You can think about it, but first you have to know what “it” is.
Stop us if you already know this. Back during the ’60s and ’70s stores that sold items related to tobacco and weed consumption were known as headshops. The hippest sectors of town—your Haight-Ashburys, Capitol Hills, and Greenwich Villages—were home to these establishments, and among the many products on offer counterculture posters were big sellers. These would be Che Guevara posters, naked-woman-smoking-a-bong posters, fluorescent black light posters, etc., genrally aimed at young male customers. Above is an example of that collectible art form. The shot was made by Dozier Mobley, who you see here. He was a photojournalist for the Atlanta Journal, the Associated Press, and United Press International, and later went on to work extensively with NASCAR. The message of the poster may seem self-explanatory (most websites say it calls for revolution), but we aren't sure. While that's an understandable interpretation, we actually think, because the model is nude, this is more likely a sex-not-war, anti-Vietnam type thing aimed specifically at black buyers, who had been sent overseas in disproportionate numbers (particularly early in the war, and particularly when compared to earlier wars). The “Think About It!” tag suggests an anti-war message, we feel, as in, “Think about what you'll lose.” But we'll never know the exact meaning. It's a headshop poster. The message is up to each buyer to determine. Mobley would probably know, but he died in 2009. The model might know too, but she's unidentified, sadly. Unidentified—but unforgettable.
You paid the cover charge to get in. Now you have to pay the uncover charge or get out.
The brush behind this cover for Wade Miller's 1946 debut thriller Deadly Weapon was paperback vet Bob Abbett, and it's one of his better pieces in a portfolio filled with top efforts. The book is good too. It's about an Atlanta detective who drives to San Diego to avenge the death of his partner, and as befits such a concept, features excellent Sam Spade-like repartee between main character Walter James and a local cop named Austin Clapp. Some of the action is centered around a burlesque theatre and its headlining peeler Shasta Lynn, but the deadly weapon isn't a femme fatale, as implied by the art, but Walter James himself. The man is hell on wheels. He even uses his car to ram another auto and its occupants over a cliff. Overall, Deadly Weapon is well written, well paced, and well characterized (if a bit saccharine in the romantic subplot). Wade Miller—who was really Bob Wade and Bill Miller acting as one—started his/their career on a good note with this one.
Seriously, though, haven't you ever wondered why I don't replace you with someone who has actual secretarial skills?
First of all, 1953's Love-Hungry Boss is not the same book as 1954's Love-Crazy Millionaire. The confusion could be excused—the titles are close, both came from Croydon Books, and the art on both covers is by Bernard Safran. But Love-Crazy Millionaire was written by Gordon Semple, while Love-Hungry Boss is from the mind and typewriter of Peggy Gaddis. It's about a young hottie named Leona Hale who takes a job at an Atlanta film distribution company and sets her sights on the principle owner Gordon. What she doesn't know is that Gordon, though handsome, charming, and generous, is also a serial womanizer. When Leona meets his wife and three children she breaks off the affair only to find herself smitten with a senior partner. She moves on to greener mattresses, but Gordon won't let her go, so what results is a classic love triangle with the usual trappings—lies, betrayals, misunderstandings, and plenty of the old horizontal slip 'n' slide. These books were racy for their time, but these days the sex is about junior high level, in terms of explicitness. However, the stories can still be involving if competently written, and Gaddis is a decent stylist who makes Love-Hungry Boss an entertaining and speedy read. We have a few more of her books, so we'll revisit her in a little bit.
Sharky's Machine hums along nicely, but only up to a point.
This poster was painted by the Thai illustrator Kwow for the 1981 thriller Sharky's Machine. Every blue moon or so Hollywood decides to update a ’40s film noir. Sometimes these are excellent movies—Body Heat as a rework of Double Indemnity comes to mind. Sharky's Machine is based on William Diehl's novel of the same name, which is a restyling of 1944's Laura. If you haven't seen Laura, a detective falls in love with a murdered woman, focusing these feelings upon her portrait, which is hanging over the mantle in her apartment. In Sharky's Machine the hero, Atlanta vice detective Burt Reynolds, falls in love with Rachel Ward via his surveillance of her during a prostitution investigation, and is left to deal with his lingering feelings when she's killed.
