Liberace experiences tabloid wrath at its most merciless.
It was in this July 1957 issue of Confidential that journalist “Horton Streete’ infamously outed cover star Liberace in the most vicious and dehumanizing way with an article entitled “Why Liberace’s Theme Song Should Be ‘Mad About the Boy’.” We’ve talked about it before. Streete willfully attempted to damage the singer’s career by spinning a shocking tale of how he attacked a young, male press agent. The article refers to Liberace as Fatso, Pudgy, Dimples, and other, less flattering monikers.
Here’s a rule you can count on—when a journalist or on-air personality constantly refers to someone by other than his or her name or title, it’s a hit piece. Liberace was horrified and sued Confidential. California Attorney General Pat Brown had already managed to win an indictment of the magazine two months earlier. Owner Robert Harrison was about to spend his entire summer in court. He took these legal threats to heart and publicly promised to stop publishing stories about the private lives of Hollywood stars.
Up until then Confidential had been as reckless as a magazine could be. This issue accuses Gary Crosby of punching a woman in the face, and Eartha Kitt of trapping her friend’s boyfriend in her penthouse. An extraordinary story about boxer Jake LaMotta suggests the he got a bumrap in his morals trial. LaMotta was serving time for bedding a 14-year-old. Prosecutors had convinced a jury that the incident with LaMotta was a primary cause of the girl later becoming a prostitute. Confidential rides to the rescue, claiming that the girl’s father had already deflowered her, therefore LaMotta could not have had any influence on the girl’s fate. How’s that for a principled stand?
These early issues of Confidential are a cesspool of journalistic ethics, no doubt, but they’re also a visual treat. Using black, red, blue, and yellow, plus the white of the pages themselves, the designers put together a bold and gaudy package that would influence every other tabloid on the market. The layouts on Kitt, Liberace, Alan Dale, and Lex Barker are among the most eye-catching we’ve seen from the period. Elsewhere you get Anthony Quinn, and a host of other stars. We have a bunch of scans below. Remember, you can always see more from Confidential and other tabs by visiting our tabloid index at this link.
, Robert Harrison
, Anthony Quinn
, Lex Barker
, Gary Crosby
, Jake LaMotta
, Pat Brown
, Alan Dale
, Camille LaLonde
, Jeanne Carmen
, Broderick Crawford
, Frances Langford
No matter how far she ran dissatisfaction followed close behind.
This gold colored June 1963 cover for Confidential magazine is entirely given over to actress Barbara Payton, whose self-penned hard-luck story appears inside and details her life troubles. The tale is well known and is one we’ve touched upon before—early marriage and early motherhood, followed by stardom, romances, and riches, followed by booze, drugs, divorces and crime. Confidential being Confidential, the editors neglect to mention that the story here is not an exclusive, but rather is excerpted from I Am Not Ashamed, Payton’s painfully revealing autobiography.
I Am Not Ashamed did not sell especially well, and was pretty much forgotten a few years after its release. But it reappeared by chance two decades later when Jack Nicholson famously lent a rare copy to Jessica Lange to help her prepare for her femme fatale role in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Today the book is widely available. Just a few seconds reading Payton’s words conjures the suspicion she had a ghostwriter, and indeed, it was the king of lowbrow literature Leo Guild who gave shape to the prose, which reads like gutter level sleaze fiction.
For example: “He hated what I had been [but] loved me for what I was. He tortured himself. Every part of my body reminded him of another man.” And this bit: “I had a body when I was a young kid that raisedtemperatures wherever I went. Today I have three long knife wounds on my solid frame. One extends from my buttocks down my thigh and needed I don’t remember how many stitches.” Payton’s anecdotes are cringe worthy, but they read like she’d gotten a grip on her life. No such luck. After four more long years of drugs, drink, and disaster she was found dead on her bathroom floor in 1967.
Payton post-mortems usually describe her problems as self-induced, but that’s simplistic. In the 1950s famous men did anything they wished, but women had to be careful not to be seen doing the same. Still do today. That’s the part Payton had problems with. Even so, she had several happy periods during her life. One of those was the stretch she spent in Mexico married to a young fisherman. About this time she says, “We fished and I caught big ones, and we loved and for a couple of years it was beautiful. My big problems were what to cook for dinner. But it was inevitable the ants in my pants would start crawling again.”
