Screenland was one of the earliest and biggest cinema magazines.
Actress Claire Windsor appears on the front of this October 1923 issue of Screenland magazine, one of the U.S.’s most venerable celeb publications, launched in Los Angeles in 1920 and surviving, under the control of several owners, until finally folding in 1971. The beautiful cover was painted by Rolf Armstrong, and within the magazine’s sprawling 108 pages are Gloria Swanson, Rodolph (aka Rudolph) Valentino, Phyllis Havers, and many other personalities, plus art from John Held, Jr. and writing from Delight Evans and Robert E. Sherwood. You can download your own copy of this here. Los Angeles
, Claire Windsor
, Alma Rubens
, Nita Naldi
, Phyllis Haver
, John Held Jr.
, Robert E. Sherwood
, Gloria Swanson
, Rudolph Valentino
, Natacha Valentino
, Winifred Shaughnessy
, Mae Murray
, Rex Ingram
, Alice Terry
, Martha Mansfield
, Rolf Armstrong
, Delight Evans
, magazine art
Did she or didn’t she?
These two photos showing burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr were shot today in 1951 for a Los Angeles Examiner story about St. Cyr’s legal difficulties. On 23 February of that year she had begun performing at Ciro’s supper club in Hollywood. It was a different type of club for her—it lacked the intimacy of her normal venues, and would sap some of the heat from her act, but the place was world famous and considered by the smart set to be classy. It had hosted Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Duke Ellington, and Dinah Washington. Of late it was facing stiff competition from Macambo’s, a Brazilian themed joint across the street, and owner Herman Hover wanted to make a splash with St. Cyr. He spent thousands refurbishing the stage just for her, and she would be the first burlesque dancer to transition from men’s clubs to L.A.’s most famous supper club.
On premier night celebs such as Ronald Reagan, Nancy Davis, Franchot Tone, Barbara Payton, Lex Barker, Mickey Rooney, and Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Bowron watched her strip down to toned perfection as they ate dinner and sipped drinks. Other celebs that visited that summer included Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Clark Gable. During St. Cyr’s residency she varied her act, but a standard bit was entitled “An InterludeBefore Evening," and involved being helped from her clothing by her maid Sadie before slipping nude into a bathtub. But the nudity was an illusion, the cleverest part of her act, achieved through a combination of lighting, positioning, flesh-colored underwear, and sheer athleticism as she slipped quickly from behind a towel and into the sudsy tub.
On 18 October a group of Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies, who were trying to enforce a countywide ban against stripping, arrested St. Cyr and Herman Hover. The charges were the usual slate. St. Cyr called upon celebrity lawyer Jerry Giesler—an event the two Examiner photos at top are supposed to be illustrating—and Giesler proceeded to help turn what was already a media boon for St. Cyr into a full bonanza. Giesler was a showman, and he loved cases that had the potential to increase his fame. He made assorted sensational statements to the press, including one in which he promised to have his client perform her bath routine in the courtroom, and another in which he opined that putting together a jury of peers required empaneling a dozen strippers. He described St. Cyr as merely trying to improve her station in life, just an industrious woman trying to carve herself a piece of American pie. The press ate it up.
The trial was scheduled for early December in the Beverly Hills Courthouse. Giesler kept the jury—which wasn’t all strippers, but at least was mostly female—laughing with his continual antics. He introduced St. Cyr’s rhinestone encrusted bra and g-string as people’s exhibits A and B. He drew diagrams on a blackboard illustrating how different observers' vantage points toward the stage were blocked by St. Cyr's maid. He flustered police officials by making them discuss in detail such such terms as “bump,” “grind,” and “half-bump,” and followed that up by putting Herman Hover on the witness stand and having him demonstrate those moves. The sight of the portly Hover attempting burlesque sent ripples of laughter through the courtroom. Years later Giesler wrote: “I can honestly say I succeeded in having her case laughed into a not-guilty verdict.”
That may have been true, but St Cyr’s icy demeanor was also an important factor. The women found her elegant and remote—the opposite of what they had expected. And the cops did their part for St. Cyr's defense by being terrible witnesses. One claimed that she emerged from the tub completely nude (the normal conclusion to her Interlude, and just as illusory). Another said she wore undies but that he could "see the outline"of her “private parts,” which he discerned in enough detail to determine “were shaven.” The inconsistencies were epic. Some said she caressed herself, others weren’t sure. Another described her towel as “about twenty, twenty-four inches.” In reality it was three times that size. It was as if St. Cyr's dance had dumbfounded the cops.
