Vintage Pulp Dec 4 2013
THIEVES' HIGHWAY
Like an Oreo cookie, the best part of Highway 301 is the stuff in the middle.


Though we can’t find much online about the making of the 1950 b-budget film noir Highway 301, we have a suspicion what happened during its production. The studio holding the purse strings, Warner Bros., had a look at the rough cut and said there’s no way we’re putting out a movie this intense. How intense is it? Influential New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it “a straight exercise in low sadism.” So what does a studio do when it has on its hands a movie it thinks is likely to bad vibe audiences right out of the cinema? Simple—tell the audiences before the movie starts how it’s going to end. Get three sitting state governors— W. Kerr Scott of North Carolina, John S. Battle of Virginia, and William P. Lane, Jr. of Maryland—to announce in a prologue that crime does not pay, and that every member of the Tri-State Gang depicted in the movie ended up dead, except for one, who ended up in prison. Was Warner Bros. really responsible for such a blatant mutilation of Highway 301? It’s a very good bet, simply because a screenwriter can’t write a script that counts on the participation of three state governors. But for Jack Warner, well, all it would have taken was a phone call to each.

If you pretend the hamfisted prologue never happened, what you end up watching is one of the most underrated and entertaining noirs ever filmed. There are two robberies, a few shootouts, and other action pieces, but the intensity in this film is supplied by its unflinching exploration of the vagaries of fate. Taking an elevator rather than the stairs, choosing to hide rather than run, heading for the back exit rather than the front—it’s these decisions that determine the fortunes and misfortunes of the characters, and which gnaw at the nerves of an audience that knows which choice is right but can only watch events unfold. At the center of it all is Steve Cochran as the gang’s murderous leader, a guy who solves every problem with a gun. The supporting cast includes Virginia Grey, Gaby Andre, and Robert Webber, and all are good in their roles.
 
While we know the Tri-State Gang will lose in the end, there’s still plenty of suspense supplied by Gaby Andre’s predicament—she knows too much and the only reason she’s still alive is because Cochran thinks she’s beautiful. But the spell will soon wear off and at that point she’ll be just another dead witness—unless she can escape. Fate continues to intervene. Will it intercede on her behalf? Or against? We know not to anticipate her survival based on her status as the protagonist female. The body count has already told us movie convention is no refuge. That’s the genius of Highway 301—there’s no respite from tension. Every sigh of relief catches in the throat as peril mounts yet again.

Writer/director Andrew L. Stone deserves a lot of credit for putting this together. He was an experienced hand at this point, but never before had he created something so innovative. Highway 301 ends on a down note with more moralizing, but sandwiched in between is a highly recommendable drama. Flawed, yes, but only due to the intrusion of front office types, we suspect. A re-release without the moral parentheses and intermittent narration would elevate this to classic status. The poster at top is classic in its own right. It was painted by someone who signed it Aziz, and the Arabic script in the lower right corner confirms it was made for release in the Middle East or North Africa, most likely Egypt, but don’t quote us on that.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 18 2013
GOLDEN FLEECE
You wouldn’t mind terribly if we steal your nickname?


Today we have a January 1961 issue of Confidential for you, with cover stars Sammy Davis, Jr. and May Britt. Since we’ve already discussed Sammy and May of late, and even made her a recent femme fatale, we’ll skip past them and focus on another interesting story—the tale of Diane Harris, who shot to notoriety as a witness in the infamous Minot Jelke pimping trial of 1952. We wrote about it back in 2009—Jelke was an oleomargarine heir who was cut off from his trust fund and decided to turn his girlfriend Patricia Ward into a prostitute in order to make ends meet. Ward became known as the “Golden Girl of Vice” and “The Golden Girl of Café Society,” which is why it’s interesting that Confidential calls Diane Harris “The Golden Prostitute.” Apparently Jelke had the Midas touch.

Confidential wastes no time in its article. It begins: She gave herself a title… Lady Diana Harrington. The New York D.A. gave her another… the Golden Girl of Café Society. Houston police gave her a third, less flamboyant title… prostitute. Uh oh—the New York District Attorney’s nickname for Harris is identical to Patricia Ward’s nickname. After a few more paragraphs of reading, it becomes clear that Confidentialbelieves the Golden Girl is Diane Harris—not Patricia Ward. While it’s true that Harris did use some aliases, including Lady Diana Harrington and Mary Lou Brew, nowhere is the name Ward mentioned as a pseudonym.

After searching high and low for some idea of whether we were dealing with one woman or two, we finally saw in the IMDB page on the 1995 Jelke biopic Café Society that Patricia Ward and Diana Harris were played by separate actresses—Lara Flynn Boyle and Cynthia Watrous. So was there some confusion in 1961 about who exactly the Golden Girl was? Looking back at our original post on the subject, the photo of the Golden Girl on the cover of Hush-Hush shows a blonde. Confidential has numerous photos of their Golden Girl Diane Harris, and a single photo they identify as Pat Ward. Just plain Pat—no Golden, no nickname at all. And she’s a brunette. So not only does Confidential identify the Golden Girl of Café Society as Diane Harris—turns out so did that March 1961 Hush-Hush. We just didn’t realize it at the time.
 
