No matter how far she ran dissatisfaction followed close behind.
This gold colored June 1963 cover for Confidential magazine is entirely given over to actress Barbara Payton, whose self-penned hard-luck story appears inside and details her life troubles. The tale is well known and is one we’ve touched upon before—early marriage and early motherhood, followed by stardom, romances, and riches, followed by booze, drugs, divorces and crime. Confidential being Confidential, the editors neglect to mention that the story here is not an exclusive, but rather is excerpted from I Am Not Ashamed, Payton’s painfully revealing autobiography.
I Am Not Ashamed did not sell especially well, and was pretty much forgotten a few years after its release. But it reappeared by chance two decades later when Jack Nicholson famously lent a rare copy to Jessica Lange to help her prepare for her femme fatale role in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Today the book is widely available. Just a few seconds reading Payton’s words conjures the suspicion she had a ghostwriter, and indeed, it was the king of lowbrow literature Leo Guild who gave shape to the prose, which reads like gutter level sleaze fiction.
For example: “He hated what I had been [but] loved me for what I was. He tortured himself. Every part of my body reminded him of another man.” And this bit: “I had a body when I was a young kid that raisedtemperatures wherever I went. Today I have three long knife wounds on my solid frame. One extends from my buttocks down my thigh and needed I don’t remember how many stitches.” Payton’s anecdotes are cringe worthy, but they read like she’d gotten a grip on her life. No such luck. After four more long years of drugs, drink, and disaster she was found dead on her bathroom floor in 1967.
Payton post-mortems usually describe her problems as self-induced, but that’s simplistic. In the 1950s famous men did anything they wished, but women had to be careful not to be seen doing the same. Still do today. That’s the part Payton had problems with. Even so, she had several happy periods during her life. One of those was the stretch she spent in Mexico married to a young fisherman. About this time she says, “We fished and I caught big ones, and we loved and for a couple of years it was beautiful. My big problems were what to cook for dinner. But it was inevitable the ants in my pants would start crawling again.”
We like that passage, because nearly all the stories about Payton declare, or at least suggest, that everything that happened after Hollywood stardom was part of a terminal plummet. That’s pretty much the default setting in American journalism—anything other than wealth and fame is by definition failure. It’s an idiotic conceit, even a harmful one, and Payton reveals that in Mexico she landed someplace solid and safe, and got along fine without money or recognition. Two years of happiness is nothing to take lightly. But she just couldn’t sit still—not because of where she was, but because of who she was.
And the spiral continued—cheaper and cheaper forms of prostitution, physical confrontations that resulted in her getting some of her teeth knocked out, and more. In all of these tales there’s a recurrent theme of lowly types taking advantage of her, but we can’t help noting that she was paid a mere $1,000 for her autobiography, an absurdly deficient amount for a former top star with a crazy story to tell, which suggests to us that guys in office suites take as much advantage—or more—of a person’s hard luck as guys in alleys. We have some scans below, and Payton will undoubtedly appear here again.
, Barbara Payton
, Franchot Tone
, Leo Guild
, Jack Nicholson
, Jessica Lange
, Glenn Ford
, Linda Christina
, Joan Crawford
, Rocky Crawford
, Gloria Grahame
, Anthony Quinn
, Susan Hayward
, Catherine Deneuve
, Jane Fonda
Sci-fi icon Leonard Nimoy dies in Bel-Air, California.
Above is a promo photo of American actor Leonard Nimoy. We’ve been working our way through the original Star Trek and last night just finished the episode “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” Watching the show for the first time since childhood, it’s easy to see now that Nimoy was the best part of it. Shatner is great in that cheesy way of his, but Nimoy is the center of the Trek universe. He was especially good when his purely logical Mr. Spock was allowed to show emotion. In “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” while possessed by a cloud-like alien named Kollos who'd never occupied a physical form before, he waxed, “How compact your bodies are. And what a variety of senses you have. This thing you call language though—most remarkable. You depend on it for so very much. But is any one of you really its master? But most of all, the aloneness. You are so alone. You live out your lives in this shell of flesh. Self-contained. Separate. How lonely you are. How terribly lonely.” Star Trek was greater than the sum of its parts. It was escapism, but it managed stunning insights into the human condition. Leonard Nimoy was often the conduit. He died today in Bel-Air, California of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease aged eighty-three.
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
Mandy Rice-Davies dies of cancer.
Mandy Rice-Davies, one of the central figures in the John Profumo Affair of 1963, died of cancer early this morning. Most accounts of the scandal describe Rice-Davies as a prostitute, and indeed Stephen Ward, one of the principals in the fiasco, was imprisoned for living off the earnings of Rice-Davies and other women—another way of saying he pimped. But Rice-Davies spent a good portion of her final years denying she was a call girl, saying she didn’t want her grandchildren to remember her that way.
Whatever her means of support during the Profumo Affair, what is certainly true is that she was young and beautiful and somehow found herself at the nexus where rich, entitled men and beautiful women always seem to meet. The Profumo Affair's world of secret parties, middle-aged male egos, and a lurking Soviet spy came into being during the most paranoid years of the Cold War, and John Profumo’s role in it cost him his position as Secretary of State for War in the British government.
After the scandal Rice-Davies sang in a cabaret in Germany, lived in Spain, moved to Israel where she opened nightclubs and restaurants in Tel Aviv, released music and books, appeared on television and in film, including the The Seven Magnificent Gladiators and Absolute Beginners, and was involved in the development of a Stephen Ward-based Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. She accomplished plenty. But as long as she is remembered it will be for Profumo, Christine Keeler, the parties and scandalous revelations, and the near-collapse of the British government in 1963. If you’re interested in reading more, we talked about Rice-Davies in a bit more detail here and here.
, Soviet Union
, Tel Aviv
, The Seven Magnificent Gladiators
, Absolute Beginners Mandy Rice-Davies
, John Profumo
, Christine Keeler
, Andrew Lloyd Webber
, Stephen Ward
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 used that for all her non-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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1958—Plane Crash Kills 8 Man U Players
British European Airways Flight 609 crashes attempting to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. On board the plane is the Manchester United football team, along with a number of supporters and journalists. 20 of the 44 people on board die in the crash.
1919—United Artists Is Launched
Actors Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, along with director D.W. Griffith, launch United Artists. Each holds a twenty percent stake, with the remaining percentage held by lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo. The company struggles for years, with Griffith soon dropping out, but eventually more partners are brought in and UA becomes a Hollywood powerhouse.
1958—U.S. Loses H-Bomb
A 7,600 pound nuclear weapon that comes to be known as the Tybee Bomb is lost by the U.S. Air Force off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, near Tybee Island. The bomb was jettisoned to save the aircrew during a practice exercise after the B-47 bomber carrying it collided in midair with an F-86 fighter plane. Following several unsuccessful searches, the bomb was presumed lost, and remains so today.
1906—NYPD Begins Use of Fingerprint ID
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Joseph A. Faurot begins using French police officer Alphonse Bertillon's fingerprint system to identify suspected criminals. The use of prints for contractual endorsement (as opposed to signatures) had begun in India thirty years earlier, and print usage for police work had been adopted in India, France, Argentina and other countries by 1900, but NYPD usage represented the beginning of complete acceptance of the process in America. To date, of the billions of fingerprints taken, no two have ever been found to be identical.
1974—Patty Hearst Is Kidnapped
In Berkeley, California, an organization calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnaps heiress Patty Hearst
. The next time Hearst is seen is in a San Francisco bank, helping to rob it with a machine gun. When she is finally captured her lawyer F. Lee Bailey argues that she had been brainwashed into committing the crime, but she is convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, a term which is later commuted.
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