Hollywoodland Jun 20 2019
FROM MUSCLE BEACH TO MURDER
Pageant winner fulfilled show business and personal ambitions. Then things went wrong.


Beauty pageants are a bit silly, perhaps, but the participants are generally ambitious people who see them as stepping stones to show business or modeling. And in mid-century Los Angeles in particular, even minor pageants occasionally led to stardom. In the above photos high school student Barbara Thomason wins the crown of Miss Muscle Beach 1954. Listed at 5 foot 3 inches and 110 pounds, she was a body-building enthusiast, and in the shot just below she celebrates her hard fought win by pumping a bit of iron while photographers click away and a crowd watches.

Did Thomason's victory lead to bigger things? Maybe not directly, but it probably helped. She was a habitual pageant participant who also won Miss Huntington Beach, Miss Van Ness, Miss Bay Beach, Miss Southwest Los Angeles, Miss Pacific Coast, Queen of Southern California, andten other titles. All that winning finally got her noticed by Hollywood movers and shakers. In 1955, performing under the name Carolyn Mitchell, she made her acting debut on the television show Crossroads, and in 1958 co-starred in two Roger Corman b-movies, The Crybaby Killer and Dragstrip Riot.

But she put her career on hold when she met and married a star—Mickey Rooney, who was nearly seventeen years her senior and nearly two inches her junior. Their union had problems from the beginning. The couple married secretly in Mexico because Rooney was still awaiting a divorce from actress Elaine Mahnken. They would have to wait almost two years before the law allowed them to wed in the U.S. Legalities, though doubtless bothersome, were the least of their problems. During the next six years, during which Thomason bore four children, Rooney indulged in numerous affairs.

It should probably be noted here that Thomason was Rooney's fifth wife. Among the predecessors were goddesses like Ava Gardner and Martha Vickers. We don't know what Thomason's expectations of marriage were, but clearly Rooney didn't know the meaning of the phrase “for better or worse.” The affairs continued, and eventually Thomason did the same with a temperamental Yugoslavian actor named Milos Milosevic, who performed under the name Milos Milos. But what was good for goose was not good for the gander—Rooney found out about these international relations, moved out of the Brentwood house he shared with Thomason, and filed for divorce, charging mental cruelty. The nerve, right?

On the morning of January 31, 1966, while Rooney was in St. John's Hospital recovering from an intestinal infection he'd picked up in the Philippines, Thomason and Milosevic were found together on the bathroom floor of the Brentwood house, dead. Milosevic had shot Thomason under the chin and killed himself with a temple shot using a chrome-plated .38 Rooney had bought in 1964. The consensus is Thomason had decided to dump Milosevic and he flipped out.

The photos below show Thomason on Muscle Beach during her halcyon years there, a mere teenager, frolicking in the sun, filled with youthful hopes for a good life. She won beauty titles, acted in films, married an icon, and had four children. Any of those accomplishments would have been good legacies. Instead her death at twenty-nine overshadowed all the rest, and she's remembered as another celebrity murder victim, Hollywood style, which is always somehow both sensational and banal.

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Hollywoodland May 28 2019
CONFIDENTIAL REPORT
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.

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Hollywoodland Feb 22 2019
BRIDGES TO NOWHERE
A Trapped criminal always fights to the death.


Above you see a crop and full frame version of one of the greatest film noir promo photos ever made, in our opinion, from the 1949 thriller Trapped. Lloyd Bridges stars as a counterfeiter stalked by treasury agents, and Barbara Payton co-stars as his loyal lady love. We may talk about this film at some point. Payton would later earn her place in Hollywood lore by spiraling down the drain of drugs and vice. We discussed that in detail several years ago, and it's a very noir tale that you can check out at this link.

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Hollywoodland Jan 16 2019
HER DAY IN COURT
Your Honor, my client requests a continuance until next week. She's still a little hung over.


Sarah Churchill is in much better shape than when we last saw her. Here she appears in a Los Angeles court today in 1958 for a hearing concerning the drunken fiasco of a few nights earlier. Good thing the police station photos weren't entered as evidence. The judge would have been like, “Wow, you were crocked to the hairline, weren't you? Thirty days in jail. Next!”

We're not picking on Churchill. We've shown you many shots of crime scenes and court apearances and have commented about the unrestricted access photographers had back then. What we wanted to show today is what that unrestricted access looked like, and what a circus Los Angeles courts used to be for celebrities. Just look at the scrum below.

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Hollywoodland Jan 13 2019
CHURCHILL AND STATE
I'm fine. It's all good. I'm calm. I said I'm calm!


Winston Churchill coordinated his share of bombing campaigns, and it looks as if his daughter Sarah Churchill learned a thing or two about bombs herself—f-bombs, that is. Check the time on the clock. Things started out okay, but over the course of several minutes it looks like she worked herself up to, “Fuck you! And fuck you! And fuck you! And fuck you too!” This is funnier than we can explain because we had a female acquaintance do this very thing to three cops a little while back.

Churchill, who is also known as Sarah Millicent Hermione Touchet-Jesson, Baroness Audley, opted for a show business career when she was young, and as Sarah Churchill appeared in films such as Royal Wedding and All Over the Town, as well as in dozens of television movies. In these images she's been arrested in Los Angeles for drunkenness, and after being conducted to the copshop had this little dust-up with the uniforms and a nurse.

This wasn't the only time Churchill drank herself into custody. In general, she lived a flamboyant life that overshadowed her acting career and annoyed her father. She wrote about these issues in her 1981 autobiography Keep On Dancing, the title of which refers to her early dance classes and subsequent desire to become a chorus girl. But on the above occasion we suspect Churchill probably learned that cops don't dance. That was today in 1958.

