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.
There's no doubting Thomas.
Burlesque dancer Jeannie Thomas worked mostly in Las Vegas and adopted the persona Princess Little Branch, aka the Goddess of Fire, complete with full Native American regalia, as you see above. There's basically no information out there about her beyond what we've just provided. She claimed to be half Cherokee, but of course Native American ancestry is claimed by many but provable by few. We'll take her at her word, though. Year on the photos? Best guess—1965.
I'm in charge now. And the king's whole snake obsession? Let's just say it was a case of overcompensation.
Above, the front and rear covers of King of Snakes written in 1968 by Newton Wilde and published by Spotlight Books, a sister imprint of Las Vegas based Neva Paperbacks. The art is Stantonesque but it isn't him. It's uncredited.
Lili St. Cyr and a side of El Rancho undressing.
These three very nice promotional postcards featuring legendary burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr were put out by the El Rancho Vegas casino-hotel in Las Vegas, an establishment that was one of the city's first, predating iconic places like the Flamingo and the Last Frontier. St. Cyr peeled at El Rancho Vegas beginning in 1951, and these items were issued over the next several years as she returned to showcase there often. The rear of these are basically identical, which is why we've uploaded only one image below. You can see it has impresario Tom Douglas's signature on it, and management offers to shell out a few pennies by mailing it for you. Class acts all the way. And speaking of class acts, you can see plenty more of St. Cyr in the website. Just click her keywords below.
St. Cyr tells all for the cheapie tabloid Midnight.
This Midnight published today in 1964 has the usual clickbait on the front cover—I Ripped My Baby To Pieces. Why? Because she hated her husband. Very interesting, but today we're drawn to the banner and Lili St. Cyr's “Torrid Life Story,” in which, for the most part, she talks about her sexual attitudes. The interior header screams that she seduced a 14-year-old boy, and that's again the equivalent of today's internet clickbait. St. Cyr was sixteen herself, which is an age difference we'd hardly call scandalous. The clickbait worked, though. It made us quite eager to read the story. It's written in first person and touted as a Midnight exclusive.
Ordinarily we'd be skeptical a cheapie tabloid could score an exclusive with a world famous celebrity, but in this case we think Midnight is telling the truth. We have a few reasons: Midnight was a Canadian rag, headquartered in Montreal; St. Cyr was from Minnesota, but spent her early years dancing in Montreal; and Midnight was too well known a publication to get away with lying about the source of the story. Thus we can be sure St. Cyr wrote the piece. She eventually authored an autobiography in French, which makes us suspect she wrote this article for the Canadian Midnight—which was called Minuit—and it was translated and printed in the U.S. later. Just a guess. It was apparently part of a series, by the way, but we don't have the other issues of Midnight. Now on to the juicy stuff.
On virginity: “When you have it you try like hell to keep it. You lose it with an unconscious sigh of relief, and once you've lost it you wonder why you tried so hard to keep it in the first place.”
On her first: “Right now, as I write these lines, [all I] can recall about him is that he was blonde and his first name began with an R. As a matter of fact, I don't remember any of my first intimate boyfriends.”
On her others: “I've been called a child snatcher dozens of times because that is the way I like my men. I can't help it.”
On Hollywood star Victor Mature: “One bad thing about Vic though. Liquor and sex just don't mix for him. If he makes love, he's got to be cold sober or he can't perform.”
On Las Vegas: “There is something dead and decadent about the town. It builds to nowhere. It accomplishes nothing. And the people in it are infected with this live-for-today attitude.”
Those are the highlights. Except that readers also get three photos with the article. We already shared a much better version of one of those way back in 2009. The other two are in this post—the shot of St. Cyr as a child, when she was still Willis Marie Van Schaack, and the one below of her in goddess mode. Midnight was printed on cheap-ass paper, but the scans still look pretty good. Willis Marie's tale is interesting too. She was ahead of her time. What she writes could have been written by a character on Girls. It's impossible for us to not respect her boldness and determination to have exactly the life she wanted, particularly during the age in which she lived. We have plenty on St. Cyr in the website. Just click her keywords below.
All right guys, new rules—I've decided to speed this process up by taking you two at a time.
