Is there anything sweeter than a beautiful movie palace?
You probably recognize Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in Los Angeles. These days it's called TCL Chinese Theatre, because it's owned and operated by TCL Corporation—based in China, ironically. Since we write so often about movies we thought it appropriate to discuss the beautiful buildings in which the films were exhibited. Back in the day these were usually purpose-built structures, though some did split duty for stage productions and concerts. While many of these old palaces survive, nearly all surviving vintage cinemas in the U.S. were under threat at some point. Generally, if they hadn't been given historic protection they wouldn't be upright today.
Other times, if a city was poor, real estate costs didn't rise and old buildings stood unthreatened, usually idle. This happened often in the American midwest, where movie houses were neglected for decades before some were resurrected amid downtown revitalizations. It sometimes happens in Latin America too, although occasionally the formula fails. For example, Cartagena's majestic and oft photographed landmark Teatro Colón, located in the historic section of Colombia's most popular coastal tourist city, was torn down fewer than six months ago to make way for a Four Seasons Hotel.
Some of the cinemas below are well known treasures, while others are more unassuming places. But even those lesser known cinemas show how much thought and work was put into making moviegoing a special experience. The last photo, which shows the Butterfly Theatre in Milwaukee, exemplifies that idea. The façade is distinguished by a terra cotta butterfly sculpture adorned with light bulbs. As you might guess, many of the most beautiful large cinemas were in Los Angeles, which means that city is well represented in the collection. Enjoy.
Paramount Theatre, Oakland (operational).
Cine Maya, Mérida (demolished).
The Albee Cinema, Cincinnati (demolished)
Cooper Theatre, Denver (demolished).
Paras Cinema, Jaipur (operational).
Cathay Cinema, Shanghai (operational).
Academy Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Charlottenburg Filmwerbung, Berlin (demolished).
Pacific's Cinerama Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
York Theatre, Elmhurst (operational).
La Gaumont-Palace, Paris (demolished).
Essoldo Cinema, Newcastle (demolished).
Théâtre Scala, Strasbourg (operational).
Teatro Colón, Cartagena (demolished in 2018).
Teatro Coliseo Argentino, Buenos Aires (demolished).
Pavilion Theater, Adelaide (demolished).
El Molino Teatro, Barcelona (operational).
Fox Carthay Theatre, Los Angeles (demolished).
Kino Rossiya Teatr, Moscow (operational).
Nippon Gekijo, aka Nichigeki, Tokyo (demolished).
Cine Impala, Namibe (operational).
Cine Arenal, Havana (operational).
Teatro Mérida, Mérida (operational, renamed Teatro Armando Manzanero).
Ideal Theater, Manila (demolished).
Odeon Cinema, London (semi-demolished, converted to apartments).
Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Rex Cinema, Port au Prince (being restored).
Urania Kino, Vienna (operational).
Tampa Theatre, Tampa (operational).
The Butterfly Theater, Milwaukee (demolished).
Biggers isn't always better but he tried.
What's an agony column? Basically it's a newspaper feature in which readers writes messages to other readers. For example: “Regular at Main Street Cafe who takes her coffee every weekday morning just before 9:00. Would you be amenable to meeting a certain gentleman who has admired you from afar?” You get the idea. The “agony” in the terminology derives from the fact that people who write in generally are suffering from some sort of heartache or other.
The Agony Column is basically an epistolary mystery, in which a man writes letters to the crush he contacted through a London newspaper's agony column, and details his involvement in a puzzling murder case. It's a very esoteric set-up for a novel, and besides mystery there's a dose cute romance. Nearly the entire book takes the form of the main character's letters, though some sections are conventionally written.
The nature of the novel requires more suspension of disbelief than usual, simply because nobody really writes letters with detailed, multi-character dialogue, but once you get over that hurdle it works pretty well. There are other hurdles. About London's Chinatown the main character writes, “Not only the heathen Chinee so peculiar shuffle through its dim-lit alleys, but the scum of the earth of many colors and of many climes. The Arab and the Hindu, the Malayan and the Jap, black men from the Congo and fair men from Scandinavia.”
