Shorten came from the Midwood section of Brooklyn NY. With his partner,
artist Al Fagaly, Shorten made his fortune with a comic strip called
THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW. Shorten thought up the ideas and Fagaly would
do the drawings. Looking around for somewhere to invest all the
money he was making from his cartoon, Shorten decided to become
a paperback book publisher. He looked at the success of Beacon Books,
a series of slick cheap throwaway melodramas and sexy romances with
flashy girlie art covers marketed to men and published by Universal
Distributing. Shorten figured he could do the same, and at 505 8th
Avenue in Manhattan, in 1957, he started a paperback book line named
for his old neighborhood. The first batch of Midwood Books were
either THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW paperbacks or unnumbered experimental
forays in the Beacon style. By Midwood 7 in 1958, the authors and
artists we recognize as Midwood Books were in place. Midwood 7 is
by Loren Beauchamp and has a cover by Rudy Nappi, Midwood 8 is by
Sheldon Lord and has a cover by Paul Rader. Shorten was getting
his early manuscripts from the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, where
Merediths band of employees and clients were soon churning
out a book a month for Nightstand Books, too. And he was getting
his cover paintings from the Balcourt Art Service, the same agency
that supplied many of the covers for Beacon.
nobody at Midwood knew it then, most of the books were by the same
writers turning out the Nightstands. For example, Loren Beauchamp
(Robert Silverberg) would become Don Elliott a year later at Nightstand,
Sheldon Lord (Lawrence Block) would become Andrew Shaw. Some of
the writers, like Alan Marshall and Clyde Allison and Al James,
used the same name for both.
just 5 men wrote almost all of the first 40 numbered Midwoods. This
hard-working group (Beauchamp, Lord, Marshall, Orrie Hitt and Don
Holliday) carried and established Midwood until Shorten was able
to build his own stable of regulars names like March Hastings,
Dallas Mayo, Kimberly Kemp, Joan Ellis, Jason Hytes and Sloane Britain.
a book publisher, Shorten may not have known much about literature
or good books (he was kind of the polar opposite of other New York
publishers like Random Houses Bennett Cerf, who was a silent
partner at Bantam Books), but he understood what the average American
slob liked. His books are bright, colorful, flashy and above all
eye-catching. Thats why cover artists like Nappi, Rader and
Robert Maguire were so important to Shortens success. The
covers sold the books. Midwoods were not great literature, but they
were usually great fun. PG-rated sex scenes popped up every few
pages full of innuendo and veiled references to throbbing
manhood and dark triangles. Somehow, although
romance books and soap opera were usually the province of women
fans, Midwoods and Beacons were marketed to men. It was those covers.
Many different collectors have told me that Midwoods are among their
their lesbian titles, while obviously enjoyed by many female readers
then and to this day, were often actually written by men using female
pen names like Barbara Brooks, Jill Emerson and Kimberly Kemp; then
edited by men and marketed to men. Unlike some other paperback houses,
all of Midwoods early books dealt only with aspects of human
sexuality. Midwood novels run the gamut from engaging to mundane.
Shortens only interest was a profitable product. To that end
he enlisted a team of friends and professionals to staff the offices
at Midwood. His first editor was a brilliant, doomed writer named
Elaine Williams. His right hand man, art director and later editor
was Marshall Dugger. Shorten didnt know much about books,
but he was savvy enough to bring in people who did. He also enlisted
eager young writers like Julie Ellis and Gilbert Fox.
Dugger and Williams are no longer with us, but to learn more about
Midwood I interviewed Julie Ellis and Gil Fox.
of the Midwood writers were never heard from again, while others
became bona fide best-selling authors. This select group includes
Silverberg & Block, Donald E. Westlake, and Julie Ellis. Now
a successful writer of historical fiction living in New York with
her husband and children, Julie Ellis once wrote books for Midwood
as Joan Ellis.
of the other Midwood writers got me in touch with Julie, who I found
to be an absolute sweetheart. She was very kind and patient with
me as I pestered her, not about the books she is so well regarded
for today, but the books she wrote as a youngster for Harry Shorten.
What pen names did you use?
Julie Ellis: I was Joan Ellis and Linda Michaels for Midwood.
