The tabloid media was like a pack of animals and Mansfield was the meal.
We never realized this before, but the editors of Whisper really had it in for Jayne Mansfield. We mean more than usual for a vicious tabloid. Most of the issues we have contain highly negative stories about her, such as this one published in 1962 that calls her and husband Mickey Hargitay “the biggest pair of boobs in the business.” Geez, what did she do to them? Piss in their grits? Dropkick their Corgis? Obviously, the biggest boobs thing is a play on words referencing Mansfield's bust, but they're referencing her personality when they talk about her “false façade” and “up-front ways.” Regardless of whether Whisper approved of Mansfield, it couldn't stop featuring her—a fact the magazine acknowledged. We'll see her in these pages again.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Whisper, the amazing Señor Fidel Castro makes one of his regular appearances. Like Mansfield, the magazine couldn't stop writing about him. According to the editors, the Beard had launched a plot to addict American youth to drugs. We call Castro amazing because according to various mid-century tabloids he was simultaneously training Viet Cong soldiers in Cuba, funneling arms to U.S. inner cities, assassinating JFK, planning to overthrow the Catholic Church, raping teenaged girls, and helping East Germany revive the Third Reich. Talk about great time management skills. If only we were half as organized.
Did drugs flow from Cuba to the U.S.? It's an accusation that has come up numerous times over the years. Considering that since at least 1950 drugs were flowing into the U.S. from Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Afghanistan, Thailand, et al—it would be astonishing if drugs didn't also originate from or transit through Cuba. With what degree of official approval we'll probably never know. Heads of state are notoriously insulated. In fact, the only one we can think of offhand who was definitively tied to drug dealing was Panama's former strongman Manuel Noriega, who was doing it with the help of the CIA,, but we can probably safely assume he wasn't the first national leader to peddle drugs.
Whisper isn't aiming for investigative journalism in its Castro piece. That would require actual work. Its story is 90% lollipop, 10% stick. But the ratio of fiction to fact is meaningless as long as the writing fits the brief: focus obsessively on the sensational, the frightening, and the infuriating. That's why we call mid-century tabloids the cable news channels of yesteryear. Though people were doubtless highly agitated about what they read in these quasi-journalistic outlets, the passage of decades makes them harmless fun for us to explore. Maybe one day a future website—or whatever passes for one ages from now—will be able to make jokes about the things agitating us. Let's hope so. We have a bunch of scans below, and more tabloids than we can count inside the website. Look here.
They're barely legal but fully dangerous.
The promo poster for Teenage Doll is iconic, at least in our opinion. Has ever a lightbulb looked so sizzlingly ominous? The film, which has an amazing opening credit sequence, deals with a girl gang called the Black Widows who lose a member to a killer and vow to exact revenge on the perpetrator, a square named Barbara who had the misfortune to leave identifying evidence behind. The killing was actually an accident but the Widows don't know that and doubtless wouldn't care. They're going to hunt down Barbara—who's played by June Kenney—wherever she runs. She doesn't run far—just to her parents' house to steal a gun, even as the Widows lay their hands on a firearm of their own. There's gonna be a showdown.
IMDB.com calls Teenage Doll a film noir but it isn't. That website really needs to clean up its act—the internet was supposed to increase knowledge, not mangle it. This movie is a juvenile delinquent flick, directed by b-movie legend Roger Corman, and it's one of a truckload of girl gang pictures that came out during the late 1950s. All the action takes place at night, but to paraphrase what we wrote just a couple of weeks ago, night falls in all kinds of movies, including comedies and pornos, but that doesn't make them film noir. The best place online to find proper film categories is at the American Film Institute website, and there Teenage Doll is classified correctly—as a drama.
In fact, it even verges on melodrama, the way it drips with tragedy. But its primary characteristic is that it's amazingly earnest and in so being transforms via cinematic alchemy from cheap celluloid into pure comedy gold. This one has it all—longsuffering parents, hypergrim cops, obnoxious gang boys, psychopathic lackeys, and most importantly Fay Spain, who as the top gang girl Helen chews the scenery with thirty-six teeth and even claws it with ten fingernails. We know adults normally have thirty-two teeth, but Spain has extras to help her get through plywood and nails. Ultimately, we learn that the entire murder snafu is, at its root, a man's fault, which is the only part of the movie that's realistic. We recommend this one highly—or lowly. It premiered today in 1957.
Voltage schmoltage. I failed English. And science.
You know, Vandalettes has a sort of girl-group ring to it. Can anybody sing?
Mamie Van Doren makes her mark on a Generation.
We think this is a beautiful promo poster for The Beat Generation, but don't let its colorful nature fool you—the movie is surprisingly dark. It uses the beatnik counterculture as a backdrop, but really has nothing to with it, except to belittle it. Steve Cochran plays a Los Angeles detective chasing after a serial rapist. Through a random encounter, the rapist becomes aware of Cochran and decides to make his wife a victim. Will he get away with it? You'll have to watch the film. We can tell you its most dramatic aspect involves whether a rape victim can obtain an abortion. The never explored details of how she plans to do it don't matter, because we know she'll change her mind.
You can't blame the movie for being predictable in that respect, though. How else was it going to go in the 1950s? The main thing to keep in mind about The Beat Generation is that it was mismarketed—deliberately, we suspect—to trick younger cinemagoers into forking over their cash for a Trojan horse message movie. We're not big fans of that sort of chicanery, but it's well produced, reasonably good, and as a bonus features Fay Spain, Irish McCalla, Robert Mitchum's brother Jim, and Steve Cochran's chest hair. The Beat Generation premiered in the U.S. today in 1959.
I used to fight with my cat over this spot, so I finally got rid of him.
Publicity photo of American movie vamp Fay Spain catching some rays, circa 1965.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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