One way or another someone has to pay.
This unusual poster was made for the gritty John Cassavetes drama The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and features co-star and Playboy model Azizi Johari. It's an alternate promo that was never used in cinemas, however it appeared at auction several years ago, and thence onto the internet. We noticed it because of the lovely Johari, who we've highlighted before, but we also knew the movie, which is one of Cassavetes' more discussed efforts. It's about a cabaret owner, played by Ben Gazzara, who has a serious gambling problem. After making the last payment of a loan shark debt he's been whittling down for seven years, he goes right out accompanied by Johari and two of his club's dancers, loses big again, and must sign over his club as collateral on the debt. Later, as the film's title suggests, his creditors demand—none too politely—that he kill someone. Gazzara is one cool cucumber. His aplomb makes you wonder whether he's self-contained or just stupid. But really, how smart can you be to fall right back into a hole it took seven years to climb out of? Now it's called gambling addiction, but we think of it as merely being a mark. We wondered whether his cabaret Crazy Horse West, which features amazingly mediocre acts, was meant to embody his generally poor judgment. In any case, his bill will come due. Cassavetes puts all this together in his trademark patchwork style, with small moments stitched together to create the main character's life, and what a crazy quilt it is. The style may be off-putting to some, and the movie is marred by substandard acting from a couple of minor castmembers, but overall The Killing of a Chinese Bookie shows why Cassavetes was such a respected director. It premiered today in 1976.
The shots heard round America.
We suspect most Americans know of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which occurred today in 1929, but somewhat fewer have seen its actual result. If you're one of them—Happy Valentine's Day!—you can now cross that off your list, as above are pictured six unfortunates who learned that the gangster life often ends bloody. Albert Kachellek, Adam Heyer, Albert Weinshank, Reinhardt Schwimmer, John May, and Frank and Peter Gusenberg were in the SMC Cartage Company warehouse on Chicago's north side when they were corralled by four rival gangsters, two of whom were wearing police uniforms and sporting fake badges, and blasted into oblivion with Thompson submachine guns and shotguns. May, who was probably there only because he was repairing a truck, lost the left side of his skull to a round of buckshot.
The murders stemmed from a turf war between the North Siders, who were headed by Bugs Moran, and the Chicago Outfit, led by Al Capone. It's Moran's men who got ventilated. Capone, in true gangster style, was away in Florida at the time. The photos show only six victims because Frank Gusenberg miraculously survived the shooting and was rushed to a hospital, where a few hours later he died of his fourteen bullet wounds while refusing to identify his killers. Even to this day their identities are not conclusively known, though ballistics evidence later suggested one was veteran hood Fred Burke. The massacre may not have resulted in murder convictions, but it drew the attention of Washington, D.C. authorities, led to broad new efforts to tackle organized crime, and eventually led to Capone's imprisonment for federal tax evasion in 1931. Please enjoy this romantic day.
Get away from him you bitches!
Many reviews of the classic movie Aliens point out the subtext of mother instinct rekindled under violent circumstances, but that idea predates Sigourney Weaver's awesome 1986 performance. The closest example we can think of is the 1980 thriller Gloria. Gena Rowlands, who you see above in full mama bear mode, tries to protect an eight-year-old boy from vicious animals (the Mafia) in a deadly and hostile place (the Bronx). Where Weaver has outlived her entire family due to hibernation in space and loves children, Rowlands is a gangster's moll who has outlived her childbearing years and claims to hate children. Both characters are catalyzed by a youngster's innocence, have a strong sense of justice, and face the longest possible odds. Do yourself a favor and watch the movie. Also: check the absolutely badass pose below.
It's not a party until someone gets their brains blown out.
The above photo shows the murder scene of a mid-level gangster named Joseph “Little Joe” La Cava, and occurred in New York City on Mulberry Street at the Feast of San Gennaro today in 1939. We'll go out on a limb and say the festive atmosphere took a fatal hit too. Luckily, the celebration usually went for a week, so we suppose it was salvaged. La Cava was gunned down along with Rocco “Chickee” Fagio, who you see below. These images were made by Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee, and are especially well known because the ever clever lensman angled himself to get a photo of Fagio ironically sprawled beneath a scungilli restaurant sign that says O Sole Mio!—which means “my sun,” after the famous Neapolitan song. He used the same trick when shooting other murders, because hey, if it works, just roll with it. Also interesting, cops being cops, the flatfoot closest to La Cava looks incongruously jocular as he chats with a higher-up. If this wasn't the most unforgettable Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy's history it had to be close.
He was bound to get burned.
Just in case you haven't had any gruesomeness in your week, above you see mobster Irving Feinstein after he was burned by Murder, Inc. today in 1939. What do you have to do to meet this fate? Feinstein tried to horn in on territory that wasn't his, but that wasn't why he was torched. His error was in trying to stay alive. Feinstein was in the process of being repeatedly ice picked by hitman Harry Strauss, and bit Strauss's finger. Strauss and associates called a halt to the ice picking and instead bound Feinstein, his legs stretched backward and a rope running from ankles to neck. This killed him by the more protracted method of slow strangulation. Then afterwards, just for the hell of it, the killers transported the body to a vacant lot in Brooklyn and did what you see above. There's a lesson in this: don't bite the hand that bleeds you.
He's watching your every move.
Above is an Italian poster for the U.S. drama I, Mobster, a 1959 crime drama starring Steve Cochran that we discussed earlier this year. This promo is different from the U.S. version but still features lettering across Cochrane's eye—though the visual pun of having the actual letter “I” cross his eye is not achievable in Italian. But we still like this for its successful conveyance of mood, and we liked the movie enough to want to circle back to it. It's obscure, but pretty good. Plus it introduced us to Lita Milan.
Our recommendation is to never mess with the Mafia.
While we're on the subject of mobsters, this photo shows the grisly end of one Walter J. Sage. He ended up in this non-ideal condition after being stabbed more than thirty times, tied to a rock and a slot machine frame, and dumped in Swan Lake, located in Sullivan County, about eighty miles north of New York City. The slot machine aspect was ironic. Sage, a contract killer for the infamous Murder, Inc., also filled his hours by working for a mafia gang that ran a slot machine racket.
Unfortunately, he had a case of sticky fingers and his employers found out. Sage's colleagues took him for a ride north toward the Catskills, a trip they'd made many times. On this occasion they attacked him in the car, one man choking him and the other getting busy with an ice pick. Sage was no pushover. He managed to grab the car's steering wheel and run the vehicle into a ditch, but in the end he was overpowered, killed, hogtied, weighted, and dumped in the lake.
Some accounts claim he was in the water for two weeks, but a glance at the body disproves that. He was found four days later, today in 1937, which is when the photo was shot. It's amazing that a guy who was sent to kill people who had annoyed the mafia would himself annoy the mafia, but as the Dunning-Kruger effect teaches, some people suffer from a cognitive bias of illusory superiority. Or put another way, feeling smart doesn't mean you actually are. Sage could have benefitted from advice along those lines—but he probably wouldn't have listened anyway.
Mafia bigmouth's associates poke a few holes in his treasoning.
The peculiarly deflated figure you see above is George Rudnick, nicknamed Whitey, and with a handle like that you don't even have to see him dead to know he was a crime figure. He was also a stool pigeon, so one night his colleagues brought him along on a car theft caper, and after they boosted the wheels, they attacked him, choking him while stabbing him fifty or more times with an icepick. Some accounts say he was brutally hacked with a meat cleaver. We're inclined to think it was an icepick for the obvious reason that all his body parts seem intact, but in either case, you'd be deflated too after something like that. It happened today in 1937.
It took a few years, but two mafia footsoliders, Harry “Happy” Maione and Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando, both members of the infamous Murder, Inc., were arrested, indicted, and convicted for the killing. They appealed and were granted a new trial, but another guilty verdict sent the pair to a date with old sparky in Sing Sing Prison on February 19, 1942. If there's a lesson here, aside from don't hang with guys nicknamed Happy and Dasher unless they happen to work at the North Pole, it's probably to keep in mind how very, very picky the mafia is about employee loyalty.
