Geez. They're all about me again.
Philippe Halsman shot this sly commentary on fame featuring one of the most famous women in America, Marilyn Monroe, as his subject. She checks out a newspaper, and next to her you can see machines for the afternoon tabloids Mirror, Daily News, and Herald-Express, the latter of which is a publication we've mined often for historical crime photos. In that issue the front page says, “Fight Grows to Keep Chaplin Out of U.S.,” a headline that dates the photo to sometime in late 1952. Why was there a fight? People had been led to believe Chaplin was a communist theat to America for saying things like he wanted every person to have a roof over their heads. He wouldn't return to the U.S. for twenty years. So, the tabloids weren't all about Marilyn every issue. Just mostly. Even gossips need a little variety.
They may have been in the winter of their years but their tempers still ran hot.
Courtesy of the University of Southern California's archive of Los Angeles Herald and Los Angeles Examiner photos, above you see the aftermath of yet another violent act. This happened in a boarding house on Second Street today in 1951, and you see prone murder victim Enrico Venencia with neighbor David Dyer in the first shot, the killer James Demarco accompanied by LAPD detectives in frames two and three, and Demarco handcuffed to a bed in frame four, looking every day of his seventy-two years, and a little battered besides. But this is one situation where age prevailed.
There's no information with the photos about what exactly happened. There isn't even a cause of death. The only information, besides the names of those involved, is that Dyer was an intended victim. That's how we were able to discern who was who—Dyer must be the one who isn't dead, and isn't handcuffed. We're not ballistics experts, but these archive images can be blown up to about 9000 pixels, and taking a close look it seems as if Venencia was possibly shot behind his left ear, suffered a gaping exit wound in the front of his skull, and went down hard. What an ugly way to go.
Hughes takes a not-so-small step in the right direction.
Kathleen Hughes heard about the Pulp Intl. gymnastics team and is busily getting into top condition in this 1955 promo image made in Los Angeles. This represents a real turnaround compared to when she was younger and lazier, and all we can say is if she keeps up the good work she might get to hang with Bardot and Co. eventually.
She's a love and let love type of girl.
Above: a cover for Love Life of a Hollywood Mistress by Florence Stonebraker, 1950. The artist is uncredited. There's interior imagery in the form of photos of models posing scenes from the story, and as usual when these digests contain such pages, they're difficult to scan without destroying the book. Besides the front, we were able to scan the inside of the front cover and five of the fourteen interior photos. Stonebraker tells the story of Wanda Russell, who one fateful night tries to resist being forcibly taken by a date and accidentally pushes him out a high window to his death. Good on her, but remember, these were the days when a single woman in a man's hotel room could not have claimed self defense, so Wanda goes on the run.
She can't hide without help, so she turns to her acquaintance Chet, who, when he finds out Wanda is a virgin, decides he can make a fortune by pimping her out to a rich acquaintance. Yeah, it's a little flimsy as a method for cop avoidance goes, but this is mid-century sleaze, so you follow where the author leads. Wanda is to become mistress to Shelby Stevens, big time romantic actor, who would love to have a virgin. But wanting to thwart these creepy men in the one way she can, she gives her virginity to her friend Danny, who has always loved her. Danny is crushed when she leaves him and goes to live in Shelby Stevens' beach house for the summer. These triangles are, you know by now, the rocket fuel that powers digest romances.
So Wanda lives with Stevens, but Stevens turns out to be a rat, and Wanda decides to flee. Stevens won't let her go, but Danny, who has sat by in silent suffering as Wanda has been used as a plaything, shows up to beat Stevens within an inch of his life. He doesn't do it because of Wanda. He does it because it turns out his younger sister Thelma had been an earlier plaything for Stevens, and had ended up dead. In one fell swoop Danny gets revenge for his sister, sort of, and rescues his true love Wanda. Oh, and Chet the pimp ends up dead, shot by his girlfriend Bertie, who considers Wanda a rival. We won't even go into all that. And the guy Wanda pushed out a window? That's never truly resolved.
