Many, many years ago I worked at a used bookstore called Bookmans in Tucson. Everybody from Arizona knows Bookmans. They have several stores around the state and they’re all as big as supermarkets, filled with used books, music, and games. Most books are half cover price, and employees got a 50% discount. Sometimes the manager would be like, “You did a good job today, Sean, take a book.”
I realized that I would never get another opportunity like that in my life and took full advantage. My library exploded with books on every topic imaginable. I also learned the joy of collecting vintage paperbacks, with the added joy of getting them for next to nothing.
So when I came across Ted Mark’s I Was A Teeny-Bopper For The CIA I just had to get it. I’d never heard of the title or author before (I wasn’t about to forget that title!) and figured this would be something I’d never see again. I was right, I’ve never seen that book again, and now, 20 years later, I finally got around to reading it.
Ted Mark was the pen name for Ted Gottfried, author of more than a hundred novels and nonfiction titles, many of them on the racy side. I Was A Teeny-Bopper For The CIA was published by Berkley in 1967, when Mark was already well established as a pulp writer.
The story follows Vance Powers, a recently divorced corporate lawyer whose boring life gets turned upside down when a Congressman he knows hires him for a secret mission — infiltrate his local suburban amateur theatrical group in order to find some missing CIA money. Amateur theater, you see, is a front for the Commies, and the CIA operative who was investigating this group, Arch Fink, died recently. A bunch of CIA dough disappeared with him.
Powers joins the theater group and meets a menagerie of suburban types, most of whom are hopping into bed with one another. He soon hops into bed with Joy Boxx, a bored housewife and one of the many characters with joke names. The titular teeny-bopper is named Lolly Popstick! Anyway, Powers doesn’t get much joy from Boxx because his ex-wife has an almost psychic ability to call him long distance when he’s just about to have some fun. This happens all through the novel, meaning the sex scenes are all played for laughs. While this may have been a racy book for its day, it would barely get an R rating today and the sex is watered down even more with all the witty banter and slapstick acrobatics.
This is not to say this is a badly written piece of period smut. In fact it’s quite well written, with fast pacing and a quick wit. Mark obviously didn’t take his writing terribly seriously, and it’s like he with us for the ride, enjoying it as much as we do.
The plot thickens when there’s a murder in the theater group, Powers’ home gets broken into, and everyone becomes a suspect. It’s a fun bit of 60s pulp with lots of cultural insights into a “square’s” view of the anti-war movement and suburban spouse swapping. Well worth picking up if you want some good silly fun.
Ted Mark continued with the humorous/sexy spy theme with the bestselling series The Man from O.R.G.Y. Nor was he the only one. There was a whole subgenre of spy spoofs in the 1960s. Probably the most important series was The Man from C.A.M.P., published by groundbreaking adult publisher Greenleaf Classics. This was the first series to have a gay protagonist as a spy, and one of the first to have a proudly gay character. Original copies now go for hundreds of dollars on eBay so I haven’t read one, but I enjoyed reading an interview with author Victor J. Banis about his creating the series under the pen name Don Holliday.
Holliday admits he went for every cliché in the book and turned it up to eleven. Super spy Jackie Holmes was effeminate, stylish, and promiscuous. He was also as tough as James Bond and always defeated the bad guys. Or girls. Or midgets. His sidekick was a poodle with razor sharp teeth trained to kill! No way he could have written something like this these days without the Social Justice Warriors getting all over him on Twitter.
Some of Holliday’s books have been reprinted for affordable prices, but I prefer the brittle spins and yellowed pages of real vintage paperbacks, so I guess I’ll have to wait for my own bestseller before I get to read these.
For more on vintage paperbacks, I highly recommend Joe Kenney’s Glorious Trash blog for his lengthy, informed reviews. His book write-ups are always entertaining even if the books aren’t!
I also have this in my library. Maybe I should read it next. The blurb says it has recipes!
Sean McLachlan is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles, including his post-apocalyptic series Toxic World that starts with the novel Radio Hope. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.