The tabloid media was like a pack of animals and Mansfield was the meal.
We never realized this before, but the editors of Whisper really had it in for Jayne Mansfield. We mean more than usual for a vicious tabloid. Most of the issues we have contain highly negative stories about her, such as this one published in 1962 that calls her and husband Mickey Hargitay “the biggest pair of boobs in the business.” Geez, what did she do to them? Piss in their grits? Dropkick their Corgis? Obviously, the biggest boobs thing is a play on words referencing Mansfield's bust, but they're referencing her personality when they talk about her “false façade” and “up-front ways.” Regardless of whether Whisper approved of Mansfield, it couldn't stop featuring her—a fact the magazine acknowledged. We'll see her in these pages again.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Whisper, the amazing Señor Fidel Castro makes one of his regular appearances. Like Mansfield, the magazine couldn't stop writing about him. According to the editors, the Beard had launched a plot to addict American youth to drugs. We call Castro amazing because according to various mid-century tabloids he was simultaneously training Viet Cong soldiers in Cuba, funneling arms to U.S. inner cities, assassinating JFK, planning to overthrow the Catholic Church, raping teenaged girls, and helping East Germany revive the Third Reich. Talk about great time management skills. If only we were half as organized.
Did drugs flow from Cuba to the U.S.? It's an accusation that has come up numerous times over the years. Considering that since at least 1950 drugs were flowing into the U.S. from Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Afghanistan, Thailand, et al—it would be astonishing if drugs didn't also originate from or transit through Cuba. With what degree of official approval we'll probably never know. Heads of state are notoriously insulated. In fact, the only one we can think of offhand who was definitively tied to drug dealing was Panama's former strongman Manuel Noriega, who was doing it with the help of the CIA,, but we can probably safely assume he wasn't the first national leader to peddle drugs.
Whisper isn't aiming for investigative journalism in its Castro piece. That would require actual work. Its story is 90% lollipop, 10% stick. But the ratio of fiction to fact is meaningless as long as the writing fits the brief: focus obsessively on the sensational, the frightening, and the infuriating. That's why we call mid-century tabloids the cable news channels of yesteryear. Though people were doubtless highly agitated about what they read in these quasi-journalistic outlets, the passage of decades makes them harmless fun for us to explore. Maybe one day a future website—or whatever passes for one ages from now—will be able to make jokes about the things agitating us. Let's hope so. We have a bunch of scans below, and more tabloids than we can count inside the website. Look here.
Wow, you’re blurrier and taller than you were earlier this evening.
French actress Nathalie Delon was born in Oudja, Morocco as Francine Canovas, during the period when the North African country was occupied by France. She appeared in more than thirty films, including Bluebeard, Sex Shop, and Un sussurro nel buio, aka A Whisper in the Dark, and she also wrote, directed, and recorded music. We love this photo because not only was it shot in the world’s swankiest bar, but because it looks like it was photographed from the perspective of someone who got drunk and fell off his stool. No beer goggles here, though—Delon is a celebrated beauty. The shot is from 1977.
Every celebrity’s time comes eventually.
Reading about celebrities in these old tabloids is a bit like reliving their fame in real time, and in this Whisper published this month in 1957 we get to observe Marilyn Monroe in mid-career. You know that stage. It’s the one where she’s no longer a sparkling new star, but hasn’t yet earned the status of a venerable old treasure. It’s the stage where almost overnight the very editors who were partners in constructing the edifice of fame begin to take it apart brick and girder, with sledgehammers and blowtorches.
In this issue Whisper editors throw Monroe into their monthly crucible “The Pit,” an unenviable place you may remember from our post on Liberace a while back. Sometimes a celebrity behaves in such a way as to deserve harsh criticism, but generally that isn’t the case—only the narrative has changed, which itself reflects the belief in editorial circles that more magazines can be sold by tearing a person apart than by continuing to build them up. As we’ve mentioned before, we know a little bit about this, having spent many years working in media.
So what had Monroe done? What was Whisper so miffed about? Well, she had declared her craving to act in serious films. We’ll let Whisper hatchet man Tom Everleigh spin it for you in his own words: “And while the only success she’s ever had in films has been by rolling her hips and doing a lightweight Mae West routine, she’s suddenly going to become a “serious actress”—and would even love to render Shakespeare even!” There you have it, complete with two "evens," oddly. Monroe was the pits because she sought artistic growth. Everleigh describes every aspect of her career as crass manipulation and propaganda, which strikes us as pretty harsh, considering she was never in politics.
