Title: October Blood

Photographer: Erwin Blumenfeld
Author: Francine du Plessix Gray
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Designer: not listed


Image Title: 1950: Mid-Century Fashions, Faces, Ideas.' American <em>Vogue</em> cover, New York, January 1950.
Photo Genre: Fashion
Book Genre: Novel

Erwin Blumenfeld's stylized surrealist simplification of a woman's face to a single mascara'd eye and painted pair of lips captivated the fashion world in 1950 when it appeared on the cover of Vogue's January issue. The picture was a product of it's time (a number of photographers had been using high contrast imagery in their fashion work; Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and William Klein, to name several), but it may have had an impact on the world of book cover illustration as well.

The writer Francine du Plessix Gray should also know something about fashion. Not only did she work for some time as a model, but her mother, Tatiana du Plessix, was a well-known hat designer, and her stepfather, Alexander Liberman, was the Editorial Director of Condé Nast (publisher of Vogue, Blumenfeld's employer) and all-around legendary influence to designers and photographers alike (note: du Plessix Gray writes about growing up in this high-octane social setting in her ominously titled memoir, Them. Penguin's 1992 edition of this book, which may be found HERE, puts an Irving Penn portrait of 'them' on it's cover).

October Blood may be a work of fiction, but du Plessix Gray's life figures strongly in it's plot and characters. The book's narrator is Paula Fitzsimmons (similar in age and rebellious temperament to the author) whose mother is Nada; brilliant, autocratic editor of Best, the premier fashion magazine of it's time.

The hardcover, first edition of October Blood (Simon and Schuster 1985, view cover HERE) features another Penn photograph on it's cover; The Tarot Reader from 1949. In this image, two glamorously dressed models (Bridget Tichenor and Jean Patchett) sit beneath a large palmistry chart and consult a tarot deck. Penn's image is apropos to both the book's fashion background story and Paula Fitzsimmons' self-declared skill as a palm reader.

The softcover edition, published one year later by Ballantine, uses Blumenfeld's Vogue image for it's own cover. Perhaps less elegant, certainly less visually complex, but more striking and even lurid, it may well be a better choice for a mass-market paperback.

Let's return, then, to 1950: Vogue publishes it's Blumenfeld-covered January issue. William Morrow first publishes The Case of the One-Eyed Witness, a Perry Mason thriller by Erle Stanley Gardner. Five years later, Blumenfeld fights with Liberman and leaves Vogue. Pocket Books reissues 'One-Eyed Witness' in paper with a cover illustration by James Meese that looks startlingly familiar.

While there is certainly no connection between Blumenfeld's exit from Vogue and the release of the Perry Mason paperback, there may be a trail of influence leading from Blumenfeld's photograph to Meese's illustration. Or, it may simply be a striking coincidence. A third possibility is that both were influenced by an even earlier image, made by someone else.

Regardless of it's provenance, the woman's face, whited-out but for eye and lips, has figured again and again over the years as a motif for covers of mass-market books involving sexy dames with a taste for danger.

To view a few of these books, as well as Blumenfeld's original Vogue cover and James Meese's illustration for The Case of the One-Eyed Witness, click on 'Point of Interest' at right.