This week I read, Witch on Wheels, published in 1952, with the name Bill Boltin in the byline. I was hoping for a fun, pulp novel about a witch–however, no witch in the hat-and-broomstick sense was to be found (witch in this novel meaning something more akin to femme fatale or vixen). Though I was initially disappointed at the book’s lack of hocus pocus, I soon found myself delving deep into the possible identity of the mysterious author Bill Boltin, uncovering what seems to be a secret pen-name for a DC Comic Book Editor who was active from the 1940’s-1990’s.
The novel Witch on Wheels is a dizzying combination of flowery prose, cringeworthy descriptions of the feminine form (see some passages below), and classical references to the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone. It is an erotic romance–though it felt as though the more explicit passages (which would probably have a PG-13 rating today) were patched onto an original work as they are digressive, and do not wholly match the tone of the rest of the novel.
(Spoilers in this paragraph, skip to next if you want to avoid them) The main character of Witch on Wheels is Darlene, a young woman with a “cameo-like face” who was raised in her postal-worker-by-day-cockfighting-mogul-by-night father’s house in Texas. We see Darlene’s first sexual encounters as a teenager (all of which are incredibly problematic), and follow her quick transition into womanhood. Some uncomfortable conversations between Darlene and her grandmother reveal how little the author knew of what it is like to actually be a teenage girl–but the point is not to create a character who can exist in reality. Rather, the point is to create a fantasy–a young woman whose entire coming-of-age centers around her development into a sexual allurement for the men around her. Eventually, she runs away from home to make something of herself in New York. While there, we see her Persephone-like descent as she becomes platonically involved with a bookie named Sydney. Darlene eventually becomes the mistress of Marty, a mob boss and ruler of the metaphorical underworld. After Marty dies, she kills the man who murdered him and tries to start over by marrying a French painter. But, like Eurydice or Persephone, her life is destined for the underworld, and the novel ends with her death at the hands of mob henchmen.
The publisher of the book, Arco Sophisticates (an imprint of Arco publishing), started by Milton Gladstone in 1937, was primarily a publisher of test-prep and how-to books–however, published a number of erotically charged romance novels during the 1950’s. One of the more prolific writers Arco Sophisticates published is pulp fiction author Jack Woodford, whose publications under Arco included co-writing Sinful Daughter, Sincerely Yours, and Male Virgin.
Bill Boltin–a pen-name–appears only to have authored Witch on Wheels for Arco Publishing. The name appears in a byline again in a short mystery published in 1960, about Fabian (yes, the real teen heartthrob Fabian) turning into a detective. Bill Boltin also put together this sleaze magazine, likely marketed to soldiers during the Korean war.
Who was this Bill Boltin? Well, according to the 1952 Copyright Catalogue, Bill Boltin is a pseudonym, and the copyright of Witch on Wheels is held by a Murray Boltinoff–the same name of a man who published a book on sewing machine repair with Arco Publishing.
Murray Boltinoff is also the name of a DC Comic Book editor and author for an impressive number of comic books. Could this be the author of Witch on Wheels? Boltinoff worked for DC from the 1940s-1990’s, and passed away in 1994. He oversaw the creation of DC superhero team Doom Patrol (and came up with their tagline, “The World’s Strangest Heroes”). Murray Boltinoff used a number of pseudonyms during his career, including Anne Case, Blair Bolton, and Woody Adams.
Was Bill Boltin the sleazy pen-name for an established editor and writer of DC Comic Books? It is entirely possible–if not likely, though more evidence is needed to make a clear-cut case. Whoever wrote Witch on Wheels was clearly gifted at coming up with lurid prose and an interesting plot with strong classical elements (though the praiseworthy elements were obstructed by the over-the-top descriptions of Darlene’s body–as was typical for 1950’s erotica).
5 Cringeworthy Passages from Witch on Wheels
Warning, these are very, very uncomfortable.
- “But what is it?” asked Darlene, baffled.
“Land Sakes, you sure do know nothin’, do you girl! It’s a brassiere. You wear it around your bosom, like this,” went on Gran’ma, demonstrating it against Darlene’s bulging bosom.
“But why should I wear it? There’s nothing wrong with my breasts,” said Darlene querulously.
(note, Darlene is 17 during this scene).
- “For a young ‘un like you and an old woman like me, we get the most pleasure out of a cigarette, but for females ‘tween both our ages, there’s more joy in somethin’ else first thing in the morning. But you’ll be findin’ out about that when the proper time comes.”
- “There was a goodly percentage of women, too, who just as they sought release from their dull, daily routines in prize-fighting and wrestling matches, found some sort of erotic, sensual satisfaction in cockfighting, in its naked test of strength, its brutality, and in its sudden death in the blood-soggy pit.”
- “He was hypnotized by the door, that thin, rectangle of wood which separated him from the raptures of heaven. The sound of the shower piqued his imagination. That alabaster sculpture with the proud, rose-tinted breasts; sheaf of golden hair spilling over the lithe, glistening, desirable body! He was seized by a paroxysm of undiscovered passion, a frenzy to plunge his mouth into hers, to drink her breath, to devour her, to blend her supple and round form into his.”
- “Provocative legs. Tanned, luscious legs. Legs that appeared in stocking ads. Lets that made Betty Grable look like a knock-kneed wonder. Legs that were an artist’s vision of perfection, which blended into thighs no canvas could capture. Passionate thighs which were made for and dedicated to love. Rotund, supple, inviting thighs. Delicious thighs that tempted the teeth or the lips.”