Monday, June 27, 2016

"You Remember Jeanie"

In the June 13th piece on John D MacDonald’s 1952 science fiction short story “Game for Blondes” I noted that the situational device of beginning a story with a protagonist lost in an alcoholic rock bottom as the result of the death of his wife was one that the author had used before in his 1947 short story “You’ve Got to Be Cold.” I should have also mentioned “The Tin Suitcase,” where we begin the story after the protagonist has recovered and is trying to regain his life, and “You Remember Jeanie,” a tale that was published in the May 1949 issue of Crack Detective Stories. It is far closer to “Game for Blondes” in describing the depths to which the hero has sunk, the utter depravity and the hopeless attempts at assuaging grief. It is also unflinching in its descriptions of the state of the gutter-drunk, a man who has sunk so low -- emotionally, physically, economically -- that it seems he can never recover.

MacDonald was, of course, no stranger to alcohol. He was a drinker all of his adult life, as was his wife Dorothy, and except for a few dicey patches he seemed to be able to manage it quite well. But booze, specifically the hard stuff, was the drug of choice for his generation, and not everyone he knew handled it as responsibly as he did. Closest to home was the sad case of his sister Dorie and her husband Bill Robinson. Both suffered from alcoholism. In Dorie’s case it destroyed her health and eventually killed her, while Bill lost his job before finally joining AA, and he had to have his wife beg JDM to help him find new employment in Florida. (MacDonald’s description of the problem to pal Dan Rowan in a June 25, 1971 letter is pretty grim.) Virtually all of his protagonists and most of his secondary characters were drinkers, and all took it as a matter of course, a normal thing for an adult to do in postwar America. But the relatively few times he dealt with those particular characters who were unable to drink and maintain a normal life are revealed in prose that is some of the most telling in the author’s canon. Best of these is, of course, his classic 1956 short story “Hangover,” a remarkable bit of writing from the drinker’s point of view as he awakens after a particularly bad bender and tries to put the pieces of his memory back together. The pre-McGee novels are filled with detailed, finely-observed set pieces featuring drinking gone too far, beautifully rendered lost weekends of over-the-top behavior, inhibitions broken down, wild revelries and ultimate regret. They occur mainly in his mainstream efforts such as Cancel All Our Vows, The Deceivers, Clemmie, Please Write for Details, The Crossroads, Slam the Big Door, and even -- briefly but tellingly -- in The Executioners. But as evidenced by “You Remember Jeanie,” he knew the subject matter well as far back as 1949.

The opening paragraph of the story is as beautifully crafted and atmospheric as any MacDonald ever wrote for the pulps, immediately creating a scene, a world and a hopeless, lost quality to everything that would follow.

For many years Bay Street was the place. Bar whisky for eight cents a shot or a double slug for fifteen. Waterfront street. The dirty grey waves slapped at the crusted piles and left an oil scum. A street to forget with. A street which could close in on you, day to day, night to night, until you maybe ran into an old friend who slipped you a five, and somebody saw you get it; there at dawn an interne from city hospital would shove your eyelid up with a clean, pink thumb. "Icebox meat," he'd say. "Morgue bait." And maybe, as he stood up, he'd look down at your hollow grey face and the sharp bones of your wrists and wonder how you'd kept alive so long. So very long.

The story’s protagonist is Frank Bard, a homeless street bum hopelessly addicted to the sauce, living in an abandoned crate in an alley across the street from a bar called Allison’s Grill. In an early encounter with a patrolman we learn that Frank was once a cop, a good one, with a clean record and a list of accomplishments. But that all ended one night when his wife Jeanie, while having a drink at Allison’s, was hit in the head by a drunk and killed. Frank escaped into the bottle and eventually lost his marbles, believing that Jeanie is alive and with him as he stumbles into Allison’s for a semi-frequent spending of his last fifty cents.

On one such occasion Frank and “Jeanie” arrive to enjoy a drink together and the background of the story is explained by Allison’s waiter and bouncer, a man named Jader, to a curious customer at the bar who wonders why this drunk is talking to the thin air beside him.

