I know I shouldn't laugh, but I never realized you even had a heart.
In the 1952 crime thriller One for Hell trouble comes to the fictional West Texas oil town of Breton and it arrives by train. Author Jada M. Davis tells the readers this with strong style, as various characters around town hear a sound portentous of approaching calamity but which they don't yet recognize as such. Davis writes in chapter three, “Far off, faint but clear, a train whistle mourned the passing of the night. Whoo-ooo-ooo, whoo-ooo-ooo, whooooo...”
Chapter four starts this way: The mayor heard the whistle, the whoo-ooo-oooing, shrilly whoo-ooo-oooing whistle, and sat up in bed.
Chapter five opens with this: Chief Bronson heard the whoo-ooo-oooing, whoo-ooo-OOO, whoo-ooo-oooing of the train and was glad morning was on its way.
And chapter six opens: The train whistle sounded fuzzy and dreamy to Laura Green, the whoo-ooo-ooo, whoo-ooo-ooo, whooooo-oooing-oooing lonesomely lonely and by itself.
Yes, trouble has arrived in the form of a man so bad he'll turn even the most corrupt town west of the Mississippi River upside down. He's a man who has no limits to how much he'll lie, what he'll steal, and who he'll hurt. He's a thief and a grifter. When he stumbles into a position of authority there's no thought of playing it straight. The trust he's given just means more opportunity to do wrong.
We suspect Jada Davis identified a bit with his creation, because like the author, his lead character has a name that sounds like it belongs to a woman—Willa. And he has an attitude about it, as a couple of characters find out when they comment on the fact. Willa robs stores, frames the innocent, beats women, and worse. He's racist, sexist, and destructive in ways most ’50s crime novel bad guys can't even touch. Nature or nurture? It's impossible to know.
All in all One for Hell is an effectively dark piece of entertainment, but not for the faint of heart in these days when the difference between depicting evil and endorsing it seems ever harder for people to discern. This edition came from Red Seal and it has cover art by John Floherty, Jr., who was active throughout the 1940s and 1950s. We featured another one of his covers not long ago, and you can see that here. We'll see if we can dig up more down the line.
The Lowdown has the scoop on a fantastic plastic.
Today we're back to tabloids with an issue of The Lowdown published this month in 1962. The cover features Bob Hope goofing around, Elizabeth Taylor looking serious, Kim Novak nuzzling, and a random naked party girl randomly partying naked. Inside the issue are stories on Hope getting the hots for trans star Coccinelle in a French nightclub, Novak raking a series of suitors over the coals, and baseball players succumbing to greed. So much material in these tabloids, and so little time to highlight a story or two. But forced to make a choice, we're opting to discuss a piece on something called Scoobeedoo. How can we not? We all remember the cartoon, and now this story seemed guaranteed to tell us where the name of the legendary dog came from. We never knew we wanted to know that. But when we saw the word Scoobeedoo we realized, yes, we want to know.
Lowdown describes Scoobeedoo as a craze and a do-it-yourself gimmick. Apparently, it was popularized when French singer Sacha Distel wrote a 1958 song of the same name. But he didn't invent it—he just sang about it. The actual thing was invented by a French plastics company and called Scoubidou. It was basically a spool of brightly colored plastic cord that could be woven or tied to make—well, whatever you wanted. Youcould make lampshades, baskets, placemats, keychains. A California man famously used it to make bikinis. We imagine it would work for household repairs, light sexual bondage, whatever you needed it for. The stuff was as popular as the hula hoop for a while. Apparently figures in the electrical industry even complained that a shortage of wiring insulation was due to Scoubidou because it used the same type of plastic.
Readers above a certain age will already know about all this, of course, but we had no idea. We weren't around back then. And that, succinctly, is why we maintain this website—because we learn about a past we never experienced. But surprisingly Scoubidou isn't just the past. It apparently still exists. It even has a Wikipedia entry with examples of the many things you can make (but no bikinis). So this was a very informative issue of The Lowdown, all things considered. The only thing we're bummed about is that our Scoubidou research provided no actual confirmation that the cartoon dog Scooby-Doo got his name from the toy. But he had to, right? Maybe a reader has the answer to that. In the meantime we have more than twenty scans below for your enjoyment and other issues of The Lowdown you can access by clicking the magazine's keywords at bottom.
