Albert Camus' fatal 1960 auto accident may have been a KGB assassination.
Italian author Giovanni Catelli has just published a book that claims French writer Albert Camus was assassinated by the KGB, rather than dying in an auto accident, as largely believed. When you say the words “Cold War intrigue,” we're all in, so the story caught our eye. Catelli's theory, which he first began airing in 2011, is that the KGB silenced Camus because he was a globally famous figure who made a habit of criticizing the Soviet Union. The order was allegedly given by Dmitri Shepilov, the USSR’s minister of internal affairs, after Camus slammed him in the French newspaper Franc-Tireur in March 1957. Camus died in 1960, so the killing took three years to come to fruition, according to Catelli.
His book length argument, La mort de Camus, is getting white hot press right now, however it's very interesting to look back at contemporary articles about the crash. Camus was riding as a passenger in a car driven by his publisher Michel Gallimard, with Gallimard's wife Janine and their daughter Anne in the rear seat. Michel Gallimard died, but his wife and daughter survived to describe the crash. Michel was driving fast and had been told to slow down, and had drunk wine at dinner.
A gander at the wreckage of the heavy Farcel Vega HK500 attests to its speed. We checked the various articles popping up online and found none that mentioned either the velocity of the car or the drinking of the driver, but that's how the internet works—a fantastic claim circles the world five times faster than anything resembling balance or a fact check.
Catelli, though, has an answer for the reckless driving theory—the Soviets had attached a device to the car that would puncture a tire only in the event of sufficient speed. If the Soviets came up with the device described, it would not kick in without the added ingredient of driver haste, which often happens in conjunction with alcohol consumption, which in turn is a near certainty when talking about French people, all of which means the chances of a crash with muddied circumstances were pretty high. The device, if it ever existed, was certainly clever. It would be like a device that tied your shoelaces together, but only if you went downstairs in a rush, and you happened to live in a fourth floor flat with a balky elevator.
Catelli's belief that Camus was disposed of via assassination is bolstered by the fact that the car he was riding in somehow careened off a stretch of straight road thirty feet wide. Nobody described Michel Gallimard trying to dodge a hedgehog or pothole, so despite speed and possible drunkenness, some unforeseen factor seems required to send the vehicle into the weeds. On the other hand, three years is a long time to enact a death plot. We've seen Yankees and Red Sox fans patch their shit up in less time. But let's move this death from the settled bin into the mysterious bin, which is where we like everything to be anyway. Camus, the famed absurdist, once wrote that, “There can be nothing more absurd than to die in a car accident.” And if Catelli is correct, nothing can be more convenient either.
Gringo adventurer goes down South American rabbit hole looking for Inca treasure.
Pulp fiction, genre fiction, crime fiction—call it what you want. Basically, none of it will ever win a Pulitzer Prize, but it can be mighty enjoyable when done just right. Plunder of the Sun is faster than fast pulp-style fiction from To Catch a Thief author David Dodge. The rough and tumble protagonist Al Colby tries to unravel the secret of an Inca quipa—an ancient numero-linguistic recording device—which may tell the location of an impossibly huge hoard of gold. The tale speeds from Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru and into the high Andes by boat, train, and tram to a climax on the highest lake in the world.
This is a confident yarn from an author who traveled widely in the countries portrayed, and his tale avoids the cultural judgments you often find in these types of novels. His descriptions of cities, hotels, and transport are unflattering but accurate, yet his treatment of the Peruvian and Chilean villains has no whiff of condescension. They're just the villains, nothing more—smart, tough, deadly, and motivated. The book's only flaw is its late turn toward romantic matchmaking. Still, it was a very good read. It became a movie of the same name in 1953, placed in a new setting, with Glenn Ford and Diana Lynn. The art on this 1951 Dell paperback is by Robert Stanley, and as a bonus it comes in a collectible mapback edition.
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.
Here's a lama, there's a lama, and another little lama
To offset the ridiculous cover above, we thought we’d share something a bit more traditionally pulp, so here you see the front of Jerôme Caval’s 1964 thriller Le lama de Lima, which means, well, exactly what it looks like it means. The book is volume 30 of the Espionnage Service-Secret collection from the Parisian publisher S.E.G., and the brilliant art is uncredited.
Christina Hart offers a special type of in-flight service.
This Japanese poster for the American film The Stewardesses indicates that the movie played in 3D. That wasn’t the case only in Japan—it played in 3D globally and, because it was produced for about $100,000 and grossed $25 million, became the most profitable 3D film released up to that point. The movie was rated X, but it’s a non-porn film, with no actual sex to be found. Basically, star Christina Hart and her fellow stews party and get laid. That’s it. As a bonus for 60s-philes, there’s a psychedelic approach to the filming and some groovy music, along with Monica Gayle doing nude yoga, Hart making out with a stone bust and displaying one of cinema’s earliest bald groins, and various cast members enjoying lots of softcore nuzzling and wriggling. Does that sound your bag, man? Radical. The Stewardesses premiered today in 1969.
Vintage paperback violence gets up close and personal.
We have another collection today as we prepare to jet away on vacation with the girls. Since the place we’re going is known for rowdy British tourists (what place isn’t known for that?), we thought we’d feature some of the numerous paperback covers featuring fights. You’ll notice, as with our last collection, the preponderance of French books. Parisian publishers loved this theme. The difference, as opposed to American publishers, is that you almost never saw women actually being hit on French covers (we’d almost go so far as to say it never happened, but we’ve obviously not seen every French paperback ever printed). The French preferred man-on-man violence, and when women were involved, they were either acquitting themselves nicely, or often winning via the use of sharp or blunt instruments.
