Shhh! Character assassination in progress.
Above are some scans from an issue of the tabloid Whisper published this month in 1963. We've shared hundreds of tabloids over the years, and we always marvel at them. How would you describe the compulsive need to know what's going on in other people's lives? Is it a from of comparison? Is it schadenfreude? Is it envy? The American Psychological Association calls it natural behavior stemming from the fact that humans are social animals curious about what's going on around them. It's why, according to the APA, we gossip about friends and neighbors.
Your first thought, in terms of tabloids, might be that celebrities are neither friends nor neighbors. However, the headshrinkers tell us they are. People create parasocial relationships with celebrities, and thus the same dynamic exists. And nobody is immune. Condescending remarks about celebrity gossip are liable to come from people inordinately involved with their favorite baseball player, acclaimed author, or television talking head. Some people let celebrity fashionistas suggest what they should wear, while others who consider themselves above such silliness let television pundits tell them who to hate.
We find mid-century tabloids incredibly interesting, even if everybody being gossiped about is long departed. The robust sales of tabloids on auction sites seems to confirm that we aren't alone. In this issue Whisper digs dirt on numerous titans of celebritydom—Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Audrey Hepburn, Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin, and others. Editors also let their bigot flags fly by predicting “one of the most sinister trends in history—an organized homosexual drive” to take over the U.S. That one still sells in some quarters. We'll have more from Whisper soon.
Good morning, assistants. Welcome to basic filmmaking. Today's exercise is coffee-brewing for Miss Taylor.
This shot of Elizabeth Taylor could be called playful if it weren't for the somewhat menacing look on her face. We figure she's aiming both her expression and her water gun at the production assistants—aka indentured servants. The photo was made when she was filming her 1954 drama Rhapsody.
The king of tabloids sets its sights on the Queen of Greece.
Every month when Confidential magazine hit newsstands, we imagine Hollywood celebrities receiving the bad news that they'd made the cover, and going, “Shit.” This issue published in January 1964 features Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra, and Jill St. John. The first three members of that group probably took the news in stride, since they were all tabloid staples by then. St. John wasn't quite at their level, but her links with Sinatra kept her in the scandal sheets for a while too.
A person who wasn't used to Confidential's attentions was Frederica of Hanover, who at the time was Queen Consort of Greece—which is just a fancy way of saying she was married to the King of Greece. Confidential says she was a Nazi, a pretty serious charge, needless to say. Was she? Well, her grandfather was Kaiser Wilhelm II, as a girl she was a member of Bund Deutscher Mädel, which was a branch of the Hitler Youth, and she had brothers in the SS. Also, back in 1934 Adolf Hitler wanted to link the British and German royal houses, and tried to pressure Frederica's parents into arranging for the seventeen-year-old girl to marry the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII. And as Queen Consort she made a habit of meddling in Greek politics in ways that made clear she was not a fan of democracy. None of that is a particularly good look.
She had defenders, though, who believed that for a person in her position it would have been impossible not to have been a member of certain groups and to have socialized with Nazis. It's interesting, isn't it, how the rich and powerful always benefit from a special set of excuses? People can't really expect her to have made a stand, can they? But the excuse is hollow. As a high ranking royal she could have avoided anything she wished. Membership in organizations when she was a little girl is one thing, but as an adult she could have denounced Nazism with damage to her reputation the only potential result. A damaged reputation is no small thing, but if we expect resistance from people who'd have been imprisoned or shot for doing so, we should probably expect the same from people who would have suffered mostly dirty looks.
Confidential focuses on Frederica's July 1963 visit to England. The visit was no big surprise—Frederica, her husband King Paul of Greece, Queen Elizabeth, and her husband Prince Philip, were all related. They were all direct descendants of Queen Victoria. Monarchy is a funny thing, isn't it? The visit triggered a protest of about three thousand British leftists that was violently broken up by five thousand police. The protestors carried banners that said, “Down with the Nazi Queen.” After mentioning this fiasco, Confidential delves into Frederica's history, some of which we've outlined above, then loops back to the protests, which she blamed on the British press. But she had already reached a level of notoriety that usually brought out protestors who loudly booed her, particularly in Greece. She eventually retreated from public life, became a Buddhist, and died early at age sixty-three.
Confidential's unexpected exposé on Frederica wasn't out of character for the magazine. It was the top tabloid dog in a very large kennel. It had an expansive staff, serious reporters, hundreds of informers spread across the U.S. and Britain, and published stories about heavy hitters from all sectors of society. It had a regressive political agenda, as its article filled with terrible slander against gays and lesbians makes clear, but even with its rightward slant it took pains to keep its reporting framework factual. That makes it a priceless source of contemporaneous info about public figures, particularly of the Hollywood variety. We doubt we'll ever stop buying it, because we never know who we'll find inside. Twenty-plus scans below.
All the best people showed up.
