She didn't make it to the top of Hollywood just to accept being second banana in Monaco.
Yes, people were stupidly fawning over the rich long before 2021, as this issue of the tabloid Exposed published this month in 1957 proves. There are stories on one percenters ranging from Princess Grace of Monaco on down. Of course, there's an aspirational innocence to these old stories, because very few people, if any, begrudged the rich anything in this era. Those times have gone. Companies make hundreds of billions now and pay zero taxes. The rich have a thousand ways to hide their income, to the tune of 40 trillion dollars in cash hidden in tax havens around the world.
Something else different about the rich of yesterday—they didn't have dick-shaped rocket ships. Instead they had dick shaped yachts. And that's what the feud hinted at on the cover between Grace Kelly and Tina Onassis was about—in part at least. It was also about who threw the best parties, who had the richest and most influential friends, who had the best designer clothes, and who was the greatest beauty. Of course, Kelly was legendarily lovely, but because beauty marries money even when the money is as butt-ugly as Aristotle Onassis, Tina was no slouch.
Exposed tells us of one competitive episode the night Kelly was celebrating the birth of her daughter Caroline, which had happened a day earlier. Kelly lived in Grimaldi Palace, overlooking Monaco harbor, where Aristotle Onassis lived on an 1,800 ton former Canadian navy destroyer retrofitted as a luxury yacht. The night of Kelly's celebration Onassis left his boat totally dark in the harbor, then at one point flipped a switch that illuminated hundreds of light bulbs strung from prow to stern. Kelly's clan took it as an attempt to show her up. Sounds petty, right? Well, Exposed was a tabloid, and its readers absolutely devoured stories showing that they and the next door neighbor they hated weren't so very different from the one percent.
After that boat episode, according to Exposed, Kelly and Onassis barely saw each other in tiny Monaco, such was their determination to avoid each other. Again, the half-century old public obsession with these two seems quaint compared to people's interest in the Musks and Bransons of today. There are opinions and facts, and here is a fact—the U.S. is falling apart and miniscule taxes on the rich and corporations are the reason. During the year this issue of Exposed was published, a year many people now cast their misty eyes toward with longing and nostalgia, the tax rate for top income earners was 91%. No wonder things functioned so well, eh? High taxes kept the government flush and the rich weak. But the highlight of the issue as far as we're concerned is Vikki Dougan, who we told you would return to Pulp Intl. soon, and who shows up at a party thrown by Hollywood astrologer Carroll Righter wearing one of her infamous buttcrack baring backless dresses. Exposed indeed. Since this is about as low as her gowns went, we zoomed in a bit so you can get a good look at the San Fernando Valley. Dougan by the way, is still around at age 92. Elsewhere in Exposed you get Joan Collins and her romances, restaurateur Mike Romanoff and his legal troubles, Paulette Goddard and her love of money, and vice in New York City. Thirty scans below.
Don't mess with the man upstairs.
Stranger on the Third Floor is sometimes cited as a proto film noir, coming a year before the first official noir, 1941's The Maltese Falcon. In this day and age, any vintage crime film is called a film noir on crowdsourced websites like IMDB, so depending on where you look film noir isn't as pure a cycle as it used to be. But in this case the debate is fair. The film is about newspaper journalist John McGuire, who serves as a witness at a sensational murder trial, while his fiancée Margaret Tallichet frets about the impact of recognition on their lives. The two of them are planning to move out of their boarding houses and find a place together, but McGuire's building has lately been haunted by a mysterious stranger played by Hungarian actor Peter Lorre. Who is he? Why is he hanging around? Is he somehow connected to the murder?
Gene D. Phillips, in his book Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Film Noir, cites Stranger on the Third Floor as a film that “codified the visual conventions of film noir.” It has flashbacks, a brilliant nightmare sequence, a sense of growing dread, a false accusation (or possibly two), a narration (though not of the hard-boiled variety), and a usage of angles and shadows that is extravagant. Where it differs from film noir is in its general lack of cynicism and world weariness. In fact, it's the opposite. McGuire ponders whether doing his civic duty by testifying will have consequences, but at no point does he feel like a sucker for doing so. He believes in society and its basic functions. The Maltese Falcon, by contrast, offers civic duty as an option, but Sam Spade acts as he does because of his personal code. Duty is secondary, and ultimately, so is love.
