Cross-country train trip runs into heavy snow and cultural headwinds.
Falling into the category of well-known authors writing lurid fiction under pseudonyms, we have today The Naked Storm by Simon Eisner, from Lion Books in 1956 with a cover by Robert Stanley. Eisner was a cloak for sci-fi author C.M. Kornbluth, who was co-winner of the coveted Hugo Award in 1973 for his short story "The Meeting." The Naked Storm employs as its central plot device a train snowbound on the high Raton Pass during a bitterly cold Colorado winter. Essentially, it's a disaster novel, and you know we always grab those when we can. This is not the only tale of this ilk Kornbluth was involved with. Perhaps you remember A Town Is Drowning. As is typical of trapped cast novels, a number of ongoing dramas take place here, and these offer windows into mid-1950s sociology. The character unwillingly controlled by organized crime figures, the pretty wife who's a heroin addict, the wide-eyed ingenue, the obese woman carrying a baby that will—shocked, we tell you!—turn out to be brown rather than white, and even the starving wolf that happens upon and begins eating a human body are interesting, but the notable personality here is the predatory lesbian who lacks a single scruple.
For that reason, the novel is an instructive look at the prevalent mid-century belief (which of course never went away in some benighted quarters) that homosexuality is a sickness. While any character can be a villain in fiction, and any character can be a sexual predator, since lesbianism is posited here to be both evil and contagious, the core drama of whether the ingenue will be lured onto track 69 is pure patriarchal hate-mongering. Hilariously, from an authorial point of view, she should choose one of the male characters with whom to bed down. The fact that they're all losers doesn't seem to matter.
So what you get in the end is a textbook example of homophobia in mid-century literature, one that's fit for study, should anyone out there be looking for thesis material. However, it's pretty well written and reasonably engrossing once you slog past the first thirty pages. Also, Kornbluth wrote other books with lgbt themes, such as Half and Sorority House, and because we haven't read them we feel it's only fair to suggest that he may have produced more nuanced, less reactionary work in those (though probably not). Hmm... to read a bigoted novel or not? Serious vintage book fans always face that question. You've been duly informed.
Ryan reaches the limits of control in crimefighting and romance.
On Dangerous Ground, which premiered today in 1951, is a film noir melodrama about a bad cop who finds a reason to reset his professional and emotional lives. It was adapted from Gerard Butler's novel Mad with Much Heart, and that title pretty much tells the tale, as Robert Ryan plays a detective so mean even his colleagues warn him he's out of control.
He eventually ruptures a suspect's bladder during a beating. He deserves to be drummed out of the police and publicly shamed for such a transgression (in our opinion), but his chief, instead of handing him the pink slip he deserves, sends him to the mountains to help with a distant investigation until the heat cools. Once there Ryan finds a reason to reassess his life in the form of Ida Lupino, the blind but insightful sister of a murder suspect. She can sense bullshit and hurt miles away, and she becomes the first person that Ryan has actually listened to for a long time.
On Dangerous Ground is not by any means the best that film noir has to offer, but it has its moments, including extensive location shooting in snowy western Colorado. For noir completists it's certainly one to watch. Those with limited time allotments can probably give it a pass in favor of something better, but note that Lupino is a film noir icon as both an actress and director, and in fact directed some scenes in this movie, though she wasn't credited. Keep an eye out for her official work.
Treat your mummy special every day.
When we see the word “mummy” in a news story we pay extra attention. Even more so when the mummy has nothing to do with Egypt. Late last week police in Moffatt, Colorado arrested seven members of a ragtag cult called Love Has Won after they were found in possession of a mummified body. The body was once Amy Carlson, above, the leader of the sect. She was known to the cultists as Mother God, and believed that she was the 534th avatar of God on Earth and had revoked the free will of humanity. Mummy Carlson was posed in a shrine, wrapped in a sleeping bag festooned with Christmas lights, and decorated about her eyeless face with glitter make-up. The cult members were charged with, among other things, abuse of a corpse.
Abuse? Do the police have no idea how expensive the top make-up brands are? L'Oréal's best eye shadow, the shimmery Avant Garde Azure, which is so good it de-emphasizes the fact that you don't even have eyes, costs a small fortune. Maybelline's Superstay lipstick, which makes lips so kissable even a death rictus won't stop an admirer from going in for some tongue action, runs a pretty penny too. And Guerlain's Fève Délicieuse parfum is so intoxicating it masks even the charnel stench of death. Don't get us started on that. The point is, this was no abused corpse. Love Has Won adherents spared no effort or expense transforming their rattling husk of a mummy-goddess into a glamour queen that turned heads wherever she went.