We like that passage, because nearly all the stories about Payton declare, or at least suggest, that everything that happened after Hollywood stardom was part of a terminal plummet. That’s pretty much the default setting in American journalism—anything other than wealth and fame is by definition failure. It’s an idiotic conceit, even a harmful one, and Payton reveals that in Mexico she landed someplace solid and safe, and got along fine without money or recognition. Two years of happiness is nothing to take lightly. But she just couldn’t sit still—not because of where she was, but because of who she was.
And the spiral continued—cheaper and cheaper forms of prostitution, physical confrontations that resulted in her getting some of her teeth knocked out, and more. In all of these tales there’s a recurrent theme of lowly types taking advantage of her, but we can’t help noting that she was paid a mere $1,000 for her autobiography, an absurdly deficient amount for a former top star with a crazy story to tell, which suggests to us that guys in office suites take as much advantage—or more—of a person’s hard luck as guys in alleys. We have some scans below, and Payton will undoubtedly appear here again.
, Barbara Payton
, Franchot Tone
, Leo Guild
, Jack Nicholson
, Jessica Lange
, Glenn Ford
, Linda Christina
, Joan Crawford
, Rocky Crawford
, Gloria Grahame
, Anthony Quinn
, Susan Hayward
, Catherine Denueve
, Jane Fonda
Symeoni brings bad things to life.
Italian artist Sandro Symeoni painted posters for all genres of film, from zany comedies to spaghetti westerns, but we like him in thriller mode best. Above are five examples of his work promoting 1950s and 1960s crime and horror movies. Their English titles are, top to bottom, The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll, Deadly Inheritance, Scandal Incorporated, Grisbi, and The Revenge of Frankenstein. Plenty more Symeoni to see—just click his keywords below.
, Confidential: Anonima scandali
, Omicidio per vocazione
, Le amanti del Dott. Jekyll
, La vendetta di Frankenstein
, The Mistresses of Dr. Jekyll
, Deadly Inheritance
, Scandal Incorporated
, The Revenge of Frankenstein
, Sandro Symeoni
, poster art
Confidential dishes dirt but tries not to cross the line.
Confidential gives Kim Novak the cover and Lili St Cyr the inset on an issue published this month in 1965. Inside, the editors offer readers mostly lukewarm rehash, as was Confidential’s usual approach during its fangless mid-1960’s years, but there are also a few interesting tidbits. We learn that Lili St. Cyr took more than thirty Nembutals during her 1958 suicide attempt, yet still managed to survive though as few as three pills can be fatal. Ramfis Trujillo’s wild Parisian parties are detailed, including the time he and his entourage shot up the lobby of the Hotel George V. And we find out that Frank Sinatra paid a $400 fine in Spain for disturbing the peace when he blew up after a woman threw a drink on him.
But make no mistake—the once mighty Confidential was walking on eggshells after being on the wrong end of some costly lawsuits. Maverick owner Robert Harrison had sold the magazine to Hy Steirman, who realized the easiest way to avoid litigation was to take on targets that either wouldn’t fight back or couldn’t be bothered to care. Ramfis Trujillo, for example, was a mass-murderer and likely found articles about his crazed partying flattering. Thailand’s dictator Sarit Thanarat is also slammed in this issue, and you can bet he gave less than a shit about the write-up—if he was even aware of it. Editors sling mud at Marilyn Monroe, who was dead. Amorphous group targets, like the “limp wrist set,” the Mafia, real estate swindlers, and escaped Nazis make up the rest of the subject matter.
But even if Confidential wasn’t kicking ass and taking names in 1965, its visuals were still quite nice, with those impactful black, white and red graphics, and that super hip language that’s so much of its time but which is still amazing to read today. Try this on for size: “Call the men in the white coats and get the whacky wagon rolling, your favorite swinging correspondent is ready for Flipsville!” We’re always ready for Flipsville, and we’re always ready for mid-century tabloids, too. How many of these do we have left in our collection? You wouldn’t believe us if we told you. We’d sell some, but how could we possibly part with them? We’re stuck with them. And so are you. Twenty-plus scans below.
, Dominican Republic
, Kim Novak
, Lili St. Cyr
, Ramfis Trujillo
, Sarit Thanarat
, Marilyn Monroe
, Frank Sinatra
, Hy Steirman
, Robert Harrison
Liberace is finally forced to take up arms against the tabloids.
