Forget it, Jake. It's Tinseltown.
We were poking around the architecture forum skyscraperpage.com and ran across this interesting photo of a billboard advertising the film Chinatown. This was located in Los Angeles at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Marmont Lane, and as you can see it touts the opening of the film today in 1974. We lived on the west side of L.A. for four years, and used to pass this spot occasionally. Marmont Lane winds to the right toward the famed Chateau Marmont Hotel, where luminaries such as Howard Hughes, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean once made the scene, and a couple met their ends, including Helmut Newton and John Belushi.
We knew the intersection was one of the city's most important billboard spots and wondered what else had been advertised there. So we had a look. We expected to find an assortment of examples, but it turns out the locale was so coveted a relative few companies monopolized it. The first was the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, which erected a sign there in 1957, complete with a rotating showgirl and an illuminated marquee listing the headlining acts.
The sheer novelty of the sign helped establish the heavily trafficked intersection as one of L.A.'s go-to spots for promotion, and the sign itself became a landmark. In fact, in 1961 Jayne Mansfield unveiled a Rocky and Bullwinkle statue across the street that was inspired by the Sahara showgirl. It was commissioned by Jay Ward, producer of the television series Rocky and His Friends, for the opening of his office complex.
After the Sahara moved on in 1966 the location was divided into two-tiered advertising. For almost three decades the iconic Marlboro Man towered above the intersection on the higher billboard, first on a horse, and later sans mount. During the time Chinatown was advertised Mr. Marlboro was standing vigil above. The lower location hosted ads for Stroh's and numerous other products, but was a particularly popular home for movie billboards. We found shots of billboards for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Black Sunday, and other popular films of the 1970s.
Tens of thousands of billboards dot the Los Angeles landscape, especially around Hollywood. An uptick of political billboards has some Angelenos considering whether these objects are more akin to visual pollution. They're already illegal in entire U.S. states, including Hawaii and Maine. We always thought they further cluttered an already chaotic landscape, but we imagine they will survive in Los Angeles longer than almost anywhere else in the U.S. Tinseltown is a place where you don't get people's attention unless you scream for it. Nothing screams better than a well placed billboard.
Clothes encounters of the Hollywood kind.
We've been gathering rare wardrobe and hairdresser test shots from the golden era of Hollywood, and today seems like a good day to share some of what we've found. It was standard procedure for all the main performers in a movie to pose for such photos, but the negatives that survive tend to belong to the most popular stars, such as Cary Grant, who you see at right. You'll see Marilyn Monroe more than amply represented below. What can we do? She's possibly the most photographed Hollywood figure ever, and she was beautiful in every exposure. But we've also found shots of a few lesser known stars, such as Giorgia Moll and France Nuyen.
Some of the shots are worth special note. You'll see Doris Day as a mermaid for The Glass Bottom Boat, Liz Taylor as a kid for National Velvet and an adult for Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Farrah Fawcett in lingerie, Sheree North in both front and rear poses, and Yul Brynner looking like an actual man by sporting a body that had to that point seemingly known neither razor nor wax (he ditched the fur for his actual onscreen appearances). Usually the photos feature a chalkboard or card with pertinent information about the production and star, but not always, as in the case of Brynner's photo, and in Audrey Hepburn's and Joan Collins' cases as well. If the names of the subjects don't appear on the chalkboards you can refer to the keywords at bottom, which are listed in order. We may put together another group of these wardrobe shots later.
May Britt is spotted in Triunfo magazine.
The Spanish magazine Triunfo wasn't the most graphically beautiful of magazines, but it did publish rare celeb photos, such as the colorful cover at top of an amazingly freckled May Britt, and the centerspread of Italian star Anna Karina. Elsewhere in the issue are shots from Marilyn Monroe's funeral, Paola de Bélgica's shopping spree, Ava Gardner's bullfight, and Catherine Deneuve's wedding, plus Betsy Drake, Cary Grant, James Dean, and current fashions. We've shared several of those rare Triunfo centerfolds in the past, and they're all worth a look. You can see them here, here, here, and here.
Somebody up there liked him 67 times. And didn't like him 10 times.
These Italian promo posters were made for the drama Lassù qualcuno mi ama, better known as Somebody Up There Likes Me, the rags to riches biopic of boxer Rocky Graziano, who survived a violent father, street gangs and prison to become a world middleweight champion who finished his career with a 67-10 record. If somebody up there liked him, we'd love to hear why he got his ass whipped ten times, but whatever. Paul Newman played the lead in this after intended star James Dean was killed in an auto accident, and the film went on to earn acclaim and win a couple of Oscars for cinematography and art direction. The posters were painted by Renato Casaro, one of the most important mid-century film artists, a man who produced hundreds of masterpieces and was behind this gem and this racy little number. Casaro is still around at age eighty-one and maintains a website detailing his work and career. Lassù qualcuno mi ama was originally released in the U.S. in 1956 and had its premiere in Italy today in 1957
Happiness in Hollywood can be hard to hold onto.
