Algren, Spectorsky, Purdy: each of these fellows is the acknowledged nonpareil in his sphere, and each has contributed something choice to this April issue of Playboy. Nelson Algren, passionate poet laureate of the seamy side of urban life (The Man with the Golden Arm; The Neon Wilderness), gives us his first new work of fiction since the best-selling novel, A Walk on the Wild Side -- you'll find All Through the Night a piece of powerful, eminently Algrenesque prose. Our Associate Publisher, A. C. Spectorsky, is the undisputed expert on Exurbia (a word he coined in his book, The Exurbanites, and which is being included in the new Thorndike-Barnhart dictionary). Of all the many fascinating aspects of Exurbia, its playful moments are of particular interest to Playboy readers, we feel, and so Exurbanites at Play graces these pages, illustrated especially for Playboy by Robert Osborn. Eastern Editor Ken Purdy, ex-skipper of both True and Argosy, and, incidentally, the country's foremost sports cars writer, rounds out the authoritative triumvirate. He has assembled The Compleat Sports Car Stable for us, with handsome, full-color photographs by Philip O. Stearns.
Question: how does an author dream up a title for his new book? Answer: he usually doesn't. Instead, he excerpts some hoary quote from a nearby Bartlett's and affixes it to his tome. Thus, we have had in the past such lifted, and uplifting, book monickers as For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Grapes of Wrath, among several thousand others. We think we've spotted a fresh titling trend among contemporary authors: to ignore the classical quotes and dip instead into the wellspring (or cesspool) of earthy epithets we all know and love, employing only the spotless half of the phrase, of course. Witness on your bookseller's shelves such current handles as Grab Your Socks and Without a Paddle. It is with unabashed charity and good-will that we offer to budding bowdlerizers and wits-end word wielders everywhere free access to the following list of thoroughly original, polished-up philippics: In Your Hat, At the Moon, Up a Rope, From Shinola, A Hole in the Ground, Off a Brass Monkey, In a Sling, With a Blowtorch, On a Shingle, A Rubber Duck, In an Uproar or Hit the Fan.
By a stroke of inspired casting, two of the most talented clowns on tap are teamed to make Gore Vidal's Visit To A Small Planet worth at least one or two visits to the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street. Dressed in top hat and frock coat, Cyril Ritchard arrives from outer space in his sports model flying saucer, enchanted at the prospect of observing our violent Earth people at close quarters. Like a cat stirring up trouble in a bowl of goldfish, the visitor promptly foments an all-out atomic war between the U.S. and Russia. Fortunately General Eddie Mayehoff, the well-padded butt of the Pentagon and the chief of the Army's Laundry Division, is assigned to defend our planet's right to clean sheets, red tape and the pursuit of idiocy. The sparring between the space man and the General is a classic contest between two contrasting comedy styles, each of them perfect in its own fashion. Directed by Ritchard, Vidal's comedy is at best a tenuous whimsy, but it clocks at a chuckle a minute when either of the two addled antagonists is cavorting on stage, which is happily much of the time.
"A violent form of entertainment" is the phrase being used to promote Charles Beaumont's first collection of stories, The Hunger (Putnam, $3.50), but we doubt if such razzmatazz salesmanship is really necessary. Once dipped into, this book clamps down on you like a bear trap and doesn't let go until you've devoured all 17 yarns. Included are Black Country, in which a dead jazzman's horn is dug up for the wildest jam session ever blown; The Hunger and The Dark Music, wherein a couple of old maids are raped by a sex killer and the god Pan, respectively; and The Crooked Man, which is all about a future totalitarian society in which heterosexuals are hunted down as "queers" and brainwashed into becoming homos (these stories you'll remember from Playboy). Come to think of it, it is a pretty violent form of entertainment, at that. But good!
Traditional jazz -- relaxed and rollicking by turns -- is the type ladled out at San Francisco's Tin Angel (987 Embarcadero) seven nights a week from nine to two A.M. Six of those nights, the bandstand shimmies to trombonist Turk Murphy's crew, devotees all of the early Armstrong-Oliver style of sock-and-soul. On Mondays, Turk's eminent entourage takes a breather and the Bay City Jazz Band fills in, wailing out a whale of a storm that is part New Orleans, part San Francisco and part typhoon. A jazz buff's stomping ground, the Angel goes bohemian in decor with walls covered by World War I enlistment posters; a brace of nickelodeons blares Aspirin Age arias between sets; and there's a long bar constructed of ancient bricks and a centralized fireplace that puts everybody at his gentle ease. An admission charge there is, but it's only 90¢ per head -- a pittance to pay for so much fine and mellow vintage jazz.
We're not going to tell you much about the plot of The Constant Husband, because we hate people who do that with surprise-twist films and spoil everybody else's fun. It is a tribute to the talents of the scripters (Val Valentine and Sidney Gilliat), the director (also Gilliat) and the star (Rex Harrison) that one of the most whiskery of farce situations (amnesia, etc.) has been made into a fresh, fast, funny film. With the probable exception of My Fair Lady, this is just about the best comic acting Harrison has done on stage or screen, and the secret is that he plays it straight as a die from beginning to end, the ridiculous incidents notwithstanding. No mugging, no archness, no "get this" -- he is in dead earnest throughout, and therefore killingly funny. Though ably abetted by deft, daft farceurs Cecil Parker and Robert Coote and by beauties Kay Kendall, Nicole Maurey and Margaret Leighton, this is Harrison's picture and he makes the most of it while seeming to make the least.
Drifting around Chicago's South Side (some few feet above the sidewalk) is a guy who calls himself Sun Ra. Mr. Sun (or is it Mr. Ra?) says he's an Egyptian and he writes, besides music, prophetic prose and poetic prophecy. You can sample it in the little booklet by him which comes inside the textless liner of Jazz by Sun Ra (Transition 10), and which contains, among other gone goodies: blank verse, explanations of such compositions as Brainville, Lullaby for Realville, Sun Song ("The reach for new sounds, a spacite picture of the atonal tomorrow . . ."), and a hunk of writing titled "Unremembered Dreams." It's a pleasant shock, therefore, to hear the music, which sounded to our dull ears remarkably like good, groovy earth music of the cool-and-crazy school. We'd be happy to give you additional dope on this far-out platter but we have a more pressing problem: we have to be on Saturn for dinner and Jupiter's in the way. Over and out.
Just about everything gets going in Europe in June (including Arctic safaris for polar bear out of Tromsö, Norway, and appropriately-costumed 16th Century football in the Boboli Gardens at Florence)--but transatlantic passage by sea on the better carriers is already sold out. Even by air, it's tight now for the coming summer. One good gimmick, if you're stuck, is to buy the least expensive tour (most operators have options left on eastbound space), skip the conducted itinerary, and make your own arrangements for easier westbound space.