Oooo... he's rich, widowed, and has a pig valve in his heart? I guess I could learn to love an older man.
Above, Carl Sturdy's classic digest novel Confessions of a Park Avenue Playgirl, 1947, from Phoenix Press. Sturdy specialized in medical romances with efforts like Unlicensed Nurse, Test Doctor, Doctor De Luxe, Suburban Doctor, et al, but this seems to be the book most people remember. Possibly that has partly to do with the striking art. The artist is unidentified, but it felt to us like a zoom of something larger, and it reminded us of George Gross. Working on those two assumptions, it wasn't hard to track down the source. As you see below, it came from the cover of a 1949 issue of Line-Up Detective Cases. It isn't really a much larger piece, but it is George Gross. Add another fun effort to his lengthy résumé.
Evelyn Keyes goes from jewel thief to disease vector in The Killer That Stalked New York.
Above are a couple of excellent posters for the drama The Killer That Stalked New York, one of which features Evelyn Keyes on a high ledge. The movie is sometimes classified as a film noir, and we really don't mean to act like pain-in-the-ass purists, but we don't consider it a film noir. Plotwise, it deals with a jewel smuggler who unknowingly brings smallpox from Cuba to New York City. Keyes smuggled the jewels in for her boyfriend, but when she turns them over to him the sneaky fucker absconds. Keyes knows he has to sell them in the city, so she tries to track him down and prevent him from stiffing her, even as doctors notice that people are falling ill, manage to identify the culprit as smallpox, and try to decide how to stop the spread of the virus. Obviously, there are numerous parallels and ironies involved in watching this in the COVID-19 era. Carl Benton Reid as NYC's health commissioner: “Anyone not vaccinated is liable to get the disease. If they still refuse to submit, then tell them what they face.”
Of course, smallpox had a 30% per-case death rate compared to 1.6% in the U.S. for COVID-19, but mention that difference to people who've watched others die and see what reaction you get. What 1.6% represents, aside from a death rate, is a level of suffering at which tens of millions of adults shrug and refuse to take a shot to help save lives—at least 775,000 dead in the U.S. and counting, each of them a real person, not just a statistic. We've lost two friends to this virus, neither in a so-called high risk category, and so has PI-1—whose friend spent weeks on a ventilator only to finally succumb to brain death. She had three children. That kind of disaster kills not just the victim, but quite possibly forever harms families and loved ones.
Keyes reaches the point where her smallpox makes her like a dead woman walking, but she won't drop until she's found that chiseler of a boyfriend and made him pay for crossing her. What The Killer That Stalked New York ends up being is a crime procedural-turned medical thriller-turned double-layered chase movie. Keyes is a great, unsung star, and her willingness to uglify herself shows her commitment to the art of storytelling, but even so, the movie could be better. The two layers of story are required, because it's only Keyes criminal status that causes her to run around dodging the cops—and by accident spreading the virus—however the film maybe should have done away with its framing narration and public service feel. At least it has Keyes. Nothing dims her luster for us—not even a mediocre script, dark rings under her eyes, and a layer of fever sweat. The Killer That Stalked New York premiered in the U.S. today in 1950.
Killer virus? Whatever. I'll take my chances. Hi, is it too late for big government to save my ass?
They say true love lasts forever. But why can't it be brief? Like, a few hours? A few intense, very steamy hours?
You're not seeing double. This cover for Gene Harvey's The Loves of Alice Brandt is almost identical as the Howell Dodd art from Luther Gordon's Free and Easy, which we showed you recently. This novel, published in 1951, is aka Office Hussy, 1957, by John Hunter. Both Hunter and Harvey were pseudonyms of Jack Hanley. The art is unattributed, but it isn't by Dodd unless he was in a rush. Everything is a bit less detailed, a bit less dimensional—the hair, the dress, the background. But as a brazen copy of Dodd, you have to admire the mystery painter's bolas. You see the original art below.
Sometimes you have to look at things from a whole new angle.
How many mid-century actresses began as Playboy models? An absolute raft of them. The 1957 photo above shows Dolores Donlon, who was the magazine's centerfold in August of that year. Donlon was an unusual case. She had been toiling in Hollywood since 1944, landing minor film roles and scattered magazine covers. She managed to earn seventh billing in 1954's The Long Wait, and third in 1957's Flight to Hong Kong, but they weren't major films. When she finally posed nude it was much later than usual—she was thirty-seven. It's hard to determine whether the new tactic directly paid off, but from that point forward she became a well established television actress, racking up more than twenty-five credits on shows such as 77 Sunset Strip and Miami Undercover. It wasn't movie stardom, but it was success. Was it Playboy that made the difference? Probably only she and her agent knew, and neither of them are around to tell us.
She was one of the most watched people in the world—onscreen and off.
