Albert Camus' fatal 1960 auto accident may have been a KGB assassination.
Italian author Giovanni Catelli has just published a book that claims French writer Albert Camus was assassinated by the KGB, rather than dying in an auto accident, as largely believed. When you say the words “Cold War intrigue,” we're all in, so the story caught our eye. Catelli's theory, which he first began airing in 2011, is that the KGB silenced Camus because he was a globally famous figure who made a habit of criticizing the Soviet Union. The order was allegedly given by Dmitri Shepilov, the USSR’s minister of internal affairs, after Camus slammed him in the French newspaper Franc-Tireur in March 1957. Camus died in 1960, so the killing took three years to come to fruition, according to Catelli.
His book length argument, La mort de Camus, is getting white hot press right now, however it's very interesting to look back at contemporary articles about the crash. Camus was riding as a passenger in a car driven by his publisher Michel Gallimard, with Gallimard's wife Janine and their daughter Anne in the rear seat. Michel Gallimard died, but his wife and daughter survived to describe the crash. Michel was driving fast and had been told to slow down, and had drunk wine at dinner.
A gander at the wreckage of the heavy Farcel Vega HK500 attests to its speed. We checked the various articles popping up online and found none that mentioned either the velocity of the car or the drinking of the driver, but that's how the internet works—a fantastic claim circles the world five times faster than anything resembling balance or a fact check.
Catelli, though, has an answer for the reckless driving theory—the Soviets had attached a device to the car that would puncture a tire only in the event of sufficient speed. If the Soviets came up with the device described, it would not kick in without the added ingredient of driver haste, which often happens in conjunction with alcohol consumption, which in turn is a near certainty when talking about French people, all of which means the chances of a crash with muddied circumstances were pretty high. The device, if it ever existed, was certainly clever. It would be like a device that tied your shoelaces together, but only if you went downstairs in a rush, and you happened to live in a fourth floor flat with a balky elevator.
Catelli's belief that Camus was disposed of via assassination is bolstered by the fact that the car he was riding in somehow careened off a stretch of straight road thirty feet wide. Nobody described Michel Gallimard trying to dodge a hedgehog or pothole, so despite speed and possible drunkenness, some unforeseen factor seems required to send the vehicle into the weeds. On the other hand, three years is a long time to enact a death plot. We've seen Yankees and Red Sox fans patch their shit up in less time. But let's move this death from the settled bin into the mysterious bin, which is where we like everything to be anyway. Camus, the famed absurdist, once wrote that, “There can be nothing more absurd than to die in a car accident.” And if Catelli is correct, nothing can be more convenient either.
Nobody knows who'll win the game of Thorne's.
Yes, she's back. These posters were made for the 1977 naziploitation flick Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia, starring the inimitable Dyanne Thorne dealing out discomfort and death in the icy wastes of Gulag 14. In 1975's Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS she was a member of the Third Reich, but here, only eight years after the Reich cratered, she's somehow employed by the Nazis' mortal enemies the Soviets. She must have nailed the interview.
Interviewer: “What's your greatest strength, professionally?”
Ilsa: “Creatively making people suffer. Like the electrified dildo I invented at a previous gig. That's standard gear for torture now. Stress positions, beatings. I mean, I love it all.”
Interviewer: “What would you say is your biggest weakness?”
Ilsa: “I sometimes work too hard. I'm a perfectionist. In a way, I'm harder on myself than I am on the people I torture.”
Interviewer: “Tell me about a challenge in a work situation, and how you dealt with it.”
Ilsa: “I had a prisoner who was problematic. His positivity was bringing hope to the camp. I had him castrated.”
Interviewer: “And did this solution work?”
Ilsa: “Yes, he became very negative.”
Interviewer: “I think I've heard enough. When can you start?”
Ilsa: “I already did. I took the initiative and killed the other applicants in the waiting room."
It's amazing that the first Ilsa flick generated two sequels, considering how bad it was. This third entry in the series actually played at the Sitges Film Festival in October 2018, which just goes to show that interest in terrible vintage sexploitation films runs beyond the fringe. We think this movie is almost as bad as the original, but you can decide for yourself. After opening in Canada in 1977, Ilsa the Tigress of Siberia premiered in Japan today in 1978.
We decided our immigration procedures weren't cruel enough, so we've made a few changes.