A long while ago we shared the cover of a 1956 Whisper featuring George Sanders. The same issue had an article on Liberace, and we’re returning to that today as part of our look at mid-century tabloid attitudes toward gay culture. In general of course, the tabloids were brutally insulting, using overt as well as coded language to get intimations of homosexuality across. Theoretically, when dealing with public figures they had to be somewhat cautious, but both Rave and Inside had in 1954 written stories insinuating that Liberace was gay, and in 1955 Suppressed and Private Lives did the same. In Whisper, a journalist writing under the name Sylvia Tremaine refers to Liberace as a “creature,” labels his speech as “simpering,” and describes his move to television this way: “From there it was just a brief flutter to a local TV program.”
You’ll notice there’s deniability in all those words—Whisper could claim there was nothing defamatory in the language. Ridiculous, of course. Clearly the magazine was calling Liberace gay, and only a fool would claim otherwise, but defamation had not occurred to an extent that would stand up in court. Thus we see the joy of coded language. The same occurs in the U.S. today in certain media outlets with language directed at African Americans. The disparagement is clear, but deniable. Or for a cinematic example of coding, consider the Maltese Falcon and how the character of Joel Cairo is announced by flute trills on the soundtrack. Clear, and yet deniable. But in its Liberace article Whisper then throws deniability out the window with this: “Hollywood snickerers are wondering, in fact, if all the male hormones earmarked for the Liberace boys weren’t hogged by George, leaving Lee with only his nimble fingers.” That goes a bit beyond code, wouldn’t you say?
Liberace did not sue, and the tabloids simply built momentum. Later in 1956 Britain’s Daily Mirror called him a “deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.” Robert Harrison’s Confidential piled on in 1957. It published a three-part tale of Liberace attacking a hapless press agent. A sample from that hit piece: “Fatso plumped onto the couch alongside his young guest, and before you could say Gorgeous George, the pair were [wrestling]. In a matter of moments, it turned into a boxing bout, too, with the press agent throwing desperate lefts and rights at Liberace. The latter, his determination stiffening, merely clung tighter. The floor show reached its climax when Dimples, by sheer weight, pinned his victim’s shoulders to the mat and mewed into his face: 'Gee, you’re cute when you’re mad!'”
Liberace’s lawyer John Jacobs filed lawsuits against both Daily Mirror and Confidential, demanding a whopping twenty million dollars from the latter. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $174 million in today's terms. You can almost imagine Robert Harrison spitting up his coffee when he heard the settlement demand. Equally you can imagine Liberace’s reluctance to dignify the article, but Confidential at the time had readership in the millions. Something had to be done. It had become open season on his private life. Even the press photo below toyed with him. Thedescriptive text, written for newspaper staff, is meant to simply get across the basic facts of the photos and is typically pretty dry stuff. But this describes Liberace as "the curly-haired pianist" and says his walk is "jaunty." Clear, but deniable.
In the end, Liberace received $40,000 from Confidential and $53,000 from the Daily Mirror, substantial sums for the time. In addition to his legal victories, the constraints against tabloid journalism were becoming more defined. Of course, Liberace had won the cases by perjuring himself in court about being gay. In 1987 when he died of complications related to AIDS, Daily Mirror refused to show an iota of deference or respect and published a piece referring to the 1950s settlement. It was headlined: Any Chance of a Refund?
, Daily Mirror
, Private Lives
, Inside Magazine
, Robert Harrison
, John Jacobs
Confidential goes full throttle on the high seas.
On this Confidential from February 1965 the publishers give their cut-and-paste artists a month off and grace the cover with a simple portrait of Brigitte Bardot and her famed pout. Inside the editors air out her love life in a way that today would be called slut shaming—pretty much stock-in-trade for Confidential. The suggestion is she won’t come to the U.S. to act because she’s busy Morockin’ around the clock with Moroccan-born producer Bob Zaguri. Elsewhere in the issue you get Romy Schneider, Jean Harlow, Alain Delon, Peter O’Toole, love behind the Iron Curtain, and an outraged report on pharmaceutical companies marking up medicines 200%, 500%, even 7,000%. Yes, medicines cost too much in the U.S. even back then. But don’t take our word for it. Take Confidential’s—their story ends by declaring that drug companies have Americans by the balls and the only way to avoid the drug price racket is to not get sick.