Despite these differences between Stranger on the Third Floor and canonical film noir, casting the net wide enough to include this movie makes sense. It definitely gets its influences from the same places as film noir, particularly in German Expressionist cinema of the early 1900s. Interestingly, Lorre would feature prominently in The Maltese Falcon, as would Elisha Cook, Jr., who plays the defendant at the trial. So the connection between Stranger on the Third Floor and film noir is concrete on that level at least. All that said, does our opinion matter? Watch Stranger on the Third Floor and debate whether it's a film noir yourself. You'll see a visual masterwork regardless of which cinematic bin you stick it in. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1940.
Monroe finds herself in a room with no space to maneuver.
It says plenty about Don't Bother To Knock that we queued it up last night, popcorn and adult beverages in hand, having forgotten that we already watched it several years ago. That has less to do with the overall film than with Marilyn Monroe, but we'll get to that in a minute. The film was based on Charlotte Armstrong's Mischief, which was serialized in 1950 in Good Housekeeping magazine, and deals with a mentally disturbed babysitter watching over a child in a fancy New York City hotel suite. Along with Monroe it stars Richard Widmark and Anne Bancroft, with their three characters suffering respectively from derangement, detachment, and disillusionment—three ailments suggested to be caused or exacerbated by life in the big city. Widmark as a cynical single looking for easy action and Bancroft as a world weary torch singer working the hotel lounge don't have any problems a change in luck wouldn't solve, but the movie revolves around Monroe, who, thirteen credited roles into her career at this point, gets a chance to stretch her range as a nutty nanny in need of a lot more than just kind words to get back on the beam.
Monroe's performance in this heavy drama is tough to judge. To us it feels a bit flat, but contemporary reviewers generally liked it, and it's fair to say it helped her climb that last rung to the superstardom she'd reach a year later with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Watch that film and you'll see that, while Don't Bother To Knock asked her to stretch, it did so by requiring that she suppress her natural charisma. That's no easy trick for an actor, let alone someone as incandescent as her, and that, in short, is probably why we forgot we'd already watched the movie. Monroe was so big in her other performances that this flick went down the memory hole. Her iconic movies feel as if they could only have starred her. This one feels like it could have starred anyone. Monroe just isn't Monroe in it. But that probably means her performance is a success. Watching it afresh, we can tell you it's certainly a must for Marilyn fans, and will probably work for vintage film fans of all types. But those unschooled in the oldies might walk away from this effort thinking, Meh, I don't get all the Monroe fuss. But the fuss was appropriate and deserved. Don't Bother To Knock—not a film noir as labeled on many sites, by the way—premiered today in 1953.
She could have simply gone to the grocery store to get them, but where would be the fun in that?
Back in 1924 the Florida Citrus Growers industry group decided they needed to do more to promote the Florida citrus industry. Getting people to drink more orange juice obviously meant more profit, so they created a goodwill ambassador known as the Florida Citrus Queen, who extolled the virtues of Florida citrus products nationwide. She was always beautiful and young, often a show business hopeful, and appeared at trade shows and fairs, hobnobbed with celebrities and politicians, and ruled over the annual Citrus Expo & Florida Citrus Festival. Above is a photo of Francis Layton, the 1957 Florida Citrus Queen, acrobatically reaching for an orange while speeding along on waterskis.
This photo is so strange. In fact, we aren't even sure how it was made. Did Layton actually waterski while reaching for low hanging fruit? It seems unlikely. How many attempts would that have taken? How many wipeouts? For that reason, we suspect the orange branch was held by someone standing on the same platform as the photographer, and the perspective sells the illusion. Or maybe the oranges were superimposed later. What's doubly interesting, Layton went on to marry champion water skier Dick Pope, Jr., a pioneer of barefoot skiing. Notice Layton is barefoot here. Was Pope somehow associated with this photo session? Possibly, but there's no info to that effect, so we'll have to mark this as another minor vintage mystery. What a cool shot.
Want to keep a secret? Don't try it in Hollywood.
We wonder if any modern celebrity romances will be talked about half a century from now the way the old romances were. The way the Taylor/Burtons and Monroe/DiMaggios were talked about. We doubt it. Mid-century Hollywood and public romance seemed go hand in hand, and near the top of the legendary romance pyramid perches Sammy Davis, Jr.'s and Kim Novak's doomed love. Why doomed? Not to put too fine a point on it, but a 1958 Gallup poll showed that a mere 4% of Americans approved of interracial marriage. Four percent! There has never been a scientific study that showed anything other than deeply entrenched racial inequality and animosity in the U.S., and that includes today. But four percent? That's the dark ages.