And no wonder they treated her so well, considering they believed she'd lived hundreds of lives, both male and female—and we assume non-binary too, if she was really on her game. They thought she'd been Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc, and who knows what other historical personages. You ever notice people who live past lives were never mid-level sanitation workers in some plague-wracked medieval town? Or some young male virgin sacrificially beheaded atop a Mayan pyramid in the year 450? Or a little girl who got trampled flat by a mammoth? Seems to us you'd remember being all those things.
But it's always Joan of Arc for some reason, or Cleopatra. Mother God even claimed to have been Marilyn Monroe, and that's going too far in our book, because Monroe was a real goddess. We can prove it because every time we see those early nudes of hers things start to miraculously rise around here. Anyway, we suspect that the sevendetained Love Has Won cultists—you see them above, plus a stand-in for Mother God, the beef jerky version, because we couldn't find a photo—are looking at some years under the care of the state of Colorado. That'll be followed by a sprint through the talk show circuit, public repudiation of their bizarre beliefs, blaming it on trauma in childhood and meth usage as adults, finally capped off with careers as self-help gurus. And to think Mother God said humanity has no free will. It does, and we're going to use ours right now by choosing to “worship” Monroe for a bit. Don't expect us back today. Hi, Mother God here. I command thee: Bring me a glass of the sacramental wine.
Stuck between the cops and a hard place.
This poster was made to promote the drama Big House, U.S.A., which premiered today in 1955, and starred Ralph Meeker, who later headlined the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly. He also starred in one of our favorite unknown films of all time, the television production Birds of Prey, which we may talk about at a later date. Big House is basically a procedural crime drama about how the cops try to break down a kidnapper and suspected murderer played by Meeker. His character is nicknamed Ice Man because he's cool under pressure. True to form the cops can't wring a confession from him, so he's sent to prison for lesser crimes and will be released in a short while.
Ice Man thinks he's got it made. Serve easy time, earn a quick parole, then quietly retrieve the heist loot waiting for him on the outside. But cons read the news too, and several decide they want his cash. They plan an escape, and they're going to drag Ice Man along against his will or kill him for refusing. And naturally, they have no intention of letting him survive handing over the money. What a pickle. Die now or die later. But once he's on the outside maybe—just maybe—there's a chance he can turn the tables on these con-conspirators.
Big House, U.S.A. is set in Denver and the surrounding Colorado countryside, and features some nice exteriors, but it's strictly a b-movie—poorly staged, cheesily scripted, and stuck together with baling wire and chewing gum. We mentioned Meeker's starring role in Kiss Me Deadly. That came out only a month after this movie, so it was a nice recovery for him. A couple of other notes of interest in Big House are that you get to see a young and fit Charles Bronson flashing his biceps—certainly a draw for some—and the legendary Lon Chaney, Jr. gets a role as a grizzled prison inmate. The overall result is certainly watchable, but there are better prison dramas out there, and hundreds of better vintage crime flicks.
After we bust outta this joint, what do you say we form a boy band? Charles knows three guitar chords and I can sing. What are you mad at me for? Is it my fault the babes like singers best? Fuck this. Between Meeker and Bronson I'm getting no action at all. I'm starting a solo career. I heard there's a thing called Auto-Tune that'll keep even my singing voice in pitch.
Your Honor, I swear I didn't kill them. My wife and her lover were on fire well before I walked into the bedroom.
If you rub two sticks together fast enough you can make fire, so why not two people? But the lovers referred to on this cover of Midnight from August 1964 didn't burst into flames from the sheer intensity of their fucking (though we love that image). They were allegedly doused with gasoline and set ablaze by a Colorado man named Ricardo Anlando, who wasn't a husband, as we suggested in our subhead, but a spurned admirer. He incinerated his unrequited love because she married another man, which goes to show that hell hath no fury like an incel scorned. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but if there's an opportunity to serve it as flambé, some will take it. There's another fire themed story in this issue about a mother who stuffed her newborn into a furnace. No need to fret, though. The building janitor saved the kid and the mom went to prison. So you get a happy ending to counterbalance the sad one. We bet neither story is true, though. Just a hunch.
