Welcome to Wilson's house of pain and leather.
American actress Ajita Wilson was born in Brooklyn but became a big star in Italian sexploitation and porn movies. She was transsexual, having been born George Wilson, but opting for gender reassignment in the mid-1970s. She launched her career in New York City, making a name for herself in the red light district of the era, which back then was centered around Times Square, these days aka Disneyland east. Not long after she launched her adult career she was seen by a European producer and offered a chance to work across the pond in historic Rome. She jumped at the chance.
Wilson appeared in close to fifty movies, starting with 1976's The Nude Princess. In Perverse oltre le sbarre, which is known in the U.S. as Hell Behind Bars, she plays a killer and jewel thief named Conchita who gets tossed in the prigione and has to negotiate the usual women-in-prison staples—corruption, violence, lesbianism, and a sadistic warden. Oh, and let's not forget screechy girl fights, and sexual harassment showers. Did we leave anything out? Ah, cavity searches. Can't forget those. Torture by high voltage shock. Illicit drugs. Karate chopping double-crossers. Breathy sexploitation soundtrack. Maybe that doesn't count, though, because the prisoners theoretically can't hear it.
Yes, this prison Ajita ends up in is pretty bad, but it could be worse—at least the warden lets the women wear lingerie. Rita Silva and Linda Jones co-star in what becomes a standard WIP escape drama, and of course the escape is more fraught than anyone expected. As prison sexploitation Perverse oltre le sbarre is the same as most others, with the exception that the budget is obviously lower. With nearly fifty films to her credit Wilson almost certainly made something better. We'll take a look and see if we can find which efforts those might be, and you'd be advised to do the same and skip this one. We'll see Wilson again, though. Perverse oltre le sbarre opened in Italy today in 1984.
A signing of things to come.
Above is a photo of Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson signing autographs for Cuban fans in Havana during the spring of 1947. The Dodgers had used Havana’s La Tropical Stadium as their spring training base during the 1941 and ’42 seasons, and went there again in ’47 to avoid some of the publicity and hostility that would have surrounded Robinson, who was destined to be the first African American baseball player of the modern era. Even away from U.S. shores it was a trying time for Robinson. Havana was run by Americans interests, and was selectively an apartheid city. Robinson stayed at the Hotel Boston in Old Havana, rather than the grand Hotel Nacional in swanky Vedado with the white Dodgers. This annoyed Robinson, but he needed to focus on his play because, though he had been invited to spring training, he was not guaranteed a Major League roster spot. The pressure must have been intense. Even so, in this photo he takes time to sign autographs for Cuban fans, gracious as always, on the cusp of a career that would redefine what it meant to be a Major League Baseball player.
When the clock strikes twelve Jayne's ready to party.
Curvy Jayne Mansfield stars on these LP covers from the 1960s that caught our eye because of the clock striking midnight on all of them. You would think these are all from the same company, but no—Smashing Hit Parade, for example, is an album that despite its English name actually came from Japan's Union Records. The platters contain songs such as “Hello Mary Lou” by the Brooklyn Bluegrass Collective, and “Tonight, My Love, Tonight” by Dany Locker. Regardless of the musical content, the real attraction here is Mansfield. We'd love to see what she looks like around 3 a.m.
He destroyed everything in his path—including himself.
The National Police Gazette published this issue in 1954, with a cover featuring pro heavyweight boxers Tommy Hurricane Jackson and Dan Bucceroni battling at Eastern Parkway Arena in Brooklyn, New York. The fight took place on March 29, and Jackson won with a TKO in the 6th. He never won a heavyweight title, but was well regarded in fight circles for being fearless, if not self-destructive. In fact, he once fought Floyd Patterson and was knocked down nine times. Each time he rose to absorb more punishment, before losing by TKO in the tenth round. It was apparently one of the worst ring beatings ever, made worse by Jackson's sheer will. Afterward, boxing authorities suspended his license for his own protection. It was a temporary ban designed to force him to recover fully before fighting again, but we've never heard such a drastic step. It's indicative of Jackson's reputation. Was he fearless, crazy, or both? Opinions vary, but we love this Gazette cover. The magazine specialized in boxing photo-illustrations, which we've documented here, here, here, and other places if you're inclined to dig around the site.
Tonight they're gonna party like it's 1955.
Questions abound on this cover of Inside Story, but for each one there's an answer. What did Prince Rainier not tell Grace Kelly? That the palace in Monaco was cold and drafty, and she couldn't sleep in the nude anymore because the premises were open to the public from 9 to 5. What was the amazing Frank Sinatra hoax? His studio Carlyle Productions started a whisper campaign that he was such a dedicated actor that he actually used heroin while filming the heroin drama The Man with the Golden Arm. What is the secret fear that haunts Perry Como? That his family might be kidnapped.
All of these pieces are fascinating, but since it's baseball season and people are high on the front-running New York Yankees right now, we'll point to the story, “The Real Reason the Yankees Lost!” What they lost was the 1955 World Series, and it happened—according to Inside Story—because they were partying too hard. They were ensconced at the Concourse Hotel for the Series, a hole-up made possible by the fact that their opponents were the Brooklyn Dodgers. So with both the home and away games taking place in New York City, and the players barred from sleeping in their own houses to avoid family distractions, the superstar Yanks did some major league carousing.
