Fidel Castro's long vigil over Cuba comes to a close.
Above is a unique artifact we've been holding onto for several years—a photo of a metal Fidel Castro billboard located in the vicinity of Holguin, Cuba, a town in the southeast part of the island. Someone we know shot this and gave us a copy, which we squared up a bit in Photoshop. Political billboards are a common sight in Cuba but this one is unique, as far as we know. It says: “Commander in Chief: Order!” We were out of town when Castro died and didn't have a chance to comment on it, and now we've been beaten to it by everyone. Well, no matter. We've written about him—usually in relation to other iconic mid-1960s figures such as John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald—numerous times, and you can see those posts yourself by clicking his keywords just below. We may not have any new commentary to add, but we do have a piece of art nobody else does.
Havana shopping street catered to the international upper crust.
We're back from vacation. We were surrounded by colonial era architecture, which brought to mind this photo of Havana, Cuba, a former colonial city thousands of miles from where we were, but similar in many respects. The shot was taken along Calle San Rafael sometime during the 1940s. There's a lot of detail in this—in the distance we can see Bar Uncle Sam and a Philco store, and in the foreground the cars and flowing sidewalk mosaics are interesting too. Of particular note is the perfume store El Patio, where a sign tells us the Dana brands Emir, Tabu, and Platino are available. These were pricy concoctions, affordable for only the rare few, sold by a fancy perfumer that got its start in Barcelona back in 1932. Presumably Isaac Habif was a perfume or cologne too, but we can't find mention of it anywhere.
Some of the other businesses on San Rafael included the swank coffee shop Salon H, top jewelers Letrán de Isaac Barquet, Cuervo y Sobrinos, and Gastón Bared, two academies—Academia Pitman and Academia Gregg—which were expensive and private, the department stores Fin de Siglo and El Encanto, Indochina, which was an exotic gift shop, the eyewear boutique El Telescopio, and La Exposición, which sold furs—yes, in that climate. In all, Calle San Rafael wasn't just an ordinary thoroughfare, but a major shopping street serving Havana's economic elite. It remains a shopping street today, but the mosaics and fine brands are long gone. For a bit more on colonial era Havana, have a look here. And for an interesting array of post-revolutionary photos, look here.
Comprehensive photography book looks back at Cuba during the 1960s.
Seems everyone's talking about Cuba these days. Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the island in ages, and every megacorporation from Home Depot to Major League Baseball wants to do business there. By any measure, Cuba's is a remarkable story, particularly its educational and medical accomplishments in the face of an economic blockade that keeps out everything from computer chips to breakfast cereal.
Despite that embargo, Cubans can convincingly claim to be better off than residents in nearby capitalist nations like Honduras (highest per capita murder rate in the world), El Salvador (thousands killed each year by rampaging drug gangs), Haiti (59% poverty rate), and even Puerto Rico ($70 billion in debt—an astonishing $20,000 per resident). But one thing Cubans don't have is the opportunity to accumulate wealth. That may be about to change.
At such a moment, then, it seems like a good opportunity to look back at Cuba as it was during the heady days during and just after the Cuban Revolution. Cuba la fotografía de los años 60 is a large volume of images from that time, shot by such figures as Ernesto Fernández, Alberto Korda, and Raúl Corrales. The photos are mostly rare, and the technical quality is consistently high. We scanned the images below several years ago (the book appeared in 1988), but only just got around to sharing them today. As a bonus, there's an eloquent preface written by Roberto Fernández Retamar, which we've uploaded in its entirety.
If you've followed Pulp Intl. for a while you probably know we lived in Central America for some years, spending most of our time in Guatemala, but traveling around to numerous countries on the isthmus and in the Caribbean. So the region is a subject of some interest to us. Cuba will gain plenty from being allowed to reconnect with the world, but it will lose plenty too. It's impossible to know what sort of balance will be struck. Cubans, excited but also concerned, hope for a better one than exists in many of its neighbor countries, but only time will tell.
It's brain versus brawn in sunny Cuba.
