and Philip Wylie, author of “The Wild Wallaces.” You have a real novelty awaiting you on Page 6 of this issue.
The Editor of Blue Book
In that editorial, they also talked about changing the format of the magazine so that they could reduce the price in response to the Great Depression.
If you’d like to see the illustrations in context, and read the story for that matter, follow this link.
I mean all kinds of art. From prose to poetry to paintings to plays, these things must be experienced, appreciated, and felt. Creative work deserves an audience. Art cries out to move someone and the better it is the louder it cries.
Many things can never be experienced again. The original performance of Hamlet at the Globe theater, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the missing paintings of DaVinci have been lost to the mists of time. Other things are ephemeral; used and then discarded. The BBC production of The Caves of Steel from 1964, for example, was shown and then erased. As far as anyone knows it no longer exists. Imagine Michaelangelo’s David as an ice sculpture.
Still, the sheer amount of stuff that deserves to be seen to which we could call attention must be mindboggling. It’s probably being produced faster than it can be consumed. Getting it all out there is likely an impossibility; that isn’t a reason not to try.
And so, we come to the point. A body of work that deserves to be seen exists in my little corner of the universe. This small part of the unfathomable mass of art-worth-seeing is a piece I can do something about.
The gentleman pictured below is my grandfather, Joseph Franké.
He was a nationally known pen-and-ink illustrator whose work appeared in Boy’s Life, Women’s World, Blue Book, Red Book, and more. He illustrated significant novels like When Worlds Collide, by Phillip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans by Agatha Christie, and The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett when each originally appeared in Blue or Red Book. According to a newspaper account of his memorial service, he was “considered by many art critics the finest in his field”
The point of this website is to put his work somewhere it can be found, seen, and enjoyed. There’s an excellent biography that can be found at A Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists. I wish I could remember more stories about my grandfather but sadly, he passed away about 30 years before I was born. I remember the story that David Saunders relates in that bio where he would leave in the morning with paintings to sell and return, having sold them, with candy for his children. I recall stories about building his studio attached to the back of the house and about the jubilation that followed getting a contract from Red Book Magazine to be the regular illustrator of their novels. My mom loved a story involving a litter of kittens; her dad baptized each one with a drop of something from the liquor cabinet, awarding each with an appropriate name. Growing up we had two cats, each named Wooski, in honor of the Whisky from that story. Mostly I remember the admiration that the family felt for his legacy. That admiration has been passed on to me.
And, so, here we have it: a website dedicated to the art and legacy of Joseph Franké. I hope you’ll enjoy.