|Vintage Pulp||Jan 18 2013|
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.
|Vintage Pulp||Feb 6 2012|
You never want to go too long without a little National Informer in your life, so we’ve brought you another issue of our all-time favorite tabloid, this one published today in 1972. It’s an almost all-sex issue, with articles about fetishism, group sex, lesbian sex in prison, male contraceptive pills, hookers flying the friendly skies, and advanced stimulation methods to drive your partner wild. Mixed in there, in a place where you’d easily overlook it, is a great paste-up photo of Richard Nixon playing chess with Fidel Castro. Chess had something you could almost call mass appeal in the U.S. back in the 1970s, and Castro was a chess aficionado who once hosted a tournament in Havana that drew Mexican Grandmaster Filiberto Terrazas, American Grandmaster and world champ Bobby Fischer, and Soviet-Armenian Grandmaster Tigran Petrosian. So, in the context of the times, the Nixon/Castro composite isn’t as random as it seems. We’ve blown up the photo below, and included other pages of interest.
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||Feb 4 2012|
Today we have a cover for the 1964 espionage novel Ring Around Rosy, and normally, what would be of the most interest here is yet another perfect piece of art by Robert McGinnis, but in this case we have an author whose life may have been even more rife with danger and intrigue than those of his characters. Many of you probably already know that Gordon Davis was in reality E. Howard Hunt, who was involved in the Watergate Hotel scandal which led directly to the toppling of Richard Nixon’s presidency, a landmark moment in the American psyche because it represented a loss political innocence for millions of citizens. But that all came later, when Hunt was pushed unwillingly into the light after the bungled Watergate operations. What makes him fascinating is everything that came before.
E. Howard Hunt was a dedicated writer in his early years, and after winning a Guggenheim fellowship, went on to publish as the aforementioned Davis, as well as Robert Dietrich, and David St. John. He joined the CIA in 1949, and was stationed in Mexico City along with William F. Buckley. While there, he helped plan the overthrow of Guatemala’s president Jacobo Arbenz, which brought about unrest that funneled into a civil war in which 200,000 people were killed, about 90% of them civilians. A few years later Hunt helped to create a Cuban government-in-exile that would take over that island after Fidel Castro was ousted by U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs insurgents. The invasion didn’t come off as planned, though, and the fallout was damaging enough that Hunt needed to rehabilitate his career.
He took a position as chief of the CIA’s illegal domestic spying branch the Domestic Operations Division shortly after its formation in 1962 by John F. Kennedy. The idea behind the Division was to spy on enemies inside the U.S., which ostensibly meant acting against foreign embassies that might be harboring spies, but in a classic—and inevitable—example of mission creep, pretty soon the Division began illegally spying onAmerican citizens, specifically civil rights activists. After a couple of years Hunt was re-stationed in Mexico City, where sources claim he had dealings with Lee Harvey Oswald in the time leading up to Kennedy’s assassination. Hunt categorically denied ever meeting Oswald, though he later made revelations regarding Kennedy. In any case, being on the government payroll wasn't what he wanted to do anymore—he never got over his anger at Kennedy’s refusal to invade Cuba or overthrow Castro—so he decided to get into the private sector.
This eventually led to him becoming a member of Richard Nixon’s Special Investigations Unit, aka the White House Plumbers, which were both fancy names for the collection of men who were the President’s secret fixers. This was exactly the sort of off-the-books work Hunt had been seeking. It allowed him to remain in the black ops game, but freed him from accountability to layers of career bureaucrats. Under Nixon’s direction and that of White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, Hunt broke into various residences—in violation of both property and spying laws—looking for dirt on people such as reporter Daniel Ellsberg and politician Teddy Kennedy. He was also involved in disinformation campaigns, such as forging fake cables suggesting that John F. Kennedy had ordered the assassination of foreign officials, and trying (but failing) to link a would-be assassin to Democrats by planting George McGovern campaign material in the house of Arthur Bremer, the man who shot conservative politician George Wallace.
