Pageant winner fulfilled show business and personal ambitions. Then things went wrong.
Beauty pageants are a bit silly, perhaps, but the participants are generally ambitious people who see them as stepping stones to show business or modeling. And in mid-century Los Angeles in particular, even minor pageants occasionally led to stardom. In the above photos high school student Barbara Thomason wins the crown of Miss Muscle Beach 1954. Listed at 5 foot 3 inches and 110 pounds, she was a body-building enthusiast, and in the shot just below she celebrates her hard fought win by pumping a bit of iron while photographers click away and a crowd watches.
Did Thomason's victory lead to bigger things? Maybe not directly, but it probably helped. She was a habitual pageant participant who also won Miss Huntington Beach, Miss Van Ness, Miss Bay Beach, Miss Southwest Los Angeles, Miss Pacific Coast, Queen of Southern California, andten other titles. All that winning finally got her noticed by Hollywood movers and shakers. In 1955, performing under the name Carolyn Mitchell, she made her acting debut on the television show Crossroads, and in 1958 co-starred in two Roger Corman b-movies, The Crybaby Killer and Dragstrip Riot.
But she put her career on hold when she met and married a star—Mickey Rooney, who was nearly seventeen years her senior and nearly two inches her junior. Their union had problems from the beginning. The couple married secretly in Mexico because Rooney was still awaiting a divorce from actress Elaine Mahnken. They would have to wait almost two years before the law allowed them to wed in the U.S. Legalities, though doubtless bothersome, were the least of their problems. During the next six years, during which Thomason bore four children, Rooney indulged in numerous affairs.
It should probably be noted here that Thomason was Rooney's fifth wife. Among the predecessors were goddesses like Ava Gardner and Martha Vickers. We don't know what Thomason's expectations of marriage were, but clearly Rooney didn't know the meaning of the phrase “for better or worse.” The affairs continued, and eventually Thomason did the same with a temperamental Yugoslavian actor named Milos Milosevic, who performed under the name Milos Milos. But what was good for goose was not good for the gander—Rooney found out about these international relations, moved out of the Brentwood house he shared with Thomason, and filed for divorce, charging mental cruelty. The nerve, right?
On the morning of January 31, 1966, while Rooney was in St. John's Hospital recovering from an intestinal infection he'd picked up in the Philippines, Thomason and Milosevic were found together on the bathroom floor of the Brentwood house, dead. Milosevic had shot Thomason under the chin and killed himself with a temple shot using a chrome-plated .38 Rooney had bought in 1964. The consensus is Thomason had decided to dump Milosevic and he flipped out.
The photos below show Thomason on Muscle Beach during her halcyon years there, a mere teenager, frolicking in the sun, filled with youthful hopes for a good life. She won beauty titles, acted in films, married an icon, and had four children. Any of those accomplishments would have been good legacies. Instead her death at twenty-nine overshadowed all the rest, and she's remembered as another celebrity murder victim, Hollywood style, which is always somehow both sensational and banal.
Rumors spread, gossip revealed, scandals shared.
We're back to The National Police Gazette with an issue published this month in 1963. The cover is given to Jolanda Addolori and Anthony Quinn, who were unmarried but had a child together, a real no-no for the time period, particularly when you already have a wife and four children, as Quinn did. His wife was actress Katherine DeMille, who was most active during the 1930s, before devoting time to motherhood. Quinn eventually divorced her and married Addolori in 1966. Elsewhere in the issue you see Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, get nice photos of Grazia Buccella and Veronique Vendell, and learn about the ring prowess of Sonny Liston and Max Schmeling. You can see many more Gazettes at our tabloid index located here.
It could have been worse. They could have flown United.
This chaotic West German poster for Der söldner des syndikats caught our eye for a couple of reasons. One was its sheer garishness, and the other was because the unknown artist depicted diminutive Mickey Rooney all swoll up like a Marvel Comics superhero. It just screams cheeseball classic, so we had to check out the film, which is known in English as 24 Hours To Kill. When a plane makes an emergency landing in Beirut the flight crew learns that one of their number (Rooney, decidedly un-swoll and unheroic) is hunted by a criminal smuggling syndicate he's double crossed. The repaired plane leaves in twenty-four hours, and the crew decide to protect Rooney until that time. Abandoning him is out, because he's a pal, and going to the police is out, because they'd be stuck in Beirut for days or weeks, thus making the syndicate's job easier.
