Pageant winner fulfilled show business and personal ambitions. Then things went wrong.
Beauty pageants are a bit silly, perhaps, but the participants are generally ambitious people who see them as stepping stones to show business or modeling. And in mid-century Los Angeles in particular, even minor pageants occasionally led to stardom. In the above photos high school student Barbara Thomason wins the crown of Miss Muscle Beach 1954. Listed at 5 foot 3 inches and 110 pounds, she was a body-building enthusiast, and in the shot just below she celebrates her hard fought win by pumping a bit of iron while photographers click away and a crowd watches.
Did Thomason's victory lead to bigger things? Maybe not directly, but it probably helped. She was a habitual pageant participant who also won Miss Huntington Beach, Miss Van Ness, Miss Bay Beach, Miss Southwest Los Angeles, Miss Pacific Coast, Queen of Southern California, andten other titles. All that winning finally got her noticed by Hollywood movers and shakers. In 1955, performing under the name Carolyn Mitchell, she made her acting debut on the television show Crossroads, and in 1958 co-starred in two Roger Corman b-movies, The Crybaby Killer and Dragstrip Riot.
But she put her career on hold when she met and married a star—Mickey Rooney, who was nearly seventeen years her senior and nearly two inches her junior. Their union had problems from the beginning. The couple married secretly in Mexico because Rooney was still awaiting a divorce from actress Elaine Mahnken. They would have to wait almost two years before the law allowed them to wed in the U.S. Legalities, though doubtless bothersome, were the least of their problems. During the next six years, during which Thomason bore four children, Rooney indulged in numerous affairs.
It should probably be noted here that Thomason was Rooney's fifth wife. Among the predecessors were goddesses like Ava Gardner and Martha Vickers. We don't know what Thomason's expectations of marriage were, but clearly Rooney didn't know the meaning of the phrase “for better or worse.” The affairs continued, and eventually Thomason did the same with a temperamental Yugoslavian actor named Milos Milosevic, who performed under the name Milos Milos. But what was good for goose was not good for the gander—Rooney found out about these international relations, moved out of the Brentwood house he shared with Thomason, and filed for divorce, charging mental cruelty. The nerve, right?
On the morning of January 31, 1966, while Rooney was in St. John's Hospital recovering from an intestinal infection he'd picked up in the Philippines, Thomason and Milosevic were found together on the bathroom floor of the Brentwood house, dead. Milosevic had shot Thomason under the chin and killed himself with a temple shot using a chrome-plated .38 Rooney had bought in 1964. The consensus is Thomason had decided to dump Milosevic and he flipped out.
The photos below show Thomason on Muscle Beach during her halcyon years there, a mere teenager, frolicking in the sun, filled with youthful hopes for a good life. She won beauty titles, acted in films, married an icon, and had four children. Any of those accomplishments would have been good legacies. Instead her death at twenty-nine overshadowed all the rest, and she's remembered as another celebrity murder victim, Hollywood style, which is always somehow both sensational and banal.
I didn't know that a girl like you could make me feel so sad...
A couple of weeks ago we shared a Mexican movie poster we weren't 100% sure was actually from Mexico. This time we're sure—this beautiful promo Antonio Caballero painted for the melodrama La red says right in the lower left corner “impreso en México.” In that previous write-up we also talked about how popular locally produced films were in Mexico before the industry was suffocated by U.S. business and political interests, and this effort is an example. It was made by Reforma Films S.A., based in Mexico City, and starred Libyan born Italian actress Rossana Podesta, Costa Rican actor Crox Alvarado, and U.S. born actor Armando Silvestre. Enticing a burgeoning international star like Podesta over from Europe indicates how established the Mexican film industry was in 1953, when La red was made.
Interestingly, when the movie played in the U.S. it was titled simply Rosanna, which makes sense, because it would be nothing without Podesta. It struck us that even though Toto didn't write their song of obsession “Rosanna” about Podesta, they might as well have. The film begins when a group of men botch a robbery, a shootout commences, and one of the bandits, Antonio, played by Alvarado, tries to help his wounded comrade. But the dying man gasps to Antonio, “Save yourself—for Rossana.” So we know she's a special woman even before seeing her. Antonio does save himself and goes to live on the seaside with Podesta, where the two harvest sea sponges. It's idyllic, but as a wanted thief he has to lay low, which means sending her alone to town to sell their catch. And the men in the town are... well... see below:
I am intrigued by this spicy redhead.