"Mister, a drunk bashed her head in with a bottle and got clean away. We give the cops a description but they never found the guy." He paused and glanced at Bard, who was talking to Jeanie in a low voice, almost a whisper. He continued, "And this thing used to be a cop. Jeanie was his girl. He's been on the skids for nearly a year, and every time he comes in here he's got that damn imaginary woman with him. I tell you, it's enough to drive me nuts."

Frank Bard may be nuts but he has retained enough of the memory from his past life to recollect that Allison’s Grill is a place where the connected can buy drugs, although, thanks to an ingenious failsafe mechanism, the police have never been able to prove anything. And while bouncer Jader is the excitable type, the grill’s owner Arthur Allison is a "watchful, careful man," small, trim, "with Truman glasses and a grey Colman mustache," always dressed in a spotless white shirt while tending the bar. And while Bard’s frequent visits gives Jader the creeps, Allison tolerates him and even banters good naturedly with this hopeless drunk and his “wife” -- as long as Bard has the money to pay for his drinks.

A few days later Allison takes a rare day off to go to the races, leaving Jader alone and in charge of the grill. He’s feeling good and full of himself. The drawer with the dope is full and several buys are set for the day. But his day is ruined when he looks out the front door and sees Bard approaching. Without Allison around to force him to play nice, he reluctantly allows the drunk and Jeanie to sit in a back booth, away from the action. But when he goes back to wait on him, Jader sees two cigarette butts in the ashtray, and one is stained with lipstick…

The beauty of “You Remember Jeanie” is not in its somewhat obvious plot, or in the characterizations of the secondary characters, but in the creation of the protagonist and the carefully descriptive prose MacDonald employs to bring him to life. In addition, the neighborhood is almost a character in itself, a dirty, displaced and dangerous block in a city that tolerates it only so long as its vices stay confined to its streets. The opening paragraphs are as well written as any in MacDonald’s work for the pulps.

Which brings up an unfortunate point. “You Remember Jeanie” was chosen as one of the 27 pulp tales that were reprinted in the early 1980’s in the anthologies The Good Old Stuff and More Good Old Stuff. MacDonald grudgingly allowed these works to be republished (edited by Francis M Nevins, Martin H Greenberg and Jean and Walter Shine) only on the condition that the author would be permitted to “update” several of the stories, moving the time period from the postwar era to the then-present day. MacDonald’s rationale was that the modern reader would be distracted from the narrative if someone paid a nickel for a phone call or a dime for a loaf of bread. His readers at the time blasted this curious decision, but the author dug in his heels and defended it in the second volume. He claimed that he only updated period references but left the prose alone, stating that changing “patches of florid prose” and substituting “the right word for almost the right word” would have been “cheating, because it would have made me look as if I were a better writer at that time than I was.”

But that is exactly what he did.

As I pointed out in a previous post on another Good Old Stuff selection (“The Tin Suitcase”), a reading of the stories in their original form, alongside the anthologized versions, reveals wholesale changes everywhere in the text, changing just what MacDonald claimed he hadn’t changed. Why he made that assertion is anybody’s guess at this point. Perhaps he felt -- correctly -- that most of the readers at the time had no way to go back and check on him. I found scores of changes in “The Tin Suitcase” and equally as many in “You Remember Jeanie.” Here are the story’s first three paragraphs side by side:

Paragraph One Original:

For many years Bay Street was the place. Bar whisky for eight cents a shot or a double slug for fifteen. Waterfront street. The dirty grey waves slapped at the crusted piles and left an oil scum. A street to forget with. A street which could close in on you, day to day, night to night, until you maybe ran into an old friend who slipped you a five, and somebody saw you get it; there at dawn an interne from city hospital would shove your eyelid up with a clean, pink thumb. "Icebox meat," he'd say. "Morgue bait." And maybe, as he stood up, he'd look down at your hollow grey face and the sharp bones of your wrists and wonder how you'd kept alive so long. So very long.

