Sigh. I feel like an utter fool. This will completely kill my career. I just know it.
Linda Lawson, who danced at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas as one of the famed Copa Girls, poses with a mushroom cloud on her head in her temporary dual capacity as Miss-Cue, a title bestowed by military personnel participating in the nuclear test Operation Cue at the nearby Nevada Test Site in 1955. High winds had caused the the test to be delayed several times, causing clever soldiers to change the name to Operation Miscue. From there it was just a small leap to actually giving the title to a lucky Vegas showgirl.
The above photo was made at the pool at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas during the summer of 1955, and the one at right was made at the same location earlier in the year, with Lawson in a different suit. Hard to know if publicity from getting all mushroom-cloudy helped raise her profile, but in any case she began appearing on television in 1958, and by 1961 had launched a movie career.
So from inauspicious beginnings wearing an oversized tuft of cotton on her head she carved out a résumé of steady work that lasted forty-seven years, which just goes to show that true talent often has a way of overshadowing career sins. All's well that ends well—but we bet she's still mad at her agent. Today Lawson is eighty years old and retired.
She's by far the best ingredient in Flareup but the cocktail still goes flat.
Raquel Welch’s 1969 thriller Flareup might be worth watching for the amazing opening credit sequence, which is good, because you certainly don’t want to watch it for the actual film. Don't get us wrong—anything with Welch in it is worth a glance but this one is really bad. First clue? The theme song, in which Les Baxter backs a cheeseball singer intoning, “Gonna be a flare up… flare up!” Since the intro sequence seems visually inspired by James Bond movies, maybe the idea of using the actual title in the theme song à la Shirley Bassey's “Goldfinger,” or Lulu's “The Man with the Golden Gun,” seemed like a logical next step. Bad idea, though, because the song is laughably terrible.
Immediately after the credits the story opens with that most American of events—an attempted mass killing—as a Vegas go-go dancer is shot in a restaurant by her estranged husband. Welch plays Michele, the victim's friend whose advice helped spawn divorce proceedings. Because of this the husband tries to perforate her as well, never quite managing to get a clear shot as she dodges amongst the restaurant's ferns and potted palms. The husband escapes the scene of the crime and when the police arrive they agree that vengeance will continue to be on his mind and Michele should be extremely careful.
But a girl has to earn a living even if she's the target of a maniac. Even if she's refused police protection for reasons that aren't clear. Even if she works into the wee hours and parks her car in the Plutonian nether reaches of the public lot. So that night she goes to the club and gyratesonstage to the groovy strains of a song called—care to guess?—“Micheeeeele… I like the way you move... I like the way you dance … I like the way you groove… Oh! Micheeeeele… Call your mama… Michele call your papa… I got something to say…. Hey hey hey… hey hey hey…. Heeeeeeeey hey hey hey hey hey hey…” You get the idea.
Welch suffers a near miss from her stalker and at that point skips town for Los Angeles, where she falls into bed with the first guy she meets—the valet at her new go-go club, because valets are well known for pulling the hottest women on the planet. In between enjoying copious helpings of Welch's passionfruit juice the new boyfriend promises to act as bodyguard, but it's Welch herself who must take matters into her own hands and dispatch her tormentor in brutal fashion when he shows up in town.
Everything with this movie is off—script, direction, action, everything. The acting is uniformly horrific too, including from Welch, though she's orders of magnitude better than her co-stars. Put Flareup on around even your dullest friends and they’ll all be shining comedic geniuses by the second act. The script lobs up softball after softball, serious MST3K level material. In fact, hang on, let us check—nope, looks like Mystery Science Theater never spoofed Flareup. Well, they should have.
There are too many great lines and ridiculous moments to enumerate but the one that really got us came at about a hundred minutes when a character asks Welch if she works at the hospital down the road. Welch giggles and says, “Yeah sure—I’m a brain surgeon.” Flareup premiered in New York City in November 1969 and hit Japan today in 1970, where it was called Denjâ, which means "Danger."
, Las Vegas
, Los Angeles
, Raquel Welch
, poster art
, movie review
This ain't exactly her first rodeo.