Who can take a casino, walk in sight unseen, eliminate resistance, and collect up all the green? The candyleg. Oh, the candyleg can.
We just finished our second Ovid Demaris novel. The man could write, and his plot set-ups are compelling too. His 1961 mafia thriller Candyleg, also published as Machine Gun McCain, tells the story of McCain, an Alcatraz lifer, who's unexpectedly paroled and told it's so he can mastermind a Las Vegas casino robbery. Jack Falcon, the young and ambitious boss of the western states, wants the casino robbed because it's run by someone he dislikes. McCain is willing, plus he owes a debt for his release, but he soon learns that there are tricky crosscurrents.
Falcon has no doubt McCain can and will rob the casino, but knowing McCain is too independent to share information, Falcon commands his girlfriend Irene to keep McCain close—as in between the sheets—and report back everything going on. McCain, by the way, is Falcon's father. Why do they have different last names? Daddy issues. In any case, he's sending his girlfriend to lay his dad in order to pry info loose about the heist to relay back. It's precarious, family-wise, but high stakes require extraordinary efforts. Falcon needs the best for the heist, and his dad is the best.
Unfortunately, the controlling interests in the casino, who are all headquartered back east, catch vague wind of something related to their valuable and 100% legal investment, and one of their top bosses comes to town to impress upon Falcon that there can be no turbulence of any sort in Vegas—on pain of death. Absolutely, says Falcon, even as he's sweating the fact that McCain, who wants one big score followed by retirement in South America, has gone off-grid and is unreachable. Falcon is counting on Irene to keep in contact, but will she? She doesn't like her boyfriend nearly as much as she likes his dad.
We recommend this thriller. It has interesting characters, a lean but involving plot, good action, good movement, and a lot of moral ambiguity. In the crime fiction genre, Demaris is top notch. At least so far. We'll see if he can keep his streak going. Oh, and what's a candyleg, by the way? It doesn't have anything to do with Irene, though you'd think so reading the front cover blurb. It means a soft touch, and Irene uses it to describe McCain at one point. It's an interesting term, but she's wrong. McCain isn't soft. He's as tough as they come, and so is Demaris's fiction.
Mafia gunmen make a mess of Masseria.
As artistic crime photos go, this shot of Giuseppe Masseria's corpse on the floor of Villa Tammaro, a seafood restaurant in Coney Island run by mobster Gerardo Scarpato, ranks highly. During the 1920s Masseria was the head of what later became known as the Genovese crime family. He was involved in a power struggle with another crime group run by Salvatore Maranzano, but at the same time there were tensions within Masseria's group because he was an old world, old school mobster who refused to work with non-Italians, and thus was leaving millions of dollars in criminal profits unclaimed. One of the young mafiosi in his clan who thought Masseria was an old-fashioned fool was Charles Luciano, aka Lucky Luciano. Tensions between Masseria and Luciano eventually devolved into open hostilities.
Masseria was a careful guy. He traveled in an armored sedan. But it's hard to take care of business from behind plate steel and bulletproof glass, so when Luciano invited him to a meeting at Villa Tammaro that promised to tamp down intra-clan tensions and refocus everyone on Salvatore Maranzano, the real enemy, he took the chance. He went to the restaurant, and the confab must have gone cordially up to a point, because Masseria, Luciano, and a couple of other men began playing cards. But at some point Luciano excused himself from the table and Masseria was gunned down by a fearsome foursome of Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel.
There were a few other skirmishes for control, but essentially, taking Masseria off the board was the beginning of the end of hostilities. One more old school kingpin had to go—Maranzano, who had been communicating secretly with Luciano and had offered a deal of peace in exchange for Masseria's death. Months later Luciano took care of him too. With Masseria and Maranzano gone, the new mafia was restructured, modernized, and began working with non-Italians. Many accounts of Masseria's killing say he died at dinner, and while that's technically true, the autopsy showed that he had eaten nothing. Maybe he was afraid of being poisoned. Though cards had been scattered around the room in the chaos, the ace of spades was probably placed in his hand by a photographer. That was today in 1931.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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