We’ve drifted pretty far away from the subject of Ring Around Rosy (which by the way is an adventure concerning Cuba, as were several of Hunt's books), but let’s drift a bit further, and make this point: isn’t it fascinating that in an age in which so many conspiracies have been documented andverified, people are still afraid to believe behind-the-scenes machinations are what really make the planet go ’round? Hunt's dirty tricks are all a matter of record, and had profound effects on international affairs, yet many would like to believe he is a rarity. But whether we're talking about hushed meetings in political backrooms or secret get-togethers between bankers at private clubs, conspiracies are the engine of the world. It isn’t a nice realization, but it’s a logical one.
Hunt wrote novels throughout his black ops years, but as time wore on often used his literary gift to grind axes, modeling characters after men he hated. For example, JFK appeared thinly disguised in the 1972 political potboiler The Coven, in which a youthful, charismatic, Catholic presidential candidate is a secret Devil worshipper. The quality of Hunt’s fiction had declined since his Guggenheim fellowship days, according to many critics, but his name and background guaranteed sales, and still does today (as any Hunt-related internet comment chain, with their pronouncements about his “real deal tough guy” qualities, makes quite clear).
At the end of his life, Hunt dropped a bombshell by confessing to involvement in a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. He described himself as a “benchwarmer” in the plot, i.e., somebody to be brought in if the first team failed, and named everyone involved. The confession was made to his son, which gave rise to questions about both veracity and motive. But if Hunt had confessed on the front page of the Washington Post can wereally doubt that there would still be droves of people unwilling to accept it? It makes sense, though. If Watergate stole the political innocence of millions of Americans, proof of an assassination plot by members of the U.S. government against their own president would be a national cataclysm. So Hunt’s confession is forgotten, while everything else he ever did, survives.
|Vintage Pulp||Sep 9 2011|
This National Police Gazette from September 1974 treats us to several great stories, including an article claiming that Richard Nixon’s only crime was not knowing what the “boobs” around him were doing. Ah yes, the old rogue subordinates excuse. Works great for presidents and corporate heads, but for you, well, not so much. Elsewhere in the issue you get an article on how to score an exotic bride, and sharp-eyed readers may notice that the “Haitian” bride is actually American actress Gloria Hendry, who we featured a couple of weeks ago. But what really caught our attention in this Gazette is the article by U.S. Senator Vance Hartke about cheap, superfast rail travel. It’s filled with promises and optimism, steeped in for-the-good-of-the-people rhetoric, and even includes a sample 1986 cross-country timetable. Imagine it. Within twelve years Americans would blaze overland at 300 mph, and this rail system, envy of the world, would be clean, pleasant, and cheap—a mere $75 coast-to-coast. But a funny thing happened on the way to this future—politics that used to frame tomorow in terms of the things it was possible for the public to have changed so that it now frames tomorrow in terms of what it isn't possible for the public to have. Although limited high-speed rail service has finally been built in the U.S., Americans who want to experience train travel at the velocities cited in Hartke's dreamy article have to visit other countries. As to whether a true super fast system will ever be built in the U.S., we wouldn’t venture a guess either way, but it certainly is thought provoking to read what some people thought the near future would bring.
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||Sep 25 2010|
By the beginning of 1973 the strings were unraveling at the White House and Nixon was in full ass-coverage mode. In April he asked for and received H.R. Haldeman’s resignation, along with that of John Erlichman. Eventually, Haldeman went to prison, where he served eighteen months for obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Richard Nixon managed to ride out the scandal for two years, but finally resigned in August 1974. Haldeman of course wrote a book about Watergate, and in it he shed some light on what had happened, and who had failed. But he also made it clear that he had few regrets: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind today that if I were back at the starting point, faced with the decision of whether to join up, even knowing what the ultimate outcome would be, I would unhesitatingly do it.”