So the plan is to protect Mickey Louse for a day and then jet—if they can manage it. What follows is a series of botched abductions worthy of Raiders of the Lost Ark, ornamented with location shooting in Byblos, Baalbeck, Casio Du Liban, and a Beirut long since reshaped by war and bulldozed for high rises and privatized resorts. Those locations possibly make the movie worthwhile all on their own, and other beautiful sights are provided by co-stars Helga Sommerfield and France Anglade. A minor ’60s thriller, this one feels like a television movie, which means the level of tension is not nearly high enough. Nor the level of action—there's more on the poster than in the film. But even if the art misleads, the movie is entertaining enough. Made in English by the West German production company Grixflag Films Ltd., Der söldner des syndikats premiered in West Germany today in 1965.
Intimidating movie poster Mickey. Not very intimidating movie Mickey.
Did she or didn’t she?
These two photos showing burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr were shot today in 1951 for a Los Angeles Examiner story about St. Cyr’s legal difficulties. On 23 February of that year she had begun performing at Ciro’s supper club in Hollywood. It was a different type of club for her—it lacked the intimacy of her normal venues, and would sap some of the heat from her act, but the place was world famous and considered by the smart set to be classy. It had hosted Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Duke Ellington, and Dinah Washington. Of late it was facing stiff competition from Macambo’s, a Brazilian themed joint across the street, and owner Herman Hover wanted to make a splash with St. Cyr. He spent thousands refurbishing the stage just for her, and she would be the first burlesque dancer to transition from men’s clubs to L.A.’s most famous supper club.
On premiere night celebs such as Ronald Reagan, Nancy Davis, Franchot Tone, Barbara Payton, Lex Barker, Mickey Rooney, and Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Bowron watched her strip down to toned perfection as they ate dinner and sipped drinks. Other celebs that visited that summer included Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Clark Gable. During St. Cyr’s residency she varied her act, but a standard bit wasentitled "An Interlude Before Evening," and involved being helped from her clothing by her maid Sadie before slipping nude into a bathtub. But the nudity was an illusion, the cleverest part of her act, achieved through a combination of lighting, positioning, flesh-colored underwear, and sheer athleticism as she slipped quickly from behind a towel and into the sudsy tub.
On 18 October a group of Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies, who were trying to enforce a countywide ban against stripping, arrested St. Cyr and Herman Hover. The charges were the usual slate. St. Cyr called upon celebrity lawyer Jerry Giesler—an event the two Examiner photos at top are supposed to be illustrating—and Giesler proceeded to help turn what was already a media boon for St. Cyr into a full bonanza. Giesler was a showman, and he loved cases that had the potential to increase his fame. He made assorted sensational statements to the press, including one in which he promised to have his client perform her bath routine in the courtroom, and another in which he opined that putting together a jury of peers required empaneling a dozen strippers. He described St. Cyr as merely trying to improve her station in life, just an industrious woman trying to carve herself a piece of American pie. The press ate it up.
The trial was scheduled for early December in the Beverly Hills Courthouse. Giesler kept the jury—which wasn’t all strippers, but at least was mostly female—laughing with his continual antics. He introduced St. Cyr’s rhinestone encrusted bra and g-string as people’s exhibits A and B. He drew diagrams on a blackboard illustrating how different observers' vantage points toward the stage were blocked by St. Cyr's maid. He flustered police officials by making them discuss in detail such such terms as “bump,” “grind,” and “half-bump,” and followed that up by putting Herman Hover on the witness stand and having him demonstrate those moves. The sight of the portly Hover attempting burlesque sent ripples of laughter through the courtroom. Years later Giesler wrote: “I can honestly say I succeeded in having her case laughed into a not-guilty verdict.”
That may have been true, but St Cyr’s icy demeanor was also an important factor. The women found her elegant and remote—the opposite of what they had expected. And the cops did their part for St. Cyr's defense by being terrible witnesses. One claimed that she emerged from the tub completely nude (the normal conclusion to her Interlude, and just as illusory). Another said she wore undies but that he couldsee the outline of her “private parts,” which he discerned in enough detail to determine “were shaven.” The inconsistencies were epic. Some said she caressed herself, others weren’t sure. Another described her towel as “about twenty, twenty-four inches.” In reality it was three times that size. It was as if St. Cyr's dance had dumbfounded the cops.
The confusion has extended even to the present day. For a performance that lasted barely fifteen minutes, it has had an amazing amount of conflicting information attached to it. Columnist Army Archerd claimed St. Cyr was indeed nude that night (clearly wrong, according to multiple testimonies); Sheila Weller’s book Dancing at Ciro’s claims an “all-male” jury (it was mostly female) was taken to Ciro’s to see the act (Giesler tried, but the judge said no); some sources claim St. Cyr performed a reverse strip, beginning nude in the tub and emerging to be slowly dressed by her maid (indeed, that was an oft-performed variation, so it is certainly possible it happened that night). Who's right, and who's wrong? Short of using a time machine to return to October 1951 there's no way to tell.