Update: a reader does have the answer. One of you always does. J. Talley wrote this:
The series was originally rejected by CBS executives, who thought the presentation artwork was too frightening for children and that the show must be the same. CBS Executive Fred Silverman was listening to Frank Sinatra's “Strangers In The Night” (with the scatted lyric “dooby-dooby-doo”) on the flight to that ill-fated meeting. After the show was rejected, a number of changes were made: the Hanna-Barbera staff decided that the dog should be the star of the series instead of the four kids, and renamed him Scooby-Doo after that Sinatra lyric. The spooky aspects of the show were toned down slightly, and the comedy aspects tuned up. The show was re-presented, accepted, and premiered as the centerpiece for CBS's 1969-1970 Saturday Morning season.
Thanks, J. That's another hole in our historical knowledge successfully filled in. Is it any surprise Sinatra was involved somehow? That guy really got around.
Have you ever considered the possibility that it's just a penis substitute offering psycho orgasmic relief for self esteem inadequacies?
Leave it to a woman to overcomplicate things. Sometimes a gun is just a plain old penis substitute. Dan Cushman's 1953 novel Jungle She features plenty of those, as his franchise man's-man Frisco Dougherty helps an escaped “half caste” damsel in distress return to the locale of her captivity on a Borneo plantation and to try and steal the tyrannical owner Van Hoog's hidden fortune. That's supposed to be her in John Floherty, Jr.'s cover art, and if you're thinking to yourself she looks inclined to use the gun on Frisco, well—spoiler alert—she actually does shoot him, but he survives to confront Van Hoog in a vertiginous rope bridge climax. If you want to buy any of Cushman's jungle adventures you'll probably find them expensive—up to $100 for this one. But be patient. We also saw it for eight bucks.
The film stars a Barker—and that's also a good description of this dog.
This poster, which you will see when you scroll down is two sided, folded into four panels, was made for Battles of Chief Pontiac, a film starring Lex Barker in a story of war between the French and British over what is now the vicinity of Detroit, Michigan. Within this larger fight, Ottawa tribes mount a resistance against the occupying British and their German, or Hessian, mercenaries. This resistance is seriously hampered after the Ottawa are suckered into a peace parlay, then deliberately given blankets infected with smallpox. Treachery much, paleface? Why, yes, all the time.
Throughout all the battles and betrayals hero Lex Barker—the only noble white character—speaks in a neutral American accent that didn't exist 200 years ago, while the supporting white players do their best evil nazi and pompous Brit dialects. This is a nice little trick, portraying all the bad guys as essentially foreign. Never mind that the U.S. is made up of descendents of those colonists, and Barker's character is a colonist too. In cinematic terms it's a deft, almost subliminal job of blame shifting. That the film also showed overseas, where accents would have been lost on audiences, thus making it play more like a broad indictment of colonial expansionism, is an irony.
Until we shared today's poster there was never any indication anywhere online that Battles of Chief Pontiac played in Japan, but the evidence is clear in this butterscotch promo—which is far more artistic than the film. Yes, this Barker vehicle is a total dog. Avoid it, except for its comedy potential—that is, if watching pasty white guys in brown shoe polish is funny. Battles of Chief Pontiac premiered in the U.S. today in 1952, and according to the poster, hit Japan in 1956. You see the right half of the front side, and the entire rear just below.
Yes, dear, I replaced my flirtatious young assistant with a white-haired older lady, just like you wanted me to.
Above, another entry in the office sleaze genre—B. J. Gillan Jr.'s Office Playgirl, from Newsstand Library, 1960. We've included the rear cover so you can get the gist of it yourself. The art is uncredited,
You really want to turn me on? Try helping with the laundry.
“A lusty novel about Florida crackers,” the cover bluntly proclaims, but the crackers actually originate from Mississippi, which they've had to leave in disgrace after a preacher becomes the source of a scandal. In Florida he takes up his dubious ways while his son gets into woman trouble of his own. Author Charles H. Baker, Jr. wins extra points for his usage of the word “ho,” a tricky term, with so much encompassed by its single syllable, and which we've discussed in detail before.
Dell Publications pioneered the usage of mapbacks, which you probably know, but sometimes the company deviated from that tradition and this book is a very nice example. Just take a look at the amazing rear cover below. The front was painted by Victor Kalin, the back presumably by some under-appreciated in-house artist, and the whole shebang was published in 1951.
Don't hate the dealer. Hate the game.
