Whether by day or night the action was non-stop.
We love vintage nightclub photos, and vintage pix of people partying in general. Since Havana photos are unusually interesting, we're always drawn to them. There's a large number of Havana photos out there, but not primarily because of Cuba's political history. The photos really exist because Cuba was a pioneer of Caribbean tourism, attracting travelers beginning in the 1920s through a heyday of the mid-1950s. The island was promoted as a place of sophistication, mixed with permissiveness, unpredictability, and a touch of the primitive. This prompted various movers and shakers—from New York City businessmen to top musicians to Hollywood stars—to flock to Havana. And where important people went, cameras followed.
Was the Havana image true? Probably, based on what we've read. But it was not unique. During the same period Tangier had a similar reputation, as it attracted writers like Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs, and numerous gay expatriates. During the 1960s Acapulco was knownas a great place to go for thrills. During the 1980s, Ibiza or Mykonos. The 90s, Thailand or Goa. The 00s, Tulum. Havana wasn't unusual in terms of what it offered. Bigger, yes. More convenient for Americans, for sure. But numerous far flung locales have served as paradises for foreign visitors to lose themselves and get crazy.
Most or all of the aforementioned places are considered to have changed for the worse, whether through ecological damage, destruction of historic architecture, unchecked overbuilding, overtourism, or all four scourges at once. But it was revolution that changed Havana, a fact that gives vintage photos from there a particular poignancy. A typical narrative is that while elites and tourists partied, exclusion, inequality, and poverty helped fertilize the seeds of upheaval. But we don't judge anyone in these shots. We've lived in similar circumstances in Central America. We were even partners in a beach bar in the Caribbean. We were always well aware of the prevailing socio-political problems, and we sympathized greatly with the local populations. But it didn't stop us from partying the nights away.
There's an immense feeling of freedom being in a simpler place—and for all its opulent nightclubs and restaurants, Havana is said to have exuded a primeval sensuality that intoxicated tourists and expatriates. If you live in the U.S. or some other modern nation, that feeling isn't something you can achieve by merely paring down your current lifestyle. The things you give up continue to exist all around you. By rejecting those, you become a weirdo. But by living in a less modern nation your life truly changes top to bottom, and you gain this while still existing above the local mean. That's the paradox, or the injustice, depending on your point of view: your satisfaction derives partly from the ability to take or leave anything you wish, because you are economically able to do so. You live more simply than you did, yet live better than most people around you. It isn't noble, but it's very much an attraction.
Bowles and Burroughs lived well in Tangier because it was immensely cheaper than Europe or the U.S. With the savings gained they hosted parties and had time to hone their literary crafts. They were a part of the local society, but existed in a middle-upper stratum, high above the impoverished, well below the Moroccan elites, benefitting from the general perception that foreigners from rich nations are themselves rich. That's how it was for us too. So there's inequality built into thattype of expatriate experience. It's unavoidable. A friend of ours lived in a stick shack on Cayos Cochinos for an entire year and he was still considered a rich foreigner. Everyone knows you have a choice. The Americans who partied in Cuba could never have been anything but wealthy invaders, no matter the reality of their finances, or the inclusiveness their sensibilities.
Living comfortably means the novelties one experiences seem thrilling or romantic. When we were knocking around Guatemala, El Salvador, and the Bay Islands, we turned washing our clothes by hand into an enjoyable ritual, yet understood quite well that many families' daily water intake literally depended on walking a mile to a river. Buying food from the local fruit and veggie stand was far more convenient than queuing at the supermarket for meat, and we ended up dropping to our college weight, but we were nevertheless aware that many people couldn't afford any food, and would have been disgusted at how pleased we were that our reduced fat intake meant we could show six pack abs at the beach. We helped some local families, both financially and logistically, but when your downsized existence is a choice you can never truly fit in.
But the freedom you feel is real. Offloading the burdens of modern life brings legitimate satisfaction. The pursuit of pleasure takes on a special joy. We hit bars, parties, and gallery mixers continually. As foreigners there's no social stigma to drinking every night. Unless you have a job—and we didn't—it's how you form a social circle. Locals generally disapprove, but their judgements carry little weight. So when welook at Havana partying shots we don't quite see oblivious, entitled people, because we know it isn't that simple. Most of them knew what was percolating. Stability was diminishing fast. There was a dissolved parliament, large protests, a 1953 battle in Santiago de Cuba, and other signposts on the way to change. It was clear the fun could never last.
The assortment of people you see here are caught on film like insects caught in amber, long dead but preserved. They're having a few laughs, enjoying some drinks, executing deft turns on dance floors, making their small, temporary marks on the world, leaving behind images showing them for one sliver of a moment in timeless eternity. Things changed in Havana, and now things have changed for all of us. If circumstances where we can dance and laugh and shout together in hot crowded places without fear of sickness ever return, be sure to embrace them fully. We don't just mean in some far flung tropical enclave. We mean anywhere. Because if it isn't a virus that takes those pleasures away, it'll be the march of years. You'll want to have done your best with this gift called life.