We've marveled over Kim Novak before, but in case you need a visual reminder look here. Yeah. So Sammy was smitten, and so was all of America. And Novak? She saw in Sammy... charisma maybe? It wasn't devastating looks. Even Davis spoke of himself disparagingly in terms of physical appeal. But he had it. Everyone said so. His it and Novak's it were magnetically attracted and led to a relationship they tried and failed to keep relatively quiet. It's here, though, where we must note that the many Hollywood insiders who say Davis and Novak were knocking boots don't include Novak. She claims they were never more than friends. But when two megastars continually show up—however discreetly—in public together, people will talk. More importantly, tabloids will talk. And perhaps most concerning of all, Whisper will talk.
The above issue published this month in 1960 purports to have new info about the maybe-affair that shook Hollywood to its foundations, and also claims to have the scoop on Sammy's post-Kim fling Joan Stuart. We've seen many stories about his Swedish wife Mai Britt—also called a Kim copy by tabloids—but this is the first we've seen about Stuart. She wasn't Davis's first post-Novak partner. He married actress Loray White in 1958, but divorced her in 1960. Rumor is he married her under duress, having been told by certain Mafia figures to marry a black woman or else lose another eye. Whisper says that story isn't true.
Stuart was a Canadian actress, just starting out in show business. Whisper gets quotes from her parents about their daughter's relationship with Davis, and they aren't supportive. Shocking as that may be. The magazine's final take is this: “Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy meets another girl just like the girl he had before. Boy gets girl. And boy seems to be going to keep girl.” Davis did want to keep her, telling friends and reporters he wanted to marry her, but their pairing didn't last. Stuart went on to appear in some television shows and one movie—1978's In Praise of Older Women—but did not have a notable career. Did romance with Sammy Davis, Jr. hurt her? You'd have to think so—with about 96% of the public. We have some scans below, and more from Whisper to come.
Stuck between the cops and a hard place.
This poster was made to promote the drama Big House, U.S.A., which premiered today in 1955, and starred Ralph Meeker, who later headlined the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly. He also starred in one of our favorite unknown films of all time, the television production Birds of Prey, which we may talk about at a later date. Big House is basically a procedural crime drama about how the cops try to break down a kidnapper and suspected murderer played by Meeker. His character is nicknamed Ice Man because he's cool under pressure. True to form the cops can't wring a confession from him, so he's sent to prison for lesser crimes and will be released in a short while.
Ice Man thinks he's got it made. Serve easy time, earn a quick parole, then quietly retrieve the heist loot waiting for him on the outside. But cons read the news too, and several decide they want his cash. They plan an escape, and they're going to drag Ice Man along against his will or kill him for refusing. And naturally, they have no intention of letting him survive handing over the money. What a pickle. Die now or die later. But once he's on the outside maybe—just maybe—there's a chance he can turn the tables on these con-conspirators.
Big House, U.S.A. is set in Denver and the surrounding Colorado countryside, and features some nice exteriors, but it's strictly a b-movie—poorly staged, cheesily scripted, and stuck together with baling wire and chewing gum. We mentioned Meeker's starring role in Kiss Me Deadly. That came out only a month after this movie, so it was a nice recovery for him. A couple of other notes of interest in Big House are that you get to see a young and fit Charles Bronson flashing his biceps—certainly a draw for some—and the legendary Lon Chaney, Jr. gets a role as a grizzled prison inmate. The overall result is certainly watchable, but there are better prison dramas out there, and hundreds of better vintage crime flicks.
After we bust outta this joint, what do you say we form a boy band? Charles knows three guitar chords and I can sing. What are you mad at me for? Is it my fault the babes like singers best? Fuck this. Between Meeker and Bronson I'm getting no action at all. I'm starting a solo career. I heard there's a thing called Auto-Tune that'll keep even my singing voice in pitch.
This comes as a surprise to me, but I think I'm too wiped out to have sex again today.
There's so much sleaze out there. We continue to be amazed at the sheer volume of it. Above is a cover for Ralph Whitmore Jr.'s 1965 sleazer Passions Unlimited, from All Star Books. We would give a lot to know how much all these smut books sold compared to regular fiction, but that info is not available to us. Considering the sheer number of these we run across, though, the profits must have been considerable. We have several sleaze novels lined up for reading, so we'll be back on this subject soon.
The truth is I only listen to classical, but all the guys at those concerts are too old and frail to risk taking to bed.