Our favorite luchador Santo el Enmascarado de Plata has taken on monsters and men and beaten them all like your grandmother beats a dusty throw rug. In Santo contra cerebro del mal, or Santo Versus the Evil Brain, he takes on a man with a monstrous plan—a villain who wants to use a thoughtsucking machine to steal scientific secrets and sell them to international bidders. Needing Santo's brawn to pull this off, he kidnaps him, sucks him, and turns him into a dickbag. Don't worry, though—Santo is eventually located by his buddy El Incognito and, after a serious ass whipping administered with the utmost love, restored to his right mind. What a wonderful world it would be if all it took were a couple of suplexes and powerbombs to clear the evil out of people's brains. A single wrestler sent to the headquarters of every transnational bank could save the planet. This is the first Santo film, shot in Havana in 1961, the year of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and we have to say later entries are much better. But this one does have excellent exteriors shot around town, mainly in the suburbs, which look little different from Miami. The old part, with its baroque buildings and tight streets, was a little too logistically tricky for location work, we're guessing. Havanaphiles and fans of retro thoughtsucking machines, enjoy. All others, maybe take a pass. Santo contra cerebro del mal premiered in Mexico today in 1961.
Jesus. I'm schvitzing like a pig. Shoulda packed my summer mask.
These cholesterol readings are off the charts. What the hell does this guy eat?
Santo! Do something!
Hey, don't look at me. I'm thoughtsucked.
This ain't exactly her first rodeo.
Since we brought up a buxom burlesque dancer yesterday, we thought a return to the subject was appropriate. Here you see a Technicolor lithograph of Betty Howard, who was aka Betty "Blue Eyes" Howard, but who also called herself The Girl Who Has Everything. And by everything she meant boobs—forty inches worth. Howard was a star by the late 1940s, and hit her stride during the 1950s, dancing all over the U.S. and in Cuba. This particular shot is entitled “Strictly from Vegas,” and we can only assume she was a major presence there at some point. You may remember Howard led off our collection of vintage burlesque dancers back in 2010. If you haven't seen it, or are perhaps up for a revisit, check it here.
From Guanajay to Hollywood in a single bound.
Estelita Rodriguez was born in Guanajay, Cuba in 1928, signed with MGM at the tender age of fourteen, signed with Republic at seventeen, and appeared in such films as Tropical Heat Wave, Rio Bravo, and the unforgettable Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. This promo shot dates from 1945 and was made when she was playing the character of Lupita in the musical Mexicana with Tito Guízar and Constance Moore.
Hasta siempre, Comandante.
Since we mentioned in our Kennedy post that Mercocomic had serials about other historical figures, we decided we’d go ahead and share these Spanish Che covers from 1978. The complete run was three issues in the order seen, and the art is once again from the excellent Prieto Muriana, who even worked in a Pietà on cover three. “Hasta siempre, Comandante,” by the way, is a very famous Carlos Puebla song recorded by everyone from Joan Baez to Nathalie Cardone.
Adam's yearly special gives readers everything it’s got.
This Adam from 1960 is one of parent company Knight Publishing Corp.’s special annuals and features Lynn Hayward on the cover, plus the similar-looking Sheika Moser on the overleaf, both beautifully photographed by Keith Bernard. Hayward never appeared anywhere again, as far as we can tell, but Moser starred in numerous magazine layouts, including several for Spree, Gala and Eyeful. Inside the magazine you get fact, fiction, humor, and all the other elements that characterize mid-century men’s magazines, including many more women. Among them are Cuban dancer-turned-actress Chelo Alonso, burlesque queen Candy Barr, model-actress Ann Atmar, and others.
On a side note, we haven’t talked about our recent trip to the U.S. yet because we’ve just been too busy, but we did manage to collect quite a few more pulp items you’ll be seeing in the coming weeks. This particular Adam is an internet find, and you can locate it yourself with minimal effort. However, we did buy a dozen actual, physical issues of unrelated-to-the-above, hard-to-find, and never-before-uploaded Australian Adam. The new discovery pushed our issue total for that imprint well above fifty. But those are for later. Today, it’s good old American Adam. We have more than forty scans below for your enjoyment.
Fifty years on and the American mainstream media have completely retreated into an alternate reality.