I was Jill Monte for Beacon and Domino, and Susan Richard at Paperback
Library. My daughter is Susan, my son Richard. Susan Marvin became
Susan Marino for one book when an editor at Avon wanted an Italian
name on a book. I was Allison Lord and Jeffrey Lord. And I did some
paperback originals under my own name before going hardcover/softcover
with Simon & Schuster in 1975.
I found some of your books at my local used bookstore in the romance
Ive never written paperback romances. Today the term romance
novels is being widely expanded. Ive done multigenerational
novels, historicals, and romantic suspense.
Do you remember who wrote as March Hastings? Who was Sloane Britain?
Amy Harris? Laura Duchamp? Randy Salem?
March Hastings was Sally Singer. I think she was Laura Duchamp
too. Her brother Ron Singer was a Midwood writer too, lots of
pen names. I would see them at the Christmas parties. The Midwood
staff would be there, and writers like Gil Fox and Morris Hershman
(Arnold English) and Mike Avallone
Britains real name was Elaine Williams. She died too young.
Amy Harris?? I think Amy Harris might have been Lou Ellen Davis?
did not know Randy Salem.
Can you put me in touch with Sally Singer?
Ellis: My Christmas card to Sally was returned, so I gather
she's moved on. If I hear from her--which happens at intervals--I'll
tell her about your project. However, she's a very private person
and I doubt she'd cooperate.
note: Later, Sally Singer did not answer my phone message requests
for an interview.)
Some of my favorite Joan Ellis books have covers by Paul Rader.
Did you know him?
No, I dont remember ever meeting him. I dont think
he came to any of the parties. I never knew any of the artists;
I just dealt with Harry Shorten and Marshall Dugger. I wrote a
number of books for them in the sixties. One time I walked into
Harrys office and he held up a painting of a blonde eating
an ice cream cone and he said, I now own this cover art.
Write me a book to go with it. So I did. (ed. note: the
book is TALK OF THE TOWN, Midwood 32-396).
am happy to report that my interview with Julie Ellis led to an
invitation from my friend Gary Lovisi for Julie to be a guest
at the 2003 New York Paperback Show, where hopefully much more
will be learned about her days as a paperback writer.).
collector Robert Rutherford told me that 3 different Midwood regulars
Paul V. Russo, Dallas Mayo and Kimberly Kemp were
all pen names of the same man, Gilbert Fox. Fox is now retired
and living in Northern California. I drove up to visit him one
day last year.
Fox was born in Connecticut in 1917. He grew up in Bridgeport
and Harrison NY and studied musicology at Bowling Green State
University in Ohio, where he is still remembered as the author
of the college fight song. He was a bombardier in World War II.
At college he met and married a Southern beauty who was bisexual.
Her lesbian adventures would influence Foxs writing for
the rest of his life.
Foxes moved to Greenwich Village, where Gil became friends with
John Alexander Scott Coutts III, the artist known as John Willie.
also had a friend named George White, who gave LSD to kids for
the CIA, but thats a different story, outside the scope
of this article, one you can look up on the Internet or at your
local library.) And he became friends with Harry Shorten.
when Shorten started his own publishing company, he thought of
his friend Gil Fox. Foxs first book for Shorten was A TOUCH
OF DEPRAVITY as Paul V. Russo (Midwood 67). Soon Fox was turning
in so many manuscripts they had to use other pen names so they
wouldnt have 3 Paul V. Russo books appear in the same month.
Gil Foxs books are always professionally told, with style
and speed, the same themes reappearing again and again like a
film directors obsessions. He was the Midwood lesbian version
of a Howard Hawks. Fox would go on to write over 100 Midwoods.
is a cantankerous old guy, and I had a hell of an afternoon with
him. When a fellow researcher who is writing a book about the
adult book world asked me for Foxs address, I warned him
Fox could be volatile. After interviewing Fox, he called me back
to say Im thinking of changing the title of my book
to CRABBY OLD MEN.
Was A TOUCH OF DEPRAVITY, your first Midwood, also your first
book as a writer?
We will not talk about my first book! That subject is taboo.
I notice in addition to the Midwoods there is a Kozy
Book called THE TROUBLE WITH RED HEADS by Dallas Mayo.
That was a one shot. I did it as a favor for a friend of my wife.
. You wrote a lot of books for Midwood. Did you write
for them exclusively?
No, I also wrote books for Stanley Malkin, aka Stanley Malcolm.
He owned a bookstore on Times Square. It was Mafia-connected.
