Hold my calls, people. I'm formatting my new laptop.
Above, a very nice cover for Office Affair by Mark West, an entry in the office sleaze genre centered on both a love triangle and business sabotage. Basically, an exec gets two new women on his staff but when things start to go wrong with his business he needs to find out which one is on his side, and which is trying to torpedo him to advance her own career. We've featured many of these on the website and we're not likely to run out soon. West contributed at least a couple. You can see another example from him here, and an entire collection from various authors here. This one is copyright 1961, with art by unknown.
Neglected baseball comedy reminds viewers that the American pastime was also the African American pastime.
Major League Baseball is known as America's pastime. But for decades it was really only the pastime for whites, due to the fact that black participation was banned by every team, and black spectatorship was limited by apartheid laws. But during that time African Americans formed their own leagues, and those teams and players are part of wider baseball lore. As far as we know The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, which is set in 1939, is the only major movie about black baseballers during the pre-integration era. That alone makes it worth a gander. James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams in the starring roles are bonuses. The plot involves various Negro League athletes who band together and barnstorm around the U.S. They're trying to get out from under bad contracts with their original teams, or bad jobs in mundane professions, but of course this break toward freedom leads to trouble.
The film benefits from excellent exterior location work. Director John Badham makes use of the old sharecropper cabins, winding rural roads, and rickety wooden stadiums of the American countryside. These would have existed in abundance when the film was made in the mid-1970s, requiring little in the way of set design. The authenticity is palpable. In other areas the film misses the mark, particularly in the tone of the performances, which are Vaudevillian and over-vernacularized. Butone aspect of the film hits a bullseye. James Earl Jones expresses it succinctly when he hears that the Major Leagues are scouting black players: “So the white man is finally moving in,” he says, as if speaking about the mafia. He goes on to predict the death of Negro League Baseball. Jones's point is crystalline: the Major Leagues broke the color line not out of altruism or justice, but in order to protect its product.
The oldest Negro League team had been around since 1885. By the 1940s Negro League players had competed against white players and proved to be capable, and in some instances, superior. MLB had a legitimacy problem. It couldn't truly claim to contain all the best baseball players. People were growing more interested in black baseball. Money was being made on the sport beyond the confines of MLB. A lot of money. Breaking the color line cemented the legitimacy of MLB's talent claims, and it obliterated competition from Negro League baseball, which died on the vine. Today black ownership in Major League Baseball is basically 0%. Only the Miami Marlins, with Derek Jeter possessing 4% of the club, can claim—and just barely—to have minority ownership. But a merger of Negro teams into the league rather than a raid of players might well have led to a different story. MLB integrated the field, but ensured future segregation of the owner's box.
Though the color line for players was broken all the way back in 1947, today MLB has another legitimacy problem. Black participation has declined over the decades. Organized baseball requires fields, equipment, sponsorship, and other elements that are scarce in poor communities. Of course, they've always been scarce, but as public money dries up and individual wages stagnate, community support for baseball and family income allowing for participation in it are lacking. African American rostering on Major League Baseball squads is at 1956 levels. Many consider that a travesty; but America being America, many don't. MLB's front office just lately has made some minimal efforts to address the problem. It will be interesting to see how those go. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings premiered in the U.S. today in 1976.
Varga's whimsical pin-ups make time stand still.
Below, every month from a Varga calendar published in Esquire magazine in 1948. Varga, aka Alberto Vargas, as you probably know was a top pin-up artist through the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. We have another complete calendar at this link, a movie poster here, and an interesting historical curiosity here.
It was an event none of them will ever forget.
Talk about a bad end to a promising evening. These photos from the Los Angeles Examiner were shot in the wee hours of today in 1951. They show a group of people arrested after cops raided a residence in the Montrose area of Los Angeles where a “drug and sex party” was taking place. The illegal substances of choice were marijuana and benzedrine, which strike us an unusual combo, and the sex in question was distributed between what seems to be seventeen men and one woman, also an unusual combo. But we suspect the sex aspect of the story is an exaggeration. If even a couple of people were getting freaky in some rear bedroom the press would have called it a sex party because that's how you sell papers. Examiner readers probably imagined a carnal pile-up with bare asses heaving up and down and thirty-six limbs going in all directions. Which when you think about doesn't sound so bad. Well, we hope they had fun while it lasted.
She upgraded from broomsticks and black capes a long time ago.
This promo photo was made for the Italian anthology movie Le streghe, aka The Witches, and shows Italian actress Silvana Margano in costume as Giovanna, a bored housewife who imagines herself in elaborate fantasies. This particular fever dream, in the segment called “Una serata come le altre,” or “An Evening Like the Others,” lasts mere seconds, but Margano still makes an impression in her futuristic femme fatale garb. The segment is also memorable because it was directed by Vittorio de Sica and featured Clint Eastwood, but Margano was the star of the movie, appearing in all five witch-related portions as different characters. We may get back to it at some point. This photo is from 1967.
Harlan Ellison takes readers inside the bloody gang culture of the 1950s.
