Bringing joy to the world through burlesque.
In choosing a femme fatale for today we wanted to reinforce an idea we constantly discuss—that pulp fiction and film noir protagonists are often motivated by sex. Due to censorship, writers and directors of the era had to be subtle about the connection, but it's obvious. The lead characters of gritty crime tales were nearly always men of the world, which is to say they'd had sex before. So when a femme fatale drove or enticed them to robbery/murder/extortion/et al, it wasn't because she was beautiful, but special. And she wasn't just someone willing to have sex, but someone who gave even experienced men pleasures they'd never imagined. That's the subtext of numerous pulp novels, as well as scores of mid-century films, and it's something we try to hit upon with our femmes fatales, who sometimes lay that subtext bare by being bare themselves. To exemplify what we mean, we wanted someone very tempting, which is why we chose Misty Ayers, who was one of many burlesque dancers embodying sexual allure during the mid-century era. The art of burlesque features in many of the books we've talked about—in fact a couple of our very favorites—so the link to pulp is perfect. Ayers is seen here keeping fit, and below, preparing to make a meal to keep that body of hers functioning at top efficiency. She was pretty well known in her day. She appeared in the 1953 burlesque documentary A Night in Hollywood, played herself in the 1954 films Tijuana After Midnite and Striptease Goddess, and later scored an acting role in the 1965 film Bad Girls Do Cry, which we'll circle back to later. We don't have a copyright date on these photos, but figure they're from the zenith of her fame—circa 1953.
Bonus material: two of the greatest burlesque dancers you never heard of here and here.
Lamour lives up to her name by getting some hot island love.
We said we'd get back to Tijuana bibles soon, and true to our word here you see a blatant offense against all that is right and decent called Purple Passion in the South Seas. It stars cinema superstar Dorothy Lamour and a fella named Jon Hall. You may not know him, but he was an actor also, and co-starred with Lamour in a 1937 south seas adventure called The Hurricane. The dirty-minded folks who made this booklet would have wanted it available while the film was still on people's minds, so we're thinking it came out that year or in early 1938.
We're assuming you know the deal with these items. But if not you can visit our introductory post on the subject at this link. Because the column width on our website is somewhat narrow, the scans of this bible are small, which makes parts unreadable without practically putting your eyeball directly against the computer screen. Funny as that would look, it's not recommendable, so we've transcribed the text where needed. If you like this one, we have others. Just click the keywords “Tijuana bible” at the bottom of the post and start scrolling. More of these to come.
Dorothy: Say Jon, aren't you afraid that your cock will look white against your suntan?
Jon: Say! I never thought of that! Maybe I better take it out and get it to match the rest of me!*
*Transcribing the text only reinforces the fact that these things are absolutely moronic, but we love them anyway.
Fact challenged tabloid may have predicted presidential assassination plot.
Midnight claims in this issue published today in 1968 that a conspiracy was afoot to assassinate Richard Nixon during his presidential campaign, but with mid-century tabloids the question is always: Is this true? We found no mention of the plot anywhere, though Midnight is pretty authoritative in its assertions, claiming three men were involved, two of whom were in FBI custody, with the third having been picked up by Mexican police in Tijuana. But authoritative or not, the paper got this one wrong.
Weirdly, though, there may have been a plot to kill Nixon in 1968, but a week after the above Midnight hit newsstands. Though the episode is little remembered today, a man of Yemeni origin named Ahmed Rageh Namer was arrested along with his two sons Hussein and Abdo on November 12—a full eight days after Midnight made its arrest claims—and charged with conspiracy to assassinate Nixon, who had won the presidential election the previous Tuesday. You can see Namer under arrest in the photo just below.
The evidence against him and his sons was scant—an informant claimed the father possessed two rifles, had asked him join him in the killing, and had offered him money to do so. This was back before the word of a shady informant could get a person thrown in a black pit in Guantanamo for ten years, so the Namers actually got a trial and their defense lawyer of course shredded the case. All three men were acquitted in July of 1969.
