Everybody who was anybody was fair game in Harrison's Hollywood.
In independent journalism there's a battle raging at all times, as those with power attempt to intimidate the press, make its work difficult, control its narrative, restrict its access, redefine what constitutes journalism, or even cast individual members of the press as public enemies. It's a battle that never ends. Confidential magazine was an important soldier on the journalistic battlefield. For ages anything that appeared in Hollywood gossip magazines was carefully crafted and groomed by the studios, which maintained power by denying access to all but officially accredited press outlets.
Maverick publisher Robert Harrison was a visionary who realized the public would open their wallets and pay for the lurid truth—even if the rush to get startling scoops meant the truth was sometimes only half-correct. Confidential appeared in 1952, and had the studios quivering in their boots by 1954. The issue you see here came later, this month in 1963, in what is acknowledged as the magazine's later, tamer period, a defanging that came about thanks to numerous lawsuits launched by Hollywood stars, backed by powerful California politicians.
Confidential still managed to entertain, even if its stories were of a less invasive nature than before. But notwithstanding the new rules of engagement, some targets received particularly scathing treatment. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were among them. The magazine says their legendary affair on the set of Cleopatra began as a studio publicity stunt, which backfired when Taylor actually fell for Burton—and into his bed. That may be true, but failure can be relative. On one hand Taylor's squeaky clean image was ruined forever, but on the other the story of her affair generated immense amounts of free press for Cleopatra.
Other celebs who get cooked on the rotisserie include Joan Collins, Anthony Newley, Rex Harrison, Vince Edwards, and pioneering trans entertainer Christine Jorgensen. The magazine also tackled the issue of street prostitution in New York City and an epidemic of glue sniffing among American teens. We have a set of scans below and—stop us if you've heard this before—an entire tabloid index with thirty more posts about Confidential, to be found here.
Her final answer simply raised more questions.
Above you see two photos of actress Carole Landis, dead on the bathroom floor of her Pacific Palisades home, where she was found today in 1948. She had been dumped by her married lover Rex Harrison the night before, and responded by killing herself with an overdose of prescription medication. She had tried suicide before but had been rescued by friends. This time she took forty Seconal tablets, which leaves little doubt as to her firm intent—one fifth the amount would have killed her. She fell into a coma early in the morning with her head resting on a jewelry box, which is the reason for its elevated position. She also left a note on her dresser for her mother:
Dearest Mommie - I'm sorry, really sorry, to put you through this but there is no way to avoid it - I love you darling you have been the most wonderful mom ever and that applies to all our family. I love each and every one of them dearly - Everything goes to you - Look in the files and there is a will which decrees everything - Good bye, my angel - Pray for me - Your baby
Hollywood suicides are part of the town's lore. Landis's is more remembered than most, not for what Landis did, but for what those around her did. Harrison had been calling her throughout the morning but her maid had told him she wasn't awake. She wasn't going to disturb her employer, so Harrison dropped by himself, entered her bedroom and found Landis non-responsive. He felt her wrist and said he felt a faint pulse, but instead of calling an ambulance rifled through her address book, hoping to call her private doctor and thus keep the disaster under wraps. While he did that, Landis died. After failing to find the number he sought, he went home, called studio head Darryl Zanuck, and set about damage control. The maid, left to deal with the situation, asked a neighbor to call police.
It wasn't unusual for press to have access to death scenes, as we've documented frequently in our Naked City posts. Landis's death photo appeared on the fronts of hundreds of newspapers by the next morning. By then questions had begun to arise. Some said Landis had written a second suicide note that Harrison destroyed. When asked at a coroner's inquest whether there was a note, he said no. Her friend Florence Wasson said there was a second note, but it only asked that the cat be taken to the vet because it had a sore paw. The inquest was closed with no new findings, but years later a policeman who had been at Landis's house that day said he had seen a second note addressed to Harrison, and that the cat had seemed in perfect health.
Landis's family claimed Harrison was guilty of murder—and not just for dithering about when he thought he felt a pulse. They claim he killed her outright to keep news of his affair from damaging his career. However, his relationship with Landis was a poorly kept secret, and tabloids were making sly references to it, identifying Harrison and Landis by their initials. Also, Harrison already had a terrible reputation. People behave irrationally in high stress situations, and Harrison made bad moves at every stage, especially when one considers that there was no way he could hope to hide his involvement. But that shows merely cold-hearted concern for himself, and possibly a lack of awareness how near death Landis was. Add it all up and you have one of Hollywood's most storied suicides—one where an act meant to be a final answer left endless questions.
Kay Kendall deals the room a serious blow.
