Anselmo Ballester helped set the artistic standard in the competitive world of Italian movie illustrators.
Anselmo Ballester is yet another virtuoso poster artist from Italy, where cinema promos were taken perhaps more seriously as art pieces than anyplace in the world. We've documented many of these Italian geniuses, including Mafé, Luigi Martinati, Sandro Symeoni, Mario de Berardinis, and others. Ballester, born in 1897, predated nearly all of his colleagues (only Martinati was born earlier) and enjoyed a fifty year career working for studios such as Cosmopolis, Titanus, Twentieth Century Fox, and RKO Radio Pictures. He also worked in commercial and political advertising. For the titles of the above works just check the keywords below. They're in top-to-bottom order in Italian and English.
Reaching the top isn’t easy. Staying on top is even harder.
Above is a Spanish poster by Josep Soligó Tena for La casa de la colina, which was originally released in the U.S. as The House on Telegraph Hill. The movie tells the story of a Polish concentration camp survivor—played by Valentina Cortese—who upon release takes the identity of her dead friend, and later insinuates herself into the lives of the dead woman’s San Francisco relatives. This identity swap is the classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin, which is to say it initially seems to be the plot driver, but later isn’t important at all. While Cortese’s labyrinthine lie is always a worrisome background element, the movie is really about how she finds herself embroiled in an inheritance mess and a love triangle. We thought this movie was quite good, but you do have to ignore bits like the improbable placement of a child’s playhouse above a sheer drop (in a sense, another MacGuffin, as the threat of falling has no bearing at all on later developments). Highly recommended movie, and it has nice San Fran exteriors as a bonus. The House on Telegraph Hill premiered in the U.S. in 1951, and as La casa de la colina in Spain today in 1952. See more work from Tena here.
Classic style for classic movies.
Catalan painter Josep Soligó Tena spent thirty years under contract to Hispano Foxfilms, the Spanish subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox, and during that time created many beautiful promo posters. Today for your enjoyment we have a collection of some of his best. Yes, we are aware he uglified Grace Kelly (panel four), but he’s had that difficulty before with beautiful women. He’s still excellent, though. Eleven scans below.
Were they selling the movie or only its star?
Do they still run ads in newspapers for motion picture releases? The one above ran in dozens of U.S. papers during the run-up to the release of One Million Years B.C., the Raquel Welch lost world flick that cemented her status as a leading sex symbol. The ad (which seems to promote mainly Welch, since we don’t learn the name of the film until we read the fine print at bottom), appeared today in 1966, and One Million Years B.C. followed in February. Bikinis haven’t been the same since.
Have you ever had a terrible dream and couldn’t wake up?
This West German poster for Der Scharlatan, aka Nightmare Alley shows Twentieth Century Fox pretty boy Tyrone Power in his role as The Great Stanton, a conniving psychic. Power felt constricted by the romance and adventure parts he’d played up to that point, so he bought the rights to William Lindsay Gresham’s novel and dirtied himself up. He plays a lowly carnival barker who realizes that an ingenious verbal code is the key to reaching the heights of fame. The code allows a seer to work in tandem with an assistant to correctly answer the questions of spectators. You know the drill: “I’m sensing that there’s a Mr. Abernathy here and he’s... wait… it’s coming… Sir, you’re concerned about your wife’s health. Isn’t that right? Well let me tell you, she’s already on the mend. You’ll get good news from the doctor tomorrow!” Though the code’s owners aren’t using it, they plan to sell it to fund their retirement, and that looks to be some years off. This forces Power to either to steal it or sweet talk his way into it. As it turns out, he doesn’t have to do either, but once he has the code and has built an act around it, the fame and riches it brings fail to quench his greed.
Nightmare Alley was not warmly reviewed upon release, but many of those reviews simply found the movie too gritty. Such criticisms tend to make their authors look out of touch. For example, Bosley Crowther was demoted from his position as the New York Times’ main critic in large part for slamming Bonnie and Clyde in three separate articles, despite the film’s obvious quality. Nightmare Alley had similar detractors—it was just too downbeat for some, even for a film noir. But within its fictional milieu it's highly successful. Our world has every kind of depravityand cruelty, and movies that depict them must be judged on their own terms. So ignore the haters—Nightmare Alley is excellent. Power puts on an award-worthy performance, and Joan Blondell and Colleen Gray are great in support. There’s a pivotal moment in the film when it seems possible Power’s character has some actual psychic ability. Too bad he can’t see his own future. Nightmare Alley premiered in 1947, and finally made its way to West Germany today in 1954.
