McPartland, John (pulp fiction writer)

 

(1911-1959)

John McPartland, like William ard, was a 1950s paperback author and a strong, distinctive talent whose promising career was ended by an early death. Nearly all of McPartland’s novels were Fawcett Gold Medal originals: international thrillers, crime stories, and a couple of erotic melodramas. Two of the topics were set in postwar Japan—a setting the author seems to have experienced firsthand—specifically in the sleazy, vice-ridden, post-Occupation Tokyo, “city of delicate cruelty . . . smiling, bowing treacherous town” (Tokyo Doll, 1953).

McPartland’s one mainstream and high-profile work was an anomaly. No Down Payment was published in hardcover by Simon & Schuster. Conceived with one eye on the recent great success of Peyton Place by Grace metalious, it was an intimate (read: sexy) dramatic exploration of burgeoning suburbia, following the lives of assorted couples who have moved into one of America’s typically soulless subdivisions. The topic was actually conceived by longtime Hollywood screenwriter Phil Yordan, who had seen a Life magazine spread on the postwar prefab communities; he decided it was a good subject for a movie, and that the property would be more valuable if it was derived from a blockbuster novel. Yordan found McPartland and paid him to write the topic to Yordan’s outline, then found a developer for it. McPartland kept the topic royalties, Yordan held the lucrative film rights and made the movie at Twentieth Century-Fox.

McPartland’s best novel was probably his last one, The Kingdom of Johnny Cool. Written with a controlled, icy brilliance, the novel detailed the rise and fall of a young man, Giuliano. A fearless, primitive bandit out of the rural Mafia fiefdoms of Sicily, the young man is plucked by an aging mob leader to be groomed as his heir, the potential future “Johnny Cool” who will one day rule a vast kingdom of crime. The Sicilian, now Johnny, rigorously trained, arrives in America with a postgraduate degree in gangsterism and seems at first the perfect choice for the royal succession—sharp, fearless, a brutally efficient killer and conspira-tor—until he gets too big too fast, makes business personal, tries to anoint himself, and loses his chance at the throne for good. The Kingdom of Johnny Cool was one of the first and best fictional treatments of the postwar face of organized crime, out of the back alleys and Little Italys and into giant corporate entities with vast national holdings. McPartland describes modern gangsters with cashmere sweaters and a jet set life that whisks them from Rome to New York to Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas. The memorable climax avoids a conclusive, cliched end for the defeated gangster anti-hero—instead, the author leaves Johnny, after countless days of ritualistic torture, dumped on the Bowery amid the terminal alcoholics, to live the rest of his life a gibbering, penniless lunatic.

Works

  • Affair in Tokyo (1954);
  • Big Red’s Daughter (1953);
  • Danger for Breakfast (1956);
  • Face of Evil (1954);
  • I’ll See You in Hell (1956);
  • Kingdom of Johnny Cool, The (1959);
  • Last Night, The (1959);
  • Love Me Now (1952);
  • No Down Payment (1957);
  • Ripe Fruit (1958);
  • Tokyo Doll (1953);
  • Wild Party, The (1956)

Next post:

Previous post: