But it's important to make sure the pain is someone else's.
American author Frank Kane is well known for his many Johnny Lidell detective mysteries, which appeared from from 1947 to 1967. The Living End, from ’57, sets the world of detectives aside and tells readers about aspiring songwriter Eddie Marlon's meteoric rise from assistant at a radio station to the biggest disc jockey in New York City. Along with that, naturally, comes the usual doses of greed, betrayal, hubris, and the sowing of the seeds of his own potential destruction.
The cover art by Victor Kalin depicts the moment Marlon's ascent begins. A big shot record exec whips an ambitious singer until she's close to death, slumped shirtless in a chair. Marlon is called in to take the blame. It's a huge risk, because if she dies he's up the creek, but if she doesn't he'll be rewarded with anything he wants, which is his own radio show. The singer survives, keeps her terrible abuse a secret because she wants a career in music too, and Marlon gets an on-air slot and is soon rising through the ranks of FM radio deejays. The whole incident feels a bit Weinsteinian, which makes it all the more visceral.
But did we mention those seeds of destruction? Getting to the top is hard, but staying on top is harder, particularly when you've stepped on so many people. The Living End is a good book, but one thing we didn't like was Kane's insistence on constantly—sometimes four or five times in a few pages—referring to Marlon as “the thin man.” Everyone within the narrative calls him “the kid.” So why not use that as his non-name reference? Strange. But otherwise, decent work, and a fun depiction of the payola days of FM radio. Apparently Kane revisited the music industry with a novel called Juke Box King. We'll try to find that and report back.
I have a vision... It's getting clearer... It's you... buying the updated and revised edition of my book.
Above you see the cover of Old Aunt Dinah's Dream Book of Numbers. We've already talked about Gene Bilbrew's covers for 1970s dream books. We're revisiting the subject today to give you this additional look at his work, but also to take a historical angle on his specifically African American art. Playing daily numbers was an African American invention, part of an underground economy that flourished in many large cities, but reached its apotheosis in Harlem.
It's impossible to know when playing the numbers began—certainly long before the turn of the twentieth century—but the practice took off during the 1920s when a black West Indian man named Casper Holstein began using bank-to-bank transaction data published in New York City papers as the selection mechanism for his daily numbers. Previously, numbers had been chosen in various unreliable ways, but Holstein's innovation placed the selection of numbers in public view, removed any suggestion of corruption, and as a result Harlem's daily lottery thrived.
Which is exactly why the city of New York decided to take it over in 1980, a coup it managed in part by promising to use a portion of the numbers revenue toward public education costs. And of course, proving once again that politicians are the lowest creatures that ever crawled from beneath slime covered logs in miasmic swamps, the city then cut its contributions to the education budget so there was ultimately no net gain for schools, while profits were neatly excised from the black community.
Old Aunt Dinah's Dream Book of Numbers is the third dream book illustrated by Bilbrew we've shared. We're fascinated by the exotic, made-up personae on the covers. The idea of gypsies, Arabs, creoles, Asians, or very old people somehow tapping into mystical power thrived in pulp fiction, early movies, cartoons, and, as you see, even on the covers of dream books. Old Aunt Dinah is our favorite dream book invention, but the characters Madame Zodia and Princess Shaharr—the latter of whom we'll show you later—are close runners up.
For those who don't know what books like these are about exactly, we explained that in our typically roundabout way in previous write-ups, here and here. Shorter version: Dream until your dreams come true. We already have a couple more to share, and we'll keep an eye out for others. And of course we'll continue to be on the lookout for paperback art by Gene Bilbrew. You can see what he's about by clicking this link.
You're too late. We all got dressed ten minutes ago.
Above, The Naked Hours by Wenzell Brown, for Popular Library, 1956, with unusual bright green art by an unknown. We knew nothing about the book or the author, but this cover, battered as it is, attracted us, so job well done there. The book is good. A guy with a serious alcohol problem goes on a bender and wakes up in a strange bed with a girl he doesn't remember meeting. But she's sexy as hell so he embarks on an affair with her that evolves into a half-serious plot to kill his rich wife. Once he realizes the plot is real, he can't get out because the original transgression—that of his infidelity—will get him divorced and booted out of the Upper Manhattan good life if it becomes known. So he keeps trying to finesse his way to a solution, which involves outsmarting two hitmen intent on spousal murder. Odds on getting out unscathed are not good, but in effective crime fiction the odds should never be good. Nice one from Brown. We'll be looking for more.
This one has arms and she knows how to use them.
From meager expectations often great entertainment arises. Such is the case with Ralph Carter's 1945 melodrama Blonde Venus. It's the story of a Kansas farm girl who goes to New York City to become a writer and finds that people are more interested in her body than her brain. We were surprised by this one. It's better than we expected for three reasons.
