Gardner and MacMurray juggle love and danger in wartime Malaysia.
We talked about the 1947 war adventure Singapore in August. Here's a beautiful Italian poster for the film, on which co-star Ava Gardner takes front and center, with Fred MacMurray lurking in the background. There are several Italian promos. This one is by Zadro, who painted a number of other brilliant pieces, but about whom little is known today. We'll get back to him. And you can read more about the movie here.
So, this will shock you—I can tell you it shocked me—but I realized I've wanted to shoot you since our very first date.
Marian Marsh was born in what is now Trinidad and Tobago, but which was at the time of her birth part of the British West Indies. She started life as Violet Krauth, but for Hollywood changed her name. She appeared in such films as The Road to Singapore, Crime and Punishment, In Spite of Danger, Murder by Invitation, and the horror classic The Black Room. All worthy achievements, and she also founded a nonprofit called Desert Beautiful, which had a mission to preserve the environment of Palm Desert, California, where she lived after retirement. The organization lasted for about fifty years, which is quite good for a nonprofit. The above photo, made back when she was interested only in murder, is from the 1931 drama Five Star Final.
Murder mystery explores the turbulent years of pre-Malaysia Singapore.
We grabbed this beautiful hardcover copy of Suddenly, at Singapore from Scottish publishers William Collins, Sons & Co. for two reasons. First, the cover art is by the legendary Barbara Walton, one of the great illustrators of the mid-century period, and the title promises exotic thrills. Though we're lucky enough to live in an exotic land ourselves, we never get tired of tales set in Asia, Africa, or the Mediterranean. And speaking of exotic, Gavin Black is a pseudonym far less exotic than the author's real name—Oswald Wynd. Why use a pen name when you're named Oswald Wynd? Beats us, though the fake name does sound more real.
Anyway, Suddenly, at Singapore involves the Harris Brothers, two adventurous anglos born and raised in Singapore who own a shipping company that, in addition to legit cargos, transports black market weapons around the Java Sea in a fleet of Chinese junks. The story opens with the older brother Jeff being murdered, and younger brother Paul vowing revenge—as soon as he figures out who ordered the killing. He's also involved in an as yet unconsummated martial affair, and is trying to send his wife back to the U.S. to get her out of his hair. The two plotlines eventually braid together, and pretty soon the hero and both his women are in all kinds of difficulties.
This was a quick read, decent not great, but with nice local color derived from Black's/Wynd's time spent in the region. The story takes place before Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak merged into Malaysia, and Black channels some of the political tension and economic lawlessness that prevailed during that time, but doesn't delve into it in a detailed way. He would do that later, though—we gather that this was the first of numerous Paul Harris thrillers. We also hear from those in the know that Suddenly, at Singapore is the worst of the lot, so we may try the second book Dead Man Calling when we get the hankering for South Seas craziness again.
I call this one Robbie, the second one Chip, and the third one... well I forget. But they're all great!
Above are three promo photos of U.S. actor Fred MacMurray, two from his film noir Singapore, and one of unknown provenance. While MacMurray made his name in deadly serious films such as Double Indemnity and Pushover, many fans remember him better as the affable father from the television series My Three Sons, on which he starred from 1960 until 1972, as the show chronicled the life of a widower and his three sons Robbie, Chip, and Mike. Why was he a widower? We don't think it's ever revealed, but perhaps a firearms “accident” had something to do with it.
If at first you don't succeed, fly back to Malaysia and try again.
In the movies good girls always seem to fall for bad boys. In the World War II drama Singapore Ava Gardner is the former and Fred MacMurray is the latter, a smuggler of jewels. The two hook up in the titular locale, and when Gardner learns her new love is a crook, she accepts it with a rhetorical shrug. She asks merely if Fred is what the authorities suspect him to be, receives an affirmative answer, then asks if he can't sell jewels legally, receives the answer, “Yes, but at a quarter the price,” and that's it. She doesn't trouble her mind beyond that point, which we consider a major failing of Seton I. Miller's script.