Stonebraker churned out a lot of these books, some under the names Florenz Branch and Thomas Stone. Thirteen were published in 1950 alone. She would eventually write more than eighty, and she didn't even start until she was forty-one. All of which is to say Love Life of a Hollywood Mistress feels rushed, with its pat ending and central concept that barely hangs together. But Stonebraker, despite her full work schedule, has done well in other tales, so she can have a mulligan on this one as far as we're concerned. After all, she's a sleaze and romance author—expectations need to be kept in check. We have a couple more of her novels lined up, and we'll see how she does.
So explain to me again exactly what my duties are as dolly grip.
Above: a photo cover for Leo Guild's 1969 sleaze novel The Studio. The rear tells you most of what you need to know, except that the book is written from the first person viewpoint of none other than—Leo Guild. Ego much, Leo? He takes on the guise of a journalist who becomes the publicity agent for Toni Tremont, described as a Hollywood bitch. He's the latest in a long line of agents to represent her. The fiction is really just a guise for Guild to promote his personal brand while claiming to tear back the curtain from the “real” Hollywood, something at least a hundred authors did before him.
Guild has a reputation for being one of the worst authors ever—he once wrote a novel in which a werewolf and a vampire become television stars, and he churned out such books as Black Bait, Black Champion, The Black Shrink, The Girl Who Loved Black, Black Streets of Oakland, and Street of Ho's [sic]. In other words, he was a consummate opportunist and trendjumper. He found his most lucrative subject matter in lurid biographies, but also wrote a joke book, a book about gambling systems, and a tie-in to the television show What Are the Odds? The man was one of a kind. Thankfully.
Don't fool around on Donna Mae.
We're back in Los Angeles County divorce court, a place that got so much celebrity usage during the mid-century period it probably could have benefitted from a VIP section. Above you see famed burlesque dancer and model Donna Mae Brown, aka Busty Brown, attending a spousal support hearing today in 1960. Brown performed throughout the U.S. but was based in L.A., headlining at the New Follies, Strip City, and other popular nightspots. Busty wasn't her only alias. The era was all about unwieldy nicknames meant to generate free publicity, therefore she was also known for a while as “Miss Shape of Things To Come,” and “Miss Anatomy.”
In this case, what was to come was monthly support. She was seeking funds from her second ex-husband Maynard Sloate, a high powered agent whose clients included Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Dinah Washington, and who later went into club ownership—including the aforementioned Strip City—through which he trafficked such stars as Anita O’Day and Redd Foxx. At the end of the day Brown, who had initiated divorce proceedings due to Sloate's various infidelities, won fifty dollars monthly, and twenty percent of her ex's gross earnings as support for herself and her children.
The notably slender Brown, who's a brunette above and below, but earned her fame as a platinum blonde, was one of the bolder models of her era, going topless in magazines, baring all for nudie film loops, and getting truly revealing for underground photo club shoots. The latter practice even got her arrested in 1953. The trio of poolside shots below give you a sense of how far she was willing to go, but they're not among her most explicit photos, because there's only so far we're willing to go. If you poke around online you might find those images. She's also fifth in a collection of photos we uploaded a few years ago. I'll admit there are a couple of aspects of marriage to Donna that I'll really miss.
If at first you don't succeed, try to die again.
Saturday grimness for you, with a photo of a suicide that took place in Los Angeles today in 1958. There's an interesting story behind this. The man's name was Delmer Dobbs and he shot himself in the stomach on a Los Angeles street. A month earlier he had attempted suicide too. On that occasion he had gone to the top of the Hotel Rosslyn Annex on Main Street and perched on the edge, preparing himself to leap. The buildup was lengthy, and soon hundreds of observers had gathered below. In case you think humanity wasn't always bloodthirsty, think again—mob mentality set in, and a chant started in the crowd: “Jump! Jump! Jump!” and, “Chicken, chicken, chicken!”
