Perhaps no publisher taps into amorous fantasies as thoroughly as Harlequin, which over more than six decades has become synonymous with romance. The Toronto-based company, founded in 1949, publishes about 110 fiction and non-fiction titles per month in 31 languages and is one of the leading publishers of books for women. The content of these romance novels can be as fantastic as their covers, which feature a fair share of windswept heroes (yes, Fabio) and heated embraces. As society’s views on gender and sex have evolved, so has Harlequin’s cover art, going from vaguely suggestive to unabashedly erotic over the decades. “Love may be essential to the narratives inside these books but it is lust that is imaged on the covers,” states a company history. Margie Miller, Harlequin’s creative art director, says readers “want to feel uplifted, lifted and carried out of their own lives. Not that their lives are bad, but it’s a happiness hit.” The covers are designed to help transport them.

Miller takes Bloomberg Businessweek through some of the publisher’s most memorable covers.

Images Courtesy of Harlequin

Perhaps no publisher taps into amorous fantasies as thoroughly as Harlequin, which over more than six decades has become synonymous with romance. The Toronto-based company, founded in 1949, publishes about 110 fiction and non-fiction titles per month in 31 languages and is one of the leading publishers of books for women. The content of these romance novels can be as fantastic as their covers, which feature a fair share of windswept heroes (yes, Fabio) and heated embraces. As society’s views on gender and sex have evolved, so has Harlequin’s cover art, going from vaguely suggestive to unabashedly erotic over the decades. “Love may be essential to the narratives inside these books but it is lust that is imaged on the covers,” states a company history. Margie Miller, Harlequin’s creative art director, says readers “want to feel uplifted, lifted and carried out of their own lives. Not that their lives are bad, but it’s a happiness hit.” The covers are designed to help transport them.

Miller takes Bloomberg Businessweek through some of the publisher’s most memorable covers.

Images Courtesy of Harlequin

Under the Covers: Harlequin’s Images of Romance

Harlequin’s Images of Love, Romance, and Passion
Harlequin’s Images of Love, Romance, and Passion

Perhaps no publisher taps into amorous fantasies as thoroughly as Harlequin, which over more than six decades has become synonymous with romance. The Toronto-based company, founded in 1949, publishes about 110 fiction and non-fiction titles per month in 31 languages and is one of the leading publishers of books for women. The content of these romance novels can be as fantastic as their covers, which feature a fair share of windswept heroes (yes, Fabio) and heated embraces. As society’s views on gender and sex have evolved, so has Harlequin’s cover art, going from vaguely suggestive to unabashedly erotic over the decades. “Love may be essential to the narratives inside these books but it is lust that is imaged on the covers,” states a company history. Margie Miller, Harlequin’s creative art director, says readers “want to feel uplifted, lifted and carried out of their own lives. Not that their lives are bad, but it’s a happiness hit.” The covers are designed to help transport them.

Miller takes Bloomberg Businessweek through some of the publisher’s most memorable covers.

Images Courtesy of Harlequin

The Manatee
The Manatee
Author: Nancy Bruff
Published: 1949

The Manatee, priced at $0.25, is Harlequin’s first book, according to Torstar, which owns the publisher. It tells the “strange loves of a seaman,” Jabez Folger, whose terrible experience on a whaling voyage leads him to corrupt his bride, Piety, “the gentle Quaker girl from Martha’s Vineyard.” Harlequin, established in 1949, at first offers a range of genres for both male and female readers and doesn’t narrow its focus to romance novels until the end of the 1950s.
No Nice Girl
No Nice Girl
Author: Perry Lindsay
Published: 1949

Would any nice girl wear high heels with that negligee? (Come on, it’s 1949.) In this novel, Phyllis Gordon’s “little country cousin” Anice arrives in town and threatens to shake up already complicated romances. Anice’s secret weapon: She “was dewy-eyed, supersweet and diabolically innocent,” reads the back of the book.
Virgin With Butterflies
Virgin With Butterflies
Author: Tom Powers
Published: 1949

“She’s honest and sort of naïve, but she knows how to get a man or get rid of a wolf.” This is the heroine of Virgin with Butterflies, who encounters men who “are after something, chasing the gal around the world to get it, and it ain’t hay,” the back of the book states. Almost all of Harlequin’s covers today are photo based, but “back in those days, it was more based on illustrators’ imagination,” says Margie Miller, Harlequin’s creative art director. (Don’t take the winged heads too literally, in other words.)
Pardon My Body
Pardon My Body
Author: Dale Bogard
Published: 1951