But how weird is it that Midnight would fabricate an assassination story a week before the FBI uncovered what they thought was an actual assassination plot? Maybe Namer read Midnight and got the idea. Nah... he was probably just innocent in the first place. But still, how odd. Sometimes history is stranger than fiction. Elsewhere in the issue you get a bit of Hollywood gossip and a pretty cool photo of Maureen Arthur and another of Carmen Dene, below. See more Midnight at our tabloid index.
For some men divorce is not a tragedy—it's an opportunity.
If you've never seen one, this is what an AP wire photo looked like back in 1966. The text at the bottom gives newspaper editors the identity of the subject and some basic facts. No identity needed here—this is Ursula Andress, and the photo is the one widely used when newspapers reported that her husband John Derek was filing for divorce in Tijuana, Mexico. This made us smile because the basic idea here was to show that Derek was out of his mind. Perhaps, however he had already established a pattern of moving on to younger, equally beautiful women. He was first married to Pati Behrs, but divorced her when he met nineteen-year-old Andress. She was thirty when they divorced and he moved on to twenty-three-year-old Linda Evans. And Evans was thirty-two when Derek tossed her over for sixteen-year-old Mary Collins, who you know better as Bo Derek. Andress, Evans, and Collins could have been sisters, and in fact they looked quite a bit like John Derek too (see below). But in Bo he had found not just another doppleganger, but an ingénue willing to star in the poorly made sexually oriented films he liked to direct. These included Fantasies (when Bo was sixteen), the almost competent Bolero, Ghosts Can't Do It, and Tarzan, the Ape Man. Bo and John John Derek stayed together until John died, a span of twenty-two years, so it seems wife number four cured him of his habit of trading for younger models. Just an interesting Hollywood factoid to enliven your Monday.
Even if the folklore is untrue, you have to give it credit for staying power.
The rumor about John Dillinger’s enormous penis has been debunked often enough that we don’t need to bother, but the interesting question remaining is how the rumor got started in the first place. Nobody knows, but this Tijuana bible entitled A Hasty Exit may be the first depiction of Dillinger with an oversized member. Tijuana bibles often starred famous and infamous people, and all the men had enormous rods, because what’s the point of a dirty book otherwise?
But still, this is a curious artifact, considering the folklore surrounding Big John’s dilly of a pickle. It doesn’t have a copyright, but it has for many years been grouped with other bibles dating from the 1930s. We’re putting it at 1934 or after because the Evelyn character here probably is supposed to be Dillinger’s girlfriend Evelyn Frechette, who was unknown to the wider public until her April 1934 arrest. The Captain Tracy character is, of course Dick Tracy. Dilly and Dick get freaky, below. See more Tijuana bibles by clicking here, here, or here.
The Lowdown proves that it deserves its name.
We’re jumping right into our treasure trove of newly arrived tabloids today with a glance at this issue of The Lowdown published in March 1965. On the cover you see Jean Harlow, Carroll Baker, and Ed Sullivan. We talked about Baker recently and there she is in that crazy gown again (below)—or is she? No, on close examination this is yet another version of the dress. Clearly, the photo was shot on a different night than all the others because her hair and jewelry are different. But the actual dress also looks slightly different from both the Oleg Cassini and Pierre Balmain iterations. A reference in the story clears things up at least a little: “Transparency gowns are another of her big passions and she often wears them.” There you have it. Half naked was a fairly standard look for Carroll Baker. They just don’t make stars like they used to.
You might be curious what the article is about. On the cover the header reads: “The Night Carroll Baker Played a Call Girl,” but on the inside, it says: “The Night Carroll Baker Played a Harlot!” The story goes that she wanted to research her role as a prostitute in the movie Sylvia, so sheventured down to Tijuana, Mexico, toured a few brothels, and somehow disappeared alone for two hours: “We don’t know what happened in the house in Mexico or what sights she could have barged in on, but that is bouncy Miss Baker’s bit.” Lost in a Mexican whorehouse. The mind reels. Do we buy it? Not for a minute.