At the end of the six-day trial the jury acquitted St. Cyr following a mere seventy-eight minutes of deliberations. There had been no indecent exposure. At least not that night. All St. Cyr’s biographers agree on this much—she was shy and regal offstage, but her performancesfreed her to inhabit different characters. Despite her assertions that she always wore at least a g-string and bra, she definitely performed topless on occasion, as shown by the above photo taken at Ciro’s during early 1951.
Sheriff’s deputies had gone to the club already intent upon arresting her based on what they had heard about the act, which may have influenced their testimony—i.e., they didn’t see her nude, but knew she had done it before. St. Cyr admitted in court she knew police were in the audience, thus she was especially careful that night. But what of other nights? Maybe Army Archerd did what columnists do—took an event he witnessed on one night and pretended it happened on a more useful one. Maybe St. Cyr, on occasions when she knew the cops were far away, flashed her audience to generate buzz. It’s likely we’ll never know what really happened, but that merely adds to the St. Cyr mystique. Did she or didn’t she? Only her maid knew for sure.
Or how Ava got her groove back.
Ava Gardner, who was nineteen years old when she married Hollywood star Mickey Rooney in January 1942, is shown here in a Los Angeles divorce court just fourteen months later seeking to dissolve the union. The grounds? According to Gardner, Rooney wouldn’t stay home nights and repeatedly told her he thought the marriage had been a mistake. That's the sanitized version. The truth was Rooney compulsively sought sex, and spent much of his free time chasing other women, as well as patronizing the T&M Studio, a West Hollywood brothel where the girls were movie star look-a-likes. We know what you’re thinking, but Gardner was not a well-known actress in 1942/43, so oods are there was no Gardner look-a-like at the T&M Studio for Rooney to enjoy. Still though, how incredibly twisted would that be? Anyway, this photo of Gardner looking her devastating best is from May 20, 1943. Her divorce became official twenty-four hours later, but she didn’t celebrate. Her mom died that day.
The stuff that bad dreams are made of.
Any movie called Pulp is one we must watch, and since Mike Hodges of Get Carter fame helmed the production we were confident going in, especially since we knew it featured pouty Italian bombshell Nadia Cassini and numerous locations in some of the prettiest and most remote parts of Malta. In fact, as a travel piece the film is flawless (Hodges could have written it for the sole purpose of getting a Mediterranean vacation on the Hollywood dime), but as satire, it’s torturous, despite a few clever sight gags and four or five sharp one-liners. Don’t get us wrong—there are merits: always-interesting star Michael Caine, character actor Lionel Stander, and Hollywood icon Mickey Rooney. But there was also a lot of bad: star Michael Caine sleepwalking through the production in owl glasses and a pompadour, character actor Lionel Stander in a cock-hugging one-piece bathing suit, and Hollywood icon Mickey Rooney getting his dangle on in size forty tightie-whities. To quote our girlfriends, “Eew.” Yes, we know they’re riffing on their own tough-guy images. But still, eew. The main problem with this movie is there’s simply no—if you’ll excuse the term—thrust to the plot. Even satire needs to go somewhere, otherwise it's just middle-aged men showing their packages for nothing. If Rooney and Stander ever watched Pulp without cringing they did better than us. However, since scantily-clad men are rare in the macho world of pulp, we’ve posted some beefcake as a treat, below. And afterwards, we have some shots of Malta that’ll really turn you on. Pulp opened in the U.S. this week in 1972.
On the Q.T. sees strippers everywhere.
On the Q.T. asks on this September 1963 cover whether Hollywood has gone strip crazy, and they have a bit of a point, for once. In the previous year, more or less, movies that featured stripping as a major plot device included Natalie Wood’s Gypsy Rose Lee biopic Gypsy, as well as A Cold Wind in August, Portrait of a Young Man, Girl in Trouble, Night of Evil, Satan in High Heels and The Stripper, with Joanne Woodward. There were possibly even more films, but you get the drift—Hollywood had indeed discovered strippers and had begun featuring them to titillating effect. But while some of the films were more serious and racy than others, none actually showed any naughty bits, despite the breathlessness of On the Q.T.’s reporting.
Other countries, notably France, had already unveiled the human form in cinema, but the first true nude scene in a mainstream American motion picture (excepting the pre-Code films of early Hollywood) came in Sidney Lumet’s 1964 drama The Pawnbroker when both Linda Geiser and African-American actress Thelma Oliver bared their torsos. Interestingly, the nudity barrier probably would have been breached in 1962 by Marilyn Monroe, who filmed a semi-nude pool frolick in Something’s Got To Give. But the production was scrapped, so we’ll never know whether the scenes would have been released as originally shot. Thus two obscure actresses take the prize, and from that point forward Hollywood’s floodgates were open.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
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