Robert Stanley does his usual expert job on the cover action and Robert Parker—not Robert B. Parker, but a different author who wrote only three novels—provides the narrative for Passport to Peril. The art here depicts the impending torture of a character named Countess Orlovska, and things get pretty uncomfortable for her. They get even worse for the protagonist John Stoddard. He'd merely intended to travel from A to B for personal reasons. Instead he gets tangled up in espionage when he purchases a false passport he assumes bears a made-up identity, but which actually belonged to a missing-presumed-dead spy. The spy's associates soon come calling. Considering the increased focus on immigration in many western nations, we saw this not only as a spy story but also as a saga about a privileged westerner ironically caught in a migratory wringer. Set in Budapest with all the Cold War intrigue the background suggests, this is pretty entertaining stuff from Parker. It originally appeared in 1951, with this Dell edition coming in 1952.
There's life on Earth. But is it intelligent life?
And speaking of Halloween frights, there's a theory in science that's gaining traction of late. Maybe you won't find this interesting but we did. First consider that even with life sustaining conditions assumed to be incredibly rare, cosmically speaking, the fact that almost every observed star has planets leads to the estimate of 100 billion planets in our galaxy. That number renders the long odds of perfect life generating conditions moot—there are certainly millions of planets with life, probably many thousands with intelligent life, and virtually any scientist you talk to outside of a political environment will tell you that. So why haven't we detected anything? The age of the civilization is a factor, distance is a second factor, point of origin of signal emission is another, and the perfect timing for us intercept a signal is yet another.
But here's the theory: a civilization advancing to the point that it can emit signals into space is a function of technological development, which in turn hinges on energy. Whatever form an alien race takes, it must advance through stages of energy generation. And since nuclear physics are a constant throughout this universe, every advancing civilization will eventually discover nuclear power. It's the most obvious energy form of all, because every sun in every sky shines as an example of it. It's possible that very few civilizations survive advancing through the various stages of dirty and dangerous energy generation. Nearly all collapse their ecosystems, which in turn leads to extinction. Just some food for thought this lovely Thursday as you look at these photos of a Russian nuclear test at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, conducted today in 1951.
It was full speed ahead in the Cold War.
This spectacular photo shows the test of a nuclear torpedo detonated today in 1955 by the Soviet Union at Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago above the Arctic Circle. The weapon sent a massive debris cloud erupting into the atmosphere, which you can see in a video here. It was one of seven tests the Soviets conducted that year, and they and the United States were just getting heated up in their insane nuclear race.
Ban the bomb! The other side's bomb, we mean.
Soviet painter Nikolai Litvinov was a prolific producer of political art during the Cold War. Above you see one of his efforts—an anti-nuclear poster from printers Sovetsky Khudozhnik with text that reads: “May There Be Peace!” This is from 1959, but we've seen some purported to be from 1961, so if that's the case these were probably made throughout the early Cold War. Blaming the other side for the nuclear arms race was of course the same strategy employed by the U.S. We're going to get back to Litvinov shortly. In the meantime, you can see more Soviet propaganda here, some U.S. propaganda here, and a mixture from several countries here.
Soviet propaganda takes aim at the U.S.
Conflict and propaganda go hand in hand. During the Cold War the U.S. and Russia both produced political art bashing the other side, and some of that art has reached collector status today. We have an example above and below—a Soviet pamphlet featuring ink drawings by famed illustrator Alexander Moiseevich Zhytomyr attacking various aspects of the U.S., including capital punishment, mass incarceration, and nukes. Though the pamphlet was printed in 1964, most of the content is from earlier, generally the late 1940s. Basically, it's all pretty much self-explanatory, and timely too, considering many Americans are now highly critical of the same elements of their own country that the Soviets attack here. Whatever your politics happen to be, these pieces are all objectively quite nice. Have a look below.
It's really impossible to measure the Worth of this film.
What more do you need to know about a movie than the fact that cheeseball actor Ken Clark plays a main character named Dick Worth and he spends ninety minutes trying to get his dick's worth of action? The Fuller Report is a half baked espionage caper set in Sweden, involving Clark's smug race car driver who gets swept up in a frantic search for the eponymous report. What's in these papers? References to a Soviet defector, who it turns out is a kidnap and blackmail target. But the villains have more complex plans for her—they intend to turn her into an assassin. And of course the racing comes into play too, but not as much as you'd think based on the Japanese promo poster above.
Jointly made by the Italian company Fida Cinematografica and French based Les Productions Jacques Roitfeld, this is high budget schlock with Americans in three of the four main roles, and the fourth slot occupied by Serbian star Beba Lončar, who plays the defector. Lončar is a real beauty, but Ken Clark wins the production value award hands down—dude is seriously ripped. There's a steam bath scene involving Lončar, but we think it was actually put in the film so Clark could get his chest all oiled up.