Uncensored gives readers the lowdown on all the Hollywood trysts and splits in this issue published this month in 1962. José Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney apparently broke up—after eight years and five children—over Ferrer's insistence on carrying on extramarital affairs, as was his natural right. At least that's what he thought: “Since the beginning of our marriage he has engaged in a series of affairs with other women,” Clooney is quoted. “I discussed this with him prior to our separation, but he said he couldn't change his way of life.” Apparently the Puerto Rican born Ferrer was old school with the whole machismo thing. But all was not lost between him and Clooney. They married again in 1964 and managed to stay together another three years.
Pivoting to the hook-ups, Uncensored explains how Joan Collins stole hotel heir Nicky Hilton from Natalie Wood, but Robert Wagner stole Collins from Hilton, leading to Natalie Wood stealing Wagner from Collins, and Collins falling into the arms of Warren Beatty. Mixed in with those four are James Dean, Tab Hunter, Lance Reventlow, and Elvis Presley. Or so the magazine says. That's a lot of guys and only two women, but the old tabloids loved to slut shame women while either ignoring or approving the antics of men. For example, Beatty was already known in 1962, after some years in television and with two hit movies behind him, as a bit of a slut, but that's not mentioned here at all. These days, though, he does get a bit of a bad rap. Although you'd have to have the brain of a fourteen-year-old to believe—as many people do—that he's slept with 12,000 women.
Uncensored next gets to Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. It's since been established that the two hooked up, but at the time this magazine was published the pair were generating mere rumors. Why? Because Monroe was flying to Las Vegas regularly and staying in Sinatra's home there. There's no rationale needed for this pairing—beautiful people tend to get together. But the editors actually offer a rationale for Monroe's interest in Sinatra and it's simply amazing: “Monroe is having all kinds of troubles with her studio and would like a man around the house to fight her battles for her.” Huh? That one makes no sense to us. Let's run it through our trusty Mid-Century Tabloid Filter™: Buzz...whirrrr... clickety click... Aha. What Uncensored means is Monroe was so emotionally fragile she had to have a guy around 24/7 to handle angry phone calls. Interesting, but we're still not buying it. Twenty scans below.
Tabloid tells curious readers everything they always wanted to know about things that are none of their business.
The last time we checked in on Top Secret was with their October 1962 issue. Today we’re visiting January 1964 and plenty has changed in the intervening months. Foremost—the paper and printing quality have degraded to what surely must have been the lowest standard available at the time, which is why our scans are grainy. But we can still recognize June Wilkinson on the cover, who we’re told is retiring from modeling, and inside readers hear from Ursula Andress, Jack Lemmon, Brigitte Bardot, Shirley MacLaine, Mandy Rice-Davies and more.
Editors also tout “one of the most earth-shaking advances in the exploration of outer space!” Wow. Was it warp drive? A transporter beam? A stargate? No. It was that America’s newest astronaut, Edward Dwight, Jr., was a different skin color than the other astronauts. We might deign to call that an advance in the attitudes of NASA during an age of state apartheid. Space travel, on the other hand, remained space travel, unchanged. Top Secret implies Dwight was the first black American qualified to be an astronaut, and by so doing avoids admitting that the door was simply closed before his arrival. You know this game—all backslapping, zero introspection. But we get it. “Our First Negro Astronaut!” is a bit more celebratory than, “We should have done this from the beginning.”
But we must move on, because the real gem in this issue comes later, in the story you see announced in the cover’s blazing red banner: Hidden Homos—How To Spot Them! Goodness, where to begin with this? First, we’ll say we would dearly love to reproduce this entire article as an artifact of an intellectual dark age, but it’s Saturday, and time is fleeting. Just know that the language is baroque in its viciousness. Thestory begins with the tale of a company president who unknowingly hired a gay man and had no idea until several years later when the hiree—now a manager—got drunk at a company party and began slapping and scratching another man. Soon four employees were involved in this spat. The company president exclaimed: “My God! Those men are all queers!”
Top Secret explains: “Once the camouflaged homosexual has gotten himself a snug berth, he starts easing others of his ilk into the office. Before long, most of the straight male employees are out on their ears and the camouflaged fags have taken over.” Editors then list the eight most common types of gay men against whom normal, red-blooded Americans must be vigilant (by refusing to hire for any sort of job, potentially harassing out of the neighborhood, and possibly reporting to the authorities). Ready? Here we go with a few highlights:
1: The Overly Fastidious Dresser—obsessive interest in clothes is a feminine trait, and in men it may well be a danger signal.
2: The Overly Hygenic Type—their faces are invariably too-closely shaven. They make a fetish of washing their hands.
3: The Uriah Heep Type—he seeks to prove how very humble and insignificant he is by heaping praise upon others.
4: The Maiden Aunt’s Delight—these men associate with older women because such women make no heterosexual erotic demands upon them.
