Nobody ever said finding the right balance in life was easy.
Above is a striking image of German-born Norwegian ballerina and actress Vera Zorina holding a very difficult pose. We know it's difficult because when we tried it we smashed a coffee table and crippled a cat. Just kidding. The table turned out to be fine. Zorina was born Eva Hartwig, a name that probably sounds beautiful to the German ear, but when she went to the U.S. most people she introduced herself to probably went, “You've a heart what?” So she changed her name to something more mellifluous and proceeded to showcase her dance skills throughout the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s in eight films and seven Broadway productions, some choreographed by her husband, the legendary George Balanchine. This photo was shot at their home in Beverly Hills in 1941.
Hello—I'll be your fashionably dressed assailant today.
U.S. actress Julie Haydon, née Donatella Donaldson, gives the camera a steely-eyed look in this promo for her film Come On, Danger, in which she played a suspected murderess. Her film credits are extensive, with most of them accrued during the 1930s, and she also starred in quite a few Broadway productions, with most of those coming during the ’40s. This stylish photo of her dates from 1932.
She was the original funny girl but her life was not all laughs.
U.S. born Fanny Brice, née Fania Borach, was a theater, radio, and film actress mainly remembered today as the creator and star of the radio comedy series The Baby Snooks Show. For a time she was one of the most popular performers in America. What makes Brice pulp worthy? She fell in love with her second husband Nicky Arnstein while he was serving time in Sing Sing prison for wiretapping. After his release she lived with him for six years before finally marrying him in 1919. In 1924 Arnstein was charged in connection with a Wall Street bond theft, and Brice used much of her wealth on a failed legal defense that ended with him going to Leavenworth Prison. After he got out three years later he disappeared and left Brice to care for their two children. A decade after Brice died in 1951 Barbra Streisand portrayed her in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, later adapted to cinema. Both the musical and movie play Brice life events a bit lighter than they must have been in reality, but both were huge hits and brought Brice's name back into the mainstream—right where she would have wanted it. The racy photo you see here is from around 1915.
Yes, I’d like to order a pair of curtains, immediately please.
The French had a wide array of nudie—er, we mean, art—magazines during the mid-century period, including Paris-Hollywood and Folies de Paris et de Hollywood, which are the two we’ve focused on up to now. Regal was another popular publication—digest sized, light on text, and put together by Éditions Extentia, an outfit based out of 38 Rue du Monte-Thabor in Paris that also published Sensations, Chi-Chis, Paris-Broadway, and Paris-Tabou. It was a far-flung enterprise, even distributing issues in distant French Indochina via the loftily named Société Franco-Asiatique located in Saigon. Or if one preferred, issues could be obtained direct from France through the use of “envoi discret,” or discreet shipping, by which we expect they mean in a plain brown wrapper. This issue of Regal, with its voyeur themed cover photo suggesting a woman spied through an open window, was published in 1952. We have twenty-five scans below.
She may not be a champion of the ring, but she’s a winner just the same.
This photo of Elsie Connor looked to us as if it had been Photoshopped in a very interesting way but it wasn’t—we found a version on Getty Images and it was identical to what you see above. The image and the fact that she’s identified as an Irish boxing champion on various websites made us curious about her career, but after a bit of digging we discovered that she was actually a dancer and chorus girl, and appeared in the 1930 musical Earl Carroll's Sketch Book, the 1929 shows Fioretta and Earl Carroll’s Vanities, and the 1928 production Here’s Howe. That’s a pretty short career, and one that lacked any starring roles, but thanks to the internet she’s famous again, looking like a real world beater. The only thing is, we doubt she was ever a boxer. We can’t be 100% sure, but with no evidence that she ever stepped into a ring, as well as a very clear understanding of how often the world wide web is world wide wrong, we suspect this is just a very, er, striking publicity photo. It dates from 1931.
Who can take a tragedy and make it a success? The Candyman can.
