She has all the qualities you look for.
U.S. actress Lita Milan, born in Brooklyn as Iris Maria Lia Menshell, had a short Hollywood career She started in 1954, and her last motion picture—I, Mobster—came in 1959. But she remained in the public eye. In 1960 she married Ramfis Trujillo, who happened to be the son of Rafael Trujillo, longtime dictator of the Dominican Republic. We assume she fell for the ole, “I don't want to be like my father,” routine, but when pops was assassinated in 1961, Ramfis sought out and killed some of the plotters himself. He became leader of the country, and Milan, presumably, became first lady of sorts. It didn't last long—less than a year later they left the D.R. for exile. The above photo predates all those adventures, circa 1957.
The Lowdown has the scoop on a fantastic plastic.
Today we're back to tabloids with an issue of The Lowdown published this month in 1962. The cover features Bob Hope goofing around, Elizabeth Taylor looking serious, Kim Novak nuzzling, and a random naked party girl randomly partying naked. Inside the issue are stories on Hope getting the hots for trans star Coccinelle in a French nightclub, Novak raking a series of suitors over the coals, and baseball players succumbing to greed. So much material in these tabloids, and so little time to highlight a story or two. But forced to make a choice, we're opting to discuss a piece on something called Scoobeedoo. How can we not? We all remember the cartoon, and now this story seemed guaranteed to tell us where the name of the legendary dog came from. We never knew we wanted to know that. But when we saw the word Scoobeedoo we realized, yes, we want to know.
Lowdown describes Scoobeedoo as a craze and a do-it-yourself gimmick. Apparently, it was popularized when French singer Sacha Distel wrote a 1958 song of the same name. But he didn't invent it—he just sang about it. The actual thing was invented by a French plastics company and called Scoubidou. It was basically a spool of brightly colored plastic cord that could be woven or tied to make—well, whatever you wanted. Youcould make lampshades, baskets, placemats, keychains. A California man famously used it to make bikinis. We imagine it would work for household repairs, light sexual bondage, whatever you needed it for. The stuff was as popular as the hula hoop for a while. Apparently figures in the electrical industry even complained that a shortage of wiring insulation was due to Scoubidou because it used the same type of plastic.
Readers above a certain age will already know about all this, of course, but we had no idea. We weren't around back then. And that, succinctly, is why we maintain this website—because we learn about a past we never experienced. But surprisingly Scoubidou isn't just the past. It apparently still exists. It even has a Wikipedia entry with examples of the many things you can make (but no bikinis). So this was a very informative issue of The Lowdown, all things considered. The only thing we're bummed about is that our Scoubidou research provided no actual confirmation that the cartoon dog Scooby-Doo got his name from the toy. But he had to, right? Maybe a reader has the answer to that. In the meantime we have more than twenty scans below for your enjoyment and other issues of The Lowdown you can access by clicking the magazine's keywords at bottom.
Update: a reader does have the answer. One of you always does. J. Talley wrote this:
The series was originally rejected by CBS executives, who thought the presentation artwork was too frightening for children and that the show must be the same. CBS Executive Fred Silverman was listening to Frank Sinatra's “Strangers In The Night” (with the scatted lyric “dooby-dooby-doo”) on the flight to that ill-fated meeting. After the show was rejected, a number of changes were made: the Hanna-Barbera staff decided that the dog should be the star of the series instead of the four kids, and renamed him Scooby-Doo after that Sinatra lyric. The spooky aspects of the show were toned down slightly, and the comedy aspects tuned up. The show was re-presented, accepted, and premiered as the centerpiece for CBS's 1969-1970 Saturday Morning season.
Thanks, J. That's another hole in our historical knowledge successfully filled in. Is it any surprise Sinatra was involved somehow? That guy really got around.
Private Affairs joins the wild mix of 1960s tabloids.
This issue of the New York based tabloid Private Affairs appeared in June 1962, and features cover stars Kim Novak and American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell rendered by an uncredited artist. Inside the issue Affairs rehashes Novak’s various relationships, recounting how mafia goons threatened to kill Sammy Davis Jr. if he didn’t stop meeting Novak across the color line, how she accepted an expensive sports car as a gift from Ramfis Trujillo even though his hands were “bathed in the blood of executed political prisoners,” and how she shot down a smitten Charles Boyer by asking him in bewilderment, “How could you have thought I loved you?” The overarching concern is Novak’s longstanding unmarried status, wedlock of course being the default state for any normal woman. Novak was only twenty-nine at the time—but that was spinster age by tabloid standards. She eventually did wed when she was thirty-two, and it’s a wonder she made it down the aisle without the aid of a wheelchair.