Since we brought up a buxom burlesque dancer yesterday, we thought a return to the subject was appropriate. Here you see a Technicolor lithograph of Betty Howard, who was aka Betty "Blue Eyes" Howard, but who also called herself The Girl Who Has Everything. And by everything she meant boobs—forty inches worth. Howard was a star by the late 1940s, and hit her stride during the 1950s, dancing all over the U.S. and in Cuba. This particular shot is entitled “Strictly from Vegas,” and we can only assume she was a major presence there at some point. You may remember Howard led off our collection of vintage burlesque dancers back in 2010. If you haven't seen it, or are perhaps up for a revisit, check it here.
Say handsome, if you’re looking for a can to fill, why don’t you try mine?
Above, a cover for The Name of the Game by Champ Thomas for Neva Spicy Library, 1967. The unusual name of the publisher derives from its location in the world capital of sleaze, Las Vegas, Nevada. Uncredited art.
Virginity wasn’t against the law, but topless dancing was—until she came along.
Burlesque dancer Yvonne D’Angers graces the cover of this Midnight published today in 1967. She was born in Teheran, Iran and reached the height of her fame after a 1965 obscenity trial, a government threat to deport her, a publicity stunt where she chained herself to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and a 1966 appearance in Playboy. There’s surprisingly little about her online—not even a measly Wikipedia page. But she was important within her milieu—she was one of four defendants in the aforementioned obscenity trial, along with Carol Doda, Kay Star, and Euraine Heimberg, and the acquittal legalized topless dancing and waitressing in San Francisco. That decision made San Fran the first city in the U.S. where this was the case.
D’Angers’ main haunt was the Off Broadway on Kearney Street, but she also danced at Gigi’s, which was located on Broadway, and she worked in Las Vegas, in addition to touring the U.S. She was married to Off Broadway owner Voss Boreta, and he was her manager, making her part a client list that included Doda and the topless girl-band The Ladybirds. She was also—though this is not often noted—a college graduate anda painter. She billed herself as being naturally endowed, but both she and Doda were said by people who knew them early in their careers to have been worked on by cosmetic surgeons. The above shots of D’Angers, pre-fame, pre-blonde, versus post-fame, 44D, hanging out with Trini Lopez, seem to confirm those stories. Well have more on D’Angers (and Doda) later. Iran
, San Francisco
, Las Vegas
, Yvonne D’Angers
, Carol Doda
, Kay Star
, Euraine Heimberg
, Voss Boreta
, Trini Lopez
First to 21 wins, but since I’m wearing heels you spot me 20, okay?
Above, a nice shot of French dancer, singer and actress Liliane Montevecchi from 1955. Montevecchi was a bigger star on stage than screen, but acted in many films, including King Creole and Meet Me in Las Vegas. The photo is from 1955.
Can a wedding cake predict the future of a marriage?
Burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr cuts a wedding cake with new husband Ted Jordan after marrying him at the El Rancho Vegas hotel in Las Vegas. Jordan was an actor who worked steadily during a long career, appearing regularly on Gunsmoke and other series. He later claimed that his wife once had sex with Marilyn Monroe. Actually, Jordan is the source of many stories about Monroe, having dated her briefly. Most of those stories are described as “dismissed by Monroe’s biographers,” but they’re very interesting and you just never know. We spent some years in Hollywood working in publishing, television and movies, and you’d be surprised how many stories that are “dismissed” are actually true. Anyway, enough about Marilyn—this is Lili’s day. You may notice her wedding cake is a bit unusual. That’s because it’s supposed to be a mushroom cloud in homage to her nickname The Anatomic Bomb. The choice was apt—within two years the marriage was blowing up. A divorce filing took a bit longer, coming in November 1958. But St. Cyr certainly looked radiantly happy at the wedding. That was today in 1955.
If there’s such a thing as the most amazing dress ever made, Carroll Baker wore it.
In the summer of 1964, promoting her movie The Carpetbaggers, American actress Carroll Baker attended a premiere at London’s Plaza Theatre in Piccadilly Circus wearing a $28,000.00 transparent dress from designer Pierre Balmain. She had worn it before at the U.S. premiere in June, which means Londoners had an inkling what they were going to see, but what resulted was, well, a circus. The crowd went nuts and the situation devolved into what some newspapers described as a near riot. The above National Examiner, published today in 1972, features Baker wearing what we noticed was a similar but not identical dress. We got curious where it came from, and so we went looking.