Whisper magazine, in this issue published this month in 1961, offers readers an interesting story about an unnamed millionaire's obsession with Ava Gardner. Apparently the millionaire hired people to follow Gardner around 24/7, all over the world, and report back to him, with this surveillance going on for years. The purpose? If he couldn't have her, he at least wanted to know what she was doing. Whisper focuses on a particular spy named Bill, the fourth of four spies employed by the millionaire, who Gardner came to be friends with and let live on her property, rather than have to sleep in his car night after night. Is this tale true? Maybe. Money buys a lot—including tolerance for bad behavior.
And speaking money, there's also a story on gangster Mickey Cohen, who counted among his consorts Liz Renay and Candy Barr, both of whom we've discussed, Renay here, and Barr here and here. Barr has also shown up in five magazines we've posted. The easiest way to see those is click her keywords and scroll. Cohen proves that no matter what people try to tell you, money is an aphrodisiac, because there's no way trolls like him could score beautiful dancers and models if it weren't for wealth. Take a look at the worst man in the world, and if he has money, he has a wife far more beautiful than makes sense.
Whisper goes on to talk about Burt Lancaster's and Charlie Chaplin's lovers, teen-age drunks, Soviet honeytraps, U.S. prisons, Jane Fonda's professional and family lives, and more. It was a Robert Harrison publication that morphed from a cheesecake magazine with painted pin-up covers into a gossip rag. That happened around 1954, when the original Whisper, launched in 1946, began going broke thanks to an inability to compete with girly magazine numero uno—Playboy. But there was plenty of room in the tabloid market and Harrison made Whisper a staple monthly on par with Confidential, his flagship publication. We'll have more from Whisper later, as always.
Nadia Cassini is just what the witch doctor ordered.
There's no erotica quite like 1970s sexploitation. With a focus on pure pleasure, fanciful plots, and a touristic approach toward lush locations, films from the genre are usually pretty fun to watch. Il dio serpente stars Nadia Cassini as a woman who moves to Colombia with her rich, older husband in order to spice up their relationship. She partakes of the regional beaches, the local shopping, and sights such as Cartagena's Castillo de San Luis de Bocachica, before being told by local friend Beryl Cunningham about the cult of a serpent deity named Djamballà, the god of love.
Cassini has little interest in island religion, but Djamballà has an interest in Cassini—at least that's what Cunningham tells her when Cassini says she was approached by a huge snake while on the beach. She begins to develop an interest in the cult after all, attends a voodoo style ritual presided over a by witch doctor, and ends up the star participant along with Cunningham. Cassini's husband then chooses that moment to fly away on business and leave her alone in paradise, which no right thinking man would do unless compelled by a script, and a lonely Cassini starts to get into those Djamballà rituals—and Djamballà inevitably gets into her.
Cassini is blazing hot and sensual as hell, so you can't blame the snake god for his fascination. The film's director Piero Vivarelli also knows he has someone special on his hands, and spends plenty of time in loving close-ups of his star, but in our opinion his direction is far too chaste for what's basically supposed to be a ninety-minute turn-on. In addition, the film seems padded, with its extended ritual drumming sequences. In the end, what you get is just another movie about island religion and a white girl cutting loose. We've seen versions of it before. If this one is worth watching at all, it's only because Cassini's rare beauty makes it thus. Il dio serpente premiered in Italy today in 1970.
Flee for your life like the Romans do.
Carlo Jacono painted this brilliant cover for La ragazza che scappa, or “the girl who runs away,” written by American author Adam Knight, aka Lawrence Lariar, for Ponzoni Editore's series Gialli Canarino, with the translation chores handled by Lydia Lax. We read a Knight book a while back, weren't impressed, and forgot about him, but here he is earning a translation into Italian. Does that mean the book is good? We've always assumed without evidence that translations were an indicator of quality, but now we have doubts. Or maybe that limp Knight yarn we read wasn't typical of his work. La ragazza che scappa was originally published in 1956 in the U.S. as Girl Running. We could probably find it if we wanted to, so we will actually consider picking up a copy if it's out there cheap. We're just curious enough.
Hold on a sec. I dropped my moral compass.
This photo of British star Diana Dors was made as a promo for her 1957 crime drama The Long Haul, and we're sure we don't need to explain our subhead. Or do we? Let's just say Lady Di was no lady, and what she was into back in the day would, in our modern era, land her in prison and on the lifelong sex offender list. See what we mean here.
I'm pummeling you extra because I know when you tell the story later you'll say a man did it.
We already showed you a great 1958 Panther Books cover for Dashiell Hammett's 1929 debut novel Red Harvest. This cover comes from Perma and hit newsstands in 1956 with art by Lou Marchetti. We found it on Flickr. Hammett falls into that rare category of authors: a game changer. And this first book length effort from him is amazing. You can read a bit more about it here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions
about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
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