An afternoon on the South Side.
The above photos show the Regal Cinema in Chicago one afternoon during the spring of 1941 as locals flock to see The Philadelphia Story, starring Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Cary Grant. The shots were made by Farm Security Administration photographer Edwin Rosskam, who had been tasked with documenting life in Chicago's black belt, which is where racist housing practices forced African Americans to live. Most of Rosskam's photos made abundantly clear that the underclass status forced upon blacks by redlining—the utilization of mortgage and insurance practices to hem them into tightly packed areas—led to less than desirable conditions, but many of his shots showed joyous moments and bustling civic life. These images of people decked out for a matinee are examples. They're part of the Office of War Information Collection maintained by the Library of Congress.
My life has gone horribly wrong, but at least I still have my digni— Oh, great. My fly was open this whole time, wasn't it?
In David Goodis' 1954 thriller Street of No Return, a down-on-his luck nobody named Whitey, who had been a great singer years ago only to lose his voice, career, and sobriety—thanks to a dame, of course—finds that even for a man at rock bottom things can get worse. And it involves something more serious than discovering his fly is open, though that would be funny. What happens is an impulsive act of compassion drags him into a pit of murder and corruption, set against the backdrop of Puerto Ricans-vs-cops race riots in Philadelphia. There are plenty of reviews of this online, so for details just look around. This one caught our eye because of the intricate and gritty cover art, yet another top effort from Barye Phillips.
What's in the box? Uh, you know, lipstick, gum, cigarettes, the souls of men I consume. The usual.
Above, really nice front and rear cover art for The Blonde on the Street Corner by David Goodis, which was published by Lion Books as a paperback original in 1954. Set in Philadelphia during 1936, the book examines a bunch of guys who have big dreams but no money, no motivation, and no ideas how to escape dead-end Philly. The narrative is basically plotless, like the characters' lives. Talk about a great depression. The cover art, by Robert Maguire, is beautiful but the blonde depicted is nothing like the blonde Goodis writes about. Goodis's blonde is overweight, married, and in her mid-thirties. She does have a sexual aura, though, and certainly fits the mold of a femme fatale. This is considered lesser Goodis, but it's still good enough.
What do they expect? It's called the City of Brotherly Love.
Above is a cover of the early tabloid Philadelphia Briefs published today in 1934, which caught our eye because it has a nice drawing of actress Anita Page, along with an Easter Bunny that seems to looking up her skirt. Bad, bad bunny. Briefs was one of the purest early examples of the American tabloid form, with its reporting focused mainly on big city dangers faced by upstanding young white women, among those perils the predations of darker races—often referred to in the parlance of the Depression years as “sepias” or “ebonys.” To quote: “White, sepia, and ebony wrapped in erotic embrace. White girls in their teens abandoning their ivory bodies to ebony clutches as boy and girl friends cheer drunkenly.” Interesting, no?
This style of reporting served a specific purpose. As James H. Adams put it in his book Urban Reform and Sexual Vice in Progressive Era Philadelphia, the goal was to, “demystify the city through the use of cultural archetypes and narratives that defined why the city was evil, the threat that the city posed to orderly society, and the measures that reformers needed to take to clean up the urban space.” In other words, Briefs created negative, often transparently ridiculous stories that had the effect of convincing readers that barriers maintaining the structure of contemporary society were under siege. These tales of white girls and brotherly love would distress many people even today, so you can imagine the outrage in 1934. See more Briefs here.
Good aim is helpful for committing murders, and absolutely crucial for solving them.
Front Page Detective shows on this November 1971 cover how to attract eyeballs with lurid art and titillating text. Eisenhower’s social secretary murdered? That sounds intriguingly political, but it turns out Eisenhower’s only connection is that his White House had more than a decade earlier employed the murder victim in a secretarial position. Though no political angle exists, the crime itself is still very interesting. Laura Carpi, scion of a prominent Philadelphia family, disappeared in February 1971. In June the decomposed body of a woman was found in New York City’s East River, labeled an accidental drowning victim, and twenty days later interred on Hart Island as a Jane Doe in the potter’s field there. After the body was identified as Carpi’s, the New York Times published a sensational story claiming that her head had been removed before burial for study by junior pathologists, or, according to some sources in the pathologist’s office, simply to be used as a desk ornament. The Times claimed that a technician had been cleaning out whatever grisly remnants of flesh were still attached to the skull and happened to find a bullet lodged in its neck tissue. Dealing now with a suspected homicide, police focused on missing persons, and eventually summoned Carpi’s dentist. Recognizing his own work, he made the positive identification.