Turns out in late 1964 designer Oleg Cassini, entranced by the Balmain dress, designed a similar version for Baker to wear at a promotional event in Las Vegas. The difference is in the placement of the beading—Balmain’s left a v-shaped peek-a-boo, whereas Cassini’s left a diagonal opening across the chest. You can see the difference below. Cassini had built his version of the dress in Baker’s absence using a model of identical size, but it didn’t really fit because bodies have all sorts of differences, even if their crude numerical aspects are ostensibly the same. Baker endured eighteen precarious hours in a gown that was so tightshe couldn’t shake hands without it shifting to reveal parts she wanted to keep hidden. She later wore the dress—hopefully altered—at a premiere of Cheyenne Autumn, and a photo of her posing with a dozen costumed Native Americans survives today in the Associated Press archives.
But the dress wasn’t finished quite yet. The next year immortal costumer Edith Head designed yet another variation on Balmain’s original for Baker to wear promoting the film Harlow. We don’t know where the previous two gowns went, but the Head version, one of several she put together, survived and has appeared in Hollywood fashion exhibitions as recently as 2003. Baker also wore a Balmain (or Cassini or Edith Head copy) during a 1966 troop tour in Vietnam, and the only reason a full firefight didn’t break out among the GIs the moment she unveiled herself is probably because that version had no cut-outs (right).
Extreme publicity stunts were apparently not unusual for Baker. She considered herself a good actress, but felt that she couldn’t become a star in Hollywood without promoting herself as a sex symbol. “I’ve tried just acting,” she once said, “but sex sells at the box office.” As time wore on, she went from threatening to walk off the set of Station Six—Sahara due to the director pressuring her to appear nude to playing unclothed roles in The Sweet Body of Deborah, Così dolce... così perversa, and Paranoia, as well appearing nude in Playboy and Playmen. Nothing like a shrinking bank account to totally reshape one’s morals. In 1966 AP scribe Doris Klein wrote that Baker was “almost too pretty, too much like a slim teenager to play a sexpot.” But Baker became one of the biggest sexpots in the world. Looking at the 1964 Balmain, and the three to six versions that followed, we’d say it was inevitable. France
, Las Vegas
, Piccadilly Circus
, Station Six—Sahara
, Cheyenne Autumn
, The Sweet Body of Deborah
, The Carpetbaggers
, Così dolce... così perversa
, National Examiner
, Carroll Baker
, Oleg Cassini
, Edith Head
, Pierre Balmain
The eyes have it.
American actress Carole Lombard, née Alice Jane Peters, was known for her screwball comedies, which is why we love her going against type in this smoldering white on black image. Lombard is one of many Hollywood actresses whose time was cut tragically short. She was killed in January 1942 at age thirty-three when a plane in which she was a passenger crashed into Double Up Peak on Potosi Mountain outside Las Vegas.
Two mobsters meet a messy end on the boulevard of broken dreams.
They were known as the Two Tonys—Brancato and Trombino, a pair of wild mobsters out of Kansas City. In May 1951 they robbed the cash room at the mob-controlled Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. They and their three henchmen had been wearing hats, but Tony Brancato lost his mid-robbery, was caught on camera, and from there ended up on the FBI’s most wanted list. Brancato and Trombino were also identified by a mob subordinate who recognized them because he’d been robbed by them in Beverly Hills. The pair were arrested for the Flamingo robbery, but made bail, then promptly headed to Los Angeles. There they shook down a mob bookmaker’s right hand man, which put them on L.A. crime boss Jack Dragna’s most wanted list. But the difference between his list and the FBI’s was that Dragna’s had nothing to do with capture and trial. He ordered the Two Tonys to be killed, and mob shooter Aladena Fratianno, aka Jimmy the Weasel, took on the task. Brancato and Trombino desperately needed money for their legal defense, and Fratianno told them he’d help them take down a high stakes poker game worth $40,000. The Tonys were thrilled and grateful, but the heist was fiction. Instead, in a car on Hollywood Boulevard, Fratianno had two subordinates murder them. The aftermath appears above and below. Today, 1951.
, Kansas City
, Las Vegas
, Flamingo Hotel
, Tony Brancato
, Tony Trombino
, Jack Dragna
, Jimmy Fratianno
, Aladena Fratianno
, Jimmy the Weasel
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