But moving on, as we mentioned last week, we wanted to look at tabloid attitudes toward gay culture, and this issue has two articles along those lines. The first involves gay cruises off the Florida coast, an activity Confidential informs readers was devised as a way to avoid Dade County vice cops. Once the boats were in international waters therewas no law, local or federal, which could be applied against shipboard activities. We’ll come back to that in a sec. The other story involves what Confidential describes as the middlesex—i.e. people who lack strong masculine or feminine characteristics. The story is concerned with this only as a social issue and makes no mention of physically intersex persons who genetically are neither male nor female.
For Confidential the issue is simple—men are no longer macho enough and women are no longer (submissively) alluring enough. Of course, gay men are the ultimate villains here, and to make the topic emotional for readers Confidential paints a picture of an America devoid of Jayne Mansfields and Lana Turners. The article’s author Harold Cimoli sums it up this way: “As female busts and hips grow ever narrower even Playboy may have trouble keeping its broad-watchers supplied with bosomy playmates.” And there’s also this tidbit: “Designers of both types of clothing are poaching unforgivably on the styles of each other. The main hope must be the evolution of an entirely new style of ensemble for these new phenomena and a new branch of the industry to supply it.” Were they really this comically worried about visual identification issues? Of course they were—what could be more disturbing to guardians of a prevailing social structure than people managing to wriggle out of their pre-assigned boxes?
The story on gay cruises is a bit more typical of mid-century tabloids—it’s just a takedown piece. Gay men are blithely described as “lavender lads,” “minces,” and other words we wouldn’t dare dirty our website with. The effusiveness of the magazine’s hateful and sneerful terminology suggestsjust how certain Confidential editors were that homosexuality was completely beyond the pale. And yet, nearly every issue harped on the subject, either directly or indirectly. For instance, here we get full reportage on a maritime cabaret show featuring drag queens, followed by detailed descriptions of music, dancing, and gambling. You’d almost think the writer Gaye Bird—nice, right?—was actually there.
The cruise is eventually reported to the boat rental agency in Miami, whose owner vows that he will never again allow his vessels to be used for such debauchery. The response from the organizer of the cruises was this: “There are approximately one-hundred thousand boats or ships of some sort or another. I think we’ll be able to find some way to balance supply and demand.” Ouch—zinged right in the Econ 101s. Doubtless Confidential expected the congressional switchboard to light up over this outrageous appropriation of boats meant for exclusively heterosexual usage, but whether it happened we can’t say—the story ends there. And Confidential readers were left to endure thirty days of disquiet until the next gay bashing issue came out. We won't wait quite that long—we'll explore this subject in another tabloid soon. More scans below.
, Brigitte Bardot
, Alain Delon
, Roger Vadim
, Romy Schnieder
, Jean Harlow
, Bob Zaguri
, Peter O’Toole
, Harold Cimoli
We hear a lot today about the mainstreaming of LGBT culture, but for the tabloids it was always a popular subject.
This January 1967 Confidential offers up cover star Roxanne Lorraine Alegria, a famed transvestite-later-transgendered cabaret performer who was billed as “The First Topless Sex Change Dancer.” You may remember that we’ve already featured one Confidential and one Whisper containing mention of the transsexual dancer Coccinelle, another Whisper concerned with Christine Jorgensen, and a National Insider featuring Abby Sinclair. Other tabloids we’ve posted contain similar stories, but we’ve ignored them in favor of other content. The point we’re making is that the frequency with which the old tabloids focused on transsexuals is really striking. You’ll also note in the banner at the top of the above cover that Confidential offers a story about a gay convention in San Francisco. This was a subject the old tabloids flogged even more relentlessly—often with the added twist of the alleged gay cabal, usually poised at the threshold to the corridors of power and influence. The language in such articles is shocking by any standard, with the undercurrent of fear that such pieces tend to contain. With so much global attention being devoted of late to LGBT issues we think it’s a good time to go back and look at some of those old articles. We’ll get to that just a little bit later.
Even in decline Confidential had eyes and ears everywhere.
