Hedy Lamarr finds the fashion industry intolerably cruel.
We can't think of Hedy Lamarr as any movie character except the native girl Tondeleyo from the cheeseball jungle classic White Cargo, but here she is in 1947's Dishonored Lady, which came five years after her famed tropical potboiler and presents a more mature Lamarr playing Madeleine Damien, take-no-shit Manhattan fashion editor by day, popular party girl by night. The movie presents a far less benign fashion industry than yesterday's Fashioned for Murder, as job pressures, difficult romances, and evil male colleagues drive Lamarr nearly out of her mind. She's finally pushed out of her job and leaves Manhattan to build a new life. Only her psychiatrist knows where she went. He tells a persistent interlocutor:
“Miss Damien is living under a different name in a different world. She told me to tell you, if you inquired, that she was busy growing a new soul. Now would you please keep off the grass?”
Lamarr is off in the country painting, relaxing, and finding true love. The past isn't that easy to avoid, though, and it finally catches up with her in the form of her awful ex-boyfriend, who ends up dead, leading to Lamarr being arrested for murder. Did she do it? Of course not. But she's too depressed to care what happens, so prison or worse looms. Madeleine Damien is no Tondeleyo, but Lamarr is good in the role. It's interesting how often we run across these meaty dramatic parts for women in mid-century cinema. Were high profile roles for serious actresses more common back then? Probably not, but sometimes it sure seems like it. Dishonored Lady premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
Crime magazine gives readers the gifts of death and mayhem.
Produced by the J.B. Publishing Corp. of New York City, Reward was a true crime magazine, another imprint designed to slake the American public's thirst for death and mayhem. Inside this May 1954 issue the editors offer up mafia hits, Hollywood suicides, domestic murder, plus some cheesecake to soothe readers' frazzled nerves, and more. The cover features a posed photo of actress Lili Dawn, who was starring at the time in a film noir called Violated. It turned out to be her only film. In fact, it turned out to be the only film ever acted in by top billed co-star William Holland, as well as supporting cast members Vicki Carlson, Fred Lambert, William Mishkin, and Jason Niles. It must have been some kind of spectacularly bad movie to cut short all those careers, but we haven't watched it. It's available for the moment on YouTube, though, and we may just take a gander later. Because Reward is a pocket sized magazine the page scans are easily readable, so rather than comment further we'll let you have a look yourself.
This is really fun! After this I'll shave your legs and pluck your eyebrows.
Above, a cover for Shame Star, copyright 1964, written by Evan Hunter using the pseudonym Dean Hudson for Idle Hours Books. Yep, we read it. It's about a free spirit named Francie Jordan who gets low on money, gets into nude modeling, and ends up involved in the NYC skin flick racket. The cover doesn't depict her, though. For some reason it shows a secondary character enjoying an assisted cleanse in a Japanese bathhouse in Harlem. Maybe someone could ask the artist why he chose that scene, but the cover is uncredited. Overall this is standard sleaze, maybe a hair better written than usual, but nothing we'd recommend.
Beautiful jinx finally jinxes herself.
Confidential Detective Cases, for which see an April 1960 cover above, was published bi-monthly from 1942 to 1978 by New York City based Detective House, Inc. The magazine has an appropriately garish crime rag look and many stories of interest, breathlessly reported. The headers are entertaining: “She Stabbed Him—Rather Than Share Him!” “Parade of the Grave-Bound Redheads.” “The Dames All Die for Me.” All these tales are of interest, but today we're focused on one story—the piece about the unlucky death of Janice Drake. It's titled “Big-Time Mob Leader and the Blonde Murder Jinx.” A jinx is of course someone who brings bad luck to others, but what do you call someone who brings bad luck on herself?
Drake was a former Miss New Jersey who had competed in the Miss America pageant, was a semi-famous G.I. pin-up, a professional dancer, and the wife of comedian Allan Drake. She and her husband were known to have an open marriage, and among Janice's male friends were several New York City mobsters. One of these was Anthony Carfano, aka Little Augie Pisano, an associate of crime boss Frank Costello, who was pitted against mob rival Vito Genovese in a power play for control of the New York City rackets. Carfano had thrown his support behind Costello, causing Genovese to develop a homicidal grudge.