The West German pop culture and celeb magazine Party, which was produced in Hannover by Lehning Press, is an obscure publication. It's very vivid, with bright color, many full page photos, and many film celebrities represented. Equal time is given to unknowns too, for example, the cover features Annelies Niessner, who was... we have no idea, and inside a color page is given to Cornelie, identified only as a “millionärstochter geht eigene wege,” a millionaire's daughter who goes her own way.
In terms of celebs you get Carol Lynley, Jane Russell, Sandra Dee, Stella Stevens, Laya Raki, a beautiful portrait of Jane Fonda, numerous shots of Ursula Andress, and many others. This publication didn't waste words, even on the copyright date. The cover tells us this is issue eight, so we're going to say it came in August, and we're thinking it's from 1967. Though it may be short on info, Party is an appropriate name, because it's a very fun magazine. We have several more issues, so look for those later.
Confidential sinks its teeth into the juiciest celebrity secrets.
Confidential magazine had two distinct periods in its life—the fanged version and the de-fanged version, with the tooth pulling done courtesy of a series of defamation lawsuits that made publisher Robert Harrison think twice about harassing celebrities. This example published this month in 1955 is all fangs. The magazine was printing five million copies of each issue and Harrison was like a vampire in a blood fever, hurting anyone who came within reach, using an extensive network spies from coast to coast and overseas to out celebs' most intimate secrets.
In this issue editors blatantly call singer Johnnie Ray a gay predator, spinning a tale about him drunkenly pounding on doors in a swanky London hotel looking for a man—any man—to satisfy his needs. The magazine also implies that Mae West hooked up with boxer Chalky White, who was nearly thirty years her junior—and black. It tells readers about Edith Piaf living during her youth in a brothel, a fact which is well known today but which wasn't back then.
The list goes on—who was caught in whose bedroom, who shook down who for money, who ingested what substances, all splashed across Confidential's trademark blue and red pages. Other celebs who appear include Julie London, Jack Webb, Gregg Sherwood, and—of course—Elizabeth Taylor. Had we been around in 1955 we're sure we would have been on the side of privacy rights for these stars, but today we can read all this guilt-free because none of it can harm anyone anymore. Forty panels of images below, and lots more Confidential here.
The Lowdown has the scoop on a fantastic plastic.
Today we're back to tabloids with an issue of The Lowdown published this month in 1962. The cover features Bob Hope goofing around, Elizabeth Taylor looking serious, Kim Novak nuzzling, and a random naked party girl randomly partying naked. Inside the issue are stories on Hope getting the hots for trans star Coccinelle in a French nightclub, Novak raking a series of suitors over the coals, and baseball players succumbing to greed. So much material in these tabloids, and so little time to highlight a story or two. But forced to make a choice, we're opting to discuss a piece on something called Scoobeedoo. How can we not? We all remember the cartoon, and now this story seemed guaranteed to tell us where the name of the legendary dog came from. We never knew we wanted to know that. But when we saw the word Scoobeedoo we realized, yes, we want to know.
Lowdown describes Scoobeedoo as a craze and a do-it-yourself gimmick. Apparently, it was popularized when French singer Sacha Distel wrote a 1958 song of the same name. But he didn't invent it—he just sang about it. The actual thing was invented by a French plastics company and called Scoubidou. It was basically a spool of brightly colored plastic cord that could be woven or tied to make—well, whatever you wanted. Youcould make lampshades, baskets, placemats, keychains. A California man famously used it to make bikinis. We imagine it would work for household repairs, light sexual bondage, whatever you needed it for. The stuff was as popular as the hula hoop for a while. Apparently figures in the electrical industry even complained that a shortage of wiring insulation was due to Scoubidou because it used the same type of plastic.
Readers above a certain age will already know about all this, of course, but we had no idea. We weren't around back then. And that, succinctly, is why we maintain this website—because we learn about a past we never experienced. But surprisingly Scoubidou isn't just the past. It apparently still exists. It even has a Wikipedia entry with examples of the many things you can make (but no bikinis). So this was a very informative issue of The Lowdown, all things considered. The only thing we're bummed about is that our Scoubidou research provided no actual confirmation that the cartoon dog Scooby-Doo got his name from the toy. But he had to, right? Maybe a reader has the answer to that. In the meantime we have more than twenty scans below for your enjoyment and other issues of The Lowdown you can access by clicking the magazine's keywords at bottom.
Update: a reader does have the answer. One of you always does. J. Talley wrote this:
The series was originally rejected by CBS executives, who thought the presentation artwork was too frightening for children and that the show must be the same. CBS Executive Fred Silverman was listening to Frank Sinatra's “Strangers In The Night” (with the scatted lyric “dooby-dooby-doo”) on the flight to that ill-fated meeting. After the show was rejected, a number of changes were made: the Hanna-Barbera staff decided that the dog should be the star of the series instead of the four kids, and renamed him Scooby-Doo after that Sinatra lyric. The spooky aspects of the show were toned down slightly, and the comedy aspects tuned up. The show was re-presented, accepted, and premiered as the centerpiece for CBS's 1969-1970 Saturday Morning season.