Overall, we recommend you break out either a twelve-pack or the weed pipe for this flick—it's rife with awful acting, clunky staging, and loaded lines of dialogue any cleverhead could riff on all night. Our favorite? Clark and Lončar are in bed enjoying post-coital bliss and Lončar gushes, “I love you so much.” Clark's response: “Me too.” Invite your funny friends, sit back and enjoy Lončar's beautiful face, Clark's steely torso (without the fur he's wearing below), and the great soundtrack by Armando Trovajoli. The movie opened in Italy as Rapporto Fuller, base Stoccolma in early 1968, and sped into Japan today in 1970.
Mandy Rice-Davies dies of cancer.
Mandy Rice-Davies, one of the central figures in the John Profumo Affair of 1963, died of cancer early this morning. Most accounts of the scandal describe Rice-Davies as a prostitute, and indeed Stephen Ward, one of the principals in the fiasco, was imprisoned for living off the earnings of Rice-Davies and other women—another way of saying he pimped. But Rice-Davies spent a good portion of her final years denying she was a call girl, saying she didn’t want her grandchildren to remember her that way.
Whatever her means of support during the Profumo Affair, what is certainly true is that she was young and beautiful and somehow found herself at the nexus where rich, entitled men and beautiful women always seem to meet. The Profumo Affair's world of secret parties, middle-aged male egos, and a lurking Soviet spy came into being during the most paranoid years of the Cold War, and John Profumo’s role in it cost him his position as Secretary of State for War in the British government.
After the scandal Rice-Davies sang in a cabaret in Germany, lived in Spain, moved to Israel where she opened nightclubs and restaurants in Tel Aviv, released music and books, appeared on television and in film, including the The Seven Magnificent Gladiators and Absolute Beginners, and was involved in the development of a Stephen Ward-based Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. She accomplished plenty. But as long as she is remembered it will be for Profumo, Christine Keeler, the parties and scandalous revelations, and the near-collapse of the British government in 1963. If you’re interested in reading more, we talked about Rice-Davies in a bit more detail here and here.
On the first day of Christmas the Gazette gave to me—a Hitler.
Just in time to ruin everyone’s Christmas shopping, this National Police Gazette from December 1960 splashed Adolf Hitler’s face on its cover along with an inset of Swedish actress May Britt (who could hardly have appreciated the inclusion). George McGrath’s story minces no words, opening with this: Indisputable evidence that Adolf Hitler is alive and living in the Argentine has has been uncovered by the Police Gazette. Although this new information is in the hands of government intelligence chiefs, the United States and its allies are not lifting a finger to catch the runaway Nazi dictator.
By now you’re familiar with the basics: Hitler sent his possessions ahead to Mar del Plata, Argentina eighteen months before World War II’s end, later escaped Europe by u-boat, and set up shop with some of his top brass to begin plotting a return to the global stage. This particular version of the story managed to cleverly sneak in a shot at the Soviet Union, claiming Nikita Khrushchev didn’t want Hitler found. Considering the many millions of soldiers and civilians the Russians lost defeating the guy, that makes zero sense, but hey, this Gazette was published during the Cold War—Russia had to be blamed for everything.
This makes the twenty-second Hitler Gazette cover we’ve posted of twenty-nine we’ve found so far. Each story adds a little bit more to the labryrinthine tale of his daring dash to South America, but this is the first story we’ve seen claim that his capture would divide the Allied nations. Why? Because some would want him executed (obviously), while others would want him forgotten (not so obviously). The only rationale given for the latter position is that Hitler’s capture would open old war wounds. That’s pretty hard to swallow, but also beside the point. The point was magazine sales and the editors undoubtedly achieved that. We’ll have more from the Gazette later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1986—Jimmy Cagney Dies
American movie actor James Francis Cagney, Jr., who played a variety of roles in everything from romances to musicals but was best known as a quintessential tough guy, dies of a heart attack at his farm in Stanfordville, New York at the age of eighty-six.
1951—The Rosenbergs Are Convicted of Espionage
Americans Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage as a result of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. While declassified documents seem to confirm Julius Rosenberg's role as a spy, Ethel Rosenberg's involvement is still a matter of dispute. Both Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953.
1910—First Seaplane Takes Flight
Frenchman Henri Fabre, who had studied airplane and propeller designs and had also patented a system of flotation devices, accomplishes the first take-off from water at Martinque, France, in a plane he called Le Canard, or "the duck."
1953—Jim Thorpe Dies
American athlete Jim Thorpe, who was one of the most prolific sportsmen ever and won Olympic gold medals in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon, played American football at the collegiate and professional levels, and also played professional baseball and basketball, dies of a heart attack.
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