Chaos and carnage from coast to coast.
Fotocrime is another offering from Digest Publications, Inc., the NYC outfit that gave the world Exclusive, He, and other newsstand treats. The above magazine appeared this month in 1954, was the premier issue, and is exactly what its title says—a compendium of crime photography and the stories behind them, spiced with a bit of celebrity content. Because it's digest sized the text scans at a readable size, so we don't have to explain much. You can have a look and see what it's all about yourself. Of special note are the crime movie reviews, the anti-handgun article, and the True Detective-style feature entitled “Fotoclue” that challenges readers to solve a hypothetical murder. Forty scans below. New York City
, Digest Publications
, The Long Wait
, Witness To Murder
, Eugene Wiedman
, Jean Laget
, Lucky Luciano
, Roy Schinagle
, Jack Webb
, Ben Alexander
, Mark Stevens
, Ralph Bellamy
, Gloria McGhee
, Leonard Bishop
, true crime magazine
Who were the people behind this magazine? They don't offer many clues.
Top Secret fashioned itself a top tier tabloid, but one thing we’ve never liked about it is an inferior printing process that makes its interior images look like cheap dot matrix. We can’t tell you who to blame for that, though, because Top Secret was so secret it didn’t bother with masthead credits. At least not in the issues we’ve bought. Writers get by-lines, but editors and publishers do not so much as give a hint of their identities. Hell, our issues don’t even have publication dates, but we've discerned this one is from November 1964. Well, the backers might have been incognito but the methods were nothing unusual. One writer digs up dirt on Xavier Cugat and Abbe Lane, another tells the story of mass killer Jose Rosario Ramirez Camacho, another contributor delves into Tuesday Weld’s personal life, and a U.S. “heroin epidemic” is pinned on Chinese plotting to undermine democracy.
Of special note, there’s a photo of Pamela Green (panel 18), whose weird transformation into Princess Sonmar-Harriks we shared a while back. Also, the photo of French actress Astrid Caron (in the bikini) looks familiar. That’s because we saw it in a different tabloid—this issue of Inside Story—unattributed and used for a piece about suntan lotions. It shows how these magazines used handout photos for whatever purposes they saw fit. Also, Top Secret publishes an open letter to America entitled A Homosexual Pleads—Why Don’t You Leave Us Alone! You’d be forgiven for expecting something ridiculous from a mid-century tabloid, but this piece credited to an anonymous writer is smart and serious. It enumerates the injustices gay men face, from housing discrimination to military disenfranchisement, and feels like it could have been written yesterday. Scans below.
, Top Secret
, Tuesday Weld
, Astrid Caron
, Pamela Green
, Xavier Cugat
, Abbe Lane
, Jose Rosario Ramirez Camacho
, Salvdor Dalí
Another country develops the power to destroy civilization.
Today in 1964 China joined the worst club in history—the nuclear club. The test detonation took place in Lop Nur, in eastern Xinjiang province, and gave China the same standing as the U.S., the Soviet Union, Britain, and France. Of the four most recent states to acquire nuclear weapons all of them—Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—refuse to sign or adhere to agreements concerning non-proliferation and non-first use, a trend that will continue as other states develop the technology. It’s also worth noting that, despite such terms as "sole superpower" or "exeptional" that are routinely applied to the U.S., all of the countries listed—apart from North Korea—possess enough nukes to trigger a nuclear winter that would kill billions everywhere, no exceptions. You can read more about China’s big day here.
Me? Why should I touch it? You’re the one always going on about how you can tell everything about a man from his handshake.
British author Sax Rohmer, aka Arthur Henry Ward, wrote many novels but made his reputation with the Fu Manchu series. Tales of Chinatown doesn’t feature that famous character, but instead deals in short story form with other characters and various unsavory goings-on in the Chinese underworld of London’s Limehouse district. There are problems with Rohmer’s depictions of the Chinese, but the writing is almost a century old, so no surprise there. On the plus side, there’s sinister atmosphere of a type here you don’t often get anymore. Tales of Chinatown first appeared in 1922, and this Popular Library edition with art by Rudolph Belarski is from 1949.
Police Gazette conveniently forgets who invented what and when.
Police Gazette editors hit the panic button with this November 1961 cover claiming the Soviets have a death ray bomb. For a mere twenty-five cents readers were able to acquire new nightmare material by reading about this superweapon, which in the story is called an n-bomb. They’re of course referring to a neutron bomb, which by releasing deadly unshielded neutrons would minimize destruction and contamination of property but maximize human death. Not quite rays, so much as a wave emitted by a massive air burst, but still, the new element it brought to the nuclear party was wantonly scattered neutrons, so, okay—rays it is. It must have been a real stunner for Gazette’s millions of readers to learn of this horrific weapon, but unless the Russian scientist who brainstormed it into existence was named Sam Cohen we have to call bullshit on this tall tale, for it was Samuel T. Cohen—an American physicist—who conceived and developed the neutron bomb.