Thanks, J. That's another hole in our historical knowledge successfully filled in. Is it any surprise Sinatra was involved somehow? That guy really got around.
Forget it, Jake. It's Tinseltown.
We were poking around the architecture forum skyscraperpage.com and ran across this interesting photo of a billboard advertising the film Chinatown. This was located in Los Angeles at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Marmont Lane, and as you can see it touts the opening of the film today in 1974. We lived on the west side of L.A. for four years, and used to pass this spot occasionally. Marmont Lane winds to the right toward the famed Chateau Marmont Hotel, where luminaries such as Howard Hughes, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean once made the scene, and a couple met their ends, including Helmut Newton and John Belushi.
We knew the intersection was one of the city's most important billboard spots and wondered what else had been advertised there. So we had a look. We expected to find an assortment of examples, but it turns out the locale was so coveted a relative few companies monopolized it. The first was the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, which erected a sign there in 1957, complete with a rotating showgirl and an illuminated marquee listing the headlining acts.
The sheer novelty of the sign helped establish the heavily trafficked intersection as one of L.A.'s go-to spots for promotion, and the sign itself became a landmark. In fact, in 1961 Jayne Mansfield unveiled a Rocky and Bullwinkle statue across the street that was inspired by the Sahara showgirl. It was commissioned by Jay Ward, producer of the television series Rocky and His Friends, for the opening of his office complex.
After the Sahara moved on in 1966 the location was divided into two-tiered advertising. For almost three decades the iconic Marlboro Man towered above the intersection on the higher billboard, first on a horse, and later sans mount. During the time Chinatown was advertised Mr. Marlboro was standing vigil above. The lower location hosted ads for Stroh's and numerous other products, but was a particularly popular home for movie billboards. We found shots of billboards for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Black Sunday, and other popular films of the 1970s.
Tens of thousands of billboards dot the Los Angeles landscape, especially around Hollywood. An uptick of political billboards has some Angelenos considering whether these objects are more akin to visual pollution. They're already illegal in entire U.S. states, including Hawaii and Maine. We always thought they further cluttered an already chaotic landscape, but we imagine they will survive in Los Angeles longer than almost anywhere else in the U.S. Tinseltown is a place where you don't get people's attention unless you scream for it. Nothing screams better than a well placed billboard.
Clothes encounters of the Hollywood kind.
We've been gathering rare wardrobe and hairdresser test shots from the golden era of Hollywood, and today seems like a good day to share some of what we've found. It was standard procedure for all the main performers in a movie to pose for such photos, but the negatives that survive tend to belong to the most popular stars, such as Cary Grant, who you see at right. You'll see Marilyn Monroe more than amply represented below. What can we do? She's possibly the most photographed Hollywood figure ever, and she was beautiful in every exposure. But we've also found shots of a few lesser known stars, such as Giorgia Moll and France Nuyen.
Some of the shots are worth special note. You'll see Doris Day as a mermaid for The Glass Bottom Boat, Liz Taylor as a kid for National Velvet and an adult for Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Farrah Fawcett in lingerie, Sheree North in both front and rear poses, and Yul Brynner looking like an actual man by sporting a body that had to that point seemingly known neither razor nor wax (he ditched the fur for his actual onscreen appearances). Usually the photos feature a chalkboard or card with pertinent information about the production and star, but not always, as in the case of Brynner's photo, and in Audrey Hepburn's and Joan Collins' cases as well. If the names of the subjects don't appear on the chalkboards you can refer to the keywords at bottom, which are listed in order. We may put together another group of these wardrobe shots later.
Elizabeth Taylor has a stroll under the Spanish sun.
We just saw Liz Taylor a couple of weeks ago, but we're bringing her back because we liked this shot of her heading for the beach somewhere on the Costa Brava, Spain, during the production of her drama Suddenly Last Summer. We know Spain quite well, so we challenged ourselves to identify this exact location. Many sites say the photo was shot in S'Agaro, but we don't think so. There are no arches quite like this in that town, not even along the Cami de Ronda that runs along the coast. Part of the movie was also filmed in Mallorca, but we definitely can't think of anyplace on Mallorca that has old architecture of this size near a beach, so call us stumped for now. The shot was made today in 1959.
Years may march but time can stand still.
Have you ever read any articles about Elizabeth Taylor from when she was a young star? The Hollywood press simply salivated over her. During her twenties some writers even called her the most beautiful woman in the world, as if such a thing could be measured. By the time she reached her thirties the press had shifted such talk to younger figures, but we have to say we're fans of this sunny shot of middle period Taylor. We're guessing she's nearing forty here and doing it in style.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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