Private Affairs moves on to Norman Lincoln Rockwell, who was making waves with racist rhetoric and a bold guarantee to win the White House by 1972. The question Private Affairs editors ask is whether Rockwell should be taken seriously. They answer by offering an anecdote about how German president Paul von Hindenburg scoffed at a fledgling Adolf Hitler by calling him a “silly little housepainter.” Ten years later, they note, there were 30,000,000 dead. “How far will America let the hate mongers go? Will an unsound branch on the tree of American democracy fall off or will it poison the organism?” they ask. It’s worth noting that while Rockwell’s anti-Jewish rhetoric clearly annoys the editors, they don’t offer any support for the African Americans he was likewise excoriating. But in the end, Rockwell was shot dead by a fellow Nazi. Whether he could have risen to political office is a matter of historical debate.
Private Affairs moves next to related subject matter by claiming that the 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire that killed nearly five-hundred people in a Boston nightclub was set by Nazi saboteurs, and furthermore that the FBI covered that fact up. We wrote about the fire a few years ago, and you may remember that witnesses said the conflagration began with a busboy changing a light bulb. Private Affairs claims the bulb was a specially designed Nazi device that had a fuse inside instead of a normal tungsten filament. This fuse could be set for various ignition times, and a delayed setting allowed the saboteur got away. How the editors puzzled this out remains unclear, and there’s no explanation how a busboy randomly asked to change a burnt out light chose or was handed a deadly device rather than a typical bulb, but maybe those points aren’t important. Tabloids often fail to answer their own questions—the important thing is to stir up trouble.
Elsewhere in the issue we get Lana Turner, who Affairs claims let her daughter take a murder rap for her; comedian Dick Gregory, who is accused of stealing jokes; and Ingrid Bergman, who is shown with her later-to-be-famous daughter Isabella Rossellini. We also meet Nai Bonet, a famed Vietnamese bellydancer who within a couple of years would parlay her fame into a film and music career. Private Affairs is not a well known tabloid today—it probably arrived on the scene just a bit too late to carve out a readership when newsstand shelves were already packed with established imprints such as Confidential, Uncensored, Top Secret, Inside Story, Hush-Hush, et al. This particular issue—designated Vol 1, No. 3—is the only copy of the magazine we’ve ever seen. We suspect the brand was defunct within the first year. Many scans below, and more rare tabloids coming soon.
No matter how far we run the strings of our history are still attached.
How times have changed. Could one of the most brutal killers in the world openly hobnob with the Hollywood set today? We doubt it. But back in the day, a few rumors of murder only bolstered a man’s adventurous reputation, as proved by this November 1958 Whisper showing Rafael “Ramfis” Trujillo, Jr. charming Zsa Zsa Gabor and Kim Novak. One or both women, you may notice, actually appear courtesy an X-acto knife and glue, but what self-respecting tabloid has time to locate a legit photo when paste-up will do the job almost as well? Trujillo did date and bed both Gabor and Novak in real life, which makes this cover technically accurate, and makes him the second most enviable Dominican jet-setter in history.
Ramfis Trujillo reportedly gave most women that frisson some find irresistible, but his life wasn’t all starlets and champagne. Though he wanted nothing more than to be a playboy, there was an obstacle in the form of family baggage. Specifically, his father was a sadistic military dictator who had been put in power in the Dominican Republic by the CIA. Trujillo, Sr. expected his son to continue in the family business. This had been abundantly clear to Ramfis since the day his father made him a full general—with full pay—at age nine. For this and other reasons, he grew up with a warped sense of power and by the time of this Whisper cover had already ordered several murders and indulged in the occasional gang rape. He might have been considered a classic chip off the old block, save for rumors that Ramfis’s father was actually a Cuban named Rafael Dominicis—hence the “illegitimate dastard” tag in the banner. But the story about Ramfis being illegitimate was strongly denied by everyone involved (except Dominicis, who “disappeared”).
In any case, through the late fifties Ramfis tomcatted his way from Hollywood to Paris, and only occasionally let his urbane manner slip to reveal someone considerably less charming beneath. He seemed to have settled into his chosen lifestyle permanently when he married an actress named Lita Milan, below, who had starred opposite Paul Newman inThe Left-Handed Gun. But back in the Dominican, the impulsive Rafael Trujillo, Sr. was behaving less and less like the good lap dog the CIA had put in charge three decades earlier. Eventually, his U.S. benefactors turned against him and he died in a fusillade of possibly CIA-arranged bullets.
