She wanted fame and found it in the worst way.
Above is a photograph of actress Jean Spangler superimposed over an image of Fern Dell, which is a wooded area of Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Generally, this is labeled a vintage photo, but to our eyes it looks like the Fern Dell section is a contemporary shot, possibly even a digital one. Well, even if a blogger made this composite it's one of the most interesting Spangler images to be found. Today in 1949 the aspiring actress left her home to go to work on a movie set, stopped in a grocery store, and disappeared, never to be seen again. Her purse was later found in Fern Dell with a note inside: “Kirk: Can't wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away."
Spangler had just finished working on the film Young Man with a Horn with Kirk Douglas, so the note led to speculation about her relationship to the actor. Douglas was in Palm Springs at the time of the disappearance, and he was never a suspect, but Hollywood gossip centered around Spangler possibly having had an affair with him, getting pregnant, seeking an abortion, and dying during the procedure. Since none of the film studios had any record of Spangler being scheduled to work the night of her disappearance, it was clear she was going someplace in secret. In this telling the abortionists disposed of her body, though why they'd leave her purse in Griffith Park is a mystery.
Another theory had her running away with the gangster Davy Ogul. She had met him while working as a dancer at Florentine Gardens and had been seen in his company away from the club. He was under indictment and possibly facing prison time, so when he disappeared two days after Spangler, theorists put them together fleeing to Mexico or beyond. The problem with this idea is that Spangler had family and a five-year-old daughter in Los Angeles, which makes her simply running away forever, with no attempts to make contact, unlikely. It also fails to explain the purse and note.
The case stayed hot for a while, but after reward offers, thousands of police hours expended, speculative tabloid articles, and claimed sightings in California, Arizona, and Mexico City, authorities were baffled. In Texas a hotel clerk who claimed he'd seen Ogul with a mystery woman identified Spangler from a photo, but her photo had been in every paper in the U.S. by then. There were no firm answers anywhere. In the end Spangler's disappearance was never solved, leaving her another atmospheric Hollywood tale, and another cold case in the files of the LAPD.
Crime magazine gives readers the gifts of death and mayhem.
Produced by the J.B. Publishing Corp. of New York City, Reward was a true crime magazine, another imprint designed to slake the American public's thirst for death and mayhem. Inside this May 1954 issue the editors offer up mafia hits, Hollywood suicides, domestic murder, plus some cheesecake to soothe readers' frazzled nerves, and more. The cover features a posed photo of actress Lili Dawn, who was starring at the time in a film noir called Violated. It turned out to be her only film. In fact, it turned out to be the only film ever acted in by top billed co-star William Holland, as well as supporting cast members Vicki Carlson, Fred Lambert, William Mishkin, and Jason Niles. It must have been some kind of spectacularly bad movie to cut short all those careers, but we haven't watched it. It's available for the moment on YouTube, though, and we may just take a gander later. Because Reward is a pocket sized magazine the page scans are easily readable, so rather than comment further we'll let you have a look yourself.
Beautiful jinx finally jinxes herself.
Confidential Detective Cases, for which see an April 1960 cover above, was published bi-monthly from 1942 to 1978 by New York City based Detective House, Inc. The magazine has an appropriately garish crime rag look and many stories of interest, breathlessly reported. The headers are entertaining: “She Stabbed Him—Rather Than Share Him!” “Parade of the Grave-Bound Redheads.” “The Dames All Die for Me.” All these tales are of interest, but today we're focused on one story—the piece about the unlucky death of Janice Drake. It's titled “Big-Time Mob Leader and the Blonde Murder Jinx.” A jinx is of course someone who brings bad luck to others, but what do you call someone who brings bad luck on herself?
Drake was a former Miss New Jersey who had competed in the Miss America pageant, was a semi-famous G.I. pin-up, a professional dancer, and the wife of comedian Allan Drake. She and her husband were known to have an open marriage, and among Janice's male friends were several New York City mobsters. One of these was Anthony Carfano, aka Little Augie Pisano, an associate of crime boss Frank Costello, who was pitted against mob rival Vito Genovese in a power play for control of the New York City rackets. Carfano had thrown his support behind Costello, causing Genovese to develop a homicidal grudge.
This was not a guy to go to dinner with, but on the night of September 29, 1959, Drake accompanied Carfano to a restaurant called Marino's, where they dined with a mob caporegime named Tony Strollo. Strollo was Genovese's right hand man, but Carfano had no idea Genovese was bent on revenge, nor that Strollo had been assigned the job. When Carfano and Drake left Marino's, they were planning to drive to La Guardia Airport to board a night flight to Miami. But two gunmen were stationed in the rear of Carfano's Cadillac and they forced him to drive to a secluded area near the airport, where they shot both him and Janice Drake twice in the head and once in the back of the neck.
