— Following my review of Assignment Zoraya, by Edward S. Aarons, David Vineyard recently left this comment:

    Aarons is another underappreciated writer who wrote clean uncluttered prose and knew his way around plot and character. The best of the Durell books are superior examples of their field and still hold up today even if the politics have left them behind.

    I do have a question, though likely no one can answer it. The familiar portrait of Durell featured originally on the front covers and later on the back looked nothing at all like the lean black haired black eyed character known as the “Cajun” who I always pictured as a cross between Dale Robertson and Zachary Scott.


    Gold Medal’s other series icons all looked a good deal like the characters within — Matt Helm, Joe Gall, Shell Scott, Travis McGee, Chester Drum, even Earl Drake’s “Man with No Face” — but Aaron’s “Cajun” was this blonde pale eyed guy in a fedora, and as late as 1962’s Assignment Karachi Durell is portrayed on the cover as a blonde.

    I think the original portrait is by Barye Phillips who did most of the early Aarons covers and Karachi looks like it might be the work of Harry Bennett.

    You would think in all the years the series ran and considering it always had steady sales that someone would have noticed the cover portrait was nothing like the character described in the book. Anyone know what was going on?


    Steve again. David and I have been batting this question around for a while, each providing the other with cover images. My problem with his question is that when I think of blond (or blonde), I think of Marilyn Monroe.

    Obviously there are different shades of blond, including very light browns, but I think that there always has to be some yellow in it before hair can be considered blond. I just didn’t remember ever seeing Sam Durell with hair that fit what David was saying.

    What’s more, when I came across one of the covers that David specifically referred to, Durell’s hair looked dark brown if not black, and nothing like blond to me. See above.

    But David then supplied me with a closer look at the cover of Gold Medal GM k1505, which is not the 1962 printing above, but one that would have come out in 1964 or ’65 . See below:


    It’s out of focus and lighter than the image I’d found, but yes, this time I saw what David was talking about. He’s not as blond as the lady standing next to him, but there are blond highlights in his light brown hair I hadn’t seen before. In any case, if the question was phrased as “Does Durell look like a dark-haired Cajun in this picture?” I’d have to agree that he does not.

    I challenged David’s suggestion that the painting was done by Harry Bennett. I disagreed, seeing nothing of the latter’s stylized art in the cover, and suggested Ron Lesser instead. David agreed, saying “You are likely right about Lesser. As you said, Bennett usually signed his work. I thought of him because he did a lot of work for Fawcett and the background looked like his work.”

    Here is the second cover that David sent me, one of the ones he believed was done by Barye Phillips:


    I agree that Phillips is likely the artist. With the hat on the fellow whose face is at the top, though, it is difficult to determine what color is hair is, except that it is not black, more likely brown, and to me he looks more like an Irish pug than a dark-haired Cajun.

    The one in the cover scene itself David calls “a fair-haired pale-eyed ‘Cajun’,” and he continues: “I’m curious if this was an editorial decision, an attempt to make him look more like Shell Scott, or just an artist’s interpretation that the editors and Aarons never bothered to correct. The novels describe Durrell as dark with black hair and eyes, a bit over six feet tall and lean, and resembling a Mississippi river boat gambler.”

    To end the discussion between David and me, but to open it up to others to jump in if they wish, here’s a cover, probably published in the late 1970s or even the 80s, in which Durell, to me, finally looks something like the author, Edward S. Aarons, might actually had in mind:


    The cover was obviously done by Robert McGinnis, but whether he did the small insert close-up of Sam Durell, I’m not sure. I’d need a closer look to be positive. Whoever it was, I think he finally got it right.

   Here’s David again. It’s his question, and he deserves the last word:

    “No doubt you are right about the question not getting answered, I just thought I would put it out there and hope one of the Gold Medal experts might have an idea. I can’t think of another series where the covers consistently went out of their way to portray the character as looking almost completely different than the one described in the book.”