Book Feature: Headlines for Johnny by Thorpe Caulder
Headlines for Johnny was only published in one edition, by Greenleaf Classics, in 1968. Written by Thorpe Caulder, it contains six short stories. Below is the excerpt from the back cover:
I decided to walk before turning in. It could only have been a masochistic delight that impelled me in the direction of the Sea Lavender. Why I wanted to torment myself by looking at the place where I’d been so blissfully happy and sexually fulfilled with Harold, I don’t know. I guess I was thoroughly mixed up. I knew perfectly well that ultimately I’d be there with Fred. And knowing Fred was there now with the sailor made my insides jump. I had to take a look, scuff around like a Peeping Tom wondering which was Fred’s apartment.
Greenleaf Classics, started in the early 1950’s by William Hamling, published both straight and gay/lesbian erotica–often extreme erotica featuring incest, underage participants, group sex scenes, etc. Greenleaf was one of the very first publishers of gay fiction in the United States, paving the way for dozens of other small publishing companies which began selling gay pulp erotica/fiction. Interestingly, Greenleaf Classics was involved in a 1965 lawsuit, in which a bookstore clerk was convicted on obscenity charges for selling two Greenleaf Classics books; the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was overturned in 1967.
Despite Greenleaf Classics’ reputation for publishing obscene, extreme erotica, Headlines for Johnny is surprisingly well-written. Yes, it contains graphic sex scenes, but Caulder’s insight into his character’s interior lives and emotional states is really quite wonderful. There are several beautiful and tender scenes between men, framed by evocative descriptions of the participants’ surroundings. Far from a simple smutty adult-store paperback, Headlines for Johnny has some true literary merit. In particular, the description of a judge’s struggle to accept his own conviction of two gay men’s sexual relationship is completely engaging–the reader experiences the judge’s tension and anxiety over the fairness of his ruling.
Unfortunately, because many authors who wrote for Greenleaf Classics and other small pulp publishers did not use their real names (and one author could use dozens of pen names, depending on the subject matter), there is no information about Thorpe Caulder’s real identity. It’s conceivable that he/she wrote dozens of other books, but that information seems to be lost to time.
To purchase your own copy of Headlines for Johnny, visit the Somewhere Books online store.