They should have taken a bigger boat.
Today in 1962 Jayne Mansfield, while vacationing in the balmy Bahama Islands, failed to turn up for several evening appointments after having gone water skiing with her husband Mickey Hargitay and press agent Jack Drury. All three were feared lost at sea when the seventeen-foot motorboat they had rented was found adrift and capsized. At sundown the craft was towed to Nassau and the world waited for news. None came that night. The next morning's search for Mansfield and her companions involved four-hundred people, including the Nassau Air-Sea Rescue Squadron. Later that day a searcher flying overhead spotted a water ski floating near Rose Island, a stretch of sand about fifteen miles from Nassau. It was on the eastern end of the island that Mansfield, Hargitay, and Drury were finally found.
By this time the press had descended upon Nassau, and the spectacle of Mansfield being conducted to shore, weak and in tears, was witnessed by scores of journalists and photographers. The trio told the world a harrowing tale. Mansfield fell from her water skis, and Hargitay swam to retrieve her while Drury circled in the boat. At that point Drury saw sharks, and as they rushed to lift Mansfield into the boat it overturned. Hargitay and Drury continued trying to push Mansfield onto the now upside downvessel, but at that point things went from bad to worse when she passed out. They got her atop the boat but could do nothing but drift. They bobbed on the waters for hours until they neared a small coral reef, decided to brave the sharks, and swam for it. There they spent the night, lacking supplies of any sort, with the tide rising until they were almost back in the sea again. At daybreak they saw that Rose Island was nearby. With the tide out, they were able to walk, wade, and swim to it. Mansfield's stranding and rescue was a huge story, but there were many who said it was a publicity stunt. It's an interesting take on the event, considering the attending physician at Rassin Hospital, whose name was Dr. Meyer Rassin—he founded the facility—said Mansfield suffered from “quite severe exposure, and the effects of bites from numerous mosquitoes and sand flies.” Having dealt with Caribbean sand flies ourselves, we can tell you nobody would willingly put themselves through the hell of being feasted on by them. But on the other hand, sand fly bites
itch and swell, and when scratched they break open and bleed, yet Mansfield doesn't look particularly marked. On the other-other hand, doesn't dragging a local pilot and the respected founder of the island hospital into a fake near-death experience defy credulity?
But maybe two things were true at the same time. Maybe it started as a stunt. Maybe Mansfield and company motored to Rose Island, purposely turned the boat over and set it adrift, then waited for the pilot they'd selected to fly over the next morning. Maybe they even had food and water, and hunkered down for a night under the Caribbean stars while chortling over the free press coverage they were going to generate. But maybe they had failed to consider the sand fly aspect, and Mansfield really was in a sorry state when found, which means Dr. Rassin was being truthful. It's possible.
To us the biggest hole in Mansfield's story is the accidental capsizing of a boat seventeen feet long that's weighed down by an outboard motor. It takes serious work to overturn a floating canoe, let alone a waterskiing boat. But Mansfield was a hefty woman, Hargitay was a bodybuilder, and with Drury leaning waaaay out over the boat's gunwale, maybe they really did accidentally flip it. We'll never know what happened, which means Mansfield's big Bahamian adventure will always be a subject of speculation. But you now what? The truth is often banal. A mystery is so much more fun.
The tabloid media was like a pack of animals and Mansfield was the meal.
We never realized this before, but the editors of Whisper really had it in for Jayne Mansfield. We mean more than usual for a vicious tabloid. Most of the issues we have contain highly negative stories about her, such as this one published in 1962 that calls her and husband Mickey Hargitay “the biggest pair of boobs in the business.” Geez, what did she do to them? Piss in their grits? Dropkick their Corgis? Obviously, the biggest boobs thing is a play on words referencing Mansfield's bust, but they're referencing her personality when they talk about her “false façade” and “up-front ways.” Regardless of whether Whisper approved of Mansfield, it couldn't stop featuring her—a fact the magazine acknowledged. We'll see her in these pages again.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Whisper, the amazing Señor Fidel Castro makes one of his regular appearances. Like Mansfield, the magazine couldn't stop writing about him. According to the editors, the Beard had launched a plot to addict American youth to drugs. We call Castro amazing because according to various mid-century tabloids he was simultaneously training Viet Cong soldiers in Cuba, funneling arms to U.S. inner cities, assassinating JFK, planning to overthrow the Catholic Church, raping teenaged girls, and helping East Germany revive the Third Reich. Talk about great time management skills. If only we were half as organized.