Junior succumbed to the pull of familial duty, as well as the desire for revenge, and flew back to the Dominican to restore order. This involved personally killing some of the participants in his father’s assassination. While this must have given him great satisfaction, it did little to stabilize the country. Under pressure from both internal enemies and the U.S., Ramfis Trujillo fled to Spain less than a year later with a casket containing millions in cash, jewels, bonds, and his father. By 1969 he was dead too, due to complications stemming from an automobile accident. In the end he presents an interesting question of nature versus nurture, i.e. was he meant to be a ladykiller, a real killer, or both?
He had a lot in common with the guy on those Dos Equis commercials, except he was real.
Today we’re back to the top dog of classic tabloids, the always-titillating Confidential. The above issue is from fifty-five years ago this month, July 1954, and as always the cover promises scandalous inside scoop—this time on champs, presidents, and filthy rich heiresses. But it’s the unassuming banner on the Rubirosa murder case that interests us, because it refers to none other than Porfirio Rubirosa, and if you’ve never heard of him, then prepare yourself to meet (cue grandiose flamenco chords) The Most Interesting Man in the World.
Rubirosa was born in the Dominican Republic in 1909 but raised in France, where his father, an army general, had scored the chargé d'affaires position at the Dominican consulate in Paris. When the young Rubirosa was seventeen he returned to the Dominican to study law, but enlisted in the military before finishing. In 1932, after a weeklong courtship, he married a seventeen year-old girl named Flor de Oro Trujillo, who happened to be the daughter of mass-murdering military dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. For normal men, rush-marrying a dictator’s little flower would result in a one-way ticket to the torture chamber, but for the charming Rubirosa it meant a diplomatic post in Berlin.
In 1935, Rubirosa’s cousin, Luis de la Fuente Rubirosa, was accused of assassinating exiled Dominican politician Sergio Bencosme in New York City. It was Rafael Trujillo’s work, but de la Fuente Rubirosa was the triggerman, and Porifirio was suspected of being an accomplice. That’s the murder Confidential references, and if you’re asking yourself why they cared about it nineteen years after the event, it’s because by then Rubirosa was very famous. But we’ll get to that.
Rubirosa had developed passions for polo, racing, gambling, and other expensive upper crust pursuits. He excelled at all of them. Perhaps the only thing he wasn’t good at was fidelity, which led to his divorce from Flor in 1937. But his sheer magnetism—or perhaps the fact that he was a valuable hired gun—kept him in dictator dad’s good graces, and he continued to receive diplomatic posts. When World War II swept across Europe, Rubirosa made a stack of money selling Dominican exit visas to fleeing Jews. At some point the Gestapo imprisoned him, but he was released after six months. After that, he was allegedly recruited as a political assassin.
In 1942 he met and married the French actress Danielle Darrieux, who you see above. From then on Rubirosa traveled in cinematic circles, which meant a more public profile. A consequence of this was that tidbits of his personal life began to leak out. Suddenly everyone knew he was a great lover, and that he had a penis measuring anywhere from eleven to fourteen inches, depending on whom you believed. After a while the slang term “rubirosa” became popular in France. They used it to refer to the giant pepper grinders in restaurants, and still do to this day.
By now there were open questions about Rubirosa’s racial background. He was very dark, and was often described as “nut brown.” Rumors spread that he was part black—a devastating accusation in the 1940s, and one still used very effectively as a smear even in today’s supposedly post-racial age. But Rubirosa handled the gossip with the panacheyou'd expect from The Most Interesting Man in the World—he never addressed it all, at least not in public. His silence basically amounted to: “So what if I am?” And if the rumors bothered him, he surely derived ample compensation from the fact that legions of female admirers who’d heard about that pepper grinder of his didn’t care.
Because of the ease with which he was able to meet and bed women, Rubirosa found it impossible to remain faithful, even to an elegant beauty like Danielle Darrieux. They divorced in 1947, and the high-profile involvements began to pile up. There was Dolores del Rio, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Soraya Esfandiary, Veronica Lake, Kim Novak, Doris Duke (who happened to be the richest woman in the world), and Barbara Hutton (who was the second richest woman in the world). He fooled around with his first love Flor during his marriage to Duke, and with Zsa Zsa Gabor during his marriage to Hutton. When Duke divorced him he walked with $500,000, a string of polo ponies, some sports cars, a converted B-25 bomber, and a 17th century house in Paris. When Hutton divorced him—after only five weeks—he added a coffee plantation in the Dominican, another B-25, and $3.5 million to his holdings.
By now he was a professional celebrity. He was friendly with Joe Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr. One night in Paris, after teaching Davis how to properly kiss a woman's hand, the two went out to perfect the technique by flirting with women on the Champs-Élysées. Frank Sinatra once asked Rubirosa, “Rubi, have you ever held a full-timejob?” Rubirosa reportedly answered, “Women are my full-time job.” At some point he met Ian Fleming, and the novice writer came up with the great idea of basing a character on Rubirosa—a certain spy named James Bond.
