Warning signs only work for those willing to read them.
In the above photo from today in 1951 Margaret Kristy and her teen daughter Helen appear in Los Angeles County Court to testify in the trial of Frank Kristy, who months earlier had shot and killed Betty Jean Hansen, his stepdaughter and Margaret's biolgoical daughter. Betty was twenty at the time, but Frank had been obsessed with her for years and at some point had commenced a sexual relationship with her—described as an affair in contemporaneous accounts, but rape by any sane standard. Margaret discovered what was happening when Frank taunted during an argument, “Well, I'll tell you now, I have screwed her and I intend to keep screwing her as long as she is in the house.” Margaret was stunned but not fully sure it was true. But her daughter confirmed it. During the ensuing argument Betty made her feelings about the situation clear when she declared: “You won't, Daddy. You are not touching me another time."
Margaret and Betty decided to move out. Frank seemed to agree until he realized they intended to take Helen, who was his and Margaret's daughter. Undoubtedly, his consent was a bluff in the first place. Frank's attitude going forward was succinct: “If Betty leaves this house I'll kill her.”
Some sort of detente was reached and the family stayed together, but it was a mistake. After weeks of threats against both Margaret and Betty, Frank finally kidnapped his stepdaughter at gunpoint and drove the two of them away in her car. Margaret, still refusing to believe the situtation was hopeless, thought Frank would cool down, so she didn't call the police—for two days. When she finally did phone the cops a search commenced. Eight days after the kidnapping Betty was found in a ditch, shot through the left temple and in a state of decomposition. Frank was picked up by police in Colorado after someone recognized him from a wanted poster.
Some crimes have no warning signs, but the murder of Betty Hansen seemed inevitable. Not only had Frank raped her and given no hint that he thought it was wrong, but he had even gotten her name tattooed on his shoulder—a strong indication of a man living in a twisted alternate reality if ever there was one. He was also paranoid, verbally abusive, and had specifically talked about buying a gun. The day before the murder Margaret discovered the phone lines to the house had been cut. Still she did not take her daughter and flee. While justice was eventually served when Frank Kristy was sent to prison for life, reading about the murder is like witnessing an avoidable accident, like watching a slasher film where a killer looms but the impending victim thinks the strange noise she hears is the wind. In a horror movie it's never the wind, and in real life a husband's death threat is never empty, or at least should never be treated as such. That's not victim blaming—it's good advice.
One of Rome's foremost celeb photographers gives On the Q.T. the lowdown on his profession.
We managed to buy this issue of On the Q.T. published in July 1963 for seven dollars, which is about the range we prefer for a tabloid that's often overpriced. Inside we found Shirley MacLaine, Melina Mercouri, Elsa Martinelli, Richard Burton and Liz Taylor. As expected the focus is on Hollywood, but in this issue the piece that jumped out at us was an insider's account of the Italian paparazzi lifestyle written by top paparazzo Vito Canessi. He details his techniques for obtaining photos, his legal obligations, and the lengths some paps go to in getting saleable shots.
One of his examples involves taunting a target into a chase: “When French sexpot Brigitte Bardot and her flame of the moment, actor Sammy Frey, were conducting a sizzling romance which ranged across most of Italy, the paparazzi taunted love-hungry but brave Sammy into chasing them. But unknown to Sammy, his furious foot race was being photographed by other paparazzi behind him. It was a hilarious set of pictures of frail Sam, arms swinging and feet churning, zig-zagging through the streets of Rome...”
But sometimes their tactics backfire. Paparazzo Umberto Spragna, a 260-pound giant, tried to shoot photos of the married Burt Lancaster walking in Rome with Italian starlet Beatrice Altariba. “The big photog didn't know it, but Lancaster is quite a man himself. He found himself flying through the air, his camera smashed, and a furious Lancaster punching him liberally. The paparazzo fled the scene. Later he sued the actor for assault. Lancaster simply ignored the action and it was forgotten. That kind of thing gives me cold chills.”