More Good Old Stuff version:

For many years Bay Street was the place. Bar whiskey for thirty cents a shot, or a double slug for fifty. A waterfront street, where dirty waves slapped at the crushed pilings behind the saloons. A street to forget with. A street which would close in on you, day to day, night to night, until the wrong person saw some pitying old friend slap you a five. They would find you at dawn, and an intern from City General would push your eyelid up with a clean pink thumb and say, “More meat for the morgue.”

Maybe, as he stood up, he would look down at your hollow gray face and the sharp bones of your wrists and wonder how you’d kept alive this long. So very long.

Paragraph Two and Three Originals:

But something happened to Bay Street. It acquired glamor. Reading the trend, the smart boys came down and bought up the property and built long low clubs with blue lights and bright music and expensive drinks. The shining cars lined up along the curb, and the people with the clean clothes gave ragged kids two bits to make certain the tires weren't slashed while they were inside the places with the bright music and the soft women. The doormen at the new places had no time for the men in broken shoes who were living out the last years of addiction.

So the men of Bay Street moved to Dorrity Street -- one block over. Many of the displaced little bars moved over. The red, blue and green neon flickered against the brick flanks of the ancient warehouses, and, in the night, the steaming chant of the juke boxes, the hoarse laughter and the scuff of broken shoes was the same as always.

More Good Old Stuff version:

But something happened to Bay Street. The smart developers saw what was happening elsewhere, and they conned the city, county and federal government into a glamorous redevelopment project. A huge mall. Parking garages. Waterfront restaurants on new piers, out over the water. A marina. Smaller shopping malls with quaint stores selling antiques, paintings, custom jewelry, Irish tweed.

So the old saloons were uprooted, and for a time there was no place at all for the Bay Street bums. Then some of the old places started up again on Dorrity Street, four blocks inland, and soon it was all the same as before, with the stale smell of spilled beer, the steamy chant of the jukes, hoarse laughter, the scuff of broken shoes, the wet sound of fist against flesh.

MacDonald has obviously done much more than simply change time periods. The magic rhythms of the pulp original are almost completely lost in the new version, eliminating the wonderful staccato style that oozed regret and decay. Instead we get MacDonald circa 1980, the outraged knight with a pen, battling the evil developers, a man much more at home in the world of Condominium and Barrier Island than in the dirty, venal world of postwar America. One can certainly argue about what updating did to narrative, but not, I think, what it did to style. How MacDonald couldn’t recognize this is one of the great unsolvable JDM mysteries.

One can certainly read the More Good Old Stuff version and enjoy it -- even appreciate it. I did for many years before acquiring a copy of this issue of Crack Detective Stories. But after reading the original I have no desire to return to the modern version, ever. The same is true of all of the stories collected in these two anthologies, and where I have the opportunity (I don’t own copies of all of the originals) I will go pulp and decline to be “updated”.

More Good Old Stuff is out of print but easily available as a used book. An eBook version is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever else you get eBooks. Happily, the original version of "You Remember Jeanie" is now available as an eBook from online booksellers (Amazon, at least) in one of those strange digital re-releases that have somehow circumvented copyright. This reprint is not without its problems, including the inevitable typos caused by unproofed optical character recognition, but it's the original story, not the updated one. It is paired with another great JDM story from a few years later in his career, "Elimination Race".

Monday, June 20, 2016


In June of 1947, when John D MacDonald was still a struggling author of short stories and novellas for the pulp magazines of the day, he and his family moved from their apartment in Utica to a home in the small university town of Clinton, New York. This was before the novels, before the science fiction, and certainly before Travis McGee, with only a couple of sales to the slicks to put on his trophy stand. In October of that year MacDonald managed to convince the editor of the town’s only newspaper, The Courier, to let him write a weekly column, the subject matter of which would be whatever came into the author’s head, titled From the Top of the Hill. (The MacDonald home was situated on a hill overlooking the town on the edge of the Hamilton College campus.). The gig lasted for seven months and produced 32 columns, whose subject matter ranged from jazz to local traffic problems, from family remembrances to book reviews, and it ended in May of 1948 after the death of Dorothy’s mother and the family’s decision to move to Mexico.

This column is from the May 20, 1948 edition of the paper and reveals a bit of JDM’s war background while stationed in India and Ceylon.