Hush-Hush says they didn’t want her even in the nude, but is that true?
The story probably fueled ten million fantasies. Marilyn Monroe had stripped naked on the set of her last movie Something’s Got To Give. Monroe was eventually fired, the production was scrapped, and the footage was archived, but if it had been released, she would have been the first Hollywood actress to appear unclothed onscreen since the 1920s. It’s interesting, isn’t it, to reflect upon the effect a minority of prudes had on Hollywood? Because of them, Monroe’s unreleased scene, and Jayne Mansfield’s later nude scene in 1963’s Promises, Promises, merely brought American cinema back to where it had already been four decades earlier.
In the movie Monroe’s character is in a pool and calls up to a window where Dean Martin resides. Martin is married and Monroe is disrupting his life, so when he sees her, he tells her to get out of the water. She complies and Martin realizes she’s nude. It's a standard sex comedy oops moment. Monroe began the filming of the scene in a body stocking, then removed that and wore a flesh-colored bikini bottom. After the scene she posed for some publicity shots for several surprised photographers, and during that period removed even the bottoms. Some sources say she also shot the scene nude, but most say the bottoms came off afterward.
Hush-Hush was not the first magazine to break the story of Monroe’s peel down. Life had done that in June 1962, accompanied by a couple of titillating photos. By the time Hush-Hush told the tale Monroe was two months dead. The blurb MM—Even In The Nude They Didn’t Want Her wasn’t strictly true. The production company Twentieth Century Fox most certainly did want her. A hospital stint prior to production had caused her to shed twenty-five pounds, bringing her to a weight she had never reached in her adult life, despite exercise and dieting. The newly svelte Monroe looked good and Fox was getting her cheap—$100,000.
By most accounts, Monroe knew her career was in trouble. She was making one tenth one what Elizabeth Taylor was making at the time, and was determined to remind people they were still dealing with possibly the biggest sex symbol who had ever lived. She knew that if she stripped she might be falling into the same old trap of making it easy for people to not take her seriously, but if her career really was finished she was determined to go down swinging. In the end her stunt was irrelevant. Her health problems had made her thin, but they lingered and caused numerous costly production delays, causing Fox to finally give up and pull the plug. That was June 1962. Two months later she was gone.
Marilyn had a little lamb, but soon she'd have the world.
By now we shouldn’t be surprised where Marilyn Monroe turns up. Still though, we never thought we’d see her befrocked and befrilled, fondling livestock in a field. Yet there she is on the April 26, 1946 cover of the women’s magazine The Family Circle. At the time, Monroe was modeling just about anywhere she could find work, going by her real name Norma Jeane Daugherty. She was twenty years old, one year away from her first film appearance, and two years away from her first minor film contract with Columbia Pictures. The year after that, in 1949, still trying to make ends meet, she posed nude for photographer Tom Kelley. In 1952 one photo from that session ended up on a Western Lithograph Co. pin-up calendar. Monroe was a contract player with 20th Century Fox by then, and the studio feared the photos would cause a scandal. They were wrong. Monroeadmitted posing nude to pay the rent, and the public was fine with it. The next month she appeared on the cover of Life. Said Monroe: “Oh, the calendar’s hanging in garages all over town. Why deny it? You can get one anyplace. Besides, I’m not ashamed of it. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Monroe’s career took off from there, but there’s a modern postscript to the story—namely, with the internet being what it is (a massive repository of misinformation the likes of which we never could have imagined a mere fifteen years ago), there are many shots of Monroe out there that are misidentified as the one that ended up on that 1952 calendar. So we took the liberty of posting a scan of the Life story, with its inset of the Monroe calendar. The shot you see there—and not the several others appearing on assorted websites—is the one that scandalized Monroe’s bosses but was shrugged off by the public. The nude image is pretty small in Life, but the internet being what it is (a massive repository of nakedness the likes of which we could never have imagined—but always hoped for), we were able to simply grab a larger version of Kelley’s shot and post it below so that, for purely academic interest, you can have a closer look. The photo will disappear if we get a cease and desist order, but for now it’s there.
