Sex Files May 5 2018
WHEN THE FIRE GOES OUT
L.A. burlesque dancer sentenced to cool off in jail.


Today in 1952 thirty-six-year-old burlesque dancer Betty Rowland, known as the Ball of Fire because of her red hair and diminutive stature, was convicted of lewd behavior for a dance she performed at the Follies Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Being arrested was an occupational hazard, but this was an unusual case. Two cops had ventured into the Follies and, as cops are wont to do, demanded special treatment—i.e. free entrance. The ticket girl was not with the program so the cops busted the show and hauled Rowland and her manager into court. Rowland was eventually sentenced to three months in jail for a lewd performance and hit with a $5,000 fine—a tremendous amount back then, about $46,000 in today's money.

Rowland is putting on a brave face in the Los Angeles Examiner photos you see here, but she was stunned by the sentence, and the situation was all the more frustrating because the conviction hinged on the lies of two angry cops. Rowland had been performing her act for years with no hint of problems from the morals squad, and certainly wouldn't have started pushing the envelope after being so well established for so long. But that explanation held no water with Judge Byron J. Walters, who we can assume issued an unusually harsh sentence at the behest of those same crooked cops. Rowland wasn't the first dancer railroaded by the law and she wouldn't be the last.

Several weeks after being hauled off to the cooler, the Ball of Fire's sentence was commuted by Walters, who had been told Rowland planned to quit the burlesque business to open a perfume store in Beverly Hills with her sister. Walters: “The value of incarceration seems to have made its effective marks.” Some time after Rowland's release—we don't know if it was days, months, or years—she claimed it was actually a bribe that secured her freedom, paid out of pocket by her and shunted into the appropriate coffers. We've seen no reports that she opened a perfume store. Instead she danced into the 1960s before retiring. At last count she had reached age 102 in a rest home, and we bet she's still plenty steamed about that jail sentence. The photo below shows a young Rowland, probably around 1945.

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The Naked City Apr 17 2018
A WOMAN SCORNED
I'm totally sorry I'm killed him. I'm all torn up about it. Absolutely devastated. Seriously.


The above photo made today in 1952 shows Barbara Joy Plymire, who had shot her estranged husband Leslie Plymire earlier in the month and was appearing in Los Angeles County Court for a preliminary hearing. The case was pretty much open and shut. She had attended a birthday party for her hubby at which she hoped to win him back. She made her pitch and when he indicated a reconciliation was unlikely she ventilated him. The money quote: “I've shot him and I'm glad." Below you see detectives checking out his body the night of the murder and agreeing, “Yep, that poor fucker's dead as hell.”

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Hollywoodland | The Naked City Apr 11 2018
AVAILABLE UPON INQUEST
Bailiff, can you please hand me Exhibit A so I can use it to get these people the hell out of my face?


In this photo made today in 1958 Hollywood super attorney Jerry Giesler sits next to Lana Turner at a coroner's inquest into the killing of Turner's boyfriend, alleged mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato. Turner's daughter, fourteen-year-old Cheryl Crane, had stabbed Stompanato in the abdomen with a knife during a confrontation in her and Turner's home. Among the throng seen around Giesler and Turner are Crane's father Stephen, assistant attorney Art Crowley, and various members of the press, who back then were given what today would be considered intrusive access to court proceedings.

As all Hollywood hung on Turner's words, the famed femme fatale, looking every bit the superstar she was, described to the court how an escalating argument between her and Stompanato led to him threatening to kill her. She related the fatal moment this way: “I was walking toward the bedroom door and he was right behind me, and I opened it and my daughter came in. I swear it was so fast I … I truthfully thought she had hit him in the stomach. The best I can remember they came together and they parted. I still never saw a blade.

In most accounts the knife Crane used is described as a butcher knife, but it was actually a thin-bladed filleting knife. In any case it did the job nicely. And despite taking on a feared thug Crane came away physically unharmed. In the seconds after the stabbing Stompanato either chose not to retaliate, or more likely—because the knife had penetrated his liver, portal vein, and aorta—went into shock immediately and was unable either to strike back or go for aid. Police found him peacefully supine on the bedroom carpet. He had bled very little—at least on the outside.

