Mid-century tabloid hits all the familiar tabloid notes.
Lowdown makes the rounds in this issue published in May 1965. Inside, Ann-Margret claims she doesn't want to be a tease (fail), editors ask if women are more immoral than men (which they really are, once you take war, genocide, faithlessness, and generally violent tendencies off the table), and June Wilkinson's photo is among those used in a story about women supposedly receiving insurance covered breast implants from Britain's National Health Service.
Probably the most interesting story concerns Swedish actress Inger Stevens disappearing for a week. Lowdown hints at an alcohol binge, which is nothing special (hell, we do those) but while there are plenty of sources citing a 1960 suicide attempt, we found no other mention anywhere of Lowdown's missing week. The story is notable because Stevens would die at age thirty-five of a drug overdose.
Elsewhere you get nude skiing in Austria, Richard Chamberlain and his hit television show Dr. Kildare, the sex powers of mandrake root, and Belgian born actress and dancer Monique Van Vooren endorsing regular exercise. Scans below—oh, and sorry about the quality. Lowdown's printing process caused scanner problems. It's never happened before, so hopefully we won't encounter the issue again.
Diana Dors dirties her golden locks for another turn as a woman behind bars.
The excellent promo above for Le femme et le rôdeur, aka The Unholy Wife was created by Roger Soubie, one of the best French poster artists of the mid-century period. His art drew us to the movie, which we watched only to discover Diana Dors in identical grime mode as in her prison drama Yield to the Night. Not only do both productions feature Dors locked down with her blonde tresses gone brown due to lack of available dye, but both involve her being on death row for murder. Since The Unholy Wife was the next film she did after Yield to the Night we can only assume her initial foray into crime and incarceration was such a success it needed to be repeated. Like almost exactly. Unfortunately, two visions of a bruise-eyed Dors about to receive state-sponsored revenge were too much for audiences, and her repeat excursion was roundly panned.
And sadly, we must agree. Dors is living in California and is married to a Napa winery baron, but since she’s also sharing her affections with a hot young lover, she soon ponders murdering her unsuspecting hubby for his estate. When we lived in Berkeley, just south of the California wine country, we rarely pondered anything more than sunlit grapes and a nice Schug Syrah. But okay, The Unholy Wife is a film noir, which means Dors is no more happy with her heaven-on-Earth existence than a Wall Street stockbroker is with his untaxable Cayman Islands shadow fortune. Both inexplicably want more. Dors starts the film in prison and tells her story via flashback, so we already know her schemes backfired. If only the same were true for stockbrokers. The Unholy Wife premiered in England in the summer of 1957 and premiered in France today the same year.
Every celebrity’s time comes eventually.
Reading about celebrities in these old tabloids is a bit like reliving their fame in real time, and in this Whisper published this month in 1957 we get to observe Marilyn Monroe in mid-career. You know that stage. It’s the one where she’s no longer a sparkling new star, but hasn’t yet earned the status of a venerable old treasure. It’s the stage where almost overnight the very editors who were partners in constructing the edifice of fame begin to take it apart brick and girder, with sledgehammers and blowtorches.
In this issue Whisper editors throw Monroe into their monthly crucible “The Pit,” an unenviable place you may remember from our post on Liberace a while back. Sometimes a celebrity behaves in such a way as to deserve harsh criticism, but generally that isn’t the case—only the narrative has changed, which itself reflects the belief in editorial circles that more magazines can be sold by tearing a person apart than by continuing to build them up. As we’ve mentioned before, we know a little bit about this, having spent many years working in media.
So what had Monroe done? What was Whisper so miffed about? Well, she had declared her craving to act in serious films. We’ll let Whisper hatchet man Tom Everleigh spin it for you in his own words: “And while the only success she’s ever had in films has been by rolling her hips and doing a lightweight Mae West routine, she’s suddenly going to become a “serious actress”—and would even love to render Shakespeare even!” There you have it, complete with two "evens," oddly. Monroe was the pits because she sought artistic growth. Everleigh describes every aspect of her career as crass manipulation and propaganda, which strikes us as pretty harsh, considering she was never in politics.
But anyway, it does illustrate the point that when the script is primed to flip the flimsiest of pretexts will do. At this point in her career Monroe probably would have ended up in Whisper’s Pit whether she’d personally thwarted a terrorist attack or thrown a crate of golden retriever puppies in a woodchipper. Or put another way, when it’s your time to suffer the knives of the tabloids it’s simply your time. Monroe eventually did reach venerable old treasure status, but sadly, it was after her death five years after this issue appeared. We have a couple of scans of her, as well as a great page of Diana Dors with her husband Dennis Hamilton, below.