First, its protagonist Wandalee Fernald is uniquely likeable for a female character playing out a male writer's outdated Madonna/whore dichotomy. Often male writers fumble that theme, but Carter makes his take on it work.
Second, the narrative explores the change in attitudes toward sex that occurred during World War II, a time when the idea of female virginity before marriage was being temporarily tossed out the window due to the realization that life could be cut short.
And third, in a country that was rapidly urbanizing, the story makes good use of the tension between smalltown provincialism and big city cynicism, a struggle Wandalee internalizes as she tries to find out who she is.
Throughout the book we wondered whether she would end up with the backward hayseed hurt by her loss of purity or the jaded urbanite who accepts her as is but can't offer love in the romantic sense. Well, it turns out she chooses neither, and finds real love in New York City after all. That's a spoiler, but are you really going to seek out this flimsy old paperback? We don't think so. But if you happen to run across a copy, it's worth a read.
Scientist takes 7,000 pound elephant on a one way trip.
We don't just read fiction around here. We're deep into Tom O'Neill's Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties. We may talk about the book later. It's full of anecdotes from the ’60s, and last night we came across the story of Tusko and his acid trip, which occurred in August 1962. Tusko was an eleven year-old Indian elephant that had the misfortune of finding himself at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Oklahoma City at the same time a crackpot scientist named Louis Jolyon West was at the University of Oklahoma studying the effects of LSD. Why West wanted to dose an elephant is too complicated to go into here, but let's just say he anticipated the resultant data having human applications.
In order to perform the experiment West had to calculate how much acid to give Tusko, and he decisively fucked up. He administered via syringe more than 1,400 times the human dosage (other accounts vary in this regard, but O'Neill relayed the story directly from West's notes). After the injection West stood back to observe the result. Said result, according to West's notes, was “Tusko trumpeted, collapsed, fell heavily onto his right side, defecated,” seized, and died.
Other versions of the story contain more detail. Apparently Tusko ran around his pen trumpeting (presumably the elephant equivalent of “I am tripping balls, dude!), before falling over. West, his keen scientific senses detecting trouble, decided to calm Tusko by injecting him with either Thorazine or promazine-hydrochloride (accounts vary) and phenobarbital. These doses were also massive, because once you've wildly overestimated the amount of LSD to give to an elephant, it's best to also wildly overestimate the amount of tranqs he might need. These second injections, running into the thousands of milligrams, may have been the actual cause of Tusko's death. We have profound sympathy for all the animals stuck on Earth with us casually murderous, ravenously omnivorous humans, but even in the endless annals of animal cruelty there are episodes so bizarre you can only marvel. Committing elephanticide using LSD is one of them.
After the Tusko fiasco West eventually made his way to a research position in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, and was there at the same time as Charles Manson, which is why his story appears in O'Neill's book. You'd think he'd been run out out of Oklahoma City on a rail, but you'd be wrong. He had CIA connections, and cruelty is an asset in those quarters. He had already dosed humans without their permission during his days at the CIA's MKUltra program, so it actually represented an improvement in his ethics to do the same to an elephant. They say LSD can bring you into contact with the divine. That must be true, because the story of Louis West and Tusko is a work of divine comedy. And just to give it a tinge of pathos, below is a photo of Tusko on his first birthday, when he had no inkling his life would be cut short in the service of pseudo-science.
Gringos take their criminal activities south of the border in Mystery in Mexico.
When a vintage movie is set in Mexico, it's a bonus when it's actually filmed there. Most movies with a Mexican backdrop—even good ones—didn't bother, but Mystery in Mexico goes the extra mile. And not for just a scene or two. There are numerous exteriors in city and countryside. Among the sights sharp-eyed viewers will see are the Monumento a la Revolución, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the nightclub Ciro's, which had a Mexico City branch famous for a Diego Rivera mural in its Champagne Room. The Mexican authenticity extends to the cast, which features local superstar Ricardo Cortez and numerous bit players. Even some of the dialogue is in Spanish, including bits spoken by lead actor William Lundigan—quite a departure for a star in an old-time thriller.
So we've established that Mystery in Mexico aims for authenticity. But is it any good? Well, what you have here is a story about insurance investigator Lundigan following Jacqueline White around Mexico City hoping she'll lead him to a stash of stolen jewelry. White doesn't know where the loot is, but her brother might. Except he's missing. Also looking for the jewels is a gang of local thieves. For the most part the film plays as a romantic adventure, with love-hate turning into love-love thanks to Lundigan's dubious charm. The mystery aspect is pretty slight by comparison, but with Robert Wise in the director's chair everything looks good and runs smoothly. Mystery in Mexico won't make anyone's top 100 list, but for its novelty factor alone it's worth a look. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1948.
Himes' Harlemites take the prize.