If the title doesn’t pique your interest, try the summary of this 1950s suspense novel: “From the moment Dale’s headlights hit the nyloned legs of lovely Julia Casson on that old Connecticut highway, trouble moved right in on him—and stayed there.”
Bachelor of Medicine
Bachelor of Medicine
Author: Alex Stuart
Published: 1959

Nurse-and-doctor romances dominate Harlequin’s books in the 1950s and into the 1960s. “That year [1959] was part of the medical romance craze,” says Harlequin’s Miller. The cover is “a representation of professions that women were involved in at the time and the professions they aspired to be in—and the professions of men that they aspired to date. It also dealt with issues of workplace romance.” As the cover suggests, nothing thwarts an office romance like a judgmental colleague.
Bargain Wife
Bargain Wife
Author: Mary Burchell
Published: 1979

In Bargain Wife, Tina collects a small fortune that rightfully belongs to Dr. Charles Linton, who “has always coolly said he’d marry for money to establish his special clinic.” By the late 1970s, “We are moving away from the hero playing the role of the protector; she no longer needs the protection. She is portrayed as stronger and more independent,” says Miller.
Barefoot Bride
Barefoot Bride
Author: Dorothy Cork
Published: 1981

Enter the 1980s. Many of the covers from this decade are “more dramatic, over the top, a little more passionate,” says Miller. “It’s a reflection of the ’80s, where everything was over the top.” In this book, Amy Martin pretends to marry another man to save face after her fiancé snubs her. “It seemed like a good idea—until Mike stunned her by taking her up on it!”
Love Child
Love Child
Author: Janice Kaiser
Published: 1987

By the mid-1980s, more women are empowered in the workplace. “This was the first time we ever had a heroine on top,” notes Miller. The illustration also has a much higher degree of realism in the rendering than previous covers, reflecting the effects of television, film, and technology. In Love Child, widow Jessica Brandon plans to become a surrogate mother in order to provide for her crippled child, “but something was missing—the love of a man who had touched her like no other, who would walk out of her life with the baby she’d borne, never to be seen again.”
Gideon’s Fall
Gideon’s Fall
Author: Bronwyn Williams
Published: 1991

We know you’ve been waiting for it: a Fabio cover. The famous Italian model appeared on the cover of only four Harlequin titles, even though he and beefy, long-locked lookalikes can be found on hundreds of romance titles from other publishers. “Harlequin gained so much market share in the romance category and he became this icon for romance covers. Now they automatically put two and two together,” says Miller.
Tempted
Tempted
Author: Megan Hart
Published: 2008

Just how many arms are in that shot? Tempted is part of Harlequin’s erotic line, Spice. “This [cover] was quite controversial. It did quite well,” says Miller. “I think controversy can be very good. It demands attention and you want attention, as long as it’s not offending anyone. We’re seeking to communicate a subject matter that people want to read about.” The trick, she adds, is handling a controversial subject matter in a “sophisticated, delicate way.”
Deeper
Deeper
Author: Megan Hart
Published: 2009

In Deeper, Bess Walsh meets Nick, a "dark haired, local bad boy” at the beach. “He was, to put it mildly, not someone she could take home to Daddy,” as the summary puts it. Miller describes this cover as “a beautiful way to handle a really highly sexualized piece of editorial.” The mood comes through not only in the visual, but also the title. “It’s very suggestive,” she says. Um, clearly.
Pride & Passion
Pride & Passion
Author: Charlotte Featherstone
Published: 2011

“Passion has a price, Lucy learns. And not all ghosts stay buried,” reads the description for this Victorian romance. “Historicals are great fun. They can be quite tawdry,” says Miller. “The thing people like about that is the scandalous nature of how it has to happen—like standing behind the curtain. There’s a level of secrecy.”
 Cowboys Like Us
Cowboys Like Us
Author: Vicki Lewis Thompson
Published: 2011

“Glistening bodies of salt-of-the-earth cowboys, firefighters, and bodyguards have become favored objects of desire,” Harlequin’s overview states. Cowboys Like Us is part of Harlequin’s Blaze line, “the most highly sexually charged editorial of our series,” says Miller. The company launched Blaze in 2001 as a more explicit spinoff of the Temptation series.
Once Upon a Valentine
Once Upon a Valentine
Authors: Stephanie Bond, Leslie Kelly, Michelle Rowen
Published: 2012

Just published this year, Once Upon a Valentine is another Harlequin Blaze title. In this novel, “Summer Tomlinson always had a thing for Andrew Macmillan. Now that they’re business partners—as well as bed partners!—Summer wonders if letting her hair down will catch him for good.”