When an unknown neighbor commits murder peace of mind is the next casualty.
It's always nice to come across a book with a fresh approach. This book for example, The Woman on the Roof by Helen Nielsen, deals with a disturbed woman who has the key clues to a murder mystery due to being able to see directly into a neighbor's apartment. But she's considered a kook by family, friends, and the police, who've interacted with her before on the occasion of her being committed to a mental institution. Upon her release she wanted nothing more than peace and tranquility, but now she's a murder witness. Socially awkward, afraid of people, obsessive compulsive, and psychically tethered to the garage-top apartment that is her sole safe zone, this killing thing really turns her life upside down.
There's a great sequence where the character gets lost on the streets of L.A., and seeing the city from her point of view, experiencing all its nocturnal strangeness and indecipherable cacophony and perceived danger through her eyes, is tremendously affecting. We can't remember feeling that level of sympathy for a character in a jam in a long time. Not sure many male authors could have pulled it off quite as deftly. Nielsen's good ideas, written well with a unique angle on murder—figuratively and literally—made for a very worthwhile read. It was originally published in 1954, and the Dell paperback you see above appeared in 1956 with excellent cover art by William George.
As far as they're concerned no crime means no fun.
The 1994 romantic action movie I Love Trouble is unrelated to the original from 1948, for which you see a beautiful promo poster above. The first I Love Trouble is a film noir, a neglected one not often mentioned as an entry in the genre. Franchot Tone stars as a detective hired by a politician to look into his wife's background. He's been getting anonymous notes implicating her in some sort of illegality. As Tone chases clues from L.A. to Portland, his investigation uncovers blackmail and hidden identities, and of course a love interest pops up in the form of the wife's sister. With its smug private dick and regular interjections of humor the movie feels derivative of The Maltese Falcon, and its romance angle is incongruous, but Tone is cool in his detective role and carries the weight of the narrative nicely. The cast is a who's-who of stars and soon-to-be stars, including Adele Jergens, John Ireland, Tom Powers, and Raymond Burr. If that doesn't pique your interest you just don't love trouble. I Love Trouble premiered today in 1948 and went into to wide release January 15.
When men were men and Mamie was their obsession.
This is an unbeatable poster for Mamie Van Doren's crime thriller Girls Guns and Gangsters. The title is about as descriptive as they come. Van Doren is involved with a bunch of crooks who want to rob an armored car as it motors casino winnings from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. The plan is to shoot its tires—and anyone who gets in their way. While the caper is central, the plot is equally driven by everyone's sexual desire for Van Doren. Gerald Mohr in particular is constantly in her grill, and watching her fend off his persistent advances is squirm inducing. There's a fine line in old movies between desire and violence, so of course he crosses it by slapping her at one point, then trying twenty seconds later to kiss her. And the dude is really surprised to be rebuffed, like, “Huh?”
Put the blame on Mame? No, put the blame on men. They're all bad in this one. Van Doren's husband, Lee Van Cleef, is the worst of them. He breaks out of prison because she's asked him for a divorce. Everyone knows he'll kill anyone who even looks at Van Doren, which is problematic, considering gangster number three Grant Richards has been filling in for Van Cleef, so to speak, for quite a while. What a mess Van Doren is in. The robbery seems easy by comparison, but it wouldn't be a crime thriller if that went off without a hitch. Van Doren doesn't go off without a hitch either, because she isn't an expert actress and she sure as hell doesn't nail her singing numbers. But she's a great presence. That's enough to make an enjoyable movie. Girls Guns and Gangsters premiered in the U.S. this month in 1959.
Lee provides the style, Laffin provides the substance.
We're back to Horwitz Publications and its appropriation of Hollywood stars for its covers. If you haven't seen those they're all worth a look because of their usage of rare images. On the above cover from 1957's Hired To Kill, the face belongs to Belinda Lee, and as always the taste of Horwitz editors is impeccable. But Lee wasn't long for this world. She was just establishing herself as one of Britain's best exports when she became a road casualty during an ill-fated 1961 drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
Moving on to John Laffin, he was one of those authors whose brand was being a real-life adventurer. He was supposedly an ex-commando who was an expert with rifles, martial arts, and throwing knives, and who also spoke five languages. He'd visited thirty-two countries at the time of publication of this novel and was busy adding to the number, according to the rear cover text. And apparently he had been published in fourteen countries and five languages, which makes it a bit embarrassing we'd never heard of him.
