No matter how far she ran dissatisfaction followed close behind.
This gold colored June 1963 cover for Confidential magazine is entirely given over to actress Barbara Payton, whose self-penned hard-luck story appears inside and details her life troubles. The tale is well known and is one we’ve touched upon before—early marriage and early motherhood, followed by stardom, romances, and riches, followed by booze, drugs, divorces and crime. Confidential being Confidential, the editors neglect to mention that the story here is not an exclusive, but rather is excerpted from I Am Not Ashamed, Payton’s painfully revealing autobiography.
I Am Not Ashamed did not sell especially well, and was pretty much forgotten a few years after its release. But it reappeared by chance two decades later when Jack Nicholson famously lent a rare copy to Jessica Lange to help her prepare for her femme fatale role in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Today the book is widely available. Just a few seconds reading Payton’s words conjures the suspicion she had a ghostwriter, and indeed, it was the king of lowbrow literature Leo Guild who gave shape to the prose, which reads like gutter level sleaze fiction.
For example: “He hated what I had been [but] loved me for what I was. He tortured himself. Every part of my body reminded him of another man.” And this bit: “I had a body when I was a young kid that raisedtemperatures wherever I went. Today I have three long knife wounds on my solid frame. One extends from my buttocks down my thigh and needed I don’t remember how many stitches.” Payton’s anecdotes are cringe worthy, but they read like she’d gotten a grip on her life. No such luck. After four more long years of drugs, drink, and disaster she was found dead on her bathroom floor in 1967.
Payton post-mortems usually describe her problems as self-induced, but that’s simplistic. In the 1950s famous men did anything they wished, but women had to be careful not to be seen doing the same. Still do today. That’s the part Payton had problems with. Even so, she had several happy periods during her life. One of those was the stretch she spent in Mexico married to a young fisherman. About this time she says, “We fished and I caught big ones, and we loved and for a couple of years it was beautiful. My big problems were what to cook for dinner. But it was inevitable the ants in my pants would start crawling again.”
We like that passage, because nearly all the stories about Payton declare, or at least suggest, that everything that happened after Hollywood stardom was part of a terminal plummet. That’s pretty much the default setting in American journalism—anything other than wealth and fame is by definition failure. It’s an idiotic conceit, even a harmful one, and Payton reveals that in Mexico she landed someplace solid and safe, and got along fine without money or recognition. Two years of happiness is nothing to take lightly. But she just couldn’t sit still—not because of where she was, but because of who she was.
And the spiral continued—cheaper and cheaper forms of prostitution, physical confrontations that resulted in her getting some of her teeth knocked out, and more. In all of these tales there’s a recurrent theme of lowly types taking advantage of her, but we can’t help noting that she was paid a mere $1,000 for her autobiography, an absurdly deficient amount for a former top star with a crazy story to tell, which suggests to us that guys in office suites take as much advantage—or more—of a person’s hard luck as guys in alleys. We have some scans below, and Payton will undoubtedly appear here again.
Even if it was only half true, it was still 100% shocking.
This National Enquirer published today in 1967 features cover star Hedy Lemarr promoting her 1967 autobiography Ecstasy and Me: My Life As a Woman. The title is taken from the 1933 Austrian film Ekstase, in which she appeared nude, shocking audiences of the time. Enquirer describes her book as shocking, as well, and indeed there are some surprising revelations. An example: while still living in her native Austria, she ran away from her husband and hid in an empty room in a brothel. A man came into the room and she had sex with him rather than let her husband find her. Lamarr claims to have had hundreds of lovers, male and female, and depicts herself variously as both a nymphomaniac and a kleptomaniac. But all of this comes with a caveat—her ghostwriter, the notorious Leo Guild, wrote various celeb biographies that played fast and loose with the truth. That said, even Guild was not imaginative enough to have fabricated everything in Ecstasy and Me.
As a side note, we should mention that Lamarr, along with George Anthiel, invented and patented an advanced frequency switching system that they envisioned for usage guiding torpedoes (the constant switching of frequencies would make them difficult to jam, thus more likely to reach their targets). Now, if you read other websites, most of them praise Lamarr as a military genius, and it’s true she had a highly developed technical mind, but the system she helped pioneer actually grew out of an idea to remotely control player pianos. In fact, the guidance system used eighty-eight frequencies, which is of course the number of keys on a standard piano. We think knowing that she applied a musical idea to military usage gives a somewhat fuller appreciation of how ingenious she actually was, rather than just picturing her as some kind of Oppenheimer type.
Ingenious or not, the U.S. Navy declined to purchase Lamarr and Anthiel’s system, but the moment the patent expired two decades later the military was all over it. We can’t discern with our limited resources whether this sudden decision to use the technology was coincidental or not, but certainly the result was that Lamarr got screwed out of probably millions of dollars. Or perhaps even more, when you consider that her and Anthiel’s frequency switching is closely related to that used today for global positioning systems and Bluetooth. Since Lamarr claimed in her book to have blown through more than thirty million dollars in her life, the fun and creative ways she might have spent a massive military windfall makes the mind boggle. We’ll get back to Hedy Lamarr a bit later, because she certainly deserves a more detailed treatment.
Some things are better left unsaid.
Leo Guild is considered—in some circles—the worst writer of pulp fiction ever. Even if we wanted to we couldn’t dispute that claim, although we really don’t believe he took the writing very seriously. We’ll talk more about the maligned Mr. Guild at a later date. Meanwhile we wanted to show you this sweet cover for his novel Street of Ho’s. The art is by B. Smith—and that’s all we’ve been able to find out, possibly because Mr. Smith also thinks Leo is a hack and was ashamed of being associated with the novel.
On a punctuative note, the spelling of “ho’s” sparked a small controversy here at the palatial Pulp Intl. offices. After intense debate, we decided to consult the AP, which tells us the correct spelling of “ho’s” in the plural is “hos”, without the apostrophe. Only in the possessive or contractive forms should you spell it "ho's", as in the sentence: "That ho's not likely to take it well if I call her a ho." Now that we have that settled, please remember it's impossible to spell hospital without hos, and that's exactly where you're likely to wind up if you make a habit of using such a naughty word.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1940—Trotsky Iced in Mexico
In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe
(not an ice pick) by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader. Trotsky dies the next day.
1968—Prague Spring Ends
200,000 Warsaw Pact troops backed by 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring political liberalization movement.
1986—Sherrill Goes Postal
In Edmond, Oklahoma, United States postal employee Patrick Sherrill shoots and kills fourteen of his co-workers and then commits suicide.
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