She's not just another brick in the wall.
Above, Los Angeles born actress Helen Luella Kofor, known professionally as Terry Moore, who first appeared on a movie screen in 1940 and has been active ever since, most recently in Merrily, slated to open in late 2017. She also appeared in 1944's Gaslight, 1949's Mighty Joe Young, and dozens of other films. Along the way she was nominated for an Academy Award, became secret spouse to Howard Hughes, and posed for Playboy at age fifty-five, looking just fine, too. All in all, Moore is a unique character. The above shot of her is from around 1955.
But I only want to kill my stepmom and take her money. What’s the big deal?
First things first—this poster was painted by Nicola Simbari, yet another genius from the ranks of Italian illustrators, someone who today is thought of as one of Italy’s most important modern artists and has pieces hanging in museums all over the world. He painted the above masterpiece for the Howard Hughes produced Seduzione mortale, known in the U.S. as Angel Face. It's the story of a man who tries to trade up to a richer, flashier girlfriend and ends up entangled in a murder plot. Robert Mitchum stars as the fickle hero, Jean Simmons co-stars as the femme fatale, Mona Freeman is the loyal girlfriend, and Jim Backus—aka Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island—is a tough district attorney.
This one is worth watching for the cringe-inducing central killing alone, which ranks top five in the annals of film noir for sheer brutality. Mitchum is good as always, Simmons less so due to her occasional tendency to act! rather than act, but that’s a minor issue. The movie works. It's well scripted by a trio of writers with an assist from Ben Hecht, and nicely directed by Otto Preminger. Best line in the film: “Is rigging a car like he says a very complicated thing? Or could anyone do it? Even a woman?” Ah yes, film noir—sexy and sexist. But there’s a real lesson there—never teach a femme fatale how a car’s transmission works. You’ll regret it.
Angel Face opened in the U.S. in late 1952 and premiered, according to all the sources we checked, in Italy today in 1953. But the poster at top advertises a premiere at a Rome cinema called the Fiamma on 6 May, 1953. Which date is right? Possibly both. April 18, 1953 was a Saturday, which would be a typical day for a film’s run to commence. May 6 was a Wednesday—not typical for launching a wide release. We suspect the poster was made for a special engagement, probably one night only. But we’re only guessing. We may have to slot this question in the unanswered file. There are only so many things you can figure out from a computer terminal after all. We have another poster below, plus two nice promos.
You’re a spoiled boy, Tommy. You want things and you’re not content until you get them.
One thing about writing Pulp Intl. is it gives us an excuse to fill in blanks in our movie résumé. The Public Enemy, starring James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, and Joan Blondell, was one such blank—until last night. A rags-to-riches-to-ruin story, it was one of the earliest gangster flicks, one that was a big hit but which had suffered the scissors of Hays Code censors. It’s always interesting to note the scenes cut from a post-Code movie, because those say the most about attitudes of the times. For example, the scene in which Cagney is measured for a suit by a gay tailor differs in no discernable way from such scenes in today’s movies. There’s macho discomfort by the lead and effeminate fussing by the tailor that leads to the inevitable inseam measuring, all played for cheap humor. We don’t condemn or endorse this sort of thing—it’s just fascinating to see how little has changed in eighty some years. Two other scenes were cut due to sexual suggestiveness, and those are also quite interesting to watch.
But what’s most important of course is James Cagney, and he is indeed amazing as Tom Powers, a kid whose ambition propels him toward the big cash and high risk of the Chicago bootlegging underworld. Not only was The Public Enemy a career-solidifying role for Cagney; it brought Jean Harlow to the notice of a much wider audience than she had reached up to that point. Her true breakout would come months later in The Platinum Blonde, but to be blunt, it’s lucky for her she had Howard Hughes molding her career, because her performance in The Public Enemy could have killed her chances to land a starring role. To a certain extent, she’s supposed to be damaged goods, someone who isn’t ever particularly fazed or impressed or emotive, but the scenes she should ignite—like the one in which she tells Cagney he’s just a spoiled boy—feel like rehearsals for later, better work. Contemporary reviewers agreed, panning her performance, but Harlow doesn’t damage the film. She isn’t really given much to work with, so watch this for Cagney, who scorches. The Public Enemy premiered in the U.S. today in 1931.