Ward observed years back that she had been too prudish in how she approached her roles, and we imagine this was one movie she had in mind. We agree with her. Reynolds' 24/7 surveillance of a high-priced hooker is not near frank enough. This is where vice, voyeurism, and sleaze as subtext should have come together overtly, as it does in Diehl's unflinchingly detailed novel, rather than as stylized montages, which is what Reynolds opts for.
Sex and nudity aren't always gratuitous. The plot driver in old film noirs is often sex, but it couldn't be shown. Remaking a noir affords the opportunity to explore the sexual aspect further, as in Body Heat, where it's literally the lure of sex with no boundaries—exemplified by that famous (but implied) anal scene—that snares the hero in an insane murder plot. In Sharky's Machine it's sexual objectification that is the initial driver. Reynolds loves Ward's body first and her personality later, but the surveillance that is the key to this is barely explored.
It's a missed opportunity to not only make a better thriller, but to examine this lust-to-love transition as an aspect of all romantic relationships. Reynolds doubled as both star and director of the film, and while his relative newbie status in the latter realm may be a reason he didn't push the envelope, he still manages in his third outing helming a motion picture to put together a final product that is stylish, dark, and neon-streaked—everything a neo-noir should be. Upon release many critics had problems with tone—violence and humor seemed to clash. Reynolds' was a semi-comedic cinematic figure and his previous two directorial efforts had been comedies, which may have led to jokes leaking into unusual moments of the film. But these days the mix of violence and comedy is common, so we doubt you'll be terribly annoyed by these few incongruities.
The main flaw with the movie, besides its chasteness, is not its tone, but that it feels compressed in the latter third, especially as relates to the love subplot. True, the film is already a shade over two hours long, but it's time that flies by, populated as it is by so many interesting roles and great actors (Bernie Casey, Brian Keith, Vittorio Gassman, Charles Durning). Another seven minutes would not have hurt. Still, we recommend this one. It should have been as bold a noir rework as Body Heat, but there's plenty to entertain in other areas, and Hollywood may make this film perfect yet—a new version of Sharky's Machine is in development with Mark Wahlberg in the lead. Hah hah—who are we kidding? They'll screw it up completely. You already know that.
I can’t wait until I can afford a good pair of high heels—then when I walk all over these chumps it’ll actually hurt them.
Above is the cover for the 1952 Lion Library paperback edition of Ward Greene’s Cora Potts, which was originally published in 1929 as Cora Potts: A Pilgrim’s Progress. An illiterate country girl robs her father’s store, runs away barefooted to the big city, eventually commits murder, and ends up a respectable, nouveau riche society wife. Greene was saying that the U.S. was a country that rewarded greed and ruthlessness, while respect for the rules was peddled to the lower classes to keep them in line. Some critics found this formulation unpalatable, and many thought the part where Potts burns through $100,000 in one year was just impossible. As that’s only about $1.3 million in today’s money we find their protests bizarre, but in any case Greene had based his character on an actual femme fatale with the amazing name of Kitty Queen.
Catherine Queen, as she had been born, indeed progressed from barefoot Georgia bumpkin to bejeweled society dame. She became public knowledge briefly in 1929 when her dupe of a husband, a prominent banker, was nabbed for embezzlement and the facts of his lavish expenditures on Queen came out at trial. How much had he spent on her in a year? $147,000. And like Cora Potts’ hapless first husband, Queen’s husband still loved her, wrote heartrending letters from prison, and sent her the few meager dollars he still collected via various means. And yet Queen never visited him once, same as Potts never visits her imprisoned spouse. The Manhattan critics who doubted the novel's verisimilitude knew nothing about Kitty Queen, but Greene had lived and worked in Atlanta and down there her story had been big news.
The cover at top is by Mal Singer, and the art from Lion’s 1955 re-issue at right was painted by Robert Maguire. Greene’s book is surprisingly obscure today, but its general message that in a corrupt society vice is virtue resonates more than ever. His genius was also in having a female character behave in a way typically ascribed to successful men, and having her go unpunished for breaking both the rule of law and of gender. Greene touched on similar themes more than once, but also wrote upbeat material. One of those pieces was a short story called, “Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog,” which appeared in Cosmopolitan and became a primary inspiration for one of the most beloved screen romances of all time—the animated feature Lady and the Tramp.
