Sylvia, a novel by Howard Fast, was published for decades under the pseudonym “E.V. Cunningham” as the result of the author’s blacklisting during the McCarthy Era. Fast had refused to disclose the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War (one of the contributors was Eleanor Roosevelt), and he was imprisoned for three months in 1950 for contempt of Congress. Fast was a popular novelist and television writer, Spartacus being one of his best-known works. First published in 1960, Sylvia is the tale of a private detective Alan Macklin, hired by a wealthy businessman, Mr. Summers, to investigate the mysterious past of Summers’ fiancé. Macklin’s journey leads him out west and eventually across the border into Mexico.
In 1992 I was asked to design the cover for the very first edition to appear with his real name. I decided to paint a portrait of the fictional Sylvia. A black censorship bar from that same era serves as a double-entendre regarding the title subject’s illicit past and the history of the book.
In 1992 I had a Macintosh IIcx with a black and white monitor. I hooked it up to a Canon color copier (this was before the advent of affordable ink jet color printers). I played with the settings on the copier to get the desired graininess on the printout. I then scanned the print as art.
I based my portrait on publicity photos of the beautiful 1930s and 1940s film star, Hedy Lamarr. She had the right mixture of allure and mystery. I was unaware at the time that Lamarr also held the patent for the “frequency-hopped spread spectrum invention,” a secret communications system, with composer George Anthei. This system was first used by the U.S. military in 1962 during the blockade of Cuba, and eventually led to the technology used in cordless telephones and WiFi Internet connections.
I also based my cover art on Mexican Ciné posters and billboards. A good part of the story takes place south of the border. Shown are a detail and entire image from two Mexican Ciné posters. Top: Doña Diabla (She-Devil), Artist: José Spert, 1949. Bottom: Sôlo Veracruz Es Bello (Only Veracruz Is Beautiful), Artist: Leopoldo Mendoza, 1948.
This edition of For Men Only from Sept. 1966 is typical of magazines published in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. Rather than cause undue embarrassment, while at the same time wishing to titillate, the content would include lurid details and salacious photographs, and the magazine designers would then apply censorship bars to protect the identity of the subjects.
These editions of Sylvia were published under the pseudonym “E.V Cunningham” due to Fast’s blacklisting during the 1950s. At the time, in the pre-wide world web days, I was unaware that my cover was one in a long line of Sylvias, and I was taking part in a running dialogue across the decades with other cover artists.