Pop Culture and Pulp fiction

~ The 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s ~

Absinthe made repeated appearances in the more risqué American popular fiction of the 1940’s and ’50’s. It seems to have been available “under the counter” in – at least – Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. US-made absinthe substitutes of indifferent quality were legally available, but genuine absinthe was likely smuggled in from Cuba, where absinthe had never been banned, and where both locally made absinthe and Pernod Tarragona were obtainable. In the pulp fiction of the day, absinthe served as a symbol of decadence and louche living, and was often mentioned in the same context as marijuana and cocaine.

Absinthe for Superman by Robert Edmond Alter. Published in Manhunt, June 1959. Alter’s claim to fame may be as the writer of two classic crime novels, Swamp Sister and Carny Kill (both 1966), but he also made a dent in short fiction as well – over 40 stories for the popular pulp digests of the day – Manhunt was a typical publication – and dozens more for ‘slicks’ such as Argosy and The Saturday Evening Post. Alter’s scenarios and characters were immensely varied: intrigue, cuckolded wives and husbands, spies, hillbillies, ghosts, skin divers … in this 1959 story a deranged ship’s captain has a penchant for Nietschean philosophy – and for absinthe… Alter was born in 1925 and seems to have died in 1966 at the age of just 40.

Touchable – by Les Scott and Robert W. Tracey. Published in New York, 1951. Small-town girl Ruth loses herself in The Inferno (the Big City) and lesbianism, prostitution, degradation, absinthe, marijuana, coke and heroin (here known as The White Fairy) find her. A lurid example of the bestselling author Les Scott’s over the top pre-softcore era portrayals of sex and drugs in post-WWII America. In late 1952, another of his sex and drugs sagas gained the attention of the Gathings Select House Committee investigating literature it considered a danger to America.