1963 post mortem on Marilyn Monroe’s life and career leaves plenty out but is still worth a viewing.
This nice poster was made for the Yugoslavian release of Marilyn, a 1963 documentary about her life and death. When Monroe died during the filming of Something's Got To Give, this feature was hastily cobbled together and rushed into cinemas to fill the gap that had appeared in Twentieth Century Fox's release schedule. It was narrated by Rock Hudson, which is why he appears on the art, and featured Monore's most memorable screen moments, including her song and dance "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. These days, more is known about Monroe’s life than was the case in 1963, so those looking for tabloid style dish will be disappointed. This is a tribute intended to burnish her legend, rather than a real documentary designed dig into it. But it’s a good movie, not least because it gives a clear portrait of her unmatched stature as a celebrity at that time. Marilyn premiered in the U.S. today in 1963. As a bonus, below are some images of Monroe at her most alluring.
Gene Tierney was born with everything, but life took much of it away.
Her name was Gene Tierney and she lived a fairytale existence before ever becoming a movie star. Her parents and grandparents were wealthy. She attended the finest schools on the East Coast and was sent to finishing school in Switzerland. She decided she wanted a career in theater and her father formed a corporation to promote her ambitions. Even in her earliest, smallest stage roles, critics were dazzled by her beauty. Hollywood was a natural next step, and she took it by signing with Twentieth Century Fox and appearing in 1941’s Hudson Bay. The roles and good reviews kept coming, and soon she starred in Otto Preminger’s 1944 noir Laura, about a police detective who falls in love with the portrait of a dead woman. Or at least he thinks she’s dead. Tierney was perfect in the title role—that of a woman more beautiful yet more complicated than her alluring painted image. Laura was a hit and Tierney became a huge star.
But unbeknownst to most, Tierney’s fairytale existence had already taken a dark turn. She had married renowned designer Oleg Cassini in 1941 and by 1943 was pregnant. But the baby girl was born brain damaged because, while pregnant, Tierney had somehow contracted rubella, a form of measles transmitted through fluid emission, the same way flu can be passed. Tierney was consumed by anger and guilt over her daughter’s condition, but her career was in full swing and she managed to hide her anguish as the roles continued—A Bell for Adano and Leave Her to Heaven in 1945, Dragonwyck and The Razor’s Edge in 1946, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir in 1947. At some point, at some public function or other, Tierney randomly encountered a woman who said they had actuallymet before, during one of Tierney’s appearances at the Hollywood Canteen. In fact, the woman had been in the Marines at the time and had wanted to meet Tierney so badly she had broken a quarantine to do so. It took another chance meeting with the same woman before Tierney put two and two together: “A year later, I met the same girl again on the tennis courts at a friend’s home in Hollywood. She reminded me of the night she had broken quarantine. 'I got the German measles,' she said. 'Did you get them, too?'" Tierney said that after the woman had recounted her story, she just stared at her silently, then turned and walked away. She wrote in her autobiography, “After that I didn’t care whether ever again I was anyone’s favorite actress.”
The revelation changed Tierney. By 1950 she was suffering from depression and bi-polar disorder, yet managed a good performance in another classic noir, Jules Dassin’s dazzling Night and the City. But while her reviews were still good, her marriage to Cassini was failing. They divorced in 1952. Tierney’s depression persisted and doctors treated her with electroshocks—thirty-two sessions that completely erased portions of her memory. Her fairytale life was gone. Meanwhile she was enduring a series of failed romances that led to even more depression. Her career sputtered and in 1955 she stopped acting. When she felt ready for a comeback in the early sixties, her star had faded. After several more roles, she settled into retirement in Texas and finally died of emphysema today in 1991. But Tierney is one of the most fondly remembered stars of Hollywood’s golden age, and one of the few who got to play a role that was so perfectly a metaphor for her life. Like the lovestruck detective in Laura, the public fell for a portrait that was beautiful but ultimately false. As Tierney’s cool-as-ice Laura Hunt said, “To him, I, like everything else, am only half real. The other half exists only in his own mind.”
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
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