Hollywoodland Aug 31 2014
EVERYTHING MUST GO
How Venice evolved into Not-Venice

The shot at top of Windward Avenue in Venice, California was made around 1905. Owned by the Venice Historical Society, the image caught our eye because we were just there in July (actually, we used to live in Venice). The second shot was made from basically the same angle in 1939. Note how most of the original Venetian gothic windows have disappeared, and the gothic cornices have likewise vanished. In addition to the buildings, Venice had sixteen miles of canals, but by the time of the 1939 photo all but 1.5 miles of those had been filled in. During the 1950s financial neglect began to turn Venice into a slum, and in the following years not only did the remaining gothic elements go, but also most of the structures. Today the famed colonnade of Windward Avenue fronts only five buildings. 

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The Naked City Jun 29 2014
ALL TIRED OUT
When the wheels come off.

The above photo shows twenty-two-year-old Eddie M. Gonzalez, who was discovered dead behind a service station located at 3822 E. Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles. In the background is police detective A.W. Frank. Police decided the cause of death was an accidental overdose, a deduction made thanks to fifty capsules of an unnamed drug found on the deceased’s person. To us the whole scene looks strange—a well-dressed, well-groomed person in shiny shoes who can afford fifty capsules of drugs doesn’t seem like the type who would need to ingest them behind a gas station and end up tangled in a pile of tires. And if suicide was his aim, why fifty leftover capsules? But maybe we’re just conspiracy minded. The photo is part of the University of Southern California’s digital archive and was taken today in 1952. 

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Hollywoodland Jun 10 2014
CRACK THRILLS
Whether coming or going she was determined to make an impression.

Above is a photo of American actress Vikki Dougan at the 1957 Foreign Press Banquet in Hollywood, California. Dougan is wearing a daring backless dress designed to generate publicity for her film career. Since Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield had a stranglehold on the bosom, Dougan and her studio handlers at Batjac Productions decided she should go the opposite direction and bare her back. To say she garnered press would be an understatement, but despite the reams of slavering coverage her career never quite ignited. She remains, however, well remembered for proving that it’s sometimes good to say yes to crack. 
 
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Vintage Pulp Jun 8 2014
TAKE YOUR PIC
All celebrities great and small.


We’ve featured Pic magazine only once before, but not because it was an unimportant publication. Quite the opposite—we’ve seen issues as early as 1936 and as late as 1958, making it both a Depression and World War II survivor, presumably no easy feat and certainly a run indicative of sustained popularity. Early issues seemed focused on sports, but it soon broadened to include celebrities. It was launched by Wagner Publications of New York City, and this issue appeared in June 1952 with a cover featuring actress Suzan Ball placing a crown on the head of Akton Miller, a man Pic had chosen as its Hot Rod King. Inside you get a raft of Hollywood stars, including photos of Yvonne De Carlo in Uruguay, Marilyn Monroe, Janet Leigh, and Joan Vohs, shots of New York Giants manager Leo Durocher and his beautiful actress wife Laraine Day, and some nice boxing pictures. There’s also an interesting feature on the day’s top vocalists (with African-Americans notably excluded), and a profile of crooner Tony Bennett. 

But it’s Suzan Ball’s story we’re interested in today. Her path to show business was so typical of the period as to be almost banal—she was spotted in a Santa Maria, California newspaper after winning a cake baking contest. Universal-International scouts thought she looked a bit like Jane Russell, so they swept her up, shuttled her down Highway 101, signed her to a contract and began selling her as a hot new Tinseltown commodity, proclaiming her the New Cinderella Girl of ’52. Soon the influential columnist Hedda Hopper took up the refrain, naming her one of the most important new stars of 1953, thus ensuring that year would belong to Ball.

It was then that her train to stardom jumped the tracks. She injured her leg performing a dance number in East of Sumatra, and later in the year had a car accident and hurt the leg again. Treatment for those two injuries led to the discovery of a cancerous tumor. Soon afterward she fell and broke the limb, and when doctors decided they couldn’t remove the tumor they instead took the entire the leg. That was in January 1954. Ball soldiered on in her show business career with an artificial leg, starring in Chief Crazy Horse, though she lost fifteen pounds during the production, and later playing nightclub dates and appearing on television shows. In July 1955 she collapsed while rehearsing for the show Climax, whereupon doctors discovered the cancer had metastasized and spread to her lungs. A month later she died at age twenty-one. We have about fifty scans below.

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Femmes Fatales Apr 7 2014
MCCALLA OF THE WILD
Keep staring, buster, and I’ll show you how we deal with problems in my neck of the woods.

Irish McCalla was an American actress who gained fame playing the character Sheena in television’s Sheena: Queen of the Jungle from 1955 to 1956. The legend goes that an executive from the as-yet-uncast series was on a California beach when he saw McCalla throwing a bamboo spear. What are the odds of that, right? In any case, Nassour Studios signed her up and the rest is history. The above shot, which nicely captures McCalla’s allure and physicality—i.e., she looks quite sexy but also seems ready to flip instantly into beatdown mode—is from 1955.

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Hollywoodland Jan 15 2014
POLAR VORTEX
There’s no business like snow business.