After hours on the rooftop, with cops trying to talk him down, Dobbs demanded that they contact Bonnie La Ross, a cashier working at the Rialto Theatre a couple of blocks away on Broadway. She was brought in and convinced Dobbs to give up. Reading between the lines here, it's possible Dobbs, who—as you see in photos below—was a tiny guy only about five feet tall, had been been unsuccessful with women and had turned his attentions to La Ross, who was fifteen years old. That's just specualtion, but consider this: Before being taken away Dobbs told La Ross that he was going to get a gun and try again. A month later when he shot himself, it was across the street from the Rialto as La Ross watched.
Jim Kelly takes on the mob in hit-and-miss karate adventure.
The blaxploitation/kung fu flick Black Belt Jones premiered in the U.S. today in 1974, but we're sharing the Italian poster for two reasons: this Ermanno Iaia effort is more interesting than the U.S. art; and it's another example of African American stars being erased from Italian promo art. We assume it happened because Italian distributors figured many Italians wouldn't knowingly choose to see a film with a black star. Well, this one featured one of the biggest black stars—martial arts sensation Jim Kelly. He's not widely known today, but during the height of the martial arts craze he was an icon because of his screen charisma and cred. And by cred we mean he won four martial arts championships in 1971 alone, including the world middleweight karate title.
There's no release date for Black Belt Jones in Italy, but probably it played there during the summer of ’74, retitled Johnny lo svelto, or “Johnny quick.” Plotwise the mafia have learned that city of L.A. plans to erect a new civic center, and have bought up all the land at the prospective building site except a karate dojo owned by a martial arts instructor named Papa Byrd—and Papa won't play. Meanwhile, somewhere across town, Kelly is asked by cops to investigate the L.A. mob, who are getting cozy with local politicians and building up so much power they might soon be untouchable. In the tight knit local martial arts community, Kelly and Byrd know each other, so when Byrd turns up dead Kelly is motivated to get to the bottom of the murder.
The movie is partially a burlesque, with bits of slapstick, some salty slang, and many of characters constructed as pure stereotypes—Italian gangsters crying, “Mamma mia!” and that sort of thing. Viewed in a certain frame of mind it's funny, and considering it features an ass-kicking Scatman Crothers (long before getting axed in the chest in The Shining), the red hot Gloria Hendry, and Love Boat bartender Ted Lange as a minor league crook, there's plenty worth seeing here. That includes Kelly's martial arts, which are fun to watch, once you get past a bizarre opening fight shown entirely in slow motion. Kelly's abs are also on regular display, which made the Pulp Intl. girlfriends happy. So Kelly knows martial arts and looks great, but can he act? Considering the constraints, he does okay. These low budget ’70s movies didn't give stars much chance to sharpen their performances, and they're nearly always poorly paced in terms of dialogue, but he has charisma and his acting matches that of Bruce Lee or any other of the action stars from the period. They weren't hired to do Hamlet, after all. With Kelly at its center Black Belt Jones is worth a watch. And as we said, viewed in a certain frame of mind, it's even sort of good. But by frame of mind, we mean one in which you don't take it too seriously—the filmmakers certainly didn't seem to. We mean that as a compliment.
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 are the celebrity guests intermittently 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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1992—Sci Fi Channel Launches
In the U.S., the cable network USA debuts the Sci Fi Channel, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal programming. After a slow start, it built its audience and is now a top ten ranked network for male viewers aged 18–54, and women aged 25–54.
1952—Chaplin Returns to England
Silent movie star Charlie Chaplin returns to his native England for the first time in twenty-one years. At the time it is said to be for a Royal Society benefit, but in reality Chaplin knows he is about to be banned from the States because of his political views. He would not return to the U.S. for twenty years.
1910—Duke of York's Cinema Opens
The Duke of York's Cinema opens in Brighton, England, on the site of an old brewery. It is still operating today, mainly as a venue for art films, and is the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.
1975—Gerald Ford Assassination Attempt
Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant who had been evaluated and deemed harmless by the U.S. Secret Service, tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. Moore fires one shot at Ford that misses, then is wrestled to the ground by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.
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