We checked out his bibliography and sure enough, the guy wrote a pile of books. Many of them were war biographies and political analyses. He mainly focused on the British experience in World War I, but wrote everything from adventure fiction to an “expert”—i.e white guy's—analysis of the Arab mind. He sounds like an interesting fella, so we may look what's out there that we can acquire for a reasonable price and see what his fiction is like. If we do we'll report back.
Vintage men's magazine stands at the threshold to a new era.
In many countries during the late 1960s the newsstands were still dominated by nudie mags that bore classical, studio nude-style depictions of women, but the transition toward magazines recognizable as modern porn was well underway. Knight, from Sirkay Publishing out of Los Angeles, is one of those transitional magazines. It debuted as Sir Knight in 1958 with a focus on fiction, humor, and demure photo features. The above issue published in 1967 is a bit racier, but still middle-of-the road for the time period. In another few years pubic hair would be on display in American men's magazines. Soon after that the pearly gates would appear, and in short order they'd be wide open. Did we really write that? Sorry—it's the booze talking.
On the cover here is Rita Rogers, touted as the next big thing, but who made only a few magazine appearances as far as we can tell. Inside you get William Holden, Turkish bellydancer Kiash Nanah, aka Aïché Nana, whose impromptu strip in a Rome cafe we talked about a while back, and actress Joi Lansing, whose age resistant DNA we talked about here. And you get some fantastic art, much of it with a psychedelic edge. There's also an article on psychedelic music, so that seems to have been a theme with this issue. We love these old nudie publications. They're so innocent by today's bizarro standards that if you caught your kid looking at one you'd probably hug him and go, “You've made me very, very happy!” Scans below.
Los Angeles and the invention of Flight.
The above photos show the historic funicular railway Angels Flight, which opened in downtown Los Angeles in 1901 in the Bunker Hill area, with tracks running from Hill Street up a steep incline to Olive Street. There are only a few vintage funicular railways left in the U.S. Angels Flight—along with the impressive Monongahela Incline and the Duquesne Incline, both located in Pittsburgh—is among the most famous.
But it didn't operate without interruption. It closed in 1969 when Bunker Hill was redeveloped—in reality a destruction of an entire historic working class neighborhood—and reopened a block south in 1996. The railway's historical significance is architectural, but also cinematic. It appears in quite a few vintage films, most notably in Hollow Triumph, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, Act of Violence, Criss Cross, M, and Kiss Me Deadly.
The area near Angels Flight is set for a new redevelopment, as adjacent Angels Knoll, one of the last pieces of greenery in downtown Los Angeles, is to be bulldozed for another of the supposedly-mixed-use-but-really-millionaires-only skyscraper complexes that are popping up all over world as a way for one percenters to park their money.
Angels Flight will survive this new construction, at least for now, though it will be dwarfed by a forty story glass highrise mere feet to its south. Well, L.A. has rarely let the environment or historical significance stand in the way of making money, and when you look at it that way, the fact that Angels Flight survives at all to this day may be proof of a higher power.
Chorus line turns to picket line for L.A. dancers.
Today in 1938 a group of Carroll Girls—dancers employed by famed theatrical producer Earl Carroll—staged a protest outside the Musicians Union Hall in Los Angeles, an event discussed in the above clipping from Life magazine. The picketing was the result of a spat between Carroll and bandleader Roy Cavanaugh. Apparently Carroll had reneged on a booking and Cavanaugh had appealed to the musician's union and won their backing. The dancers, caught in the middle, took to the sidewalk to denounce the union for being unwilling negotiate a solution that would let the show go on, and let the dancers get paid.
You will notice in the wider shot below that the meat cutters union Local 421 is in the background. We can't explain that, except to guess that the musicians and butchers unions were located in the same area. You'll also notice a lot of musicians playing. Presumably, they're union guys, and presumably they shouldn't be playing—i.e. helping to publicize the picket against their own union. But then again, nothing will divide your loyalties like a woman. Just saying. Been there, lived that.