You're familiar with the Mann Act, right? Basically, it's a law that forbids transporting any female across state lines for debauched purposes. Generally, it was applied to men who had sex with underage girls, but not always. In One by One, the hero drives a dancer named Dolly Dawn from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and has sex with her, whereupon she threatens to call police and have him prosecuted under the Mann Act if he doesn't continue to indulge and take care of her. The action revolves around his repeatedly thwarted efforts to extricate himself from her sticky web. One very interesting aspect of the book is that it's a period piece, set nineteen years before its 1951 publication date. Also, if you're looking at the cover blurb and thinking “less morals” sounds weird, you're right that it's grammatically off. Morals is a plural noun, so you'd have fewer morals, not less. We imagine the editors knew that and wrote the blurb colloquially to connect with the reading audience. It probably didn't matter, because the cover art alone pretty much sells this book. But it's uncredited, which is a shame.
Nightbeat shines a light into the darkest reaches of American vice.
This issue of Nightbeat which hit newsstands in December 1957 is the first ever published—and possibly the last. We've seen no hint of another one. That would make it probably both the best debut and finale by any mid-century tabloid. The magazine focuses entirely on call girls, delving into their activities in cities such as Washington, D.C., Hollywood, and Miami Beach. Shame is the name of the game here—there are many photos of arrested prostitutes hiding from the camera, many actual names revealed, and in the Hollywood section many of those names belong to celebrities.
Among the major and minor stars covered are Ronnie Quillen, an actress-turned-hooker-turned madame, who after years in the trade was beaten to death in 1962. Patricia Ward, aka The Golden Girl of Vice, makes an appearance. She was turned out by her boyfriend Minot Jelke, who was heir to a margarine fortune but had fallen on hard times and decided he needed to use his girlfriend'a body to survive. Actress Lila Leeds is covered. She's best known today for being the other party snared in Robert Mitchum's drug bust. Most sources today don't mention that she went on to be arrested in Chicago for soliciting.
The magazine also touches on Barbara Payton. Back in 1957 it was already known that she sold her wares, but she's unique in that we now know what it was like to have sex with her, thanks to Scotty Bowers, who revealed in his 2012 Flickertown tell-all Full Service that for a while Payton was the top call girl in town, and added this tidbit: “I have to say that a half hour with her was like two hours with someone else. She was electrifyingly sexy and made a man feel totally and wholly satisfied.”
The details keep coming for more than sixty pages in Nightbeat. One unlikely character is Lois Evans Radziwill, née Lois Olson, who is better known as Princess Radziwill. Info on her is actually a bit scarce, especially considering she was a princess. She was born in North Dakota, sprouted into a six-foot beauty, and married Polish royal Prince Wladislaw Radziwill in 1950. By 1951 she was divorced and running with the Los Angeles fast set. Nightbeat says she was arrested under suspicious circumstances—check the photo at right—but we can find no official confirmation of that anywhere.
However, according to a couple of non-official sources she became addicted to drugs, pawned most of her possessions, and eventually turned to prostitution in New York City, selling herself on the streets of Harlem—at least according to one account. We'll stress here that these are third party claims from blogs and we're merely collating and reporting them. We make no assertions as to their accuracy or truthfulness. In fact, let's just say they're all lying. We don't want to get sued again. Did we mention Pulp Intl. got sued a while back? That's when you know you've really arrived. We kind of thought being based way out in the Philippines would discourage that sort of thing—but no. We'll get into that some other time maybe.
Anyway, Nightbeat is an amazing magazine. It's possible there was never another issue put together. The first one would have been such a tough act to follow. But the masthead designation Vol. 1 issue 1 seems to indicate others were planned, so maybe there are more out there somewhere. This was really a great find for us. It's going for fifty dollars on Ebay right now, but we got ours for five as part of a group of ten other excellent magazines, including this one. We intend to hold onto Nightbeat for a long time. It's a dirty treasure. We have nineteen interior scans below.
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.
Sometimes in show business you need to make sure to cover your ass.
This lovely photo shows Doris Mitchell, a New York City showgirl and singer who was a member of Nils Thor Granlund's NTG Revue, a chorus line that was the first of its kind in Las Vegas, originating in 1943 at the El Rancho Hotel and Casino. The NTG Revue eventually came to New York City, where Mitchell presumably joined. But reviews were mixed, with some critics liking it, but a Variety scribe noting Granlund's habit of slapping the chorus girls on their asses, to which they rolled their eyes and drawled scripted quips like, “Ain't he a card?” Granlund was uncouth, but he was also famous and wealthy, so he got away with it. Sound like anyone you know? As far as Mitchell herself, this photo seems to be the only evidence of her career that exists.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
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