Did you know the main character in Super Fly is named Priest? Over time he's become known as Superfly, but in the film the term comes up only once—when someone says to Priest, “You always got some super fly shit!” He's referring to cocaine. Priest is a drug dealer, but he wants out and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. This is one of the better blaxploitation flicks. Ron O'Neal's Priest is tough but three-dimensional, showing vulnerability, confusion, even desperation. Dynamic if uneven direction from Gordon Parks, Jr. and a propulsive soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield help put the whole concept over. In fact, after you watch the movie, you should listen to the album, particularly the sparkling, “Give Me Your Love,” which we think is one of the most immaculately constructed soul tunes ever written. Super Fly premiered in the U.S. in the summer of 1972 and opened in Japan today in 1973.
Making a killing at the track is harder than they think.
Tonight the Noir City Film Festival is also screening Stanley Kubrick's 1956 crime procedural The Killing. The title refers not to murder but to making a killing—i.e. a highly profitable score. Sterling Hayden leads a cast that includes Coleen Gray, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Marie Windsor. Hayden and crew hope to rob a race track, and to do this they lay out a precise plan that includes causing a brawl at the track bar as one distraction, and shooting a horse mid-race as another. What could go wrong, right? But the crazy plan makes sense, and if you have trouble following it a stentorian narration breaks down the action for you. We didn't mind that so much—the entire premise of the movie is that it's a faux-documentary, so the voiceover is something you have to accept. But the trumpets and tympani on the soundtrack—wow—are way overcooked. Still, this is a nice piece of noir, occasionally running on parallel timelines, with plenty of directorial style from a twenty-eight-year-old Kubrick. Some might take issue with the film's heavyhanded irony, but it's all somewhat redeemed by the perfection with which Hayden delivers his final line. The Killing didn't do well at the box office, however as often happens with films from directors who later become icons, opinions have shifted over the decades. But even if modern day critics are in agreement that The Killing is a top effort, it still won't be everyone's cup of tea. You'll just have to judge for yourself.
Sherwood be nice to enjoy the same good fortune she did.
American actress Gregg Sherwood pretends to have been caught mid-change in her dressing room in this photo from around 1950. If you look up Sherwood anywhere on the internet you're almost as likely to see her described as a socialite. Though she had a reasonably active showbiz career and had appeared in movies, on stage, and in magazines, she gained her socialite status by marrying rich—in her case automotive heir Horace Dodge, Jr. At the time she was thirty and he was fifty-three. The couple indulged lavishly, appeared in the society pages, and generally lived the high life, but finally hit the rocks in 1961. Dodge initiated divorce proceedings but died in 1963 before the split became final. Because of this Sherwood inherited $11 million, which would be $85 million and change in today's money. We have a feeling she led an even more lavish lifestyle from that point forward, and really who would blame her? As her husband proved, you can't take it with you. We have another photo of Gregg we found inside a 1947 issue of Police Gazette, and you can see that here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1931—Nevada Approves Gambling
In the U.S., the state of Nevada passes a resolution allowing for legalized gambling. Unregulated gambling had been commonplace in the early Nevada mining towns, but was outlawed in 1909 as part of a nationwide anti-gaming crusade. The leading proponents of re-legalization expected that gambling would be a short term fix until the state's economic base widened to include less cyclical industries. However, gaming proved over time to be one of the least cyclical industries ever conceived.
1941—Tuskegee Airmen Take Flight
During World War II, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, aka the Tuskegee Airmen, is activated. The group is the first all-black unit of the Army Air Corp, and serves with distinction in Africa, Italy, Germany and other areas. In March 2007 the surviving airmen and the widows of those who had died received Congressional Gold Medals for their service.
1906—First Airplane Flight in Europe
Romanian designer Traian Vuia flies twelve meters outside Paris in a self-propelled airplane, taking off without the aid of tractors or cables, and thus becomes the first person to fly a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. Because his craft was not a glider, and did not need to be pulled, catapulted or otherwise assisted, it is considered by some historians to be the first true airplane.
1965—Leonov Walks in Space
Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov leaves his spacecraft the Voskhod 2 for twelve minutes. At the end of that time Leonov's spacesuit had inflated in the vacuum of space to the point where he could not re-enter Voskhod's airlock. He opened a valve to allow some of the suit's pressure to bleed off, was barely able to get back inside the capsule, and in so doing became the first person to complete a spacewalk.
1966—Missing Nuke Found
Off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean, the deep submergence vehicle Alvin locates a missing American hydrogen bomb. The 1.45-megaton nuke had been lost by the U.S. Air Force during a midair accident over Palomares, Spain. It was found resting in nearly three-thousand feet of water and was raised intact on 7 April.
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