Did drugs flow from Cuba to the U.S.? It's an accusation that has come up numerous times over the years. Considering that since at least 1950 drugs were flowing into the U.S. from Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Afghanistan, Thailand, et al—it would be astonishing if drugs didn't also originate from or transit through Cuba. With what degree of official approval we'll probably never know. Heads of state are notoriously insulated. In fact, the only one we can think of offhand who was definitively tied to drug dealing was Panama's former strongman Manuel Noriega, who was doing it with the full knowledge of the CIA, but we can probably safely assume he wasn't the first national leader to peddle drugs.
Whisper isn't aiming for investigative journalism in its Castro piece. That would require actual work. Its story is 90% lollipop, 10% stick. But the ratio of fiction to fact is meaningless as long as the writing fits the brief: focus obsessively on the sensational, the frightening, and the infuriating. That's why we call mid-century tabloids the cable news channels of yesteryear. Though people were doubtless highly agitated about what they read in these quasi-journalistic outlets, the passage of decades makes them harmless fun for us to explore. Maybe one day a future website—or whatever passes for one ages from now—will be able to make jokes about the things agitating us. Let's hope so. We have a bunch of scans below, and more tabloids than we can count inside the website. Look here.
And you think America is polarized today.
The iconic polar bear rug. What can you say about them? Well, it's not a good look nowadays, but back then people thought these sorts of decorations were quite chic. When did that end? Possibly shortly after the three-hundredth Playboy model posed on one, or when many people began to see trophy hunting as the obsession of vain and unsavory millionaires. One of those two. Personally, we blame Hefner. In the shot above Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay take polar bear style to its pinnacle. Just look at that room. Besides the bear they have a copper ceiling, satin curtains, and a white shag rug. It's a pimp's wet dream and all of it must have cost a fortune. We like to imagine what the look on Jayne's face would have been if anyone walked in with a brimming glass of red wine. We bet she'd have turned whiter than the bear.
We have more photos in the same vein below. If you need help identifying the stars, their names are in our keywords in order of appearance. Looking at the entire collection, we tend to wonder if there were three or four bears that ended up in all the photos. You know, like bears owned by certain photography studios or prop departments. Just saying, a couple of them look suspiciously similar. But on the other hand, how different from each other do bears really look? You'll notice that the poor creatures were generally posed to look fierce. But by contrast Inger Stevens' bear, just below, strikes us as a bit reflective and melancholy, which is understandable. Elizabeth Montgomery, meanwhile, gets extra points for wearing her bear. We have twenty-plus images below, including another shot of Mansfield, sans Hargitay.
Even in decline Confidential had eyes and ears everywhere.
Liz Taylor and her tan star on this cover of Confidential published this month in 1964. The magazine was just a shadow of its former self by this point, but the inside stories still manage to raise eyebrows and give the impression of tabloid spies in every corner of Hollywood. Simon Lee Garth’s exposé accuses Richard Burton of being an abusive drunk, but that was not a scoop—other tabloids had written the same. But elsewhere, investigative journo Beverly Hillis (nice, right?) shares the amusing story of Elvis Presley throwing a party at which only women were invited. Apparently “swivel hips”, as Confidential refers to him, paraded around in a series of bizarre costumes and generally acted the fool, prompting some (but crucially not all) of his guests to leave in a huff. In another story Jack Asher writes about bottomless swimsuits worn by gay men as a response to the topless women’s suits that had appeared on European beaches, and also tells readers the fashion house Lanvin Paris had begun selling a bottomless suit for women. We don’t buy that one for a minute, but there are some interesting photos of women wearing breast-baring dresses. Elsewhere in the issue you get tabloid fave Jayne Mansfield and her husband Mickey Targitay, Peter Sellers sexing himself into a heart attack with Britt Ekland, Barry Goldwater playing dirty politics, and an impressively tasteless graphic of Malcolm X. All below.
Precisely when it’s scarcest is when you want it the most.