I hate to sound impatient, but I've already been here like forty minutes.
There's nothing quite like cuddling up with a good piece of sleaze fiction, especially when it comes from Midwood-Tower. Alan Marshall's Sex on Arrival, which you see above with Paul Rader cover art, deals with virile young John Steward helping out summers at his parents' hotel and handling the needs of assorted horny guests. We're from Denver originally, so it wasn't hard to recognize where the story's Rocky Mountain Lodge and Cabins is located—though Marshall calls the town Skyline City. But there's this description:
“It is at this point—still on the Great Plains, but with the towering mountains so close that it seems as if a man could reach out and touch them—that Skyline City occurs. The city itself has had many incarnations. At first it was no more than a stagecoach stop, a fort and a trading post. Then, with the advent of cattle ranching on the plains and the discovery of gold in the Rockies, it grew and prospered. It became a center of trade and finance—the capital of an enormous Western empire."
These days Denver is the capital of an enormous collection of immigrants from other states. More than three-hundred thousand came from California, mainly fleeing the west coast's culture, taxes and—ironically—its immigration. Such people would not recognize the city described in Sex on Arrival, but indeed, Denver was once a live-and-let-live paradise where the foolishness described by the author wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. And we're talking about during the eighties when we were young. We can't even imagine what the city was like in 1968.
Thus the book, though set before our time, is a bit of a nostalgia trip for us. On the whole it's a love story—with numerous sexual detours of semi-explicit variety. Semi explicit as in: “Then she wriggled around and her lips were on him. And the sensation radiated outward from his groin in stronger and stronger waves. It was almost more than he could bear. Almost more than any man could bear.” It's racy but not pornographic, and the interludes are short and widely spaced, as actual plot rears its ugly head.
Midwood sleaze titles were generally written under pseudonyms, and this particular author was probably Donald E. Westlake, who admitted producing close to thirty books as Marshall and Alan Marsh. But other authors used the Marshall name too. It isn't possible to know whether this is Westlake—at least not for us—by looking for hints of his style. Whoever wrote this worked fast, and the haste shows. But if you can pick it up cheap—and we mean real cheap—it's worth a read.
Warning signs only work for those willing to read them.
In the above photo from today in 1951 Margaret Kristy and her teen daughter Helen appear in Los Angeles County Court to testify in the trial of Frank Kristy, who months earlier had shot and killed Betty Jean Hansen, his stepdaughter and Margaret's biolgoical daughter. Betty was twenty at the time, but Frank had been obsessed with her for years and at some point had commenced a sexual relationship with her—described as an affair in contemporaneous accounts, but rape by any sane standard. Margaret discovered what was happening when Frank taunted during an argument, “Well, I'll tell you now, I have screwed her and I intend to keep screwing her as long as she is in the house.” Margaret was stunned but not fully sure it was true. But her daughter confirmed it. During the ensuing argument Betty made her feelings about the situation clear when she declared: “You won't, Daddy. You are not touching me another time."
Margaret and Betty decided to move out. Frank seemed to agree until he realized they intended to take Helen, who was his and Margaret's daughter. Undoubtedly, his consent was a bluff in the first place. Frank's attitude going forward was succinct: “If Betty leaves this house I'll kill her.”
Some sort of detente was reached and the family stayed together, but it was a mistake. After weeks of threats against both Margaret and Betty, Frank finally kidnapped his stepdaughter at gunpoint and drove the two of them away in her car. Margaret, still refusing to believe the situtation was hopeless, thought Frank would cool down, so she didn't call the police—for two days. When she finally did phone the cops a search commenced. Eight days after the kidnapping Betty was found in a ditch, shot through the left temple and in a state of decomposition. Frank was picked up by police in Colorado after someone recognized him from a wanted poster.
Some crimes have no warning signs, but the murder of Betty Hansen seemed inevitable. Not only had Frank raped her and given no hint that he thought it was wrong, but he had even gotten her name tattooed on his shoulder—a strong indication of a man living in a twisted alternate reality if ever there was one. He was also paranoid, verbally abusive, and had specifically talked about buying a gun. The day before the murder Margaret discovered the phone lines to the house had been cut. Still she did not take her daughter and flee. While justice was eventually served when Frank Kristy was sent to prison for life, reading about the murder is like witnessing an avoidable accident, like watching a slasher film where a killer looms but the impending victim thinks the strange noise she hears is the wind. In a horror movie it's never the wind, and in real life a husband's death threat is never empty, or at least should never be treated as such. That's not victim blaming—it's good advice.