Liz Taylor and her tan star on this cover of Confidential published this month in 1964. The magazine was just a shadow of its former self by this point, but the inside stories still manage to raise eyebrows and give the impression of tabloid spies in every corner of Hollywood. Simon Lee Garth’s exposé accuses Richard Burton of being an abusive drunk, but that was not a scoop—other tabloids had written the same. But elsewhere, investigative journo Beverly Hillis (nice, right?) shares the amusing story of Elvis Presley throwing a party at which only women were invited. Apparently “swivel hips”, as Confidential refers to him, paraded around in a series of bizarre costumes and generally acted the fool, prompting some (but crucially not all) of his guests to leave in a huff. In another story Jack Asher writes about bottomless swimsuits worn by gay men as a response to the topless women’s suits that had appeared on European beaches, and also tells readers the fashion house Lanvin Paris had begun selling a bottomless suit for women. We don’t buy that one for a minute, but there are some interesting photos of women wearing breast-baring dresses. Elsewhere in the issue you get tabloid fave Jayne Mansfield and her husband Mickey Targitay, Peter Sellers sexing himself into a heart attack with Britt Ekland, Barry Goldwater playing dirty politics, and an impressively tasteless graphic of Malcolm X. All below.
, Lanvin Paris
, Richard Burton
, Elizabeth Taylor
, Mickey Hargitay
, Jayne Mansfield
, Peter Sellers
, Britt Ekland
, Barry Goldwater
, Malcolm X
, Elvis Presley
Who’s that knocking at my door?
This issue of Confidential from this month in 1955 was one of the magazine’s high points (or low points, depending on your perspective). In this issue the world learned about the infamous Wrong Door Raid in which a group of men that included Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra broke down an apartment door in West Hollywood in an attempt to catch DiMaggio’s ex-wife Marilyn Monroe in bed with another man. We’ll let Confidential describe the delicious scene:
The human battering ram backed up and struck again—four or five times in all—before the hinges gave, the door toppled with a terrible crash, and his momentum carried him sailing inside. The rest of the amateur raiders tumbled right after him. A faint light coming from the window told the private eye they were in a bedroom. Any further confirmation he needed was coming from the bed in the form of shrill screams. The investigator had a camera slung around his neck and—without waiting for the lights to be turned on—he blasted away with his flash bulbs.
At some point, DiMaggio and Co. realized that it wasn’t Monroe in the bed and that they had invaded the wrong apartment. Cue panicked retreat, overturned furniture, broken glass, the works. The story is well known today and you can read full accounts on various websites, butwe thought we’d share this cover anyway because we love the photo Confidential chose for Monroe, and the entire episode is a reminder of how bland modern day celebrity scandals really are.
Confidential basked in the glow of its exposé, but events turned sour rather quickly. Even though DiMaggio, Sinatra and the rest were the ones who had broken the law (or several laws), and Confidential had merely reported the truth, Hollywood was fed up. The stars and studios mounted a concerted push in the state legislature, which resulted in indictments against the magazine. With the constant threat of lawsuits hanging over Confidential like a cloud, publisher Robert Harrison made a deal to refrain from writing about stars’ private lives. One of his biggest scoops had helped lead to his magazine’s de-fanging.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1947—Hollywood Blacklist Instituted
The day after ten Hollywood writers and directors are cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the group, known as the "Hollywood Ten," are blacklisted by Hollywood movie studios.
1963—Ruby Shoots Oswald
Nightclub owner and mafia associate Jack Ruby fatally shoots alleged JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of Dallas police department headquarters. The shooting is broadcast live on television and silences the only person known for certain to have had some connection to the Kennedy killing.
1971—D.B. Cooper Escapes from Airplane
In the U.S., during a thunderstorm over Washington state, a hijacker calling himself Dan Cooper, aka D. B. Cooper, parachutes from a Northwest Orient Airlines flight with $200,000 in ransom money. Neither he nor the money are ever found.
1936—First Edition of Life Published
Henry Luce launches Life, a weekly magazine with an emphasis on photo-journalism. Life dominates the U.S. market for more than forty years, publishing scores of iconic photographs that remain some of the most recognizable ever shot, and peaking at one point with a circulation of more than 13.5 million copies a week.
1963—Doctor Who Debuts on BBC
The BBC broadcasts the first episode of Doctor Who, starring William Hartnell as a mysterious alien who time travels in his spaceship, the TARDIS. With his companions, he explores time and space while facing a variety of foes and righting wrongs. The show would become the longest-running science fiction series ever broadcast.
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