Monday, August 10, 2015

Men's Mag Roundup: Mob Heists and Hell Racers

“The Great Sierra Mob Heist” by C.K. Winston is the reason I tracked down this December 1971 issue of Male. It’s pretty good but it’s not the best men’s mag story I’ve read. It is however graced with one of the greatest splashpages I’ve ever seen, courtesy Executioner cover artist Gil Cohen: 

Surprisingly, this does accurately illustrate an event in the story, though the heroes aren’t wearing bandit masks at the time and the busty lady isn’t wearing a plunging-necklined top and hotpants during the heist. (To be fair, she does wear this outfit earlier in the tale, just not during the actual heist!) But unsurprisingly, the actual event in the story itself lacks the dynamism of Cohen’s art – when I saw this illustration I hoped for a balls-to-the-wall caper story, filled with masked heisters blasting away with their submachine guns.

Rather, C.K. Winston goes for the slow burn; “The Great Sierra Mob Heist” is one of those “true book bonuses,” but not as long as such stories were in the earlier years of Male magazine. But I do like these early ‘70s stories because they got away from WWII tales and delved more into crime fiction, likely inspired by former men’s mag author Mario Puzo’s success with The Godfather. Though our “heroes” this time aren’t mafioso and indeed aren’t even professionals, just small-time crooks looking for the big score.

Bob Asherman is our main protagonist, a 28 year-old criminal who has spent many of his years behind bars for petty theft. While in prison he meets James Barker, son of a multimillionaire but whose gambling addiction has led to his being disowned; he’s in jail due to tax evasion. Barker tells Asherman about the Kennelworth Ski and Gambling Resort on Lake Tahoe, a mob-owned getaway in which high rollers spend oodles of money on the gambling tables and the stable of hookers provided for the clientele. Barker reckons there’s at least two million in the casino’s vault. 

The only problem is, the place only has one road in an out: a “dirt mountain road” that has three checkpoints along the way, each guarded by goons with machine guns. The back of the resort is up against a mountain and a frozen lake and is considered impassable. But Asherman gets an idea, and after his release he puts together a team for the heist. Barker is part of it, mostly so as to put up the money for it (Barker lifts thirty thousand from his dad’s savings), as is Barker’s nympho wife, Fran, a curvy redhead Barker’s certain slept around a lot while he was in prison. Then there’ s Charles Lewis, “older” than the others at 36; he’s a “mechanics and demolitions wizard.” Finally there’s high-class hooker Alice Emmons, a blonde with “the face of an angel and the body of an Italian movie actress.” 

True to the genre Winston delivers some sleaze here and there, but none of it’s too explicit and it all comes off like the sort of thing you’d read in these magazines in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Asherman of course gets it on with both Alice, his “mistress,” as well as Fran, who comes to Asherman’s hotel room one night after he’s “loaned” Alice to a wealthy gambler who provides Asherman his in to the Kennelworth Resort – you need to be invited by a member to go there. But the gang waits three months for Charles Lewis to augment Asherman’s main idea for the heist: an All Season Vehicle (as opposed to All Terrain Vehicle), which is capable of traversing any sort of terrain in the world. 

Lewis not only armors the ASV but increases its horsepower, and finally the heist is underway. While Asherman and Alice go into the Kennelworth as guests, Lewis and Barker will take the ASV over the frozen lake and wait there on the designated night. The heist goes down pretty smoothly. After killing an old cellmate who happens to be working as a stooge in the resort, Asherman (who jabs the spoke of his ski pole into the poor bastard’s eye!) gets his machine gun from the ASV and he and Alice storm into the vault. Alice in fact is the only person who kills anyone, cutting down a guard who raises a gun on Asherman.

Cohen’s illustration is for the final pages, as the gang makes its escape on the ASV, blasting away at their pursuers. They even have a bazooka, Lewis blowing a helicopter out of the sky. But the best-laid plans can go to hell when treachery’s involved, and Barker unsurprisingly pulls a doublecross, pissed that his nympho wife slept with Asherman that night. The tale ends with every single member of the gang dead, Lewis gunned down by a guard, Alice killed with a knife in the back by Barker, Barker accidentally killing his wife, and Asherman killing Barker. Asherman himself dies from wounds sustained in the fight.