The case of the missing voodoo sex fiends.
Above and below, the mix of fiction, fact, hysteria, photos, and art that is NYC-based Volitant Publishing’s Sir! This February 1954 issue has a great portrait of Gina Lollobrigida, along with articles on the danger of Peeping Toms, “Hungarian” dancer Yvonne Davis, and how to spot frigid women. The promised story on sex in the Caribbean, which the cover art is supposed to illustrate, does not appear in the magazine. We’ve never seen that happen with a tabloid. Maybe the writer had a Eureka! moment during his field research: Wait—I'm having sex in the Caribbean. Why would I ever go back to New York? In any case, the story is MIA.
Sir! had a few different looks over the years, but the 1953 and 1954 issues, with covers painted by Mark Schneider, were particularly interesting. After 1954 Sir! mixed in photographed covers, which it had already done during earlier years. The post-1954 paintings were mostly by other artists, though Schneider’s work appeared on at least three post-1954 Sir! annuals. The quality of his covers varies, but all had a uniquely lurid mood that many supposedly better artists couldn’t touch. He sure had us looking forward to that Caribbean voodoo sex story. Anyway, we’ll put up a collection of Schneider’s work later so you can see what we mean.
In other news, we recently bought a stack of fifty mid-century tabloids from the U.S., and assuming the international mails work as they should, we will have those in hand soonish. We got the lot for fifty bucks, which was really exciting, since we’ve seen some individual issues from the stack being auctioned elsewhere for as much as $100.00. There’s no thrill quite like finding a great bargain. Wait—did we really just say that? God, we’re starting to sound like our girlfriends.
A leopard can't change its spots.
Actually, referring to Ava Gardner as a man eater is a bit sexist, but the term matched her outfit, so we went with it. It's fairer to say that she went after what she wanted. She wanted and got Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, Artie Shaw, Luis Miguel Dominguín, and a string of lucky others stretching from Hollywood to Madrid. This shot, from a famous session that produced many images, dates from the mid-1950s.
Mid-1970s tabloid covers were dominated by a trio of distinct personalities.
The National Police Gazette didn’t become America’s longest running publication by not knowing which celebrities people wanted to read about. We see that at work on the cover of this issue published in June 1974, which features a triptych of the era’s most tabloid-worthy icons in the fields of sports, politics and music. Muhammad Ali at thirty-three was just past his prime, but was still a great boxer with two of his most memorable bouts still ahead of him; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was one of the richest women in the world and a full time obsession for an American public who remembered her mainly as a presidential widow; Elvis Presley was no longer a force on the pop charts, yet his albums were still selling millions of copies and his persona and lifestyle ensured that he remained the best known music star in the world. We’re told by editors that Ali had a master plan to regain the heavyweight title (which he did), that Onassis couldn’t forget a past love named Sir David Ormsby-Gore (unconfirmed), and that Presley wanted to be a preacher (we all know how that turned out). The Gazette also makes room for stories on Howard Hughes, the Oakland A’s, and Jack Dempsey, but they’re all just bit players to the Big Three. We’ve scanned some pages below, and we’ll have much more from The National Police Gazette later.
Two ships passing in the night.
Confidential magazine, more so than other mid-century tabloids, could be counted on to report upon Hollywood’s interracial romances. Generally, the editors took no definitive stance on the divisive issue, but by placing such stories front and center were clearly pandering to their mostly conservative readership’s prejudices. In this issue from March 1956, it’s Billy Eckstine and Denise Darcel who are put under hot lights. Eckstine was a popular crooner sometimes referred to as the “black Sinatra”, the “sepia Sinatra” or even the “bronze balladeer”; Darcel was a French-born actress. When they met he was separated from a wife he would later divorce and was enjoying the NYC party circuit; she was an émigré from France circa 1947, newly divorced, and trying to establish a film career.
