Hollywoodland | Vintage Pulp Dec 13 2010
YACHT IN THE ACT
You better be ready when your ship comes in.

This December 1955 cover of Inside asks why Hollywood fears Louella Parsons. And the answer is because Parsons was at the time arguably the most important tastemaker in the world. Louella Parsons, née Luella Rose Oettinger, was the first person to write a true gossip column, beginning in 1914 when she worked for the Chicago Record Herald. Later, publisher William Randolph Hearst gave her a column in the Los Angeles Examiner that was eventually syndicated to 600 papers worldwide, which amounted to a readership of about twenty million people. She considered herself Hollywood’s moral watchdog and didn’t think twice about damaging the careers of celebrities she believed had behaved badly. She was also the gatekeeper of success for aspiring starlets—a few negative words in her column and a lifetime’s dream was shattered. The irony of all this self-righteousness is that she may have earned her column as a reward for helping cover up a killing.

The story goes that powerful publisher William Randolph Hearst either accidentally or intentionally shot producer Thomas Ince in the head while cruising with Ince, Hopper, and other guests on his 200-foot yacht the Oneida. While it’s impossible to say if this is true, it’s interesting that the guests on Hearst’s boat all had wildly different stories about what happened. Several, including Charlie Chaplin, denied ever being on the cruise, a claim that was contradicted by other guests. Hearst’s papers went the opposite route, reporting in unison that it was Ince who had never been on the boat. Instead, they claimed he died of a heart attack on Hearst’s ranch in San Simeon. Later the story was revised—he had been on the boat, but had taken ill, left for Los Angeles by train, and died en route. By legal standards, it would be impossible to prove a cover-up took place. But by the lesser standards of plain logic, there’s no doubt that when a guy gets sick and has to leave a boat, people don’t fall over themselves making up conflicting stories about what happened.

The aftermath of the incident was just as curious. Ince’s widow refused to allow an autopsy and had her husband immediately cremated. Hearst then set her up with a trust fund and she left for Europe, never to return. It was also around then that Hearst gave Parsons was a contract to be a columnist for his influential Examiner newspaper. All these gifts were, at the very least, cases of extremely suspicious timing, but Ince’s death was never seriously investigated. A token police inquiry predictably turned up nothing, and all the lies were papered over. Louella Parsons didn’t squander her Devil’s bargain—if indeed that’s what it was. From her post at the Examiner she ruled Hollywood for thirty years, a moral arbiter who in all likelihood had a secret in her past that dwarfed any of those she revealed in her column. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
January 19
1915—Claude Patents Neon Tube
French inventor Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube, in which an inert gas is made to glow various colors through the introduction of an electrical current. His invention is immediately seized upon as a way to create eye catching advertising, and the neon sign comes into existence to forever change the visual landscape of cities.
1937—Hughes Sets Air Record
Millionaire industrialist, film producer and aviator Howard Hughes sets a new air record by flying from Los Angeles, California to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds. During his life he set multiple world air-speed records, for which he won many awards, including America's Congressional Gold Medal.
January 18
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
January 17
1950—The Great Brinks Robbery Occurs
In the U.S., eleven thieves steal more than $2 million from an armored car company's offices in Boston, Massachusetts. The skillful execution of the crime, with only a bare minimum of clues left at the scene, results in the robbery being billed as "the crime of the century." Despite this, all the members of the gang are later arrested.
1977—Gary Gilmore Is Executed
Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah, ending a ten-year moratorium on Capital punishment in the United States. Gilmore's story is later turned into a 1979 novel entitled The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
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