A world-weary Sammy Davis, Jr. appears here in a photo shot by Peter Basch in the back of a Chicago limousine. Davis was about to go to New York to star on Broadway in Clifford Odets and William Gibson’s Golden Boy, a musical involving a boxer’s turbulent career, doomed interracial romance, and eventual suicide. Not exactly an uplifting night out, yet the show ran for 569 performances and the cast album cracked the Top 40. That’s called star power, and Davis, who was already huge in Hollywood and the music industry, had it to spare. The photo dates from 1964.
Are you serious? You call that thing a nose?
Comedian W.C. Fields, née William Claude Dukenfield, jokes around with chorus girls Helen Ellsworth, Helene Sheldon, Cricket Wooten, and Margy Martyn during a rehearsal for Florenz Ziegfeld’s Ziegfeld Follies revues. Fields was a Follies cast member off and on from 1915 until 1925. He was known from the beginning of his career for having a large nose, and it reddened and grew over time due to rosacea and rhinophyma. This shot is from today, 1925.
We thought we’d better share two photos so you could appreciate her fully.
These two eye-catching shots feature American actress Barbara Nichols, née Barbara Marie Nickerauer, who did the usual round of pin-up modeling and beauty contests before earning a running part in the Broadway musical Pal Joey. She later appeared in the film version along with Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and other notables, and during her show business career became known for playing strippers. Pretty easy to see why. We have no date for these photos, but if we had to guess we’d say 1955 or 1956.
Attack of the 150-foot woman.
When Michael Todd’s famed musical Mexican Hayride opened in New York City he decided to have the program art, which had been painted by the famed Peruvian arist Alberto Vargas, aka Varga, reproduced at giant scale on the billboard atop the Winter Garden Theater where the show was being staged. This photo shows Varga’s giant pin-up almost completed.
In person the matador-like figure, which is modeled after but isn’t quite a portrait of star June Havoc, was probably garbed in bright red with gold brocade, matching the colors of the program art. The reverse of the photo says: A gargantuan Varga girl, 157 feet wide and 30 feet high, has been completed atop the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway in New York. Sketches for the illustration were made by artist Varga in Chicago.
Of course, the horizontal image doesn’t look very impressive at a mere 433 pixels in width, so through the magic of Photoshop and for no other reason than we wanted to see what it looked like, we’ve reoriented the image below. There’s some egregious pixel stretching happening on the lower half of the figure, but all things considered, it looks pretty good. You can drag it to your desktop and rotate it for a better look. The photo was shot today in 1944.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Eugenics Becomes Official German Policy
Adolf Hitler signs the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and Germany begins sterilizing those they believe carry hereditary illnesses, and those they consider impure. By the end of WWII more than 400,000 are sterilized, including criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, Jews, and people of mixed German-African heritage.
1955—Ruth Ellis Executed
Former model Ruth Ellis is hanged at Holloway Prison in London for the murder of her lover, British race car driver David Blakely. She is the last woman executed in the United Kingdom.
1966—Richard Speck Rampage
breaks into a Chicago townhouse where he systematically rapes and kills eight student nurses. The only survivor hides under a bed the entire night.
1971—Corona Sent to Prison
Mexican-born serial killer Juan Vallejo Corona is convicted of the murders of 25 itinerant laborers. He had stabbed each of them, chopped a cross in the backs of their heads with a machete, and buried them in shallow graves in fruit orchards in Sutter County, California. At the time the crimes were the worst mass murders in U.S. history.
1960—To Kill a Mockingbird Appears
Harper Lee's racially charged novel To Kill a Mockingbird
is published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. The book is hailed as a classic, becomes an international
bestseller, and spawns a movie starring Gregory Peck, but is the only novel Lee would ever publish.
1962—Nuke Test on Xmas Island
As part of the nuclear tests codenamed Operation Dominic, the United States detonates a one megaton bomb on Australian controlled Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. The island was a location for a series of American and British nuclear tests, and years later lawsuits claiming radiation damage to military personnel were filed, but none were settled in favor in the soldiers.
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