We decided our immigration procedures weren't cruel enough, so we've made a few changes.
Robert Stanley does his usual expert job on the cover action and Robert Parker—not Robert B. Parker, but a different author who wrote only three novels—provides the narrative for Passport to Peril. The art here depicts the impending torture of a character named Countess Orlovska, and things get pretty uncomfortable for her. They get even worse for the protagonist John Stoddard. He'd merely intended to travel from A to B for personal reasons. Instead he gets tangled up in espionage when he purchases a false passport he assumes bears a made-up identity, but which actually belonged to a missing-presumed-dead spy. The spy's associates soon come calling. Considering the increased focus on immigration in many western nations, we saw this not only as a spy story but also as a saga about a privileged westerner ironically caught in a migratory wringer. Set in Budapest with all the Cold War intrigue the background suggests, this is pretty entertaining stuff from Parker. It originally appeared in 1951, with this Dell edition coming in 1952.
A textbook case of pianist envy leads to serious trouble.
This poster was made for Strange Fascination, a film put together by triple threat Hugo Haas, who wrote the screenplay, directed, and starred. It premiered this month in 1952. Plotwise a rich widow traveling in Europe meets a brilliant pianist who wants to leave the continent to get away from its “recent misfortunes.” She sponsors him and brings him to New York City, where he has immediate success, but his head is soon turned by platinum blonde showgirl Cleo Moore. She's got show business ambitions but no avenues, so she hitches herself to the rising pianist and proceeds to make his career go limp.
Hugo Haas headlined scores of movies and accumulated more than forty credits directing and writing, so Strange Fascination was no vanity project. In fact we suspect it was uniquely important to him because of its autobiographical elements. For instance, like the pianist he plays Haas left eastern Europe—Brno, Austria-Hungary, which is now part of the Czech Republic—and became respected in his chosen industry. And his given name was Pavel Haas, while his lead character here is named Paul, the Anglicization of Pavel.
In Strange Fascination Haas crafted a solid movie but don't let the online reviews fool you—it isn't film noir. These days any movie that's mid-century, black and white, and dramatic gets the noir stamp on crowd sourced websites like IMDB and Wikipedia. Strange Fascination contains bits of noir iconography, but films of the period have no choice about that—after all, rain falls even in musicals and neon signs occur even in comedies. Strange Fascination is really a straight melodrama. Go into this little b-movie with that expectation and it may prove satisfying.
So when I sign this I'm giving you permission to turn my life into an unrelenting hell?
The statue was for the public. The photos were strictly private.
Hungarian artist Sepy Dobronyi puts the finsihing touches on what was for a while possibly the most famous statue in the world—his stylized sculpture of Swedish sex bomb Anita Ekberg. Dobronyi made it by using nude reference photos he'd shot of his subject, and it was those photos, more than the statue, that interested the public. Ekberg was one of the world's biggest stars at the time and the idea that nude shots existed was flogged by the tabloids and helped burnish Dobronyi's reputation as a sort of jetsetting artist. His depiction of her became known as the Ekberg Bronze. He went on to sculpt Brigitte Bardot, Ava Gardner, Beverly Aadland, and Jayne Mansfield, though as far as we know no nude photographs were involved in those efforts.
Dobronyi sold and collected many works and used his fame and fortune to become a traveller and adventurer, visiting nearly ninety countries and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Actually, he's probably worthy of a book or movie at some point, but then so are dozens of nearly forgotten Hollywood figures. He died in 2010 and as far as we know his Ekberg reference nudes never turned up, though we imagine they'd be worth plenty. But Dobronyi was a gentleman—other Ekberg nudes appeared over the years but he never revealed his and may have destroyed them at some point. We talked a bit about the Ekberg Bronze previously, which means you can learn a few more details of the story by clicking this link.
The thrill of the Chasse.
This promo poster from Colombia Pictures was made to promote the Belgian run of the film noir Chasse à l'homme, better known as The Glass Wall. This is an interesting one. Starring Vittorio Gassman and Gloria Grahame, the movie is set at the end of World War II and tells the story of a Hungarian refugee who arrives in New York harbor as a stowaway on a ship. Onboard immigration cops catch him, but he eludes them and jumps ship to search for a war buddy who can prove he has the right to legal residency under a special exemption for those who aided Allied soldiers. He must find this friend who can prove his bona fides, and do it within twenty four hours or be permanently barred from the U.S. A photo in the morning paper alerts the public and Chasse à l'homme becomes a double manhunt—the hero's search for his buddy, and the cops' search for the hero. The film is obviously a piece of light propaganda concerning the desirability of life in the U.S., but as a noir it also shows a darker side to American society, such as when Gloria Grahame is under threat of eviction, and when the landlady's son tries to force himself on her. Gassman was an experienced actor by this point, and Grahame, as noted on the poster, had already won an Academy Award for The Bad and the Beautiful. Both do solid work here. The movie opened in the U.S. in March of 1953 and reached Brussels, Belgium today in 1954.
Anita Ekberg bares all for art.
Anita Ekberg graces the cover of this February 1957 issue of Sir! magazine, laid back, colorized, and looking good. She gets in depth treatment inside, with a focus on a nude statue of her made by Hungarian sculptor Sepy Dobronyi. The story was perfect for Hollywood gossip rags, and accordingly they all reported breathlessly that Dobronyi wanted to make the statue a nude, and since he was headed back to his studio in Cuba and couldn't have Ekberg sit for him, took a series of nude reference photos. Dobronyi was a scuba diver in his spare time and had collected gold coins from sunken Spanish galleons to use in his art, some of which he applied to Ekberg's likeness, leading to this boob-related witticism from Sir! editors: “Anita's statue has a real honest-to-goodness treasure chest.” The sculpture was mostly bronze, though, and became known as the Ekberg Bronze, which when last seen was in a Norwegian museum, though Ekberg was actually Swedish.