A boy in his last year of Syracuse U. was up the other day to talk about this odd business of writing. His yen is to write for the movies.

There is a funny thing about writing for the movies. Any shooting script or plot outline sent to any major studio is returned unopened. And they have a good reason.

Suppose you send in a script, they read it and reject it, and four years later you see a movie which contains a scene startlingly reminiscent of your effort.

The odds are that it is a coincidence -- based on the very paucity of available plots. But the courts are inclined to discount coincidence, and any suit you might bring would have a high nuisance value.

So how do you arrange to write for the movies?

One -- write a novel that sells well. Despite popular superstition, the vast majority of sales to the movies are in the one to five thousand dollar range. Suppose they want to give you five thousand. You say, "No. Give me twenty-five hundred outright, and a ten week contract at two-fifty a week to work on the movie treatment."

That is your 'in'. Whether or not they pick your option at the end of the ten week period depends on whether you are able to produce for them.

Two -- make a name in the smooth paper magazines. Sooner or later a studio will see movie possibilities in one of your stories. Every story published in national magazines, both slick and pulp, is read by people in the major studios whose job is to do nothing else.

Three -- and this is the new way -- graduate from the University of Chicago out of that Hutchens 'best books' course, or go to the Graduate School of the Cinema at the University of Southern California. Maybe you will be hired on graduation as a sort of apprentice. Dore Schary of RKO is a writer-producer. He feels that the hope of the industry is to develop specific movie talent in the writer-director-producer field, rather than acquiring people from other lines of endeavor.

And those are the three ways to cut yourself a hunk of those fabulous salaries out there. The fourth way is to be a nephew of one of the studio heads.

While with the OSS during the war, we got to know a few of the Hollywood names.

Gene Markey
Gene Markey was one of them. When his navy promotion came through, elevating him to the rank of Captain, a certain Major Willis Bird and I went to see him. Bird said, "If you're real good, maybe they'll make you a major one of these days."

Birdie is now a bone buyer in Bangkok. In addition to importing 25¢ books. Every month he has to ship so many tons of ground bones to a chemical company in the US.

Gene Markey baffled me a little. He seemed, at first glance, to be such an unimpressive guy to have been married to all that beauty. [Markey's wives, up to this point in his life, included Joan Bennett, Hedy Lamar and, at the time this column was written, Myrna Loy.] But he has that charming knack of making any acquaintance feel that he, Gene, has been languishing around for years without ever having met as unique and marvelous a person as yourself. It is a wonderful knack to have.

Melvin Douglas
Melvin Douglas was in the same headquarters as we were for a time. He was a fine, hard-working, reticent guy, forever backing out of the limelight with almost obvious annoyance. He organized an entertainment outfit and took them all over the theatre, with the one provision that he would work behind the scenes, never taking a bow.

[John] Ford, the director, was around for a time. He was a vast, moody, unpredictable man, hard to meet and harder to know.

In addition to the 'regulars,' some of the other Hollywoodians made flying trips through our malarial sector. We were in hospital when [Joe E.] Brown came through. The man with the mouth. He chatted with everybody. His son had but recently been killed in a plane crash in the states. Above that wide grin of his was a pair of the saddest, warmest eyes we have ever seen. No talent ever worked harder in our theatre.

Joe E. Brown
Maybe the fates sorted out a few of the best for us, but those we did meet gave us the idea that the screen colony contains a batch of very fine people.

                *        *        *

Art Note:

If you are a mature person of not more than three feet six inches in height, there is a promising career waiting for you as a model for the artists who illustrate the automobile and appliance advertisements.

Naturally, drawing automobiles with normal sized people in the front seat would make the cars look far too small. Thus the ads contain models who can barely reach the steering wheel and peer out over the bottom sill of the window.

This is also desirable with drawings of prefabricated houses. When the tiny models, who would have difficulty in reaching the knob on the front door, are posed in front of the prefab, it looks truly enormous.

Refrigerator ads utilize tiny women not more than three feet tall. If one of the models ever opened the door to the refrigerator, standing on tiptoe, a quart of milk falling out would smash her flat.