The confusion has extended even to the present day. For a performance that lasted barely fifteen minutes, it has had an amazing amount of conflicting information attached to it. Columnist Army Archerd claimed St. Cyr was indeed nude that night (clearly wrong, according to multiple testimonies); Sheila Weller’s book Dancing at Ciro’s claims an “all-male” jury (it was mostly female) was taken to Ciro’s to see the act (Giesler tried, but the judge said no); some sources claim St. Cyr performed a reverse strip, beginning nude in the tub and emerging to be slowly dressed by her maid (indeed, that was an oft-performed variation, so it is certainly possible it happened that night). Who's right, and who's wrong? Short of using a time machine to return to October 1951 there's no way to tell.
At the end of the six-day trial the jury acquitted St. Cyr following a mere seventy-eight minutes of deliberations. There had been no indecent exposure. At least not that night. All St. Cyr’s biographers agree on this much—she was shy and regal offstage, but her performances freed her toinhabit different characters. Despite her assertions that she always wore at least a g-string and bra, she definitely performed topless on occasion, as shown by the above photo taken at Ciro’s during early 1951.
Sheriff’s deputies had gone to the club already intent upon arresting her based on what they had heard about the act, which may have influenced their testimony—i.e., they didn’t see her nude, but knew she had done it before. St. Cyr admitted in court she knew police were in the audience, thus she was especially careful that night. But what of other nights? Maybe Army Archerd did what columnists do—took an event he witnessed on one night and pretended it happened on a more useful one. Maybe St. Cyr, on occasions when she knew the cops were far away, flashed her audience to generate buzz. It’s likely we’ll never know what really happened, but that merely adds to the St. Cyr mystique. Did she or didn’t she? Only her maid knew for sure. Los Angeles
, Beverly Hills
, Los Angeles Examiner
, Dancing at Ciro’s
, Lili St. Cyr
, Bette Davis
, Ronald Reagan
, Nancy Davis
, Franchot Tone
, Barbara Payton
, Lex Barker
, Mickey Rooney
, Fletcher Bowron
, Herman Hover
, Humphrey Bogart
, Clark Gable
, Sheila Weller
, Army Archerd
The boys of summer headline autumn’s biggest event.
The Los Angeles Dodgers board a United Airlines DC-7 charter plane headed to Chicago, where they would battle the Chicago White Sox in the 1959 World Series. Pictured are Sandy Koufax, Don Zimmer, Pee Wee Reese, and other stars. The Dodgers won the series four games to two. The three games played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum drew huge crowds, with game five’s attendance of 92,706 remaining a World Series record to this day. The photo was made today in 1959.
Protecting democracy by killing democracy.
Above you see photos of various people involved with the House Un-American Activities Committee, the government body that sought to ferret out communism in the U.S. beginning in 1938. The images were made today in 1951, and the men pictured are A.L. Wirin, Robert Shayne, William Wheeler, Arnold Krieger, and Morton Krieger. Wirin was a defense lawyer who later became prominent in the ACLU, Wheeler was a lead investigator for HUAC, and the others were witnesses called to testify. Some of the latter group offered varying levels of cooperation, with Morton Krieger giving up at least one name, that of Dr. Murray Abowitz, who interrogators described as “a member of one of the professional cells of the Communist Party in the field of medicine.” Abowitz was later fired from his position at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles.
His destruction was indicative of the fact that the communist witch hunts which had begun in Washington, D.C. had by 1951 spread into every sector of society—the entertainment industry, the professional ranks, labor unions, and black communities such as Watts, Harlem, and Oakland. It was a disgraceful period in U.S. history. Consider—many other countries, particularly those in Europe, lived up to their democratic ideals by allowing communist parties to have a voice in the political discourse. But given free reign to disseminate their solutions, communists didn’t then and haven’t since had great success convincing significant numbers of voters to follow their path. In the U.S., by contrast, top political powers decided that Americans could not be allowed to hear such ideas at all. Thus the anti-democratic red squads were conceived and over the next two decades ruined thousands of careers and lives.
, Washington D.C.
