Pageant winner fulfilled show business and personal ambitions. Then things went wrong.
Beauty pageants are a bit silly, perhaps, but the participants are generally ambitious people who see them as stepping stones to show business or modeling. And in mid-century Los Angeles in particular, even minor pageants occasionally led to stardom. In the above photos high school student Barbara Thomason wins the crown of Miss Muscle Beach 1954. Listed at 5 foot 3 inches and 110 pounds, she was a body-building enthusiast, and in the shot just below she celebrates her hard fought win by pumping a bit of iron while photographers click away and a crowd watches.
Did Thomason's victory lead to bigger things? Maybe not directly, but it probably helped. She was a habitual pageant participant who also won Miss Huntington Beach, Miss Van Ness, Miss Bay Beach, Miss Southwest Los Angeles, Miss Pacific Coast, Queen of Southern California, andten other titles. All that winning finally got her noticed by Hollywood movers and shakers. In 1955, performing under the name Carolyn Mitchell, she made her acting debut on the television show Crossroads, and in 1958 co-starred in two Roger Corman b-movies, The Crybaby Killer and Dragstrip Riot.
But she put her career on hold when she met and married a star—Mickey Rooney, who was nearly seventeen years her senior and nearly two inches her junior. Their union had problems from the beginning. The couple married secretly in Mexico because Rooney was still awaiting a divorce from actress Elaine Mahnken. They would have to wait almost two years before the law allowed them to wed in the U.S. Legalities, though doubtless bothersome, were the least of their problems. During the next six years, during which Thomason bore four children, Rooney indulged in numerous affairs.
It should probably be noted here that Thomason was Rooney's fifth wife. Among the predecessors were goddesses like Ava Gardner and Martha Vickers. We don't know what Thomason's expectations of marriage were, but clearly Rooney didn't know the meaning of the phrase “for better or worse.” The affairs continued, and eventually Thomason did the same with a temperamental Yugoslavian actor named Milos Milosevic, who performed under the name Milos Milos. But what was good for goose was not good for the gander—Rooney found out about these international relations, moved out of the Brentwood house he shared with Thomason, and filed for divorce, charging mental cruelty. The nerve, right?
On the morning of January 31, 1966, while Rooney was in St. John's Hospital recovering from an intestinal infection he'd picked up in the Philippines, Thomason and Milosevic were found together on the bathroom floor of the Brentwood house, dead. Milosevic had shot Thomason under the chin and killed himself with a temple shot using a chrome-plated .38 Rooney had bought in 1964. The consensus is Thomason had decided to dump Milosevic and he flipped out.
The photos below show Thomason on Muscle Beach during her halcyon years there, a mere teenager, frolicking in the sun, filled with youthful hopes for a good life. She won beauty titles, acted in films, married an icon, and had four children. Any of those accomplishments would have been good legacies. Instead her death at twenty-nine overshadowed all the rest, and she's remembered as another celebrity murder victim, Hollywood style, which is always somehow both sensational and banal.
The Bates Motel offers room service with that personal touch.
When we wrote about Psycho a while back we came across this Yugoslavian poster which we're sharing today, finally. Usually we write about films on their release dates but there isn't an exact one known for Yugoslavia. It arrived there in 1963, though, three years after its U.S. run. This two tone poster is about as low rent as it gets, but it's still effective, we think.
Virtuoso poster artist finds inspiration in Serb star.
Above you see a poster from the former Yugoslavia, in Serbo-Croatian (we think), for the film Devojka za zabavu, starring Beba Lončar. We haven't watched this, so no summary, but it's available should you feel the urge. We're primarily interested in the art. The poster says this is a Španjolski film, or Spanish film, and indeed it was originally made in Spain as Amor en un espejo, and titled in the U.S. Cover Girl. The poster was adapted from the Spanish promo art painted by Carlos Escobar, who signed his work as Esc. On the Spanish version his signature is prominent, but the Yugoslavians decided to wipe it out for some reason. We already showed one example of Escobar's talent featuring Sharon Tate, and it may be one of the most beautiful of the hundreds of posters to adorn Pulp Intl. over the years. This one, which uses the lovely Lončar as a model, is also good. Evidence of what a big star the Serb actress was in her native Yugoslavia exists in her name, thrice repeated above the film's title, which is not how the Spanish poster was set up. Check out the Tate promo here. And check out Lončar here. Amor en un espejo premiered in Spain today in 1968.
If only the music were as flawless as the cover art.
