If there’s such a thing as the most amazing dress ever made, Carroll Baker wore it.
In the summer of 1964, promoting her movie The Carpetbaggers, American actress Carroll Baker attended a premiere at London’s Plaza Theatre in Piccadilly Circus wearing a $28,000.00 transparent dress from designer Pierre Balmain. She had worn it before at the U.S. premiere in June, which means Londoners had an inkling what they were going to see, but what resulted was, well, a circus. The crowd went nuts and the situation devolved into what some newspapers described as a near riot. The above National Examiner, published today in 1972, features Baker wearing what we noticed was a similar but not identical dress. We got curious where it came from, and so we went looking.
Turns out in late 1964 designer Oleg Cassini, entranced by the Balmain dress, designed a similar version for Baker to wear at a promotional event in Las Vegas. The difference is in the placement of the beading—Balmain’s left a v-shaped peek-a-boo, whereas Cassini’s left a diagonal opening across the chest. You can see the difference below. Cassini had built his version of the dress in Baker’s absence using a model of identical size, but it didn’t really fit because bodies have all sorts of differences, even if their crude numerical aspects are ostensibly the same. Baker endured eighteen precarious hours in a gown that was so tightshe couldn’t shake hands without it shifting to reveal parts she wanted to keep hidden. She later wore the dress—hopefully altered—at a premiere of Cheyenne Autumn, and a photo of her posing with a dozen costumed Native Americans survives today in the Associated Press archives.
But the dress wasn’t finished quite yet. The next year immortal costumer Edith Head designed yet another variation on Balmain’s original for Baker to wear promoting the film Harlow. We don’t know where the previous two gowns went, but the Head version, one of several she put together, survived and has appeared in Hollywood fashion exhibitions as recently as 2003. Baker also wore a Balmain (or Cassini or Edith Head copy) during a 1966 troop tour in Vietnam, and the only reason a full firefight didn’t break out among the GIs the moment she unveiled herself is probably because that version had no cut-outs (right).
Extreme publicity stunts were apparently not unusual for Baker. She considered herself a good actress, but felt that she couldn’t become a star in Hollywood without promoting herself as a sex symbol. “I’ve tried just acting,” she once said, “but sex sells at the box office.” As time wore on, she went from threatening to walk off the set of Station Six—Sahara due to the director pressuring her to appear nude to playing unclothed roles in The Sweet Body of Deborah, Così dolce... così perversa, and Paranoia, as well appearing nude in Playboy and Playmen. Nothing like a shrinking bank account to totally reshape one’s morals. In 1966 AP scribe Doris Klein wrote that Baker was “almost too pretty, too much like a slim teenager to play a sexpot.” But Baker became one of the biggest sexpots in the world. Looking at the 1964 Balmain, and the three to six versions that followed, we’d say it was inevitable. France
, Las Vegas
, Piccadilly Circus
, Station Six—Sahara
, Cheyenne Autumn
, The Sweet Body of Deborah
, The Carpetbaggers
, Così dolce... così perversa
, National Examiner
, Carroll Baker
, Oleg Cassini
, Edith Head
, Pierre Balmain
A politics-free Olympiad? Only in our dreams.
Something we've had lying around for two years, this is the week we finally get to share this Japanese poster for the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. History books and our fathers tell us what a turbulent Olympiad that was. It was the height of Vietnam and the civil rights struggle, and African American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised up a black power salute on the medal podium while the U.S. national anthem was played. That is the event many seem to remember, but of great importance was the Mexican government’s massacre of unarmed student protestors in the Tlatelolco barrio of Mexico City. Although it happened before the Olympics began, the protest was tied to the games because part of the students’ dissatisfaction had to do with the Mexican government’s spending of the equivalent of $7.5 billion to stage the event. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia, prompting medal winner Vera Caslavska to turn her head away during the playing of the Soviet anthem. 1968—you wouldn’t really call it a good year. But at least we have this good poster.
, Mexico City
, Ciudad Mexico
, Tlatelolco Massacre
, Summer Olympics
, Vera Caslavska
, Tommie Smith
, John Carlos
, poster art
All of America seemed to want George Hamilton sent to Southeast Asia.
We’re doubling up on Confidential this weekend because we have so many. Here’s another February issue, this one from 1967, with an unusual white cover featuring actor George Hamilton. What was the big deal about him joining the army? Well, he was dating Lynda Bird Johnson, who happened to be the daughter of Lady Bird Johnson, who happened to be the wife of president Lyndon Baines Johnson. Pro-Vietnam War Confidential is urging him to prove to America that he was not passed over in the draft because of his connection to the White House. The idea of pressing for men such as Hamilton to be inducted also seemed to make sense to the anti-war left, which believed putting the scions of high society in jeopardy would hasten the end of the country’s Asian misadventure. You see that strategy being carried out below, by three members of the Ad Hoc Committee to Draft George Hamilton. We have no data on whetherpushing for more upper class draftees hastened the end of the war, and we doubt any exists. But it’s true that minority participation and casualties fell as the conflict progressed—though the numbers didn’t shift as radically as many people think. As far as whether Hamilton’s relationship with Lynda Bird Johnson actually kept him out of Southeast Asia, officially at least, Hamilton was passed over because he represented the sole means of support for his mother. But as Confidential succintly put it: "As sole support of your mother you escaped the draft. Now you have $1,000,000, a Rolls Royce, and a 39-room house. So what's holding you back, tiger?"
