Femmes Fatales Mar 30 2015
MARY TO THE MOB
With husbands like these who needs enemies?

Mary Jo Tarola was born in Portland, Oregon in 1928 and by 1952 had established herself in Hollywood, first under the milquetoast moniker Linda Douglas, then under her own far more interesting name. Just two years into her career she married producer Pasquale “Pat” DiCicco. Not well known now, DiCicco was a bootlegger and pimp who became mafia boss Lucky Luciano’s lieutenant in Tinseltown. He was infamously abusive toward women—one dust-up with his first wife Thelma Todd led to her having an emergency appendectomy, and another with his second wife Gloria Vanderbilt involved him slamming her head into a wall. Tarola’s promising film career ended with her marriage to DiCicco, but at least she left behind a few choice artifacts like the above photo by photographer Ernest Bachrach. It dates from 1952 or 1953.

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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 Jul 19 2013
SHOTS IN THE DARK
What do you get for being a member of the Mickey louse club? A cap... in your ass.

Tonight in 1949 just before 4 a.m.—i.e. early in the morning of July 20—L.A. mobster Mickey Cohen was ambushed by unknown gunmen outside a Sunset Boulevard eatery called Sherry’s. The above photo diagram and close-up shows where his assailants hid behind a billboard across the street from the restaurant and opened fire with shotguns. Cohen was hit in the shoulder, three others were seriously wounded, and New York Daily News reporter Florabel Muir was bruised by a ricochet (or shot directly, according to some accounts). The photo just below shows the view the gunmen had from underneath the billboard. And the last two show the immediate aftermath of the shooting, with a surprising number of bystanders and/or restaurant patrons present considering the late hour, and Cohen henchman Edward Herbert on the ground. He would later die from his wounds. The Sherry’s ambush was the second of several attempts on Cohen’s life. None were successful, though as usual, the members of his circle did not fare well. For a look at a cool collection of photo diagrams and an explanation of their use, see here. 

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Intl. Notebook Jun 18 2013
WAITING TO EXHUME
Thirty-eight years later the FBI still can’t get him Hoffa their list of troublesome unsolved cases.
 
One of the most famous missing persons in American history is back in the news. The FBI is searching a field in suburban Detroit where they've been informed long missing and presumably murdered Teamsters labor union president Jimmy Hoffa was buried. Hoffa disappeared in July 1975 from the parking lot of a Detroit restaurant and was never seen again.
 
The new search is occurring because an ex-Mafia underboss named Tony Zerilli told the Detroit TV station WDIV in February that he knew where Hoffa was buried. Zerilli says Hoffa was bound, gagged, smacked on the head with a shovel and buried alive. Why did he come forward now? You guessed it—he’s promoting a book. Did he actually see Hoffa get the brutal treatment he descibes? No, he was told about it—if he’d been there personally that would constitute a crime, right?
 
Will Hoffa actually turn up? Hard to say. The FBI is making noises that Zerilli is a credible source, but we think two other factors are just as important in triggering this search—Hoffa’s place in American cold case lore is a longtime thorn in the FBI’s side, and, probably of more importance, the Hoffa family remains prominent even today, with one of his sons serving as the current Teamsters president and one of his daughters a former circuit judge. Zerilli says he was told Hoffa was buried beneath a concrete slab inside a barn. The barn has since been razed but the FBI are bringing in heavy equipment to dig up the area. Zerilli’s report is believable in at least one sense—Hoffa has been reported to be buried everywhere from the Florida Everglades to the New Jersey Meadowlands, but the field where the FBI is searching is just a short distance from where he was last seen alive.

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The Naked City Nov 28 2012
BOSTON INFERNO
How it really started nobody can remember for sure. How it ended nobody can ever forget.


Above is a photo of the aftermath of the Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942. Its appearance belies the scope of the disaster that took place there. The Cocoanut Grove had been founded as an illegal speakeasy and, after the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, became Boston’s trendiest nightspot. It consisted of several properties that had been consolidated into one, and was a labyrinth of tropical-themed bars, lounges, and dining rooms, complete with a famous “rolling roof” that allowed patrons to dance under the stars during warm summer nights. The club’s cobbled together construction meant there were many exits, but owner Barnet “Barney” Welansky was preoccupied with the possibility of people using these to dash without paying their checks, and had hidden some exits behind curtains, locked others, boarded up a plate glass window, and bricked over an emergency exit.

