|Hollywoodland | Sex Files||Feb 26 2014|
A long while ago we shared the cover of a 1956 Whisper featuring George Sanders. The same issue had an article on Liberace, and we’re returning to that today as part of our look at mid-century tabloid attitudes toward gay culture. In general of course, the tabloids were brutally insulting, using overt as well as coded language to get intimations of homosexuality across. Theoretically, when dealing with public figures they had to be somewhat cautious, but both Rave and Inside had in 1954 written stories insinuating that Liberace was gay, and in 1955 Suppressed and Private Lives did the same. In Whisper, a journalist writing under the name Sylvia Tremaine refers to Liberace as a “creature,” labels his speech as “simpering,” and describes his move to television this way: “From there it was just a brief flutter to a local TV program.”
You’ll notice there’s deniability in all those words—Whisper could claim there was nothing defamatory in the language. Ridiculous, of course. Clearly the magazine was calling Liberace gay, and only a fool would claim otherwise, but defamation had not occurred to an extent that would stand up in court. Thus we see the joy of coded language. The same occurs in the U.S. today in certain media outlets with language directed at African Americans. The disparagement is clear, but deniable. Or for a cinematic example of coding, consider the Maltese Falcon and how the character of Joel Cairo is announced by flute trills on the soundtrack. Clear, and yet deniable. But in its Liberace article Whisper then throws deniability out the window with this: “Hollywood snickerers are wondering, in fact, if all the male hormones earmarked for the Liberace boys weren’t hogged by George, leaving Lee with only his nimble fingers.” That goes a bit beyond code, wouldn’t you say?
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||Jun 1 2011|
This issue of Private Lives from June 1956 with its cover story about Joey Fay teaches us the basic facts of plausible deniability as it works in the political arena. Fay was vice president of the A.F.L. International Union of Operating Engineers based in New York, and in 1945 he was hit with an eighteen-year sentence to Sing-Sing Prison for extortion. Within months rumors sprang up that even though he was behind bars he was still running rackets in New York City. A second scandal involving Fay's involvement in crooked horse racing finally prompted some clever reporter, curious who was relaying directives between Sing-Sing and NYC, to come up with the genius idea of requesting a list of his visitors. That list turned out to be pure dynamite—it was a roster of practically every prominent east coast politician and official within a two-hundred mile radius. We’re talking the majority leader in the state senate, acting lieutenant governor George Wicks, a former state supreme court justice, state senator William Condon, the mayor of Jersey City, the former mayor of Newark, and on and on. Eighty-seven callers in total, whose visits comprise the “affairs” Private Lives speaks of on its cover. The embarrassing revelation produced three results. First, the politicians and officials who had visited Fay were forced to concoct highly improbable excuses that the public nevertheless had to accept because nobody knew the exact content of their conversations. Wicks explained his visit this way: “I never consulted or talked with Joseph Fay about anything else but labor conditions in the counties I represent.” See how that plausible deniability stuff works? The second result of the scandal was that Fay was transferred 250 miles upstate to Clinton Prison in Dannemora, NY, where conditions were not nearly as nice as at Sing-Sing and he was considerably harder to visit. And third, public officials nationwide stopped visiting criminals in prison. Go and figure. And if there was a fourth result, possibly it was this: a generation of New York voters learned what every generation of voters always re-learns—politicians are exactly as corrupt as lack of scrutiny allows them to be.
|Hollywoodland||Jun 5 2010|
Today we have a new entry for our collection of mid-century tabloids—Private Lives, published forty-five years ago this month, with a strikingly bright cover starring Jane Russell, and an accompanying article about aquatic sex timed to take advantage of her role in Underwater. Every tabloid had its visual gimmicks, and Private Lives began with the motif you see here of a black and white face floating on a Technicolor background. By the end of 1955 it had abandoned this look for a fuller color palette, but this older design is much more appealing, in our view. We’ll keep hunting for more of these.