Thursday, May 23, 2013

Men's Mag Roundup: Mario Puzo

Before he achieved mega fame with The Godfather, Mario Puzo cut his teeth on men’s adventure magazines, where he doled out many stories under the name “Mario Cleri.” Sadly none of these stories have yet been reprinted,* and it’s a wonder some publisher didn’t come out with an anthology post-1969 to capitalize on Puzo’s sudden fame, something like Women With Guns but solely comprised of Cleri/Puzo stories. But then it seems such men’s mag anthologies dried up in the early ’60s, anyway.

Puzo’s story in the December 1967 issue of Male is “Yank Agent Who Penetrated The Nazi High Command’s Love Swap Circus,” an “extra-length” tale. Once again we have a story that sort of follows the illustration, captions, and photos – which by the way are staged shots of barely-dressed women standing around while a Nazi looks them over! (According to the credits at the back of the mag, these photos are actually from the 1966 French film Is Paris Burning?) The captions meanwhile state that the story is about “a palace of twisted pleasures…crammed with top-ranking Nazi overlords and their depraved wives and mistresses.”

Actually it’s the hero who creates this “palace,” not the Nazi overlords – and it’s a lavish apartment suite, not a palace at all. Bill Southegate is an American Military Intelligence agent whose mission is to figure out where German infantry divisions are disappearing to in late 1944. Military strategists figure that Germany’s about to make one last push in their failing war effort, so likely these missing divisions will play a part in that. Southegate is interrogating captured German Intelligence officers when he discovers that one of them is a dead ringer for himself. This officer is from a small town and was en route to his new orders in Berlin, where he was to serve on the official staff.

Southegate’s instant plan is to pose as this guy and take his place in Berlin. Born and raised in Germany, Southegate has a native’s grasp on the language. However according to his transit papers the officer also had a wife; after a quick call British Intelligence sends in a dropdead gorgeous female operative named Gaby (her undercover name; Southegate never learns her real one). Puzo gives us just the story we want when, as soon as she meets Southegate, Gaby insists that they have sex, so Southegate won’t later get jealous when she “sleeps with all the German officials in Berlin.” The ensuing sex scene doesn’t immediately fade to black; it’s not outright hardcore, but it’s there, moreso than such scenes in earlier men’s mags I’ve read.

In fact sex plays more of a focus here than regular action, as Southegate soon discovers that the Nazi high command likes to have parties where they swap wives. Gaby, a “nymphomaniac” as far as Southegate is concerned, is up for it, and within their first few nights in Berlin they’re already sleeping with other couples. Southegate rents out an apartment that has a two-way mirror, and behind it he sets up cameras and microphones. He records the ensuing orgies, but of course nothing intel-worthy comes out in the material he secretly films and tapes…I mean, why would the Nazis discuss their war strategies while screwing each other’s wives? Southegate obviously isn’t the sharpest agent in SHAEF.

When a Gestapo officer appears in the apartment during the latest orgy, Southegate realizes the jig is almost up. First he has Gaby seduce the guy into the hidden room (which is soundproofed), and there they kill him – nice gore here as Gaby shoots him in the ear with a small pistol and Gestapo brains splash everywhere. After this Gaby entertains three men in a separate room while Southegate searches their briefcases, finally getting the info he wants. When asked later what exactly she did with those three men, Gaby will only say, “We weren’t playing Monopoly, that’s for sure.”

The climax sees the duo escaping Berlin as the Germans come after them, but again there isn’t much action, playing out more on a suspense angle. All told though it was a fun story, if not a great one. Puzo’s writing is as quality as the other writers in these Diamond-line magazines, with strong characters and zero POV-hopping, though it must be stated that this story is rife with spelling and grammatical errors. I wonder if this was Puzo’s doing or if the copy editor was at lunch – speaking of which, it appears that Noah Sarlat was no longer the editor of the Diamond magazines at this time; George Fox is now credited as the Editorial Director.

Other stories: “The Mob Goddess 2000 Mafia Gunners Couldn’t Kill” is by Burt Stewart and about Anna Hoegerova, aka the Black Tulip, who got her start smuggling and now commands a global underworld empire. The story trades between straight-up fiction and psuedo-factual background detail. “I Was An Office ‘Passion Lottery’ Girl” is by Lynn Hughes “as told to” Arthur Alexander; a goofy first-person narrative by a girl who gets a job in a Manhattan ad agency where all of the higher-ups like to have sex parties. This one is graced with lots of funny staged shots of 1967 go-go girls sitting around in offices in their lingerie.

There’s also “China Bomb” by Richard Tregaskis, a “True Book” excerpt of the 1967 novel of the same title; this one’s about a war reporter who hooks up with a squad of American commandos as they hunt down the titular weapon of mass destruction. The story takes up a goodly portion of the magazine, but I skipped it, figuring maybe I’d just read the actual novel someday and not this condensed version. “All Night Date with Cindy” is by Eugene Joseph and is a funny story very much in the mold of Blue Dreams, about 36 year-old Joe Scott and how his life falls apart when gorgeous and flirtatious 17 year-old “jailbait” Cindy Whitlow moves in with Scott and his wife. She wants it, he’s afraid to give it to her, frustration and comedy ensues.