“Sgt. Regan’s Slaughter Bunch” by Richard Farrington is the WWII yarn of the mag, and it’s about the titular OSS commando’s secret mission into Stuttgart in March of 1944. Intel has it that “Operation Quintuplet,” aka the “Hammer and Anvil Project” could be very bad news for the Allies – five German scientists are working on a new missile technology. Regan is outfitted with a motley crew for the assignment: two women, a Cherokee Indian, and three German POWs. Per the norm the story opens on an action scene before backtracking to the setup; namely, one of the German POWs going nuts and killing the team’s contact as soon as they arrive in Stuttgart.

The three Germans are there under the shaky premise that they know Stuttgart and its environs better than anyone else; the girls are there to handle the radio. One of them’s named Molly, a Montreal native who will operate it, and the other is Sharon, an American who will assist her. Thomas Running Horse, aka “Cherokee,” is there just for pulp fiction purposes; his skill is with the bow and arrow. Regan’s “impossible mission” is to assassinate four of the five scientists and exfiltrate the fifth one back to Allied territory.

Surprisingly, the story doesn’t have any sex in it – I figured it would’ve been a given that Regan would hook up with either of the women on his team. But this doesn’t happen and indeed the girls don’t have much to do with anything. Instead after one of the POWs goes turncoat the team splits up and takes out their targets solo. Some of this is memorable, like one of the Germans having to kill his target as he sits on a raft in a pool; the German stabs him from underwater with a poison-tipped dagger. It culminates in a big action finale in which Regan’s team must escape across an open field to the planes that have come in to rescue them; in the firefight every single one of them is killed except for Regan and Sharon.

“Buy Me Nude” by Andrew Rich is labeled as “modern fiction” and it’s a goofy tale about a ladies’ man whose wife is away, visiting her sister; he’s promised her he’ll stay faithful while she’s gone. But a knock comes at the door and it’s a stunning young blonde offering magazine subscriptions. Her sales method is pretty genius: for each mag he subscribes to, she’ll remove an article of clothing until she’s down to her lingerie. The “continuation plan” is if he orders five more, she’ll go fully nude. And the “bonus” is if he buys more off of that; then she’ll have sex with him. He ends up banging her, having subscribed to like a hundred magazines. The end.

“My Life As A Football Sex Bum” by Karen Lewis purports to be the thoughts of a gal who follows major league teams around and sleeps with various players. It’s pretty tame and stupid, as are the other sex-focused articles herein. “I’ll Keep My Treasure Or Die Fighting” by Mike Shaffer is a first-person adventure story about a guy sick of the city life who heads down to Venezuela and ends up tangling with a group of merciless natives led by a guy named Barabas.

Also a big thanks to Bob Deis of Men', who happened to have a spare copy of this issue to sell me; I only just recently discovered by the way that Bob offers customs scans, so if there’s a men’s mag story you’ve been seeking for years and he has the issue, you can pay him to send you a scan of it. More info here.

The July 1974 issue of Male is a strange hybrid of the mag’s earlier days and its later Playboy-esque descent. For one the cover doesn’t feature a nude model, as would be typical of this era. But the stories within all strive for the pseudo-factual approach, even the True Book Bonus, “The Gun Them Down Bunch,” by Neil Turnbull. This is another piece of crime fiction, and goes for a “Bonnie and Clyde for the ‘70s” approach, only this time it’s three dudes and one woman. You won’t be surprised that the woman, Lila Cole, shares herself with all three of the dudes. Turnbull however is very much in the oldschool mode and there’s no sleazy stuff at all in the tale.

The story title is quite misleading as the gang, led by a ‘Nam vet named Hal Regan (let’s assume he’s the son of Sgt. Regan, above), prides itself on never killing anyone. The other members of the gang are Lew Bellows, another ‘Nam vet, and Bruce Kracek; they all run into each other in Pittsburgh, where they somehow decide to start knocking over places. Given that pseudo-factual approach, we’re informed that all this began in early 1972 and that the story is coming from a series of articles Lila Cole herself penned from behind bars. However the story isn’t in first-person, it just arbitrarily features excerpts from Lila’s articles.

