Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sex Cult That Loved Then Killed

BEACH QUEEN BLOWOUT is a paperback I picked up last weekend at a flea market for 50 cents. I'd never heard of the series before: Operation Hang Ten, which were apparently published by Macfadden Bartel from 1969 to 1973. Like the CHOPPER COP series, these books were "produced" by a man named Lyle Kenyon Engel, who is reported to have farmed out writing assignments to various pseudonymous authors who published as Patrick Morgan (it appears George Snyder may have been at least one "Morgan").

The Operation Hang Ten books were obviously influenced by THE MOD SQUAD, the hit ABC-TV series that premiered in the fall of 1968. I'd don't know how many times I've mentioned that I wish some enterprising producer had adapted some of these trashy paperbacks into film or television products, but it actually happened this time. In 1973, ABC and Viacom produced a 30-minute pilot for an OPERATION HANG TEN television series, which would have starred Christopher Stone (THE HOWLING) as the main character and Victor French (LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) as his boss. Produced by Herb Solow and written by Gene Coon—both veterans of STAR TREK—the pilot was reportedly filmed, but not sold.

BEACH QUEEN BLOWOUT, #8 in the paperback series, published in 1971, follows the exploits of Bill Cartwright, a 24-year-old championship surfer and star USC athlete who inherited $10 million after the accidental death of his parents. Decked out with a gadget-filled mobile home and a beatup Woody (hey, the Mod Squad had one of those too), Cartwright became a private detective and went to work for Operation Hang Ten, a shadowing crimefighting organization led by a former CIA operative named Jim Dana, a gruff but compassionate man who is one of the few "over 30s" that Cartwright trusts.

Perfect Oil Company is being plagued by a sexy saboteur who is damaging their off-shore wells and forcing them to leak into the Pacific. A heart-shaped birthmark on her breast is her only identifying feature, and Cartwright believes she may be one of the Beach Queens, a gang of young women who gather at one of the few coves so far unaffected by the massive oil spill. Bill falls for one of them, Lynn, the daughter of a prominent senator, who tells him that she is also investigating the spills on behalf of her father.

No matter how high the stakes rise—and they do when the mysterious blackmailers demand $10 million not to blow up Perfect's nine platforms—Cartwright barely seems to notice, as he does precious little investigating, spending more time surfing and sipping Scotches than poking around any crime scenes. Only when the stakes become personal does he become interested.

Surf buffs will probably find this book indispensable. I thought the subject matter and the milieu were unusual enough to set it apart, but greatly lacking in violent or sexual content, outside of a curious genderbending twist that is underdeveloped. For a counterculture hero, Cartwright doesn't seem to care much for the counterculture, and his attitude towards women belongs to a man at least twenty years older and a decade earlier. I understand that other Operation Hang Ten books may be more bizarrely plotted, and they do seem to have offbeat, interest-catching titles along the line of BEACH QUEEN BLOWOUT, such as DEATH CAR SURFSIDE, TOPLESS DANCER HANGUP, SCARLET SURF AT MAKAHA and CUTE AND DEADLY SURF TWINS. Engel's companion series about a young, authority-hating "chopper cop" who solves murders for an exclusive police force answerable to the governor of California is more intriguing than BEACH QUEEN BLOWOUT, but I'd be willing to give the Operation Hang Ten series another shot.


Anonymous said...

Marty, you might also be interested to know that Lyle Kenyon Engel was also involved in the production (held the copyright, at least) of The Baroness series for Pocket Books. This series of eight sexy-spy books, all published between 1974 and 1975 and attributed to Paul Kenyon, were sexually explicit knock-offs of Modesty Blaise, with a juicy pulp sensibility to them and a fun "swinging '70s" vibe (The Baroness was inclined to enjoy her shaken-not-stirred martini with a joint rather than a cigarette!).

I've only read the first few in the series so far and found them highly enjoyable, but then I do enjoy the lurid plotting and sex appeal of a series like this over the humorless carnage of something like The Executioner.

You can check out reviews, covers, and more info over at Curt Purcell's fine Groovy Age of Horror blog.

Grant said...

I'm coming to this thread very late because I only found your site a few months ago (again, thanks to the "Glorious Trash" site), but I can't help being very curious about this series, but can't find anything else about it yet.
I'm especially curious about THE CUTE AND DEADLY SURF TWINS. (I keep imagining some "good sister / bad sister" story, or better yet in a way, some variation of the book DESTROYER # 5, which breaks that rule by giving the story TWO bad sisters.) Do you happen to know the plot of it, including spoilers? Or the plots of any others in the series?