Kenneth Anger explores Hollywood's darkest recesses in his landmark tell-all.
Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon is the grandaddy of all Tinseltown exposés. It was published in 1965, banned ten days later, and shelved until 1975. It's exactly as advertised, outing everybody that was anybody for everything. Entire chunks are devoted to Charlie Chaplain, Lana Turner, Errol Flynn, Fatty Arbuckle and other cinematic luminaries. Some of its claims have been proved false—for instance the assertion that Lupe Velez died with her head in a toilet, and that Clara Bow screwed the USC football team (we doubt anyone really believed that one, even back then). But other tales are basically true, including accounts of various legal run-ins and feuds.
Anger's writing is uneven, but at its most effective mirrors the type of pure tabloid style that influenced the likes of James Ellroy and others. Besides the salacious gossip the book has a ton of rare celeb photos, and those are of real worth. We've uploaded a bunch below. They came from a digital edition because our little paperback was too fragile to get on a scanner. By the way, don't feel as if we're working overtime on our website this Christmas morning—we uploaded everything in advance and are actually nowhere near a computer today. We're glad you took a minute to drop by. Copious vintage Hollywood below.
Bailiff, can you please hand me Exhibit A so I can use it to get these people the hell out of my face?
In this photo made today in 1958 Hollywood super attorney Jerry Giesler sits next to Lana Turner at a coroner's inquest into the killing of Turner's boyfriend, alleged mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato. Turner's daughter, fourteen-year-old Cheryl Crane, had stabbed Stompanato in the abdomen with a knife during a confrontation in her and Turner's home. Among the throng seen around Giesler and Turner are Crane's father Stephen, assistant attorney Art Crowley, and various members of the press, who back then were given what today would be considered intrusive access to court proceedings.
As all Hollywood hung on Turner's words, the famed femme fatale, looking every bit the superstar she was, described to the court how an escalating argument between her and Stompanato led to him threatening to kill her. She related the fatal moment this way: “I was walking toward the bedroom door and he was right behind me, and I opened it and my daughter came in. I swear it was so fast I … I truthfully thought she had hit him in the stomach. The best I can remember they came together and they parted. I still never saw a blade.”
In most accounts the knife Crane used is described as a butcher knife, but it was actually a thin-bladed filleting knife. In any case it did the job nicely. And despite taking on a feared thug Crane came away physically unharmed. In the seconds after the stabbing Stompanato either chose not to retaliate, or more likely—because the knife had penetrated his liver, portal vein, and aorta—went into shock immediately and was unable either to strike back or go for aid. Police found him peacefully supine on the bedroom carpet. He had bled very little—at least on the outside.
Giesler got Crane off on the grounds of justifiable homicide, but conspiracy theories about the killing became rampant. Some said Crane killed Stompanato out of jealous desire; others claimed Turner did the deed and got her daughter to take the blame because she knew the court wouldn't imprison a minor. But in 1988 Crane, who never testified in 1958, gave her version of events. She said the attack was exactly as described, but that she also hated Stompanato because he was sexually abusing her. Many didn't believe her in 1988 but her words certainly have the ring of truth today.
Somebody please help me quit this terrible habit.
U.S. born actress Helen Stanley clowns around in this unusual promo image from 1953. She appeared in such films as Snows of Kilimanjaro, Dial Red O, and Girls' Town, which was her debut in 1942 under her first stage name Dolores Diane. Here's serious pulp cred for you: she was married to mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato, the guy who was famously stabbed to death by Lana Turner's daughter. Johnny Stomp, as he was known, basically took over Stanley's career, so when she divorced him in 1955 it must have felt a bit like getting off this hook. You can read about Stompanato's bloody demise here and here.
Private Affairs joins the wild mix of 1960s tabloids.