Elsewhere in Sir! you get the short feature, “A Homo Speaks Out.” The title alone. Really. The author, working in confessional form, admits to deep feelings of regret, shame, self-loathing, and so forth at his “condition”—basically writing everything mid-century homophobes would have wanted to read. It ain't pretty, so we won't transcribe any of it. Readers also learn about marriage rites on the Pacific islands of New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), where tribal ceremonies involve all the male members of the groom's family having first crack at the bride. Is that true? We have no idea, and really aren't inclined to find out. To each culture their own, we say—as Americans, we come from the weirdest one on the planet. Other stories deal with Elvis Presley, burlesque, and prostitution. While Sir! wasn't one of the top mid-century tabs, it outdid itself with the Ekberg cover alone, which we consider one of the most eye-catching images of her we've seen.
So I found these awesome leopardskin drapes on sale. What do you think? Too much?
The incomparable Marilyn Monroe, wearing see-though lingerie, stars on the above Technicolor lithograph titled “Vivacious Marilyn.” The image was originally shot by acclaimed Hungarian lensman Laszlo Willinger in 1947. Most sources say 1949, but we can confirm 1947 because we've seen another frame from this leopard series used on a 1947 Sunoco calendar. However, the above lithograph wasn't printed until 1955, when the negative fell into the hands of the good people at A. Scheer Co. and they said, “She's sheer! We're Scheer! It's a match made in heaven!” A. Scheer made another print of one of Willinger's other famed Monroe images which we'll show you a bit later. In the meantime, we offer the bonus image of Monroe on the phone for no reason at all. You can see more lithos of Hollywood's greatest star wearing assorted bits of almost nothing here.
If you're going to be a movie star you better look the part.
Above, a beautiful Technicolor lithograph of Hungarian actress Zsa Zsa Gabor clad in two of her favorite luxe accessories—fur and jewels. Gabor once said, “Don’t ever buy imitation furs, because that’s worse than death.” Times change, of course. The photo is entitled simply “Movie Star,” and she perfectly personifies the 1950's version of that concept here.
A sequel dealing with the world’s worst men ran more than 100 volumes.
This is a rather nice 1955 edition of Bernard O’Donnell’s The World’s Worst Women, a collection of bios on assorted female murderers. Among them are Belle Gunness, who we wrote about several years ago, Martha Wise, who was known as the “Borgia of America,” Vera Renczi, who poisoned thirty-five people in Bucharest, Romania, and Anna Marie Hahn, who killed five people in Cincinnati, Ohio. Other famed killers include such colorfully named characters as the Red Witch of Buchenwald (Ilse Koch), the Poison Widow of Liege (Marie Alexandrine Becker), the Ogress of Paris (Jeanne Weber), and the Angel Makers of Nagyrév, a group of women who poisoned up to 300 people in Hungary. We were just kidding about a sequel dealing with men. Finding enough paper to print something like that would wipe out half the world’s forests…
Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay ride into the gossip columns.
Jayne Mansfield rides off into the night with her new husband, Hungarian bodybuilder and former Mr. Universe Miklós Hargitay, better known as Mickey Hartigay, after their wedding in Portuguese Bend, California, today in 1958. In addition to riding off with Mansfield, Hargitay rode into the pages of the tabloids. As a noted figure in the fitness and bodybuilding world, he had been moderately famous before, but now, as a superstar’s husband, his every excursion, utterance, change in appearance, and career rumor was exhaustively documented and sold to the public. The marriage lasted six years, which is not bad by Hollywood standards, and the pair had three children, one of whom is actress Mariska Hargitay. See more on Mickey here.
Notice how the guy goes from an early, enthusiastic attempt to glumly watching from the sideline—that’s how it works for us too.
We’ve seen these paperback covers in different places around the internet and thought they’d make an interesting collective post showing the progression of their dance-themed covers. The first is from 1950 with art by Rudolph Belarski, the next is from an unknown who nonetheless painted a nice rear cover as well, and the last is from Harry Shaare. Macamba concerns a group of characters in Curaçao, and how one in particular struggles to deal with his biracial background as he grows to manhood. He first tries to become a witch doctor, then excels at conventional learning in university, and eventually ships off to World War II and becomes a hero. Returning home, he has many romances and seeks to find his place in the world. You may wonder if there’s any actual dancing in the book, and indeed there is—the main character watches a performance of the tamboe or tambú, a native dance and music that the Dutch colonizers of Curaçao had made illegal.
Lilla Van Saher captures certain aspects of indigenous culture in Curaçao, even sprinkling the dialogue with some Papiamento, but the book is not derived directly from her personal experiences. She was born Lilla Alexander in Budapest, lived an upper class life, modeled, acted in French fims, married a Dutch lawyer named August Edward Van Saher, and through him was introduced to Dutch culture and its island possessions. During her first trip to Curaçao she claims to have been imprisoned by natives in a church because they thought she was a local saint.
In private life, she was a close friend of Tennessee Williams, traveling with him aboard the S.S. Queen Federica in the early 1950s, entertaining him in New York City, and accompanying him during a press junket of Sweden, acting almost as an agent and introducing him to the upper crust of Stockholm, where she was well known. During this time she was Lilla van Saher-Riwkin, and often appears by that name in biographies of Williams as part of his retinue of admirers and associates, though not always in a flattering light. Later she did what many globetrotting dilletantes do—published a cookbook. Hers was called Exotic Cooking, which is as good a description of Macamba as we can imagine.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
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