Anita Ekberg dies in Italy.
She was born Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg in Malmo, Sweden, but became famous as simply Anita Ekberg. Some of her screen roles included 1955’s Artists and Models, and 1956’s Zarak Khan and Back from Eternity, films that made her very famous. But it was 1960’s La Dolce Vita and her portrayal of the wild starlet Sylvia for which she’s most remembered. The uniquely talented Anita Ekberg, dead in Rocca di Papa, Italy, aged 83
Virna Lisi dies in Rome.
Italian actress and revered beauty Virna Lisi has died aged seventy-eight of cancer. Her film career began in 1953 and she has acted on televison in 2014 and in a film to be released next year. We’ve featured her quite a bit here. You can see a couple of entries here and here.
Thinking of someone Elsa.
Though this fact doesn’t seem to be widely known—which is strange for a former Playboy model—Elsa Sørensen died last year aged seventy-nine due to complications from a bicycle accident. She was a former Miss Denmark whose September 1956 bunny mag centerfold brought her to wide notice, however the above image appeared not in Playboy, but in Adam—the U.S. version—in 1960. She graced that publication several times under the pseudonym Dane Arden, and kept that for all her post-Playboy modeling assignments. In the 1960 Adam layout her photo was paired with a Robert Browning line about nothing being better than simple, unadorned beauty, and seeing her posed with neither clothes nor props, it’s clear why the editors chose that quote.
Slipping into darkness.
Lauren Bacall appears here in what may be her most famous publicity image, gazing from the darkness with a knowing, mischievous, heavy-lidded look she made her trademark in The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and To Have and Have Not, three films that were a sort of informal trifecta of film noir. She also appeared in Key Largo, less a noir than a melodrama, but still excellent. All co-starred Humphrey Bogart, who she married in the middle of this run of films and remained married to until his death in 1957. Bacall joins him more than half a century later, aged eighty-nine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1922—Challenge to Women's Voting Rights Rebuffed
In the United States, a conservative legal challenge to the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing voting rights for women is rebuffed by the Supreme Court in Leser v. Garnett. The challenge was based partly on the idea of individual "states rights" to self determination. The failure of such reasoning as it applied to basic human rights created a framework for later states rights losses involving the denial of voting rights to African-Americans.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
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