On a clear day you can... *cough* *cough*
You know we're all about vintage photos, especially of Los Angeles. This shot was made there in 1951 from the 32 story tower of City Hall and shows... well, not very much because of the smog. The first time a smog bank like this rose up in L.A., in 1943, residents panicked because they thought the Japanese had unleashed a gas attack. By the 1950s it was a regular occurrence. Smog in in the City of Angels has improved vastly since then, but living there still means inhaling the equivalent of about 180 cigarettes a year. The most complete global pollution study ever conducted was published by the World Health Organization last year. The result? Scientists learned that air pollution kills seven million people a year—more than AIDS, more than malaria, more than warfare. We have a few more shots from around the same time period below.
It was an event none of them will ever forget.
Talk about a bad end to a promising evening. These photos from the Los Angeles Examiner were shot in the wee hours of today in 1951. They show a group of people arrested after cops raided a residence in the Montrose area of Los Angeles where a “drug and sex party” was taking place. The illegal substances of choice were marijuana and benzedrine, which strike us an unusual combo, and the sex in question was distributed between what seems to be seventeen men and one woman, also an unusual combo. But we suspect the sex aspect of the story is an exaggeration. If even a couple of people were getting freaky in some rear bedroom the press would have called it a sex party because that's how you sell papers. Examiner readers probably imagined a carnal pile-up with bare asses heaving up and down and thirty-six limbs going in all directions. Which when you think about doesn't sound so bad. Well, we hope they had fun while it lasted.
The hardest question to answer is always why.
Today in 1959 in a quiet area of Inglewood, California, a police officer was putting a ticket on a car that hadn't moved for at least two days. While writing the ticket he looked in the window and noticed that on the front seat were a sweater, a pair of Capri pants—and a bloody front tooth. He pried open the trunk and inside found a dead woman, Meredith Jean Prestridge, a twenty-six-year-old married mother of two. She had been missing from her Fresno home for a week.
In the top photo police officers and coroner’s personnel examine the crime scene. Soon the cops would be looking for an unidentified man seen with Prestridge shortly before she vanished. They would learn of a suspect named Robert Lee Kilmer and mobilize to arrest him where he was holed up in a friend's house. Kilmer didn't go easily, and in the end police fired tear gas and stormed the place wearing masks and bullet proof vests. In the resulting melee police fatally shot Kilmer in the head.
His guilt was not seriously in question in any of the accounts we read, but due to his untimely departure from the material realm the motives and thought processes behind his murder of Prestridge were never explained. But they surely would have been as banal as those of other murderers. Kilmer was just another bad man in the naked city, and Prestridge was just another victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It's even nicer up here than you said. So where are we again? Like exactly. Like if I wanted to come here with someone else.
Keeping on the lookout for pulp style in unusual places, we ran across this GGA style sleeve for Francis Scott and His Orchestra's Moods for Twilight. It's part of a series of records that include Moods for Starlight, Moods for Firelight, and Moods for Candlelight, but this is the only one with cover art that could front a paperback. We're guessing the couple is supposed to be parked above L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, possibly on famed Mulholland Drive. What's this album sound like? Haven't heard it, but since it's orchestral renditions of pop hits we can guess that it's pretty cheeseball stuff, even for 1952. The artist on this was not credited.
In film noir crime is always the road to ruin.
Looking at the promo poster for 711 Ocean Drive you'll notice that it claims to have been filmed under police protection. Apparently organized crime interests were so incensed by the movie they tried to quash its production. We seriously doubt this is true, but a little white lie in service of cinematic thrills never hurt anyone, we guess. The movie stars Edmond O'Brien in the story of an L.A. telephone worker who uses his genius for electronics to rise to the pinnacle of the illegal bookmaking racket. Once on top he comes to the attention of east coast operators, who move in on his set-up, cut him in for half, but promptly cheat him of his percentage. He won't accept that, but his solution to the problem leads to more trouble.
We won't go into detail, but since the story is narrated by an FBI agent you know from the opening moments that O'Brien loses. The only question is how badly. The film would be better without the voiceover, but we suppose audiences of the day needed that good ole crime-doesn't-pay lesson hammered home. Since real life doesn't provide it, at least escapist cinema can. One aspect of the movie that pleasantly surprised us, though, was O'Brien's plan to retire to Guatemala. It isn't often that mention of our former home pops up in an old flick. Audiences must have thought the scheme was ridiculous, but seventy years ago Guatemala must have been one of the garden spots of the world. Certain parts are still lovely even today. Too bad O'Brien never makes it. 711 Ocean Drive premiered today in 1950.
Get in his way and he'll roll right over you.