An ice cream vendor patiently waits for potential customers to emerge from the Capri Hotel and Casino, 1958. Fashion model Jean Patchett and author Ernest Hemingway, who habitually went shirtless, lounge at Finca Vigia, his house in Cuba, 1950. Above, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, the "Cocktail King of Havana," inventor of the Papa Doble daiquiri, and owner of the famed bar El Floridita. Liberace performs on stage at the Tropicana with headline dancer Ana Gloria Varona, 1954. A Coke and a smile from two soft drink vendors. Patrons enjoy drinks at El Floridita, 1955. Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante stands by while Marlon Brando tries his hand—or both of them—at the conga drum at Hotel Packard, 1956. Mafia kingpin Meyer Lansky, on the right in this shot, attends the opening of the Hotel Riviera in December 1957. Famed entertainer Zulema dances the rhumba at the Zombie Club, 1946. Three women liven up the room from their perch on the bar at Cabaret Kursal. Cesar Romero and Tyrone Power enjoy a drink and a chat at Sloppy Joe's Bar. Revelers including Errol Flynn and Desi Arnaz, Jr. form a conga line during the Yoruba festival known as Dia de Babalú-Ayé. José Abeal Otero, founder of Sloppy Joe's Bar, mixes up a giant batch of liquid magic. No, this isn't the same person as above, Ribalaigua. They were both small, dapper guys. A firebreather thrills onlookers in front of the Saratoga Hotel, 1949. This photo shows Nat King Cole and his wife Maria Cole, along with Martin Fox, who was the owner of the Tropicana, accompanied by his wife Ofelia and an unknown fifth party. U.S. born vedette and movie star Tongolele, aka Yolanda Montes, poses outside the Capri Hotel and Casino, 1958. Meme Solis and Elena Burke pose at the entrance to the 21 Club, located in the Capri Hotel. These photos show Silvano Chueg Echevarría, a master of percussion and an iconic musical personage. Let's go back to that Marlon Brando photo for a sec. Brando was an aficionado of percussive instruments. During that 1956 jaunt to Cuba he made it known that he wanted to buy drums from real percussionists. One of the musicians he met was Echevarría. All the Havana percussionists knew of Brando, of course, but thought he was a musical dilettante. At some point he finagled his way onto a nightclub stage, sat in with a band, and truly amazed onlookers with his ability on the conga. He wasn't a master, but he was pretty good. He won respect, and bought his drums. Raquel Revuelta, Manuel Corrales, and Mariano Rodriguez leave the famed bar Bodeguita del Medio and walk through the Havana night to other locales, other adventures, 1958.
French magazine celebrates essential American film genre.
A few years ago we used this image of German actress Dorothée Blanck as a femme fatale, but didn't scan the rest of the magazine in which we had found her. By now you know why—the pages of these old film mags are large and we have to scan them in halves and put them together in Photoshop or GIMP, which is time consuming, something that's a real problem for lazy people like us. But here we are three years later and we've finally done it. Above is the full cover of the issue of Cinémonde—“cineworld” in English—from which Blanck came.
Cinémonde was first published in October 1928 and ran until being interrupted by World War II in 1940. Post hostilities the magazine reappeared, running from 1946 until 1968, taking another pause, running again from 1970 to 1971, and finally folding for good. This issue hit newsstands today in 1965. Like other European magazines of the era, the main attraction with Cinémonde is that its photos generally have not been seen online before. This issue was devoted to the American western, and the subjects include some of the biggest cowboy stars in cinema history, including John Wayne, Glenn Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Jimmy Stewart.
That's the first half of the issue. Afterward editors move outside the western milieu, and you get Marlon Brando, David Niven, Francois Dorléac, Barbara Bouchet, Serge Gainsbourg, hair secrets of the stars, the top ten Don Juans of French cinema, and more. Do we have other issues of this magazine? You bet. We own a group that includes Cinémonde, Ciné-Revue, and others. Will we ever scan them? Well, we make no promises at this point, but you never know—maybe we'll splash out for a bigger scanner and solve the problem with money instead of effort. Seems to work for everyone else. Thirty plus images below.
She's committing Rio grand larceny.
There aren't many good photos of Movita, aka Movita Castaneda. Here she's stealing—i.e. committing larceny—in her thriller Girl from Rio. The relative dearth of Movita photos is a bit surprising considering the extent of her film career. She began acting in 1930 as a teenager, and gained widespread fame when she married Marlon Brando in 1960. The marriage would have been tabloid fodder anyway because Brando was Brando, but Movita was seven years older than him. Cradle robber. This photo is from 1939, when she was a mere twenty-three.
