Everybody who was anybody was fair game in Harrison's Hollywood.
In independent journalism there's a battle raging at all times, as those with power attempt to intimidate the press, make its work difficult, control its narrative, restrict its access, redefine what constitutes journalism, or even cast individual members of the press as public enemies. It's a battle that never ends. Confidential magazine was an important soldier on the journalistic battlefield. For ages anything that appeared in Hollywood gossip magazines was carefully crafted and groomed by the studios, which maintained power by denying access to all but officially accredited press outlets.
Maverick publisher Robert Harrison was a visionary who realized the public would open their wallets and pay for the lurid truth—even if the rush to get startling scoops meant the truth was sometimes only half-correct. Confidential appeared in 1952, and had the studios quivering in their boots by 1954. The issue you see here came later, this month in 1963, in what is acknowledged as the magazine's later, tamer period, a defanging that came about thanks to numerous lawsuits launched by Hollywood stars, backed by powerful California politicians.
Confidential still managed to entertain, even if its stories were of a less invasive nature than before. But notwithstanding the new rules of engagement, some targets received particularly scathing treatment. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were among them. The magazine says their legendary affair on the set of Cleopatra began as a studio publicity stunt, which backfired when Taylor actually fell for Burton—and into his bed. That may be true, but failure can be relative. On one hand Taylor's squeaky clean image was ruined forever, but on the other the story of her affair generated immense amounts of free press for Cleopatra.
Other celebs who get cooked on the rotisserie include Joan Collins, Anthony Newley, Rex Harrison, Vince Edwards, and pioneering trans entertainer Christine Jorgensen. The magazine also tackled the issue of street prostitution in New York City and an epidemic of glue sniffing among American teens. We have a set of scans below and—stop us if you've heard this before—an entire tabloid index with thirty more posts about Confidential, to be found here.
When you girls invited me here I think I heard a word other than “sax.”
This amazing cover was painted by Warren King. We'd give just about anything for a lithograph of this. Hot Lips is about an “all-girl" orchestra called the Musical Queens and the things they do when boys aren't around. Which we can understand. Just look at the male figure here, whose name is Pete. What exactly does he bring to this party? A sense of brooding entitlement? A vague homophobic hostility? The latter, for sure, since he lost his wife to another woman and is dismayed to find himself in sexual competition with the band's man-hating sax player. Why does saxy Mona hate men? Because her husband turned out to be a drag queen. But all Pete has to do is wait a bit, because while the wholesome, virginal object of desire in this, Althea, may be tempted by wild musical lesbians, such assignations are never permanent in mid-century genre fiction. It's heteronormativity or death—literally, sometimes. Put Hot Lips in the lesbians-are-bad bin with a pile of other novels from the period. We'll keep an eye out for more cover work from Warren King, because this is just great. It's copyright 1952.
To Bibi or not to Bibi? That's a rhetorical question.
Remember way back when we talked about the Marie Forså sexploitation flick Bibi? Probably not. It was years ago. In any case we found a collection of promo images from the film and we're not going to pass up an excuse to revisit it because, though the film is not great, Forså and women like her are historical treasures, artifacts of a type of cinema that has all but disappeared. Some say that's a good thing. We don't. To have sex is biologically hardwired into us, and it's constantly on our minds, therefore exploring its possibilities in media—whether visual, written, musical, or merely spoken—is about as normal a compulsion as we can imagine. Bibi is a helluva piece of media. It was made in Sweden but these promos are West German, and show Forså and co-stars Anke Syring, Birgit Zamulo, et al., in a colorful light. Bibi, aka Girl Meets Girl, aka Confessions of a Sex Kitten, premiered in West Germany today in 1974.
An errant pass leads to an infamous court case.
The National Insider takes on a controversial subject with this issue that hit newsstands today in 1963. The gist of the story is that forty-something George Brinham invited sixteen-year-old Laurence Somers to his London flat, made a pass by saying, “Give us a kiss,” and got clocked on the head by a shocked Somers with a wine decanter. Brinham died, and Somers went on trial for murder. As the details came out, the British public learned that Somers didn't merely hit Brinham once, but three or four times. He then dragged Brinham's body into the bedroom, hit him once more for good measure, and tried to stage the apartment to look as if a burglar had been the assailant. But haste makes waste—he left his coat and a pair of gloves in Brinham's flat. Police caught up with him shortly thereafter and he was arrested and charged with murder.
The case was fascinating. The judge immediately reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter. Defense attorneys portrayed Brinham, a former Labor Party official, as predatory and decadent. A pathologist testified that his body showed “physiological indications of the practice of homosexuality,” and added that his skull was “half the normal thickness.” Meanwhile, Somers' virility and youth was played up, how he once swung a sledgehammer in an abattoir and became unusually strong. At the end of the trial the judge flatly directed the jury to find Somers not guilty, stating: “[Brinham] attempted to make homosexual advances. I think that is about as clear a case of provocation as it is possible to have.” In the end the jury indeed set Somers free.