About 10:15 p.m. one frigid November night a fire started for the most banal of reasons. A soldier in the Melody Lounge, which was in the basement, had either loosened or removed a light bulb in an artificial palm tree to create the privacy he desired in order to make out with his date. A busboy was ordered to replace or tighten it. He climbed onto a chair and lit a match so he could see, very likely using one from a matchbook like the one at right. Moments later the canopy of artificial palm fronds overhead caught fire. Whether it was the match or the light bulb that started the blaze nobody ever figured out for sure, though the busboy unambiguously blamed himself and the match.

But in any case, flames blossomed through the paper and rattan decorations. Waiters tried to douse them but they quickly became what witnesses described as a fireball. This fireball raced up a staircase to the lounges and bars on the ground floor and men and women ran upstairs with their hair ablaze. The flames burst into the main level and triggered a deadly crush at the revolving door entrance, which was immediately rendered useless as patrons tried to escape by pushing in opposite directions. Another crush formed at a set of double doors that opened inward from the street. In the panic, the patrons couldn’t organize themselves enough to step back so the exit could be opened. As people struggled, passed out, and piled up before the doors, the flames consumed everything.
 
Many people escaped. They ran through the kitchen, or squeezed through barred windows. The house band’s bass player, Jack Lesberg, who later went on to perform with Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan, among others, smashed his way out using his stand-up bass. Five survivors barricaded themselves in a walk-in freezer. In all, about half the occupants escaped, but in the end the fire killed 492, which was thirty-two more people than were legally allowed to inhabit the building. Some patrons were so quickly overcome by fumes that they died sitting at their tables. Firemen described charred corpses with glasses in their hands. Barnet Welansky went to jail for multiple counts of manslaughter, but was pardoned after only four years by Massachusetts Governor Maurice J. Tobin, who had been the mayor of Boston at the time of the fire. Helps to know people, and helps even more to drink with them. The Cocoanut Grove fire—or inferno might be a better word—was today in 1942.

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The Naked City Aug 6 2012
HOMICIDE HOLLYWOOD STYLE
Two mobsters meet a messy end on the boulevard of broken dreams.

They were known as the Two Tonys—Brancato and Trombino, a pair of wild mobsters out of Kansas City. In May 1951 they robbed the cash room at the mob-controlled Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. They and their three henchmen had been wearing hats, but Tony Brancato lost his mid-robbery, was caught on camera, and from there ended up on the FBI’s most wanted list. Brancato and Trombino were also identified by a mob subordinate who recognized them because he’d been robbed by them in Beverly Hills. The pair were arrested for the Flamingo robbery, but made bail, then promptly headed to Los Angeles. There they shook down a mob bookmaker’s right hand man, which put them on L.A. crime boss Jack Dragna’s most wanted list. But the difference between his list and the FBI’s was that Dragna’s had nothing to do with capture and trial. He ordered the Two Tonys to be killed, and mob shooter Aladena Fratianno, aka Jimmy the Weasel, took on the task. Brancato and Trombino desperately needed money for their legal defense, and Fratianno told them he’d help them take down a high stakes poker game worth $40,000. The Tonys were thrilled and grateful, but the heist was fiction. Instead, in a car on Hollywood Boulevard, Fratianno had two subordinates murder them. The aftermath appears above and below. Today, 1951.


 
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The Naked City May 10 2012
BAD MAN JOHNNY
He might not have looked so unworried if he knew how soon his life was going to end.

This LAPD mugshot of gangster Johnny Stompanato dates from today in 1952, when he was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery. Stompanato was an Illinois boy who joined the army and after his discharge fell into the west coast gangster lifestyle. He quickly became well known to the cops. Beverly Hills police chief Clifford Anderson described him as “one of the most successful wolves in Hollywood,” which was a polite way of saying he was a pimp, blackmailer, and boy toy for a series of wealthy women, who he often shook down for cash. By the time these images were made he was living the high life as a connected subordinate to top tier mobster Mickey Cohen.