This was not a guy to go to dinner with, but on the night of September 29, 1959, Drake accompanied Carfano to a restaurant called Marino's, where they dined with a mob caporegime named Tony Strollo. Strollo was Genovese's right hand man, but Carfano had no idea Genovese was bent on revenge, nor that Strollo had been assigned the job. When Carfano and Drake left Marino's, they were planning to drive to La Guardia Airport to board a night flight to Miami. But two gunmen were stationed in the rear of Carfano's Cadillac and they forced him to drive to a secluded area near the airport, where they shot both him and Janice Drake twice in the head and once in the back of the neck.
Bad luck for Drake, but don't feel overwhelmingly sympathetic. She may not have been married to the mob, as the saying goes, but she was definitely playing footsie with it. Twice she had been present at a mobster's last supper. She went to dinner with Garment District kingpin Nathan Nelson the night he was murdered, and dined with Gambino crime family boss Albert Anastasia the night before he was whacked in a barbershop. Talk about a jinx. She was called to testify in court concerning both slayings, yet for some reason never seemed to comprehend the risks of running with a dangerous—and highly endangered—crowd.
More than a few police figures believed Drake was a mob courier, a high level go-between, a role in which she may learned the identities of Nelson's and Anastasia's killers. She may not have been a target the night she had her last supper and met a messy end, but it could be that since she knew too much, her loss as collateral damage was deemed an acceptable outcome. Others think she was just mob arm candy and finally ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time; anyone in the car with Carfano would have bought it the same brutal way. Whatever the specifics, Drake's early death—she was thirty-two when it happened—was probably inevitable.
She was one Man's ray of light.
This is a fantastic shot. One reason it caught our eye is that we've seen other photos with lacy shadows substituting for lingerie, but this one from 1930 may be the originator of the illusion. The person you see is Lee Miller. She was born in 1907 and became a fashion model in New York City during the late 1920s, before traveling to Paris with the intent of meeting the legendary photographer Man Ray. She succeeded and became his muse, lover, and frequent subject, as evidenced by this photo, which is his work.
Miller was widely acknowledged as one of the great beauties of her era, but modeling was not her career goal. Her plan had always been to become a photographer. Thus in addition to the other facets of her relationship with Ray, she also apprenticed for him. After absorbing what he had to share she eventually went on to shoot acclaimed World War II photos, some of them during perilous live combat, and documented the liberation of the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps, helping expose Nazi atrocities to the world.
In mid-1945 she was in Munich shooting images of the immediate aftermath of the war and posed for a nude shot in Adolf Hitler's bathtub. Yeah—Hitler. Her son, Antony Penrose, later said of the shot, “I think she was sticking two fingers up at Hitler. On the floor are her boots, covered with the filth of Dachau, which she has trodden all over Hitler’s bathroom floor. She is saying she is the victor.”
The photo was of course controversial, but Miller was a pure artist, always willing to make observers see the world in a new way—through her trained eye. So while the shot at top could be seen as reductive of a complex and accomplished personality, it actually reveals an important aspect of who she was—a daring, multi-faceted woman to whom convention was merely a challenge. And it's an overwhelmingly beautiful shot besides.
The only friend I need is Jack and he comes in a bottle. Um—I mean he comes from a bottle.
Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps was reviewed positively in The Guardian—in 2011. No small feat for a book dating from 1942. It's a semi-autobiographical novel dealing with love, sex, New York City society, and the search for happiness. It's divided into six episodes starring the same woman, and each section features a different central male figure, usually a love interest, but other times a person who stands in contrast to a love interest, such as the therapist to whom the protagonist vents about her marriage. Needless to say, the book fails the Bechdel test at every turn. It made a controversial splash in the ’40s because of its frank style, and is seen today as a minor classic, the first effort from an author who would go on to greater recognition. The edition you see here appeared in 1955 and the cover art of a woman and her little friend in a bottle—perhaps not Jack Daniel's but something sure to hit the spot anyway—is by Robert McGuire.
It gets awfully boring waiting for your big break.
Lauren Hutton was one of the first supermodels, back when every semi-famous woman walking the runway wasn't bestowed with that term. Hutton shot a series of nudes in 1963, when she was twenty years old and an unknown in New York City, still several years from her first professional contract. We've seen many photos from this session but the above shot, which has been bouncing around online for a few months, seems to us by far the best.
There's no city where time runs out faster.