Giesler got Crane off on the grounds of justifiable homicide, but conspiracy theories about the killing became rampant. Some said Crane killed Stompanato out of jealous desire; others claimed Turner did the deed and got her daughter to take the blame because she knew the court wouldn't imprison a minor. But in 1988 Crane, who never testified in 1958, gave her version of events. She said the attack was exactly as described, but that she also hated Stompanato because he was sexually abusing her. Many didn't believe her in 1988 but her words certainly have the ring of truth today.

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The Naked City Feb 22 2018
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
The laws of physics are constant. The reflexes of humans—not so much.


Above and below is another set of accident scene photos from the Los Angeles area circa ’40s and ’50s. As we explained before, these photos exist because newspapers back then printed the occasional calamity if space needed to be filled. Which meant roving photographers showed up at accident scenes and caught people during the worst moments of their lives. Today's collection is a bit different because we've included plane and train mishaps. There were apparently a large number of both, based on the material we reviewed. Let these remind you in general to never be in too much of a hurry, but also to be extra careful at train crossings, and maybe cast an occasional glance skyward, just to cover all the bases. Of course, while you're looking skyward you'll probably get rear ended, because that's irony. Fifteen shots below, and the previous group here. And in case you're wondering, we cannot offer reassurances that everyone seen here survived, because several didn't. 

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Vintage Pulp Feb 14 2018
CHINATOWN SYNDROME
Post-noir classic's reputation keeps soaring even as its director's keeps falling.


Nearly ten years into this website we've mentioned Chinatown only once—when we wrote a few lines while sharing two Japanese promo posters. The above poster was made for the film's Australian run, which began today in 1975. The film has been discussed everywhere, which means we can't add much, so let's just call it an all-time masterpiece, and one of the most watchable and re-watchable movies ever made, filled with details you notice over time. For example, it didn't strike us until after a few viewings that Jack Nicholson does his own stunt in that culvert scene, the one where the water rushes down the sluiceway and pins him against a chain link fence. You wouldn't see many modern day stars get wet and cold for a moment that lasts five seconds onscreen. We also failed to notice the first few times that the police lieutenant, Escobar, is Mexican-American. It just didn't strike us. But he would have been an extreme rarity in the 1937 L.A. of the film, and the writing and/or casting choice there was certainly deliberate. Other details continue to emerge, and we've seen the movie five or six times.

As far as director Roman Polanski goes, we've talked about him before. But we'll add that art stands on its own, and people stand on their own too. Having created superior art should not absolve someone of crimes; having committed crimes should not serve to denigrate superior art. That's just our opinion. Plus, a director isn't the only one responsible for a film. The hundreds of others involved, including the select group pictured below, and especially the unpictured screenwriter Robert Towne—who is just as responsible for Chinatown as Polanski and won an Oscar for his screenplay—deserve credit. We will always criticize art for being inaccurate when it pretends to be truthful, or for promulgating false or harmful beliefs. Chinatown doesn't do that. Quite the opposite—it offers sharp insights into how and why Los Angeles became what it is. Meanwhile its subplot somewhat foreshadows Polanski's own crime, which makes the film ironic in the extreme. If you haven't seen it you simply must.

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Femmes Fatales Feb 2 2018
LEAVES ALONE
The ficus: protective cover at its most succulent.


We aren't 100% sure this is a ficus tree, but we are 100% sure that hiding behind it is Alexandra Hay, who was an exotic species all her own—an actress actually born in Los Angeles. Over the course of an eleven year film career she appeared in such films as The Love Machine, Skidoo, and 1,000 Convicts and a Woman, and bolstered her cinema résumé with numerous television credits. She had already left show business when she died, aged 46, of a heart condition. This photo is undated but probably from around 1968.

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The Naked City Jan 31 2018
SO DEAD THE ROSE
Book on Elizabeth Short murder points at new suspect.


The cultural fetish with cold cases continues with the publication of an article on the Rolling Stone website several days ago about the most famous cold case victim of all—the Black Dahlia, aka Elizabeth Short. The piece talks about a recent book by British author Piu Eatwell that promises new insights into the unsolved murder.
 