There isn’t much action, with the gang moving southward across the US and knocking off various places. The opening scene of the novel is one of their most audacious heists, knocking over a “floating orgy” on a yacht near Corpus Christi. The yacht’s owned by billionaire Wilson Teague, who is infuriated after he’s swindled by Lila, who uses her body to distract him while Regan and Bellows board the yacht in scuba gear and abscond with his money. Teague hires a private eye named Phil Kline to track them down, demanding that the four heisters die for the wrong they’ve delivered him. Kline however begins to respect the gang.

There are several more heists along the way; in one of them Bellows is injured. In a sort of Anderson Tapes lift the gang is knocking off a hotel suite when a little old lady happens to still be in her room and shoots Bellows with her derringer. They have no choice but to drop Bellows off at a hospital, but later they attempt to rescue him. Bellows, being lifted out of his room on a rope, ends up dropping to his death thirty feet to the pavement below. After this the gang descends into fatalism, walking blindly into a trap in Acapulco. Here everyone buys it save for Lila, who as mentioned goes on to a sort of fame behind bars thanks to her memoirs.

“The Demo Derby Hell Racers Who Battled The Mob” by Cole Stryker is along the same pseudo-factual lines; the entire thing attempts to catch the vibe of a long article and lacks the immediacy of a short story, which ironically enough is exactly what it is. Also the title and photo blurbs are misleading; they have you expecting a redneck actionfest with demo derby racers taking on the mob, but instead the story’s about the mob beating up the demo derby racers! Opening in some unspecified city the story informs us that one night a numbers runner is robbed by a pair of guys in a demo derby car; they’re masked, but local mob boss Sam Drago instantly blames the local derby drivers.

When the mob starts beating up several of the derby drivers, racer Steve Leeman has had enough. He teams up with local cop Lt. Stanley Wallace and tries to turn the tables on Drago. Soon enough Leeman and his pals figure out that it was a pair of Drago’s own men behind the opening heist. Here comes the only part that lives up to the title’s promise. When the two thugs refuse to admit the truth to Drago, Leeman and pals toss them in a pair of junker cars, get behind the wheels of their derby racers, and begin bashing the hell out of them. Afterwards the bruised and bloodied thugs are only too happy to tell Drago that they stole from him – after which they are never seen again. 

“The Half-Sisters Of Virgin Farm” by George Causey sells itself as “1974’s best in the Erskine Caldwell tradition,” and it’s hicksploitation about a dude coming back to the farmland in which he grew up and getting involved with the titular half-sisters, one who’s white and one who’s black. It’s angled as raunchy stuff but there’s nothing crazy or even memorable about it at all.

“Rouge G.I. Who Beat The Pentagon Brass” by Charles W. Kranepool is a too-long piece about Private Tony Krewzewski, who found himself alone on Omaha Beach on D-Day and went on to die a hero’s death. Backtrack to the meat of the story, which is all about how Private Tony was really a hellion who was constantly in trouble or in the brig for starting fights, gambling, going AWOL. No sex or much violence or anything.

The mag has the expected sex articles, from “14-State Prostitute Shuttle Service” (“They ship prostitutes to your local motel!”) to “The Super Nymphos: ‘I Need More Than One Man A Day.’” In each instance these are presented as real case studies or news events, and are pretty boring. Back on the adventure tip there’s “The Hell Ship Of Heroin Smugglers,” by Jim Brenner, which is the first-person narrative of a guy who becomes a seaman on a ship that turns out to be secretly smuggling heroin, but it too is forgettable.


Rob Gregory Browne said...

I got my start in men's magazines, but the only piece of "men's" adventure I wrote was really more of a mystery, written for EasyRiders magazine. I've long been a men's adventure fan, however, and was saddened to hear that Gold Eagle is closing its doors. I know people who wrote the Mac Bolan books and it's sad to see that not only is a genre disappearing, but these people are out of jobs.

Fortunately, they're writers, so they can create their own jobs...

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks a lot for the comment, Rob!