If you can’t be factual, at least be popular.
Hush-Hush magazine goes for broke in this issue from August 1963, offering up a slate of tales narrated in their usual breathless style. First, they tell us how Roddy McDowall took nude photographs of Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra and tried to sell them, but was thwarted when she “erupted like Mount Vesuvius”. They then demonstrate the limits of their imaginations by telling us that Italian singer Silvana Blasi reacted like “an uncontrollable Mount Vesuvius” when an African-American dancer was hired at the Folies Bergère. Two volcano similes in one issue is bad enough, but the same mountain?
For investigative journalism, Hush-Hush shows us photographs of a dead Carole Landis and an unconscious Susan Hayward, and concludes that sleeping pills are bad. And finally, the magazine stokes the fires of paranoia with two stories: in the first, they explain how Fidel Castro plans to conquer America with heroin, which he’s growing with the help of two-thousand Chinese advisors; in the second, they reveal that the second wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard is a Nazi who plans to revive the Third Reich, and that she’s being helped by—you guessed it—Fidel Castro, who is somehow a communist and a Nazi. Neat trick that.
As we’ve mentioned before, though these stories are laughable, people actually believed them, and believed them by the millions, as evidenced by Hush-Hush’s sales figures. The lesson is clear: the choice between popularity and truth is really no choice at all.
1954 murder results in fifty-year legal battle.
In this January 1965 issue of The Lowdown, editors take up the cudgel for convicted murderer Dr. Sam Sheppard, who was serving a life sentence for the bludgeoning murder of his wife, Marilyn. Dr. Sheppard claimed that, during the early morning hours of July 4, 1954, he was in his home sleeping on a downstairs daybed, when he awoke to his wife’s screams. He ran to her aid and was attacked by a “bushy-haired man” and knocked out. When he came to he chased the man outside, fought him again, and was again knocked out. When he awoke once more, the intruder was gone and his wife was dead, having been severely beaten and apparently sexually assaulted. Police searched for the bushy-haired suspect, but eventually decided their perp was the good doctor himself. At a trial later that year a jury agreed, and Sheppard was sent up for life.
By the time Lowdown began advocating for Sheppard, he had already been granted a writ of habeas corpas, and was about to be granted a new trial due to massive publicity surrounding the first that may have tainted the original jury pool. When Sheppard was retried the next year—with none other than a young F. Lee Bailey acting as his defense lawyer—he was acquitted on the basis of reasonable doubt. However, the verdict did not clear Sheppard’s name to the satisfaction of some family members. Efforts to do that continued all the way until 2002, complete with DNA testing on the exhumed corpses of Sheppard, his wife, and her unborn fetus. Results: inconclusive.
So you must be wondering why police focused on Sheppard in the first place. It wasn’t just because he was the husband, and his marriage was unhappy. Police investigators are very much like statisticians. Certain types of cases share certain traits, and the more traits a particular case shares with a certain category of cases, the more probable a certain conclusion begins to seem. An example: a home invader will nearly always immobilize the gravest threat first, meaning the man of the house; but in a staged domestic murder the man nearly always, somehow, is overlooked by the intruder, leading to a heroic rescue attempt that fails and results in injuries that are, somehow, never life-threatening. Another example: in a staged domestic murder the man will often remove clothing from the victim to imply that the motive was sexual assault by an intruder; but the rape is never consummated, for obvious reasons.
The list goes on. Suffice it to say, to the cops Marilyn Sheppard's killing seemed like a textbook staged domestic homicide, and they proceeded based on that assumption. But regardless, the evidence was never there for a conviction. Of that, there’s little dispute. Today, Sheppard’s innocence or guilt remains a hot topic in the Ohio town where he lived. And it probably always will be, if only because people there are reminded of the case every time The Fugitive appears on television. That’s right—if certain details of the story seem familiar, it’s because both the series and movie took inspiration from the Sheppard case. And there was one more important result. It catapulted F. Lee Bailey to national prominence as an attorney, a position he has held ever since in defending everyone from Patty Hearst to O.J. Simpson.
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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