Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Emerson LaSalle, R. I. P.

The news of Emerson LaSalle's death hit home here at Chez Crider because although he was one of the most prolific paperbackers of all time, his books are pretty hard to come by. I didn't think I had a single one of them, but the other day I was clearing off some shelves that hadn't been touched in a few years and discovered a coverless, water-stained pb that I must have picked up in one of those "bargain bags" at some now defunct used paperback store.

I flipped past the blurb page and was stunned to discover that it was a copy of
Bite This!, a title considered mythical by some because no one has ever seen a copy (in spite of the fact that LaSalle claimed it was one of his best) and because it was supposedly published by Red Circle Books before the imprint became Lion Books (publishers of Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me). The catch is that this is Red Circle Book 14, and all official sources list only 13 titles from that imprint. If only this one had a cover, it might be the most valuable paperback of all.

Naturally I read Bite Me! at once. It's the story of a vampire hunter (written in 1949, well before such things became popular) named Van Hell. Van's fiance, Marilyn, is changed into a vampire by the evil Dr. LaCuard, who has set up his practice in a small Central Texas town. Soon more than half the inhabitants have become vampires (or vampire, which is the plural LaSalle prefers; one vampire, two vampire, and so on). Wild to have his revenge, Van has another doctor in town, Dr. Steinfranken, relace the veins and arteries in his neck with some kind of flexible metal of his own invention, making Van impervious to the bite of vampires (or vampire). Van then arms himself with stakes that he makes from Louisville Sluggers and goes on a rampage of revenge, seeking out the vampires (or vampire) during the daylight hours. (Did Richard Matheson read this novel before writing I Am Legend? My answer would be, "Probably.")

There's an especially poignant, and at the same time repugnant, scene, when Van lures Marilyn, whom he can never seem to find in the daylight, into a nighttime tryst. She sinks her fangs into his neck but breaks them on the metal, and Van stakes her out, banging the pointed Slugger into her black heart with an intact Slugger that he carries in a bag slung over his shoulder.

This is strong stuff, and the final encounter with Dr. LaCuard is as suspenseful as anything LaSalle ever wrote. The ending of the book is especially notable because instead of writing, "The End," LaSalle writes, "The End?" This device was copied by dozens of bad SF movies in the years to come, but LaSalle was typically in the vanguard (so to speak). Check it out.


Jeff Meyerson said...

I think it was made into a movie starring John Carradine.

At least, it sounds like it, and if not it should have been.

Bill Crider said...

I think you're right. I'll have to check my copy of Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.

john mcauley said...

Bill: There's a rumor that Emerson LaSalle's fourth agent dropped the ball and let many of LaSalle's early works fall in to public domain. I mention this because a friend of mine in Borneo insists that the children's TV show, "Biker Mice from Mars", was a direct rip-off of an E. L. novel of the same name. Would you know anything about this? [I know LaSalle's bibliography is spotty at best, but I have a fold-out TV dinner tray from the B.M.F.M. program and I'd be glad to donate it if there's ever an Emerson LaSalle museum. I mean it would be the right thing; credit where credit is due and all that.]
John McAuley

Bill Crider said...

If LaSalle didn't write it, Mike Avallone probably did.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I trust everyone noticed that LaCuard is Dracula spelled sideways. Ditto Steinfranken.

Bill Crider said...

Damn, I missed that. LaSalle is more clever than I thought.

john mcauley said...

Bill: Darn. All these years I thought Mike Avallone might be a pen name for La Salle after he supposedly got blacklisted. [ Not by Joe McCarthy and his thugs,but for that incident in Bora Bora.]I guess I'll never know what really happened but I do know that I hope you and yours have a great holiday! All the best,
John McAuley

Anonymous said...

About being blacklisted, it is worth mentioning that LaSalle wrote a few boooks as Burton Tomdal, an obvious acronym for Dalton Trumbo. Of these, I only have _The Great Hegedus_ (Fagius Books, undated but fifties from the look of it). Could the notoriously slippery LaSalle have been pointing the finger at Trumbo?

Jacques Debierue