In general, bludgeoning someone to death for making a non-violent pass, further damaging the body, tampering with the scene, attempting a cover-up, and failing to report a death should result in some charge or other sticking. But not this time. Insider's take on the event pretends journalistic impartiality, but in reality weights the scales. Somers gets the final word: he discusses his incredulity at “setting out for an innocent Saturday night and finishing up a killer.” He'd heard about homosexuals, he says, but never met one. The same could be said of the British public. But after George Brinham was outed, it thought it had. The case confirmed mainstream Britain's toxic prejudices against gay men. But Somers was never forgotten by friends and advocates—his murder became a spark for the gay rights movement of the 1970s.
Ladybug sings the blues for French music lovers.
This is a cool little item. It's a record sleeve from famed transgender entertainer Coccinelle, whose nickname is French for “Ladybug.” The record is called Jacques Dufresnoy dit Coccinelle, referencing her pre-trans name, and there are two tunes—“Je cherche un millionaire” on the a-side, and “Avec mon petit faux-cul” on the b. We think both songs are pretty cool evocations of a bygone era of supper clubs, cabarets, and jazzy dance numbers. We were born too late to go to such places, but we can listen to this type of music and pretend. If you want to pretend too, you can listen to the songs here and here.
That's a lovely compliment, but I haven't showered since yesterday. I did make some muffins earlier.
This is an interesting cover for the 1962 novel Sweet Smell of Lust by Arnold Marmor, with its mirror perspective and extra large Oscar standing on the bureau. Basically, it's the story of two women vying for the same plum film role. One woman is older, desperate, and ruthless enough to pull dirty tricks for the role, while the other is young and naive to the point that she'll do whatever she's asked, even if it means ending up on her back. There's something in the air indeed—pheromones. Agents, directors, criminals, hardcore partiers, and the obligatory oversexed lesbian round out the cast. There are numerous vintage books in this Hollwood sleaze category, so many that the genre cries out for a cover collection. Maybe we'll put one together.
Need a service animal? He's happy to do the job.
Harold W. McCauley is responsible for this simple but effective cover for 1961's Lover. His image captures the main character Johnny Wells' aura of unhappiness. Johnny is a young New York City hustler who decides to become an uptown gigolo. Starting with a few hundred dollars of ill-gotten gains, he transforms himself into a cultured, hotel-dwelling manhooker who services upper class women. While great at his job, his sexual misadventures take a toll. These include being spurned by a favorite customer who realizes she prefers women, being the unwilling centerpiece of an orgy, and more. The most curious bit is how Johnny's main love interest is a 14-year-old girl from around the way. Author Lawrence Block, hiding behind the Andrew Shaw pseudonym, makes no comment about how strange and possibly illegal this relationship is, and after a while you realize he never planned to. Block can write, so in general Lover reads smoothly, which is about the most you can hope for with this genre. Does that mean it's worth checking out? Well... we wouldn't go that far.
You better hurry up. At the top of the hour I turn back into a housewife and hand you a list of chores.
Jason Hytes' 1960 sleazer Sex Before Six is about a married twenty-something who uses her body to climb all the way from nowheresville to the cusp of a career in professional filmdom. She's willing to lie, connive, and serially cheat on her mild mannered husband to reach her goal but is disturbed when she discovers film people are depraved. What's their depravity, exactly? Some of them are gay and lesbian. The word “evil” occurs more than once. If you were to read this with your anti-regressive filter activated you might find a thrill or two sandwiched around the homophobia and Bible style retribution, but we wouldn't go so far as to recommend the book. The best thing about it is the brilliant cover femme fatale painted by Bruce Minney. We've seen magazine art from him before but this is the first paperback front we've come across. Top work.
Don't look now but you're soaking in it.
Above, an amazing Japanese poster for the French adult film Orgies en cuir noir, which was known in the U.S. as Water Blue. It starred Anna Lombardi, Annick Chatel, Elinia Martinelli, Eva Jaeger, and Minouche, and it's a ridiculously low budget effort about a bdsm sex cult ensconced in a Parisian basement. The group lures a woman into its circle and, after feeding her what appears to be ecstasy, introduces her to assorted carnal variations. The movie is notable for its pansexual content, including gay and transexual scenes. You can find it online if you care to, but we don't recommend it—the copy we saw looks like it spent months soaking in the enema water that features prominently in the plot. Just enjoy the poster art. The movie premiered in France today in 1984.
Once you go down there's no turning back.
But isn't Third Street in the other direction?
We're gonna go down the third street.
You mean the third street from here?
If you wanna think of it that way.
Why are you holding my hand?
The third street gets slippery. You'll see.
Super rare Joan Ellis authored Midwood-Tower lesbian sleaze novel about a female painter and female model who come together over more than just art, 1964, with Paul Rader on the cover chores.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
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