We're back with more Harlan Ellison today, this time his 1958 inner city drama The Deadly Streets. He died last month—when we were reading this, in fact—and the literary world has lost a unique stylist, and a unique character. We've written about him often, such as here, here, and here. He'll continue to be one of our favorite subjects. The Digit Books edition of The Deadly Streets you see here has top notch cover art by Kirk Wilson, and inside you get a collection of short stories based upon Ellison's experiences hanging around the NYC street gang the Barons when he was researching material for his debut novel Web of the City, aka Rumble. Violence, revenge, and corruption are the dominant motifs. You get a cop who's a hit man, an avenging father/serial killer, a homicidal female gang leader, and more. As an early effort The Deadly Streets is imperfectly executed, but at its best it's like James Ellroy before Ellroy, a gritty, literary splatter painting. You really get the sense of a writer stretching his creative muscles, exploring a style that would help him go on to conceive some of the most groundbreaking fiction of his era. Fun stuff—if you can call harrowing glimpses of New York's gangland hell fun. Ellison will be greatly missed.
Never cross a woman who's spent her life on the wrong side of the tracks.
This beautiful poster was made to promote the film Vagabunda, aka Tramp, a made-in-Mexico melodrama that premiered there today in 1950. It stars Leticia Palma, who befriends and falls in loves with a priest played by Luis Beristáin who's lost his memory as a result of an assault and robbery. Palma, who works as a fichera in a place called El Tropical, takes in the priest and dubs him Carlos. A fichera, by the way, is a term to describe a female nightclub employee who does things ranging from dancing with clients to having sex with them. Palma is already in a precarious situation working a dead-end job while sheltering the priest, but things get worse when she ends up being coerced into street prostitution by a gangster named Gato. Shortly afterward, a series of events lead to the killing of Palma's pregnant sister, and she vows vengeance upon those responsible.
The poster, which is one of the better ones we've seen of late, was signed by someone named Mendoza. So off to the intertubes we went to try and ferret out his or her identity and we found that this was the work of Leopoldo Mendoza Andrade, an acclaimed illustrator who worked throughout the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. His striking promo art uses tracks as a motif because those and trains figure prominently in the movie. For example, the priest is assaulted while riding in a boxcar, and a climactic scene takes place on a railway bridge. Mendoza may have painted more than 300 hundred posters, but this surely must be one of his best. His work can be difficult to find because attributions are scanty, but his signature is easily identifiable and his Art Deco-influenced style is unique, so we'll keep an eye out for more of his creations.
Femi Benussi has a swinging time in the jungle.
The Italian lost world adventure Tarzana sesso selvaggio, known in English as Tarzana the Wild Girl, has one thing going for it—Femi Benussi as the titular vine swinger. As an infant she was lost in the jungle in a plane crash, but somehow survived thanks to the kindly local primates. About twenty-two years later (judging by her bodily development) an expedition is launched to find her, and of course she's now queen of deepest, darkest Africa, jiggling gloriously about in nothing but a g-string loincloth. In fact the whole production is designed to display Benussi nearly naked, and there's also a topless dance routine performed by Jamaican actress Beryl Cunningham, as well as shower time exposure from Franca Polesello. Interestingly, the movie was rated X when it played in the U.S. But don't let that fool you. Around the time Tarzana was made, the X meant “persons under 16 not admitted.” Nothing pornographic happens here, except perhaps in the minds of U.S. movie censors.
Nudity was not unusual in 1969, so what's with the rating? While Benussi never manages to be clothed, we suspect the X had more to do with Cunningham—a black woman—gyrating half naked in front of the expedition. Her dance even inspires one of the onlookers to punch another in the dick. Must be some Italian thing. She's duly eaten by a leopard for daring to tempt the white man. MPAA censors must have been torn. On one hand they probably ached for America's children to see that nature itself was segregationist, but after consideration they ditched the idea of a G rating, slapped an X on the film, then scuttled home for self-hating wank sessions. All things considered we wish the movie were better. No such luck, but it's unintentionally uproarious, especially the ending, and Benussi is a vision, exploited to the max by Romana Film Co. and director Guido Malatesta. Tarzana, sesso selvaggio premiered in Italy today in 1969.
Tamara Dobson is hell on wheels.
Tamara Dobson straddles a dirt bike in this promo photo from her blaxploitation thriller Cleopatra Jones. In the film she commandeers the bike at a race to chase a bad guy, and manages to catch him and whip his lame ass without so much as disturbing her queenly hair wrap. In a genre marked by cheap failures and ambitious disasters Cleopatra Jones stands as one of the most successful entries. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1973.
I know I'm an unorthodox teacher, officer. But if she thinks this is tough how is she ever gonna handle a left turn in traffic?
Today we have another issue of our favorite men's magazine Adam, this time from July 1971. Inside there's the usual fiction, true adventure, and cheesecake, including British model Susan Shaw. But this issue is also a little different—it dips into celebrity waters with a write-up on Aly Khan, the Muslim prince whose romantic hook-ups included Gene Tierney, Bettina Graziani, and Rita Hayworth, who he married in 1949. The cover illustration is paired with the short story "Blonde for Bait," by Dick Love. Yeah. Dick Love. This makes the 56th issue of Adam we've uploaded to our website. Enjoy Dick and more in thirty-two scans below, and see all the other issues just by clicking the keywords at bottom.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—Disneyland Begins Operations
The amusement park Disneyland opens in Orange County, California for 6,000 invitation-only guests, before opening to the general public the following day.
1959—Holiday Dies Broke
Legendary singer Billie Holiday
, who possessed one of the most unique voices in the history of jazz, dies in the hospital of cirrhosis of the liver. She had lost her earnings to swindlers over the years, and upon her death her bank account contains seventy cents.
1941—DiMaggio Hit Streak Reaches 56
New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio gets a hit in his fifty-sixth consecutive game. The streak would end the next game, against the Cleveland Indians, but the mark DiMaggio set still stands, and in fact has never been seriously threatened. It is generally thought to be one of the few truly unbreakable baseball records.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
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