Here's little curio from the former Yugoslavia—a record sleeve from Serb pop-rock artist Boris Bizetić with a Marilyn Monroe cover motif. We've seen her image rather poorly used on album covers, but this one is nice, we think, if almost certainly unlicensed. And the music? Hah hah. We dare you.
Building a better future through movies.
María Baxa was born in 1946 in Belgrade, which in today’s deconstructed Yugoslavia makes her Serb. She appeared in a few Serbian-language films, then ascended into Italian cinema, appearing in productions such as Il commissario Verrazzano with Janet Agren and Patrizia Gori, and Incontri molto... ravvicinati del quarto tipo, aka Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind. According to Michele Giordano’s 2000 retrospective La commedia erotica Italiana: vent’anni di cinema sexy, Baxa left the movies in the late 1980s and became an architect. This shot is from 1970.
The languages were different but we’re pretty sure the appreciation for Raquel Welch was the same.
We’re looping back to the former Yugoslavia today, this time with a rare film program for Raquel Welch’s One Million Years B.C. If it seems we just talked about this movie, you’re right. We shared a promo from the film last week. What you see above is the front of a dual language promo pamphlet, half written in… well we aren’t sure. The language situation is complicated there. Half in Serbo-Croatian and half in Slovenian, we think. Feel free to correct us. In any case, it’s a pretty cool little item.
The real mystery is which book this is.
Duga was a publisher in the former Yugoslavia that reprinted many English language mysteries and thrillers into Serbian. The company’s name means Rainbow, and this novel from Donald E. Westlake was released in 1969 as a Zeleni Dodatak, or Green Edition, with Ursula Andress on the back. We have no idea why she’s there. We assume Duga put random hotties on the rear covers to entice buyers. The text there says “to your album,” which we like to think of as a mental album, like a spank bank, but that’s just us being rude. Obviously, the term refers to one’s collection of Green Edition back cover celebs. Collect them all and win a prize! That’s right! A weeklong trip to Zlatibor! Okay, now for what we don’t know. We don’t know which Westlake book this is. Desna Ruka translates from Serbian as “right hand,” but Eda Ganoleza translates as nothing—at least on the interfaces we used. A scan of the Westlake bibliography turns up no novel containing right hand in the title. So your guess is as good as ours. Doubtless people in Zlatibor know.
There's nothing like a classic Lončar.
This 1970 photo shows the beautiful Serb actress Beba Lončar, who began acting for cinema in the former Yugoslavia and soon found international success in Italy. Her real first name is Desanka, but she began using her nickname Beba professionally in 1961, just a couple of years into her career. We’re pretty sure you can guess what it means, but if not, take another look at her and think about it.
The divide between fact and propaganda is never so clear as in hindsight.
Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day—the Allied landings in Northern France—and since most observances take the same form, we thought it would be a good opportunity to look at the event from a different angle by sharing something you might not see anywhere else. So above and below are some front and back covers of Signal, a German propaganda magazine printed from 1940 to 1945 and distributed in neutral, friendly, and occupied countries. These are from Yugoslavia, and their text is Croatian. Glancing at the images is to marvel at the always yawning chasm between propaganda and reality, for though Signal showed Hitler’s soldiers defeating foes while winning hearts and minds, when most of these were printed his army was not only the most hated entity in the Western world, but was already in the process of being fatally smashed in the crucible of a bitter Russian winter against a hardened foe that had always considered ice, snow, wind and frostbite its most important allies.
Once the other allies, led by the U.S., dragged the Germans into a two-front war, defeat was assured. That outcome could have been forestalled perhaps by the development of advanced technology, particularly a German atomic bomb, but it never quite happened. And yet under the direction of the Wehrmacht and Hasso von Wedel, winning imagery kept spinning from the web of German presses, depicting beautiful frauen cavorting in the homeland and smiling soldiers abroad doing the tough but necessary work of unifying Europe. But the intended recipients of these messages had begun to understand the truth—the Germans were finished, and the devastation they had wrought on foreign lands was coming home to roost. When bombs finally fell like rain on Berlin and enemy soldiers stormed the ramparts east and west, Hitler’s imagined 1,000-year Reich was over. It had lasted barely five years.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
1947—HUAC Hearings Begin
The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its investigation into Communist infiltration of Hollywood, resulting in a witch hunt that destroys lives, ruins careers, and makes Senator Joseph McCarthy the most feared politician of the era.
1968—Jackie Kennedy Marries
Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy marries Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The marriage comes as a total surprise to the American public, and results in a terrible backlash against her and also makes her the number one target of paparazzi for years.
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