But anyway, it does illustrate the point that when the script is primed to flip the flimsiest of pretexts will do. At this point in her career Monroe probably would have ended up in Whisper’s Pit whether she’d personally thwarted a terrorist attack or thrown a crate of golden retriever puppies in a woodchipper. Or put another way, when it’s your time to suffer the knives of the tabloids it’s simply your time. Monroe eventually did reach venerable old treasure status, but sadly, it was after her death five years after this issue appeared. We have a couple of scans of her, as well as a great page of Diana Dors with her husband Dennis Hamilton, below.
Whisper dishes dirt from Sukarno to Lollobrigida.
Whisper features a political figure on this cover from March 1964, namely Indonesian ruler Kusno Sosrodihardjo, later known as Sukarno, who we’re told was offered twenty prostitutes while visiting his country’s embassy in Copenhagen in 1961. In fact, the magazine goes on to claim that the embassy housed a brothel. Though it sounds like a typical tabloid tall tale, it’s actually true. Time magazine had written about it in its October 1963 issue, stating: A diplomat may be only a cookie pusher, but the kind of cookies pushed by Indonesia’s charge d’affaires in Copenhagen tumbled, not crumbled. Last week Danish police announced that Gustin Santawirja not only ran his country’s embassy, [snip] but was also a procurer on the side. Santawirja got into the tart tradein 1961 when Indonesia's President Sukarno showed up in Copenhagen on an unofficial visit. Amiably, he rounded up some girls for the visiting entourage. So successful was the venture that he decided to supplement his entertainment allowance by running a fulltime poule hall. “Poule” is French for “hen,” by the way, and Whisper was correct, but it was also late to the party. We give no credit for publishing what was already widely known.
The magazine moves on to the subject of sexual shenanigans at Harvard University, Carol Lynley’s divorce, Sonny Liston’s world, Roland Gilbert’s bed hopping, and George Bernard Shaw’s love child. The latter is a curious story, since Shaw had died in 1950. But the woman in question, whose name was Patricia Joudry, claimed to have conceived spiritually. In addition to Shaw apparently transmitting his seed from the netherworld, Joudry claimed he transmitted a treasure trove of written material to her, explaining, “There are eighteen full length stage plays, a dozen TV plays, two full length novels and essays. At first George and I worked out an alphabet so we could speak, but now I am a clairvoyant and clairaudient. Now I can see him and hear him.” We actually believe this story because our entire website is transmitted to us by Rodney Dangerfield.
Lastly, Whisper offers up an exposé of Gina Lollobrigida’s complicated personal life. For years she had been protesting that she was not a sex symbol (as if she’s the one who actually gets to decide that), but rather a nice girl. She tells an interesting story from her early career about Howard Hughes’ efforts to romance her, which were fruitless but led to her being stuck in a hotel “for six weeks like a prisoner.” In the end,
she fled back to Italy and, because Hughes owned her American contract, she was unable to make movies in the U.S. She became an international star just the same, acting exclusively in Europe, but having attained celebrity claimed it was difficult for her. She complained: “When I am with people I am constantly watched, and I can’t get used to this sort of thing—that they look at me as a chimpanzee in a zoo.” Sounds bad, but she eventually learned to enjoy it. In 2000 she commented to Parade magazine, “I’ve had many lovers and still have romances. I am very spoiled.” So it seems even the worst parts of celebrities’ lives aren’t really all that bad. Assorted scans below.
Hah hah, this is so much fun. Wait—what do I win again?
This Whisper from March 1955 features a striking cover image and the teaser at lower right: The Story the Whole Town Is Whispering About. What story was that? Seems Whisper had discovered key parties, a type of sexual swapping where men placed their keys in a hat or bowl and women blindly grabbed a set and went home with the person whose keys they chose. The phenomenon is generally associated with the 1970s, and has certainly become more widely known since the novel and movie The Ice Storm featured it as a central plot device, but there are many who doubt such parties were real. Here we have proof that the idea (if not the practice) existed in 1955.
Liberace is finally forced to take up arms against the tabloids.