He paid cash, no records, no receipts. He was semi-literate but
he appreciated writers. His books have imprints like After Hours
and First Niter. They always changed my title to some awful title,
and they made up their own house names. (Fox showed me a couple
of his books, an After Hours title called LESBIAN SLAVES by Violet
Loring and CASTAWAYS by Peter Willow, First Niter 232. Another
book is ALL AT ONCE by Leda Starr, Unique UB136. Foxs original
title for this was CORA VALDEZ, and he had crossed off the publishers
title with black magic marker and written CORA VALDEZ over it.
Other books had the offending titles ripped off, Foxs titles
handwritten on the first page.)
Later on I wrote for Barney Rossett. I wrote a couple for Grove
Press that he published as Venus Library. On one of them he accidentally
put my real name on the copyright page (The books are BIZARRE
VOYAGE by Anthony Bell, Venus Library V1112T, and FANCHONS
BOOK by Zane Pella, Venus Library V1072T. Fox never signs his
real name on his books, but he signed FANCHONS BOOK on the
copyright page.) I also wrote some books for one of the Midwood
writers, Ron Singer. They had an office set up at Christopher
and Hudson in the Village, with typewriters, and you could go
in there and write for money. One day after working for them I
happened to be in the Lions Head Bar when the riot broke
out. The Lions Head was a gathering place for gay men and
dirty book writers.
recently Ive written for Blue Moon and Masquerade. Some
of my stuff is still pretty hot.
So you knew Harry Shorten before Midwood
Harry Shorten had no knowledge of books whatsoever. He had some
money from his cartoons, wanted to start a business, used the
money to start Midwood. I dont think Harry ever read a book
in his whole life. He did not recognize intelligent writing in
books. He would slap a hot cover on anything. For some reason
Harry loved me. He would hit me on the back and call me his
most prolific author. How Harry operated: one day we came
back from lunch and Harry picks the title WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW
out of the air and says Your next book for Midwood will
be WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW. That was it, no meaning at all,
no story. So, you know, I went home and wrote WHEN LIGHTS ARE
How much did Midwood pay in those days?
When I met Harry Shorten I was writing to make a buck at a dollar
a page. But Midwood paid $500. per manuscript. Later it was $1000.
each. We got paid royalties early on, then they stopped.
me about Shortens staff, and the other writers.
His first editor was Elaine Williams, who wrote as Sloane Britain.
Her family refused to accept the fact that she was a lesbian,
and she committed suicide. Marshall Dugger was Harrys right
hand man, his art director, and a drunk. Every once in a while
Harry would have to go out and get Dugger out of trouble someplace.
The next editor was a guy named John Plunkett. I dont know
why, but Plunkett was jealous of my success, jealous of my friendship
with Harry. Plunkett cornered me at Midwood one day, and he said,
You think you are so hot. Well Im going to write a
better book than all of yours. I said, I didnt
realize this work was a competition. Plunkett was furious
I was the best. Now Plunkett came from Jackson Heights, so he
took that for his pen name, Jason Hytes. And he started writing
books for Harry. And you know what, one of them, SEX BEFORE SIX,
well hell, that was pretty damn good. As good as mine. As an insider,
Plunkett knew that Harry never read his own companys books.
So he sold the same book to Harry four different times. He would
rewrite the first page and change the characters names and
change a few details, and he got paid for it four times.
Did you know Sally Singer?
Oh yes, I knew the Singer family. There was Sally, who wrote as
March Hastings, and her girlfriend, Pat Perdue, who wrote as Randy
Salem. And there was her brother, Ron Singer, and his boyfriend,
what the hell was HIS name?
later contacted Ron Singer, who told me he is no longer communicating
with his sister. Ron was reluctant to discuss his Midwood output
(a response I got more often than not from the Midwood writers),
but he did identify THE PATH BETWEEN by Jay Warren (Midwood 72),
and TALL BLONDE & EVIL as Greg Hamilton (Midwood F366) as
examples of his work for Shorten.)
Who else? Did you know Orrie Hitt?
Orrie Hitt wrote absolute drivel! Have you ever tried to read
an Orrie Hitt book?
How about Joan Ellis?
Julie Ellis. Julie was not a dirty book writer, didnt
belong in our business, too much class. She had much greater success,
all of it richly deserved, after Midwood.