The ME’s office became the center of a storm, with Chief Medical Examiner Milton Helpern blasting the Times story for insinuating that “the doctors in this office are cutting off people’s heads to make ashtrays.” He pronounced the entire article “grossly distorted.” Perhaps it was, but uncovering a murder by chance never looks good, and he didn’t help his cause when he responded to a question about why his staff had failed to discover the bullet by saying that he ran a mortuary, not a graveyard, and was extremely busy. Though his answer was callous, it was also correct. His office had a contant flow of bodies coming through—that year more than 1,800 alone that had been victims of murder—and his staff was overworked. Add to this the facts that Laura Carpi had thick hair that concealed the small caliber entry wound at the base of her skull, the slug had left no exit wound, and the head had been four months in the water, and it’s possible to see how mistakes could be made. As to why the head was kept, the unconvincing official reason was that it was because the dentalwork would allow for possible future identification—which only made sense if all the Jane and John Does on Hart Island were also headless.
In any case, the finger of suspicion for the murder immediately pointed toward Carpi’s estranged husband Colin, at right, who was battling for custody of their four children. Not only would the loss of this battle and subsequent divorce settlement wipe him out financially, but he was also well aware that his wife had been seeing another man. For various reasons—jurisdictional issues and general reluctance to pursue the crime—Colin Carpi didn’t go to trial for two more years. A mountain of circumstantial evidence pointed at him, but his acquittal was deemed by most legal experts to be the right decision. The prosecution simply bungled its presentation to the jury, and even if the courtroom aspect had been perfect, much of Colin Carpi’s suspicious behavior could be chalked up to the circumstances around the custody battle and his wife’s affair. Perhaps a not-guilty verdict was an anti-climax after the high drama associated with the identification of Laura Carpi’s body, but not finding the perp is the way it often goes in true crime, and real life.
Yeah, but you should see the other guy.
This is American boxer Carmen Basilio, and bad as he looks on the outside, he feels even worse inside because he’s just learned he lost his welterweight title to challenger Johnny Saxton. That wasn’t what Basilio, the crowd of thousands, and the television audience of millions thought when the final bell rang, but the judges somehow saw a different fight than everyone else and awarded Saxton the decision. Did it have anything to do with the fact that Saxton was mafia-connected, and his “manager, friend, and adviser” was Philly mobster and notorious fight fixer Frank “Blinky” Palermo? Very possible. Basilio later said of the decision, which occurred in March 1956, “It was like being robbed in a dark alley.” Well, he certainly looks like a guy who was robbed. See more on Basilio here.
There’s only one way to tan—the Gaby way.
Gaby Suntan Lotion was a popular sunscreen manufactured during the 1940s by Gaby, Inc. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and above is a stand-up cardboard counter display touting its famed greaseless composition. Other versions of the ad informed consumers that the lotion was also alcohol free. Of course, what drew us to this is the pin-up style art painted by an unknown, not its SPF qualities. But it does it inspire us work on our tans a bit. After all, summer’s almost over.
First time we’ve seen it, but hopefully not the last.
Above is the cover of an issue of Final, a publication we had never heard of before, but which is certainly big budget and hit the streets this month in 1950 courtesy of Gambit Publishing out of New York City. The cover star is model Joy Niven, who we also had never heard of, but who was photographed by famed Marilyn Monroe lensman Earl Leaf. This Final has taken a bit of wear over the last six decades, but kudos to the Denver Book Fair for acquiring it, sealing it so its deterioration stopped, and selling it to us cheap. Now we’ve carried it across an ocean, opened it, and exposed it to the elements, but all in an effort to scan it for posterity. For as we discussed before, if it isn’t digital and accessible to the masses, does it really exist at all?
Final is basically a tabloid, with a bit of crime, a bit of politics, a bit of sports, and a lot of celebrity dish. There are quite a few interesting items inside. In the Picture of the Month you see Canadian actor Rod Cameron with Portuguese model Angela Alves-Lico. They had just met earlier on the beach and, according to Final, she was driving home, and Cameronwas following in his car, when she had an auto accident. Our first thought, because they’d just met and “following her home” sounds a bit stalkerish to us, is that maybe she crashed because she was trying to get away from him. But perhaps not—Cameron and Alves-Lico soon married each other.
