|Intl. Notebook||Nov 30 2016|
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.
|Intl. Notebook||Jul 2 2016|
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.
|Modern Pulp||Nov 26 2014|
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.
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||May 7 2013|
Above are a couple of scans from an issue of The National Police Gazette published this month in 1963 with cover star Ava Gardner. Gardner had been living in Spain and hadn’t been in a movie in three years, but was about to appear in the historical war drama 55 Days at Peking with Charleton Heston and David Niven. The Gazette discusses how she’d gotten fed up with the U.S.—particularly the American press. She had been particularly annoyed by the rumor that she was involved with Sammy Davis, Jr., a story that took flight after several magazines published photos of the two holding hands. When asked why she was returning to Hollywood after being out of circulation for so long, Gardner, in typically blunt fashion, replied, “I need the money.”
|Vintage Pulp||Apr 30 2013|
|Reader Pulp||Mar 16 2013|
Last year we shared some unusual pulp influenced crate paintings from a French artist named Jacques Puiseux, and this morning we received more scans of his Marxist themed pieces via email. Last time we shared Puiseux’s work, we mentioned that we avoid posting modern art, and that’s true, but we didn’t want to leave you with the impression that we find it inferior to vintage art (if that were true we wouldn't bother to have a "Modern Pulp" category on the website). What we find inferior is modern promotional art—e.g., book covers, movie posters and the like. And obviously we find modern movies inferior, but then who doesn’t? However modern fine art is something we very much like, and more to the point, we like the relationship it has to the viewer. We aren’t art majors or anything, so bear with us while we try to explain ourselves.
|Vintage Pulp||May 1 2012|
The National Police Gazette reveals on this cover from today in 1960 that Hollywood said no to Brigitte Bardot. The accompanying story quotes an unnamed independent producer, who says that the problem is that Bardot's deficient acting skills limited her to sex kitten roles, but American censorship meant Hollywood couldn't make those kinds of movies. He adds that, at $150,000 salary per project, Bardot is too expensive for Hollywood. A second “well-informed source” tells Gazette that studios are afraid of Bardot’s unbridled sexuality, claiming that her image is “so sexually devastating, that [Hollywood] quivers in fear before the slight, curvaceous French girl with the moist, pouted lips.” So, basically two of three reasons Police Gazette gives for Bardot not featuring in Hollywood films have to do with the influence of legions of American prudes. So maybe it wasn’t really a case of Hollywood saying no to Bardot as much as it was saying yes to sexual repressives. Bardot, it should be noted, simply continued on as the biggest star in the world. Elsewhere in this issue you get the plot-of-the-month attributed to Fidel Castro, tales of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, Jack Paar’s fears, and a nice portrait of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Scans of all that below, and more Gazette coming soon.
|Intl. Notebook | Politique Diabolique||Mar 19 2012|
There’s an interesting story emerging today involving former CIA officer Brian Latell, right, who claims that Fidel Castro ordered subordinates to listen carefully for news from Texas on November 22, 1963. That was, of course, the morning U.S. president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Latell, who was the CIA’s national intelligence officer for Latin America, says Castro gave the order to put ears to the ground hours before the shooting. Possible? Well, probably quite a few people had advance knowledge of the assassination, so why not Castro? One wonders, though, why Latell, who’s made a nice living of writing about Fidel, appears with this revelation now. Had it slipped his mind for forty-nine years? Surely these claims have nothing to do with goosing sales of his new book Castro’s Secrets? That would be so very… capitalist of him.
Kidding aside, there’s little logic in Castro trying to kill Kennedy. Latell doesn’t make this claim, exactly, though he comes mighty close: “I don’t say Fidel Castro ordered the assassination. I don’t say Oswald was under his control. He might have been, but I don’t argue that, because I was unable to find any evidence for that.” Hmm. We tend to think a presidential killing conceived and orchestrated in the U.S. could be effectively covered up because some of the participants might be government officials able to classify documents, manage the press, pressure investigators, falsify evidence, and so on. But a Cuba-based conspiracy would have none of those advantages, thus the evidence would be there. Glaringlyso, we think. Indeed, we can imagine teams of CIA analysts in the days after the murder searching—if not praying—for even the most tenuous Cuba connection in hopes of uncovering a pretext for dispatching a division of marines to Havana. The fact that those marines never embarked says volumes. So we’re going to vote no on the implication that Castro had Kennedy killed. Advance knowledge? Possible. Did he pull the strings? No way. But like millions of Americans, we’d love to know who did.
|Vintage Pulp||Feb 6 2012|
You never want to go too long without a little National Informer in your life, so we’ve brought you another issue of our all-time favorite tabloid, this one published today in 1972. It’s an almost all-sex issue, with articles about fetishism, group sex, lesbian sex in prison, male contraceptive pills, hookers flying the friendly skies, and advanced stimulation methods to drive your partner wild. Mixed in there, in a place where you’d easily overlook it, is a great paste-up photo of Richard Nixon playing chess with Fidel Castro. Chess had something you could almost call mass appeal in the U.S. back in the 1970s, and Castro was a chess aficionado who once hosted a tournament in Havana that drew Mexican Grandmaster Filiberto Terrazas, American Grandmaster and world champ Bobby Fischer, and Soviet-Armenian Grandmaster Tigran Petrosian. So, in the context of the times, the Nixon/Castro composite isn’t as random as it seems. We’ve blown up the photo below, and included other pages of interest.