Bad luck for Drake, but don't feel overwhelmingly sympathetic. She may not have been married to the mob, as the saying goes, but she was definitely playing footsie with it. Twice she had been present at a mobster's last supper. She went to dinner with Garment District kingpin Nathan Nelson the night he was murdered, and dined with Gambino crime family boss Albert Anastasia the night before he was whacked in a barbershop. Talk about a jinx. She was called to testify in court concerning both slayings, yet for some reason never seemed to comprehend the risks of running with a dangerous—and highly endangered—crowd.
More than a few police figures believed Drake was a mob courier, a high level go-between, a role in which she may learned the identities of Nelson's and Anastasia's killers. She may not have been a target the night she had her last supper and met a messy end, but it could be that since she knew too much, her loss as collateral damage was deemed an acceptable outcome. Others think she was just mob arm candy and finally ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time; anyone in the car with Carfano would have bought it the same brutal way. Whatever the specifics, Drake's early death—she was thirty-two when it happened—was probably inevitable.
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.
His looks might have been ruined but his reputation was assured.
These mugshots show mobster Al Capone the day he entered Terminal Island Prison in California today in 1939, having been sent up for eleven months for tax evasion. The photos caught our eye because Capone generally tried to hide his scars, but in the second shot you see them clearly, three parallel slashes along his cheek, jaw, and neck. Capone told various stories about how he acquired these marks, but in truth he got them by being a little too familiar with fellow thug Frank Galluccio's kid sister Lena. It happened in 1917 in Frankie Yale’s Harvard Inn, a bar and brothel in Coney Island, New York. After numerous insinuating comments to young Lena, Capone finally told her, “You got a nice ass, honey, and I mean that as a compliment. Believe me.” At as result of that overture Frank Galluccio went at Capone with a knife—aiming for a fatal wound to the jugular but missing three times.
Capone had a notoriously short temper accompanied by a long memory, but even though he'd been disfigured for life during this incident he never sought revenge, even after he became basically the most powerful mobster in the U.S. Again, there are different stories about this, but the consensus seems to be that Capone had violated mob rules by messing with Galluccio's sister, and seeking revenge over what had been his own breach of ethics would have caused him no end of trouble. Galluccio worried about possible revenge, but never regretted what he'd done, saying in an interview many years later, “Fuck him He deserved it.” Ultimately, maybe Capone should have thanked Galluccio for both his gruesome appearance that made many a rival wither, and his nickname that was fearfully whispered coast to coast—Scarface.
This is nothing. You should see me in a limbo contest.
June Lang was born Winifred June Vlasek in Minnesota and was on the silver screen by age fourteen, later appearing in films such as The Deadly Game and Wee Willie Winkie. She cultivated a wholesome image, but in true pulp style threw it away by marrying Johnny Roselli—a known mobster—in 1940. Maybe they bonded over the fact that they'd both changed their names—Roselli had been born Filippo Sacco. Lang divorced him in 1943 but the damage had been done, and she worked only intermittently for the rest of her career. The above image of her showing her impressive flexibility is from 1935.
And they thought cellblocks 1 through 6 were bad.
Diario segreto da un carcere femminile, for which you see a nice poster above, was released in English as Women in Cellblock 7. Jenny Tamburi is thrown in prison as an accessory to a drug trafficking doublecross that led to the disappearance of twenty kilos of heroin. Interpol agent Anita Strindberg wants to prove her father, also an Interpol agent, had nothing to do with the heist, and has herself and her amazing hair placed in prison in order to ply Tamburi for exonerating evidence. Outside parties think Tamburi knows where the missing heroin is, including her lawyer and the mafia, but she claims to have no idea.
So you have an innocent woman in prison, under threat from convicts connected to the mafia, and into this arrives an undercover agent who soon becomes her protector. The cast, which besides Tamburi and Strindberg includes Eva Czemerys, Olga Bisera, Cristina Gaioni, and Valeria Fabrizi, get to rubbing on each other in beds and showers in cinematic approximations of lesbian sex, which means you've got yourself a classic women in prison sexploitation flick. There's also a plot thread external to the prison involving the mafia trafficantes, and some of this features effective action, but it's the ladies on lockdown that are the draw here.