I notice that the Paul Russo books have male and female characters
while the Dallas Mayo and Kimberly Kemp books are almost all lesbian
My theme in my books is the domination of one woman over another,
told from the submissives viewpoint. The first page is important.
This is where the reader realizes this is the characters
viewpoint, not the authors. So the pen names were interchangeable.
I thought Dallas Mayo was a man, Kimberly Kemp a lesbian
For me, Dallas Mayo was always a woman. Dallas, like Claire Trevor
in STAGECOACH. And Kimberly Kemp might be an Englishman. I wanted
them to go either way. My books became so popular that they published
one by Paul V. Dallas. I was not Paul V. Dallas! That was an imposter.
Many of your books have classic cover paintings by Paul Rader.
Did you know Paul Rader?
Never met him. I would hear his name at Midwood but I never saw
him there. Later on most of my books had photo covers.
Fox continued his Midwood output throughout the sixties. Along
around 1970 there were sweeping changes in the content of adult
paperbacks in America as a direct result of certain decisions
made by the Supreme Court about what constituted pornography.
What were tame paperbacks in the sixties became something else
in the seventies. At the same time, for unrelated reasons, Paul
Rader stopped supplying Midwood covers. The books used photo covers
and then ugly, plain printed covers. The authors all changed,
except for a couple who had no trouble shifting gears and writing
porn - Jason Hytes and Dallas Mayo. The editors changed and the
The adult book business collapsed when the Mafia came in and took
over the bookstores and said they would only sell books by their
own publishers. And they started printing and selling absolute
garbage. Harry never had any involvement with the Mafia. Later,
he owed money to American Art Enterprises (Cameo Books) for paper
stock, and he couldnt pay. He was forced to turn over the
Midwood stock to them.
That explains why I find American Art books from the 80s
that turn out to be reprints of 70s Midwood titles
what was your formula for writing so many books?
I would watch old movies and imagine the man and woman as two
women and re-imagine it as a lesbian scene. Id pull a whole
scene from the Late Show and write it down and put it in a box.
Then Id pull ideas from the box when writing a book.
interviewing Fox I sold some of his books on the Internet. I heard
from Gil Fox fans from all over the world. His stories are still
read, and enjoyed, by lovers of such books to this day. In a business
peopled with hacks and talentless scribes, Fox was a cut above
Midwoods all say A Tower Publication. After 1964 there
are many other types of books in the mix, Tower Books,
not just the sexy stuff but science fiction and non-fiction
and historical adventure and mystery. Tower eventually evolved
into Belmont-Tower, and Midwood eventually started turning out
what can only be described as pornography. But thats another
a guy who never read a book, Harry Shorten left behind a rich
legacy for vintage paperback collectors.
dont know how many unnumbered editions of THERE OUGHTA
BE A LAW Midwood printed, but I have only seen 4 different
Midwoods before #7. From Midwood 7 on, the numbering is sequential.
There are letters before some of the book numbers, and a two-digit
sales code starts in 1964 when Midwood officially becomes
Midwood-Tower. After F394, THE UNLOVED, the next book is 34-395,
a Midwood double called THE DANGEROUS AGE/BAD BY CHOICE by
Joan Ellis/Jason Hytes, collected today for its interior illustrations
by Frank Frazetta. Sequential numbering continues to 35-999.
The next book is 34-100, Midwood omits one of the zeros from
1000 and starts over at 100, with 100, 200 and
finally 300 series. This numbering continues until late 1969.
Im not positive what the last sequential Midwood was;
the last one Ive seen is 37-332, a book called THE SYBARITES
by Odda DeLazzo, a book with a printed cover, devoid of the
art that made the Midwoods desirable to so many of us. Another
group of collectors, men who were used to getting books with
blank printed covers, were now buying the paperbacks. If 37-332
is not the last of the set, it is close to it. The new numbering
scheme begins with ROCK-A-BYE, BABY by George Shaw, Midwood
basically the books go up in order from #7 on, until the
seventies, when, as if to signal to us that the happy PG-rated
days are over, the X-rated Midwoods use unique numbering,
first an M-price-book number series (like M195-86, A LESBIANS
LESSON) and then a 60000 series (like 60291, LESBIAN ON
The two-digit sales codes are easy to decipher: first
digit 3 means Midwood, first digit 4 means Tower. The second
digit is a price code:
= 60c, 43 = 60c
= 75c, 44 = 75c
= 95c, 45 = 95c