It isn't the only failing. When it comes to areas of love and desire, the dripping melodrama of the dialogue puts MacMurray and Gardner in tough spots, and neither comes out unscathed. The good news is that in other areas Singapore fares better. The film weaves the tale of how MacMurray's plan to smuggle priceless pearls is cut short when the Japanese unexpectedly bomb the city. The love story, the smuggling plot, and the bombing are all told in reminiscence, bracketed front and rear by MacMurray's return five years after the tragedies and errors of his previous stint there. Now, with the city recovering from conflict, MacMurray tries to put together the puzzle pieces of the past.
We love old Hollywood's foreign fetish, its eagerness to set films in exotic locales. When it works well, as in Casablanca and its deft usage of Morocco, the result is magic; when it doesn't, as in, say, Miss Sadie Thompson and its setting of Pago Pago, the bells and whistles are a glaring reminder of missed opportunities. Singapore falls somewhere in the middle. We get to see a bit of Singapore when it was still part of Malaysia, which is interesting, but the most exotic sight to be seen is still Ava Gardner. For us, she was reason enough to take the trip. But just barely. Singapore premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
One Wong makes everything right.
This fun poster was made for the 1978 action flick Cleopatra Wong, aka They Call Her...Cleopatra Wong, and it's signed by someone named Eddie Damer. We can find zero information about Mr. Damer, which we like to think is because he moved into another career after being paid for his artistry in handshakes, backslaps, and a rubber check. Which is to say, Cleopatra Wong is a not a b-movie, but z-movie, a riff on the blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones. It was put together by Filipino producer Bobby A. Suarez and made in English with Singaporean actress Marrie Lee in the lead role as an Interpol agent tasked with busting an international counterfeiting ring. These counterfeiters are bad people. They're centered in a Hong Kong nunnery, where they're forcing the nuns to host the operation, and plan to kill them when they've outlived their usefulness. Only Wong and her intrepid team can stop these fiends. There are some positives here, including effective location shooting and Lee's kung fu, but there's also clunky direction, atrocious acting, and a script that must have been written on a typewriter with seven missing keys. The movie sank with barely a ripple upon release, but was revived on the Asian festival circuit in the early 2000s and now is considered a schlock classic. It certainly has all the hallmarks, and overall we think it's worth watching, but you may want to soak your frontal cortex in alcohol beforehand. Cleopatra Wong premiered in Singapore this month in 1978.
And life flows along with a smile and a sarong.
American actress Dorothy Lamour, who we shared a nice promo photo of back in 2011, changed onscreen fashion with a constant array of sarongs that caused her to be dubbed "The Sarong Queen.” She first wore one in 1936's The Jungle Princess, and from there donned the distinctive garment for Her Jungle Love, Road to Singapore, and a score of other movies. This shot was made while she was filming the John Ford adventure Hurricane. Parts of the production took place on Tutuila Island in American Samoa, which is why some sources say the photo was made there, but it was really shot on Santa Catalina, in the Channel Islands off California. It dates from from 1937.
Monroe may wobble but she won’t fall down.
Marilyn Monroe shows up just about everywhere, and here she is yet again where we didn’t expect to see her—fronting a Malaysian film publication that appeared today in 1953. The magazine, called Filmalaya, is in English, which marks it as aimed at the British colonial community that occupied the upper stratum of society in Malaysia and Singapore. The cover photo is from a publicity series made when Monroe filmed the movie Niagara in Ontario, Canada in late 1952, and let’s just assume her perch is not as precarious as it seems and there’s a handy ledge or lawn behind her in case she goes heels up. But if she does, there are other stars in the magazine, such as Joan Collins, Betty Grable, Rhonda Fleming, Ava Gardner, and Nat King Cole.