Our mistake came when we first researched the Jelke trial and found a New York Times movie review that identified Pat Ward as the Golden Girl. From that point we just ran with it and never thought to doublecheck. Until today. Now, based on available evidence, it seems that at some point over the intervening years the historical record got twisted and the label Golden Girl was applied to Patricia Ward, where it stayed even up to thepoint of a Hollywood motion picture misidentifying her. She was indeed Minot Jelke’s girlfriend, whereas Harris was just a fellow high dollar prostie (and corroborating witness), so perhaps some clever scribe, or even the writers of the 1995 movie, decided that such a catchy nickname would be better applied to the girlfriend. At least that’s the way it looks to us.
 
If we’re right, is any of this important? Does it matter that Harris was fleeced of her nickname, or possibly that a movie took liberties and those liberties were later assumed to be facts? Do we expect an award? No, not really, but it’s interesting. Confidential barely recounts the events of the trial. The story is actually about Diane Harris being found dead in a Houston apartment eight years afterward, in September 1960. She was still a prostitute at the time. Confidential tells us: The blonde’s nude body was in bed, a green sheet and a pink blanket covered her. Pictures of herin more glamorous days were on the walls. An autopsy disclosed a large amount of morphine in her body. Police theorize that a combination of drink and drugs killed her.
 
Diane Harris had wanted the best life had to offer, and money meant everything. All her friends and acquaintances knew that about her. According to her maid, even at the end she still bragged about once being able to command fifty dollars per date. An obsessive desire for luxury drove her into the arms of rich, uncaring men, and eventually, in order to maintain her high flying lifestyle, into prostitution. The one piece of her that endured long after she died naked and surrounded by bottles and pills was her famous nickname—The Golden Girl of Café Society. But she eventually lost that too.
 
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Intl. Notebook Oct 8 2012
MARRIAGE OF INCONVENIENCE
She wasn’t really a blind woman—she only played one in the movies.


Last week we watched Meiko Kaji’s Kaidan nobori ryu, aka Blind Woman’s Curse, and were too busy being cute with our summary of the film to mention that the blind woman was played by Hiroko (Hoki) Tokuda, who is better known to many people as author Henry Miller’s last wife. When they met she was working as a lounge pianist in L.A. and Miller, who had established himself as one of the most important American writers ever, was living in Pacific Palisades. Tokuda told the New York Times in 2011: “Henry started asking every week to meet me. I realized he just wanted a Japanese woman to add to his collection, and I would always ask myself, ‘Why me?’ Soon after we met, he started telling people he was going to marry me.” And marry her he did in September 1967. She was twenty-nine and Miller, who had been born in 1891, was on the verge of turning seventy-six.

By early 1970 Tokuda had left Miller and was back in Japan, where that year she filmed Blind Woman’s Curse. Miller died in 1980, and Tokuda is in Japan today, running a piano bar called Tropic of Cancer, after her ex-husband’s most famous book. She says her marriage with Miller was never consummated, which may or may not be true—Miller isn’t around to contradict her. She also says she only married him for a green card,and has even joked about him being a bad kisser. "Terrible," she describes it. "Wet." It strikes us as a bit cynical for her to pretend the marriage was an inconvenient mistake when she’s borrowing the name of his most famous book in order to brand her bar, but that’s just our opinion. In any case, being a pulp site, we just thought we should offer a little background info, since Tokuda was married to a guy who changed English language literature forever. The above photos both date from September 1967, when their love—if it ever existed—was new.

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Femmes Fatales Feb 11 2012
STAR AND STRIPES
Oooh, she’s a little Dunaway…

This rare promo shot of American actress Faye Dunaway was made when she was starring in Bonnie and Clyde, which was a film so polarizing that one of the most respected critics in America—the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther—launched a campaign against the values he felt the movie represented. But American filmgoers loved Bonnie and Clyde, and Crowther’s scathingly negative review exposed him as out of touch with the zeitgeist and especially with the maverick film directors coming out of Hollywood. It was 1967, and everything was changing. The Times fired Crowther and gave his job to Pauline Kael. Bonnie and Clyde became a worldwide hit and cinematic landmark. And Faye Dunaway became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. 

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Vintage Pulp Nov 6 2010
ALMOST INFAMOUS
Marisa Allasio’s bikini created unforeseen fallout—of the judicial kind.