Stories about John F. Kennedy’s assassination have been appearing in the media for several weeks leading up the 50th anniversary of the event, as various outlets try to get ahead of the wave of interest, but we’re purists here, so we’re sharing this poster today, on the actual anniversary of the murder. Let’s get the basics out of the way first. As we’ve mentioned before, a Gallup poll taken days after the killing showed that a majority of Americans believed Oswald was not the only participant. That percentage has gone up since, reaching more than 80%, according to some surveys. That means people who believe Oswald acted with others have always been the majority, and today are the vast majority. That’s something your trusted media outlet always leaves out, doesn’t it? The point is if you think there was a conspiracy, you are the norm, part of an overwhelming norm, rather than some crackpot minority.
It’s an important point because many of the articles published today ask questions like, “Why do people believe in conspiracies?” The problem with that question lies in its framing—it implies that we live in a world that has no or few conspiracies, that it’s silly to believe they exist. That’s very interesting, considering that in the Libor scandal up to 20 major banks conspired to rig interest rates in a $350 trillion derivatives market, that Britain’s spy agency GCHQ conspired to secretly tap into the fiber optic cables that carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic, that the bank HSBC conspired to launder billions of dollars in South American drug cartel money, that ING conspired to violate sanctions against certain types of business dealings with Cuba and Iran, that News of the World conspired to illegally hack the phones of private citizens, and that Merrill Lynch conspired to deliberately overcharge 95,000 customers $32 million in unwarranted fees. All of these happened in just the last few years.
To listen to the mainstream media, you’d almost think there weren’t actual criminal proceedings or lawsuits extant in every example we just mentioned. It takes a willful disconnection from reality to deny how prevalent conspiracies are in modern life when hundreds of perpetrators are at this moment sitting as defendants in court because they were caught… um conspiring. If we want to delve into a few historical examples of conspiracies, then note that the NSA conspired to mislead the U.S. public about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, that American asbestos companies conspired to cover up the truth about the danger of their product, and that in 1962 the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff conspired to kill American citizens. That conspiracy took the form of a proposal called Operation Northwoods. In short, American citizens would have been killed in a series of terrorist bomb attacks that would have been blamed on Cuba. Northwoods was approved for implementation by every one of the sitting Joint Chiefs. Really let that sink in. The only reason the American government did not kill American citizens is because John F. Kennedy said no—he wasn’t interested in committing high treason and murder so he could invade Cuba.
All of the examples we’ve cited above—a small percentage of the whole, by the way—are incontrovertible historical facts, easily referenced in reams of unearthed documents and on the internet. And all are conspiracies by definition. So the question we should be asking today isn’t why so many people believe in conspiracies, but why the mainstream media are so far removed from the factual realities of human, corporate, and political existence, why they are so resistant to the simple truth that conspiracies are how powerful actors circumvent regulations, laws, and democratic rights. Or more to the point, exactly what planet do mainstream journalists live on? Not this one, seemingly.
Here at Pulp Intl., we do not style ourselves as truth tellers or serious investigators. We just like pulp art and good white wine, and if we can combine the latter with our naked girlfriends, all the better. Do we think JFK was the victim of a conspiracy? Yes. But he was dead before we were born, so in truth, we don’t feel any great passion about it. But to us he is symbolic of the steep decline of the modern American mainstream press. Consider this: in a world where conspiracies incontrovertibly occur, and occur so often that it's actually difficult to keep track of them all, the American press continues to use terms like "conspiracy theory" as an epithet and treats anyone who questions the official JFK assassination story like a fool or a nut case. At the very least, that’s a disservice. At worst it's deliberate social engineering.
American literary giant Elmore Leonard dies.