Did she turn into a freak or was she always that way?
The National Insider was a second tier tabloid, but even it sometimes got the facts correct. The headline on this cover is true—Diana Dors did have a two-way mirror in the bedroom ceiling of her house in Maidenhead, just outside London. Insider didn’t break the story. Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World had done that six years earlier and had shared all the tawdry details with British readers in a heavy breathing 12-week serial. But a good sex story can always be reprised, so Insider decided to dredge the details up again for American readers today in 1964.
At age nineteen Diana Dors had married a man named Dennis Hamilton, who turned out to be a paranoid, violent, and domineering louse who smacked her around and took over the management of her career. Professionally, he steered her away from serious drama into fluff cinema, while privately he initiated her into a life of sex parties and voyeurism. In addition to the two-way mirror in the bedroom ceiling, there were also assorted 8mm motion picture cameras scattered around the house so they could film their bacchanals and later review the action in their leisure time.
While all this partying was going on, a young American actress named Marilyn Monroe was becoming a star. Largely because of Hamilton’s career strategy, Dors would forever be considered Monroe lite, or, as she was often called, "The British Marilyn Monroe." This despite starting in movies a year earlier than Monroe.
Things weren’t going well in the marriage either. Hamilton’s violent and drunken tendencies were more and more often on public display. Make-up artists gossiped about the bruises they had to mask before Dors could shoot a scene. Hamilton punched out a photographer. And in one ugly incident, he brought two reporters home at midnight, dragged a sleepy Dors out of bed, and when she protested, smacked her so hard she tumbled down the stairs. She landed at the reporters’ feet, naked save for a dressing gown that had come open during the fall. Hamilton shouted to the reporters: “Now fucking interview her!”
Hamilton, who you see with Dors at bottom on their wedding day, died in 1959. An autopsy revealed that he had been suffering from tertiary syphilis. This terrrible affliction may have contributed to his erratic behavior, but it’s equally possible that his type of bad simply came straight from the core, and his need to hurt and control was a character trait, not a symptom. In any case, The National Insider replayed all the tawdry details of the marriage, and the issue must have simply flown off the newsstands, because the paper ran with the story again the very next week, at right. The interest is understandable. Dors was glamorous and very beautiful, and tabloid readers love nothing more than seeing a goddess in the muck.
What is most interesting about all this, to us at least, is that Dors did not curtail her raunchy activities after Hamilton exited the scene. Even two husbands later she was up to the same tricks. Her son Jason described life with Dors and her third husband Alan Lake this way: “There were no taboos in our house. I was only seven but I was free to wander in and out of my mum’s parties, no matter how hot they got. I would walk around in my pajamas chatting to John Lennon and Keith Moon. Mum would wander around serving cups of tea and trying to get people up into the bedrooms. She loved having friends round to watch the porn films made at the parties. They would sit around giggling as couples groped each other and made love on the bed. Most of them didn't even know they had been filmed.”
So there you have it. Whether Dennis Hamilton unleashed something in Diana Dors or she was always a voyeur party animal we don’t know. Or maybe it was a little of both, exacerbated by her reaching the height of fame as the prim fifties gave way to the swinging sixties. Interestingly, most of the information about the wild parties came from Dors herself at first. It wasn’t until after she died of cancer at age 52 that other people spoke up. But they were often kind with respect to Dors. That could be for many reasons, but we like to think of it this way: they must have had an awfully good time at those parties.
What was it Shakespeare wrote about rough winds and May?
Above is a publicity photo of American singer/actor/comedian Sammy Davis, Jr. with his Swedish bride, actress May Britt. The shot dates from today in 1960, and as you might guess, that was a very bad time for mixed couples. Sammy had for years been making tabloid headlines for dating white women ranging from Tinseltown icon Kim Novak to Canadian singer Joan Stuart, but when he announced plans to marry Britt, a chunk of the general public lost its collective mind. He faced racist banners and chants in London, received rafts of hate mail, and was confronted in Los Angeles with the bizarre spectacle of three men marching outside the Huntington Hartford Theater in nazi regalia. Even two admirers, John and Robert Kennedy, allegedly asked Frank Sinatra to tell Davis to delay the wedding until after the 1960 presidential election.
