So explain to me again exactly what my duties are as dolly grip.
Above: a photo cover for Leo Guild's 1969 sleaze novel The Studio. The rear tells you most of what you need to know, except that the book is written from the first person viewpoint of none other than—Leo Guild. Ego much, Leo? He takes on the guise of a journalist who becomes the publicity agent for Toni Tremont, described as a Hollywood bitch. He's the latest in a long line of agents to represent her. The fiction is really just a guise for Guild to promote his personal brand while claiming to tear back the curtain from the “real” Hollywood, something at least a hundred authors did before him.
Guild has a reputation for being one of the worst authors ever—he once wrote a novel in which a werewolf and a vampire become television stars, and he churned out such books as Black Bait, Black Champion, The Black Shrink, The Girl Who Loved Black, Black Streets of Oakland, and Street of Ho's [sic]. In other words, he was a consummate opportunist and trendjumper. He found his most lucrative subject matter in lurid biographies, but also wrote a joke book, a book about gambling systems, and a tie-in to the television show What Are the Odds? The man was one of a kind. Thankfully.
Portrait of the actress as a young woman.
This Warner Brothers promotional portrait of U.S. actress Jane Fonda was painted by Italian master Angelo Cesselon for her 1960 film Tall Story, which premiered today in 1960 and later played in Italy as In punta di piedi. It's an amazing piece, and we especially like the green hair and eyebrows. Cesselon produced an several of these featuring various stars of the period. We may share those later. We've already shown you plenty of his posters and paperback covers. To see those, just click his keywords below.
Don't fool around on Donna Mae.
We're back in Los Angeles County divorce court, a place that got so much celebrity usage during the mid-century period it probably could have benefitted from a VIP section. Above you see famed burlesque dancer and model Donna Mae Brown, aka Busty Brown, attending a spousal support hearing today in 1960. Brown performed throughout the U.S. but was based in L.A., headlining at the New Follies, Strip City, and other popular nightspots. Busty wasn't her only alias. The era was all about unwieldy nicknames meant to generate free publicity, therefore she was also known for a while as “Miss Shape of Things To Come,” and “Miss Anatomy.”
In this case, what was to come was monthly support. She was seeking funds from her second ex-husband Maynard Sloate, a high powered agent whose clients included Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Dinah Washington, and who later went into club ownership—including the aforementioned Strip City—through which he trafficked such stars as Anita O’Day and Redd Foxx. At the end of the day Brown, who had initiated divorce proceedings due to Sloate's various infidelities, won fifty dollars monthly, and twenty percent of her ex's gross earnings as support for herself and her children.
The notably slender Brown, who's a brunette above and below, but earned her fame as a platinum blonde, was one of the bolder models of her era, going topless in magazines, baring all for nudie film loops, and getting truly revealing for underground photo club shoots. The latter practice even got her arrested in 1953. The trio of poolside shots below give you a sense of how far she was willing to go, but they're not among her most explicit photos, because there's only so far we're willing to go. If you poke around online you might find those images. She's also fifth in a collection of photos we uploaded a few years ago. I'll admit there are a couple of aspects of marriage to Donna that I'll really miss.
If at first you don't succeed, try to die again.
Saturday grimness for you, with a photo of a suicide that took place in Los Angeles today in 1958. There's an interesting story behind this. The man's name was Delmer Dobbs and he shot himself in the stomach on a Los Angeles street. A month earlier he had attempted suicide too. On that occasion he had gone to the top of the Hotel Rosslyn Annex on Main Street and perched on the edge, preparing himself to leap. The buildup was lengthy, and soon hundreds of observers had gathered below. In case you think humanity wasn't always bloodthirsty, think again—mob mentality set in, and a chant started in the crowd: “Jump! Jump! Jump!” and, “Chicken, chicken, chicken!”
After hours on the rooftop, with cops trying to talk him down, Dobbs demanded that they contact Bonnie La Ross, a cashier working at the Rialto Theatre a couple of blocks away on Broadway. She was brought in and convinced Dobbs to give up. Reading between the lines here, it's possible Dobbs, who—as you see in photos below—was a tiny guy only about five feet tall, had been been unsuccessful with women and had turned his attentions to La Ross, who was fifteen years old. That's just specualtion, but consider this: Before being taken away Dobbs told La Ross that he was going to get a gun and try again. A month later when he shot himself, it was across the street from the Rialto as La Ross watched.
