We get to the beach so rarely, shame to waste the trip. Who's up for a swim before we haul this stiff to the morgue?
Today in 1954 a man named Nathaniel Smith who was walking on Venice Beach in Los Angeles spotted something floating in the surf behind the breakwater of the old Venice Pier. He waded into the ocean and discovered the something was a person. Smith pulled him to shore, but the man was already dead, a victim not of drowning but of a gunshot wound to the head. Was he a murder victim or a suicide? There's no info available on that, nor on his identity. Whoever he was, we bet he never could have imagined thousands of people would be looking at photos of him nearly a lifetime later. We're doing that thanks to the University of Southern California, which holds these and tens of thousands of other images in its archive of Los Angeles Examiner press photos. You can see many more shots from the collection by clicking its keywords below.
So, this will shock you—I can tell you it shocked me—but I realized I've wanted to shoot you since our very first date.
Marian Marsh was born in what is now Trinidad and Tobago, but which was at the time of her birth part of the British West Indies. She started life as Violet Krauth, but for Hollywood changed her name. She appeared in such films as The Road to Singapore, Crime and Punishment, In Spite of Danger, Murder by Invitation, and the horror classic The Black Room. All worthy achievements, and she also founded a nonprofit called Desert Beautiful, which had a mission to preserve the environment of Palm Desert, California, where she lived after retirement. The organization lasted for about fifty years, which is quite good for a nonprofit. The above photo, made back when she was interested only in murder, is from the 1931 drama Five Star Final.
Man tries to catch train, train catches him instead.
These photos show an unfortunate man named John Heldt, Jr. trapped under a Pacific Electric freight car in Gardena, California. Getty Images has this listed as happening August 7, 1951, but the USC digital film archive where the image is stored has the date as today. We trust USC over Getty, but whenever it happened, it was a bad day for Heldt, maybe not the worst of his life, but certainly in the top five, we can be sure. His rescuers had to bring in special equipment to lift the train off him, so he was probably pinned for hours, his indignity compounded by the fact that a Los Angeles Examiner photographer made these snaps of him. “Can you hold that pose? Heh heh, that's a joke, see, because you can't move at all, you poor, stupid sap!” There's no info on whether Heldt recovered, nor whether he lost any body parts. Still, as bad as this looks, it's better than flying Ryanair.
The beach is always fun and games until someone gets burned.
What a coincidence. We were just talking about Joan Bennett a couple of days ago. You remember the story. Her husband tried to shoot her lover in the balls. Or unit. Or really anywhere in the vicinity of his reproductive organs. And he succeeded in hitting the vicinity, but missed all the crucial plumbing. It was a Hollywood love triangle that ended in blood and violence. Woman on the Beach stars Bennett, Robert Ryan, and Charles Bickford, and is also a love triangle that causes violence. The plot concerns a Coast Guard officer who becomes infatuated with a married woman. The woman's husband is an artist who lost his sight in an accident, but the Coast Guard officer becomes convinced the artist isn't really blind, but rather is using it as an excuse to hang onto his wife. Under the careful direction of French auteur Jean Renoir, Woman on the Beach makes for a decent ninety minutes of entertainment. We don't consider it a film noir, by the way, as some crowdsourced sites and blogs suggest. It just doesn't meet the requirements, in our view. AFI.com agrees, and calls it drama. It premiered in New York City today in 1947.
'Tis the season for generous giving—of prison time.
This unusual photo made today in 1953 shows a man named Edward Hallmark, aged seventy-three, being wheeled into a Pasadena courtroom to testify against twenty-four year old Donald Randazzo. Apparently, the previous September Randazzo kidnapped and beat Hallmark in an effort to rob him of his life savings. The shot is part of the large Los Angeles Examiner archive held by the University of Southern California, and which we've mined for interesting historical shots often.
In the photos below you see the defendant Randazzo conferring with his lawyer Edward S. Cooper. Randazzo is being shown a page from an edition of Advance California Reports. Advance reports or advance sheets are legal aids—specifically, pamphlets containing recently decided opinions of federal courts or state courts of a particular region. So basically Cooper is informing Randazzo of something relevant to their court appearance.
And we know exactly what that relevant something is—a standard in California case law stating that when the chief prosecution witness is trundled into court on a stretcher the defendant is seriously screwed. We have a feeling a wheelchair would have worked fine for Hallmark, but when you're facing your kidnapper you play your best card. The bedridden victim card beats everything king and below. Cooper is doubtless saying to his client, “As you can see here in Advance California Reports, Donald, legally you're fucked.”
Watch and marvel as I escape this cage using the incredible power of my court appointed defense attorney.
This odd photo shows Eric Pederson, whose real name was Charles E. Putnam, showing off for photographers after he had been arrested on suspicion of auto theft in Los Angeles today in 1947. He and a companion named Edward Sell were busted by cops inside a car belonging a third party, though both denied they were trying to steal it. Pederson is rock hard in this photo for a reason. He was the reigning Mr. California, a title he won at only eighteen years old. The win sent him onward to the Mr. America competition, but he was beaten for the national crown by future Superman Steve Reeves.