Last stop for the scum of humanity on the road to hell? Sign us up! But 1953's Honky Tonk Girl isn't the throwaway novel you'd expect. The premise is unique—a Dixieland jazz musician named Johnny Nickles fears he's recorded a haunted album. The platter, The Ghost Album, is so titled because it's a tribute to dead jazz kingpins, and seems to have heralded a series of misfortunes: the band's arranger dropped dead of a heart attack; Johnny's girlfriend stole his money and car; his band lost the cushy house gig they'd been promised; and now, playing nightly in a dive bar in nowheresville, the band's drummer has been murdered. Nickles decides to solve the case and gets help from a hooker, a chanteuse, a cop, and some obvious clues. We thought the idea of a haunted album would be the launch pad for a memorable book, but Beckman doesn't quite get this one airborne because—despite his extensive pulp pedigree—he's middling as a writer. But what does come through is his musical knowledge and familiarity with the hand-to-mouth existence of ambitious young jazzmen. We give it a 5 for prose and an 8 for atmosphere. The cover art, on the other hand, is a solid 10. It's by the always amazing Howell Dodd.
Whether by day or night the action was non-stop.
We love vintage nightclub photos, and vintage pix of people partying in general. Since Havana photos are unusually interesting, we're always drawn to them. There's a large number of Havana photos out there, but not primarily because of Cuba's political history. The photos really exist because Cuba was a pioneer of Caribbean tourism, attracting travelers beginning in the 1920s through a heyday of the mid-1950s. The island was promoted as a place of sophistication, mixed with permissiveness, unpredictability, and a touch of the primitive. This prompted various movers and shakers—from New York City businessmen to top musicians to Hollywood stars—to flock to Havana. And where important people went, cameras followed.
Was the Havana image true? Probably, based on what we've read. But it was not unique. During the same period Tangier had a similar reputation, as it attracted writers like Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs, and numerous gay expatriates. During the 1960s Acapulco was knownas a great place to go for thrills. During the 1980s, Ibiza or Mykonos. The 90s, Thailand or Goa. The 00s, Tulum. Havana wasn't unusual in terms of what it offered. Bigger, yes. More convenient for Americans, for sure. But numerous far flung locales have served as paradises for foreign visitors to lose themselves and get crazy.
Most or all of the aforementioned places are considered to have changed for the worse, whether through ecological damage, destruction of historic architecture, unchecked overbuilding, overtourism, or all four scourges at once. But it was revolution that changed Havana, a fact that gives vintage photos from there a particular poignancy. A typical narrative is that while elites and tourists partied, exclusion, inequality, and poverty helped fertilize the seeds of upheaval. But we don't judge anyone in these shots. We've lived in similar circumstances in Central America. We were even partners in a beach bar in the Caribbean. We were always well aware of the prevailing socio-political problems, and we sympathized greatly with the local populations. But it didn't stop us from partying the nights away.
There's an immense feeling of freedom being in a simpler place—and for all its opulent nightclubs and restaurants, Havana is said to have exuded a primeval sensuality that intoxicated tourists and expatriates. If you live in the U.S. or some other modern nation, that feeling isn't something you can achieve by merely paring down your current lifestyle. The things you give up continue to exist all around you. By rejecting those, you become a weirdo. But by living in a less modern nation your life truly changes top to bottom, and you gain this while still existing above the local mean. That's the paradox, or the injustice, depending on your point of view: your satisfaction derives partly from the ability to take or leave anything you wish, because you are economically able to do so. You live more simply than you did, yet live better than most people around you. It isn't noble, but it's very much an attraction.
Bowles and Burroughs lived well in Tangier because it was immensely cheaper than Europe or the U.S. With the savings gained they hosted parties and had time to hone their literary crafts. They were a part of the local society, but existed in a middle-upper stratum, high above the impoverished, well below the Moroccan elites, benefitting from the general perception that foreigners from rich nations are themselves rich. That's how it was for us too. So there's inequality built into thattype of expatriate experience. It's unavoidable. A friend of ours lived in a stick shack on Cayos Cochinos for an entire year and he was still considered a rich foreigner. Everyone knows you have a choice. The Americans who partied in Cuba could never have been anything but wealthy invaders, no matter the reality of their finances, or the inclusiveness their sensibilities.
Living comfortably means the novelties one experiences seem thrilling or romantic. When we were knocking around Guatemala, El Salvador, and the Bay Islands, we turned washing our clothes by hand into an enjoyable ritual, yet understood quite well that many families' daily water intake literally depended on walking a mile to a river. Buying food from the local fruit and veggie stand was far more convenient than queuing at the supermarket for meat, and we ended up dropping to our college weight, but we were nevertheless aware that many people couldn't afford any food, and would have been disgusted at how pleased we were that our reduced fat intake meant we could show six pack abs at the beach. We helped some local families, both financially and logistically, but when your downsized existence is a choice you can never truly fit in.
