|The Naked City | Vintage Pulp
|Mar 10 2011
Though we're just getting around to featuring Inside Story here on Pulp for the first time, it was one of the better-known tabloids on American newsstands. We aren’t sure when it began publishing, but we’ve seen issues dating from 1955. And looking the other direction, we can make an educated guess that it folded in the early seventies, because we’ve seen no issues past 1971. In this March 1956 issue, quite a few celebrities get the smear treatment. Lena Horne’s interracial marriage is discussed, along with Greta Garbo’s suspicious lack of a spouse, and Roy Rogers' goodie-goodie image, and we learn about the dietary tricks of the day as well as a supposed "sex drink" favored by movie stars.
The magazine also examines the June 1906 murder of Stanford White by Harry K. Thaw, a killing committed out of jealousy. The reason Inside Story brings it up fifty years after the fact is because a film exploring the circumstances of the killing had been released the previous October. Entitled The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, the movie starred Ray Milland, Farley Granger, and—as Thaw's wife Evelyn Nesbit—British-born actress Joan Collins. Inside Story informs readers that Collins was chosenfor the role because her beauty merely rivals that of Nesbit. That's quite a claim when talking about a woman as stunning as Joan Collins, but in this case the tabloid may be right. We've included a second photo of Nesbit at left so you can judge for yourself. Inside Story is also correct when it says the facts around the White killing were sanitized for the movie. There's little doubt the truth was too sordid.
Evelyn Nesbit had been Stanford White’s lover before marrying Harry Thaw. Thaw was so tormented by this fact that he would tie Evelyn to a bed and beat her until she confessed in detail every sexual act she had ever engaged in with White. She later testified that she sometimes made things up, because he would beat her more if she had nothing to divulge. Eventually, she claimed that White had a red velvet swing installed in one of his apartments, and he would push her while looking up her skirts, and on one occasion made her ride the swing nude. She also told tales of threesomes and other activities. Thaw, trapped in a classic avoidance-avoidance dilemma, was tortured both by knowing and not knowing about his wife’s past. Since he couldn’t abide either, he lashed out at what he perceived as the source of the problem by shooting White in the head in front of hundreds of witnesses during a play at Madison Square Garden. Problem solved—except for the murder trial. But Thaw and his lawyer contrived a perfect defense, considering the sexual climate of the times. They convinced Evelyn to testify that White sexually abused her when they were together. How this justified a public execution we can't know without reading the trial transcripts, but it worked. Thaw was acquitted by reason of temporary insanity. In 1906 it was, apparently, just fine to be so wracked by jealousy over your spouse's sexual past that you could execute her previous lover.
As if that sordid tale isn’t enough, Inside Story gives readers two love triangles for the price of one. In the Roy Rogers article, what readers discover that “they don’t tell the kiddies” is that the clean-cut singing cowboy may have had an affair with Ella Mae Cooley, wife of bandleader Spade Cooley. At least that was the rumor at the time. But you know how rumors are. Rogers’ image was so antiseptically spotless that the tabloidsmay have taken a certain pleasure in trying to tarnish it with a bit of infidelity. But the mud never stuck, probably because the affair almost certainly never happened.
But nobody could tell that to Spade Cooley. His career failing because of the rise of rock ’n’ roll, and filled with paranoia partly because of his own numerous extramarital shenanigans, he tormented his wife with suspicions for years. When she finally asked him for a divorce in 1962, he said no—by stomping her to death. You see the unhappy couple below, on their wedding day, when neither of them could have imagined how it was all going to end. Cooley went to prison after a sensational trial. Roy Rogers emerged from it all unscathed, and continued his career as America’s most clean-cut singing cowboy. If there’s a lesson in all this, it’s that jealousy doesn’t pay. Unless of course, you happen to publish a muckraking tabloid like Inside Story—then it pays mighty fine indeed.