Some cynics affirm that this use of tiny models is to make the products look so huge that the public is enticed into buying.

We have a different theory. We feel that in the beginning the models and the appliances were in scale. And the artists have merely changed the scale to keep abreast of the rise in prices.

If the trend continues, we can expect to see refrigerator ads where the female model stands beside the product, a happy smile on her face, a scaling ladder in her hand and climbing irons on her dainty feet.

                *        *        *

See you next week.

Monday, June 13, 2016

"Game for Blondes"

John D MacDonald wrote three science fiction stories that were published in that best-of-all sf digest, Galaxy magazine, two in 1951 and one in 1952. By the time that third effort -- “Game for Blondes” -- was published in the magazine’s October edition, the author’s interest in sf was winding down to its ending point, at least as far as the science fiction digests were concerned. He had written over 50 stories, published in nearly all of the prominent sf pulps and digests of the day, from Startling Stories to Astounding Science Fiction, from Thrilling Wonder Stories to Super Science Stories. In 1951 he had written seven stories and one novel, his first sf book-length effort, Wine of the Dreamers. But seven in ‘51 was way down from 13 in 1950, and Wine of the Dreamers wasn’t original, it was an expansion of one of those novellas. Likewise, his second sf novel, Ballroom of the Skies, which appeared at the end of 1952, was itself a rewrite of an earlier Super Science Stories novella titled “Hand from the Void,” and his total short story count that year was a paltry two. (That’s only if you include “Incubation,” which appeared in a hardcover anthology.) Either MacDonald had said all he wanted to say in the field, or he had lost interest in it entirely.

Or, perhaps, he found that it was just not enough of a challenge. In his 2000 biography of MacDonald, The Red Hot Typewriter, Hugh Merrill quotes a letter the author wrote to an unnamed correspondent where he explains why he had lost interest in this particular kind of fiction:

I think [science fiction] is a marvelous exercise of the imagination, as you can say things behind the scenes in science fiction that you wouldn’t dare say in straight fiction. Don’t tell this to any science fiction writer, for God’s sake, but I got the feeling that it was a little too easy. You are cheating on reality. I remember I had an argument with MacKinlay Kantor... and I said to him, “You know, I have a problem when I want to define character. If I want to make a guy really stupid and excitable I have to build that,” I said. “But you and those historical things—you can have him run into a room and say, ‘They just fired on Fort Sumter and the whole thing will be over in two weeks!’ and okay, you’ve lined your guy out as a stupid fellow.” It’s almost the same kind of thing in science fiction. You can cheat, you can do a pretend history... Contemporary reality is the most difficult thing to write about because we’re all in the midst of a big cloud of dust and you hear the horses running by but you don’t know who’s winning.

If MacDonald’s interest in the form was flagging in 1952, his abilities certainly were not. “Game for Blondes” is one of his very best short stories of any genre, a dark, intense rumination of failure, regret and ultimate redemption, built around time travel and a future not that much different from today. The story’s superior qualities were immediately recognized: it was anthologized in two contemporary collections, Bleiler and Dikty’s The Best Science-Fiction Stories: 1953 as well as in The Second Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction in 1954. In 1978 it was included in MacDonald’s own sf anthology, Other Times, Other Worlds, where editor Martin H. Greenberg called it “a minor classic” and had this to say about it in the story’s prefatory remarks:

This is simply one of the most powerful psychological stories in American science fiction… It has a lovely, hard-boiled feel about it that expresses the multiple pulp influences of the author.

The story still packs a wallop today, 64 years after its initial appearance, and no matter how many times I’ve read this, its effects never wear thin.

If “Game for Blondes” had been published in anything other than a science fiction digest, one would be hard pressed to guess that the story was science fiction until late into the text. We meet the protagonist, Martin Greynor, in his now-natural location and in his now-natural state: in a bar and drunk. Not recent-drunk but permanent-drunk, a condition he has wallowed in for three weeks now, precipitated by his careless, anger-induced driving that resulted in a crash and the death of his beloved wife Ruth.

