Paul Eldridge (1888-1982) was a poet, novelist, essayist, short story writer, and teacher. Eldridge was born in Bucharest, raised in Philadelphia, and spent most of his life in New York City. He married fellow writer, stage actress, and soprano, Sylvette De La Mar (also known as Sylvette De Lamar, née Sylvia Reiss). Whenever I catalog a collection, I love to find photographs that allow me to picture the collection’s creator as I work, so imagine my delight when I came across these dapper photos of Paul and Sylvette, below.
Paul viewed Sylvette as his intellectual equal and dedicated all of his books to her. Alongside this respect for his wife and life partner, Paul Eldridge displayed a playful irreverence with regard to concepts of male and female roles, as is evident in the subjects and titles of many of his works.
Eldridge was particularly active in the mid-1940s and early 1950s and many of his books were published by E. Haldeman-Julius in the “Big Blue Books” series. The “Big Blue Books” were an offshoot of Haldeman-Julius’ immensely popular “Little Blue Books,” which produced publications of classic and new works that were inexpensive (due to the paper used) and very portable (due to their 3½ × 5 inch size). In addition to sharing similarly progressive views on many issues, Eldridge and Haldeman-Julius shared something else—careful consideration of the titles for creative works and a desire to choose titles that stood out. See the typescript examples below from Eldridge’s papers, including the compellingly-titled “Women Ain’t No Fools” (can’t argue with that).
As a 2008 profile by Rolf Potts of E. Haldeman-Julius notes, the publisher was a very savvy marketer and would frequently re-title works in order to maximize sales:
“….ad-driven mail orders constituted the bulk of Little Blue Book business, and Haldeman-Julius was savvy at getting the most out of a given advertisement. Stodgy-sounding socialist treatises were repackaged as self-help titles; books with vague-sounding subject matter were renamed with provocative teasers like “The Truth About…” or “A Little Secret That…” …. Haldeman-Julius had learned this technique from his days as a newspaper headline writer, and he made no apologies about his retitling strategy. ‘An important secret of successful titling is to be imperative,’ he wrote, ‘to insist in the very name of the book that the reader have it. Now Life Among the Ants was much improved in its distribution by extending it thus: Facts You Should Know About Ant Life.… The public today wants facts and it likes being told that it is getting facts.’
…. The Tallow Ball sold three times better when entitled A French Prostitute’s Sacrifice, and sales of Gautier’s Fleece of Gold jumped from six thousand to fifty thousand when it was retitled The Quest for a Blonde Mistress. ‘What could Fleece of Gold mean to anyone who had never heard of Gautier or his story before?’ Haldeman-Julius wrote. ‘Little, if anything.… The Quest for a Blonde Mistress [is] exactly the sort of story it is.’ In this way, a book about Abelard and Heloise was sold as The Love Affair of a Priest and a Nun.”
The Paul Eldridge papers (1909-1982, Ms. Coll. 1319) primarily consist of manuscripts, typescripts, and copies of Eldridge’s poems, stories, and essays; scrapbooks of clippings related to Eldridge’s writing and other activities; dustjackets; photographs; issues of newspapers and periodicals in which his columns appeared; and correspondence related to Eldridge’s writing and career. In addition to his more lighthearted works, seen here, Eldridge produced many writings concerning World War II, the rise of Nazism, and Jewish issues. I’ll leave you with this fine example of a bookplate from the collection, which is now open to researchers.