Eddie Adams’ photograph inadvertently helped change public opinion about the Vietnam War.
Above, one of the most important photographic images of the twentieth century, a Pulitzer Prize winner shot by photographer Eddie Adams. On a sweltering Saigon afternoon, a Viet Cong officer is executed by South Vietnamese national police chief Brig. Gen Nguyen Ngoc Loan, forty-two years ago today. There’s also a widely seen film of the gruesome incident. The photo galvanized the U.S. anti-war effort, but interestingly, Adams regretted taking it, saying that the circumstances around such a photo could never be adequately explained and Nguyen Ngoc Loan appeared to be a villain when perhaps he wasn’t. Such complex considerations are no longer a serious worry for war photographers. Due to Pentagon restrictions, it’s highly unlikely an image like this could now be captured.
Good thing Chris Noel dressed for warm weather, because she spent quite a bit of time in the jungle.
We ran across this 1970s-era Japanese celebrity magazine Movie Information featuring Chris Noel on the cover and absolutely had to repost it. She was a notable figure during the Vietnam War due to her “A Date with Chris” radio program, which she broadcast twice weekly to American troops. The show was immensely popular. In fact she was thought by the Viet Cong to be such a morale boost that they reportedly placed a $10,000 bounty on her head. They never managed to kill her, but helicopters in which she rode often took ground fire, and two crash-landed with her aboard. Her efforts to make personal contact with U.S. troops wereremarkable when you consider she had already established herself in b-movies and on television and may have been on the verge of becoming a star. Yet she put Hollywood on hold and instead became a radio broadcaster in a war zone. After Vietnam she tried to return to movies but the reception in Tinseltown was icy for a minor actress who was perceived to have supported a U.S. war of aggression. Eventually she gave up and opened a shelter for homeless veterans, which she still runs today. All in all it’s a remarkable—perhaps even movie-worthy—story.
History has written a last draft on Vietnam. The event is remembered by the majority of the world as an error, one that cost the U.S. considerable prestige, and resulted in a humanitarian disaster for the Vietnamese—more than two million civilian deaths according to the most conservative tallies. Even the war’s chief architect, Robert McNamara, who died recently, declared the conflict a colossal mistake. Today Vietnam remains under communist rule, but has restored diplomatic ties with the U.S. and is one of the most welcoming nations in the world, a place where Americanvets comment with amazement upon the Vietnamese ability to put the war behind them despite the ghastly suffering they endured. But whatever history’s take on that divisive period, personalities like Chris Noel are worth admiring. During a time when politicians, pundits, and protestors fought a war of their own over the direction of the United States, Chris Noel rejected the glitz and glamour of Hollywood in order to serve the grunts who were sacrificing their lives on the firing line.
Castro rails against capitalist stooges who stole his idea for oversized foam finger.
Castro is at it again, according to the rightwing scandal rag Police Gazette. These guys had Castro on the brain, and in this December 1965 issue they seemed to think the Beard was training Viet Cong killer squads in Cuba. This is amazing, considering the VC would have had to travel halfway around the world from Southeast Asia and penetrate a U.S. blockade in the Caribbean. Maybe they tunneled. With that kind of persistence, you can see why they won the war. You also get a speculative story on Porfirio Rubirosa’s fiery Ferarri crack-up earlier that year. Police Gazette suggests suicide is not outside the realm of possibility. We beg to differ—Rubirosa had just won the Coupe de France polo cup that day and was probably as satisfied as he’d ever been, which is really saying something, since the character of James Bond was based on him. Would James Bond commit suicide? We don’t think so. Did Police Gazette readers really believe all this faux news? You can bet on it. You can read more about the amazing Mr. Rubirosa here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
1938—Alicante Is Bombed
During the Spanish Civil War, a squadron of Italian bombers sent by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to support the insurgent Spanish Nationalists, bombs the town of Alicante, killing more than three-hundred people. Although less remembered internationally than the infamous Nazi bombing of Guernica the previous year, the death toll in Alicante is similar, if not higher.
1977—Star Wars Opens
George Lucas's sci-fi epic Star Wars premiers in the Unites States to rave reviews and packed movie houses. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the film goes on to earn $460 million in the U.S. and $337 million overseas, while spawning a franchise that would eventually earn billions and make Lucas a Hollywood icon.
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