Rubirosa’s fame made him tabloid fodder, and the scandal sheets dutifully tried to dig up dirt on him. They went back to the racial stuff, and whispered about that nineteen year-old New York murder. But the rumors that he had been an assassin just fed into his growing legend. He seemed to know everything, was one of the boys, one with the girls, and had already done more than most men manage in a lifetime. Truman Capote saw Rubirosa’s cock and rated it eleven inches. A female acquaintance pointed out a size twelve loafer in a shoe store and said Rubi had it beat. Rubirosa partied his way from Hollywood to Rome to Monaco, and wherever he went local women hung around his favorite hotels and bars, hoping to meet him.
He was racing his Ferrari professionally, and competed twice in the 24-hour race at LeMans. He was also looking for a relationship that would last, and in 1956 he married for the fifth time to actress Odile Rodin. She was nineteen and he was 42. He had mellowed—not a lot—but just enough to remain faithful. The marriage seemed to work. He was still boyish and exciting, and his biggest asset—that famous pepper grinder—showed no signs of diminishing with age. He began working on his memoirs. He was still young for that, but he had lived so much.
In 1965 Rubirosa was part of a team that won the Coupe de France polo cup. He spent the night of the victory celebrating at a Paris nightspot called Jimmy’s, then headed home in his Ferrari. The roads werewet, and he was a little drunk. He lost control of the car and died in a fiery crash. The Most Interesting Man in the World was gone—literally burning out rather than fading away. He never finished his memoirs, and today the closest the world has to a Porfirio Rubirosa is a fictional character in a Dos Equis commercial.
More than almost any man of his era, Porfirio Rubirosa represents the lost glamour and mystery of a time that can never be reclaimed. He was the product of a more innocent and refined—yet also crueler—age. Reading about his life is like reading about an event you’d give anything to have witnessed, even if it would have been dangerous to be there. Rumor has it a few Rubirosa-based scripts are floating around Hollywood. Supposedly Antonio Banderas has rights to one, and wants to play the lead role. Maybe it’s a lack of imagination on our part, but we don’t see it. There is no shortage of legends in history, but we can’t think of one whose shoes would be more difficult to fill. As much as we’d like to see a Rubirosa biopic, our advice is this: if it’s better to burn out than to fade away, maybe it’s also better to never try and rekindle the flame.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1937—Amelia Earhart Disappears
Amelia Earhart fails to arrive at Howland Island during her around the world flight, prompting a search for her and navigator Fred Noonan in the South Pacific Ocean. No wreckage and no bodies are ever found.
1964—Civil Rights Bill Becomes Law
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Bill into law, which makes the exclusion of African-Americans from elections, schools, unions, restaurants, hotels, bars, cinemas and other public institutions and facilities illegal. A side effect of the Bill is the immediate reversal of American political allegiance, as most southern voters abandon the Democratic Party for the Republican Party.
1997—Jimmy Stewart Dies
Beloved actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in such films as Rear Window and Vertigo, dies at age eighty-nine at his home in Beverly Hills, California of a blood clot in his lung.
1941—NBC Airs First Official TV Commercial
NBC broadcasts the first TV commercial to be sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC began licensing commercial television stations in May 1941, granting the first license to NBC. During a Dodgers-Phillies game broadcast July 1, NBC ran its first commercial, from Bulova, who paid $9 to advertise its watches.
1963—Kim Philby Named as Spy
The British Government admits that former high-ranking intelligence diplomat Kim Philby had worked as a Soviet agent. Philby was a member of the spy ring now known as the Cambridge Five, along with Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross. Of the five, Philby is believed to have been most successful in providing classified information to the Soviet Union. He defected to Russia, was feted as a hero and even given his commemorative stamp, before dying in 1988 at the age of seventy-six.
1997—Robert Mitchum Dies
American actor Robert Mitchum dies in his home in Santa Barbara, California. He had starred in films such as Out of the Past, Blood on the Moon
, and Night of the Hunter
, was called "the soul of film noir," and had a reputation for coolness
that would go unmatched until Frank Sinatra arrived on the scene.
1908—Tunguska Explosion Occurs
Near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai in Russia, a large meteoroid or comet explodes at five to ten kilometers above the Earth's surface with a force of about twenty megatons of TNT. The explosion is a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic blast, knocks over an estimated 80 million trees and generates a shock wave estimated to have been 5.0 on the Richter scale.
1971—Soviet Cosmonauts Perish
Soviet cosmonauts Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev, who served as the first crew of the world's first space station Salyut 1, die when their spacecraft Soyuz 11 depressurizes during preparations for re-entry. They are the only humans to die in space (as opposed to the upper atmosphere).
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