This is bad, but the upside is I finally have proof I’m right—you do take too long to pack.
True Detective gives readers the lowdown on several crimes in this issue published this month in 1958, but the most chilling story involves 18-year-old Marjorie Schneider, who was parked in a secluded lover’s lane near Fort Collins, Colorado with her date and another couple when she was abducted at gunpoint. True Detective scribe Jonas Bayer tells readers how the perpetrator was a man named Floyd Robertson, who first shot up the car, then robbed the quartet inside, and finally dragged the screaming Schneider away, saying, “I want the blonde to come with me.” With the car non-functional, the survivors ran two miles to a telephone. Their call touched off one of the largest searches in Colorado history. When police caught Robertson just days later, he admitted that he had abducted and raped Schneider, shot her three times in the head, then buried her body 600 feet up the side of an incline overlooking Highway 14. Robertson was later convicted of the crimes and sentenced to life in prison. The cover art on this issue is by Joe Little, who painted covers for Master Detective, Saga, Male, Man’s World, and many other mags. More from him later.
Nothing says Christmas like a holiday mugshot.
In the winter wonderland of Aspen, Colorado, American actor Charlie Sheen was arrested yesterday and taken to the Pitkin County jail, where he was booked for investigation of second-degree assault, menacing, and criminal mischief. As of yet, Sheen's accuser has not been named, but is believed to be his wife Brooke Mueller. However, she reportedly did not need medical attention and hints are already dropping that she may have been the one doing the beating. Sheen's attorney, Aspen resident Richard Cummins, said late Friday, "I think at the end of the day it will be much ado about nothing. I don't think there's any criminality about what went on."
Sheen has had domestic problems before. In 1990 he accidentally shot his then-fiancee, Kelly Preston, in the arm, inflicting a minor wound needing two stitches. In December 1996, he was arrested and charged with attacking a girlfriend in his Southern California home. He pleaded no contest in that incident and was placed on two years' probation. And his ex-wife Denise Richards accused him of threatening her with violence on numerous occasions. For the moment, Sheen remains in the Pitkin Jail, where he will be held without bond until his first court appearance.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1969—The Krays Are Found Guilty of Murder
In England, twins Ronald and Reginald Kray are found guilty of the murder of Jack McVitie. The Kray brothers had been notorious gangsters in London's East End, and for their crimes both were sentenced to life in prison, and both eventually died behind bars. Their story later inspired a 1990 motion picture entitled The Krays.
1975—Charlie Chaplin Is Knighted
British-born comic genius Charlie Chaplin, whose long and turbulent career in the U.S. had been brought to an abrupt end when he was branded a communist and denied a residence visa, is bestowed a knighthood at London's Buckingham Palace. Chaplin died two years later and even then peace eluded him, as his body was stolen from its grave for eleven weeks by men trying to extort money from the Chaplin family.
1959—Lou Costello Dies
American comedian Lou Costello, of the famous comedy team Abbott & Costello, dies of a heart attack at Doctors' Hospital in Beverly Hills, three days before his 53rd birthday. His career spanned radio and film, silent movies and talkies, vaudeville and cinema, and in his heyday he was, along with partner Abbott, one of the most beloved personalities in Hollywood.
1933—King Kong Opens
The first version of King Kong
, starring Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, and with the giant ape Kong brought to life with stop-action photography, opens at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The film goes on to play worldwide to good reviews and huge crowds, and spawns numerous sequels and reworkings over the next eighty years.
1949—James Gallagher Completes Round-the-World Flight
Captain James Gallagher and a crew of fourteen land their B-50 Superfortress named Lucky Lady II in Fort Worth, Texas, thus completing the first non-stop around-the-world airplane flight. The entire trip from takeoff to touchdown took ninety-four hours and one minute.
1953—Oscars Are Shown on Television
The 26th Academy Awards are broadcast on television by NBC, the first time the awards have been shown on television. Audiences watch live as From Here to Eternity wins for Best Picture, and William Holden and Audrey Hepburn earn statues in the best acting categories for Stalag 17 and Roman Holiday.
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