This issue of the New York based tabloid Private Affairs appeared in June 1962, and features cover stars Kim Novak and American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell rendered by an uncredited artist. Inside the issue Affairs rehashes Novak’s various relationships, recounting how mafia goons threatened to kill Sammy Davis Jr. if he didn’t stop meeting Novak across the color line, how she accepted an expensive sports car as a gift from Ramfis Trujillo even though his hands were “bathed in the blood of executed political prisoners,” and how she shot down a smitten Charles Boyer by asking him in bewilderment, “How could you have thought I loved you?” The overarching concern is Novak’s longstanding unmarried status, wedlock of course being the default state for any normal woman. Novak was only twenty-nine at the time—but that was spinster age by tabloid standards. She eventually did wed when she was thirty-two, and it’s a wonder she made it down the aisle without the aid of a wheelchair.
Private Affairs moves on to Norman Lincoln Rockwell, who was making waves with racist rhetoric and a bold guarantee to win the White House by 1972. The question Private Affairs editors ask is whether Rockwell should be taken seriously. They answer by offering an anecdote about how German president Paul von Hindenburg scoffed at a fledgling Adolf Hitler by calling him a “silly little housepainter.” Ten years later, they note, there were 30,000,000 dead. “How far will America let the hate mongers go? Will an unsound branch on the tree of American democracy fall off or will it poison the organism?” they ask. It’s worth noting that while Rockwell’s anti-Jewish rhetoric clearly annoys the editors, they don’t offer any support for the African Americans he was likewise excoriating. But in the end, Rockwell was shot dead by a fellow Nazi. Whether he could have risen to political office is a matter of historical debate.
Private Affairs moves next to related subject matter by claiming that the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire that killed nearly five-hundred people in a Boston nightclub was set by Nazi saboteurs, and furthermore that the FBI covered that fact up. We wrote about the fire a few years ago, and you may remember that witnesses said the conflagration began with a busboy changing a light bulb. Private Affairs claims the bulb was a specially designed Nazi device that had a fuse inside instead of a normal tungsten filament. This fuse could be set for various ignition times, and a delayed setting allowed the saboteur got away. How the editors puzzled this out remains unclear, and there’s no explanation how a busboy randomly asked to change a burnt out light chose or was handed a deadly device rather than a typical bulb, but maybe those points aren’t important. Tabloids often fail to answer their own questions—the important thing is to stir up trouble.
Elsewhere in the issue we get Lana Turner, who Affairs claims let her daughter take a murder rap for her; comedian Dick Gregory, who is accused of stealing jokes; and Ingrid Bergman, who is shown with her later-to-be-famous daughter Isabella Rossellini. We also meet Nai Bonet, a famed Vietnamese bellydancer who within a couple of years would parlay her fame into a film and music career. Private Affairs is not a well known tabloid today—it probably arrived on the scene just a bit too late to carve out a readership when newsstand shelves were already packed with established imprints such as Confidential, Uncensored, Top Secret, Inside Story, Hush-Hush, et al. This particular issue—designated Vol 1, No. 3—is the only copy of the magazine we’ve ever seen. We suspect the brand was defunct within the first year. Many scans below, and more rare tabloids coming soon.
He might not have looked so unworried if he knew how soon his life was going to end.
This LAPD mugshot of gangster Johnny Stompanato dates from today in 1952, when he was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery. Stompanato was an Illinois boy who joined the army and after his discharge fell into the west coast gangster lifestyle. He quickly became well known to the cops. Beverly Hills police chief Clifford Anderson described him as “one of the most successful wolves in Hollywood,” which was a polite way of saying he was a pimp, blackmailer, and boy toy for a series of wealthy women, who he often shook down for cash. By the time these images were made he was living the high life as a connected subordinate to top tier mobster Mickey Cohen.
After numerous scrapes, liaisons and adventures, plus an arrest in 1956 for violating the White-Slave Traffic Act, aka the Mann Act, Stompanato met actress Lana Turner. It was the spring of 1957. Turner had just survived an ugly divorce involving a husband who molested her daughter from a previous marriage, and her movie career had taken a hit when MGM had declined to renew her contract. But she was still one of the biggest names in Hollywood, and Stompanato thought he’d finally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Turner was rich, connected, beautiful, and wild. And she was drawn to him because he looked good, had a bad reputation, and was known to be a dynamo in bed.
