The Naked City Jun 20 2014
GUN RAID KILLS BUGS DEAD
Top of the world one second. An anecdote the next.

Mobster Bugsy Siegel met his end in a Los Angeles bungalow belonging to his girlfriend Virginia Hill. His killer attacked from the dark through a window, spraying a burst of automatic fire from a .30-caliber military M1 carbine as Siegel was sitting on a sofa. Accounts of the damage to Siegel are all over the map, but the morgue photos tell the story. The shots came from a front rightward angle. He was hit in the torso with bullets that pierced his lungs, and he was hit twice in the head—once in the right cheek, and once in the right side of the nose. The pressure from that bullet passing through his skull blew his left eye out of its socket, but he was not actually shot in the eye. It happened today in 1947.

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The Naked City Mar 1 2014
HI AND BYE
Knocked for a loop in Los Angeles.

Were the police being whimsical? We don’t know. This evidentiary photo taken at Pacific Ocean Park shows the curious path that 19-year-old John Lee O’Brien took when he fatally plunged from a roller coaster into the sea, today in 1927. The image comes from the Los Angeles Public Library’s archive of twentieth century police photos. There are two accounts of what happened here. One says O’Brien fell 50 feet, but that doesn’t explain the strange loop in the photo.
 
The more plausible story is version two. In that one, O’Brien was showing off by standing up during the ride. When the car went around a curve, he lost his balance and plunged 125 feet into the ocean. A fall from that height would have his descent beginning from the higher track in the photo, whereupon—boing!—he struck the lower track, rebounded and fell a further 50 feet into the water, unconscious or possibly already dead. Maybe that’s what the loop signifies—bounciness. The coaster, by the way, was called the High Boy. See below.

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Intl. Notebook Feb 13 2014
THE END OF GENIUS
Legendary pin-up artist Aslan dies.

Sad news for the art world came across yesterday with reports of the death of Alain Gourdon, aka Aslan. He once said that he painted and sculpted women because the subject was inépuisable et éternel—inexhaustible and eternal. Certainly the work he produced over the decades has been both. Aslan lived in Canada for the last twenty years and it was there he died of a heart attack yesterday, aged 83. Above and below are two photos, one of him living the good life with two of his models, the second showing him (sort of) working. We'll put together a collection of his art soon.

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Hollywoodland Dec 18 2013
FONTAINE OF YOUTH

When Joan Fontaine decided to try her luck in Hollywood her mother reportedly refused to let her use the family’s name—de Havilland, which was being used by her actress sister Olivia—so she chose Fontaine as her last name. After a slow start earning good roles she scored the coveted part of Mrs. De Winter in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Daphne du Maurier adaptation Rebecca and was nominated for an Academy Award. She didn’t win that one, but the next year took home the statuette for her role in Suspicion, becoming the only performer to win an Oscar for acting in a Hitchcock film. From there her career took off, and she worked steadily through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Ironically, when her mother—a former actress—decided to rekindle her own career she did so under the stage name Lillian Fontaine. Of her famous sister, Joan Fontaine once said, “I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it.” The third part of that quip came true when Fontaine—née Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland—died of natural causes Sunday in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

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Sportswire Sep 20 2013
MORE THAN A MAN
American boxing great’s legacy includes seminal film about the antebellum South.

The death of boxing champ Ken Norton has produced some nice tributes, but we wanted to mention that he also made a couple of interesting movies. The one most worth watching is 1975’s Mandingo, a slavery tale that has gone unsurpassed for realism in depicting America’s antebellum South. A few movies are at the same level of historical accuracy (including the amazing Addio Zio Tom, which we’re going to feature here in a couple of weeks), but Mandingo remains notable for its sweaty, oppressive feel and rich cinematography. Norton wasn’t chosen for the pivotal role of Ganymede because he could act. He was chosen because of his physical build and good looks—the first was necessary for scenes in which his character takes part in brutal pit fights, and the second makes the movie’s subplot of forbidden sexual desire plausible. When we featured Mandingo a few years ago we didn’t recommend it fully, but any film which some prominent critics have hailed as a classic and was a clear influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, but which Robert Ebert originally rated a zero has to be worth watching, if only to see what the fuss is all about. 

 
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Intl. Notebook Aug 20 2013
ELMORE LIBRE
American literary giant Elmore Leonard dies.


After suffering a stroke a few weeks ago, American author Elmore Leonard died at his home in Detroit this morning. Tens of thousands of words will be written about Leonard’s contributions to literature, but we’ll let him speak for himself in this scene featuring a character named Neely Tucker, a journalist intent on perfectly remembering everything that happens, as he witnesses a brewing confrontation between a Cuban military officer and a tough cowboy in a supper club in Havana, Cuba, 1899:

It surprised Neely that Teo didn’t acknowledge Amelia first, ask her pardon for interrupting, walking up to the table unannounced. Amelia’s eyes were glued to the two men facing each other, Teo saying now in a very formal manner, “I request that you meet me tomorrow…” with an accent but the words clear enough: that Tyler meet him in the morning at first light in the Prado by the statue of Her Majesty Queen Isabella, Teo saying his second, Major Lionel Tavalera, would bring the pistols and Tyler would be given his choice of which one he would prefer to use.
 
Look at Amelia’s eyes, big as saucers, the sweet thing hanging on every word.
 
Tyler said, “I thought you wanted to sword fight.”
 
She loved it, looking at Tyler almost adoringly.
 
Tyler saying, “Now you want to shoot me. ’Cause I wouldn’t saddle a horse for you?”
 
Neely would tell her later her mouth was open and it distracted him, made it hard for him to concentrate on the details, and he didn’t want to take out his notebook—how would that look? He’d have to remember what was said.
 