A long while ago we shared the cover of a 1956 Whisper featuring George Sanders. The same issue had an article on Liberace, and we’re returning to that today as part of our look at mid-century tabloid attitudes toward gay culture. In general of course, the tabloids were brutally insulting, using overt as well as coded language to get intimations of homosexuality across. Theoretically, when dealing with public figures they had to be somewhat cautious, but both Rave and Inside had in 1954 written stories insinuating that Liberace was gay, and in 1955 Suppressed and Private Lives did the same. In Whisper, a journalist writing under the name Sylvia Tremaine refers to Liberace as a “creature,” labels his speech as “simpering,” and describes his move to television this way: “From there it was just a brief flutter to a local TV program.”
You’ll notice there’s deniability in all those words—Whisper could claim there was nothing defamatory in the language. Ridiculous, of course. Clearly the magazine was calling Liberace gay, and only a fool would claim otherwise, but defamation had not occurred to an extent that would stand up in court. Thus we see the joy of coded language. The same occurs in the U.S. today in certain media outlets with language directed at African Americans. The disparagement is clear, but deniable. Or for a cinematic example of coding, consider the Maltese Falcon and how the character of Joel Cairo is announced by flute trills on the soundtrack. Clear, and yet deniable. But in its Liberace article Whisper then throws deniability out the window with this: “Hollywood snickerers are wondering, in fact, if all the male hormones earmarked for the Liberace boys weren’t hogged by George, leaving Lee with only his nimble fingers.” That goes a bit beyond code, wouldn’t you say?
Liberace did not sue, and the tabloids simply built momentum. Later in 1956 Britain’s Daily Mirror called him a “deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.” Robert Harrison’s Confidential piled on in 1957. It published a three-part tale of Liberace attacking a hapless press agent. A sample from that hit piece: “Fatso plumped onto the couch alongside his young guest, and before you could say Gorgeous George, the pair were [wrestling]. In a matter of moments, it turned into a boxing bout, too, with the press agent throwing desperate lefts and rights at Liberace. The latter, his determination stiffening, merely clung tighter. The floor show reached its climax when Dimples, by sheer weight, pinned his victim’s shoulders to the mat and mewed into his face: 'Gee, you’re cute when you’re mad!'”
Liberace’s lawyer John Jacobs filed lawsuits against both Daily Mirror and Confidential, demanding a whopping twenty million dollars from the latter. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $174 million in today's terms. You can almost imagine Robert Harrison spitting up his coffee when he heard the settlement demand. Equally you can imagine Liberace’s reluctance to dignify the article, but Confidential at the time had readership in the millions. Something had to be done. It had become open season on his private life. Even the press photo below toyed with him. Thedescriptive text, written for newspaper staff, is meant to simply get across the basic facts of the photos and is typically pretty dry stuff. But this describes Liberace as "the curly-haired pianist" and says his walk is "jaunty." Clear, but deniable.
In the end, Liberace received $40,000 from Confidential and $53,000 from the Daily Mirror, substantial sums for the time. In addition to his legal victories, the constraints against tabloid journalism were becoming more defined. Of course, Liberace had won the cases by perjuring himself in court about being gay. In 1987 when he died of complications related to AIDS, Daily Mirror refused to show an iota of deference or respect and published a piece referring to the 1950s settlement. It was headlined: Any Chance of a Refund?
Precisely when it’s scarcest is when you want it the most.
Jayne Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay, Elvis Presley, Eartha Kitt, and more. This issue of Whisper published this month in 1965 tells tales about some of the most popular stars of the day. And then there’s Hayley Mills, former child star who was trying to make a full-grown career for herself where breaking from type often involves shocking the public. In Mills’ case, she planned to star in the film Candy, which was to be an adaptation of the banned satirical novel Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg had based on Voltaire’s Candide. Considered one of the sexier novels of the time, it touched on homosexuality, masturbation, interracial relations, and seemed like a disastrous choice for wholesome Hayley Mills. But if she actually wanted to change that image what could do it? Candy could. Whisper warns Mills away from the role: “We’ll bet her fans—and the moviegoing public at large—won’t buy it.” Dire words, indeed. But in the end, Mills never got the role. It went instead to Swedish actress Ewa Aulin.