Jim Kelly takes on the mob in hit-and-miss karate adventure.
The blaxploitation/kung fu flick Black Belt Jones premiered in the U.S. today in 1974, but we're sharing the Italian poster for two reasons: this Ermanno Iaia effort is more interesting than the U.S. art; and it's another example of African American stars being erased from Italian promo art. We assume it happened because Italian distributors figured many Italians wouldn't knowingly choose to see a film with a black star. Well, this one featured one of the biggest black stars—martial arts sensation Jim Kelly. He's not widely known today, but during the height of the martial arts craze he was an icon because of his screen charisma and cred. And by cred we mean he won four martial arts championships in 1971 alone, including the world middleweight karate title.
There's no release date for Black Belt Jones in Italy, but probably it played there during the summer of ’74, retitled Johnny lo svelto, or “Johnny quick.” Plotwise the mafia have learned that city of L.A. plans to erect a new civic center, and have bought up all the land at the prospective building site except a karate dojo owned by a martial arts instructor named Papa Byrd—and Papa won't play. Meanwhile, somewhere across town, Kelly is asked by cops to investigate the L.A. mob, who are getting cozy with local politicians and building up so much power they might soon be untouchable. In the tight knit local martial arts community, Kelly and Byrd know each other, so when Byrd turns up dead Kelly is motivated to get to the bottom of the murder.
The movie is partially a burlesque, with bits of slapstick, some salty slang, and many of characters constructed as pure stereotypes—Italian gangsters crying, “Mamma mia!” and that sort of thing. Viewed in a certain frame of mind it's funny, and considering it features an ass-kicking Scatman Crothers (long before getting axed in the chest in The Shining), the red hot Gloria Hendry, and Love Boat bartender Ted Lange as a minor league crook, there's plenty worth seeing here. That includes Kelly's martial arts, which are fun to watch, once you get past a bizarre opening fight shown entirely in slow motion. Kelly's abs are also on regular display, which made the Pulp Intl. girlfriends happy. So Kelly knows martial arts and looks great, but can he act? Considering the constraints, he does okay. These low budget ’70s movies didn't give stars much chance to sharpen their performances, and they're nearly always poorly paced in terms of dialogue, but he has charisma and his acting matches that of Bruce Lee or any other of the action stars from the period. They weren't hired to do Hamlet, after all. With Kelly at its center Black Belt Jones is worth a watch. And as we said, viewed in a certain frame of mind, it's even sort of good. But by frame of mind, we mean one in which you don't take it too seriously—the filmmakers certainly didn't seem to. We mean that as a compliment.
It's both appropriate *grunt* and ironic *gasp* that ballroom dancing *argh* is going to give me a hernia!
This 1955 Berkley Books cover for Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is one of the most striking art pieces of the paperback era. It's uncredited, incredibly. Still, the image succinctly gets to the core of McCoy's story—exhaustion in a dance contest, but metaphorically, exhaustion in the contest of capitalism. It revolves around a set of young people who enter a dance marathon in an attempt to win a $1,000 prize. The entire story, more or less, takes place during this dance-a-thon, which goes on for weeks. Those who quit early get nothing. Those who suffer long enough may profit a few measly dollars. Only a vanishingly small percentage desperate enough to exhaust themselves to the point of physical disintegration—in this case one couple—have a chance to come away with the prize.
Some reviewers say the book is a metaphor for life rather than capitalism. Well, that too, but what makes it an obvious capitalism critique are the celebrity guests intermittently paraded before the dancers. They show that wealth is real, function as suggestions to the dancers that the obstacle is not the rules for victory, but the will to succeed, though the odds are staggeringly, cruelly against them. Oh yes, it's a metaphor for capitalism, alright. The American Dream—generally defined as a decent salary, home ownership, sufficient family and leisure time, and retirement—increasingly really is just a dream. This fact makes mid-century capitalism critiques prescient by definition, but They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is more on target than most. And purely as a piece of fiction it's a total winner.
Gladiatorial combat is all fun and games until the gladiators decide you're the one who needs killing.