Inside Story scribe Manuel Shaw describes an allegedly typical scene: “Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, and several other Yankees were sitting around the lobby of the hotel when three lovelies from a nearby night spot showed up. Since the cuties were entertainers familiar to one or two of the players, and were rabid Yankees boosters, it was not remarkable that they were soon in animated conversation with the group, which shortly adjourned from the lobby to an upstairs suite.”
Then he moves into this bit: “A beauteous brunette [was in the hall] clad only in a negligee. The two players wanted to spend some time with her, and they agreed that they would rather do it separately, but she insisted it would be more fun if they both stayed, and after a while she persuaded both of them to come back with her to her room. Soon a real party was underway, joined by many other Yankees, and several doting females who lived at the hotel.”
Well, what good is being a member of the famed Yankees if you can't do some Yankee doodle diddling? Most guys we know can't resist a free beer, let alone a woman in lingerie. A little later in the story, after the question of whether professional gamblers employed the party girls to distract the Yanks, we get this: “If true, this parallels the persistent story in gambling and diamond circles that the voluptuous Marilyn Monroe was introduced to Yankee star Joe DiMaggio just in order to take his attention off the Yankee pennant drive of a few years back.”
Did Inside Story really just say Marilyn Monroe was a mafia Trojan horse? Yup. They did. No ambiguity there. The magazine does not go so far as to say Monroe was aware of the set-up, so perhaps it was a matter of maneuvering her into the same space as DiMaggio at the same time and letting nature take its course. There are worse ways for a man to fall from the sporting mountaintop. And talk about a soft landing. We doubt the story, but you never know. There are far crazier tales starring Monroe. We have about thirty-five scans below, and more tabloids coming soon.
Well, what are you waiting for? I haven't got all day—impress me.
Brooklyn born actress Grace Bradley gives the camera a provocative look in this beautiful Paramount promo shot from 1934. She had a very successful run in cinema that began in 1932, but after appearing in more than thirty productions gave up show business in order to support the career of her husband, cowboy star William Boyd, the man behind the legendary character Hopalong Cassidy. Bradley hopped along herself until age ninety-seven, finally dying in California in 2010. We should all do so well.
Trevor makes the most of her smoke break by posing for a master.
Brooklyn born actress Claire Trevor made more than sixty movies over seven decades, including the important film noir entries Raw Deal, Born To Kill, Johnny Angel, Murder My Sweet, and Key Largo, the latter of which snared her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. And if you haven't seen her in it you really should. She was one of film noir's defining artists, an indispensable participant in it. We're also fond of her in lighter fare such as 1965's How To Murder Your Wife, with Jack Lemmon. The noirish shot above was used as a reference photo by the legendary Peruvian artist Alberto Vargas. He painted a portrait of Trevor which you see inset just above, and you also see her posing with the piece below. The portrait was commissioned by her employers Fox Film Corporation as a promo image, a type of work Vargas did often, and the studio used prints of portrait as lobby cards. All of these images came about in 1934.
Well, I suppose we can. But only as long as you keep a peel on it—I don't want those little seeds of yours taking root.
You ever get the feeling publishers sometimes used whatever art they had sitting around? You certainly would in the case of David Dortort's 1948 paperback Burial of the Fruit, which is a “gripping novel of youth in the slums.” A slum that had a nice expanse of wetlands and recreational boating, apparently. Yes, there's nature around Brooklyn, where the novel takes place and the anti-hero takes his sweetheart out there, but you'd think this was a rural saga if not for the cover blurb. Later editions had more appropriate art. The book tells the story of Honey Halpern—a male—who becomes the leader of a gang of killers for hire. Basically, it's the story of Murder, Inc., turned into fiction. This was Dortort's debut and it got rapturous reviews and earned him comparisons to some of the greatest contemporary authors alive. But he wrote only one other novel and never did become an immortal in the literary world. Instead he's remembered for creating the television show Bonanza. Maybe that isn't as respectable as being a master novelist, but we bet he made way more money. The cover artist here is Ann Cantor.
The meek shall inherit starvation wages.
Originally published in 1949 as Spit and the Stars, which is a title we really like, Tough Kid from Brooklyn is the story of a Jewish youth who seeks love and gets involved in union organizing only to see owners strike back violently via the usual methods. The book is a reminder of two important facts—organizing or striking for better pay is often illegal, and that puts cops on the wrong side of justice, as well as literary protagonists. This was Mende’s only novel, though he apparently had thirteen others tucked away in a trunk. The first abridged edition from Avon appeared in 1951. The one you see here is from 1955, with a slightly different logo treatment than the 1951 paperback, but with the same uncredited cover art.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
1923—Yankee Stadium Opens
In New York City, Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, opens with the Yankees beating their eternal rivals the Boston Red Sox 4 to 1. The stadium, which is nicknamed The House that Ruth Built, sees the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball history. It is eventually replaced by a new Yankee Stadium and closes in September 2008.
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