, A.L. Wirin
, Robert Shayne
, William Wheeler
, Arnold Krieger
, Morton Krieger
, Dr. Murray Abowitz
Trouble on the tracks.
The above photos are interesting examples of the editorial focus of the Los Angeles Examiner during the 1950s. Pretty much anything that crashed, burned, bled, or exploded made it into the paper. In this case, a motorist going east on Ramona Boulevard lost control of his car, struck the median, and careened through a chain link fence onto the railroad tracks flanking the road. The spectators are eyeing the scene from the Herbert Avenue overpass. This happened today in 1951.
I’m feeling a little light-headed. Do you have any pills you could give me?
A dismayed but dapper narcotics suspect named Walter Collins gets a double grilling from two LAPD detectives as they sort through a stash of contraband pharma. Collins looks like he’s got a headache, which may very well be true considering the circumstances, but of course he’s actually hiding from the intrusive Los Angeles Examiner photographer documenting his downfall. The photos were made today in 1952.
That silly grin of yours reminds me of some guys you'll meet in D-block whose humor is really infectious.
Burglary suspect James Frantz, top right, tries to look unworried while LAPD officers sort through a pile of time pieces and jewelry they believe he pilfered. No word on whether Frantz went down for the crimes. The photos were made today in 1951.
Tragedy plus a photographer equals sales.
Above and below is a fascinating series of photos from the Los Angeles Examiner during the heyday of tabloids, showing just how invasive such publications could be. The photo above shows the aftermath of a murder-suicide at the Ansonia Apartments in L.A.’s MacArthur Park neighborhood. A mother jumped from a window with her six-year-old son. The photos below show the scene from different angles, then a priest administering last rites to the boy, and finally the father grieving over his son’s body. The Examiner focused on crime, corruption, and Hollywood scandals, and was for a time the most widely circulated newspaper in Los Angeles. Possibly its most famous scoop was breaking the story of the 1947 mutilation murder of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia.
In the references we dug up on the Clouart tragedy the wife’s name is never given—she’s called only Mrs. Gerald Clouart. That was of course common practice at the time, but it’s ironic the way it renders invisible a woman who might have received help had anyone truly discerned her troubles. But in yet another example of the Examiner’s extraordinary access, one of its photos is of Mrs. Clouart’s suicide note, and we were able to get her name from that. The note said: “I’ve reached the point of no return. It’s not your fault. You’ve been a wonderful husband and father. Am taking [John] with me to spare him the disgrace. I’m just inadequate.” It was signed Terry. That was today in 1952.
Before Hollywood there was Hollywoodland.
Los Angeles has always been a place where gaudy signage and programmatic architecture reigns, so when a real estate company decided in 1923 to erect a giant Hollywoodland sign on Mount Lee to publicize a chic housing development in Beachwood Canyon people hardly blinked an eye. In 1944, the development’s owners deeded the sign to the city, which by then had begun to symbolize the motion picture industry. In 1949 a storm blew down the H, and with the sign now reading “ollywoodland” debate took place about whether to demolish the rest. But the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce ponied up $5,000, contracted the Department of Parks and Recreation to repair the H and, while they were at it, take down the L-A-N-D, thus matching the landmark to the name of the city it promoted, resulting in the sign’s current, world famous form. Above and below you see a collection of photos made from the time of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s makeover and before. The sign is very small in some of the shots, but it’s there.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1922—Egyptologists Enter Tut's Tomb
British Egyptologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon become the first people to enter the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in over 3000 years. Though sometimes characterized as scholars, Carter and Carnarvon were primarily interested in riches, and cut up Tut's mummy to more easily obtain the jewels and gold affixed to him.
1947—Hollywood Blacklist Instituted
The day after ten Hollywood writers and directors are cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the group, known as the "Hollywood Ten," are blacklisted by Hollywood movie studios.
1963—Ruby Shoots Oswald
Nightclub owner and mafia associate Jack Ruby fatally shoots alleged JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of Dallas police department headquarters. The shooting is broadcast live on television and silences the only person known for certain to have had some connection to the Kennedy killing.
1971—D.B. Cooper Escapes from Airplane
In the U.S., during a thunderstorm over Washington state, a hijacker calling himself Dan Cooper, aka D. B. Cooper, parachutes from a Northwest Orient Airlines flight with $200,000 in ransom money. Neither he nor the money are ever found.
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