Here’s a new tabloid in our collection—Pic, which like Whisper and a few other publications evolved from a pin-up magazine into a scandal sheet during the 1950s. The cover star on this November 1958 issue is Marisa Allasio, and the photo is one that originally appeared in the Italian magazine Il Borghesi and landed the publishers in court on obscenity charges. As anyone who has ever been to a beach can attest, there is a big difference between almost falling out of a bikini and actually doing it, and that difference is where all the fun lies. But the shot was nonetheless deemed too sexual by Italy’s moral watchdogs, and all the newsstand copies of Il Borghese were confiscated. In the end, the magazine was able to prove that the image was a promo still from Allasio’s forgettable 1956 film Poveri ma belli, aka Poor but Beautiful. Since Il Borgese was not responsible for the image, charges against the magazine were dropped. If you’d like to read a scathing contemporary review of the film, we found one by Bosley Crowther at the New York Times, and just because it’s Saturday, we have the almost-obscene bikini photo below, in its original unreversed state. We’ll have more from Pic later. 

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Intl. Notebook Nov 2 2010
UNDUE CREDIT
Americans still have a few nagging doubts about who pulled the trigger on John F. Kennedy.


Polls conducted in the last ten years indicate that 70% to 75% of Americans do not believe Lee Harvey Oswald, seen above in a photo taken while he was in the U.S. Marine Corps, acted alone when U.S. president John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas in 1963. A March 2010 Gallup poll tells us the number might be as high as 81%. These are astounding percentages when you consider that reaching a higher level of agreement in a poll is nearly impossible. For perspective, consider that according to a 2005 article by New York Times journalist Cornelia Dean, only about 80% of Americans believe the Earth revolves around the sun. Such overwhelming belief in a Kennedy conspiracy is easy to understand when reading the many contradictory accounts of the event. But filter out all the white noise and what attracts attention are the statements of two people who were highly respected—if not revered—in their fields. First, Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who was laying atop Kennedy to shield him as the limousine drove away from the scene of the shooting, testified that the President had a five inch diameter wound behind his right ear, indicating the exit of a bullet that had struck from the front. Other witnessess observed this too, but Hill was closest—literally inches away. Second, Marine gunnery sergeant Carlos Hathcock testified that, utilizing the same rifle as Oswald, and shooting from the same range and angle and with the same weather conditions, he was unable to duplicate Oswald’s feat, even after multiple tries. Why is that significant? Because Hathcock was one of the best riflemen in the world, the winner of multiple shooting championships and a guy who in Vietnam documentably notched a kill from a distance of 1.42 miles. Oswald was a “marksman”—the lowest Marine designation for rifle qualification. So what happened that day in Dallas when America lost a president? Was it Oswald who fired the fatal shot or someone else? We don’t know. But we certainly understand those poll results. 

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Vintage Pulp Oct 20 2010
DOG DAYS
The Depression-era magazine Hot Dog had two sides—and so did its editor.


Hot Dog was a humor monthly published out of Cleveland, Ohio during the 1920s and 1930s, and distributed throughout the Great Lakes states. It began as little more than a pamphlet, but quickly expanded to the digest you see above. It’s formula for success? Largely, it seemed to be stupid ethnic jokes and bawdy limericks mixed with photos of showgirls and actresses. At least, that’s mostly what we got out of this October 1931 issue. But thanks to a little research, we discovered Hot Dog also had a serious side, positioning itself as a foe of prohibitionists and moral watchdogs of every stripe. You’ll notice that editor Jack Dinsmore gave himself billing on the cover. Dinsmore was a pseudonym. We learned this from a rather beautiful 1996 New York Times article written by a woman who goes searching for traces of a father that died when she was seven. Her father was Jack Dinsmore, and the author is shocked to discover he edited Hot Dog, a magazine that, as the Great Depression wore on, became more and more insulting toward Jews even though Dinsmore was Jewish. But we all know nothing makes a man compromise himself more quickly than the threat of joblessness, and in 1930s America that possibility would have been staring an unimportant Midwestern editor—and millions more people barely hanging on—right in the face. Anyway, the Times piece is long and serious, but recommended. It teaches a lesson: nothing we write is ever truly lost. We’ll keep looking for more Hot Dogs, and if we find any we’ll definitely share them. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 19
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
April 18
1923—Yankee Stadium Opens
In New York City, Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, opens with the Yankees beating their eternal rivals the Boston Red Sox 4 to 1. The stadium, which is nicknamed The House that Ruth Built, sees the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball history. It is eventually replaced by a new Yankee Stadium and closes in September 2008.
April 17
1961—Bay of Pigs Invasion Is Launched
A group of CIA financed and trained Cuban refugees lands at the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba with the aim of ousting Fidel Castro. However, the invasion fails badly and the result is embarrassment for U.S. president John F. Kennedy and a major boost in popularity for Fidel Castro, and also has the effect of pushing him toward the Soviet Union for protection.

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