Professionally, Britt had to choose between her career and Davis, because it was quite clear that she would never be hired in Hollywood if she married him. Some websites suggest that she lost little because she was a minor talent at best, but she had appeared in over a dozen films and had made the cover of Life magazine twice before even meeting Sammy, so her expectations of a strong run in Hollywood were in no way delusional. Obviously, she chose love over career, and wed Davis at his home in the Hollywood Hills. Some of the guests at the reception included Peter Lawford, Diana Dors, Barbara Rush, Janet Leigh, Leo Durocher, Shirley MacLaine, Milton Berle, and Edward G. Robinson, Jr. The marriage lasted eight years—not long in the real world perhaps, but an eternity by Hollywood standards.
Inside Story was never a top tabloid, but it still managed to entertain.
Sex, celebs, and swindles make up the bulk of this Inside Story from October 1958 with Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg starring on the cover. All tabloids had a snappy slogan. Inside Story’s is “Tells the facts about people, the news, and the world we live in.” Doesn’t exactly send chills down the spine, does it? Maybe that’s why Inside Story was always strictly a middle of the pack tab, never achieving the rarefied heights of Confidential or Police Gazette. But on to the stories. In this issue readers are told that a relationship with Anita Ekberg comes at a high cost—not in money, but in frayed nerves due to her demanding behavior, alleged examples of which are detailed from London (caught by police having sex in a parked car) to Rio de Janeiro (abandoned her boyfriend and flew back to Sweden without a goodbye). Inside Story also expounds on Marlon Brando and Anna Kashfi, as well as Gloria de Haven and the unnamed Central American dictator’s son (Ramfis Trujillo, discussed last year) who was so struck by her beauty that he spent a fortune in time and money trying to get her into bed. Errol Flynn's supposedly inflated reputation as a lover also takes a hit, and both the horse racing industry and restaurant business provide material for insider horror stories. All in all, it’s a nice slate of articles, well worth the twenty-five cent asking price. We have twenty pages of all this for your enjoyment below, including a large scan of Diana Dors, because, well, she’s Diana Dors.
So, what are you doing on Friday? Being executed? Oh, I see. How about Thursday?
We love this poster for the British-produced prison drama Yield to the Night, aka Blonde Sinner, which is the tale of a woman languishing on death row for committing murder. Diana Dors stars, and before you decide you can’t buy her as a death row inmate, know that she isn’t playing a hardened criminal, but rather a spurned woman who has committed a rash act of passion. As written, the role works fine for the glamorous Dors. In fact, you kind of get two versions of her, the first a platinum-maned knockout, the second a sunken-eyed, dishwater blonde wreck (although the wreck is still quite nice looking, of course). There’s no question of whether her character committed the crime—we see her pull the trigger in the first minutes of the film. The tension derives from whether she will win a reprieve from the death chamber. We won’t tell you. But we will say that for fans of mid-century cinema, this one is a worthwhile expenditure of time. And as a bonus, for fans of mid-century design, the credit graphics are kind of cool. Yield to the Night had its British premiere today in 1956.
Caution, soft shoulder.
More Asian goodness today, with West Point magazine from Hong Kong. This issue was published in 1955 and features a slip-clad Debra Paget on the cover, along with Gina Lollobrigida, Diana Dors, and others inside.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1922—Teapot Dome Scandal Begins
In the U.S., Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leases the Teapot Dome petroleum reserves in Wyoming to an oil company. When Fall's standard of living suddenly improves, it becomes clear he has accepted bribes in exchange for the lease. The subsequent investigation leads to his imprisonment, making him the first member of a presidential cabinet to serve jail time.
1930—Gandhi Leads Satyagraha March
In India, Mahatma Gandhi raises a lump of mud and salt and declares, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." His words, which were a protest against the British salt tax, mark the beginning of the Satyagraha March, which in turn triggers the wider Civil Disobedience Movement that ultimately culminates in Indian independence.
Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom amid indications of failing health. He had suffered a mild stroke during the summer of 1949, and another, more severe stroke, in June 1953. News of these events were kept from the public and from Parliament, who were told that Churchill was suffering from exhaustion. After his retirement he suffered yet another stroke in February 1956, but survived for nine more years before finally dying of a fourth stroke in 1965.
1976—Howard Hughes Dies
Eccentric American billionaire Howard Hughes, one of the world's richest men, and a former movie magnate and aviation pioneer, dies on an airplane en route from Mexico to Texas. After years of self neglect, he is almost unrecognisable and fingerprints are used to identify his body. In addition, he is determined to have died without a will, meaning twenty-two cousins inherit his fortune.
2005—Rainier III Dies
Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, whose 50-plus year reign made him one of the longest ruling monarchs of the 20th century, dies of heart and kidney conditions after more than a year of progressively worse health. Rainier is probably best known outside Europe for marrying American actress Grace Kelly, and he was buried in Monaco next to her, twenty-three years after she had perished in a car accident.
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