Paparazzi behavior was closely examined—briefly—decades later with the paparazzi-involved death of Princess Diana of Wales. But a look at various celeb videos from recent years reveal the paps to be basically unchanged, as they sometimes taunt celebrities verbally, hoping for photographable retaliation. But one need not feel more than passingly sorry for celebs. Occasional harassment is the price of fame. It may be unpleasant, but it's better than working for a living.
Though paparazzi come under the umbrella of defenders of press rights, with their often malleable ethics they're probably not people you'd have at your dinner table. It often works that way. Rights defenders tend to be either people actually testing the limits of rights, or people negatively affected by forces that would curtail those rights. Either way, they're sometimes outside the social mainstream. But the rights they defend apply to all. Thirty scans below.
Her final answer simply raised more questions.
Above you see two photos of actress Carole Landis, dead on the bathroom floor of her Pacific Palisades home, where she was found today in 1948. She had been dumped by her married lover Rex Harrison the night before, and responded by killing herself with an overdose of prescription medication. She had tried suicide before but had been rescued by friends. This time she took forty Seconal tablets, which leaves little doubt as to her firm intent—one fifth the amount would have killed her. She fell into a coma early in the morning with her head resting on a jewelry box, which is the reason for its elevated position. She also left a note on her dresser for her mother:
Dearest Mommie - I'm sorry, really sorry, to put you through this but there is no way to avoid it - I love you darling you have been the most wonderful mom ever and that applies to all our family. I love each and every one of them dearly - Everything goes to you - Look in the files and there is a will which decrees everything - Good bye, my angel - Pray for me - Your baby
Hollywood suicides are part of the town's lore. Landis's is more remembered than most, not for what Landis did, but for what those around her did. Harrison had been calling her throughout the morning but her maid had told him she wasn't awake. She wasn't going to disturb her employer, so Harrison dropped by himself, entered her bedroom and found Landis non-responsive. He felt her wrist and said he felt a faint pulse, but instead of calling an ambulance rifled through her address book, hoping to call her private doctor and thus keep the disaster under wraps. While he did that, Landis died. After failing to find the number he sought, he went home, called studio head Darryl Zanuck, and set about damage control. The maid, left to deal with the situation, asked a neighbor to call police.
It wasn't unusual for press to have access to death scenes, as we've documented frequently in our Naked City posts. Landis's death photo appeared on the fronts of hundreds of newspapers by the next morning. By then questions had begun to arise. Some said Landis had written a second suicide note that Harrison destroyed. When asked at a coroner's inquest whether there was a note, he said no. Her friend Florence Wasson said there was second note, but it only asked that the cat be taken to the vet because it had a sore paw. The inquest was closed with no new findings, but years later a policeman who had been at Landis's house that day said he had seen a second note addressed to Harrison, and that the cat had seemed in perfect health.
Landis's family claimed Harrison was guilty of murder—and not just for dithering about when he thought he felt a pulse. They claim he killed her outright to keep news of his affair from damaging his career. However, his relationship with Landis was a poorly kept secretm and tabloids were making sly references to it, identifying Harrison and Landis by their initials. Also, Harrison already had a terrible reputation. People behave irrationally in high stress situations, and Harrison made bad moves at every stage, especially when one considers that there was no way he could hope to hide his involvement. But that shows merely cold-hearted concern for himself, and possibly a lack of awareness how near death Landis was. Add it all up and you have one of Hollywood's most storied suicides—one where an act meant to be a final answer left endless questions.
Proceed carefully—ice may occur at major plot points.
The thriller Suspense featured the unusual promo poster you see above, which we think really captures the visual feel of film noir in a way posters more typical of the genre do not. Those posters are amazing, but this one is a nice change of pace. The movie stars Olympic ice skater and sometime magazine model Belita, alongside Barry Sullivan, an incredibly prolific actor who appeared in scores of films. Sullivan plays a hustler who weasels his way up from lowly peanut vendor to fast living impresario at a wildly popular Los Angeles ice skating extravaganza. The catalyst for his ascent is his radical suggestion that Belita leap through a circle of swords. Only in old movies, right? “Hey, that circle of swords gag was a great idea! How'd you like to manage the joint!”
