Vintage Pulp Jan 19 2022
OUT OF HIS MISERY
It's both appropriate *grunt* and ironic *gasp* that ballroom dancing *argh* is going to give me a hernia!


This 1955 Berkley Books cover for Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is one of the most striking art pieces of the paperback era. It's uncredited, incredibly. Still, the image succinctly gets to the core of McCoy's story—exhaustion in a dance contest, but metaphorically, exhaustion in the contest of capitalism. It revolves around a set of young people who enter a dance marathon in an attempt to win a $1,000 prize. The entire story, more or less, takes place during this dance-a-thon, which goes on for weeks. Those who quit early get nothing. Those who suffer long enough may profit a few measly dollars. Only a vanishingly small percentage desperate enough to exhaust themselves to the point of physical disintegration—in this case one couple—have a chance to come away with the prize.

Some reviewers say the book is a metaphor for life rather than capitalism. Well, that too, but what makes it an obvious capitalism critique is the constant parade of celebrity guests paraded before the dancers. They show that wealth is real, function as suggestions to the dancers that the obstacle is not the rules for victory, but the will to succeed, though the odds are staggeringly, cruelly against them. Oh yes, it's a metaphor for capitalism, alright. The American Dream—generally defined as a decent salary, home ownership, sufficient family and leisure time, and retirement—increasingly really is just a dream. This fact makes mid-century capitalism critiques prescient by definition, but They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is more on target than most. And purely as a piece of fiction it's a total winner. 

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Femmes Fatales Dec 29 2021
THE SUNDANCE KID
Rogue beach ballerina finally apprehended after tiring herself out.


Hollywood is a place to which some of the best looking people in the world gravitate. Even in that environment, Cyd Charisse was a standout. An accomplished dancer with the physique to match, she was a hotty in her mid-twenties in movies such as Tension, and was still hot in her mid-forties dancing in the opening sequence of The Silencers. The above trio of photos show her at twenty-four and were made on Santa Monica Beach in 1945, capturing her working through a couple of maneuvers none of us can ever hope to duplicate. And below, you see what all that dancing does to a person. Even superior humans like Charisse get pooped occasionally. She's done. But after a lot of good work. See another fun promo image here.

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The Naked City Dec 25 2021
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT
X-mas marks the spot where one Angeleno met his end.


Above are two photos we've uploaded not for any morbid reasons, but more as a reminder that every day should be lived well, because alas, this comes to pass for us all one way or another. Wait—that was morbid, wasn't it? Well, whaddaya gonna do? Anyway, you see Yellow Cab hack Conrad John Favreau laying dead in a Los Angeles street after being shot in the back of the head by an unknown assailant. There's blood on the rear fender of the cab, showing approximately where he was standing. But with no witnesses, it's impossible to know why it happened. Was it resistance to robbery? A fare dispute? An argument over saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas? As far as we know, the crime went unsolved, though Santa Claus was not able to account for his whereabouts, which is quite suspicious, in our book. That was today in 1954, Christmas yes, but just another day in the naked city.

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Hollywoodland Dec 13 2021
HOLLYWOOD LOVE TRIANGLE
Wronged husband takes a shot at his rival.


Above is an interesting composite photo of the style that was sometimes produced by newspapers during the mid-century period. These old composites are pretty cool. We can imagine a museum or gallery exhibit of them. We've seen many, but have only featured one other, which you can see here. This one came from the Los Angeles Herald/Examiner archive and shows Jennings Lang, Walter Wanger, and Joan Bennett in 1951, and was made after Wanger shot Lang.
 
What was it all about? Wanger and Bennett were married to each other, and Wanger thought Lang was trying to get in Bennett's panties. Some sources say an affair was never consummated, but we think it was—and Benett was an expert at attracting men. The shooting happened today, with the news coverage running through the event, immediate aftermath, and sensational trial. You notice the composite also features a gun? That's the real gun Wanger used. We talked about it last year, and the short version is: the fact that the shooter is named Wanger is ironic in the extreme.
 
Below you see Lang's wife, at her husband's hospital bed, and we imagine her saying, “You're thinking about that fucking actress again, aren't you?” And Lang is thinking, “Switch two of those words and you're absolutely right, baby.” The previous bit we posted on their love triangle with Lang is at this link, and if you venture over there, take a look at the last photo and ask yourself if Wanger is a guy you'd want to cross. We think Lang had a death wish.

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The Naked City Nov 27 2021
MARRIAGE DO US PART
For as long as you both shall live—or until you try to murder each other.


We never cease to be amazed by how much access mid-century news photographers had to crime scenes. These photos made today in 1953 by a Los Angeles Examiner lensman show what we mean. Married couple William and Estelle Walker had checked into a motel on West 9th Street in Los Angeles, and at some point a domestic spat caused someone, possibly the motel manager, to call the cops. Police arrived to find that the Walkers, those impetuous lovebirds, had both gotten stabby. We don't know who picked up a knife first, but it sure looks like William got the worst of it. He has a head cut that makes you wonder if Estelle was aiming for his eyes. We don't know who was to blame for the fight, but regardless, you have to feel for them both that their bad day was captured on film. Good thing they had no idea digital technology would help the entire world see it a lifetime later. They'd have died of embarrassment.

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Vintage Pulp Oct 29 2021
BLOOD NOON
Chandler's Los Angeles is dark day and night.


We're still marveling over Sandro Symeoni's cover work for Ace Books. Each is better than the next. The one above isn't signed, but it's him for sure—well, we think so. It's a beautiful street scene for Raymond Chandler's Pick-Up on Noon Streetnot a novel but an anthology of medium length stories originally published in pulp magazines during the 1930s. The collection, comprising four tales set in Los Angeles, first came out in 1950, with this Ace edition appearing in 1960.