What broke them up? Even Confidential doesn’t know for sure, but career pressure is a likely culprit. Eckstine lost a movie contract when word got out that he was spending time with Darcel. It was a significant blow, because leading movie roles for African-Americans—rare today—were pretty much non-existent back then. Eckstine had already carved out a pan-racial popularity in music, but was denied a chance to do the same in cinema. He wouldn’t appear in a movie as an actor until 1975’s Let’s Do It Again. His music career survived, however, and he remained a hitmaker for another ten years.
As for Darcel, she made some Hollywood films, but never broke big. On a few French websites we learned that her career was possibly damaged by Howard Hughes after she refused his advances, but we can’t confirm that in a language we’re actually fluent in, so don’t quote us. We do know that at age forty she went on to a career in burlesque, which you see below. Asked why she had made the move into erotic dance, she replied, "Because that's where the money is." However, that period didn't last long—three years, more or less. In any case, Eckstine and Darcel certainly look happy on the cover of Confidential. The photo is from the party where they met. Asked that night about Eckstine by a reporter, Darcel said, “Billy is sooo wonderful!”
The lives of others.
Today we have a new entry for our collection of mid-century tabloids—Private Lives, published forty-five years ago this month, with a strikingly bright cover starring Jane Russell, and an accompanying article about aquatic sex timed to take advantage of her role in Underwater. Every tabloid had its visual gimmicks, and Private Lives began with the motif you see here of a black and white face floating on a Technicolor background. By the end of 1955 it had abandoned this look for a fuller color palette, but this older design is much more appealing, in our view. We’ll keep hunting for more of these.
Swimming the same deep water as you.
Every once in a while we come across a piece of art so amazing we have to post it rotated in order to ensure that it’s viewable at the largest possible size. In this case, it’s a Japanese promo poster for Jane Russell’s widescreen adventure Underwater!, in which Jane dives in the Caribbean for lost bars of gold, tries on a Cuban accent (which doesn’t fit at all), but wears a red one-piece swimsuit (that conversely, fits quite nicely). The film was the brainchild of Howard Hughes, who specialized in thinking of ways to show off Russell’s breasts. We can only assume he shot bolt upright in bed late one night and cried, “Eureka! I’ll make them float!” He succeeded wildly, but in terms of time and treasure he may have gotten in deeper than he planned, since the film took three years and cost three million dollars. And for all that effort what you get is mostly pretty dull. But if you happen to love Jane Russell, or are particularly adept at suspension of disbelief, then by all means give this one a go. For all its flaws, we must confess we liked it. In addition to the Japanese art, we have below a color 1955 magazine ad, borrowed from Ebay and also apparently exceedingly rare. Underwater! premiered in Japan today in 1955.
Lili St. Cyr was beloved by legions of fans—the question is whether she loved herself.
Today was the day, back in 1999, that the world was deprived of Lili St. Cyr, when she died of heart failure at the age of 80. Her life at the end was quiet—just her and some cats in a modest Hollywood apartment—but during the 1950s she burned up burlesque houses from coast to coast as the most famous, beautiful, and artful exotic dancer in America.
She was born in Minneapolis, but her family moved to Pasadena when she was young. Like many girls from her background, she wanted to be a ballet dancer, and her family paid for lessons. When she was eighteen she accompanied her sixteen-year-old sister on a dance interview, and the agency also took a liking to her. Her first job was at Hollywood’s Florentine Gardens, where she was a chorus girl. But the low pay made her determined to headline, even it meant taking off her clothes. Her nude debut was two years later at The Music Box. Supposedly, her act didn’t go well, but the producer stuck with her because he could see quite clearly what everyone else saw as well—she was one of the loveliest girls who ever set foot on his stage.
