Carter Brown is one of the most successful and largest series of books the world has ever seen. The stories were not only printed but also turned into films, a TV series, comic books, radio plays and even a musical. The fact that the films were French, the TV series Japanese and the musical co-created with Richard O’Brien of The Rocky Horror Show fame, neatly demonstrates Carter Brown’s broad and universal appeal.
The Story Begins ...
Yates, still working full time, was writing under a variety of pseudonyms across a range of genres from westerns to romance. His sci-fi persona, Paul Valdez, wrote for ‘Thrills Incorporated’. The editor complained that one of his stories was more a straight detective story than a sci-fi thriller but they liked it and would he write more? In September 1951 The Lady is Murder was the first story to be published under the name Peter Carter Brown. ‘Peter’ was later dropped for the US market
The Carter Brown stories became immensely popular and Yates signed a contract for £30 per week against royalties for 30 years with Horwitz Publications to produce one novel and two novelettes per month. An astonishing schedule.
By the mid-1950’s Yates was producing 20 Carter Brown books each year. Between 1951 and 1985 Yates created around 300 Carter Brown books and novella-length stories, making him one of the world’s most prolific authors. And, with around 100 million Carter Brown copies in print, one of the world’s most popular authors too.
Many Carter Brown stories were set in the US often in fictional Pine City, California but others were set in real locations, New York and L.A. for example, long before the author had even set foot in the country. As Yates recalled The Body was the first book to be published by NAL (New American Library) in July 1958. I had been writing stories with American backgrounds for the last 9 years so I thought it would be a good idea to see the place.’
On the subsequent publicity tour, Yates met his lifelong hero Duke Ellington who came and sat at his table at The Blue Note. Gore Vidal joined him for cocktails at another engagement. But despite all this success, given their genre, serious literary critics did not deem Yates’s books fit for review. Apart from highly-respected writer, editor and critic, Anthony Boucher who consistently championed Carter Brown in the New York Times Book Review.
Yates and Boucher became friends although the fact that Yates wasn’t American still occasionally took him by surprise. ‘One time in San Francisco Anthony Boucher had asked me where we were going next. Well,’ I said, ‘according to our schedule…’
‘You really say ‘schedule’ and not ‘skedule’? He was mildly surprised. ‘You know what Dorothy Parker said when she first heard somebody say ‘schedule’? ‘Oh skit!’
What's In A Name...
In January, 1964, Boucher wrote an article outlining an imaginary university course studying crime fiction, concluding the course ‘will not overlook, among all these reprints, the original paperback novels, the legitimate heirs to the dead pulps in which Hammett and Chandler flourished—their serious and substantial authors, such as John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Donald Hamilton and Vin Packer (all Gold Medal), and their highly competent purveyors of light amusement, like Carter Brown (Signet), Richard S. Prather (Gold Medal) and Henry Kane (many publishers).’
New York Times cartoon.
For Victor Weybright at Signet (NAL), who along with Stanley Horwitz, helped bring Carter Brown to a global audience, success was assured. ‘I should not be surprised if, during the ten years of our arrangement with Horwitz Publications, the copies sold dwarf the figures of Erle Stanley Gardiner, Erskine Caldwell or Mickey Spillane…He writes with humour and a playful sense of fantasy, and succeeded in inventing a mythical USA with more verisimilitude than is revealed in the writing of many famous American realists’.
Something else appealed to Brad Cummings, Yates’s first editor at NAL. ‘We especially like the Carter Brown pace. With very few exceptions, the reader is pulled along relentlessly …to the end. Alan includes enough atmosphere, movement and violent incident to make the reader feel he is getting a full meal.’ E. L Doctorow, described by Barack Obama as "one of America's greatest novelists", was also to become a Carter Brown editor at one point.
As an example of Carter Brown’s global appeal, a review from Shankar’s Weekly in India in 1959 explained ‘Carter Brown’s books have sold over 12 million copies. Reading him it is not difficult to see why. He writes of blackmail, double-cross, nymphomania, drug addition, torture and corpses, with gay insouciance and almost manages to make them sound as much part of us as our nails and as delightful as strawberries in cream. Read one book of his and you will begin feeling that unless Lieutenant Wheeler is tracking brilliant criminals down or expertly seducing blonde after blonde in his flat, the world would be a very dull place indeed to live in. The Lieutenant approaches crime with the hypocritical distaste of a Persian cat lapping up its milk. For gourmets of crime, Carter Brown is just what the doctor ordered.’
Yates wasn’t American and Carter Brown wasn’t traditional noir but that’s where it all started from. For Art Scott writing in 20th Century Crime and Mystery Writers Carter Brown had its roots in a 1940s sub-genre of pulp. ‘The Brown Books are the direct descendants of the ‘spicy’ detective pulps like Hollywood Detective and Spicy Detective, which occupied the opposite end of the respectability scale from the revered Black Mask. Yates hews to the conventions of that school closely…’
The Story Unfolds...