All told, this looks like the most entertaining protest in history. We picture an epic barbecue thanks to the meat cutters union, and killer tunes thanks to the (soon to be punished) musicians. We'd love to tell you how the Carroll Girls fared with their demands, but we don't know. However, Carroll's stellar run as a show business impresario continued until his death in 1948, so we suspect that even if the Cavanaugh show didn't happen the dancers got over that speed bump and kept working steadily for a long while.
'Tis the season for generous giving—of prison time.
This unusual photo made today in 1953 shows a man named Edward Hallmark, aged seventy-three, being wheeled into a Pasadena courtroom to testify against twenty-four year old Donald Randazzo. Apparently, the previous September Randazzo kidnapped and beat Hallmark in an effort to rob him of his life savings. The shot is part of the large Los Angeles Examiner archive held by the University of Southern California, and which we've mined for interesting historical shots often.
In the photos below you see the defendant Randazzo conferring with his lawyer Edward S. Cooper. Randazzo is being shown a page from an edition of Advance California Reports. Advance reports or advance sheets are legal aids—specifically, pamphlets containing recently decided opinions of federal courts or state courts of a particular region. So basically Cooper is informing Randazzo of something relevant to their court appearance.
And we know exactly what that relevant something is—a standard in California case law stating that when the chief prosecution witness is trundled into court on a stretcher the defendant is seriously screwed. We have a feeling a wheelchair would have worked fine for Hallmark, but when you're facing your kidnapper you play your best card. The bedridden victim card beats everything king and below. Cooper is doubtless saying to his client, “As you can see here in Advance California Reports, Donald, legally you're fucked.”
Who says it never Raines in L.A?
You can't tell with her face all scrunched up, but the person in the above photo is actress Ella Raines, who appeared in such films as Brute Force, The Web, and Phantom Lady. Here she makes a July 1943 cameo in the pool at the Town House Hotel in Los Angeles, which was famous for its water nymphs that frolicked as guests in the hotel bar watched through plate glass. We've featured the Town House pool before, and those shots are worth a look. Just click the keywords below and scroll.
Watch and marvel as I escape this cage using the incredible power of my court appointed defense attorney.
This odd photo shows Eric Pederson, whose real name was Charles E. Putnam, showing off for photographers after he had been arrested on suspicion of auto theft in Los Angeles today in 1947. He and a companion named Edward Sell were busted by cops inside a car belonging a third party, though both denied they were trying to steal it. Pederson is rock hard in this photo for a reason. He was the reigning Mr. California, a title he won at only eighteen years old. The win sent him onward to the Mr. America competition, but he was beaten for the national crown by future Superman Steve Reeves.
Pederson generated plenty of publicity off that and other bodybuilding competitions, which led to a Your Physique cover painted by none other than George Quaintance. Since Quaintance painted only about a dozen of these, this was quite an honor. From there Pederson was able to launch a long pro wrestling career, which is how he's mainly remembered today. At one time he had Hollywood aspirations, but ended up managing only one role—a bit part as a wrestler in 1951's Civilian Coast Guard, starring Brian Donlevy and Ella Raines.
We weren't able to find out how his auto theft arrest turned out, but considering his seemingly unbroken timeline from bodybuilding competitions to wrestling, it's safe to say the charges were pleaded down to a misdemeanor or dismissed altogether. Which just goes to show that even quasi celebrity is helpful in L.A. Or maybe the cops gave him a break in exchange for bodybuilding tips. In any case, Pederson retired from wrestling in 1961 and died in 1990, but the Quaintance painting guarantees he'll be remembered as long as people collect great magazine art. We have more from Quaintance here, here, and here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
1950—The Great Brinks Robbery Occurs
In the U.S., eleven thieves steal more than $2 million from an armored car company's offices in Boston, Massachusetts. The skillful execution of the crime, with only a bare minimum of clues left at the scene, results in the robbery being billed as "the crime of the century." Despite this, all the members of the gang are later arrested.
1977—Gary Gilmore Is Executed
Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah, ending a ten-year moratorium on Capital punishment in the United States. Gilmore's story is later turned into a 1979 novel entitled The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
1942—Carole Lombard Dies in Plane Crash
American actress Carole Lombard
, who was the highest paid star in Hollywood during the late 1930s, dies in the crash of TWA Flight 3, on which she was flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after headlining a war bond rally in support of America's military efforts. She was thirty-three years old.
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