Above is an unusual orange cover by an uncredited artist for Chester Himes' crime yarn The Big Gold Dream. We're Himes fans, but for us this wasn't as enjoyable as For Love of Imabelle or The Real Cool Killers, nor as well written, in our opinion, but the author's flair is undiminished in a tale about a lottery winner whose $36,000 cash prize is stolen. The most interesting character here is Dummy, a man permanently deaf from a beating and mute from having his tongue cut out, but whose disrespectful nickname belies his tenacity. And of course franchise detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones also star. There are caricatures many readers will find offensive, but that just makes Himes like most writers of the period. No matter what, with him you can count on a portrayal of Harlem that's quirky and insightful, and that's probably reason enough to read the book. It originally appeared in 1959, and this Signet edition dates from 1975.
Ekberg personifies every father's wish.
Swedish superstar Anita Ekberg poses in New York City for this promo photo commemorating Father's Day, which in the U.S. happens to be today. How many fathers wish they had someone like Ekberg around the house? All of them. This was shot in 1958.
Everybody who was anybody was fair game in Harrison's Hollywood.
In independent journalism there's a battle raging at all times, as those with power attempt to intimidate the press, make its work difficult, control its narrative, restrict its access, redefine what constitutes journalism, or even cast individual members of the press as public enemies. It's a battle that never ends. Confidential magazine was an important soldier on the journalistic battlefield. For ages anything that appeared in Hollywood gossip magazines was carefully crafted and groomed by the studios, which maintained power by denying access to all but officially accredited press outlets.
Maverick publisher Robert Harrison was a visionary who realized the public would open their wallets and pay for the lurid truth—even if the rush to get startling scoops meant the truth was sometimes only half-correct. Confidential appeared in 1952, and had the studios quivering in their boots by 1954. The issue you see here came later, this month in 1963, in what is acknowledged as the magazine's later, tamer period, a defanging that came about thanks to numerous lawsuits launched by Hollywood stars, backed by powerful California politicians.
Confidential still managed to entertain, even if its stories were of a less invasive nature than before. But notwithstanding the new rules of engagement, some targets received particularly scathing treatment. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were among them. The magazine says their legendary affair on the set of Cleopatra began as a studio publicity stunt, which backfired when Taylor actually fell for Burton—and into his bed. That may be true, but failure can be relative. On one hand Taylor's squeaky clean image was ruined forever, but on the other the story of her affair generated immense amounts of free press for Cleopatra.
Other celebs who get cooked on the rotisserie include Joan Collins, Anthony Newley, Rex Harrison, Vince Edwards, and pioneering trans entertainer Christine Jorgensen. The magazine also tackled the issue of street prostitution in New York City and an epidemic of glue sniffing among American teens. We have a set of scans below and—stop us if you've heard this before—an entire tabloid index with thirty more posts about Confidential, to be found here.
Last stop—the city morgue.
Watching lots of movies eventually brings everything your way. The promo poster for Grand Central Murder lured us, and we found ourselves watching an archetypal Sherlockian whodunnit, complete with the villain unmasked in the final moments. When a Broadway showgirl is murdered on a private train car the police gather a gaggle of suspects and go through each of their stories trying to uncover the killer. Among the detainees—her escaped convict boyfriend, her sad sack ex-husband, her jealous co-worker, her phony psychic stepfather, her theatrical understudy, and others, including the convict's lawyer, played by lead actor Van Heflin. Various alibis and reminiscences are shown in flashback until the killer is revealed via a monologue that wraps everything up nice and neat. We wouldn't call the movie screamingly thrilling and funny like the poster does, but it's okay if you like mysteries, and the mass transit backdrop is actually kind of interesting. Grand Central Murder premiered in New York City today in 1942.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1910—First Seaplane Takes Flight
Frenchman Henri Fabre, who had studied airplane and propeller designs and had also patented a system of flotation devices, accomplishes the first take-off from water at Martinque, France, in a plane he called Le Canard, or "the duck."
1953—Jim Thorpe Dies
American athlete Jim Thorpe, who was one of the most prolific sportsmen ever and won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football at the collegiate and professional levels, and also played professional baseball and basketball, dies of a heart attack.
1958—Khrushchev Becomes Premier
Nikita Khrushchev becomes premier of the Soviet Union. During his time in power he is responsible for the partial de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, and presides over the rise of the early Soviet space program, but his many policy failures lead to him being deposed in October 1964. After his removal he is pensioned off and lives quietly the rest of his life, eventually dying of heart disease in 1971.
1997—Heaven's Gate Cult Members Found Dead
In San Diego, thirty-nine members of a cult called Heaven's Gate are found dead after committing suicide in the belief that a UFO hidden in tail of the Hale-Bopp comet was a signal that it was time to leave Earth for a higher plane of existence. The cult members killed themselves by ingesting pudding and applesauce laced with poison.
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