Obscurity of the Day: Book-of-the-Month

 EDIT: Consider this entire post to be deprecated. Jim Davidson has tackled the huge job of figuring out this series, and has done a superb job of it. So head on over to his blog to get the straight skinny on Book-Of-The-Month.


Here’s a real oddity that I’ve been researching for years. Starting around November 1942 the Book-of-the-Month Club and King Features teamed up for this feature which distilled the current Book-of-the-Month Club selection into a series of thirty comic strips. Each ‘strip’ was a sequence of two to four art panels with extensive text running underneath.

For those unfamiliar with the Book-of-the-Month Club (BOMC for short), they were, and are, a mail order bookseller. When you join the club you get to pick a batch of hardcover books for a ridiculously low price (often a penny). In exchange for that you promise to buy a certain number of books from the club at prices that are a bit cheaper than if you purchased the books in a bookstore. Every month the club sends out a mailing describing the books available and you can pick anything from that list. The gotcha is that every month the club selects one book as the default selection, and if you don’t send in a reply card saying you don’t want that book, they’ll ship it to you and you have to pay for it. The club is a good deal but if you’re absent-minded and forget to send in those reply cards you’ll end up owning a lot of books you don’t necessarily want.

Getting back to today’s obscurity, it was offered, presumably cheap or maybe even free, to newspapers as a marketing tool for the BOMC. I guess the idea was that you read the highly abbreviated form of the books in your daily paper and it might prompt you to join the club.

The idea seems counterproductive to me — why pay for the book if you already know the story — but it must have been a marginally effective tool because the series ran a surprisingly long time. The feature did not run in very many newspapers, and most of those that did seemed to tire of the feature quickly. Worse yet, a lot of newspapers ran the monthly stories late so that the tie-in with the BOMC current selection didn’t really work as intended.

For the longest time I was convinced that the feature only made it into 1944, but then a few samples popped up from 1946, and yesterday’s News of Yore bears out that the series was still running then. Unfortunately the series was never listed in the E&P yearbooks, so that excellent resource gives us no help. EDIT: Cole Johnson has determined that the series was still running in the Philadelphia Daily News in 1948! However, the two titles he’s seen so far are for books that were first published in 1944, so they were apparently running things late. He definitely has a number of new 1947 titles, though, which have been added to the list.

Listed below are the series that I know about. I give only the years because as I mentioned earlier, many newspapers ran the series late and out of order. The names in parentheses are the artists. If anyone can supply more information about this series or newspapers that ran it I would really appreciate if you could let me know. [stories IDed by readers have been added in red — thanks to all!!]

The Seventh Cross (William Sharp)

Look to the Mountain (John Fulton)
Guadalcanal Diary (I.B. Hazelton)
The Human Comedy (Nick Hoffer)
The Song of Bernadette (Harold Foster)
Combined Operations (William Sharp)
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (Don Komisarow)
Hungry Hill (Rodlow Willard)
Colonel Effingham’s Raid (Creig Flessel)
You Can’t Escape (R.F. Schabelitz)

Taps for Private Tussie (F.R. Gruger)
Into Occupied France and Out (William Sharp)

Paris Underground (William Reusswig)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (William Meade Prince)
Good Night Sweet Prince (James Montgomery Flagg)
Duel In The Sun (F.R. Gruger)
Wingate’s Raiders (L.H. Greenwood)
Tarawa (William Reusswig first six strips, John W. Mayo thereafter)
The Case of the Crooked Candle (Stephen Grout)
Joseph the Provider (C.B. Falls)
The Lost Weekend (F.R. Gruger)
Pastoral (James A. Ernst)
The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde (Stephen Grout)
Betrayal from the East (William Sharp)

Immortal Wife (F.R. Gruger)
Cass Timberlane (James Montgomery Flagg)
The Fountainhead (Frank Godwin)
Cluny Brown (Wallace Morgan)

Britannia Mews (Jack Betts)
The King’s General (George Tetzel)
This Side of Innocence (John H. Crosman)
The Foxes of Harrow (Lawrence Butcher)
The Salem Frigate (George Tetzel)
Antioch Actress (Neil O’Keeffe)
The Snake Pit (Frank Godwin)
Red Morning (Lawrence Butcher)
Barabbas (Lawrence Butcher)
Balzac (F.R. Gruger)

Spoonhandle (Frank Godwin)
Toil of the Brave (Frank Godwin)
Mrs. Mike (John H. Crosman)
Home Port (George Tetzel)
Knock on any Door (John H. Crosman)
The Harder They Fall (Lawrence Butcher)

The Wild Sweet Witch (William Reusswig)

EDIT: Consider this entire post to be deprecated. Jim Davidson has tackled the huge job of figuring out this series, and has done a superb job of it. So head on over to his blog to get the straight skinny on Book-Of-The-Month.

17 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: Book-of-the-Month

  1. You missed at least one entry: the comic strip version of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”. It ran in Hearst newspapers [including the Los Angeles Herald-Express], beginning 12/24/1945, for 30 installments. Reportedly it was carried by 55 [or 35, depending on the Rand bio] major newspapers in cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, and San Francisco — though I’ve never found one. Ms. Rand also wrote most of the adaptation and was sent samples of several artists’ works to select; she originally wanted Harold Foster, who was unavailable, and settled on Connie’s / Rusty Riley’s Godwin. These were collected into “The Illustrated Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand Institute in 1998.

    — Art Lortie

  2. This reminds me of an illustrated story from the late forties I have always been curious bout. I think I saw some of the art in one of those original art catalogues – one panel illustrations by sf artist Cartier. They looked gorgeous. You know anything about those and how to go about finding them?

  3. Hi Art –
    I know I’m missing lots (after all, there should be 12 per year), thanks for the addition of one by the great Frank Godwin. I’m amazed that Rand was involved in the adaptation. I can just imagine the club coming to her asking if she could distill her magnum opus down to 30 short episodes. I wonder if many of the authors obliged? For that matter, maybe some would not allow the adaptations and there really aren’t 12 per year! Questions, always more questions!


  4. This is great! Having heard of this series I always wanted to know more. Thank you.
    Occasionally information about the individual adaptations pop up. Foster’s Bernadette is probably the most famous.
    One not on your list but I’ve heard of was Gene Fowler’s “The Life and Times of John Barrymore”. Supposedly appeared as part of the 1944 series and illustrated by James Montgomery Flagg.

  5. Ger Apeldoorn sez:
    > one panel illustrations by sf artist Cartier.
    > how to go about finding them?

    To the best of my knowledge — snd I hsve s lsrge checklidt of Cartier stuff — he never did newspsper work. Jerry’ss Who’s Who lists a handful of comic BOOK stories, but what you likely saw was any one of his numerous pulp and digest illos. Do a web search on “Edd Cartier”; lots of scans of his work out there. His son is also on the ‘net, and there’s a book out collecting some of his best stuff. – Art Lortie

  6. The recent passing of Creig Flessel led me back to this post.
    The Charleston (W.V.) Daily Mail carried this feature from the beginning (November 30, 1942’s The Seventh Cross) until very early 1945 (the last installment of The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde on January 6, 1945).
    At five weeks per adaptation it came out to about 11 books a year. This is the list in the order that the Charleston Daily Mail printed them:
    1942 – The Seventh Cross
    1943 – Look to the Mountain
    – Guadalcanal Diary
    – The Human Comedy
    – The Song of Bernadette
    – Combined Operations
    – Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
    – Hungry Hill
    (art by Rodlow Willard)
    – Col. Effingham’s Raid
    (art by Creig Flessel)
    – You Can’t Escape
    (art by R. F. Schabelitz
    – Taps for Private Tussie
    – Paris Underground
    [this started in 1943 and ended in 1944[
    1944 – Paris Underground
    – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
    – Good Night, Sweet Prince
    – Duel in the Sun
    (art by F.R.Gruger)
    – Wingate’s Raiders
    (art by L.H.Greenwood)
    – Tarawa
    (art by Robert Sherrod)
    – The Case of the Crooked Candle
    (art by Stephen Grout)
    – Joseph the Provider
    (art by C.B.Falls)
    – The Lost Week-End
    (art by Charles Jackson)
    – Pastoral
    (art by J.A.Ernst)
    – The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde
    (art by Stephen Grout)

    At that point the Daily Mail stops running the series.
    You may notice that two you listed are not among those on my list.
    1943’s Into Occupied France and Out and 1944’s Betrayal From the East;
    I have no explanation for those irregularities. Did King Features offer 12 a year in a system that could only print 11 a year?

  7. Thanks DD! That really fleshes things out thru 1944. As for that 12 story problem, did the Charleston paper by chance run only 6 per week? I believe the strip was meant to run 7 days per week, which might explain why you get shortchanged with only 11 adaptations per year.


  8. Right on both counts Allan.
    The artist for Tarawa was William Reusswig.
    And the Daily Mail ran the strip as a six day a week feature.
    But that’s how I took it that the feature was supposed to be presented. Five weeks, Monday through Saturday, daily only.
    The Sunday before a book adaptation started the paper had a nice (usually) illustrated ad for what was beginning the next day.
    It never occurred to me it was supposed to run as a monthly (and I’m not too sure about that yet).
    I’m still favoring the five weeks/30 installments/Monday-Saturday/daily only format.

  9. Flessel’s passing led me here too… and I was very surprised to find a mention of Jack Betts here as well. I have been looking for an artist named Betts, who did some amazing work for Johnstone and Cushing. See my blog for samples. Anyway, today I came across Jack Betts as an illustrator in a 1949 issue of Collier’s and here he is again. If you have anything on him, I’d love to know and use it for a further showing of his Peter Pest and Nestlé ads.

  10. Only other thing I have on Betts is that he did some of the ad panels “The Ribbers” for Ten High Whiskey (better known for the Noel Sickles panels).


  11. Hey DD –
    I favor the monthly scenario for two reasons. First, it is the Book of the MONTH Club after all. Second, my guess is that they would have wanted very much for the ‘Sunday’ installment to appear on the paper’s book review page. Back in the day when papers actually had book reviews it was always on Sunday. What better place to advertise your service than to people reading book reviews?

    That being said, I don’t have any proof. I found most of the titles I cited in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette but my notes on that indexing have gone missing. I also have a few short runs of the feature from the Philadelphia Record, but they were running it 6 days a week. I’ll let you know if I find any proof for my theory.


  12. There are some heavy hitters amongst these artists. R.F. Schabelitz, Wallace Morgan, and especially J. M. Flagg and F.R. Gruger were all Big Time Illustrators (though admittedly all were past the highest point of their popularity).

    One wonders how well this gig paid.

  13. Hi Anon —
    Looks like Tarawa is actually illustrated by both John W. Mayo and William Reusswig. Reusswig was credited on the first six installments, Mayo on the balance of the 24 total. Only time I know of that the artist didn't make it through a complete adaptation in this series.

    That count of 24 also shows that at least by 1944 the B-O-M-C strip was six days per week (4 weeks of 6 per week), as per D.D. Degg's much earlier claim. More info as I find it …

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