|Hollywoodland | Vintage Pulp||Apr 26 2010|
Above is a colorful cover of the tabloid Top Secret, from this month 1960, with Sammy Davis, Jr. composited next to a woman the magazine says is his future wife, Canadian singer Joan Suart. But things change quickly in Hollywood. Davis had just broken off his engagement with Stuart and was already seeing Swedish actress May Britt, who he would marry in the autumn. In any case, Stuart doesn't look anything like Kim Novak, the world class beauty Davis had briefly been involved with and who he may well have been pining for since their split. We’ve mentioned the story before: when Novak was possibly the most famous woman in cinema, she and the Candyman started sleeping together. Her studio bosses weren’t about to risk the news reaching the public, so they spoke to some Mafia friends and had Sammy kidnapped to throw a scare into him. It worked, and the affair with Novak ended.
It gets worse. The Mafia then pushed Davis into a marriage with a black dancer—just to squelch the Novak rumors that had begun to crop up—and the union lasted less than a year. His marriage to May Britt lasted longer, about eight years, but even though Sammy had found a woman the Mafia didn’t care about, most other Americans were scandalized. It was driven by racism, of course, but it was also driven by that eternal desire to control women’s sexuality. Ask any woman you know, and she'll agree that men are always trying to tell her whom she can sleep with, irrespective of skin color. Davis thought he could handle the public fallout from his interracial marriage, but when John F. Kennedy caved in to political pressure and removed him from the bill of a White House party, it scarred Davis and led to the bizarre sight of him endorsing Richard Nixon and even hugging him on live television.
There’s a second interesting story here, about the child star Evelyn Rudie, left. Rudie was nine years old in November 1959 when, without telling anyone where she was going, she hopped on a plane for Washington, D.C., with the purpose of seeing First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. Rudie supposedly broke open her four piggy banks and collected $160.00 in change, which was just enough for a ticket to D.C. And why did she want to see the First Lady? Here’s what she said at the time: “When I saw Mrs. Eisenhower in Washington last year, she told me that her grandchildren and the President enjoyed my acting so much. So I decided to talk with her and see if she couldn’t get me a part in a film or television series.” That’s called going straight to the top. But Rudie never got to see the First Lady. Mainly, she just made headlines. And that’s the most interesting part about this—the headlines did not concern the fact that she had traveled alone, but that the whole scenario might have been a publicity stunt. How times have changed. Today, her parents might end up in jail for neglect. We’ll have more from Top Secret soon.
|Politique Diabolique||Dec 19 2008|
Famed whistleblower Mark Felt aka Deep Throat died yesterday of heart failure in Santa Rosa, California at the age of 95. In 1972 Felt was instrumental in helping Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein break open the infamous Watergate scandal, which remains one of the most important events in American history.
At the time, Felt was an FBI operative frustrated by the slow pace of investigation into a break-in at Democratic Party Headquarters at Washington, D.C.’s Watergate Hotel. It seemed clear to him that Republican operatives—possibly directed by President Richard Nixon—were likely involved, and that they were sabotaging the FBI investigation. Felt took matters into his own hands by secretly meeting with Bob Woodward during the Post’s investigation of the crime.
At these meetings, which took place in the dead of night in a Virginia parking garage, Felt gave Woodward crucial FBI information. They agreed that Felt’s identity could not be revealed, and that was when Woodward coined the Deep Throat moniker. Felt coined his own immortal phrase: “Follow the money.” That advice helped keep Woodward and Bernstein moving in the right direction during their investigation, and today is a mantra for investigative reporters seeking the truth behind political scandals, as well as an almost universal insight into human motivation.
When the Watergate scandal broke, Nixon resigned the presidency rather than be impeached. The event is often cited as the first major blow to the American public’s belief that their presidents were incorruptible. In that way, Mark Felt helped usher in an age of political cynicism. When he finally revealed his true identity in 2005, the Watergate saga was replayed and he was criticized and praised anew for his role. But whether hero or traitor, he is without question one of the most important Americans of his time.