5: The Solitary Drinker—although he is not gregarious or even friendly, his eyes are constantly roving, covertly peering at others in the bar, particularly other men, seeking a sign of recognition from another secret swish. When he sees one he will give a signal in return and soon both fruitcakes will depart to enjoy a “courtesy exchange.”
6: The Octopus—they put their hands on other men’s shoulders, dig them in the ribs, slap their thighs…
7: The Middle-Aged Mama’s Boy—such an obvious Oedipal situation may indicate homosexual tendencies or homosexuality in adult men of any age, married or single.
8: The Youth Lover—he is constantly engaged in youth work, organizing clubs, leading outings, playing the part of the jolly, ebullient uncle.
It would be interesting to do the opposite of everything on this list and see how long it takes our social, family and sex lives to fall apart. Just a thought. Anyway, Top Secret finishes the article with this bomb: “These are by no means the only types of secret swishes but they are the ones the average person is most likely to encounter.” So basically, the list is all well and good, but anyone can be gay. To which your average non-Neanderthal would reply, “Yes, anyone can be gay. And?” Well, and the editors of Top Secret suggest that anyone displaying suspicious behavior should be investigated more closely. Hmm… we wonder what depth and form those investigations should take? More scans below.
Everybody who was anybody was there.
This photo made today in 1954 shows American singer/actress Abbe Lane posing outside Ciro’s nightclub in West Hollywood, California. Lane had begun in show business as a child actress, but became world famous after she married bandleader Xavier Cugat and began fronting his group as a singer. Although this is a famous photo, one you can find elsewhere on the internet, we thought it was worth posting anyway, not just because of Lane, but because supper clubs like Ciro’s really don’t exist anymore. Ciro’s, which by the way was unrelated to the many famous Ciro’s that existed in Europe during the Jazz Age, from its opening in 1940 to its closing in 1957 was a favorite spot of screen personalities, singers, producers, and writers, a place where the night’s meet-ups and trysts were reported in the next day’s gossip columns. Below you see Lane and Cugat, Charlie Chaplin with Paulette Goddard, Lane onstage fronting Cugat’s rumba band, Cary Grant with Betsy Drake, Lucille Ball with Desi Arnaz, Jr., and others.
The FBI’s ten most wanted.
Above, a mix of ten covers of F.B.I. and F.B.I. Selecciones, published by two Spanish companies, Bruguera and Ediciones Rollán, during the 1960s and early 1970s. Art is by Prieto Muriana and others. Also, you may notice that cover three is modeled after a famous portrait of James Dean, and, though we aren't 100% sure, cover ten, just above, looks like it was based on Monica Vitti.
It was a simple matter of dollars and sense.
Last time we featured Inside Story, we took a detailed look at the contents, concluded that there was good reason it was a strictly blah tabloid, and decided not to buy it again. But that doesn’t mean we can’t cull them from online, so today we have this February 1957 cover that promises to expose “the amazing James Dean hoax.” Make sure you’re sitting down when you read this. The globe-spanning conspiracy Inside Story uncovered is simply that Dean’s posthumous spike in popularity wasn’t entirely due to sincere outpourings of appreciation by fans, but also because of a deliberate, behind-the-scenes publicity campaign by Warner Bros., who had produced his last movie Giant. Warners had decided that, after dropping $5 million on production, they needed a major publicity angle to have any hope of recouping their investment in a movie whose star had been dead a year and a month. The money quote: “Unfortunately, Dean, living again only for the profits of the movie-makers, will never see a dime of that increased gross…” Well, no, because death will tend to put a crimp in one’s personal finances. At least Inside Story published a nice photo, from East of Eden, below. We have two more issues, with lots of scans, and you can see those here and here.
James Dean and his Giant shadow.
The always-wonderful Japanese celeb magazine Screen produced this issue promoting James Dean’s epic drama Giant in January 1956. The film opened the next October, which means the magazine was put together well beforehand. Advance press isn’t unusual, of course, but advance press of this detail in Japan—it didn’t premiere there until nearly a year later in December 1956—suggests just how huge a worldwide star James Dean had become. Sadly, some of that had to do with the fact that he was already dead, killed in a September 1955 automobile crash as Giant was about to wrap. But while nearly all dead celebrities are eulogized as geniuses cut down too soon, Dean is one of the few whose work has actually withstood the test of time. Screen makes room for other stars in this issue, including Audrey Hepburn, who we've posted in panel two. On another note, we’ve shared quite a bit from Screen over the last two years, but if you missed those entries you can see some great covers here, here and here, and see a bit of what's inside here and here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1920—U.S. Women Gain Right To Vote
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified despite heavy conservative opposition. It states that no U.S. citizen can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.
1958—Lolita is Published in the U.S.
Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita, about a man's sexual obsession with a pre-pubescent girl, is published in the United States. It had been originally published in Paris three years earlier.
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
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