Stompanato was accustomed to being physical with women, and, while Turner put up with the abuse, her daughter Cheryl grew less and less inclined to stand by and watch. One April night in 1958 Stompanato was allegedly roughing up Turner, when Cheryl—fourteen years old at the time—grabbed a knife and stuck Stompanato in the chest. Either by intent or lucky aim, one of the toughest and meanest wiseguys in Hollywood ended up cold on the floor, and the case became the tabloid sensation of the decade. Turner’s daughter was eventually acquitted at trial of murder charges on the grounds of justifiable homicide. The photos below provide a chronology of the events and aftermath of the night that brought Johnny Stomp to his end, and you can read a bit more about the killing at a previous post here.
Top Secret says scandals are good for stars’ bank accounts, but what else would a scandal rag claim?
Here’s a fascinating February 1960 issue of the mid-century tabloid Top Secret with a selection of dish on the celebs of the day. Of particular note is the item on Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor. Top Secret claims scandals made them the highest-paid stars in Hollywood. What were the scandals? Well, in 1958 Lana Turner’s teenaged daughter Cheryl Crane stabbed mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato to death. The sensational murder trial that followed ended in Crane’s acquittal on the grounds of justifiable homicide, i.e., Stompanato had been beating Turner and Crane put a stop to it. As for Taylor, her scandal involved taking Eddie Fisher away from his wife, the incredibly popular and beloved singer/actress Debbie Reynolds. Later the same year Taylor agreed to star in Cleopatra for a million dollars—an astonishing sum at the time. But while Top Secret draws a direct line between this kind of pay and a messy personal life, there’s another possible consideration. In light of Lana Turner’s 1958 Academy Award nomination, and Elizabeth Taylor’s eventual five nominations and two wins, maybe the two were highly paid because of their talent. It’s just crazy enough to be true.
Looking at things from a Q perspective.
We have another issue of On the Q.T. today. The cover subject, Beverly Aadland, was a teenaged actress who earned notoriety for being Errol Flynn’s last lover. Flynn always preferred young girls—oftentimes too young, depending on whom you believe. When he wrote his disappointingly bland (at least to us) autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways, the dedication read: To a small companion. We would have guessed Flynn meant his cock, since it got him into so much trouble during his life, but more informed sources than us say the companion he meant was Beverly Aadland. We stand corrected, and she stands explained for those who didn’t know who she was.
Moving on, On the Q.T. also mentions a person named Giesler. This would be Jerry Giesler, who is little known now, but was once Tinseltown’s lawyer-to-the-stars. To say he possessed secrets is an understatement considering he represented the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Edward G. Robinson, Marilyn Monroe, Shelley Winters, Lili St. Cyr, Busby Berkeley (from triple manslaughter charges), Zsa Zsa Gabor, Errol Flynn (again, with Flynn), and too many more to name. But of all his exploits, the most famous was his sensational defense of fourteen year-old Cheryl Crane from murder charges.
It’s one of the most lurid stories in Hollywood history. Crane was the daughter of megastar Lana Turner, and had endured many difficulties early in life, including alleged molestation and rape by Turner’s fourth husband, actor Lex Barker. Turner had an abusive situation of her own with mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato, a violent man who slapped her around but clung onto her for dear life no matter how hard she tried to dump him. On April 4, 1958, Cheryl Crane stabbed Stompanato to death. She claimed the mobster was beating her mother and she had no choice but to attack him. Not to be morbid, but oh to have been a fly on the wall as this fourteen year-old girl went Benihana on a feared mobster. What an astounding scene that must have been, especially to Stompanato, who you see in peaceful repose above. Anyway, Cheryl Crane said the stabbing was done in her mother's defense, and Jerry Giesler convinced a jury she was right.
Already famous enough to command what were at the time enormous retainers, Giesler's reputation was forever sealed after the Crane trial. He was simply the best, the go-to attorney for a celeb in a town that was always boiling with trouble. As a result of Giesler's exploits, Hollywood coined a catchphrase, a collection of magic words believed to possess the power to solve even the toughest problems. The phrase? "Get me Giesler."
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
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