British actress Kay Kendall is not well known today, but until her early death at age thirty-two she seemed ticketed for longlasting stardom. The above shot is from the comedy Genevieve, where she spontaneously shows the fellas how to play trumpet even though she's absolutely blotto. It's a funny scene in an entertaining movie, and was her breakthrough performance. What wasn't funny was her death. Legend has it that a routine blood test revealed leukaemia, which was disclosed not to her but to husband Rex Harrison, who thought it best to keep her terminal status from her, instead telling her she was suffering from anemia. It isn't clear whether she ever knew what killed her, but one would guess she did, at the end. Today she has a major charity named after her—the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund.
Frank Sinatra and Rex Harrison have a little disagreement.
This July 1957 issue of Lowdown shines light in every corner of show business with stories about singer Billy Daniels, stage star Tina Louise, screen actress Kay Kendall, and call girl Nella Bogart. It also delves into international politics with stories on Hungarian leader János Kádár and King Abdulaziz, aka Ibn Saud, of Saudi Arabia. But you know we love Sinatra stories, and so what interests us most is the piece about Frank Sinatra and British actor Rex Harrison brawling. Turns out it wasn’t a brawl, so much as a scuffle. In brief, Harrison slapped Sinatra twice because he thought Frank was hitting on actress Kay Kendall, who happened to be Rex’s girlfriend. The legend goes that Kendall and Sinatra were on a balcony chatting when Harrison appeared and tried to lead her away. Kendall had been appreciating Sinatra’s shirt, and she mentioned to Harrison how much she liked it. Sinatra deadpanned, “It’s just an old shirt. Off-white. Sort of yellow.” Harrison slapped him, and Sinatra said, “It’s still yellow.” Another slap and Sinatra walked away.
Some tabloids, including Lowdown, suggested that Sinatra’s “yellow” comment was meant as a reference to Harrison’s behavior with Carole Landis back in 1948. What had Harrison done? Well, he was married to Lilli Palmer back then but was having an affair with Landis. One night Landis swallowed forty Seconal pills, and Harrison and Landis’s maid found her non-responsive the next day. Harrison thought he felt a faint pulse, but rather than call paramedics immediately, he futilely searched her phone book for the information of her personal doctor, his aim being to keep the situation private. After failing to find a number he bailed and left the maid to deal with the situation. Yellow indeed. It’s highly doubtful Sinatra had any of that in mind, and in fact, he professed respect for Harrison, both before and after the slapping, so we have to chalk the tabloid rumors up to overactive imaginations.
Still though, one can’t be surprised that Harrison was defensive. He knew he was gossiped about around town, not only because of Landis, but because he routinely ruined other women’s lives as well. He was a serial cheater. In fact, he didn’t really consider it cheating. To him, a man’s right was to have any woman he wished, marriage vows notwithstanding. Not only was he wedded to Lilli Palmer while sleeping with Carole Landis, buthe was still married to her while sleeping with Kay Kendall. We could go on, but that’s all we’ll do on Harrison today. Rest assured, though, that he’ll turn up in future tabloids. With stories emanating from a seemingly endless collection of emotionally battered wives, lovers, friends, co-stars, waiters, chauffeurs, maids, and doormen, his reappearance is inevitable.
It was a simple matter of dollars and sense.
Last time we featured Inside Story, we took a detailed look at the contents, concluded that there was good reason it was a strictly blah tabloid, and decided not to buy it again. But that doesn’t mean we can’t cull them from online, so today we have this February 1957 cover that promises to expose “the amazing James Dean hoax.” Make sure you’re sitting down when you read this. The globe-spanning conspiracy Inside Story uncovered is simply that Dean’s posthumous spike in popularity wasn’t entirely due to sincere outpourings of appreciation by fans, but also because of a deliberate, behind-the-scenes publicity campaign by Warner Bros., who had produced his last movie Giant. Warners had decided that, after dropping $5 million on production, they needed a major publicity angle to have any hope of recouping their investment in a movie whose star had been dead a year and a month. The money quote: “Unfortunately, Dean, living again only for the profits of the movie-makers, will never see a dime of that increased gross…” Well, no, because death will tend to put a crimp in one’s personal finances. At least Inside Story published a nice photo, from East of Eden, below. We have two more issues, with lots of scans, and you can see those here and here.
Prehistoric women had surprisingly sophisticated footwear.
Promo shot of American actress Carole Landis as Loana of the prehistoric Shell Tribe, from the film One Million B.C., 1940. Landis’ role is the same one Raquel Welch would make eternally famous by wearing a fur bikini in the remake twenty-seven years later. As a side note, Landis is yet another actress who committed suicide. She was twenty-nine when, despairing over a failed romance with Rex Harrison, she took an overdose of seconal.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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