I too find myself somewhat taken with this mysterious chile pepper of a woman.
Perhaps I'll invite her to coffee and a cronut. That's a cross between a croissant and a donut, my friend, and living out there on the idyllic seashore as she does, I bet she's never had one.
I wonder if she's a fan of our great romantic poet Salvador Díaz Mirón?
I'm certain she has no idea how quickly European skin can burn in this tropical climate.
I'm admittedly less high minded than other men, and mainly wonder what she looks like naked, and whether the carpet is red too.
What the hell are all these guys staring— Oh. I think it's me.
Clearly, these trips into town are menacing affairs for Podesta. If you were to screen the sequences at an anti-sexual harassment seminar, every guy in the joint would bow his head in shame. Important to note, though, that within the narrative these aggressively pervy guys are depicted in a negative light, with even the soundtrack music growing ominous. When one of Antonio's robbery compatriots shows up in town, he gets into a shootout that leaves two men dead, and therein are sown the seeds of future troubles. We won't say more, save that the film is stagy, stylized, operatic, almost devoid of dialogue, and largely remembered because of Podesta's role. It all worked well enough to earn the Prix International du film le mieux raconté par l'image, aka the Award for Visual Narration, at the Cannes Film Festival.
Moving on to the poster, have a look at a previous Mexican promo we shared last year. It's here. We'll wait. Back? You'd think it was the same person who painted both, but the reason we wanted you to glance at the other one is because it exemplifies the strange phenomenon of artists within the same film industry biting each other's styles. It happened in Italy and Sweden too. Either through direct influence from the studios, or through osmosis due to mutual association, several Mexican artists delved into this art deco tinged style. Check out Leopoldo Mendoza Andrade here. Interesting, right? You'll see what we mean even more clearly when we share posters from other Mexican artists, for example Juan Antonio Vargas. That'll be soon. La Red premiered in Mexico today in 1953.
Enquiring minds are pretty twisted.
National Enquirer conjures up another sensational celebrity quote on the cover of this issue published today in 1960 featuring Tunisian born Italian actress Sandra Milo. Enquirer's modus operandi for years was to publish statements of this sort. Did Milo really say men—and by extension her paramour Roberto Rossellini—should belt women? We seriously doubt it, but you know what's still frightening? The quote probably represents Enquirer editors playing to a customer base we can picture nodding their heads and saying, “Fuckin'-a right.” The real value in these items, and the reason we share them, is because of the rare photos, which generally have never been seen online. This is another example. And you can see many more at our tabloid index here.
Can you keep a secret? I'm way ahead of my time.
Above is a fantastically beautiful Serge Jacques photo of Belgian actress and model Dominique Wilms that dates from the early 1950s. Wilms appeared in films such as Poison Ivy, Banco à Bangkok pour OSS 117, and Les femmes s'en balancent, aka Dames Don't Care. Looks like Dom don't care either, as this is a very provocative nude for a working actress of the 1950s. Just a glimpse of pubic hair was enough to get photographers and vendors sent to prison, even in France, where Jacques was based. The shot surfaced years after it was made, we suspect, and we should rejoice that it saw the light of day, because daring Dominique is all that and a box of hot tamales.
This book strips everything off—logic, subtlety, humor, character development...
Strip, Wench... or Die! This one had us at strip. Plus it was cheap, a mere five bucks. And you get what you pay for sometimes, because this was really bad. Basically, Rip Austin is an insurance investigator posing as a rep for the local strippers union in order to look into the death of a dancer. He finds himself involved in an organized crime scam, and soon more strippers are dying. But not before they get naked and he manages to fall into bed with a few. Typical passage:
Naked women were hardly anything new in the life of a loving rounder like Austin, but he was hardly used to having one come to the door of a fashionable mansion in broad daylight. He looked at the massive mounds of her breasts—huge but beautifully formed with nipples that jutted upward with almost virginal audacity.
We get it—it's not supposed to be taken seriously. But it should at least be written in engaging fashion. Author Gene Cross, aka Arthur Jean Cox, obviously didn't give a shit about this as long as he still got paid. In that way he's a bit like a stripper himself. But again, at least the book was only five bucks. And there's a character named Kooky Marsh, which we think is kind of cool. And the cover has a rare image of a beautiful burlesque dancer (who we once used third from the bottom of this post). Those are the sum total of the book's merits. Oh well. Onward and upward.
Meet the new boss, nothing like the old boss.