Cohen was an ex-Manhattan Project scientist who spent his career in nukes. He promoted his bomb relentlessly, defending it as “the most sane and moral weapon ever devised,” because “when the war is over, the world is still intact.” See, this is what can happen when you live in a military bubble—Cohen defined morality not by the neutron bomb’s extra-lethal effects on actual living and feeling humans, but by the survival of (reusable) material assets. At its most compact it could blast an area scarcely a mile across, however only a blind man could fail tosee that tactical neutron weapons were simply the thin edge of a wedge opening a tightly sealed nuclear door.
Of course, once the Soviets caught wind of this abomination they developed their own neutron bomb, prompting the U.S. to accelerate its program (see: arms race), until Ronald Reagan ordered 700 finished warheads to be deployed in Europe. It was only mass protest by Europeans—those ungrateful victims of two previous devastating continental wars—that thwarted Reagan’s plans. They realized that neutron weapons made nuclear war more likely, not less likely. If this wasn’t clear enough at the time, it became crystalline when China announced in 1999 that it had built its own neutron bomb. As you have probably deduced by now, the entire point of the Gazette’s death ray story is to urge President John F. Kennedy to get off his ass and develop an American n-bomb to counter the Soviet one. You almost have to wonder if the text was fed to Gazette editors from Sam Cohen’s office.
Moving on, Gazette wouldn’t be Gazette without at least a little Hitler, so in addition to the death ray feature it offers up photos of Adolf relaxing with Eva Braun at a retreat in the Bavarian Alps. In contrast to the
many stories about Hitler living in bitter, defeated isolation in South America, here readers see happy Hitler, socializing during the 1930s with friends and compatriots. Next up, Gazette gives readers their fix of celebrity content with Rita Hayworth, who had been married five times and whose problem the editors are only too happy to diagnose—in their esteemed opinion she’s just too wild to be tamed. And lastly, Gazette presses panic button number two by tying the nascent civil rights movement to communist agitation from overseas. This is a tabloid tale that was told often in the 1960s because, well, we don’t know why exactly—presumably because who besides the puppets of foreign governments would ever deign to demand equal rights? Anyway, we have a few scans below, and an entire stack of early 1970s Gazettes we hope to get to soonish.
, Soviet Union
, Police Gazette
, John F. Kennedy
, Samuel T. Cohen
, Eva Braun
, Adolf Hitler
, Rita Hayworth
, Ronald Reagan
Eastern Times—now with the daily supplements you need.
These items are rare. They’re supplements to the Chinese language newspaper Eastern Times, featuring American movie stars Joan Blondell and Lois Lindsay. The pages date from 1936. We aren’t sure if Eastern Times was published in Hong Kong or mainland China. Hong Kong would be the safer bet, but we tend to think this is from the mainland. To see another Eastern Times page, look here.
There but for the grace of Goddard.
We scanned these photos from Sidney Skolsky’s This Was Hollywood, a magazine we began raiding for images a couple of months back and which was first published in 1955. The brief story here tells about Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard’s relationship. This Was Hollywood makes it sounds like a fairy tale love, and that may be true—how many Western couples marry spontaneously while traveling in China? Unfortunately, after six years they were divorced in Mexico. But the young starlet had lifted Chaplin out of a dark depression and helped refocus his creative energies at a time when he was so unsure of where his career stood that he was considering retiring and moving permanently to China. And of course their film collaborations are timeless.
Once upon a time in the east.
We got an email from our friend Dan last night. A man of few words, he wrote simply, “You’re the only person who might find these as amazing as I do,” and supplied a link to the above. What is it? A Chinese propaganda poster from the 1950s. There are four more below, including our favorite: "Happy Pigs Make Great Bacon" (our unofficial title). You can see other posters here along with some translations of the text, and you can see another large collection here. And as long as we’re pointing places, we shared a collection of American propaganda posters two years ago that you can see here, and an international collection you can see here.
Westerners undone yet again by the inscrutable Chinee.
The Shanghai Gesture is a movie we were excited to see. It’s a Josef von Sternberg directed vehicle adapted from a John Colton play (though neutered due to Hays Code worries), with Gene Tierney starring alongside Victor Mature, Walter Huston, Ona Munson, and Phyllis Brooks. Von Sternberg makes almost fetishistic use of his main asset—the luscious Tierney—by showing her in such extreme close-up you’d almost think it’s her breath fogging the lens, rather than one of the diffusion filters mid-century filmmakers utilized to shoot their female stars. A few minutes after she appears, as she observes the decadent tableau inside a Shanghai casino, she pulls out this line: “The place smells evil, like a place where anything can happen.” We’d suggest that if a place smells evil, something already happened. Blame the nearest person. Or the dog. Anyway, when Tierney makes her observation we understand pretty quickly that it’s going to be about her, a flower of Western purity, and her headlong descent into Oriental flooziedom.