End of the line—Brando's place.
Above, a striking West German poster for Endstation Sehnsucht, which you know better as A Streetcar Named Desire. Admit it. You've heard of it, you know who Tennessee Williams is, but you haven't seen it (or seen or read the much racier Pulitzer Prize winning play it's based on). A famous critic once explained that a good book teaches you how to read it. The same can apply to movies. You have to let yourself be immersed in A Streetcar Named Desire. The first twenty minutes you might be tempted to give up. But once the dubious southern accents and style of the production settle into your head, you'll find a movie well worth watching, with a nice performance by Marlon Brando, who was comfortable in his role of the beefcakey Stanley Kowalski after having played it on Broadway. A Streetcar Named Desire is over the top—and over the needed running time, in the opinions of many—but it's an involving experience. After its U.S. premiere in September 1951 it rolled into West Germany as Endstation Sehnsucht today the same year.
Brando and Niven break hearts and bank accounts on the French Riviera.
Les séducteurs had its French premiere today in 1964, with the above promo art by Russian born illustrator Boris Grinsson paving the way for a U.S. production featuring Marlon Brando, Shirley Jones, and David Niven. Séducteurs translates to “deceivers,” but the original title was Bedtime Story. What you have is a couple of con men who fleece women out of jewels, cash, and more. When they cross paths on the French Riviera their egos bring about a clash of wills and a high stakes wager to see which of them can scam ripe target Shirley Jones out of $25,000. Later the bet shifts to which of them can scam her out of her clothes. File the movie with set-in-France caper comedies like To Catch a Thief, Charade, and Beg, Borrow or Steal. For that matter file it with 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is actually a quasi-remake of this flick. For most watchers Bedtime Story won't be up to the standards of those other films—even the one based upon it—but we thought it was pretty damned good.
Clothes encounters of the Hollywood kind.
We've been gathering rare wardrobe and hairdresser test shots from the golden era of Hollywood, and today seems like a good day to share some of what we've found. It was standard procedure for all the main performers in a movie to pose for such photos, but the negatives that survive tend to belong to the most popular stars, such as Cary Grant, who you see at right. You'll see Marilyn Monroe more than amply represented below. What can we do? She's possibly the most photographed Hollywood figure ever, and she was beautiful in every exposure. But we've also found shots of a few lesser known stars, such as Giorgia Moll and France Nuyen.
Some of the shots are worth special note. You'll see Doris Day as a mermaid for The Glass Bottom Boat, Liz Taylor as a kid for National Velvet and an adult for Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Farrah Fawcett in lingerie, Sheree North in both front and rear poses, and Yul Brynner looking like an actual man by sporting a body that had to that point seemingly known neither razor nor wax (he ditched the fur for his actual onscreen appearances). Usually the photos feature a chalkboard or card with pertinent information about the production and star, but not always, as in the case of Brynner's photo, and in Audrey Hepburn's and Joan Collins' cases as well. If the names of the subjects don't appear on the chalkboards you can refer to the keywords at bottom, which are listed in order. We may put together another group of these wardrobe shots later.
Wherever celebrities misbehave National Spotlite is on the scene.
This National Spotlite published today in 1968 features cover star Naemi Priegel, a West German television actress and singer who reached the height of her fame during the 1970s. Inside are many interesting Hollywood tidbits, including former child star Hayley Mills allegedly describing herself as a tigress in bed, Marlon Brando beating up two party crashers, Elvis Presley breaking the arm of someone to whom he was demonstrating a karate hold, Richard Burton being pursued by a chorus girl who claimed he fathered her child, Gene Tierney and her husband Howard Lee getting into a public spat, and John Wayne slugging an autograph seeker who mistook him for Robert Mitchum. Was any of this stuff true? We have no idea, but it sure is interesting reading. You can see more in the same vein at our tabloid index, located at this link.
A different kind of movie star.
So, here's a Pulp Intl. moment for you. We occasionally ask our girlfriends to look at an image and give us their thoughts. The whole fresh eyes thing. Get a new perspective. We showed them this shot of Marlo Brando and they had no idea who he was. But they thought he looked creepy and dangerous, which gave us a chance to explain how Brando combined a bit of sinister threat with his sex appeal, and the photo really captures that. Their response: “Well, whatever, no thanks.” But millions of women said thanks to Brando at this point in his career. If he wasn't the top male sex symbol in the U.S., he was second, surpassed—maybe—by only one other person. This shot was made as a promo for The Wild One, 1953.
Italian master’s genius spanned decades.
Back in August we showed you a poster from Luigi Martinati, who worked from 1923 to 1967, and said we'd get back to him. Below, seven more great promotional pieces with his distinctive signature on each.
To Have and Have Not
On the Waterfront
Phantom of the Rue Morgue
The Wrong Man
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