But the freedom you feel is real. Offloading the burdens of modern life brings legitimate satisfaction. The pursuit of pleasure takes on a special joy. We hit bars, parties, and gallery mixers continually. As foreigners there's no social stigma to drinking every night. Unless you have a job—and we didn't—it's how you form a social circle. Locals generally disapprove, but their judgements carry little weight. So when welook at Havana partying shots we don't quite see oblivious, entitled people, because we know it isn't that simple. Most of them knew what was percolating. Stability was diminishing fast. There was a dissolved parliament, large protests, a 1953 battle in Santiago de Cuba, and other signposts on the way to change. It was clear the fun could never last.
The assortment of people you see here are caught on film like insects caught in amber, long dead but preserved. They're having a few laughs, enjoying some drinks, executing deft turns on dance floors, making their small, temporary marks on the world, leaving behind images showing them for one sliver of a moment in timeless eternity. Things changed in Havana, and now things have changed for all of us. If circumstances where we can dance and laugh and shout together in hot crowded places without fear of sickness ever return, be sure to embrace them fully. We don't just mean in some far flung tropical enclave. We mean anywhere. Because if it isn't a virus that takes those pleasures away, it'll be the march of years. You'll want to have done your best with this gift called life.
An ice cream vendor patiently waits for potential customers to emerge from the Capri Hotel and Casino, 1958. Fashion model Jean Patchett and author Ernest Hemingway, who habitually went shirtless, lounge at Finca Vigia, his house in Cuba, 1950. Above, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, the "Cocktail King of Havana," inventor of the Papa Doble daiquiri, and owner of the famed bar El Floridita. Liberace performs on stage at the Tropicana with headline dancer Ana Gloria Varona, 1954. A Coke and a smile from two soft drink vendors. Patrons enjoy drinks at El Floridita, 1955. Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante stands by while Marlon Brando tries his hand—or both of them—at the conga drum at Hotel Packard, 1956. Mafia kingpin Meyer Lansky, on the right in this shot, attends the opening of the Hotel Riviera in December 1957. Famed entertainer Zulema dances the rhumba at the Zombie Club, 1946. Three women liven up the room from their perch on the bar at Cabaret Kursal. Cesar Romero and Tyrone Power enjoy a drink and a chat at Sloppy Joe's Bar. Revelers including Errol Flynn and Desi Arnaz, Jr. form a conga line during the Yoruba festival known as Dia de Babalú-Ayé. José Abeal Otero, founder of Sloppy Joe's Bar, mixes up a giant batch of liquid magic. No, this isn't the same person as above, Ribalaigua. They were both small, dapper guys. A firebreather thrills onlookers in front of the Saratoga Hotel, 1949. This photo shows Nat King Cole and his wife Maria Cole, along with Martin Fox, who was the owner of the Tropicana, accompanied by his wife Ofelia and an unknown fifth party. U.S. born vedette and movie star Tongolele, aka Yolanda Montes, poses outside the Capri Hotel and Casino, 1958. Meme Solis and Elena Burke pose at the entrance to the 21 Club, located in the Capri Hotel. These photos show Silvano Chueg Echevarría, a master of percussion and an iconic musical personage. Let's go back to that Marlon Brando photo for a sec. Brando was an aficionado of percussive instruments. During that 1956 jaunt to Cuba he made it known that he wanted to buy drums from real percussionists. One of the musicians he met was Echevarría. All the Havana percussionists knew of Brando, of course, but thought he was a musical dilettante. At some point he finagled his way onto a nightclub stage, sat in with a band, and truly amazed onlookers with his ability on the conga. He wasn't a master, but he was pretty good. He won respect, and bought his drums. Raquel Revuelta, Manuel Corrales, and Mariano Rodriguez leave the famed bar Bodeguita del Medio and walk through the Havana night to other locales, other adventures, 1958.
Man tries to catch train, train catches him instead.
These photos show an unfortunate man named John Heldt, Jr. trapped under a Pacific Electric freight car in Gardena, California. Getty Images has this listed as happening August 7, 1951, but the USC digital film archive where the image is stored has the date as today. We trust USC over Getty, but whenever it happened, it was a bad day for Heldt, maybe not the worst of his life, but certainly in the top five, we can be sure. His rescuers had to bring in special equipment to lift the train off him, so he was probably pinned for hours, his indignity compounded by the fact that a Los Angeles Examiner photographer made these snaps of him. “Can you hold that pose? Heh heh, that's a joke, see, because you can't move at all, you poor, stupid sap!” There's no info on whether Heldt recovered, nor whether he lost any body parts. Still, as bad as this looks, it's better than flying Ryanair.
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