All well and good, but the filmmakers fall prey to the type of easy characterizations that the best movies of the period were learning to avoid. When you observe, for example, the mostly respectful depiction of a character like Sam in 1942’s Casablanca, it becomes difficult not to cringe at such excesses here as Ona Munson's Chinese character MotherGin Sling entering rooms to the sound of a gong, or Walter Huston’s Sir Guy Charteris—a supposed old hand in Asia—querying Mike Mazurky with, “You speakee Chinee? Cantonee? You breakee window?” Did Westerners in China back then really say things like that? We’re dying to know. Mazurky gets the last line in the film, tossing off a smug echo of one of Huston’s earlier questions, and at that moment he’s a sort of stand-in for all Shanghai, which by now we know is a place where white people meet their ruin, but still—“You speakee Chinee?” The unintentional humor of such moments undermines the believability of the entire enterprise.
Another problem for us is that Victor Mature comes across as singularly unappealing. He’s not supposed to be a nice guy, but depriving him of any shred of charm makes it hard to believe Tierney would desire him. In any case, the script requires this and other indignities of poor Gene, and soon her fall from grace is so complete she even loses her mellifluous upper class accent and starts braying like a donkey. Yes, there’s some good here. Tierney is spellbindingly beautiful (one reason so many people thinkthis movie is better than it really is, we suspect). Some of the interiors are excellent, especially Mother Gin Sling’s baroque circular casino. A couple of the set pieces are striking, such as when young women are hoisted in baskets above a crowd of men clambering to buy them for their flower boats—i.e., floating brothels. And Huston is solid in his portrayal of Charteris. But all in all, The Shanghai Gesture is strictly so-so.
Incidentally, the movie is widely labeled a film noir, but it really isn’t. Yes, it can be difficult to say definitively whether a film fits into a certain category because “genre” is a nebulous concept to begin with, but we submit that this one is well off the mark, no more a noir than is The Lost Weekend, or for that matter Casablanca. If we’d known in advance it was a run-of-the-mill melodrama—yes, an exotic one, but also clunky and unengaging—we would not have expected the cutting cynicism and visual wit that characterize so many film noirs. If you go into it expecting something more along the lines of a B-picture, then The Shanghai Gesture might entertain. But whatever you expect, don’t think you're goingto see von Sternberg or Tierney doing their best work. At top you see the original American promo poster, and below that some production photos. The Shanghai Gesture premiered in New York City on Christmas 1941, and went into national release today in 1942.
, The Shanghai Gesture
, Josef von Sternberg
, Gene Tierney
, Victor Mature
, John Colton
, Walter Huston
, Ona Munson
, Phyllis Brooks
, poster art
, movie review
The two exceptional posters below were made for the 1973 Taiwanese film Shuang mian nu sha xing, which was released internationally as A Girl Called Tigress. It starred Polly Shang-Kwan, aka Lingfeng Shangguan, et.al., who was a triple-black belt and had gotten fairly well known in films such as Girl Fighter and Rider of Revenge. This particular effort is her first in the sub-genre fans like to call “basher” movies, meaning that the action consists of simple punches, kicks, chops, and blocks. Maybe it’s better if you just see for yourself. Polly Shang-Kwan shows her stuff here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1938—BBC Airs First Sci-Fi Program
BBC Television produces the first ever science fiction television program, an adaptation of a section of Czech writer Karel Capek's dark play R.U.R., aka, Rossum's Universal Robots. The robots in the play are not robots in the modern sense of machines, but rather are biological entities that can be mistaken for humans. Nevertheless, R.U.R. featured the first known usage of the term "robot".
1962—Powers Is Traded for Abel
Captured American spy pilot Gary Powers, who had been shot down over the Soviet Union in May 1960 while flying a U-2 high-altitude jet, is exchanged for captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, who had been arrested in New York City in 1957.
1960—Woodward Gets First Star on Walk of Fame
Actress Joanne Woodward receives the first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Los Angeles sidewalk at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street that serves as an outdoor entertainment museum. Woodward was one of 1,558 honorees chosen by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 1958, when the proposal to build the sidewalk was approved. Today the sidewalk contains more than 2,300 stars.
1971—Paige Enters Baseball Hall of Fame
Satchel Paige becomes the first player from America's Negro Baseball League to be voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Paige, who was a pitcher, played for numerous Negro League teams, had brief stints in Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Major Leagues, before finally retiring in his mid-fifties.
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