Teo was saying now, “You insult me.”
 
Tyler asking him, “How do I do that?”
 
“The way you speak. You show no respect.”
 
“Why should I respect you?”
 
“There. You see?”
 
“What you need to do,” Tyler said, “is get over your touchiness. You understand what I mean? You’re too sensitive, got a thin skin on you. I’m not gonna stand out there by a statue and let you aim your pistol at me, not over something as piddling as you wanting your own way.”
 
There was no mistaking the hussar officer’s expression of hostility. Neely noted the narrowing of his eyes to slits; he glanced at Amelia to see the adorable creature completely absorbed.
 
Spellbound.
 
Tyler saying now to Teo, “You have a war going on. Doesn’t it give you enough people to kill?”
 
Teo didn’t waste a moment. Neely watched him shift his gloves from his left to his right hand and crack Tyler across the face, stinging him good with those kid gloves—harder in fact than need be, only the formality of the slap required and ordinarily accepted as a challenge. What was in no way part of the duello rites was Tyler cocking his fist and driving it hard into Teo’s wide-eyed expression, sending him stumbling back off-balance all the way to the bar, where Lionel Tavalera caught him around the shoulders and kept him on his feet. Neely could see that Teo, now the center of attention, wanted no help from anyone. He used his elbows to free himself of Tavalera, and Neely thought, Now what? Rant and rave? Promise the American he’ll kill him for sure on the morrow?
 
No, what Teo did, he drew a short-barrel pistol from inside his suit—a .32, it looked like—extended the weapon in what must be a classic dueling pose in the direction of Tyler, barely more than six paces away, and while he was taking deliberate aim, intent on an immediate finish to this business, Tyler pulled a big .44 revolver from inside his new alpaca coat and shot Teo Barbón in the middle of the forehead. My Lord, the sound it made! And there, you could see the bullet hole like a small black spot, just for a moment before Teo fell to the floor.
 
That’s how magical writing can be, how masterly. Leonard shifts from past tense, to simple present tense, to progressive present, to future, and even mixes in conditional mood effortlessly, as he shuffles Neely Tucker’s in-the-moment observations of the incident with his concerns about how he’ll write it up for his newspaper and his internal dialogue concerning the beautiful onlooker Amelia Brown. All in that passage. That’s how good he was. And the rhythm of his long, multi-clause sentences—because writing is crucially rhythmic—is mesmerizing, aided by his careful use of punctuation.
 
Those lines are from his best book, in our opinion, Cuba Libre, which is not one of his standard American westerns nor one of his many hard-boiled crime books, but rather an adventure set in Cuba on the eve of the Spanish American War, and it’s one of the books people will remember, and probably study in college courses. Yes, Leonard breaks some of the unspoken rules of elegant writing, yet rules are often successfully broken by great artists—indeed, it’s almost a pre-requisite.

A couple of years ago, a long article appeared in The Guardian and their book critic pointed out that Leonard was not a great a crime novelist or a great western novelist, but simply a great novelist, one of the best writing in English and had been for at least twenty years. He said a shift had begun to occur in literary circles and critics were beginning to realize nobody else in any genre or branch of literature could do what Elmore Leonard did. Dead today at age eighty-seven.

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Intl. Notebook Jul 9 2013
LORD JIM
Mr. Han, I suddenly wish to leave your island.

We didn’t get a chance to acknowledge it last week due to our travels, but we could never fail to pay tribute to American actor and martial arts star Jim Kelly. Before the movies Kelly ran a karate dojo in Los Angeles, and he came to the widespread public attention in 1973’s smash actioner Enter the Dragon, in which he appeared with Bruce Lee. He didn’t last long in the film, but he made a strong impression with his 6’2” frame, physical prowess, and larger-than-life cool. He had some good lines, including the one we quoted above—“Mr. Han, I suddenly wish to leave your island.” A lot of blaxploitation stars used bits of martial arts in their fight scenes, but Kelly was legit. Before getting into acting he had won many competitive martial arts championships—including four in the year 1971. His movie career includes blaxploitation classics such as Three the Hard Way, Black Samurai, and Black Belt Jones. After a battle with cancer he left the island for good last week at age 67. 

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Intl. Notebook Jun 20 2013
THE WIZARD GANDOLFINI
Sopranos star dead in Rome at age fifty-one.

Above, a promo photo of American actor James Gandolfini, who starred for six seasons on the HBO mafia drama The Sopranos, a television show that thanks to his performances and some very good writing is considered by many to be the best ever aired. We don’t know about best. Best is hard to quantify and has to do with taste. Perhaps it’s fairer to say that The Sopranos opened new realms of possibility in television and through its success helped lead to many of the great shows on the air today. Gandolfini died in Rome yesterday of an apparent heart attack.

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Femmes Fatales Jun 10 2013
NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER

Above, American swimming champion-turned-actress Esther Williams in a rare promo photo circa 1950. She was famed for being graceful in the water, but did just fine out of it too.

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Femmes Fatales Nov 30 2012
BLACK VELVET BLONDE


American actress Carole Lombard, née Alice Jane Peters, was known for her screwball comedies, which is why we love her going against type in this smoldering white on black image. Lombard is one of many Hollywood actresses whose time was cut tragically short. She was killed in January 1942 at age thirty-three when a plane in which she was a passenger crashed into Double Up Peak on Potosi Mountain outside Las Vegas.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 25
1943—Mussolini Calls It Quits
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini steps down as head of the armed forces and the government. It soon becomes clear that Il Duce did not relinquish power voluntarily, but was forced to resign after former Fascist colleagues turned against him. He is later installed by Germany as leader of the Italian Social Republic in the north of the country, but is killed by partisans in 1945.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.

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