Today in 1932 Los Angeles suffered what was called the first real snowstorm in its history when two inches of accumulation settled downtown and the Hollywood Hills became a winter wonderland. It had snowed at least once before in 1882, but the 1932 storm remains even today the heaviest snow ever recorded in Southern California. Did scientists suggest the polar vortex had something to do with it? Possibly, since they had known about it for decades, but in the absence of politics you can bet the general public didn’t care at all. The above member of the general public is named Judith Wood, an actress who appeared in The Vice Squad, Road to Reno and other films. She regards the scene with amusement and/or amazement from her hilltop home. 

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Hollywoodland Dec 18 2013
FONTAINE OF YOUTH

When Joan Fontaine decided to try her luck in Hollywood her mother reportedly refused to let her use the family’s name—de Havilland, which was being used by her actress sister Olivia—so she chose Fontaine as her last name. After a slow start earning good roles she scored the coveted part of Mrs. De Winter in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Daphne du Maurier adaptation Rebecca and was nominated for an Academy Award. She didn’t win that one, but the next year took home the statuette for her role in Suspicion, becoming the only performer to win an Oscar for acting in a Hitchcock film. From there her career took off, and she worked steadily through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Ironically, when her mother—a former actress—decided to rekindle her own career she did so under the stage name Lillian Fontaine. Of her famous sister, Joan Fontaine once said, “I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it.” The third part of that quip came true when Fontaine—née Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland—died of natural causes Sunday in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

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Mondo Bizarro Dec 6 2013
OUTSIDE THE BOX
Hah hah, very funny—but seriously, this thing is stable, right?

Above are two shots of the famed three-wheeled automobile manufactured by the Davis Motorcar Company of Van Nuys, California. Davis produced three models along the same lines, and not only did their triangular designs make them sure to tip over when minimal sideways torque was applied, but they also featured four-across seating guaranteed to increase the fatality rate of the inevitable rollovers. On the plus side, by the end of any ride you’d know a lot more about your fellow passengers’ physiques than when you started. Sadly, Davis cars lasted only two years—1947 and 1948—and fewer than twenty were made. See a few more photos here.

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Femmes Fatales Oct 24 2013
KOMANT PERFORMANCE
The chef is always right.

The above shot shows American actress Carolyn Komant doing her part for either world hunger or cultural food awareness (the smile and chef's hat make us suspect the latter) for the United Nations in 1961. A former beauty pageant winner, Komant was familiar with public appearance work and was also Queen of the 34th annual Newball Saugus Rodeo, and Miss Safety Check for Burbank, California in 1961. She parlayed her recognition into regular television roles between 1959 and 1961, and one film role, a bit part in 1962’s House of Women, before marrying and giving up show business. 

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The Naked City Aug 12 2013
SPRECKELS OF SUGAR
If you think you can drive better than me after eight Jäger shots you're welcome to try.

When do you smile your way through a drunk driving arrest? When you’re too rich to care. Mary Spreckels was a former dancer who had married John D. Spreckels III, a scion of the Spreckels Sugar empire. By August 1952, when the above photo was taken, she had divorced her husband but had gotten a tidy settlement, and like all self-respecting rich women still went by his last name lest she be mistaken for a mere commoner. The photo below shows Spreckels in court two months after her arrest. We figure there are only two possible reasons she’s being administered a field sobriety test in court—one, she showed up reeking of mimosas, or two, she’s contesting the drunk driving charge by demonstrating that she can’t walk a straight line even when sober. The images come from the University of Southern California’s digital archive of Los Angeles photos. Oh, and did we forget to mention why Mary Spreckels sued her husband for divorce? Because he was an alcoholic.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 02
1967—Nation of Sealand Established
The Principality of Sealand, located on a platform in the North Sea, is established under the rule of Prince Paddy Roy Bates. Proving that paradise is a pipe dream as long as humans are involved, Sealand has already endured a coup, a war, and a hostage crisis since its formation.
1973—J.R.R. Tolkien Dies
British fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, dies at the age of 82.
September 01
1902—French Go to Moon
Georges Méliès' Le voyage dans la lune, aka A Trip to the Moon, is released in France. It is the first science-fiction film ever made.
1939—Germany Starts World War II
Nazi Germany, along with the Soviet Union and Slovakia, attack Poland, beginning the chain reaction that leads to war across Europe.
1972—Fischer Beats Spassky
In Reykjavík, Iceland, American Bobby Fischer beats Russian Boris Spassky and becomes the world chess champion. The match had been portrayed as a Cold War battle, and thus was a major propaganda victory for the United States.
August 31
1948—Mitchum and Leeds Snared in Drug Raid
Actor Robert Mitchum and actress Lila Leeds are arrested in a Hollywood drug raid and convicted of criminal conspiracy to possess marijuana. Mitchum serves 43 days in jail, but in 1951 the conviction is overturned when it is exposed as a set-up. The entire episode has zero effect on his popularity. Leeds, conversely, becomes a heroin addict while behind bars and is never able to rekindle her career.
1997—Princess Diana Killed in Accident
Princess Diana dies after a car crash in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris, along with Egyptian jet-setter Dodi Al-Fayed, and driver Henri Paul, who loses control of the car while attempting to elude paparazzi. Despite lengthy resuscitation attempts, including internal cardiac massage, Diana dies at 4 a.m. local time. Her funeral six days later is watched by an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide.

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