Jayne Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay, Elvis Presley, Eartha Kitt, and more. This issue of Whisper published this month in 1965 tells tales about some of the most popular stars of the day. And then there’s Hayley Mills, former child star who was trying to make a full-grown career for herself where breaking from type often involves shocking the public. In Mills’ case, she planned to star in the film Candy, which was to be an adaptation of the banned satirical novel Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg had based on Voltaire’s Candide. Considered one of the sexier novels of the time, it touched on homosexuality, masturbation, interracial relations, and seemed like a disastrous choice for wholesome Hayley Mills. But if she actually wanted to change that image what could do it? Candy could. Whisper warns Mills away from the role: “We’ll bet her fans—and the moviegoing public at large—won’t buy it.” Dire words, indeed. But in the end, Mills never got the role. It went instead to Swedish actress Ewa Aulin.
Whisper also discusses the infamous relationship between Sammy Davis, Jr. and Kim Novak, and ponders whether Novak is still carrying a torch for Davis. Journalist Pete Wallace doesn’t interview Novak, but manages to score quotes from many acquaintances—or so he claims. The upshot? Novak’s life has been a shambles ever since the relationship ended, but Wallace, trying to reason from afar with Novak, explains that Sammy dropped her for both their sakes because of the forces—studio, family, the American public, and eventually the Mafia—that were arrayed against them. But Wallace also sympathizes. He writes: “If the one man she ever really loved walked out on her (never mind that it was for the best of reasons) how can she trust herself to anyone less?” Who could ruin you for other men forever? The Candyman could. We have nineteen scans below of all that and more, and many more issues of Whisper to come.
Mansfield proves that love can make a broken man whole.
In Hollywood, nothing seems to last. Jayne Mansfield and Hungarian bodybuilder Miklós “Mickey” Hargitay divorced in 1964, but this great cover of Whisper from this month in 1957 shows them a year before their 1958 marriage. They’re blissful and striking a pose they repeated for the press over and over—i.e., ex-Mr. Universe Hargitay demonstrating his strength by easily lofting the zaftig Mansfield in his arms. The occasion of this photo was Hargitay’s arrival at NYC’s Idlewild Airport. Mansfield had waited on the tarmac for the plane to land, then sprinted to her sweetheart and leapt into his arms.
You may notice Hargitay’s swollen eye and bandage. He was returning from Washington, D.C., where he had been performing in the Mae West Revue, a stage show West—the noted maneater—had stocked with assorted hunks of tasty beef. One of those hunks was an ex-wrestler named Chuck Krauser who adored West and had more than a professional relationship with her. When Hargitay threw some unkind words West’s way, Krauser threw three punches Hargitay’s way and down went Mickey. A witness described the fracas this way: “He planted a tremendous haymaker on Mickey’s head.” Hargitay emerged from the beatdown with a black eye, a cut lip, a limp—and grounds for a lawsuit, which he quickly filed.
The interesting thing about the episode re: Whisper is that it happened in June 1956—exactly a year before the above cover appeared. And Whisper not only digs up an old photo, but takes the liberty of reversing it. Hargitay was actually slugged over the left eye by the right-handed Krauser. In any case, it’s amazing how happy Hargitay looks considering the entire world knew he’d gotten his ass whipped. And consider also that he was definitely feeling some aches and pains.
But perhaps having an ecstatic Jayne Mansfield waiting for you raises spirits and dulls hurts. Either that or those bodybuilding competitions had trained Hargitay to keep a smile locked on his face even when he was straining every muscle in his body. We should mention, though, that Mansfield did her share of heavy lifiting too, by being publicly supportive concerning the fight. She observed that Mickey could have killed Krauser, but was too much of a gentleman. It might not have been true, but take note girls—that’s how you bolster your hurting guy’s fragile ego.
My eyes are up here, cherie.
Paris Frou Frou #58, with Jayne Mansfield, Sabrina, Mickey Hargitay, and many unknowns. We’re really starting to appreciate this magazine because it always seems to have at least two or three truly striking images, including, in this case, the cabaret dancers Mitzi and Mimi (mmm... twins) and the back cover, just above. You may be pondering what exactly is a frou frou? While it sounds like a small, furry mammal, possibly with razor sharp teeth, it’s actually an onomatopaeic phrase originally created in French to imitate the swishing sound of a woman’s skirts, and to describe unnecessary showiness (kind of like this sentence). File that definition away in the cobwebbed nook of your brain reserved for truly useless info that might one day win you a point in a pub quiz or prompt someone to label you a metrosexual. See our other Paris Frou Frou here.
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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