Belita's ice skater is a riff on the standard film noir chanteuse, except instead of doing a few a nightclub numbers she does a few skate routines. She's as good as advertised, too. But the success of any film romance hinges on the chemistry between the boy and girl and here it feels contrived. Both Belita and Sullivan are decent actors, but he's a little too charisma challenged, in our view, to attract someone whose life is going as skatingly as Belita's. But it's in the script, so okay, she likes the schlub. What Suspense does well, though, is visuals. Check out what director Frank Tuttle does late in the film when the shadow of the aforementioned sword contraption appears outside Sullivan's office. Beautiful work, suggesting that karma may indeed be a circle.
On the whole, Suspense uses ice the same way Die Hard uses a skyscraper. The entire film is improved by the freshness of the setting. Add expensive production values and visuals worthy of study in a film school and you have a noir whose many plusses cancel out its few minuses. We recommend it.
As a side note, the ice show is staged in the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, one of the most breathtaking art deco structures ever built, which was of course eventually demolished because that's what they do in Los Angeles. Actually, a fire destroyed it, but only after seventeen years of abandonment which would not have happened if anyone important in the city cared about historically significant architecture. Suspense brings the Pan-Pacific, just above, back to life, and that's another reason to watch it. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
I'm going to stand right here in your personal space and repeat myself until you say yes.
We're supposed to do a screen kiss, but I'm totally gonna slip you some tongue.
Wow, these are razor sharp, but you'll be fine. Unrelated question—how's your insurance coverage?
We'll be fine, officer. My brother has extras we can borrow.
Robbery victims George and Jayne Liberace pose for a photo made today in 1952 showing the only jewelry they have remaining after the burglary of their North Hollywood home. They may not look terribly devastated, but the place was totally ransacked by thieves seemingly clued in to the fact that George had a public appearance scheduled for that evening. As you may be aware, he was the older brother and business partner of Lee Liberace, aka just Liberace, the famed musician and performer, who was also well known for his extensive collection of jewels, which included a 59 pound rhinestone, and a 14K gold and platinum ring set with a marquise diamond. Presumably George hit him up for a loan the next day.
Did the legal system use him as a pawn, or was it the other way around?
Caryl Chessman and a detective named E.M. Goossen appear in the above photo made shortly after Chessman's arrest in January of 1948. Chessman had robbed several victims in the Los Angeles area, two of whom were women that he sexually assaulted. He forced one woman to perform oral sex on him, and did the same to the other in addition to anally raping her. Chessman was convicted under California's Little Lindbergh Law, named after Charles Lindbergh's infamously kidnapped and murdered son. The law specifically covered intrastate acts of abduction in which victims were physically harmed, two conditions that made the crime a potentially capital offense.
The law was intended to prevent deliberate acts of kidnapping and ransom, as had occurred in the Lindbergh case, but Chessman's prosecutors—demonstrating typical prosecutorial zeal—argued that Chessman had abducted one victim by dragging her approximately twenty-two feet, and had abducted the other woman when he placed her in his car, then drove in pursuit of the victim's boyfriend, who had fled the scene in his own vehicle. Chessman was indeed sentenced to death. The Little Lindbergh Law was revised while he was in prison so that it no longer applied to his crimes, but his execution was not stayed.
During his nearly twelve years on death row he authored four bestselling books—Trial by Ordeal, The Face of Justice, The Kid Was a Killer, and Cell 2455: Death Row, the latter of which was made into a 1955 movie. The books, many interviews, and a steady stream of articles fueled public debate about his looming execution. Among those who appealed for clemency were Aldous Huxley, the Rev. Billy Graham, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Frost. Their interest was not wholly about Chessman so much as it was about the issue of the cruelty of the death penalty, which had already been abandoned in other advanced nations.