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Hollywoodland Dec 26 2018
STAR GAZING
Good weather, excellent visibility, with a 100% chance of Santa.


What says Christmas more than 72 degrees and mostly clear? These photos were made at the 1950 Santa Claus Lane Parade, a decades long Los Angeles tradition, which we bet was never cancelled due to weather. Actually, it was cancelled several times—during World War II due to blackout restrictions. Otherwise, smooth sailing. At some point the name of the event was changed to the Hollywood Christmas Parade, but it still takes place today. The extravaganza's route begins on Hollywood Boulevard and turns onto Sunset. The above shots feature, from top to bottom, show business luminaries Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante, Peggy Lee, Leo Carrillo, Phil Harris, Alice Faye, Red Skelton, and William Bendix.

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Hollywoodland Dec 25 2018
MIDNIGHT IN BABYLON
Kenneth Anger explores Hollywood's darkest recesses in his landmark tell-all.


Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon is the grandaddy of all Tinseltown exposés. It was published in 1965, banned ten days later, and shelved until 1975. It's exactly as advertised, outing everybody that was anybody for everything. Entire chunks are devoted to Charlie Chaplain, Lana Turner, Errol Flynn, Fatty Arbuckle and other cinematic luminaries. Some of its claims have been proved false—for instance the assertion that Lupe Velez died with her head in a toilet, and that Clara Bow screwed the USC football team (we doubt anyone really believed that one, even back then). But other tales are basically true, including accounts of various legal run-ins and feuds.
 
Anger's writing is uneven, but at its most effective mirrors the type of pure tabloid style that influenced the likes of James Ellroy and others. Besides the salacious gossip the book has a ton of rare celeb photos, and those are of real worth. We've uploaded a bunch below. They came from a digital edition because our little paperback was too fragile to get on a scanner. By the way, don't feel as if we're working overtime on our website this Christmas morning—we uploaded everything in advance and are actually nowhere near a computer today. We're glad you took a minute to drop by. Copious vintage Hollywood below.

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Hollywoodland Dec 8 2018
JUST BEARLY
And you think America is polarized today.


The iconic polar bear rug. What can you say about them? Well, it's not a good look nowadays, but back then people thought these sorts of decorations were quite chic. When did that end? Possibly shortly after the three-hundredth Playboy model posed on one, or when many people began to see trophy hunting as the obsession of vain and unsavory millionaires. One of those two. Personally, we blame Hefner. In the shot above Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay take polar bear style to its pinnacle. Just look at that room. Besides the bear they have a copper ceiling, satin curtains, and a white shag rug. It's a pimp's wet dream and all of it must have cost a fortune. We like to imagine what the look on Jayne's face would have been if anyone walked in with a brimming glass of red wine. We bet she'd have turned whiter than the bear.

We have more photos in the same vein below. If you need help identifying the stars, their names are in our keywords in order of appearance. Looking at the entire collection, we tend to wonder if there were three or four bears that ended up in all the photos. You know, like bears owned by certain photography studios or prop departments. Just saying, a couple of them look suspiciously similar. But on the other hand, how different from each other do bears really look? You'll notice that the poor creatures were generally posed to look fierce. But by contrast Inger Stevens' bear, just below, strikes us as a bit reflective and melancholy, which is understandable. Elizabeth Montgomery, meanwhile, gets extra points for wearing her bear. We have twenty-plus images below, including another shot of Mansfield, sans Hargitay.

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Hollywoodland Nov 19 2018
EVENLY MATCHED
Sorry about that last shot, Rita. I get overaggressive sometimes. Is your face okay?


We'll admit it. When we play table tennis we love it when one of our smashes hits someone in the face. Victory is secondary. In the two photos above we imagine Hollywood legends Carole Landis and Rita Hayworth vying for table tennis supremacy on a warm afternoon. The two were born only a couple of months apart as Frances Ridste and Magarita Cansino, and had similar career arcs in Hollywood, which at one point led to Landis being aced out of the lead in 1941's Blood and Sand by Hayworth. Landis probably wasn't too happy about that, but the two later acted together in 1942's My Gal Sal. If they still had issues after that, at least they finally settled them in our imaginary pairing. Both photos are from around 1943.

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Hollywoodland Nov 18 2018
FIRST NAME BASIS
Everybody's a friend in Screenland.


This issue of the celeb magazine Screenland hit newsstands this month in 1936 with a nice painting of Jeanette MacDonald adorning the cover. The art on that is by Marland Stone. Inside the magazine are Randolph Scott, Kay Francis, Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, and numerous other stars. Among them are Arline Judge, who was in a boatload of movies during the ’30s, but later became more known for marrying and divorcing seven times, which is high even for Hollywood. Generally, the stars are referred to by Screenland editors only by their first names, which is a clever approach in a magazine that was designed to help fans connect with their favorite celebs. We have twenty-five scans below and a couple more issues of Screenland here and here.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
June 24
1938—Chicora Meteor Lands
In the U.S., above Chicora, Pennsylvania, a meteor estimated to have weighed 450 metric tons explodes in the upper atmosphere and scatters fragments across the sky. Only four small pieces are ever discovered, but scientists estimate that the meteor, with an explosive power of about three kilotons of TNT, would have killed everyone for miles around if it had detonated in the city.
June 23
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
June 22
1944—G.I. Bill Goes into Effect
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Servicemen's Readjustment Act into law. Commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, or simply G.I. Bill, the grants toward college and vocational education, generous unemployment benefits, and low interest home and business loans the Bill provided to nearly ten million military veterans was one of the largest factors involved in building the vast American middle class of the 1950s and 1960s.
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