Now it was New Year's Eve. Ruth was gone. His job was gone, the car gone. Money was left, though, money a-plenty. Funny about drinking. The wobbling, falling down, sick stage lasts about twelve days, he discovered... Then you're armor-plated. Liquor drops into a pit, clunk. Walk steady, talk steady. But in come the illusions on little soft pink feet.

And the illusions have come, to accompany the dissipated person Martin has become, unwashed, unshaven, rancid and stinking, to the point that he has been kicked out of the nicer drinking establishments he used to frequent in his previous life. Sitting at the bar in one dingy dive he imagines his wife as she once was:

The bar mirrors are enchanted. Ruth stands behind you. She said, "Never run away from me, darling. You'd be too easy to find. Wanted -- a red-headed man with one blue eye and one brown eye. See? You couldn't get away with it." The face that looks back has been gaunted, because you stopped eating.

Outside he he sees Ruth ahead of him, hurrying down a dark street. He calls after her, she turns, revealing "a wattled mask" that rasps in a "mocking gin-husky voice," "Ya wan' something, sweetie?"

The illusions don’t seem to be limited to ghosts of his dead wife. This particular evening he looks in the mirror of a nameless bar and sees three young women, all blondes, looking intently at him. Had he seen them before? He can’t remember. He leaves the bar and walks down a slush-filled street, drawn to life by the author’s wonderful prose.

Next block. Don't turn right. That will take you toward midtown, toward the higher prices, toward the places where they let you get three steps inside the door, then turn you firmly and walk you back out. Stay over here, buster.

They'd rolled him a few times that first week. Made a nuisance to go to the bank and get more cash each time. Now they'd stopped bothering. One of the times they'd left him sitting, spitting out a tooth, His tongue kept finding the hole.

Neon in the middle of the next block. Two couples sitting on the curb.

"Down by-ee the old mill streeeeeeem..."

Spotted by the prowl car.

"Break it up! Move along there!"

Then he notices the three blondes following him. “Three blondes. Three arrogant, damp-mouthed, hot-eyed, overdressed blondes -- sugary in the gloom.” He ducks into the closest bar and they follow him in, regaining their watchful place at a table near the bar. When a male patron makes a pass at one of them, they give him cold looks, and when he persists the poor fool suddenly turns "fast and hard and went high and rigid into the air. Martin saw him go up in that jet-leap of spasmed muscles, head thrown back, agony-masked face. He fell like something pushed out of a window."

For the first time since Ruth’s death, Martin begins to feel real fear and makes a run for it…

What resonates in “Game for Blondes,” besides its clever science fiction angle and trick ending, is the hopeless, lost quality of the protagonist, a successful man for whom the good life has ended and who seeks escape and punishment in the bottom of a bottle. It’s a fictional device that MacDonald had used at least once before, in his 1947 novella “You’ve Got to Be Cold,” although never to better effect than in “Game for Blondes.” The regret is palpable and the dissolution Martin has consigned to himself is not only gritty and unflinching, it is the result of a new-found self-awareness he was only able to attain through tragedy. And it is a state that could only be redeemed through science fiction.

MacDonald would go on to write only one more sf story for the digests, “Labor Supply,” which was published in a 1953 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. And as I’ve documented here on this blog many times, the author never categorically gave up writing science fiction, it was simply published in other kinds of magazines (Bluebook, Playboy, This Week) and was, for the most part, science fiction of a different kind, bordering more on psychological horror and the workings of the mind. Still, if the qualities of the stories he did write for the digests are an indication of his talent in the field, he could have very well become a science fiction “name” had he decided to keep at it. What he left us are five-score works of fiction that, for the most part, still resonate today.

“Game for Blondes” is currently out of print, even in JDM’s Other Times, Other Worlds, which, for some reason, still has not had its initial eBook publication. Used copies of that paperback anthology are fairly easy to find, and it is a collection that belongs in the library of any fan of the author’s short works of fiction -- any kind of fiction.