Carter Brown books are fast-paced with a driving first-person narrative. There’s titillation too. Women are always glamourous and most covers featured semi-clad models with a promise of more to come. Yates wrote the sex scenes with a light touch and good taste but later books had a more graphic sexual element to them introduced by editors at NAL.
Like the women, the settings are glamourous too. Often characters are larger than life. There’s always humour and the plots have a cinematic or televisual quality. Fans at the time said they reminded them of television series, 77 Sunset Strip and Surfside Six, for example.
Yates’s protagonists are quirky and unusual. Al Wheeler, an unorthodox Police Lieutenant in fictional Pine City, California, was the best known and appeared the most frequently. There was also Hollywood scriptwriter, Larry Baker; Private Investigator for the rich and the famous, Rick Holman; female PI, Mavis Seidlitz, lawyer Randy Roberts and millionaire, Paul Donovan along with a few others.
Carter Browns are fast, funny, slick and always entertaining which gave them their universal appeal.
A spin-off Carter Brown comic book series was produced. ‘The Carter Brown Mystery Theatre’ radio series introduced by Yates himself ran from 1956-58. It was rumoured that Yates was one of John F. Kennedy’s favourite authors and there was also a Japanese TV series. There were three French Carter Brown films.
In the early 1980s, Yates worked with The Rocky Horror Show creators
Richard O’Brien and Richard Hartley on a musical of The Stripper
with Al Wheeler as its star which has been performed
in both Australia and the UK.
Carter Brown covers were famous for their time. It’s not hard to see why. They also had some famous creators and some famous models.
Carter Brown covers were famous for their time. It’s not hard to see why. They also had some famous creators and some famous models. But the celebrity members of the Carter Brown cast don’t stop there with more famous editors and co-creators.
A few of the McGinnis Carter Brown covers for Signet
McGinnis is an American illustrator famous for his more than 1200 paperback covers, 40 movie posters including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Barbarella and several James Bond films. His work had adorned covers for writings including as Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark), Edward S. Aarons, Erle Stanley Gardner, Richard S. Prather, and the Michael Shayne and Carter Brown.
Cat Woman, Joan Collins and more famous faces too
A few of the Horwitz covers featured some surprise famous faces as models.
Our thanks to Pulp International for their research.
More can be found at http://www.pulpinternational.com/pulp/keyword/Carter+Brown.html
Here’s Mamie Van Doren,
who made this hair lifting move
one of her signature poses
on this 1956 cover of Strictly for Felony.
This is none other than Lili St. Cyr
—fronting the 1965 thriller Homicide Harem
This is Catwoman Julie Newmar at just 26 years old
when she was still Julie Newmayer on the front of
Blonde, Beautiful, and – Blam!?
Here’s Joan Collins on
the front of this 1954 edition of
Murder she says!
And here’s Elke Sommer
on the front of Death of a Doll
E. L. Doctorow
Ed Doctorow was an American novelist, editor and professor. Barack Obama has called him one of America’s greatest novelists. He wrote 12 novels, 3 volumes of short fiction and stage drama and included the award winning novels Ragtime, Billy Bathgate and The March. But according to his quote below, it wasn’t necessarily his writing skills that got him involved with Carter Brown.
‘I had five exceptionally interesting years at NAL. Because I was a graduate of Kenyon College with its nationally known English Department, I was made editor of the Signet Classic Shakespeare series. Because I was a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, I was made editor of the Mentor Science series. Because I had a Russian name I was made Ayn Rand’s editor. Because I was a tough guy I was made editor of the Carter Brown detective series and because I was suave and sophisticated, at home all over the world, with a taste for fine wines and beautiful women, I became Ian Fleming’s editor.’ E. L. Doctorow
Writer, musician, actor, presenter Richard O’Brien, famous for The Rocky Horror Show and various other works and productions, worked with Alan G Yates and composer Richard Hartley on the musical of The Stripper – the girl who says it all from the neck down!
‘Pulp fiction, in its most innocent form, was written for eternally adolescent males. It featured guns, gals and wise-acre cops with a penchant for corny, hard-boiled dialogue. The almost astonishing thing about the Carter-Brown stories, is the fact that he could weave his way through this phalluscentric age of fiction, without his work becoming misogynistic. Possibly this is because the author himself was incapable of such behaviour. I retain an almost childlike delight in these tales which take us back to times, perhaps best left behind, but which remind me of my own boys bedroom journey through the tangled web of my foolish, teenage years. Happy reading.’ Richard O’Brien
Carter Brown Mystery Theatre
The Carter Brown Mystery Theatre was in fact two series - Carter Brown Mysteries (52 one-hour shows) and the Carter Brown Mystery Theatre (26 half-hour shows). Yates’s ear for dialogue meant that most of the dialogue came straight from the books.
The Australian produced Carter Brown radio series included a host of famous Australian talent including Ruth Cracknell, June Salter, Len Teale, Roger Climpson, John Meillon, Terry McDermott and Gordon Chater.