The title story was originally published in 1936 as “Noon Street Nemesis” and deals with an undercover narc named Pete Anglish, who accidentally becomes involved in kidnapping and human trafficking. The story is unique because it's set partly in L.A's African American community and it doesn't traffic in the disparaging terminology you usually find under such circumstances. There are good guys and bad guys of all types, with no particular weight given to their backgrounds. It's also a good tale.

In 1935's “Nevada Gas” the title refers to cyanide gas, which comes into play in a specially modified limousine two killers use to execute an unfortunate in the back seat. A Los Angeles tough guy with the excellent name Johnny De Ruse learns that the car was an exact duplicate of the murdered man's actual limousine, which he then entered with no clue the ride would be his last. That's a lot of effort to kill a man, and it intrigues De Ruse greatly, but his curiosity draws the attention of several lethal characters.

In 1934's “Smart-Aleck Kill” a tough Tinseltown detective named Johnny Dalmas tries to solve a murder the cops think was a suicide. The victim was a director of smut movies, but the reasons for his death have to do with something else entirely, and Dalmas has to dodge bullets and overcome duplicity to solve the case.

In 1936's “Guns at Cyrano's” a detective-turned-hotelier named Ted Carmady finds a beautiful blonde who's been knocked out in one of his rooms, and lets his protectiveness lead him into the world of gangsters and fixed prizefights. Cyrano's is a nightclub where the blonde works as a dancer, and where Carmady gets neck deep in murder.

Of the four stories, we liked “Nevada Gas” the best because the character of De Ruse was the most interesting and resourceful, but the leads are all similar—all are basically cousins of Philip Marlowe, kicking ass and taking names in an L.A. rife with hustlers, thugs, wise-ass cops, and corrupt one percenters. If you think of Pick-Up on Noon Street as a sort of Marlowe sampler plate, it should certainly do the job of making you hungry for the main course. 

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Hollywoodland Oct 25 2021
ALL EYES ON LILI
L.A. residents turn out in droves for a flower show.


Above is a photo of legendary burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr shot at Ciro's in Hollywood today in 1951. St. Cyr was always controversial, but her performances at that particular locale got her into hot water in the form of an obscenity bust, as we noted a while back. Cops thought she had gone fully nude. It remains an open question whether she did. We even left it open in a detailed post we wrote about the arrest. But if pressed, we'd say she did show it all. We think so not because of any contemporary accounts, which are contradictory, but merely because in the old novels we've read young burlesque dancers had little choice when starting out, and established dancers would do it to start rumors, and thus lure more people to their shows. Generally, in these fictional accounts when they dropped their g-strings, they did it an eyeblink before the stage lights went dark. Almost too fast too see. One character who did this in a novel even aspired to be as good and popular as St. Cyr, so we kind of think if all these authors wrote full nudity as plot devices maybe it was because peelers—including Lili—showed their lillies in real life. But since nobody ever caught it on film, we'll never know for sure.

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The Naked City Sep 26 2021
JACOBSEN'S JUSTIFICATION
You're the lawyer, not me, but listen—I have an idea for a defense strategy. First, let me introduce my mother-in-law.


The above photo from the University of Southern California archive of Los Angeles Examiner crime photos shows an L.A. homemaker named Karen Jacobsen in the midst of a pre-trial conference with public defendant Victor S. Baker today in 1961. Jacobsen needed a lawyer for the most important of reasons—to beat a murder charge. She had stabbed her husband Lawrence to death while they were in his car. She said it happened after a terrorizing ride, and claimed it was in self defense of both herself and her two daughters. She was arrested but freed on bail, and this conference occurred during her pre-trial release period.
 
When she was tried later in the year a jury acquitted her, but we knew that before even reading about the trial, and you wanna know how? That's her mother-in-law Edith sitting next to her in the photo below, offering emotional support. Her attorney: “Your honor, I'd like to enter into evidence defense exhibit A, the deceased's mom, who's obviously fine with his death, so, like... defense rests.” If your own mom isn't in your corner when your killer is on trial, forget it. Probably Lawrence never visited her, so she'd been thinking of him for years as dead already.

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The Naked City Aug 28 2021
LAST SUPPER
Two mafia pals split the bill.


In our continuing focus on Los Angeles crime scene photos, above you see a shot of a mob hit on two unidentified gangsters who met their end over spaghetti dinners in an Italian restaurant booth. The worst part? They barely even got started on their meals and didn't get a chance to touch the crackers at all. That was today in 1933. Most of the crime scene photos we have are within our Naked City category, which you can access by clicking those words in yellow just above the title of this post.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 19 2021
BASSIFONDI PROFUNDI
Dick Powell faces a clear and present danger.


Italian artist Giorgio Olivetti painted this poster for Nei bassifondi di Los Angeles, which was made in the U.S. and better known as Cry Danger. It starred the always excellent Dick Powell, with Rhonda Fleming in support. Its Italian title means, rather uninspiringly, “in the the slums of Los Angeles,” but the poster has inspiration to spare. It eclipses the U.S. promo completely. You can see that here, as well as read about the film. Nei bassifondi di Los Angeles premiered in Italy today in 1953.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
January 19
1915—Claude Patents Neon Tube
French inventor Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube, in which an inert gas is made to glow various colors through the introduction of an electrical current. His invention is immediately seized upon as a way to create eye catching advertising, and the neon sign comes into existence to forever change the visual landscape of cities.
1937—Hughes Sets Air Record
Millionaire industrialist, film producer and aviator Howard Hughes sets a new air record by flying from Los Angeles, California to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds. During his life he set multiple world air-speed records, for which he won many awards, including America's Congressional Gold Medal.
January 18
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.
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