Pederson generated plenty of publicity off that and other bodybuilding competitions, which led to a Your Physique cover painted by none other than George Quaintance. Since Quaintance painted only about a dozen of these, this was quite an honor. From there Pederson was able to launch a long pro wrestling career, which is how he's mainly remembered today. At one time he had Hollywood aspirations, but ended up managing only one role—a bit part as a wrestler in 1951's Civilian Coast Guard, starring Brian Donlevy and Ella Raines.
We weren't able to find out how his auto theft arrest turned out, but considering his seemingly unbroken timeline from bodybuilding competitions to wrestling, it's safe to say the charges were pleaded down to a misdemeanor or dismissed altogether. Which just goes to show that even quasi celebrity is helpful in L.A. Or maybe the cops gave him a break in exchange for bodybuilding tips. In any case, Pederson retired from wrestling in 1961 and died in 1990, but the Quaintance painting guarantees he'll be remembered as long as people collect great magazine art. We have more from Quaintance here, here, and here.
Hayworth enjoys a not-so-light snack in Santa Monica.
Published today in 1941, we love this Life magazine cover of Rita Hayworth on the beach in Santa Monica, California. But we love the second photo even more. Movie stars will do just about anything to avoid being photographed unhinging their jaws to cram in a pile of food. You can't blame them. Paparazzi lurk in hope of getting exactly this type of shot, which they sell for big money to websites that specialize in making celebs look bad. Hayworth turns the idea into comedy while simultaneously looking appetizing herself. That's star power for you.
Yep, this guy's dead as hell. Too bad. He could sue the beer company for false advertising.
This photo, which is part of the archive of mid-century Los Angeles Herald press shots maintained by the University of Southern California, shows a suicide at the front entrance of Temple M.E. Church at 14th and Union in Los Angeles. The man was named Robert Palmer, and you can see that the poor guy shot himself in the middle of the forehead. You can also see that he bled profusely, which suggests his heart pumped for a bit before he finally died. L.A.P.D. detective Hugh Palmer (no relation) stands over him. Like many suicides Robert Palmer had a final drink before doing the deed. His choice? As you see in the zoom below, it was Lucky Lager, which conferred no benefits whatsoever. Maybe a rabbit's foot or a horseshoe would have been more effective. Or not. The photo is from today in 1957.
Serial killer art released in effort to solve cold cases.
As pulp art fans we were a bit amazed by this next news item. The FBI has just released drawings imprisoned serial killer Samuel Little made of his victims, with the hope that the images will help in solving open cases. Little is serving life for three murders he committed in California, but he claims to have killed ninety women over nearly four decades. Law enforcement in various states have definitively linked him to more than thirty murders. Many of those killings were not classified as such at the time because Little's preferred method of dispatch was to knock the women out and strangle them, which meant that there were not always clear signs of foul play if the remains went undiscovered for any amount of time.
But now, by circulating these drawings, authorities hope to close dozens of cases scattered throughout the United States in places the nomadic Little is suspected to have traveled. The feds are being helped by Little himself, who agreed to cooperate in exchange for being allowed a transfer to a new prison. He's 78 years old and in poor health, which means it's basically now or never in securing his assistance.
After Little dies in prison it will be interesting to see what eventually happens to these drawings. In the past such artifacts tended to end up in repositories such as the Black Museum and similar places, but in this day and age we suspect they'll be destroyed once their usefulness is agreed to have passed. Since they're incredibly sad when considered in context, destruction may be a fitting end for them. But it's also possible, though not likely, that they could be sold and the proceeds used to compensate victims' families. One thing is for sure—there are plenty of collectors of the morbid out there who would buy them.
When's the last time you cleaned your doorbell?
We like a good tonguing. Everybody does. But even the gentlest tongue can create soreness after a while and that's what happened in Salinas, California, when a nocturnal tonguer irritated the town. The tale began when a family alerted by its security system to the presence of a nighttime visitor reviewed video footage and was surprised to discover that an unidentified man had come lick, lick, licking at their front porch door. They posted a frame from the video on social media and alerted police and neighbors to the menace. The good people of Salinas can now rest easy—the assailant has been identified as Roberto Daniel Arroyo, a thirty-something local citizen, possibly homeless. A motive for his actions has yet to emerge, but since he was obviously looking for some sort of recognition by playing to the security camera, we think boredom and/or loneliness may have been factors. Can't rule out psychoactive drugs either.
But here's the interesting part. Tonguing doorbells isn't illegal. Filthy, yes, considering all the bodily dirt embedded in them. But illegal? No. A porch is an invitation to the public to inquire whether a domicile's occupants are present. You can't just stand on the street and yell at the house. And certainly there's no law stating you can't touch a doorbell with your tongue. It's no worse than fingering it, when you really think about it. And there's also no law against being in public at 4 a.m. Well, not technically. Our non-U.S. readers may be interested to know that cops will often hassle you when they see you out at that hour, but it isn't actually illegal. So Arroyo broke no laws by tonguing the doorbell. It was weird as hell, but within the bounds of legality as normally interpreted. Unfortunately, he complicated his situation by stealing some electrical cords. The law is pretty clear on that. Jail may be in his future. And there, once the inmates learn of his proclivity for tonguing things, boredom and/or loneliness are not likely to be problems.
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