I'll give you one more chance to get it right. It's spelled without a “y” but pronounced like there is one.
Bette Davis was born with the first name Ruth, but nicknamed Betty from childhood. As an actress she changed the spelling to Bette after Honoré de Balzac's La Cousine Bette, and people mangled the pronunciation routinely until she became a huge star. Speaking of letters, this promo photo is from her 1940 drama The Letter, based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham. Remember how we talked about how outward looking Hollywood was during its golden period, how it set so many films in exotic corners of the world? The Letter is another prime example. It's set on a rubber plantation in Malaya. Thanks largely to Davis's golden touch the film was nominated for numerous Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Score. It won nothing, but we assume the film is good anyway. We'll watch it and report back.
*sigh* Maybe I should have left this outfit back home and packed a raincoat instead.
We talked about the 1953 Rita Hayworth film Miss Sadie Thompson back in December. The source material, written by W. Somerset Maugham, first appeared in the literary magazine The Smart Set in 1921 as “Miss Thompson,” and was published by Dell as Rain in 1951. This edition has beautiful cover art from Victor Kalin, belying the dark story Maugham weaves inside. The movie sticks reasonably close to the book, so if you want to know more about the plot you can check here.
Hayworth hits land and a storm soon follows.
Party girl Rita Hayworth is bound for New Caledonia to start a new job, but makes a stopover on Pago Pago along the way, where her wild ways make a splash at a military garrison and nearby village. A pompous missionary who was on the same boat seems to think Hayworth was run out of Honolulu because she was a prostitute. He has no problem spreading this rumor, but is the point to punish her, save her, or bed her? In style Miss Sadie Thompson is classic Hayworth, with her fun-loving ways raising eyebrows and smiting men around the heart, but in execution the movie falls short of her best. No fault of Rita's, though. She makes the film worth watching, even if it's pretty much guaranteed to leave you going, “Huh?” when the credits roll. Maybe the real value here is the lesson the movie provides about the perils of censorship. Read the W. Somerset Maugham source material and you'll see what we mean. Miss Sadie Thompson premiered in the U.S. today in 1953.
I really don't want to think about what I did in Honolulu.
But I want to think about it. I'm thinking about it right now. That's why I'm using a hat to cover my little missionary.
And Sadie goes.
Avon turns over a new Leaf for a Maugham classic.
Above, pulp art treatment for W. Somerset Maugham by Avon Books for its Modern Short Story Monthly line. The Trembling of a Leaf was a collection of six tales set in Samoa, Tahiti and Hawaii, and dealing the essential incompatibility of colonial Europeans to island life, and a bit about the nature of travel, something Maugham would return to for his immortal novel The Razor’s Edge. It was originally published in 1921 with a more conservative cover, and Avon produced this sexed-up edition in 1946.
Hmph. You’re absolutely right, baby. That new razor left no sign whatsoever of your chick-stache.
Above, the cover of Pocket Books’ 1946 edition of W. Somerset Maugham’s classic novel The Razor’s Edge, with Troop art seeming to depict the moment a woman triumphs over her unsightly facial hair. It’ll grow back, of course, but 5 o’clock is hours away. Kiss her you fool! Seriously though, this is one of our favorite books, and it’s probably at least 25% percent of the reason we keep wandering place to place, country to country. It isn’t pulp, but it’s a damn good read. Highly recommended.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
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