An Eerie Sense of Deja-Vu : 1960s Gothic Romance Paperback Covers

Halloween is approaching — so be prepared for the eerie and the spooky to come your way.  You may get a strange sense of deja-vu during this next week of spookiness, but that’s only natural since it is the week before Halloween.
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illustrations by Lou Marchetti for Lancer Books, 1965 (Gathering of Moondust: 1960s)

Or perhaps it’s that you’ve been looking at cover illustrations of 1960s gothic romance paperbacks.  That would give you the deja-vu feeling as well.

During the 1950s, the paperback industry grew, offering other illustration opportunities besides advertisements and fiction illustrations for the magazine industry.  In the 1960s, the gothic romance genre was extremely popular.   There would be original stories released in paperback, needing an illustrated cover.  Then popular stories would be rereleased, with a different cover.

Illhouse_marche_pbk_1965_2493illustration by Lou Marchetti for Lancer Books, 1965

Gothic romance covers had certain characteristics : a young lady in a long dress in front of a castle.  Typically, but not always, the castle was on a hill.  The castle often had a single light on, seen through a window typically at the top of the structure.  If the lady’s hair was not pinned up, it was blowing in the wind.  There were usually some creepy-looking bare trees in the picture — either by the castle or by the woman.

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illustrations by Lou Marchetti for Lancer Books, 1960s, 1965

Lou Marchetti was a master at crafting the gothic romance cover.  Born in Fondi, Italy in 1920, he came to the United States at a young age, attending high school in Long Island, New York.  He studied at the Art Students League of New York for five years on scholarships.

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illustrated by Lou Marchetti for Lancer Books, 1967

Marchetti created paperback covers for the main publishers: Dell, Lancer, Paperback Library, Popular Library, and Pocket.  The genres he specialized in were gothic romance, pulp, crime, and juvenile deliquent.  In addition to illustrating paperback covers, Marchetti created movie posters, television promotional pieces, and magazine illustration for Reader’s Digest, Galaxy, and True.

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illustrated by Lou Marchetti for Lancer Books, 1965

However, Marchetti is best known for his gothic romance covers, many of which are not signed.  He has been credited with creating the motif of the lone lit window in the castle.

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illustrated by Lou Marchetti for Lancer Books, 1966

Marchetti seldom painted from photographs or used live models, choosing instead to create the woman from his imagination.  There is a definite “Marchetti look” to a gothic romance heroine – strong and determined, despite the sinister and spooky situation in which she find herself. Many other illustrators tried to copy this look for their own paperback covers.

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illustrated by Lou Marchetti for Lancer Books, 1965

Often his heroines looked alike, even though they were drawn for different authors.

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illustrated by Lou Marchetti for Lancer Books, 1960s, 1968

There was a subset of the genre where the heroine in peril was a nurse visiting the castle.  Marchetti also illustrated his nurses with his same signature look.

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illustration by Lou Marchetti, for Lancer Books, 1966

Occasionally, a cover would deviate from the typical “castle on a hill” scene.  Marchetti’s artwork always captured the spooky mood and tense despiration of the scene whether inside or outside the castle.

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illustrated by Lou Marchetti for Lancer Books, 1965

So stay on guard this Halloween week … and stay away from gothic castles with a single light on.

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Credits

The Lou Marchetti cover illustrations are from the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.

Information on Lou Marchetti is from:

Louis Marchetti. Wikipedia, no date.

Tebbs, Barrymore. Classic Gothic Romance Cover Artists: Lou Marchetti.  The Midnight Room, January 14, 2012.

Zeitlin, Louise Marchetti. The Art of Lou Marchetti. The Life and Art of Lou Marchetti, no date.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.