In the end the campaigning was ineffective, and Chessman was finally gassed in San Quentin Prison. But even dying, he further catalyzed the death penalty debate. The question of whether a capital punishment is cruel and unusual hinges on whether it causes pain. Gas was held by its proponents to be painless. Chessman had been asked by reporters who would be observing his execution to nod his head if he was in pain. As he was gassed, he nodded his head vigorously and kept at it for several minutes. It took him nine minutes to die. That happened today in 1960.
She's not just another brick in the wall.
Above, Los Angeles born actress Helen Luella Kofor, known professionally as Terry Moore, who first appeared on a movie screen in 1940 and has been active ever since, most recently in Merrily, slated to open in late 2017. She also appeared in 1944's Gaslight, 1949's Mighty Joe Young, and dozens of other films. Along the way she was nominated for an Academy Award, became secret spouse to Howard Hughes, and posed for Playboy at age fifty-five, looking just fine, too. All in all, Moore is a unique character. The above shot of her is from around 1955.
They're hoping for a Cinemiracle.
The above photo shows two hopefuls backstage about to compete for the title of Miss Cinemiracle, which was bestowed by the Los Angeles Press Photographer's Association in a pageant held at the National Theatre. We have no idea who the two women are or what they did once taking the stage, but we do know what Cinemiracle was—a film projection system designed to compete with Cinerama. The winner of the Miss Cinemiracle title, who ended up being Merlene Marrow, gained a measure of recognition—always invaluable for those hoping to break into show business—and in return helped publicize the projection process at public appearances. You see Marrow doing exactly that below, standing next to other pageant winners and actor James Garner. Eventually, Cinerama bought the patents for Cinemiracle and brought the competing format to an end. Anyway, these images struck us and we wanted to share them. The one above was made today in 1958, and the one below was made later the same year.
Bank heist goes every which way except the right way.
This year's Noir City Film Festival opens with the 1949 heist drama Criss Cross. Based on a bestselling novel of the same name by Don Tracy, it's the story of man played by Burt Lancaster who returns to Los Angeles after some years away to find that his ex-wife Yvonne De Carlo has hooked up with a local gangster. The exes rekindle their flame, but when it looks as if the gangster has caught them in the act Lancaster spontaneously cooks up a story about how he was putting together a plan to rob the armored car service for which he works.
Lancaster's robbery idea is not only designed to deflect the gangster's suspicion away from the affair, but to also fund the future he envisions with De Carlo when she and him run away. This scheme, which strains credulity, is probably one of the most obviously terrible ideas in the long, celebrated history of doomed ideas in film noir, but with good direction by Robert Siodmak, who had worked with Lancaster on The Killers, and good acting by all involved, the film concludes on the positive side of the effectiveness ledger. Numerous excellent Los Angeles exteriors, including at Union Station and on now mostly leveled Bunker Hill, make this noir an important time capsule as well, an aspect that increases its appeal. And an excellent musical number by Esy Morales & His Rhumba Band gives the proceedings a further boost. All in all, Criss Cross is a winner.
Sorry about your face. My aim isn't so good with this thing.
Give a girl a whip and you'll find out who's the boss. Luisita is about a Mexican girl living in nowheresville whose beauty brings her both opportunities and problems. After a run of bad luck in her home town she moves to Los Angeles and eventually lands a job in a massage parlor. There she learns how depraved men really are, but also how easy they are to manipulate, and of course she uses to this new knowledge to try and get herself a piece of the pie. Basically, it's one of those books that's supposed to expose a shocking subculture, but it has the added bonus of pretending to offer insights about an entire ethnic group. However, the racism subplots are probably accurate. Loomis later went on to write House of Deceit and The Marina Street Girls. The excellent art on this is by Robert Maguire and the copyright is 1954.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
1947—HUAC Hearings Begin
The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its investigation into Communist infiltration of Hollywood, resulting in a witch hunt that destroys lives, ruins careers, and makes Senator Joseph McCarthy the most feared politician of the era.
1968—Jackie Kennedy Marries
Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy marries Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The marriage comes as a total surprise to the American public, and results in a terrible backlash against her and also makes her the number one target of paparazzi for years.
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