Later on you get an investigative report from inside Major League Baseball. What’s being investigated? Whether baseball is still prejudiced against Negroes. Short answer—yes. The reason Final was asking was because Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and others had been playing in the Majors for a few years, prompting certain elements of the punditry to pronounce prejudice in baseball beaten. Of course that was ludicrous to even suggest, and Final’s report singles out the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Chicago Cubs as clubs that would not under any circumstances employ a black baseballer. Of those, the Phillies held out longest, employing their first African American baseball player a full ten years after Jackie Robinson had arrived with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Probably the highlight of the issue, for us at least, is an article asking nineteen prominent ministers if they think the use of a nuclear bomb by the U.S. in Korea could be justified. Of the nineteen, only three unambiguously say it would be wrong. Most of the others echo theopinion of the compassionate Rev. B. W. Hancock: “If our military feels that it would establish peace, then I would favor it.” Truly, Hancock must have spent a lot of time with his cock in his han to come up with that one. It makes us think of the famous Tacitus quote: “Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.” Or, “And where they make a desert, they call it peace.” Yes! Three years of high school Latin and we finally worked that shit into a post. Nice! Anyway, for various reasons, the U.S. never nuked Korea, so we hope the ministers weren’t too disappointed.
Elsewhere in Final you get Australian nudists, Parisian white slavers, professional seers, forced sterilization, Ava Gardner in the Mediterranean, Patrice Wymore and more. We don’t know if we’ll ever run across another issue of Final, but we will certainly be looking. And in the meantime this one will go back in its plastic and—who knows?—with a little luck, it might survive another sixty years. More scans below.
Update: Pamela writes in and says, "The best part about that Rod Cameron/Angela Alves-Lico story is that after ten years of marriage, Cameron divorced her. And married her mother. Yep...the woman on the right in that photo.
Are you ready for some football?
Did you know there was a football team called the Brooklyn Dodgers? This nice little piece of Americana reminds us of that fact. It’s the cover of a program for an NFL game between the Dodgers and the Washington Redskins, played at Ebbets Field today in 1942. The Brooklyn Dodgers football team existed from 1930 to 1944, at which point it became the Brooklyn Tigers for one season, then the next year merged with the Boston Yanks. This move came about due to a decline in the on-field product caused by wartime shortages of players. But before being folded into another franchise and effectively disappearing, the Dodgers helped bring the NFL into the mass media era when its October 22, 1939 game against the Philadelphia Eagles was broadcast on television. That was the first NFL broadcast ever. Another historical note: the unusual Dodgers nickname derives from the fact that through the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were so many trolley lines running through Brooklyn that people from that borough were called “trolley dodgers.” Naturally, this is also the reason the All-America Football Conference team called the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the baseball Brooklyn Dodgers, both adopted the nickname. Of course, baseball’s Dodgers were the first to do so, by decades. Lastly, on the cover is a photo of Frank Kinard, who played for the Dodgers/Tigers and, just to make the whole name thing even more convoluted, played for the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. You can learn plenty more about the Brooklyn Dodgers at the website luckyshow.org.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1948—Paige Takes Mound in the Majors
Satchel Paige, considered at the time the greatest of Negro League pitchers, makes his Major League debut for the Cleveland Indians at the age of 42. His career in the majors is short because of his age, but even so, as time passes, he is recognized by baseball experts as one of the great pitchers of all time.
1965—Biggs Escapes the Big House
Ronald Biggs, a member of the gang that carried out the Great Train Robbery in 1963, escapes from Wandsworth Prison by scaling a 30-foot wall with three other prisoners, using a ladder thrown in from the outside. Biggs remains at large for nearly forty years.
NBC radio broadcasts the cop drama Dragnet for the first time. It was created by, produced by, and starred Jack Webb as Joe Friday. The show would later go on to become a successful television program, also starring Webb.
1973—Lake Dies Destitute
Veronica Lake, beautiful blonde icon of 1940s Hollywood and one of film noir's most beloved fatales
, dies in Burlington, Vermont of hepatitis and renal failure due to long term alcoholism. After Hollywood, she had drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and New York City and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. A New York Post
article briefly revived interest in her, but at the time of her death she was broke and forgotten.
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