Ouch. That brought the cuteness to a screeching halt. But readers should note that Biggers evolved, and would later create the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan partly as a counter to racist portrayals of Asians. The books were popular, but as the decades progressed people soured on them because Chan too is a racial stereotype. It's difficult for authors to write characters—especially outside their own ethnic group—that stand up over time as social mores change. But they keep trying, and should, in our opinion. What would fiction be like if they didn't?
The Agony Column has plenty of positives. Being set on the eve of World War I in a London gripped by tension over the looming global hostilities lends it atmosphere, and the mystery itself contains a few surprises we doubt most readers will foresee. It's also a short tale, which keeps the epistolary gimmick from wearing thin. We think it's worth a read. The Agony Column originally appeared in 1916, with this Avon edition, illegibly signed by the cover artist and unattributed inside, coming in 1943.
Confidential sinks its teeth into the juiciest celebrity secrets.
Confidential magazine had two distinct periods in its life—the fanged version and the de-fanged version, with the tooth pulling done courtesy of a series of defamation lawsuits that made publisher Robert Harrison think twice about harassing celebrities. This example published this month in 1955 is all fangs. The magazine was printing five million copies of each issue and Harrison was like a vampire in a blood fever, hurting anyone who came within reach, using an extensive network spies from coast to coast and overseas to out celebs' most intimate secrets.
In this issue editors blatantly call singer Johnnie Ray a gay predator, spinning a tale about him drunkenly pounding on doors in a swanky London hotel looking for a man—any man—to satisfy his needs. The magazine also implies that Mae West hooked up with boxer Chalky White, who was nearly thirty years her junior—and black. It tells readers about Edith Piaf living during her youth in a brothel, a fact which is well known today but which wasn't back then.
The list goes on—who was caught in whose bedroom, who shook down who for money, who ingested what substances, all splashed across Confidential's trademark blue and red pages. Other celebs who appear include Julie London, Jack Webb, Gregg Sherwood, and—of course—Elizabeth Taylor. Had we been around in 1955 we're sure we would have been on the side of privacy rights for these stars, but today we can read all this guilt-free because none of it can harm anyone anymore. Forty panels of images below, and lots more Confidential here.
There's a special beauty in the city when it glows.
This is a brilliant shot of U.S. singer/actress Julie London, an icon during her time who's been just a bit forgotten in this new millennium. She made something like forty movies, a body of work that gives you numerous options to choose from, but for our money we like her brief cameo in the neglected Jayne Mansfield comedy The Girl Can't Help It. You can read a bit about the movie here, and more about London when we hopefully revisit her later.
The dancers of the chorus line request your attention.
This is the fifth issue of Cancans de Paris we've shared. The magazine is fast becoming a favorite. It has that mix we like—celebs, showgirls, and cartoons. It's similar to magazines such as Paris Hollywood and Gondel, but with a simpler layout and all black-and-white photography. This issue is from July 1966 and features Gila Golan on the cover, and inside are Julie London, Mireille Darc, and others from the acting profession. You also get Sally Ann Scoth, Karin Brault, Juanita Sanchez, and other colleagues from the dancer side of show business. The entire issue appears below in thirty panels, and you can see the other issues by clicking the appropriate keywords at bottom.
Sabrina covers her biggest assets.
Every once in a while we run across stories about Hollywood stars insuring their body parts. A couple of examples: Bette Davis was famous for her small waist and insured it against weight gain for the equivalent of $400,000; and 1920s comedian Ben Turpin, who was famously cross-eyed, took out a policy of similar value should his eyes ever straighten. National Enquirer insists on this cover from today in 1960 that British starlet Sabrina, aka Norma Ann Sykes, insured her breasts. The tabloid is in fact correct—she allowed her manager Joe Matthews to insure her endowment with Lloyd's of London for £UK100,000. In today's cash that would be about £2.4 million, or $3.2 million. You may think that's excessive, but when's the last time your boobs caused a riot? Unfortunately the weight she carried on her torso led to chronic back pain and a failed attempt at a surgical fix that left her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She died in obscurity last year. It was a sad ending for the former sex symbol. But once upon a time she was a one-name star—just Sabrina—and a global obsession.