Above, a poster for the Japanese actioner Kapone no shatei yamato damashi, aka A Boss with a Samurai Spirit, aka Capone's Younger Brother: Heart and Speculation, starring the prolific Tomisaburô Wakayama. The movie deals with a hired killer whose latest contract turns out to have wide-ranging consequences, making him turn against his employer. We shared the original poster for this as part of a group post back in 2013. This is a re-issue poster. We don't know exactly when it came out, but the film originally premiered in Japan today in 1971.
Kanô and company are still Crazy after all these years.
Today's deep dive into the pinku pile has produced this two panel promo for Sukeban: Tamatsuki asobi, aka Girl Boss: Crazy Ball Game, which starred Yûko Kanô and premiered today in 1974. Not every pinku movie had these types of posters but we've acquired quite a few. We'd upload others, but we don't know what films some of them are for. We'll get around to sharing them anyway, though.
Looking below, you'll see we've grabbed some promo photos. These came from an online auction. The last panel shows Yûko Kanô's co-stars Ritsuko Fujiyama, Emi Jô, Harumi Tajima, Rie Saotome, and Ryôko Ema having some wild and watery fun. Sukeban: Tamatsuki asobi has it all—violence, sex, violence, Yakuza, violence, and more. You can read a bit more about it at our write-up from some years ago, located at this link.
So I thought to myself, why stop at my lips? I had plenty of lipstick and I was bored with this gold colored dress so I just kept going.
This is top quality George Gross art fronting R.R. McCollum's 1951 novel Passion Has Red Lips. You'll notice once again that trick of subtly phallic content in the art. Just look at the guy and the bottle he's holding that seems ready spill at any moment. This was published by Rainbow Books, a company renowned for its brilliant cover art. You can see more amazing examples by clicking its keywords below.
L.A. stands for Lew Archer in John MacDonald's tinseltown thriller.
We love this cover art by Harvey Kidder for John MacDonald's, aka Ross MacDonald's first Lew Archer novel The Moving Target. The way the figures are placed at such a remove from the viewer and the text is stretched across the underside of the pier is strikingly different. The book was originally published in 1949 with this Pocket Books paperback coming in 1950, and it stars MacDonald's franchise detective trying to locate a philandering millionaire who's gone missing. The man's wife is more concerned about the possibility of her spouse being on a bender and sharing the family money than she is about foul play, but Archer soon decides that the situation is a kidnapping.
We'd been meaning to read MacDonald for a while. We'd heard that his prose has a Dashiell Hammett vibe and that certainly turned out to be true. Set in and around Los Angeles, it weaves summer heat, wacky mysticism, outsize ambition, and broken dreams together into a tale with great Southern California flavor. And Archer is appropriately road worn: “I believed that evil was a quality some people were born with, like a harelip. But it isn't that simple. Everybody has it in him, and whether it comes out in his actions depends on a number of things. Environment, opportunity, economic pressure, a piece of bad luck, a wrong friend.”
In this world that he's accepted as more complex than he'd like it to be, he navigates using a solid personal code and a very hard skull—both severely tested multiple times. We gather the story is considered unremarkable compared to later Archer novels, but for us it was entirely satisfactory. It satisfied Hollywood too, which made it into a star vehicle for Paul Newman called Harper. Why the name of the detective was changed we can't even begin to guess, but we saw the movie a couple of years ago and it was enjoyable. Below you see a 1959 Pocket Books edition of The Moving Target with Jerry Allison art. More from MacDonald later.
Then she smashed my head repeatedly into the turnbuckle until the ref stopped the match. So... how was your day?
Nice cover for Ben West's Loves of a Girl Wrestler, from Beacon Books, with art by Al Rossi. We won't bother to summarize this one because we've also uploaded the interesting rear cover, just below, and it has a full rundown. Originally 1952 copyright, with this edition appearing in 1960.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
2009—Farrah Fawcett Dies
American actress Farrah Fawcett, who started as a model but became famous after one season playing detective Jill Munroe on the television show Charlie's Angels
after a long battle with cancer.
1938—Chicora Meteor Lands
In the U.S., above Chicora, Pennsylvania, a meteor estimated to have weighed 450 metric tons explodes in the upper atmosphere and scatters fragments across the sky. Only four small pieces are ever discovered, but scientists estimate that the meteor, with an explosive power of about three kilotons of TNT, would have killed everyone for miles around if it had detonated in the city.
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
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