We've featured master fantasy artist Frank Frazetta a few times, so it seems only fair that we feature the yang to his yin, Peruvian born legend Boris Vallejo. Here you see his art on a promo poster for Naked Warriors, which is better known as The Arena, released this month in 1974 starring another legend, Pam Grier, along with occasional co-star, the lovely Margaret Markov. We've talked about the movie twice, shared its Italian and U.S. promo art, and shared rare promo images of Grier once or twice, or maybe even three or four times, as well as a beautiful centerfold of Markov. All of that imagery is worth a look. Vallejo's art is a nice fit for a tale of enslaved gladiators pitted against each other eventually defying their sadistic masters to fight for freedom. He painted when Corcorde Pictures acquired the rights to the film from MGM/UA for a VHS release in 1988. Concorde/New World was formed and run by schlockmeister Roger Corman, and that explains the black wedges at the top and bottom of the promo. When you do thingson the cheap as a matter of course like Corman did, tilting the art in an inelegant way to make the two figures fit a door panel format seems logical. We can imagine him: “Just lean the fucker left. Who cares about the blank spots?” And indeed, who does, really?
In addition to a great piece of art, as a bonus we've also uploaded some Arena production photos we found scattered around the internet over the years. Most of them were shot by Italian lensman Angelo Frontoni, whose work we've admired often. As it is a lusty sort of movie, some of the shots are a bit lusty too. We had these sitting about and didn't have a real good excuse to share them until today, so from the good old days of ’70s sexploitation behold: Grier, Markov, Lucretia Love, Maria Pia Conte, Rosalba Neri, and others in barely-there gladiatorial gear—and sometimes less. We can't say the film is perfect, but it's definitely worth a watch.
X-mas marks the spot where one Angeleno met his end.
Above are two photos we've uploaded not for any morbid reasons, but more as a reminder that every day should be lived well, because alas, this comes to pass for us all one way or another. Wait—that was morbid, wasn't it? Well, whaddaya gonna do? Anyway, you see Yellow Cab hack Conrad John Favreau laying dead in a Los Angeles street after being shot in the back of the head by an unknown assailant. There's blood on the rear fender of the cab, showing approximately where he was standing. But with no witnesses, it's impossible to know why it happened. Was it resistance to robbery? A fare dispute? An argument over saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas? As far as we know, the crime went unsolved, though Santa Claus was not able to account for his whereabouts, which is quite suspicious, in our book. That was today in 1954, Christmas yes, but just another day in the naked city.
Wronged husband takes a shot at his rival.
Above is an interesting composite photo of the style that was sometimes produced by newspapers during the mid-century period. These old composites are pretty cool. We can imagine a museum or gallery exhibit of them. We've seen many, but have only featured one other, which you can see here. This one came from the Los Angeles Herald/Examiner archive and shows Jennings Lang, Walter Wanger, and Joan Bennett in 1951, and was made after Wanger shot Lang.
What was it all about? Wanger and Bennett were married to each other, and Wanger thought Lang was trying to get in Bennett's panties. Some sources say an affair was never consummated, but we think it was—and Benett was an expert at attracting men. The shooting happened today, with the news coverage running through the event, immediate aftermath, and sensational trial. You notice the composite also features a gun? That's the real gun Wanger used. We talked about it last year, and the short version is: the fact that the shooter is named Wanger is ironic in the extreme.
Below you see Lang's wife, at her husband's hospital bed, and we imagine her saying, “You're thinking about that fucking actress again, aren't you?” And Lang is thinking, “Switch two of those words and you're absolutely right, baby.” The previous bit we posted on their love triangle with Lang is at this link, and if you venture over there, take a look at the last photo and ask yourself if Wanger is a guy you'd want to cross. We think Lang had a death wish. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1938—Alicante Is Bombed
During the Spanish Civil War, a squadron of Italian bombers sent by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to support the insurgent Spanish Nationalists, bombs the town of Alicante, killing more than three-hundred people. Although less remembered internationally than the infamous Nazi bombing of Guernica the previous year, the death toll in Alicante is similar, if not higher.
1977—Star Wars Opens
George Lucas's sci-fi epic Star Wars premiers in the Unites States to rave reviews and packed movie houses. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the film goes on to earn $460 million in the U.S. and $337 million overseas, while spawning a franchise that would eventually earn billions and make Lucas a Hollywood icon.
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
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