The other story of note asks: “How Hot Was Jean Harlow’s Sex Life?” Well, let's take an up close look and find out. In 1932 when Harlow was 21 years old she married Paul Bern, a director and screenwriter. Bern apparently had never done well in the sex department due entirely to his own lack of passion, and his shyness was well known. To him Harlow supposedly represented a chance at true sexual fulfillment. If the most desired woman in Hollywood couldn’t rouse his slumbering libido, nobody could. According to The Lowdown, Bern failed on the wedding night. Here’s what the text says:
In the wee hours of the morning, Jean’s agent [Arthur] Landau received a frantic call from her asking that he come and get her immediately. When [they] got to Landau’s home, according to the agent, Jean stripped off her filmy wedding nightgown to reveal her beautiful body a mass of welts and bruises. “Her back and buttocks were covered with bruises. Therewas one especially bad bruise directly over her kidneys.” The implication here is because Harlow died several years later of kidney failure that she incurred the fatal damage during that wedding night beating. It gets weirder—brace yourselves. Landau goes to Paul Bern’s house, geared for a confrontation:
The bridegroom of some eleven hours was [snip] sprawled nude and drunk on the floor of his den. Silently hating the man at his feet, Landau wanted to kick the slight, pasty body of Bern. Instead he rolled the unconscious man to his back to discover what had never been suspected by anybody in the industry. Paul Bern had the sack and penis of an infant boy. The story goes on to explain that the entire mess was hushed up for the sake of Harlow’s career. Two months later Bern committed suicide via a bullet through the brain. One more excerpt:
Paul had prepared himself for death by removing all his clothing and stood before the dressing room mirror. [snip] And, staring at his tormented body, he pulled the trigger. The nudity added a sexual element to his suicide that encouraged a spectrum of interpretations of his farewell note:
“Dearest dear, unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done to you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. I love you. Paul.
You understand that last night was only a comedy.”
What was the comedy? Harlow said nothing to the press. But according to Arthur Landau, she told him Paul Bern had spent $200 on a device to increase his manhood. Wearing the contraption he had entered their bedroom intent on finally consummating their marriage. This hope was doomed from the start and the whole plan turned into such a tragic farce that both he and Jean finally gave way to hysterical laughter. That’s probably one of the sadder stories you’ll ever hear. Is it true? It appeared in a biography about Harlow, but we can never know. We can, however, at least answer the question posed by The Lowdown’s story header. No—Jean Harlow’s sex life was not hot at all.
Sleazy tabloid exposes the nationwide trade in even sleazier Tijuana bibles.
It’s been a while since we’ve featured Hush-Hush, but it’s one of our favorite high-end mid-century tabloids, so today we have a newly scanned issue from this month 1957. We learn that Ingrid Bergman called Ed Sullivan a liar for falsely claiming she was booked on his show, and that Phil Silvers was terrified that he would lose his fame, and that Eartha Kitt was destined to forever be lonely because she was interested only in white men.
But the fun story here is the one headed: “Movie Stars Victimized By Smut, Inc.” The article is about Tijuana bibles, and the many celebs who had been unknowingly featured in them. We’ve already posted a few bibles, thus you probably already know that they’re pornographic eight-page comic booklets sold clandestinely in drug stores and soda fountains. Their makers felt free to borrow the likenesses of public figures of the day, and Hush-Hush offers up examples starring Bob Hope, Marie Wilson, Robert Mitchum and others. The article describes them as “unbelievably filthy booklets showing the basest sexual acts and perversions.”
Well, true enough. Their distribution was so worrisome that the FBI got involved, and while the feds did manage to make some arrests, the flow of booklets remained pretty much uninterrupted. We can only assume that Hush-Hush’s exposé made them even more popular, which is kind of how it works with porn, right? Someone gets on their soapbox about it and people walk away thinking, Hmm, I better see one of these with my own eyes. Of course, Hush-Hush didn’t dare reprint the interior pages, but we have no such inhibitions here at Pulp Intl. See the next post, and see here.
Robert Mitchum is the butt of a very dirty joke.
So, here’s the Robert Mitchum booklet cited in the July 1957 Hush-Hush in the above post. The article describes it as the lowest form of filth and its maker or makers as degenerate profiteers. Pretty hard to argue with that. Consider it a warning. It’s called Goof Butts, and it references Mitchum’s arrest for marijuana possession in 1948. Assuming the creators of the book wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak, they probably published it around the same time. Enjoy.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
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