Filmalaya represents an interesting snapshot into colonial society, as in the article about Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in London, which describes the thrills and excitement in Malaysia during the event. Doubtless, the mood around the Commonwealth probably seemed festive when viewed from inside the colonial bubble, but we doubt actual Malaysians were particularly moved. Needless to say, this magazine is rare, but luckily items from Asia are often a bargain, so this cost a mere six U.S. dollars. While the inside is nothing special visually speaking, that doesn’t matter when the magazine has this great cover and is such an informative slice of history. We’ve uploaded a few of the best pages below. Enjoy.
If they aren’t in your city already, they’ll be there soon.
We would love to have been part of this. Yesterday Mexico City had their annual La Marcha Zombie, or Zombie Walk, with the goal of setting a new record for the number of zombies (held by Buenos Aires, which had assembled 25,000 shambling undead just a few days earlier). As you might deduce, zombie walks are growing more popular globally, and have been staged in places as far flung as Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Mar de Plata, Exeter, Santiago, and Singapore. According to Wikipedia, the first walk was held in Sacramento, California in 2001, and now hundreds of cities have them. Perhaps in a decade or two, social scientists will tell us the complex reasons behind the rise of zombie walks, i.e., the trampling of individuality in the modern world, the rise of ravenous greed and the death of caring, etc., and that, ironically, one day sooner than most people think, the masses will rise up and destroy the elite few that have enslaved them. Okay, maybe that last part is just what we think. But complex reasons aside, from our non-scientific perspective, we’d do a zombie walk just because it looks fun. And do you think there’s any zombie sex going on afterward? Why of corpse there is.
Move your ass, Mary Ann! This lunatic has killed the Skipper, Gilligan, Ginger, and the Howells—and we’re next!
So, we have four or five more issues of the Aussie magazine Adam that we're planning to post, and above you see the cover of one of those, from July 1973. We had been searching around for more issues when out of the blue we got an email from Jim/Australia informing us that he had written for the magazine back in 1975. His stories appeared under the name Mike Rader, and we had posted three issues in which his fiction appeared. Those issues, with the stories “See Rome and Die,” “Deadline Portugal,” and “Hellbound Express” can be seen here, here, and here.
And here’s Jim: In the 1950s-1970s, most Australian writers had few opportunities to sell their work locally. They had to send their work to publishers in the UK. So local magazines like Adam, and pulp fiction houses like Horwitz, inspired and encouraged a lot of Aussie writers to take their first steps. At the time, I was working in advertising, I was time poor but dying to start writing stories, so I targeted Adam. I concocted the name Mike Rader (it sounded like a raider!) and they bought virtually everything I sent in. I found it helped to attach an idea for the illustration with each story—that way they could picture the finished product before they started reading. It was a good discipline for me; I started by dreaming up a movie poster-style scene; if I couldn't think of anything exciting, then I scrapped the story idea and moved on. (Besides which, advertising people are trained to think visually.) What also helped my work sell was the fact I respected the craft; I didn't look down on the genre. By the way, I never met the editor, but I had his letter pinned up on the wall—it said, “We like your stories, please send us more!” Since then, I've written 122 books for children, and books on advertising.
We checked out Jim’s Wikipedia entry, which led us to his publisher’s website and, sure enough, he’s put together a quite impressive bibliography. His million-selling Mr. Midnight series, and his newer Mr. Mystery collection, are both written under the pseudonym James Lee, and are described as being for Asian teens (Jim has lived in Singapore for 20 years). But they’re written in English and we suspect they have plenty of pan-cultural aspects. A few days after we first heard from Jim, he really surprised us by sending in some scans from two issues of Adam in which his fiction appeared. Since we already had today’s post ready to go, we’re going to share those a little later, so keep an eye open for them. In the meantime, enjoy the below scans from July 1973.
Update: a sharp-eyed reader informs us that the model featured in the photo series entitled "Cynthia's Poses" is none other than Rene Bond, who appeared in about 300 x-rated loops and films during the 1970s. Thanks to Rai for soptting that.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
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