The movie Truck Turner was originally written to star Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, or Ernest Borgnine, but none of them were available. American International Pictures exec Larry Gordon reportedly said, “Well, we can't get any of them so now it's a black picture.” Marvin, Mitchum, and Borgnine were lucky they dodged this Truck. Isaac Hayes was signed up and he plays an L.A. bounty hunter who chases down a pimp named Gator only to end up pitted against a powerful madame named Dorinda. The movie is poorly put together, which you wouldn't guess from looking at its scores on sites like IMDB, where raters give it a 7.0. But we suspect those ratings derive from copious action and an amusingly bad script, particularly co-star Nichelle Nichols' tour de force segment in which, as Dorinda, she parades her whores before a group of pimps and describes their assets in a colorful monologue that's possibly the funniest moment from any blaxploitation movie. Here it is:
“Gentlemen, this is my family. These all prime cut bitches. $238,000 worth of dynamite. It's Fort Knox in panties. Candy did seventeen thousand last year. Velvet, Miss Sophisticate, did twenty. Used to be a Paris model. Jess and Annette each did twenty-two five. Show 'em your wares, bitch. [bitch licks lips, strikes a pose] See what you can get if you're good? That's Turnpike. She did twenty-six five. She's called Turnpike ’cause you gotta pay to get on and pay to get off. China, come here, baby. China did twenty-nine. Sweet piece a Oriental meat. Mmm, mmm, mmm. This is Frenchy. Gator used to call her Boeing 747. Show 'em why, bitch. [bitch shimmies] She did twenty-seven five. And that's sweet Annette. Show 'em that smile, you sweet thing. She did thirty thou last year. And where's my baby? That's Taffy. This bitch grossed thirty-seven thousand five hundred dollars working part time. Shit, her clients think she's too good to fuck. They call her Colonel Sanders because she's [bitch licks fingers] finger lickin' good.”
So that's pretty funny, in a horrible, un-2018 kind of way. The outtakes must have been uproarious. Nichols knocks this bit out of the park like a hanging curveball because she can act (in fact, watching how she makes those words sparkle is a clinic on the wide gap between screenwriting and an actor's interpretation). Yaphet Kotto as the pimp Harvard Blue makes his role work because he can act too. But nobody else can. Luckily, as action eventually overtakes dialogue matters improve considerably, with the last third of the movie developing enough momentum to sustain viewer interest. There's one other asset too—Hayes' groovy soundtrack. But you don't have to watch the movie to enjoy that, or Nichols' monologue, which you can watch at this YouTube link while it lasts. It starts about forty seconds in. Otherwise, we recommend giving Truck Turner a pass unless your sense of humor is—like ours—inclusive of semi-inept Hollywood obscurities. If that's the case, roll on. Truck Turner premiered in the U.S. in 1974.
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.
Did I make it in time for happy hour?
The above image, which is from the collection of Los Angeles Examiner photos archived by the University of Southern California, shows an accident at a bar located at 5th and Figueroa in Los Angeles. It happened when two autos collided in the intersection outside, and one of the drivers lost control and careened into the Ole King Cole Room of the Monarch Hotel (we have a photo of the exterior from some years earlier below). Luckily for patrons the bar had closed. Unluckily for the driver, he missed half priced drinks. But maybe he'd already reached his limit. The photo is from today in 1957.
Nocturnal postcards showcase a magical Los Angeles.
Around the turn of the last century, and particularly during the 1910s, nocturnal postcards became all the rage in the U.S. They were made for virtually every tourist locale in the country, but it seems Los Angeles was an exceedingly popular subject. Above you see a nocturnal postcard depicting the Venetian Gardens in Venice, California, and below you'll find more moonlit cards showcasing various places around the L.A. area. These were published by many companies, among them the California Greeting & Post Card Co., and Edward H. Mitchell Co., which was located in San Francisco. Most of the places depicted, including the Venetian Gardens, the spectacular Ocean Park Bath House, and the Dragon Gorge, a scenic railway (rollercoaster) also located in Ocean Park, are long gone. These postcards are a reminder of a more romantic Los Angeles that has long since succumbed to the wrecking ball of progress.
He says he remembers nothing, sir, except he needs to return the dress within 72 hours to get a full refund.
There's nothing new under the sun. And there's certainly nothing new under the Los Angeles moon, as proved by this photo of a man who was arrested late at night in Hollywood. He can hide his face but he can't hide the fact that he's wearing a dress. We're thinking prank, costume party, activities along those lines, but really anything is a possibility. We know because we've personally explored most of them ourselves, and ending up in a dress was also one of the results. Still though, it's sad we'll never know precisely what happened here. No details were provided with the shot except that it comes from the collection of Los Angeles Herald photos held by the University of Southern California, and the year on this one was 1948.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Carothers Patents Nylon
Wallace H. Carothers, an American chemist, inventor and the leader of organic chemistry at DuPont Corporation, receives a patent for a silk substitute fabric called nylon. Carothers was a depressive who for years carried a cyanide capsule on a watch chain in case he wanted to commit suicide, but his genius helped produce other polymers such as neoprene and polyester. He eventually did take cyanide—not in pill form, but dissolved in lemon juice—resulting in his death in late 1937.
1933—Franklin Roosevelt Survives Assassination Attempt
In Miami, Florida, Giuseppe Zangara attempts to shoot President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, but is restrained by a crowd and, in the course of firing five wild shots, hits five people, including Chicago, Illinois Mayor Anton J. Cermak, who dies of his wounds three weeks later. Zangara is quickly tried and sentenced to eighty years in jail for attempted murder, but is later convicted of murder when Cermak dies. Zangara is sentenced to death and executed in Florida's electric chair.
1929—Seven Men Shot Dead in Chicago
Seven people, six of them gangster rivals of Al Capone's South Side gang, are machine gunned to death in Chicago, Illinois, in an event that would become known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Because two of the shooters were dressed as police officers, it was initially thought that police might have been responsible, but an investigation soon proved the killings were gang related. The slaughter exceeded anything yet seen in the United States at that time.
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