Whisper also discusses the infamous relationship between Sammy Davis, Jr. and Kim Novak, and ponders whether Novak is still carrying a torch for Davis. Journalist Pete Wallace doesn’t interview Novak, but manages to score quotes from many acquaintances—or so he claims. The upshot? Novak’s life has been a shambles ever since the relationship ended, but Wallace, trying to reason from afar with Novak, explains that Sammy dropped her for both their sakes because of the forces—studio, family, the American public, and eventually the Mafia—that were arrayed against them. But Wallace also sympathizes. He writes: “If the one man she ever really loved walked out on her (never mind that it was for the best of reasons) how can she trust herself to anyone less?” Who could ruin you for other men forever? The Candyman could. We have nineteen scans below of all that and more, and many more issues of Whisper to come.
Whisper promises a nude Elizabeth Taylor. Does it deliver?
Elizabeth Taylor nude! Those sneaks at Whisper raised the hopes of millions of readers who bought this March 1965 issue, but inside revealed that the whited-out silhouette on the cover with Richard Burton is in reality a wooden statue of Taylor made to promote her role in The Sandpiper. It was to be unveiled at a party aboard the Queen Mary, but producer Joseph E. Levine connived a way for the sculpture to be stowed below decks so his star Carroll Baker wouldn’t be upstaged. In the end, nobody at the party saw the Taylor statue and Carroll Baker—once again wearing that amazing dress, by the way—ruled the day.
Elsewhere in the issue readers are treated to a story about French gadabout Roger Vadim, who had been involved with Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, and various other high profile women, but at the moment was with rising star Jane Fonda. Whisper outs Vadim on pretty much every bad act of his life and issues a dire warning to Fonda that she should get out of the relationship while she can. Fonda must not have listened, though, because she and Vadim were married for eight years and along the way made a classic movie called Barbarella and a daughter named Vanessa.
Whisper also tells the story of a girl cruelly sold into prostitution by her mother, shares the seedy career tribulations of a hard luck New Orleans stripper named Babs Darling, and exposes the vast flesh racket in Seoul, South Korea, where sex slaves from the “reeking slums” of the city were being purchased by American soldiers, some them “Negroes.” Best line: Themselves the descendents of slaves, they now own light-skinned slaves of their own. The next sentence should be, but isn’t—And white soldiers, many the descendents of slave owners, scoff: “Amateurs.” Scandal, irony, outrage, sex, death, crime, and plenty of casual racism—Whisper delivers it all. Nude Liz Taylor? Not so much. Scans below.
We take back everything we said—the postal service rocks.
Well it worked again. We’re definitely feeling total confidence in the postal system now. Why that first issue of Adam disappeared a while back we’ll never know, but after that little mishap we successfully received one shipment, so this time we decided to go for broke. Above is the result of that experiment—forty-four American tabloids. Even with postage in the $40 range, these came out to about two dollars apiece. Very exciting, and since the collection consists of all the heavyweights—Whisper, Hush-Hush, On the QT, Confidential, Uncensored, The Lowdown, et al.—we’re pretty much set for the foreseeable future. You want mid-century tabloids? This is where to find them. Accept no substitutes. On a side note, remember we said we were refinishing a 150-year-old desk? There it is above in final form. Note that the legs are topped by carved demon heads. We haven’t yet figured out who he’s supposed to be, but he emanates a palpable aura of evil that’s a bit… Hang on a sec. Did you hear that noise? Probably the wind, but we better go check anyway. Be right ba—
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1911—Team Reaches South Pole
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, along with his team Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, becomes the first person to reach the South Pole. After a celebrated career, Amundsen eventually disappears in 1928 while returning from a search and rescue flight at the North Pole. His body is never found.
1944—Velez Commits Suicide
Mexican actress Lupe Velez, who was considered one of the great beauties
of her day, commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. In her note, Velez says she did it to avoid bringing shame on her unborn child by giving birth to him out of wedlock, but many Hollywood historians believe bipolar disorder was the actual cause. The event inspired a 1965 Andy Warhol film entitled Lupe
1958—Gordo the Monkey Lost After Space Flight
After a fifteen minute flight into space on a Jupiter AM-13 rocket, a monkey named Gordo splashes down in the South Pacific but is lost after his capsule sinks. The incident sparks angry protests from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but NASA says animals are needed for such tests.
1968—Tallulah Bankhead Dies
American actress, talk show host, and party girl
Tallulah Bankhead, who was fond of turning cartwheels in a dress without underwear and once made an entrance to a party without a stitch of clothing on, dies in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.
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