That was interesting. Next time can we just do it the normal way?
There's no festish sex or podophilia in With Naked Foot. This is actually a serious novel about whites coming to ruin in Africa, which is a crowded literary niche, but one in which Emily Hahn carved out an important place for herself. In fact, maybe the adjective “Hahnesque” should be used alongside “Hemingwayesque.” This is a person who wrote fifty-four books and more than two hundred articles and short stories, whose works were significant in romanticizing Africa and Asia for western readers, who lived in Florence and London in the mid-1920s, traveled to the Belgian Congo where she worked for the Red Cross, lived with a pygmy tribe for two years, crossed Central Africa alone on foot, and journeyed to Shanghai where she taught English for three years while becoming acquaintances with political powerhouses the Soong Sisters and the Chinese poet Zau Sinmay. With Naked Foot is, therefore, unusually well informed. It revolves around a beautiful Congolese girl named Mawa whose relationships with various lustful white men bring disaster. The reviews were rapturous, though some critics protested that it was too focused on sex. That's never a complaint you'll hear from us, though some of the usual flaws of mid-century racial fiction are evident. The cover art on this Bantam paperback was painted by an unknown, and the copyright is 1951.
I know I'm new to lifting, but are you sure a spotter is supposed to just sit there and stare at me?
Unimprovable French actress Mylène Demongeot pounds the iron in this production photo made when she was filming the comedy Doctor in Distress in London in 1963. Mylène in impossibly short shorts was a sort of trademark, seemingly. See another example here.
Pulp and art deco. Two great tastes that rarely went together.
The pulp era is generally agreed as having commenced the last several years of the 19th century and having ended during the 1950s. Art deco is agreed to have begun around 1900 and ended around the beginning of World War II. Despite co-existing, they occupied the same place surprisingly little. You would see crossover in cinematic adaptations of pulp material such as Flash Gordon, with its deco styled spaceships and costumes. Some pulp magazines had art deco influenced fonts, and some hardbacks had art deco sleeve art, such as those designed by Edna Reindel for W.R. Burnett's novels Iron Man and Saint Johnson. But when popular paperbacks and magazines began to focus on high quality cover art they developed their own visual style which we think of today as good girl art, or GGA.
But even if pulp and art deco didn't mix much back then, they mix here. Today we have an issue of Paris Plaisirs published in 1929 with drawings, paintings, studio photography, French wit and more. The cover photo-illustration was shot by Lucien Waléry, also known as Stanisław Julian Ignacy Ostroróg. Though his name was Polish he was a British citizen, born in London after his father Stanisław Julian Ostroróg—also a famed photographer—emigrated there in 1856 and became a citizen in 1862. The younger Ostroróg took the pseudonym Waléry and thus forever created confusion with earlier photographers who had used the same name. We won't bother unwinding all those Walérys. You can see another of our Waléry's beautiful art deco covers here, and we have other issues of Paris Plaisirs you can see by clicking the keywords at bottom.
Peggy Cummins hit Hollywood with guns blazing.
According to a story yesterday in The Hollywood Reporter, Wales born Irish actress Peggy Cummins died in a London hospital December 29 after suffering a stroke. She was ninety-two years old. Cummins, who was born Augusta Fuller, played the morality challenged Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy, a low budget film noir that rose above its humble station over the decades to eventually be included in the U.S. Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. While the film is often characterized as a breakthrough fro Cummins, it was actually her eleventh screen role, and did not lead to a career of top notch offers. However, she ultimately appeared in more than twenty-five productions, with her last coming in 1965. The above photo was made a promo for Gun Crazy and dates from 1950. You can read more about the film here.
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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