After numerous scrapes, liaisons and adventures, plus an arrest in 1956 for violating the White-Slave Traffic Act, aka the Mann Act, Stompanato met actress Lana Turner. It was the spring of 1957. Turner had just survived an ugly divorce involving a husband who molested her daughter from a previous marriage, and her movie career had taken a hit when MGM had declined to renew her contract. But she was still one of the biggest names in Hollywood, and Stompanato thought he’d finally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Turner was rich, connected, beautiful, and wild. And she was drawn to him because he looked good, had a bad reputation, and was known to be a dynamo in bed.

Stompanato was accustomed to being physical with women, and, while Turner put up with the abuse, her daughter Cheryl grew less and less inclined to stand by and watch. One April night in 1958 Stompanato was allegedly roughing up Turner, when Cheryl—fourteen years old at the time—grabbed a knife and stuck Stompanato in the chest. Either by intent or lucky aim, one of the toughest and meanest wiseguys in Hollywood ended up cold on the floor, and the case became the tabloid sensation of the decade. Turner’s daughter was eventually acquitted at trial of murder charges on the grounds of justifiable homicide. The photos below provide a chronology of the events and aftermath of the night that brought Johnny Stomp to his end, and you can read a bit more about the killing at a previous post here.

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Musiquarium Apr 23 2012
HARLEM NOCTURNE
We ain't leaving 'til the sun comes up.

Here's something wonderful we found on our recent U.S. trip. It's a 1929 woodcut print promoting Harlem's famous Cotton Club. You probably know the Cotton Club was one of America's most prominent speakeasies, if that isn't an oxymoron, and that it hosted some of the greatest jazz luminaries of the age, including Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, George Gershwin, and many others. The place was mob owned, specifically by England-born gangster Owney Madden. If stories about the sheer wildness of the Cotton Club are true, this print certainly captures its spirit. The artist here is E.M. Washington, who was quite well known for his woodcuts, and whose surviving original work goes for a fortune. This particular item is a reprint, which put it well within our price range.

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Intl. Notebook Apr 12 2012
WILD CARDS
Close only counts in horseshoes and h-bombs.

We came across two more postcards celebrating Las Vegas’s distinction as a city from which it was possible to see nuclear test shots. You may remember we posted a couple of similar items in December. These two promote not just Vegas’s dubious proximity to planet-killing nuclear ordnance, but also the venerable Horseshoe Club, a casino owned by Vegas legend Benny Binion. This is the 1950’s we’re talking about, so of course Binion was mobbed up. He started as a thief and killer in Dallas, and ended up with a commemorative statue on Freemont Street (later moved to the Strip). That simple fact probably says more about old Las Vegas than entire books. We’ll get back to him a bit later. No pulp site could be complete without him. 

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The Naked City Oct 7 2011
COUPE DE VILLAIN
She’s a real beaut—powerful, roomy, and gets two gallons to the mile.

More from the USC digital photo archive. It looks like just another black Cadillac, but no, this one belonged to mobster par excellence Mickey Cohen and it’s parked outside the L.A. eatery Sherry’s, where he was the target of an assassination attempt in July 1949. Gunmen shot Cohen in the shoulder (or arm, depending on the telling), fatally wounded one of his friends, seriously wounded two others, and managed to hit journalist Florabel Muir in the ass with a non-penetrating ricochet. Having learned a lesson, Cohen had his next Cadillac bulletproofed (bombproofed as well, by some accounts). Below are a couple of photos of that car and the two-inch-thick glass that was installed (all well and good to be sealed inside an armored hotbox, but what if your driver ate broccoli with dinner?). Anyway, Cohen sold the Caddy in 1951 for $12,000, supposedly because it wasn’t street legal. He died of natural causes in 1976. 

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1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
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1923—Yankee Stadium Opens
In New York City, Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, opens with the Yankees beating their eternal rivals the Boston Red Sox 4 to 1. The stadium, which is nicknamed The House that Ruth Built, sees the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball history. It is eventually replaced by a new Yankee Stadium and closes in September 2008.
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1961—Bay of Pigs Invasion Is Launched
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