Violence against women is and has always been a serious problem in the real world, but we’re just looking at products of the imagination here, which themselves represent products of the imagination known as fiction. Content-wise, mid-century authors generally frowned upon violence toward women even if they wrote it into their novels. Conversely, the cover art, stripped of literary context, seemed to glorify it. Since cover art is designed to entice readers, there’s a valid discussion here about why anti-woman violence was deemed attractive on mid-century paperback fronts, and whether its disappearance indicates an understanding of its wrongness, or merely a cynical realization that it can no longer be shown without consequences. We have another fighting cover here, and you may also want to check out our western brawls here.
Your honor, defense concedes the victim died of suffocation by pillow, but we contend it had no human cause.
The Deadly Climate is a 1955 mystery by Ursula Curtiss, the story of a woman who thinks she’s seen a murder in the woods, but since she can’t identify the killer, and the body has vanished, nobody believes her. But of course meantime the murderer is lurking with plans to eliminate her as a witness. There are many good reviews around the internet on this one. Art is by James Meese.
Russ Meyer turns what he loves most into a career.
This rare Japanese poster promotes the American movie French Peep Show, which was boob aficionado Russ Meyer’s first sexploitation film in a long, infamous series of them. Shot at Oakland, California’s El Rey Burlesk Theater, it was ostensibly a documentary about dancer Tempest Storm’s quest to make it as a performer, but of course was really just an excuse to film a burlesque show and use the medium of cinema to export it to the masses. The film is presumed lost, which is too bad, because in addition to Storm, it featured Lily Lamont, Terry Lane, Shalimar, Marie Voe, and others. The poster is composed of three famous shots of Storm, one of which we shared a while back, the others of which you see below. You can read a bit more about French Peep Show here. It premiered in the U.S. in 1949, but reached Japan this month in 1954.
Lesser-known noir The Big Combo is well worth a viewing.
In the old noirs criminal gangs are sometimes the Mafia, sometimes the Mob, and still other times the Syndicate. In this one the gang is the Combination, hence the title The Big Combo. While the film isn’t a big budget noir, it makes up in inventiveness what it lacks for dollars. Example: one thug who wears a hearing aid is about to be rubbed out. He begs for his life, and one of his executioners says, “I’ll do you a favor—you won’t hear the bullets.” He then snatches out the thug’s hearing aid and we see a silent close-up of muzzle flashes. The film is filled with visual treats like that, and as a bonus it has first-rate acting, with the lead Cornel Wilde even pulling off a crying scene. For real. He turns on the waterworks with no help from the make-up department and it’s an exceedingly rare feat for male actors during the 1950s.
Another characteristic of The Big Combo is its sexual undercurrents. One character is a stripper and during a backstage scene we get a surprising flash of her bikini-clad bottom. Meanwhile, Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman play two hired thugs who we’re supposed to suspect are gay. We’ve seen the great documentary The Celluloid Closet about the many gay characters hidden in old films, so we’re familiar with the hints screenwriters like to drop. In this case the relationship between Van Cleef and Holliman is clearer than usual, which makes us wonder if it was an accident or a deliberate attempt to push the envelope when Holliman utters the line, “I’m sick of swallowing sausage.” Shortly thereafter the two are dispatched via hand grenade, so unfortunately we don’t get to know any more about these two great characters.
We’ve already given away too much, so we’ll quit while we’re ahead. If you like film noir, definitely give this one a spin. It’ll be a good expenditure of time, we promise. Above you see the great Spanish language promo art for this underrated classic. It was released with the title Agente Especial in most Spanish speaking countries, but for Argentina the producers went with Gangsters in Fuga, which translates rather poetically as “Gangsters in Flight.” It first flew in the U.S. in 1955, and migrated to Argentina in the spring of 1956.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Blaine Act Passes
The Blaine Act, a congressional bill sponsored by Wisconsin senator John J. Blaine, is passed by the U.S. Senate and officially repeals the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, aka the Volstead Act, aka Prohibition. The repeal is formally adopted as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on December 5, 1933.
1947—Voice of America Begins Broadcasting into U.S.S.R.
The state radio channel known as Voice of America and controlled by the U.S. State Department, begins broadcasting into the Soviet Union in Russian with the intent of countering Soviet radio programming directed against American leaders and policies. The Soviet Union responds by initiating electronic jamming of VOA broadcasts.
1937—Carothers Patents Nylon
Wallace H. Carothers, an American chemist, inventor and the leader of organic chemistry at DuPont Corporation, receives a patent for a silk substitute fabric called nylon. Carothers was a depressive who for years carried a cyanide capsule on a watch chain in case he wanted to commit suicide, but his genius helped produce other polymers such as neoprene and polyester. He eventually did take cyanide—not in pill form, but dissolved in lemon juice—resulting in his death in late 1937.
1933—Franklin Roosevelt Survives Assassination Attempt
In Miami, Florida, Giuseppe Zangara attempts to shoot President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, but is restrained by a crowd and, in the course of firing five wild shots, hits five people, including Chicago, Illinois Mayor Anton J. Cermak, who dies of his wounds three weeks later. Zangara is quickly tried and sentenced to eighty years in jail for attempted murder, but is later convicted of murder when Cermak dies. Zangara is sentenced to death and executed in Florida's electric chair.
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