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||Feb 4 2012|
Today we have a cover for the 1964 espionage novel Ring Around Rosy, and normally, what would be of the most interest here is yet another perfect piece of art by Robert McGinnis, but in this case we have an author whose life may have been even more rife with danger and intrigue than those of his characters. Many of you probably already know that Gordon Davis was in reality E. Howard Hunt, who was involved in the Watergate Hotel scandal which led directly to the toppling of Richard Nixon’s presidency, a landmark moment in the American psyche because it represented a loss political innocence for millions of citizens. But that all came later, when Hunt was pushed unwillingly into the light after the bungled Watergate operations. What makes him fascinating is everything that came before.
E. Howard Hunt was a dedicated writer in his early years, and after winning a Guggenheim fellowship, went on to publish as the aforementioned Davis, as well as Robert Dietrich, and David St. John. He joined the CIA in 1949, and was stationed in Mexico City along with William F. Buckley. While there, he helped plan the overthrow of Guatemala’s president Jacobo Arbenz, which brought about unrest that funneled into a civil war in which 200,000 people were killed, about 90% of them civilians. A few years later Hunt helped to create a Cuban government-in-exile that would take over that island after Fidel Castro was ousted by U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs insurgents. The invasion didn’t come off as planned, though, and the fallout was damaging enough that Hunt needed to rehabilitate his career.
He took a position as chief of the CIA’s illegal domestic spying branch the Domestic Operations Division shortly after its formation in 1962 by John F. Kennedy. The idea behind the Division was to spy on enemies inside the U.S., which ostensibly meant acting against foreign embassies that might be harboring spies, but in a classic—and inevitable—example of mission creep, pretty soon the Division began illegally spying onAmerican citizens, specifically civil rights activists. After a couple of years Hunt was re-stationed in Mexico City, where sources claim he had dealings with Lee Harvey Oswald in the time leading up to Kennedy’s assassination. Hunt categorically denied ever meeting Oswald, though he later made revelations regarding Kennedy. In any case, being on the government payroll wasn't what he wanted to do anymore—he never got over his anger at Kennedy’s refusal to invade Cuba or overthrow Castro—so he decided to get into the private sector.
This eventually led to him becoming a member of Richard Nixon’s Special Investigations Unit, aka the White House Plumbers, which were both fancy names for the collection of men who were the President’s secret fixers. This was exactly the sort of off-the-books work Hunt had been seeking. It allowed him to remain in the black ops game, but freed him from accountability to layers of career bureaucrats. Under Nixon’s direction and that of White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, Hunt broke into various residences—in violation of both property and spying laws—looking for dirt on people such as reporter Daniel Ellsberg and politician Teddy Kennedy. He was also involved in disinformation campaigns, such as forging fake cables suggesting that John F. Kennedy had ordered the assassination of foreign officials, and trying (but failing) to link a would-be assassin to Democrats by planting George McGovern campaign material in the house of Arthur Bremer, the man who shot conservative politician George Wallace.
We’ve drifted pretty far away from the subject of Ring Around Rosy (which by the way is an adventure concerning Cuba, as were several of Hunt's books), but let’s drift a bit further, and make this point: isn’t it fascinating that in an age in which so many conspiracies have been documented andverified, people are still afraid to believe behind-the-scenes machinations are what really make the planet go ’round? Hunt's dirty tricks are all a matter of record, and had profound effects on international affairs, yet many would like to believe he is a rarity. But whether we're talking about hushed meetings in political backrooms or secret get-togethers between bankers at private clubs, conspiracies are the engine of the world. It isn’t a nice realization, but it’s a logical one.
Hunt wrote novels throughout his black ops years, but as time wore on often used his literary gift to grind axes, modeling characters after men he hated. For example, JFK appeared thinly disguised in the 1972 political potboiler The Coven, in which a youthful, charismatic, Catholic presidential candidate is a secret Devil worshipper. The quality of Hunt’s fiction had declined since his Guggenheim fellowship days, according to many critics, but his name and background guaranteed sales, and still does today (as any Hunt-related internet comment chain, with their pronouncements about his “real deal tough guy” qualities, makes quite clear).
At the end of his life, Hunt dropped a bombshell by confessing to involvement in a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. He described himself as a “benchwarmer” in the plot, i.e., somebody to be brought in if the first team failed, and named everyone involved. The confession was made to his son, which gave rise to questions about both veracity and motive. But if Hunt had confessed on the front page of the Washington Post can wereally doubt that there would still be droves of people unwilling to accept it? It makes sense, though. If Watergate stole the political innocence of millions of Americans, proof of an assassination plot by members of the U.S. government against their own president would be a national cataclysm. So Hunt’s confession is forgotten, while everything else he ever did, survives.