It wasn’t until after adopting the pseudonym Lili St. Cyr over her unusual birth name that her career began to blossom. She scored a job in Montreal at the Gaiety Burlesque House, and worked there for seven years, eventually earning $1500 a week. It was during that time that shedeveloped some of her trademark techniques, including working with a cockatiel, and having her g-string snatched off by a fishing line that was invisible to the audience. Burlesque crowds were usually raucous, but St. Cyr, with her sheer grace and insistence upon infusing balletic movements into her routines, more often awed audiences into silence.
By the end of World War II, St. Cyr was famous enough to travel North America as a headliner. After several years of that she moved back to Hollywood in 1951 to take a headlining gig at Ciro’s. By now she was more than simply Lili St. Cyr—she was The Anatomic Bomb. One of her standard Canadian routines was to perform in a transparent bathtub filled with bubbles. The act didn’t go over quite as well in the U.S., and St. Cyr was hauled into court on obscenity charges. But the arrest was an opportunity, and she used the publicity to further burnish her fame. By the time the jury acquitted her after only 80 minutes of deliberation, all of America knew Lili St. Cyr.
At the height of her fame in the mid-1950s, St. Cyr was reportedly earning more than $100,000 a year. With the fame came famous suitors such as Howard Hughes and Vic Damone, but she seems to have married only for love, if one is to judge by the fact that none of her six husbands werecelebrities. With the fame also came the moral watchdogs, those desperate to stop consenting adults from doing what they wished with their own time, and the arrests followed. She was making enough money to afford top legal representation, and she chose the best—Jerry Giesler, who we discussed last June.
Beginning with 1952’s Love Moods, she began to appear in motion pictures, and scored parts in a total of ten, including 1962’s The Naked and the Dead. If that film—which was based upon a Pulitzer Prize-winning Normal Mailer novel—had been a success, St. Cyr might have shifted careers. She had long ago grown tired of burlesque, discussing her desire for a career change as far back as 1957, during a painfully clunky interview with Mike Wallace. But the film was middling, and her performance failed to impress, so she stuck with stripping—the only thing she knew.
In 1959 she attempted suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. The trigger was an argument with her boyfriend at the time, but the suicide attempt wasn’t a surprise, considering her many failed marriages and deep ambivalence about her profession. Her personal life had been something of a shambles for years. There were whispers she’d had several abortions, was addicted to pills and dabbling in heroin. The double-edged nature of fame was made abundantly clear when she landed on the front cover of Confidential. Inside were unflattering photos, including a police mugshot.
As much as the public loved St. Cyr, it was her enemies that seemed to control the direction of her life. Her legal troubles continued, and another marriage went by the wayside. But St. Cyr was nothing if not persistent. By the time she finally retired from burlesque after thirty years, she hadachieved a longstanding goal of establishing herself in another industry by opening a mail order lingerie business similar to Frederick’s of Hollywood. It was called The Undie World of Lili St. Cyr, and her garments were geared toward a male clientele—the idea being that prodding men to give lingerie as gifts was more profitable than trying to appeal to women. St. Cyr was right, and her business became wildly successful, hawking its wares in colorful catalogues that remain collectibles even today. After St. Cyr sold controlling interest in the business, she drifted into a quiet twilight, but, like former nudie queen Bettie Page, experienced a revival during the 1990s. But unlike Page, St. Cyr didn’t appear at conventions and signings—she stayed in her little apartment with her cats.
Most of the sites we visited looking for information on St. Cyr discuss those years of seclusion as if they were an anomaly. But in that 1957 Mike Wallace interview, she confessed that she hated having people look at her. Wallace seemed baffled by this, and for some reason didn’t seem to make the connection that $100,000 a year will go a long way toward helping someone battle stage fright. The idea that she might actually beshy instead took him into a line of questioning during which he flat-out said: “You don’t like yourself very much, do you?” And St. Cyr replied, “No, I don’t.” Asked why, she says, “Perhaps because of what I do.” So it seems clear that St. Cyr was always destined to spend her last years avoiding the limelight. And while it’s safe to say the world certainly missed her, it’s equally safe to say that she probably never missed the world.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
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