After suffering a stroke a few weeks ago, American author Elmore Leonard died at his home in Detroit this morning. Tens of thousands of words will be written about Leonard’s contributions to literature, but we’ll let him speak for himself in this scene featuring a character named Neely Tucker, a journalist intent on perfectly remembering everything that happens, as he witnesses a brewing confrontation between a Cuban military officer and a tough cowboy in a supper club in Havana, Cuba, 1899:
It surprised Neely that Teo didn’t acknowledge Amelia first, ask her pardon for interrupting, walking up to the table unannounced. Amelia’s eyes were glued to the two men facing each other, Teo saying now in a very formal manner, “I request that you meet me tomorrow…” with an accent but the words clear enough: that Tyler meet him in the morning at first light in the Prado by the statue of Her Majesty Queen Isabella, Teo saying his second, Major Lionel Tavalera, would bring the pistols and Tyler would be given his choice of which one he would prefer to use.
Look at Amelia’s eyes, big as saucers, the sweet thing hanging on every word.
Tyler said, “I thought you wanted to sword fight.”
She loved it, looking at Tyler almost adoringly.
Tyler saying, “Now you want to shoot me. ’Cause I wouldn’t saddle a horse for you?”
Neely would tell her later her mouth was open and it distracted him, made it hard for him to concentrate on the details, and he didn’t want to take out his notebook—how would that look? He’d have to remember what was said.
Teo was saying now, “You insult me.”
Tyler asking him, “How do I do that?”
“The way you speak. You show no respect.”
“Why should I respect you?”
“There. You see?”
“What you need to do,” Tyler said, “is get over your touchiness. You understand what I mean? You’re too sensitive, got a thin skin on you. I’m not gonna stand out there by a statue and let you aim your pistol at me, not over something as piddling as you wanting your own way.”
There was no mistaking the hussar officer’s expression of hostility. Neely noted the narrowing of his eyes to slits; he glanced at Amelia to see the adorable creature completely absorbed.
Tyler saying now to Teo, “You have a war going on. Doesn’t it give you enough people to kill?”
Teo didn’t waste a moment. Neely watched him shift his gloves from his left to his right hand and crack Tyler across the face, stinging him good with those kid gloves—harder in fact than need be, only the formality of the slap required and ordinarily accepted as a challenge. What was in no way part of the duello rites was Tyler cocking his fist and driving it hard into Teo’s wide-eyed expression, sending him stumbling back off-balance all the way to the bar, where Lionel Tavalera caught him around the shoulders and kept him on his feet. Neely could see that Teo, now the center of attention, wanted no help from anyone. He used his elbows to free himself of Tavalera, and Neely thought, Now what? Rant and rave? Promise the American he’ll kill him for sure on the morrow?
No, what Teo did, he drew a short-barrel pistol from inside his suit—a .32, it looked like—extended the weapon in what must be a classic dueling pose in the direction of Tyler, barely more than six paces away, and while he was taking deliberate aim, intent on an immediate finish to this business, Tyler pulled a big .44 revolver from inside his new alpaca coat and shot Teo Barbón in the middle of the forehead. My Lord, the sound it made! And there, you could see the bullet hole like a small black spot, just for a moment before Teo fell to the floor.
That’s how magical writing can be, how masterly. Leonard shifts from past tense, to simple present tense, to progressive present, to future, and even mixes in conditional mood effortlessly, as he shuffles Neely Tucker’s in-the-moment observations of the incident with his concerns about how he’ll write it up for his newspaper and his internal dialogue concerning the beautiful onlooker Amelia Brown. All in that passage. That’s how good he was. And the rhythm of his long, multi-clause sentences—because writing is crucially rhythmic—is mesmerizing, aided by his careful use of punctuation.
Those lines are from his best book, in our opinion, Cuba Libre, which is not one of his standard American westerns nor one of his many hard-boiled crime books, but rather an adventure set in Cuba on the eve of the Spanish American War, and it’s one of the books people will remember, and probably study in college courses. Yes, Leonard breaks some of the unspoken rules of elegant writing, yet rules are often successfully broken by great artists—indeed, it’s almost a pre-requisite.
A couple of years ago, a long article appeared in The Guardian and their book critic pointed out that Leonard was not a great a crime novelist or a great western novelist, but simply a great novelist, one of the best writing in English and had been for at least twenty years. He said a shift had begun to occur in literary circles and critics were beginning to realize nobody else in any genre or branch of literature could do what Elmore Leonard did. Dead today at age eighty-seven.
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