Donald E. Westlake wanted to call his mystery The Smashers by a different title. He preferred the name The Cutie—as in a hustler or crook who thinks he's cute, or clever. That would have suited the novel well, because the term is used probably two dozen times over the course of a story about a New York City mob fixer told by his boss to find the cutie who murdered a well-connected showgirl and made an improbable patsy of a hapless heroin addict.
With very little time and even less sleep the main character deals with cops, hoods, druggies, and politically plugged in one percenters, narrowing down a list of suspects to find the troublesome villain. The book reads a bit like a police procedural, but written from the opposite side of the fence. The killer, when finally revealed, comes as little surprise, but the book's mystery elements are not its most important anyway. What works here is the NYC atmosphere and the sense of sand running through the hourglass.
The cover you see above is from the rarer-than-rare edition put out in 1963 by the British publishers Four Square. If you want one it'll cost you about $100, which we think is overpriced. But we usually think that. Paperbacks to us are utilitarian. They're things you carry in a rear pocket. Also, you should never pay more than ten bucks for anything you're tempted to grab to smash a moth. But fret not—the Hard Case Crime version published in 2009 under Westlake's preferred title The Cutie is cheap, and, to many eyes, is probably the prettiest version.
We're here for the West Side Story audition. And you better understand this right now—we intend to nail it.
We've talked before about the amazing Harlan Ellison. We came to know him as an unparalleled sci-fi writer, but later discovered he was also a juvenile delinquency author. These gang stories were obscure curiosities for us, but through running Pulp Intl. we've since learned that Ellison's juvie fiction is a much discussed and much collected part of his output. Above you see the rare 1958 Pyramid Books edition of his first novel Rumble, later published as Web of the City, with an amazing cover by Spanish artist Rudy De Reyna. Consider this an Ellison trial run that made it into the light of day. Anyone familiar with him knows this will be a strange and violent tale, but the craftsman who gave the world stories like “All the Birds Come Home To Roost” is not yet in evidence. Plotwise, the protagonist Rusty is leader of a street gang and wants out while he's still young enough to make something of his life. Quitting is a savage and harrowing ordeal. Staying out is impossible thanks to his little sister, whose involvement with the gang pulls Rusty back into the life. Ellison is a guy who once claimed he never revised his work. That isn't true because Rumble was cut down and cleaned up by him, and became Web of the City. Everyone says the revised version is much better. Without having read it, we suspect they're right.
Genetics or athletics? She'll never tell.
Bet you thought all women in the mid-century era were soft and lush. Well, Suzanne Ames, née Suzanne Ainbinder, is tight as a drum and proves it by donning a barely there outfit made of flowers, gossamer, and some overtaxed stitching. She was never more than a bit player in Hollywood, but she had a good career as a dancer in New York City, which is probably where she got the abs. She later founded the Suzanne Ames Landry Performing Arts Studio in Akron, Ohio. First lesson for students—crunches. This photo is undated, but from the early 1950s.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1912—International Opium Convention Signed
The International Opium Convention is signed at The Hague, Netherlands, and is the first international drug control treaty. The agreement was signed by Germany, the U.S., China, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Russia, and Siam.
1946—CIA Forerunner Created
U.S. president Harry S. Truman establishes the Central Intelligence Group or CIG, an interim authority that lasts until the Central Intelligence Agency is established in September of 1947.
1957—George Metesky Is Arrested
The New York City "Mad Bomber," a man named George P. Metesky, is arrested in Waterbury, Connecticut and charged with planting more than 30 bombs. Metesky was angry about events surrounding a workplace injury suffered years earlier. Of the thirty-three known bombs he planted, twenty-two exploded, injuring fifteen people. He was apprehended based on an early use of offender profiling and because of clues given in letters he wrote to a newspaper. At trial he was found legally insane and committed to a state mental hospital.
1950—Alger Hiss Is Convicted of Perjury
American lawyer Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury in connection with an investigation by the House unAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC), at which he was questioned about being a Soviet spy. Hiss served forty-four months in prison. Hiss maintained his innocence and fought his perjury conviction until his death in 1996 at age 92.
1977—Carter Pardons War Fugitives
U.S. President Jimmy Carter pardons nearly all of the country's Vietnam War draft evaders, many of whom had emigrated to Canada. He had made the pardon pledge during his election campaign, and he fulfilled his promise the day after he took office.
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