This latest new look at the crime suggests that Leslie Dillon, a bellhop and aspiring writer, was the murderer. Apparently Dillon, in addition to being in Los Angeles during the crucial time frame, moved to Florida soon after the murder and began writing to an LAPD psychiatrist requesting information about the case. He said he was researching a book about sexual psychopaths, and when his interest led to him being arrested police let him go because they were engaged in a cover-up of the entire case.
 
This is always the way it goes with cold cases, isn't it? The perpetrator was in custody but through incompetence/malice/luck slipped away. Does the author have conclusive proof Dillon did the deed? Apparently not—which means her book Black Dahlia, Red Rose joins the heap of others speculating about the slaying. But we may check it out. Its publication during the autumn flew way wide of our radar screen, so it's good Rolling Stone—also Smithsonian, just yesterday—did a piece on the book. You can read more about the Dahlia, the book, and Piu Eatwell here.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 30 2018
DARK BLUE
Los Angeles homecoming goes awry for Alan Ladd.


The Blue Dahlia is often cited as a top film noir, but it really isn't. That didn't matter to the Hollywood movers and shakers who nominated Raymond Chandler's screenplay for an Oscar, but we suspect the nod was for stringing together hard boiled dialogue, since it certainly wasn't for stringing together a coherent plot. The movie tells the story of a vet who returns home to find his wife cheating with the shady owner of a Hollywood nightclub. When she's murdered, the husband is sought by police, but he goes fugitive and attempts to find the real killer. With pretty boy Alan Ladd in the lead, plus support from Veronica Lake, William Bendix, and the beautiful Doris Dowling, The Blue Dahlia has a lot going for it, including a cool nocturnal vibe, but a script too reliant on improbable occurrences and Lake's flat performance in a basically ornamental role keep it from being upper echelon. It's worth a watch just to see Bendix go bathouse crazy every time he hears what he calls “monkey music,” but go into it knowing there are at least twenty better films in the genre. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 27 2018
DEAD SILENCE
Counterfeiters and Nazi agents clash in wartime Los Angeles.


When we saw Quiet Please: Murder on the Noir City slate and realized we'd never heard of it we decided to watch it and were treated to an interesting flick about sellers of literary forgeries who get in over their heads when they cheat the representatives of Nazis. Apparently, Hermann Göring is accumulating items he expects to maintain value in the event of post-war inflation, and a rare quarto of Hamlet fits the bill. George Sanders and Gail Patrick are the crooked vendors who run afoul of the Nazis, as well as the cop hero played by Richard Denning. The movie is remembered for its central scene involving an air raid drill that plunges heroes and villains into a blackout at a crucial moment, but the primary benefit here is watching Sanders, who was Russian born but learned a clenched-jaw upper class English accent that made his voice unique in film. He's a perfect baddie here, shooting a librarian to acquire the original Hamlet, pimp slapping his partner Patrick, and in general being shady as fuck. Thanks to him Quiet Please: Murder is an entertaining little b-noir.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 19 2018
SHOCK VALUE
It isn't easy for a bad woman to go straight.


We think Shockproof has one of the best film noir titles of all time. It just sounds like a killer flick. But is it? Patricia Knight stars as paroled murderer who can't quit her past associations, despite the fact that her parole officer Cornel Wilde is prepared to throw her back in prison for life if she violates her terms. But she thinks she's smarter than the system, and so does her shady boyfriend, so they keep sneaking around Los Angeles to meet each other. Meanwhile Wilde is convinced Knight is redeemable, and in his efforts to steer her straight ends up bringing her deeper into his own circle, and into his personal life. The only way he can keep her away from her bad boyfriend is to be with her as much as possible, so soon the two are living in the same big house along with Wilde's mother and little brother. But the old boyfriend is still sliming around and plans to use Wilde's affections for Knight against him. We wouldn't say the movie is quite as good as its title—it isn't down and dirty enough for that—but it's a solid film noir entry, and we recommend it. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 16
1941—DiMaggio Hit Streak Reaches 56
New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio gets a hit in his fifty-sixth consecutive game. The streak would end the next game, against the Cleveland Indians, but the mark DiMaggio set still stands, and in fact has never been seriously threatened. It is generally thought to be one of the few truly unbreakable baseball records.
July 15
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
July 14
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
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