The Great Dell Cover-Up

Fools Die on Friday




This is the only Dell cover illustration ever to be altered. The first was published in 1951, the later printing appeared in 1953. Robert Stanley remembers painting over the old illustration, but claims that he was never told the reason, or who the request came from. William Lyles, the Dell bibliographer, believes the change was ordered by either Morrow (the hardcover publisher) or by Erle Stanley Gardner (who wrote the Donald Lam / Bertha Cool series under the A.A. Fair pen name).

The model in the illustration was obviously one of Stanley's favorites. She graces the covers of literally dozens of vintage paperbacks. You guessed it ... she's his wife, Rhoda.

So what happened between 1951 and 1953 that might have prompted such a change? Plenty. In 1952, Congress convened The House of Representatives Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials. They wound up "suggesting" that a list of 60 paperback titles be banned by communities throughout the country, including works by Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck and Irving Shulman, to name only a few. (See my comments on "Censorship in the Paperback Age" in the Articles section of this web site if such things interest you.) Of particular interest to the Committee was the "pornographic" nature of modern book covers. Oddly, the Book Jacket Designers Guild (yes, they had a union, too) agreed with them. They saw no reason to make jacket illustrations overly provocative, especially if the work itself was not particularly sexual in nature.

This book was NOT on anybody's "bad" list, but somebody obviously thought the original cover illustration had crossed the line between good taste and indecency. And so Stanley was told to change the scene. The cover art is actually very true to the story. You will notice the copywriters also changed the dialog at the top of the scene. While they're both close, neither of the quotes listed on the covers is taken verbatim from the text.

(In the book, Donald Lam, who unwittingly has a knack for attracting ALL women, has stashed a key witness in his apartment. Sgt Sellers is on his way to search the place. She's taking a bath when Lam gets there, just ahead of him. He -- ever the honorable hero -- turns his back as she gets dressed. Hey, waddya expect in the early 50's? That's as risqué as it was allowed to get!)