And just to dig as deeply into this subject as we can, there is some confusion online about when Greene wrote that dog story. Nearly every website says 1943, but then again nearly every website copies from other websites. A couple of sources say the story is from 1924, while a French page says 1937. We don’t know when he wrote it, but we’re inclined to believe the 1924 date. Greene was already in his mid-thirties by then, and had been writing for Cosmo since at least 1923, publishing a piece on F. Scott Fitzgerald that year. We think Walt Disney probably read the Happy Dan story in 1943 in an old Cosmo, and at that point contacted the now respected literary figure Greene about buying the property and adapting it. But we don’t know for sure. Someone in the real world of actual libraries with actual paper info will have to sort this one out.
Twelve will get you twenty—years in prison.
On the cover of this Inside News published today in 1965, readers are told of Harriet Day, a twelve-year-old “mantrap” from Brackley, England who learned from watching her prostitute mother how to seduce men. The story is written not as journalism, but as sleaze fiction, with lines like, “swinging her ample hips and showing all the leg her clinging skirt would afford, she approached men with suggestive gestures and inviting glances.” There’s plenty of backseat and backalley action, and of course the men involved had no idea she was twelve. We say of course because even though the lure of the story is creepy underaged sex, Inside News could not actually afford to be perceived as promoting the practice—hence the 150 men were all unwittingly seduced. Harriet is eventually arrested and turned over to child welfare authorities tasked with “helping her grow up as a normal woman.” As for the men, we imagine they stayed abnormal. More from Inside News at our tabloid index.
Sørensen throws Playboy fans off her trail.
Tempo was a pocket-sized celeb and pop culture magazine published bi-weekly out of Atlanta and New York City by Sports Report, Inc. We don’t know how long it lasted—this one is vol. 7, issue 9—but we know we’ve never seen one dated before 1953 or after 1958. When Dane Arden appeared on the cover of this one from today in 1956, she was already famous thanks to her appearance as Playboy’s centerfold just the previous month. But she had posed under her real name Elsa Sørensen, and back then that may have kept most Playboy readers from realizing Sørensen and Arden were the same person. It's curious. We have no idea if that was her intention, or why she’d have wanted to do it.
If we had to guess, we'd say that Playboy wanted an exclusive association with her Sørensen identity, and pressed her to choose a new name for future modeling. Or perhaps she thought of magazines like Tempo as lower class, and didn’t want to diminish her Playboy image. Or maybe she thought Elsa Sørensen was a little too Danish sounding for Hollywood. But there’s no evidence she ever had an interest in movies, and if she did wouldn’t she have been sacrificing much of the useful recognition she’d gained as a Playboy centerfold? All we can say is it’s one of history’s little mysteries. Hmm… that has a nice ring. Think we’ll claim that one—History’s Little Mysteries™. More Dane/Elsa below, plus Brigitte Bardot, Shirley Falls, Erroll Garner, Sabrina, the Cleveland Browns, Anita Ekberg, et al.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1965—UFO Reported by Thousands of Witnesses
A large, brilliant fireball is seen by thousands in at least six U.S. states and Ontario, Canada as it streaks across the sky, reportedly dropping hot metal debris, starting grass fires, and causing sonic booms. It is generally assumed and reported by the press to be a meteor, however some witnesses claim to have approached the fallen object and seen an alien craft.
1980—John Lennon Killed
Ex-Beatle John Lennon is shot four times in the back and killed by Mark David Chapman in front of The Dakota apartment building in New York City. Chapman had been stalking Lennon since October, and earlier that evening Lennon had autographed a copy of his album Double Fantasy for him.
1941—Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor
The Imperial Japanese Navy sends aircraft to attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet and its defending air forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While the U.S. lost battleships and other vessels, its aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor and survived intact, robbing the Japanese of the total destruction of the Pacific Fleet they had hoped to achieve.
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