Spare the rod, spoil the child.
We ran across this West German poster for Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce, and realized we had a substantial gap in our film noir résumé. So we watched the movie, and what struck us about it immediately is that it opens with a shooting. Not a lead-in to a shooting, but the shooting itself—fade in, bang bang, guy falls dead. These days most thrillers bludgeon audiences with big openings like that, but back in the day such action beats typically came mid- and late-film. So we were surprised by that. What we weren't surprised by was that Mildred Pierce is good. It's based on a James M. Cain novel, is directed by Michael Curtiz, and is headlined by Joan Crawford. These were top talents in writing, directing, and acting, which means the acclaim associated with the movie is deserved.
While Mildred Pierce is a mystery thriller it's also a family drama revolving around a twice-married woman's dysfunctional relationship with her gold-digging elder daughter, whose desperation to escape her working class roots leads her to make some very bad decisions. Her mother, trying to make her daughter happy, makes even worse decisions. The movie isn't perfect—for one, the daughter's feverish obsession with money seems extreme considering family financial circumstances continuously improve; and as in many movies of the period, the only black character is used as cringingly unkind comic relief. But those blemishes aside, this one is enjoyable, even if the central mystery isn't really much of a mystery. Solange ein herz schlaegt, aka Mildred Pierce opened in West Germany today in 1950.
This is not a homicidal glare. This is a homicidal glare.
Above, two borderline scary promo photos of Joan Crawford made when she was shooting the film noir Mildred Pierce, a movie that, embarrassingly, represents a gaping hole in our film watching résumé. We'll take care of that soon. These images are from 1945.
Italian master’s genius spanned decades.
Back in August we showed you a poster from Luigi Martinati, who worked from 1923 to 1967, and said we'd get back to him. Below, seven more great promotional pieces with his distinctive signature on each.
To Have and Have Not
On the Waterfront
Phantom of the Rue Morgue
The Wrong Man
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.
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.
When you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you.
The gent with the enormous smile here is Joe E. Brown, one of America’s most famous comedian-actors during the 1930s and 1940s, seen on the cover of Het Weekblad (The Weekly), which was a popular celeb-cinema magazine published in the Netherlands for many years. This issue, which is numbered 620, hit newsstands today in 1935. Inside are interesting photos of Shirley Temple, Winifred Shaw, Ruby Keeler, a very nice ink drawing of Joan Crawford by Arturo Sanchez, and more. Scans below.
The Golden Age is any age that seems better than the one you're in.
Yet another piece of the treasure trove we picked up in Denver last year, This Was Hollywood is a compendium of anecdotes and photos from the supposed Golden Age of Hollywood. We say “supposed” because the magazine was printed in 1954, and at that time the 1920s and 1930s were the Golden Age. Today of course, the Golden Age is considered to run from the 1920s all the way to the early 1960s, and we can only assume that eventually the ’70s and ’80s will be considered part of the Golden Age, and we’ll all be sitting around saying how they don’t make movies like C.H.U.D. anymore.
This Was Hollywood was put together by Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, the guy many say coined the term “Oscar” to refer to the Academy Award statuette. This particular issue of This Was Hollywood has about 80 pages, so moving forward we’ll be posting them a few at a time. Today we have five images—the front and back covers, plus three pages of shots of John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Dolores Costello. Much more from this publication later.
The fact that she’s not even a real blonde is the least of her surprises.
Austrian writer Vicki Baum, née Hedwig Baum, is probably best known for her 1929 novel Menschen im Hotel, which became the smash Greta Garbo/John Barrymore/Joan Crawford movie Grand Hotel. Mortgage on Life, which was originally called Verpfändetes Leben, came in 1946, and tells of a show business love triangle set in Manhattan against the backdrop of Times Square and Broadway. We’ve never seen this particular cover for the book, which is why we’re sharing it, but it’s uncredited, sadly.
Even southern girls get the blues.
You know we like to share these pulp style covers certain publishing houses cooked up for reprints of serious pieces of literature. Today, it’s William Faulkner’s turn, and the subject is his 1931 novel Sanctuary, which Signet released in 1950 with this cover. Sanctuary was Faulkner’s fifth book and first success, but he wasn’t particularly fond of it, dismissing it as commercial claptrap written purely for financial reasons. If that was truly his intention, it seems like leaving out all the depravity and violence would have been a better way to go about it. In any case, critics did not consider the book lightweight in the least, and a central rape scene involving a corncob understandably generated quite a bit of controversy. When the book was adapted into a 1933 movie entitled The Story of Temple Drake starring Miriam Hopkins, the corncob was removed, but the film still caused a stir and helped bring about the introduction of the Hays Code—the censorship doctrine that predated the establishment of the MPAA. In 1961 Sanctuary was adapted again, and this time not only was the corncob removed, but a sizeable chunk of Faulkner’s original plot. Despite his professed distaste for commercialism, Faulkner had by then worked on dozens of movie projects. He wrote screenplays for To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, and also became a sought after script doctor, massaging projects like Mildred Pierce, The Southerner and Gunga Din. We have a collection of posters from some of his projects below. If you’ve neglected to see any of these films, we highly recommend them and, of course, his novels are well worth a read.
No indiscretion was too small for Confidential.
Above is a January 1957 Confidential with Joan Crawford in the spotlight and Elvis in the wings. The Crawford story involves her playing cougar with a boytoy bartender. She’d call, or have an assistant call, and he’d drop everything, scurry over to her house, and be seen leaving the next morning. Pretty salacious claim, but of course, the bartender is never named and so the story is impossible to prove. The Elvis article is in a similar vein. Basically, Presley signed an autograph on a girl’s bare skin, and she ended up going home with him. The next morning the girl called a friend to have the signature photographed before she showered it off.
You can get a sense from these two pieces just how extensive Confidential’s network of spies was, and who they were—cabbies, switchboard operators, busboys, mailmen, and doormen. You can also, if you imagine yourself as a movie star, get a sense of how paranoid Hollywood players must have been. Every misstep—no matter how small—was splashed across Confidential’s pages.
For a while, the stars simply hoped against hope they could stay under the radar, but eventually they went on the offensive and ran Confidential into the ground with lawsuits. But in 1957, the magazine was still at the height of its power, selling millions of copies and being read secondhand by millions more who were too prim to be seen buying a scandal sheet. Confidential’s actual circulation may have been quadruple its sales figures. Humphrey Bogart said it best: “Everybody reads it but they say the cook brought it into the house.”
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
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