Do they make the movie worth watching? We wouldn't go that far, but they're certainly scenic, and they work hard to hold together a ridiculous script. The conundrum of movie acting is that you have to give it your all or be judged unfit for further roles. At eighty-one minutes in length, at least the film lets the cast out early for good behavior even if the warden doesn't. Diario segreto da un carcere femminile premiered in Italy today in 1973, and the poster was painted by Enzo Nistri. You can see more of his work here and here.
Tabloid proves it's possible to be both one-of-a-kind and run-of-the-mill.
Above, the cover and assorted scans from yet another tabloid we've never seen before—Sensational Exposés, produced by New York City based Skye Publishing. We've scanned and uploaded a couple of other rare tabloids in the last year, including Dynamite and Nightbeat. Sensational Exposés fits right into that group. Rarity doesn't make it special, though. Which is to say, it's a great little historical tidbit but it doesn't compare favorably to the big boy tabloids of the era—Confidential, Whisper, Hush-Hush, et al, either graphically or content-wise. Well, at least it cost us only four dollars.
Sensational Exposés launched in late 1957 and did not last past 1958, as far as we can tell, with this issue appearing in April of that year. Inside you get a little bit of organized crime, and a little bit of commie bashing, and a little bit of celebrity dish, with all the accompanying photos posed by models, save for an appearance from Tana Velia. We'll keep an eye out for more issues but we don't expect to find others—at least not at a reasonable price. If you'd like to see hundreds of other tabloid covers and interior scans check our burgeoning tabloid index, at this link.
Extra, extra, read all about it!
The above photo shows the murder scene of Los Angeles mob lawyer Sam Rummell who was messily dispatched in front of his Laurel Canyon villa via shotgun blast in 1950. Around 1:30 a.m., as he climbed the steps to the sprawling house, someone or someones with deadly aim blew off the left rear quadrant of his head. Rummell ran with the notorious mobster Mickey Cohen for years, and had been neck deep not only in Cohen's multimillion dollar prostitution and gambling operations, but also in schemes to oust mayor Fletcher Bowron in a recall election, and to take control of the LAPD.
The insider theory was Rummell was killed to prevent his appearance before a grand jury to testify about an alleged conspiracy between the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and a company called Guarantee Finance, a front for a massive Cohen-controlled bookmaking operation. The insider theory was also that L.A. Sheriff's officers pulled the trigger. These remained mere theories, because the killer or killers were never caught.
All very interesting, one more dead mob underling, but that isn't why we shared the photo. A close look reveals, at center, a man holding an edition of the Los Angeles Mirror with a headline reading: Cohen's Lawyer Shot To Death. Yes, Mirror staff were so quick with their Extra edition that it hit newsstands before Rummell's murder scene had been cleared. That's journalism—late night, coffee-fueled, time-pressured, editor-with-a-whip journalism. And the photo is an fascinating example of it working perfectly, sixty-six years ago today.
It ain't your lucky day anymore, is it, Mister "Oh-look-I-got another-straight-flush"?
Mafia is a non-fiction rundown of the Italian organized crime rackets up to 1952, which is when the book first appeared in hardback. The above edition from Signet appeared in 1954. Author Ed Reid, who was an associate of organized crime crusader Charles Kefauver, covers cosa nostra personalities such as Vito Genovese, Lucky Luciano, the Fischetti Brothers, Albert Anastasia, and many others. Though non-fiction, Reid presents the information as a narrative, and we gather he took a bit of license. But he was a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and Mafia was an eye-opener when it was published. Cover art is by James Avati, and serves as a reminder that the person with the pistol always has the best hand.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1943—Conrad Veidt Dies
German actor Conrad Veidt, who starred in films such as The Man Who Laughs and The Thief of Baghdad, but was most famous for playing the Nazi antagonist Major Strasser in the all-time cinema classic Casablanca, dies of a heart attack on a golf course in Los Angeles, just six months after Casablanca was released.
1930—Selassie Becomes Emperor
Haile Selassie I, whose birth name Tafari Makonnen and title "Ras" give the Rastafarian religion its name, is proclaimed emperor of Ethiopia. Selassie would become one of the most important leaders in African history, and earn global recognition through his resistance to Italy's illegal invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Selassie died in August 1975 under disputed circumstances.
1984—Marvin Gaye Dies from Gunshot Wound
American singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye, who was famous for a three-octave vocal range which he used on hits such as "Sexual Healing" and "What's Going On," is fatally shot in the chest by his father after an argument over misplaced business documents. Gaye scored forty-one top 40 hit singles on Billboard's pop singles chart between 1963 and 2001, sixty top 40 R&B hits from 1962 to 2001, and thirty-eight top 10 singles on the R&B chart, making him not only one of the most critically acclaimed artists of his day, but one of the most successful.
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