Monday, June 6, 2016

"The Fraud That Paid Off"

John D MacDonald’s relationship with the Sunday newspaper supplement This Week was a long and profitable one for the author. In began at the end of 1950 with the publication of his short story “I Love You (Occasionally),” a brief, humorous situation comedy about a man who tries to impress his wife and ends up putting his foot in it. From 1950 to 1958 MacDonald had at least one story published in This Week every year, and most of them were of this ilk: harmless little family misunderstandings that cause friction before resolving themselves nicely with a typically MacDonaldean happy ending.

In their April 22, 1956 issue This Week published their 12th JDM short story, “The Fraud That Paid Off.” Fans of the author who happened upon this title in their Sunday newspaper supplement could be forgiven for thinking this a crime story, perhaps along the lines of some of the stuff MacDonald had been submitting to the mystery digests of the time, like “The Killer” in Manhunt or “In a Small Motel,” in Justice, or perhaps something akin to his two most recent novels, April Evil and You Live Once.

Alas, they would have been -- and probably were -- disappointed. The “fraud” in “The Fraud That Paid Off” was not criminal or even illegal, and the payoff wasn’t monetary, it was romantic.

Protagonist Johnny Brewer works in a job that was very familiar to the author: he’s a production chaser in an assembly plant, an industry MacDonald worked in during his stateside stint in the Army. Johnny is young, capable, well thought-of by his superiors, and single. He is smitten by a particular young lady secretary, a fact known to many at the plant, and especially known to Kathie Morrison, the secretary of the Production Manager, Johnny’s direct superior.

Johnny Brewer's endless efforts to make a date with The Princess were well known and frequently commented upon throughout the big plant of the Kallston Corporation. The Princess, Miss Virginia Conway, was secretary to the Plant Manager, highest resident brass at the plant. In looks she was faintly reminiscent of Grace Kelly, with Kelly's same air of cool, polite, delicious unattainability. When an errand brought her down to the production floor, she did not look out of place -- she made the entire production floor look out of place. Johnny's varied and diligent efforts had thus far been rewarded by a frostiness of blue eyes, a tiny, pitying smile.

After a particularly stressful day caused by a missed order and a transposed figure, Johnny arrives at his boss’s office to report that everything is under control. He trades familiarities with Kathie, a “smallish” girl with red hair and gray eyes. (Uh-oh.)  After he is congratulated by his boss, Johnny intimates to Kathie that he will be spending the rest of the day dreaming of a date with The Princess. The “light of warmth and pride” fade from Kathie’s eyes as she returns to her work, muttering “Good Luck.”

[She] balanced her chin on a small capable fist and scowled. She had tried once to tell Johnny that Virginia had all the ripe, rich warmth of a servo-mechanism, but had only succeeded in angering him... Kathie knew he deserved better, but Johnny was not very bright about people. She scowled and thought and plotted.

So four days later, when Johnny happens upon The Princess at the water cooler and clumsily tries to strike up a conversation, he is startled -- just as the reader is not -- when she responds warmly and agrees to dinner that night at the finest and most expensive restaurant in town. After a wonderful dinner with the very attentive Princess, the couple sit together on a banquette holding hands while listening to the piano. Then she leans "her golden head close to him and, with a slant of mocking eyes [says], 'You've kept it a very good secret, you know.'"

The trite, obvious plot and resolution of “The Fraud That Paid Off” is only slightly salvaged by MacDonald’s terse, economic prose and occasionally humorous observations. But there’s nothing of real substance here, only a quick read for a Sunday afternoon in 1950’s America. We read them so you don’t have to.

Not surprisingly, “The Fraud That Paid Off,” (MacDonald’s original title, incidentally) has never been reprinted or anthologized. Like all of his This Week stories, it is available through the microfilm and digital archives of the various newspapers that carried This Week during all or part of its run. You may have a local library that has access to one of these newspapers, so you can collect them all if you are so inclined. “The Fraud That Paid Off” aside, there are some real gems in there.

The artwork for this story was done by the great Fredric Varady, one of the premier magazine illustrators of the mid-twentieth century. I would have reproduced the main artwork for “The Fraud That Paid Off” but, unfortunately, it depicts the story’s final scene.