“Sgt. Jim ‘Red’ Zale’s No-Quarter Attack on the Cong’s Torture Compound” is by Erik Broske and is a Vietnam War tale that once again doesn’t have much to do with its title. There’s no “torture compound,” but the story is pulpy enough. Green Beret Sgt. Zale witnesses a VC assassination squad take out a few village elders and vows to track down the squad leader. This is the infamous Kuong, who pulp fiction-style wears a bambo half-mask over the left side of his face, hiding the hideous scarring of an old wound. It’s all like something out of the later Black Eagles series as Zale uses a young, VC-supporting kid to bait Kuong, with Zale launching a one-man war on the assassination squad. Pretty good and with some colorful gore.

Puzo’s story in the April 1968 Man’s World is a “Booklength extra,” and it really is quite long, like novella-length. Titled “Barracks of Wild Blondes,” the actual story has nothing to do with the title, but at least the illustration and photos share common elements (and once again the photos are taken from Is Paris Burning?). Seriously, there are no “barracks” here, but at least there’s a blonde – if only one, and not even a “wild” one at that. Aside from the discrepancy between title and tale, the story is very good.

Frank “Dutch” Munro is yet another Intelligence agent protagonist; his mission is to parachute into France and act as a clown in a French circus that has been commandeered by the Germans, a circus that tours with an infantry division so as to provide the troops some entertainment. Puzo captures a pulp flair immediately, though, opening with Munro murdering a Nazi-supporting French clown and then having sex with a gorgeous French circus dancing girl right there beside the corpse!

The girl is Antoinette, and we learn in the flashback that she’s a member of the French Resistance. Munro is the sole American working with them in these weeks before D-Day; his assignment is to take out the German beach defenses in this region of Southern France to aid in the Allied invasion. But first to prove himself he must murder Panuche, a lecherous drunkard of a clown who is an avid Nazi supporter and informant. After six months training as a circus clown(!), Munro is sent to France, and after staying with a family of farmers (where he sleeps with the busty daughter) he hooks up with Antoinette, who poses as his cousin so as to get him a job as Panuche’s back-up on the German circus.

Munro and Antoinette have an instant chemistry, but she’s obviously jealous that Munro would stoop to sleeping with that “cow” back on the farm, so constantly puts off his advances. After Munro proves his worth, murdering Panuche in cold blood, Antoniette finally sees that he is “truly a man.” As she helps paint up Munro’s face like Panuche’s in the conveniently-hot cabin car of the circus train, Antoinette unhooks her bra “so that her breasts, strawberry tipped, milky white and full” hang in Munro’s face, and unable to take it anymore he grabs a handful and the two go at it. Once again Puzo doesn’t shy from the details here.

Munro plans to go on stage as Panuche, for that night the circus is giving a performance for high-ranking officials right outside of a German beach defense position. Munro’s performance is so good that Captain Gruber, the German in command of the circus, instantly realizes he is an imposter – Gruber you see is a self-described “expert on clowns!” Another quick Nazi-killing and Munro and Antoinette can proceed with their plans. Here the story’s illustration comes into play, as Munro straps Antoinette and another pretty dancing girl to the spinning Wheels of Fortune – the Germans turn out in force because they believe two lucky winners will get to have sex with these women.

Instead Munro hurls some grenades from beneath his table and blows away more Gestapo with a submachine gun. More action ensues as Munro escapes with the Resistance members, firing at pursuing Nazis with an anti-tank cannon in the back of his truck. But in a goofy ending Munro finds himself in the most danger when they get to that farm back in the country, and Antoinette and the “cow” are together…Munro knows he’s in for trouble once these girls get hold of him, so he arranges for immediate departure. This was a fun story with good action and dialog.

Other stories here are “No-Holds-Barred Duel with Australia’s Man-Butcher Legion,” by Tim Gogarty; this one has a great title and art but the story is lackluster, about a dude named Pat Duncan who goes hunting for opals in Australia but runs afoul of crooks and a bloodthirsty tribe. “Health Club Tease” by Alex Austin is hilariously mistitled, as it has zilch to do with the title or the art – it’s about a married guy who meets this young chick at the bowling alley and the two start an immediate affair. The humor gist comes from the fact that they always have to screw in the cramped confines of a car. I mean, the girl isn’t a “tease” at all! “Death-Dive Attack on the Cong’s Torture Beach” by Henry I. Kurtz is another misleadingly-titled story; there’s no “torture beach,” just a string of GIs being tortured by the VC, and air cav captain Steve Pless flies in to the rescue. Okay, but nothing spectacular.

*Puzo’s story “Six Graves To Munich,” from the November 1965 issue of Male, was later expanded into a novel of the same name and published as a mass market paperback by Banner Books, as by Mario Cleri; it was adapted into a film titled A Time To Die in 1982, but Puzo had nothing to do with it. Six Graves To Munich was reprinted under Puzo’s own name in 2010, and one of these days I intend to read it.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I wish I could comment more on those, but most times I read and am left dumbfounded with hidden awesomeness