An afternoon on the South Side.
The above photos show the Regal Cinema in Chicago one afternoon during the spring of 1941 as locals flock to see The Philadelphia Story, starring Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Cary Grant. The shots were made by Farm Security Administration photographer Edwin Rosskam, who had been tasked with documenting life in Chicago's black belt, which is where racist housing practices forced African Americans to live. Most of Rosskam's photos made abundantly clear that the underclass status forced upon blacks by redlining—the utilization of mortgage and insurance practices to hem them into tightly packed areas—led to less than desirable conditions, but many of his shots showed joyous moments and bustling civic life. These images of people decked out for a matinee are examples. They're part of the Office of War Information Collection maintained by the Library of Congress.
We're both starving, and frankly, the way he's behaved he's given us absolutely no reason not to eat him.
During the mid-century period, high quality cover art was seen as the key to paperback sales, thus many types of books received makeovers. Aussie novelist Ronald McKie's The Survivors is an example. You'd assume it was fiction but it's actually the true story of the Battle of Sunda Strait, which occurred in Indonesia between the islands of Java and Sumatra during World War II and pitted two Aussie cruisers against a major Japanese naval force. During a battle in which the outgunned Aussie ships fared better than could have been reasonably expected, both were sunk. In the aftermath a group of stranded men battled innumerable hazards in an attempt to survive. The book sprang from the handwritten account of an Aussie sailor who spent four years in a Japanese POW camp. He was a friend of McKie's, and when the author read the dairy pages he immediately decided to write a full accounting of the battle. As far as we know nobody ate anyone, but raft rides get pretty rough. The Survivors came out in hardback in 1953, with this Popular Library paperback appearing in 1954.
Well, technically I belong to Lester back there, but if you've got the money I'm available as a rental.
Sam Ross was the pen name of Samuel Rosen, a Russian born writer who was brought to the U.S. by his parents, attended school, joined the army, served during World War II, and turned both his immigrant and war experiences into journalism, fiction, and screenplays. He was immediately successful, and later shared his valuable insights by teaching at UCLA. You Belong to Me is a wrong-side-of-the-tracks tale of a married man who gets involved with another woman while his wife is out of town and finds himself in all sorts of trouble. The backdrop for his descent into craziness and danger is Manhattan, and often Harlem, which rarely fails in literature to provide writers the tools they need to craft a picturesque tale. Ross takes his protagonist through jazz clubs and all the rest. The book appeared as a paperback original from Popular Library in 1955, and the top notch cover art is by Owen Kampen.
My colleagues would be shocked if they knew the perverse pleasure I take in not washing my hands.
Does he go naked under his smock? Does he prefer Merlot over Syrah? What exactly is the doctor hiding? His secret is—spoiler alert!—he isn't really a doctor. Gerbrand was a year from finishing medical school when World War II swept him up and he found himself serving as a Wehrmacht medic, first in battle, and later in concentration camps. That's a serious secret. We were thinking about other terrible secrets doctors could have. If we were being treated by Gerbrand, here are five more things we'd hate to discover.
He took the Hippocratic Oath with his fingers crossed.
He gets a bizarre sexual thrill from giving injections.
No matter what time your appointment is he has his receptionist let you in an hour later.
During chest surgery he squeezes patients' hearts and makes quacking noises.
He knows exactly where Hitler's other ball is.
Anyway, during the war Gerbrand learns everything a real doctor would, and then some. When peace comes he lands a job as a surgeon in West Germany, becomes known and respected, and has romantic liaisons with upper crusty women. But his secret will come out and when it does he'll be in trouble bigtime. We won't tell you how it turns out, because that would require a second spoiler alert, and one per write-up is our limit. The book was originally published in 1955 as Without Sanction, and this retitled Dell paperback came in 1959 with cover art by James Hill.
She was one Man's ray of light.
This is a fantastic shot. One reason it caught our eye is that we've seen other photos with lacy shadows substituting for lingerie, but this one from 1930 may be the originator of the illusion. The person you see is Lee Miller. She was born in 1907 and became a fashion model in New York City during the late 1920s, before traveling to Paris with the intent of meeting the legendary photographer Man Ray. She succeeded and became his muse, lover, and frequent subject, as evidenced by this photo, which is his work.
Miller was widely acknowledged as one of the great beauties of her era, but modeling was not her career goal. Her plan had always been to become a photographer. Thus in addition to the other facets of her relationship with Ray, she also apprenticed for him. After absorbing what he had to share she eventually went on to shoot acclaimed World War II photos, some of them during perilous live combat, and documented the liberation of the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps, helping expose Nazi atrocities to the world.
In mid-1945 she was in Munich shooting images of the immediate aftermath of the war and posed for a nude shot in Adolf Hitler's bathtub. Yeah—Hitler. Her son, Antony Penrose, later said of the shot, “I think she was sticking two fingers up at Hitler. On the floor are her boots, covered with the filth of Dachau, which she has trodden all over Hitler’s bathroom floor. She is saying she is the victor.”
The photo was of course controversial, but Miller was a pure artist, always willing to make observers see the world in a new way—through her trained eye. So while the shot at top could be seen as reductive of a complex and accomplished personality, it actually reveals an important aspect of who she was—a daring, multi-faceted woman to whom convention was merely a challenge. And it's an overwhelmingly beautiful shot besides.
I took an oath to first do no harm, but you know what? Oath schmoath.
Sylva Koscina prepares to dispense some bitter pills in this still from the 1970 adventure L'Assaut des jeunes loups, aka Hornet's Nest, a World War II flick set in Italy, starring her and Rock Hudson. She plays a German physician, but sometimes you have to stop healing and start unhealing, at least when Hollywood is calling the shots. The movie came during the second stanza of Koscina's career, which was characterized by a lot of minimally successful mid-budget fare. But there's nothing minimal or mid about Koscina. She's one of the most fondly remembered European actresses of her era.
… two... and three. Wait. I screwed up again. That would've been on three and. I meant to do it on three.
Here's something backwards from what we usually share—a novel adapted from a film instead of vice versa. The Camp on Blood Island is a 1958 British-made World War II film written by J.M. White and Val Guest, and when you learn it was produced by schlockmeisters deluxe Hammer Film you could be forgiven for suspecting it was low rent b-cinema, but this is Hammer trying to be highbrow. Near the end of the Pacific War, a Japanese prison camp commandant decides that if Japan surrenders he'll execute all his prisoners. So the prisoners decide to prevent news of any prospective surrender from reaching the commandant by sabotaging communications, and they also prepare to rebel when the times comes. We may check the film out sometime, but we were mainly drawn by the paperback art. Not only did it remind us that prison camp novels are yet another subset of mid-century literature, but we saw the Josh Kirby signature on this one and realized we haven't featured him near enough. Last time we ran across him was on this excellent piece. We'll dig around for more. And we may also put together a small collection of prisoner-of-war covers later. They range from true stories to blatant sexploitation, and much of the art is worth seeing. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying
. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
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