Saturday, June 14, 2014

Milton K. Ozaki, plus a few more night shots

My street, tinkered with so it looks contemporaneous with the
paperback originals I've been reading from the 1950s and '60s.
(Photos by your humble blogkeeper)
Milton K. Ozaki is the only crime writer I know of who was also a reporter, a hair dresser, and, according to at least one source, a tax lawyer, as well.  A private note from a prominent student of American crime fiction recently called Ozaki "possibly the most bizarre writer of the '50s pulps."

Ozaki's entertaining 1954 novel Dressed to Kill got me thinking more than I have before about the role formula played in what readers and publishers expected — and circumstances demanded — of writers in the paperback original and pulp eras, from the 1930s through the 1960s.   

The Lit Brothers Building, Philadelphia.
Ozaki, for example, seems to have been particularly fascinated by grapes, making of them a stock device to which he could turn when in need of a vivid or odd metaphor, as in:
"The bright yellow of the Caddy made it stand out like a banana in a bowl of grapes."
"His pale eyes, excited by the anticipated kill, had the translucent quality of seedless grapes, yet seemed more shiny, as if oiled by hate."
From my newspaper's office
looking across Market Street,
Have you ever compared anyone's eyes to a seedless grape? Neither have I.  Ozaki probably hit on phrases and situations readers liked, and made a game of seeing how far he could stretch the metaphors without snapping them entirely. My preliminary assessment, based on just the one novel, is that Ozaki sits somewhere between the hyperventilating extravagance of Robert Leslie Bellem and the calmer atmospherics of, say, Helen Nielsen.

Bill Crider notes the extravagance and the occasional repetition in Ozaki's work, which I'm guessing are results of having to turn out so much work so fast. At the same time, I especially like this observation of Crider's, which fills me with respect for talented writers who worked under difficult conditions:
"You can almost see the improvement happening in Ozaki’s steady progression up the ladder of paperback publishers. He started at the bottom with Phantom and Handi-Books, moved to Graphic, then to Ace, and finally to Gold Medal."
And now I'm off to learn more about the pulps and hacks who wrote for them. 

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger mybillcrider said...

I've probably read more Milton K. Ozaki books than just about anybody. It's been a while, though. I have his booklet on stamp collecting, but I haven't read that one.

June 14, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Stamp collecting, you say? And I thought it was his hairdressing that made him stand out among hard-boiled crime writers?

Any recommendations on what I should read next of his, other than gravitating toward the books originally published by Gold Medal, if I can find them?

June 14, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not to neglect Lawrence Block's Keller, of course.

June 14, 2014  
Anonymous Mary Beth said...

There is something about a photo taken through a window that gives me the momentary frisson of a voyeur, a slightly melancholy voyeur.

I like the street scenes. Photoshop a silhouette of a man in a fedora and a trench coat and you would have had the next Mickey Spillane jacket.

June 18, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

For Spillane, I think I'd have to add a gun to the picture. Or a babe. Or a babe and a gun.

The voyeur tradition also has more cheerful antecedents in seventeenth-century Dutch painting, notably Vermeer's Little Street.

June 18, 2014  

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